Wednesday, 31 October 2012

And the winner of the Dr Oetker competition is...

I have now drawn the winner of the Dr Oetker baking goodies giveaway and the winning comment was No 54 (after taking into account any duplicate comments etc)

Which was Sharon's comment about turkey and stuffing, which I have to say sounds delicious  Might try something like that myself this Christmas seeing as we have a vegetarians and muslims to cater for!

Congratulations Sharon, your goodies will be with you soon!

Don't forget to check out the Dr Oetker website for more baking ideas and supplies!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

A foggy day, in London town...

Actually, I lie. It wasn't foggy at all (it was rather grey though) but that song has been stuck in my head since the weekend so now I am passing the ear-worm on to you. You can thank me later.

Yes, at the weekend, the M family descended on London to take a trip on the London Eye and a River Cruise courtesy of a voucher that the nice people at Mr Kipling sent me way back in April - it's taken me this long to use it!

The children were so excited to go on the London Eye - in fact they just love London so much and were very sad when it was time to go home. I've been on the London Eye before so it didn't really wow me in the same way, but saying that London wows me every time I go there - definitely one of my favourite places in the world and by far the best city that ever there was.

It is pretty amazing to that you can see so many of London's landmarks at once. I tried pointing out many of them to my children, but my son seems unable to see past the end of his nose. After about 10 minutes of me explaining he did finally spot Buckingham Palace!

There was a quick stop for lunch at Pizza Express at the Royal Festival Hall. Which of course included desserts - apart from myself, who showed massive restraint by only consuming a 500 calorie Leggara pizza and NO dessert. Harrumph.

Followed by a gently but nippy cruise down the River Thames. We just about snuck a peak at MI6 which I was hoping would EXPLODE Skyfall style but alas, I realised I wasn't Judi Dench and it was unlikely to happen before turning round and cruising towards the City and taking in buildings such as the Tower of London (my favourite place in London), St Pauls, Canary Wharf in the distance and the new Shard building.

I particularly loved this view - three great London landmarks from one view point!

My son thoroughly loved the commentary on the boat, listened intently to the guide and asked lots of questions so I definitely want to find a way of encouraging him and plan to take lots more trips to London as it clearly captivates him. My daughter enjoyed the day too but she's not quite as enthusiastic about things as my son. She'd be more likely to get excited over the food hall at Selfridges or Harrods (girl after my own heart...).

We all had a lovely day and it was nice to just take time out and do something fun for the day.

Have you been on the London Eye? What's your favourite London landmark?

Monday, 29 October 2012

The Vax Air3

Being part of the Vax Voice panel means that occasionally they send me a new product to review and test out. The most recent product that I was sent was their new product - the Air3 which is the lightest, full-sized, multi-cyclonic upright vacuum cleaner in the world.  With claims like that I had to try it out. I'm going to apologise now for the lack of photography within this blog post and review, however it's pretty hard to take photos of yourself hoovering (and lets be honest, a little bit weird...).

The Air3 has a full size 2.0 litre dust container despite it's slimline appearance and come complete with a 2-in-1 crevice/dusting tool as well as an upholstery brush. It also comes with an incredible 6 year manufacturers guarantee which does give you some peace of mind when buying a product.

One of the biggest selling points of the Air3 is it's manoeuvrability - and in this case, it does what it says on the tin. The Air3 is incredibly lightweight and with it's twin-axis articulation it makes incredibly light work of getting in and out of corners and under the furniture. It feels less clumsy than other vacuum's I have used and certainly feels like less effort is required, which is never a bad thing!

I also found it okay for hoovering the stairs.  I have light coloured carpets (I know, great idea...) and every little bit of fluff shows up on them - I curse black socks, which means I have to hoover almost daily, including the stairs. I normally leave the hoover at the bottom of the stairs and work my way up using the hose until I get to the top however, whilst the Air3's hose is just about long enough to reach, it could definitely do with being a smidgen longer. I  did however found that I could manage quite well by carrying the hoover upstairs with me as I went. Not ideal, but because it's so lightweight it was easy to do so.

I already have two vacuum hoovers so whilst I love the Air3 I've actually donated it to my mother-in-law who is getting older now and is starting to find things like hoovering a bit harder these days. She has several pets though so it's a necessity. The Air3 is ideal for her as she lives all on one floor and can move the vacuum around effortlessly and with it's powerful suction, it doesn't take long to get the job done at all!  I think the Air3 would be the perfect product for anyone with a bad back, arthritis or slight mobility problems as it's so lightweight and easy to manoeurvre.

The Air3 is available to buy from and is priced from £249.99 for the basic model. There are also Pet, Reach, Total Home and Max variants available.

With thanks to Vax for providing this product to review.

Meal Planning Monday (29th October 2012)

Good morning everyone! (I felt a bit like a teacher then...)

Hope you all had a good weekend? We had a very busy one and have now launched into half-term with earnest.  When half-term comes around, all routine goes out of the window and I'm all over the place with meal-planning too. I've not had time to think about it yet but as we're going to be all over the place this week at parties, days out, concerts etc I think we'll mainly be winging it!

Whatever we eat will be diet-friendly, yes I am still full steam ahead on the diet with a loss of 4.8lbs in two weeks now. I get quite motivated when I actually see a loss each week so at the moment I'm not finding it too hard although my willpower has been tested to the max this weekend!

I've put the linky below so do add your #mealplanningmonday blog post below and check out what others are planning this week. If any of you are planning diet-friendly meals this week - let me know, I'm in serious need of inspiration!

Look forward to catching up with your posts later this week!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Not pregnant, just fat

Recently I had the pleasure of MY OWN MOTHER looking me up and down and uttering those immortal words "Are you pregnant again?".

To add insult to injury my husband found this hilarious and sat smirking to himself for the rest of the evening. How I didn't rabbit-punch him on the nose repeatedly until he passed out is testament to the strength of my willpower.

I don't think there is a bigger insult that can be levied at a woman.  Just why do people feel compelled to make such statements? Especially in my case, when my mother knows fair well that I am not pregnant. (We'd just been out quaffing champagne...). It's just incredibly rude to ask someone and if I was pregnant? Then that's my own business and I'd tell people when I was good and ready.

It's not just the rudeness that gets me, it could have been a really sensitive subject. What if was trying for a baby and struggling? What if I'd just been through a traumatic and heart-breaking miscarriage? Fortunately neither of these apply to me but surely people should engage their brains before they speak when it comes to, what could quite possibly be a delicate topic for many people.

If you're not 100% sure if somebody is pregnant - it's simple. DON'T ASK.

It's not difficult. Just keep your thoughts to yourself. If someone IS pregnant, they'll tell you, if and when they want to.

Clearly, I am on a diet now but in the meantime I am considering buying this t-shirt.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Barbie 3 Storey Dream House

One of the toys that I received to review through being a ToysRUs Toyologist was a 3 Storey Dream House. That's right. A BARBIE DREAM HOUSE.  I can't tell you how excited I was when this arrive, ridiculously so. All my childhood I desperately wanted a Barbie Dream House. Some of my friends had them and whilst I had lots of Barbies and Sindy dolls as well as various accessories, the magnificent house evaded me. Until now.  Strictly speaking it's now my daughters Barbie Dream House - how lucky is she? I don't think she'll ever realise just how lucky she is. 

The Barbie Dream House is a luxury home with "glamorous photo-real wallpaper". On the ground floor there is a dining area, complete with light-up chandelier and a fully stocked kitchen (dishwasher, oven, hob, fridge freezer...). The first floor has a living room - the flat screen TV comes out of the fireplace - and a bathroom with shower, toilet and sink. On the top floor there is a bedroom and an outdoor balcony with a hot tub and tiki lights. You get lots of various bits and pieces like plates, cutlery, foot spa, bed coverings, laptop etc to aid play.

Various sound effects can be heard in the house including a doorbell, kitchen timer, fireplace, shower water and flushing toilet - for this you need batteries and lots of them. The Barbie Dream House takes AA batteries and for your own sanity, put these in before assembling.

When we got it out of the box we were faced with this;

It was all a bit Krypton Factor and outside my capabilities so I called for reinforcements - Mr M, but even he struggled with the instructions. You get a large piece of paper with picture instructions (I guess because this product goes to a lot of countries, it makes it easier) but they are black and white and near impossible to see the detail. Also, one of the pink supports was broken. Fortunately, Mr M is handy with a hot glue gun and fixed it but this could have been quite disappointing if it had to be returned. One word of warning - once this is erected, it ain't ever coming down. Never. I'm not sure you'd be able to dismantle the Dream House without breaking it so I'm certainly not going to try that now. That's probably a big downside for us to be honest but we'll see how it goes.  Don't underestimate how big this house is, it's huge. I think the measurement was 110cm and it's certainly taller than my son!

I'll be honest and say the plastic wasn't of the greatest quality, some bits felt a bit flimsy, especially whilst constructing the house. I was a little bit worried that the pressure required to put the supports in would snap them. I don't think many of the parts would withstand a lot of abuse but it's sturdy enough for what it is intended.  It's also very bright - lots of over-the-top pink and purple which my daughter loves but may well not be your thing. 

Standard feature of all Barbie Dream Houses - the elevator!
Once it's up though? It's pretty impressive. (Mr M remains unimpressed and doesn't get what the fuss is about). It's a thing of dreams and I know my little lady will spend hours playing with dolls - she already likes all the kitchen bits and bobs - Toy Story Barbie spends her day putting the dishes in the dishwasher, food in the fridge and setting the table, well Toy Story Ken generally lounges in the hot tub.

It might have been nice if there had been a few more accessories for it and the rugs were actually made of cardboard which was a bit disappointing. I think for the price, it would have been great if these had been made of fabric. I'll probably end up replacing these myself.

There's no getting away from the fact that this is a mightily expensive toy and perhaps quite far out of some people's budgets. Whilst I love the Dream House, I'm not entirely sure that you are getting value for money but it's great fun and can provide hours of endless play. It's certainly bring a new dimension to my daughters play and revitalised her love for her Barbies.  For any Barbie fan, a Dream House has to be at the top of the list and I know that this will be the star attraction when her friends come round!

Would I buy it myself? I'm not sure. It would be certainly up there on the wish list but the price would be a bit off-putting for me as it's a lot to spend on one toy. I can't deny though that little girls love it and it's something that will get played with lots. 

Finally -  a very important warning! If you are thinking about buying this for Christmas or a birthday, this product comes in a huge, heavy box with a big colour picture of the Dream House on the side. It could quite easily spoil a surprise present so I'd either pick this up in store or make sure the children aren't around when it's delivered!

The Barbie 3 Storey Dream House retails at around £200 and will be available from Toys R Us shortly.

Disclaimer: I am a 2012 Toyologist for ToysRUs and have received the products mentioned in this post free of charge to review as part of my role. I have not been told what to write here and all opinions and views stated are my own.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Operation Christmas Child - my thoughts

I was initially quite reluctant to blog about religion however around this time of year this somewhat controversial subject always comes up. Operation Christmas Child. The scheme where you fill a shoebox of goodies and it gets sent to needy children across the world. I participated at both school and work last year even though I was slightly uncomfortable with it and our school has just made the call to arms again however this year I will not be participating.

I've read lots of blog posts about the operation, both in support of the scheme and criticising it.  On one hand I agree - what better time to talk about Christ than at Christmas and send gifts to those who don't have anything, what can be wrong with that? On the other, I cannot agree to support a group of evangelical Christian fundamentalists that is run by someone so blinkered. 

Samaritans Purse is run by Reverend Franklin Graham who, in his own words, once called Islam "a very wicked and evil religion" and more recently "I speak out for people who live under Islam, who are enslaved under Islam, and I want them to know they can be free by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone".

Now I consider myself a Christian, albeit, not a strong practicing one these days. I was brought up a Roman Catholic and I choose to bring my children up in the Christian faith, however some of my very closest relatives are Muslims and it seems wrong to me that children in multi cultural schools are being encouraged to support this scheme when their founder has beliefs like the ones stated above.

Samaritans Purse is a Christian organisation and I don't think they've ever tried to hide that fact, however most of the criticisms lobbied at the charity comes from that fact that bibles and Christian literature used to be inserted into gift boxes heading to Muslim countries. I  believe this is  still the case in many countries, although apparently not from the UK anymore (the UK is where the charity is met with the most resistance). Certainly, I think the extent of their missionary work is downplayed in the UK and they're a bit more upfront about it in the US.

Of course, I fully expect a Christian organisation to issue some Christian literature as part of their missionary work and this isn't really what bothers me. Why would they do it otherwise? Not just for that nice warm fuzzy feeling that doing something charitable gives you (and certainly not for the nice $1.2 million salary that Franklin Graham allegedly brings home each year).

I don't deny that the scheme does some good. My children enjoy the process of choosing the items to go in the box and I like what it teaches them. Selfless giving is something that is good for children to learn, especially those children that have so much, and showing them that there are so many underprivileged children affected by war, poverty, disease and natural disasters around the world is, I believe, very important.  I'm sure the children receiving these boxes are so, so happy to get them and I'm sure the campaign will do exceedingly well in 2012 with millions of boxes being distributed, just, one of them won't be from me.

Ultimately, I just feel I can't offer my support to a charity whose president comes across as  fundamentally anti-Islamic when Islam is and always will be a part of my own families life.     How would I explain to my family that I am supporting an operation that is aiming to convert children from Islam to Christianity because it's wicked or evil? I can't, so I won't put myself in that position because just as Franklin Graham and supporters of Samaritans Purse are entitled to believe what they want, I am also entitled to my own beliefs and make my own choices.  I choose not to support this cause when there are so many other worthy charities out there to support with my children and I shall be exploring that option this Christmas.

Saying goodbye to a blogger & a friend

Blogging is a funny thing, you become part of a community, a community that contains many people you will never meet. Yet you feel like you know these people somehow and they become people you would consider a friend, albeit a virtual one.

Sidney from the blog My Mother In Law Is Still Sitting Between is was one of those people.  Yesterday Sidney died. 

I first got to know Sidney a couple of years ago, first through her blog and then via Twitter where she has often popped up and sent me DMs of support when I've needed it. I was never destined to actually meet Sidney as she lived in California, a long way from here and although I didn't know her as well as I would have liked, I considered her a friend.

Sidney was someone I will miss greatly as will many people. She was a fantastic advocate for helping the children of hoarders and she knew more about this subject than most.  She was a great help and support to people struggling and her death comes at a time when she was just moving on with her own life.

So long Sidney, from the other Mrs M.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Meal Planning Monday (21st October 2012)

Can it really be Monday again? My life is just whizzing past in a blur these days. 

So last week I commenced on the diet and according to My Fitness Pal I have lost .....lbs. Not too shabby huh! I always lose a few lbs the first week of the diet and I fully expect it to slow down to 1-1.5lb per week which is obviously far healthier.

I shall be continuing with the diet this week, although I did have a few treats like some chippy chips and bacon sarnies last week! I've found that a vegetable soup for lunch is low calorie and quite filling so I'll probably have that a couple of days this week.  With regard to dinners, I'm again going to go down the ready meal route for a few days and will mix it up with some things like fishcakes (mmmm) and vegetables.  I don't know what ready meals they will be as I've not gone shopping yet but I'm sure they'll be things like lasagne and cottage pie - things that I can have a pile of hot steaming veg with!  Mr M is kind of slotting in with me and the children only eat at home twice in the week so they are easy to deal with!

What have you got planned this week? If you've not joined in with #mealplanningmonday before all you have to do is write a blog post (or leave a comment) telling us what you have planned for your meals this week. The linky tool is below for you to submit your blog post and if there's any problems, let me know.

I'm looking forward to seeing what you have got planned. I shall be living vicariously through you guys for the next few months!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Iced Shortbread Biscuits

I've posted a recipe for iced biscuits before but last weekend the children decided that they wanted to make biscuits to decorate and the boy perused the recipe books and picked this one from a Dorling Kindersley children's baking book.

This recipe is an incredibly basic shortbread recipe but you can of course spice it up in any way you like by adding flavours or extra ingredients like nuts, chocolate chips etc.  We stayed with the basic plain shortbread and spent a very happy afternoon rolling dough and cutting out a variety of shapes before decorating them with bowls of icing, icing pens and a variety of sprinkles.

I like this recipe because it's ingredients we always have at home which makes it the perfect rainy day activity!

Iced Shortbread Biscuits


150g plain flour
50g caster sugar
100g butter


Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and rub the mixture between your thumbs and fingertips. When the mixture looks crumbly (you're looking for a kind of breadcrumb consistency) squeeze it together to make a ball of dough.

Preheat the oven to 170c/gas mark 3.

Sprinkle flour onto your work surface and your rolling pin. Roll out the dough until its 5mm thick. Now you're ready to choose your cookie cutters and get shaping.

Grease a baking tray and place your cut out shapes on the tray, leaving a little space between them.  Pop them in the oven for 15 minutes.

Carefully remove the tray from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring to a cooling rack.

Once cool you can then set to work with your icing and sprinkles!

I always find with shortbread that it can work out a little too short. If this happens and it doesn't really come together in a ball, add a tiny splash of water but go carefully, don't add too much or else you'll get into a right mess!

Other tips, I tend to cut the ball of dough in half and roll one at a time, much easier. I also find that whatever I do the dough sticks to the rolling pin, so now I put a sheet of baking parchment or greaseproof paper on top of the dough and roll over that - works a treat!

I really liked the texture and taste of these biscuits although the children were quite protective so I didn't get to sample many! I shall be using this recipe and adapting flavours to make some Christmas biscuits this year.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

A lovely cream tea courtesy of Delimann

Recently I was contacted by the lovely people at Delimann to see if I would like to try out one of their Christmas Cream Teas. I was immediately intrigued by this idea because a) I love a cream tea and b) I'd never heard or thought of having one delivered before!

I'd never heard of Delimann before, but a little online research told me that the company has been trading in Bovey Tracey since 1837 and is still being run by the same family, on the same premises - albeit, they've been somewhat extended!  They now have a successful (and very busy buy the sounds of it!) online retail shop with an array of local produce and gifts and hampers available to be delivered all over the country.

When I received my Christmas Cream Tea I was wow'ed straightaway. It was packaged beautifully with a lovely handwritten note. It immediately struck me that this makes a wonderful gift for somebody.

In the box you get everything you need for a festive cream tea - and a proper Devon one at that! The box includes two oversized Devon scones that are freshly baked on the day of despatch, Devonshire clotted cream made on a local farm using milk from Jersey cows, the award winning Delimann strawberry jam that is made in small batches for maximum flavour, along with some West Country teabags.  Not only this but you also received a Gisela Graham Reindeer Mug - this was perfect for me as it's totally my style and in keeping with the rest of my Christmas mug collection, a wooden reindeer gift tag/tree decoration and some delicious organic Delimann clotted cream fudge. All this is gift wrapped in a bespoke rustic box.

Of course there was really only one thing to do, and that was to sample the cream tea! The scones were definitely over-sized and were very fresh, the strawberry jam was beautifully sweet and the clotted cream was deliciously creamy.  It was just yummy and in fact the only thing that could have made it better would have been someone else making the tea and bringing it to me whilst I sat with my feet up watching Modern Family re-runs. 

I'm really grateful for Delimann introducing me to their wonderful delivery service. I've searched endlessly in the past for something that I could send as a gift to someone in place of flowers and cupcakes and I think I've found it! I've already decided to send one of their  Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie hampers to my boss and his wife for Christmas and cannot wait until it's my sister-in-laws birthday in February as I am going to send her a birthday Cream tea!

The Christmas Cream Tea is priced at £19.50 and you can check it out on the Delimann website by clicking here. Don't forget to look at their other gift ideas too!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Lilli Vanilli's Sweet Tooth

I was recently sent a copy of Lily Vanilli's Sweet Tooth book.  If you're not familiar with Lily Vanilli, three years ago Lily started selling cakes at a market in East London and since then her cakes have been sold at Harrods, exhibited at the V&A, been served at Elton John's White Tie and Tiara Ball and she's now opened her own bakery.  Lily is know for her unique flavour combinations and spectacular designers.  Her first cookbook is one of my favourites - Lily Vanilli in A Zombie Ate My Cupcake

Sweet Tooth is packed with over 100 inspirational and easy to follow recipes for cakes, biscuits, tarts, confectionary and even ice-cream.  It's divided into chapters (Introduction, Before You Start, Cake, Pastry, Biscuits & Tea Cakes, Meringue, Chocolate  Sugar, Ices, Basic Recipes, Suppliers, Glossary, Index) and Lily shares lots of invaluable tips and advice on techniques.

My first impressions of the book were good. I'm a sucker for pretty things and this book is really pretty with it's mint green cover and fluorescent pink edging on its pages.   It's got great styling inside and the photography is good too.  The recipes are easy to follow and come with a short introduction and background to each.

There were many recipes that stood out to me but some of my favourites are the amazing looking Bitter Chocolate Orange Cake, the Hazelnut and Pineapple Upside Down Cake, Cherry Mountain Peach and Almond Tart, Spiced Apple Custard Tarts and the Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts. Hopefully I'll get time over the next few months to try out some of those! We've got a Bonfire Night shindig coming up soon as those Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts sound just right for a little treat after the BBQ!

Whilst this book is a step on from your average baking book in that the flavour combinations and recipes are a little more developed than a Victoria sponge, there's nothing in this book that should put novice cooks off as everything is explained simply. Saying that, there is a basic sponge in the book but Lily shows us how to make it more interesting with different variations.

This is a really stylish baking book and with Christmas coming up I think it would make a great gift for anyone who loves baking. 

Sweet Tooth is published by Canongate Books and is available now with an RRP of £20.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Feeling fruity?

I started on a diet this week. Yes. Again. But this time I am serious. I'm the heaviest I have even been (excluding pregnancy) and something has got to change. I'm working on it. 

My food choices led me to think about fruit and how much (or little) of it I eat. I saw this image on another website and it made me laugh.

Image Credit:
It's not wrong is it? How difficult a food to eat often informs my choices. Although I disagree that a tomato is untasty, I had a very tasty one last night. (and a tomato, fnar).

The truth is I'm just not a fruit lover at all. I feel guilty for saying that as I feel I'm meant to like fruit. I wouldn't say I hate it but I don't enjoy eating it at all. None of it. Not unless it's baked in a cake or a pie. I can even take or leave a chocolate-dipped strawberry. How wrong is that? If I was pushed at favourite fruit, I'd have to say peaches and apricots - but that's the flavour, I can't deal with the icky sticky mess of them. (Interestingly apricots don't feature on that chart, but I would put them in the top right-hand tasty/easy combo).

I'd much rather have a big plate of broccoli or cabbage, or munch on a raw carrot or pepper than a piece of fruit. See, I'm not unhealthy, I'm just more of a veggie lover. Is it imperative to our health that we eat fruit? I don't know, perhaps someone else can tell me.  About the only fruit I can get any pleasure from (suits you sir) is a satsuma. 

Annoyingly, my daughter is of the same ilk as me, and she'd rather not eat fruit (other than watermelon) but at age 6 I don't give her a choice in the matter. She has to eat the fruit I give her. I feel like a mean mummy doing this though as I know how it feels when you don't actually really like it. My son on the other hand would eat fruit until the cows come home. I give the children unrestricted access to the fruit bowl (so what if they can't eat all their dinner because they're full of bananas and oranges) and he'll often be found sitting on the sofa watching Jakes & The Neverland Pirates, apple in hand. A banana is irresistible to him.

Was just wondering if there were any other fruit-dodgers out there? Sometimes I feel alone in a fruit-filled world!  Any tips for making fruit more enjoyable? (Other than putting it in the oven with a crumble topping...).