Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Night Before Christmas

Parragon has sent me a new book to review as part of their Blogger book review club, The Night Before Christmas  by Clement C. Moore and Illustrated by Henry Fisher. Its the traditional poem by Clement C Moore which has fantastic rhyme to it which spurs you on when reading which many of you will be familiar with. I have to admit that beyond the first page I am not sure I have ever read it in its entirety before. This is how it starts:

'Twas the night before Christmas
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
not even a mouse.

My two little boys who are 3 and 1 were immediately taken with the picture on the front cover as the hills are covered in glitter and look very enticing. The illustrations are wonderful and Henry Fisher seems to have captured the essence of the story. I particularly like the images of the reindeers. I was very surprised that my 1 year old has been as captivated by the book as he has, as on the whole he tends not to like such lengthy stories. However the illustrations are what seem to have captivated him, from the snowman who you see peeping through the window, to the snowflakes and stars and the cat who you can see on one of the pages drinking the milk left out for St Nicholas. 

This is my 1 year old having a read! 
My three year old sat captivated whilst I was reading it, and has asked me to read it to him everyday since it arrived. He really liked the portrayal of St Nicholas particularly where it says:

He had a broad face
and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed,
like a bowlful of jelly.

My three year old laughs a lot when we get to this part in the story! There is also so much details in the drawings that I think every time we look we see something new; a little mouse we never saw before or a stocking with hearts on it. You can also see from the picture how vibrant the pages are.

If you are looking for a lovely Christmassy book to share with your children then this is it, it really wraps up the magic of the St Nicholas story with lovely words and pictures.

The book costs £5.99 and you can get it here: The Night Before Christmas

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The day I blew up yet another hand blender...

I am going to be honest, hand blenders and I have a love/ hate relationship; where I love them, and they hate me. They are my "go to" gadget for so many things, and yet they are the centre of my biggest kitchen disasters to date. By just over a year ago, and the disaster day in question that I would like to tell you about, I had already laid to rest three hand blenders.

So, on this day with a two year old "assisting" and a baby in a bouncy chair I decided to be adventurous in the kitchen. I am not quite sure what I was thinking, or what went through my mind when I made this decision, but I did. Embarking on a three course "surprise" meal for my husband.

I made the mascarpone and raspberry cheese cake puddings without any problem, allocating the digestive biscuit bashing to my two year old (which he is really good at). On completing the pudding, I started chopping the vegetables and chicken for my chinese stir fry putting them aside ready to be cooked at a closer point to serving. Carefully placing them out of reach of sticky fingers who like to "help themselves". This is when it got challenging, I had googled earlier in the day how to make egg drop soup a chinese delicacy that I have only ever come across in the USA. But I figured it looked easy enough to make, and I happen to love it. By this point the two year old had started to get a bit tired of cooking, and I started to feed him copious amounts of crackers to keep him amused, whilst rocking the baby with my foot, stirring the soup and half looking at the instructions on my iPad. Finally the end was in sight, all I needed to do was zizz it up with my hand blender. I plug it in, turn it on, and a black puff of smoke is coming out of it ruining my soup, further more flames. I am shouting by this point "STAND BACK" as my two year old looks on, eyes wide and mouth open. I unplug it and literally throw it out the door onto the concrete door step. I am livid, this hand blender just ruined my soup, totally destroyed it! All that effort for nothing! My heart is beating so fast, as I am contemplating our near miss experience.
So this is what I was trying to create - Egg Drop Soup!
When my husband trundled in a hour later, he came in with a puzzled look "Err, is that another hand blender?" To top off the hand blender failure, he also added insult to injury with "Well, I don't know how to tell you this, but I actually don't like egg drop soup!"Well good job the hand blender destroyed it then! Ha! And how did I not know that he didn't like it.

As a side note just in case you are wondering the previous hand blending incidents involved making marmalade (it took out two of them) and and more soup making! I am starting to take it personally now as we are averaging about one hand blender a year. Or perhaps it my cooking?
This is the chopper pot.

Then at Christmas last year, my brother in law, hearing about the "incident" agreed to buy us a new hand blender. In my mind I was beginning to think I would never touch a hand blender again as it would be safer for us all. However on unwrapping it I discovered it was Kenwood Triblade Hand blender, which came with loads of additional gadgets. I proceeded with caution, allowing my husband to demonstrate it first. It seemed safe enough, so I embarked on using it. The clever thing about this new blender is that it comes with many attachments (which is what I was wooed by) including a chopper pot (thats not what Kenwood call it).

I have always wanted a food procecessor but having used this new hand blending gadget for nearly a year, I am not sure I need one now. It does breadcrumbs, cheese, soup, the potato masher is a godsend, in fact I haven't come across a recipe that I can't make with the help of my hand blender. The extra blades and gadgets mean that it can tackle almost anything I throw at it, and it has widened recipe selection too. All I can ask is that it sticks with me. We are nearly a year in, and I am hoping that this is "the one". Please let this be the one!

This is what it comes with - the Kenwood triblade hand blender.
This blog post is my  entry into the Tots100/PartSelect ’Love Your Appliance’ competition. You can find more about it here on Tots100. PartSelect is a website that encourages consumers to show their appliances a little love by giving Internet users the know-how to take on repairs themselves, they have over 700 instructional videos. I think that even if I had known about this clever website, my hand blender may have still been past fixing - but you never know!

This appliance gets my seal of approval!

Monday, 11 November 2013

#Blog4Sanitation Competition

Splashdirect are asking Bloggers to tell their funniest or most disgusting bathroom stories for World Toilet day to raise awareness  for Wateraid. You can find out more about the competition here on the Splashdirect blog. For example did you know that every 40 seconds a child dies from water related diseases! Thats a lot - in fact its shocking! So here is my funny story that I will will make you laugh but also make you think too.

Picture the scene, I am about 8 (I am now 31) and big enough to have got everything toilet related down to an art. It was evening, so my parents had long since put me to bed and I being very tired had dosed into a deep sleep as usual. Whilst I was sleeping my parents opened up our house to around 10 teenagers who all sat eagerly awaiting games around the dining room table downstairs. Teenagers were regular visitors to our house when I was a kid, and when I was awake I knew them all very well, and I looked up to them hugely. My Dad was renowned for his fun games like "chubby bunnies" where you stuff as many marshmallows into your mouth at once and still somehow manage to say "Chubby Bunnies". On this occasion they were sat around the table whilst my Mum prepared much awaited snacks and drinks before the games began.

All of a sudden, I burst through the door in my pink dressing gown, found a chair and sat down at the table with everyone else. All of the teenagers greeted me with excited tones and I, instead of greeting them back proceeded to wee all over the chair I was sitting on. Yes you heard me, wee, and not just a short wee, the kind that goes on and on forever, leaving a huge pool beneath my seat. Then I stood up without saying a word and started to trundle back upstairs. I am sure that by this point the teenagers didn't know whether to laugh or just to gawp, mouths open wide, slightly dazed and confused. My Mum, being Mum soon swept in and realised that I was sleep walking and despite my open eyes I was fast asleep.

The following morning over breakfast, and for several years beyond my parents enjoyed (to my absolute embarrassment) regaling the story over and over and over and over again. In fact my brother  is still known to pop into conversation "Do you remember that time when Hannah wee'ed all over the…"not the best thing when as a teenager myself I was bringing home boyfriends. Plus I had the shame of seeing all of the teenagers week after week.

So laugh all you want at my sleep walking misfortune! It has taken me many years to finally see the funny side to this story and to be brave enough to share. I genuinely have no memory of the event itself but with ten teenage witnesses I am pretty sure it happened as said, and I am sure that there are plenty of other people that have clearly mistaken a dining room chair for a toilet in their sleep too!

I am part of the #Blog4Sanitation movement setup by Splashdirect to raise awareness of the importance of global sanitation. Learn more about World Toilet Day.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

What a load of Balderdash...

So I was approached by 1926 Wood Flooring to do a game review for them, I of course loving games accepted and picked Balderdash as my game of choice. They recognise that as the nights get darker, summer evenings outside on my patio are out, and warm and cosy evenings are in. I thought it would be fun to invite my family around for a quick game as you really need at least 4 players to play. So after dinner was eaten and my two boys were safely tucked up in bed we began, with chocolate and other nibbles of course.

Here is our board all set up - lets get Balderdashing!

I actually think this might have been the best review I have ever done, as I laughed all evening until my sides hurts. My brother who naturally has the gift of the gab, excelled in putting his word choices to the test and fooling us all with his clever answers.

If you have never played, you should. You get a board with a spinner in the centre, with game pieces which you move around the board in a race to the finish by scoring points or by spinning your way to victory. You gain points by bluffing your way through questions - the main question asker, called the dasher takes a card and the category is defined by the section of the board that you are currently on.

Here are the cards

The five categories (with examples) are:

1. EVENTS: Q) In preperation for the 2008 Olympics, cabbies in Bejing....
A) were ordered not to have red hair or big earrings.

2. WORDS: Q) Squirk
A) A laugh that is half suppressed

3. LAWS Q) Ordinance Number 352 in Pacific Grove, California makes it a crime to...
A) Kill or threaten a butterfly

A) National Federation of Master Printers in Scotland

5) PEOPLE Q) Roy Plunkett
A) The scientist who accidentally discovered Teflon
Here are the answer sheets

Every player has an answer sheet and after the question has been read out you have to make up the answer, scoring points if either you get the answer right or when they are read out other players pick your answer. The only player who knows the real answer is the dasher. What I like about the questions is that none of us knew the answers and it was fun to come up with a blagged answer and to hear what others put. I think my favourite category was the words because some of them just sounded so absurd e.g TITBOW yes this was really on the cards, and it means a haze which occurs on hot days. Due to there being 5 questions per card and quite a lot of cards this is definitely a game that you could play time and time again because some of the questions and answers are so weird and wonderful there is no way you could remember them all.

Here I am being the Dasher
When you land on a place on the board with an arrow you get to spin the spinner and (hopefully) land on a segment which allows you to move forward (you can get moved back too) which all helps in your race to the finish.

The game itself is very fun, and is great to play with a group of either friends or family. We really enjoyed it and will definitely be swapping our TV evenings for games evening on a more regular basis. The more players you have the longer the game takes so you do have to leave plenty of time to play, and I love that you never quite know what your questions will be or who you will be up against.

One little note is that you have to place the board on a hard surface like a dining room table in order for the spinner to work properly.

What I really liked too is that the game has a two player variation which isn't quite as good as the real game but is fun. In the variation instead of writing your answers down you pick three cards up and use the answers from the other cards to guess the answer. Most of the time it does work and can be quite funny, but occasionally it is glaring obvious which answer is correct.

Overall Balderdash is a fantastic game which tests your knowledge, imagination and blagging skills in a really fun way. As a mum of two young kids it was really lovely to have a fun night in at home without having to worry about paying a babysitter, and it really did make me laugh a lot playing discovering the silly answers that totally had me fooled.

So why not give it a go too, grab yourself some friends, a boardgame and get stuck in.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

I wish, I wish for a dress...

Being a Mum sometimes I feel like I spend my whole life crawling around on my hands and knees, covered in paint and other such things. So when I get the opportunity to dress up and leave my 'Mumsy' bit on the side, I take it.

Who doesn't love to dress up? Be it for a wedding, an evening out or just for fun, I am in. It's my 31st in a few weeks time which will give me several opportunities to dress and glam up. So I have picked a few of my favourite wishlist dresses from Chi Chi to share with you (I am also hoping that my husband might see this and buy me one too!).

My first choice is this Chi Chi Willow Dress, £49.99
I absolutely love the colour and all the beading on the neckline. I also like the ruching across the bustline with a fuller skirt as I think it would be very flattering to my curvy figure. Plus it is perfect for so many different occasions!
I love this Chi Chi Taylor Dress £53.99. It won't be released until September but I can't wait! I think this is a fab and fun geometric shaped skater dress, and I love the fuller skirt too.
I love this Chi Chi Ingrid Dress £53.99 it would be perfect for a cocktail party and it looks amazing with killer heels. The perfect little black dress.

A Maxi dress like this Chi Chi Anita Dress £12.99 should be a staple in everyones wardrobe, as it is perfect for wearing to a garden party or a more casual lunch date.

Finally just occasionally, I like to really show off my curves and turn a few heads and this Chi Chi Sierra Dress  £139.99 certainly has the wow factor and would do just that, plus it comes in this gorgeous and vibrant red. They do also do this dress in black or blue, but I personally love the red.

These are just a few of my favourite's on my wishlist, which ones would you pick?

This post is my entry for the Chi Chi blogger Competition with etailPR. If you want to enter yourself you can check it out here and you can check out Chi Chi here.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

My favourite holiday memory

We had lots of different holidays when I was a kid including going to Florida, which was great and we had an amazing time, but when I think back to my favourite holiday memory it has to be staying in Dartmouth, Devon. There was always something really magical about going to Dartmouth. When I was around nine we went with my family and my grandparents and because there was too many of we had two apartments. My parents and my brother and sister stayed in one just off the waterfront down an alley way, and I because I was older, got to stay in the apartment on the water front with my grandparents. I felt very grown up being able to stay in a different apartment to my parents and it was a real treat for me.

I loved staying on the waterfront as we had a view out across the harbour, and there was always something to look at. Plus growing up in the country far away from any sea, I was very fascinated with the tidal system, and looked forward to seeing the boats resting on the harbour floor when all the water had shifted. Along with Dartmouth, the beaches we used to visit, the fun walks we went on, and the sites and shops we visited, what also made it very special was the time spent away with my grandparents. My Nan who is now my only living Grandparent left has Alzheimer's and seems very far from the person who I went on holiday to Dartmouth all of those years ago. I hold these memories very dear as they were time spent with my family and the people who I love dearly.

This is us in 2010 when we visited Dartmouth again, above my Mum, Nan, Me and my son. We are right on the front where we stayed when I was a child, and this is the view I had from our apartment window. 
One thing that I remember clearly about the holiday is sitting in our apartment in the evening playing card games with my grandparents. I loved playing games then, and I still love playing games in the evening now. Quality time is something that I value highly and thats why this holiday in Darmouth is one that I remember clearly, and think back to fondly as I had plenty of it.

Competition sponsored by Butlins Holiday Parks, helping your family make memories. - See more at:

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

How Would I #Spend20K Challenge

BritMums are asking us, how would you spend your £20,000? If you won it on the new Lotto from The National Lottery. Check out their competition post here, #Spend 20K Challenge. So I got my thinking cap on!

The biggest dream that I have would be to own our own house. We currently rent, and the area we live in in Cambridgeshire comes with a hefty price tag; if we want to keep our picturesque village location, four bedrooms and a sizeable downstairs living space. So I would have to use 20K to form part of a deposit on the house of our dreams. The question is what makes that perfect house?

I have put together my top 10 dream house ideas:

1. I love open plan downstairs living spaces. 
In the last 5 years we have lived in three different houses or apartments all with an open plan kitchen and living room and it really suited us to the ground. So that would be very much high up on my wishlist.

2. A colour burst Kitchen.
I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and baking, and I love that it is the hub of our house, so I would want it to reflect a little of our fun personality with a few pops of colour to make it a really fun and enjoyable room to be in.

3. Contemporary twists
I love contemporary and/ or quirky decorations or fixtures and fittings as I think they bring lots of our personality and individuality into the house. I have been eying up this contemporary light fixture for a while!
Isn't this really gorgeous? 

4. A garden with plenty of room to BBQ
We love to BBQ and play outside in the garden, it has become a really important part of our family life so this would be up there on the "must have" list.

I love this little magical garden!
5. The perfect village location
I love the city, don't get me wrong but I love the country more. There is something very special about being able to retreat home where it is quiet and peaceful, surrounded by nature. I love Cambridgeshire, it may be flat but it is very pretty, and who wants to go out biking and exploring up huge hills anyway?

6. 4 Bedrooms or more
We love having our friends come to stay, so it is lovely to be able to have the space to invite them. As my boys get bigger I am thinking that space will also be a good thing too, giving them the room to be creative, grow, contemplate without being totally under our feet.

7. A wine cellar? 
Who doesn't dream of a wine cellar? How fantastic would it be to have our very own wine cellar. I think this might be a bit out of our league, but a girl can dream! Ha!

Anyone for wine?
8. Some clever storage
Having rented for the last I don't know how many years, I am longing after some very clever storage. Storage that maximizes our space without impacting and eating into our living space! I really like the look of this under-stairs cupboard that pulls out.

9. A playroom
It would be great to have somewhere for the kids to retreat to, a place to store all of the toys and build massive train tracks across the floor without having to tidy them up so that everyone can sit down in the evening.

10. A walk in pantry
Call me old fashioned! I would love to be able to keep all my food in one place and have room to buy extra tins when they are on offer and give us a greater selection!

Finally I think that I would squirrel off a tiny portion of my 20K to buy this beautiful Kitchen Aid Mixer in pink! Just because I can, it would look fabulous in my kitchen and it would be perfect for helping me to make cake!

Thats how I would spend mine, the big question is, how would you spend yours?

This post is an entry for BritMums #Spend20K Challenge sponsored by The National Lottery, with more ways to win more money on the new Lotto game. Find out more about new Lotto, which starts in October, here

Monday, 22 July 2013

Thank Goodness I had the UltraCaptic to hand

Having just moved into a new rented house my UltraCaptic has been working over time for me! I don't think the rented house we just vacated could have been any cleaner and being honest here, I don't think the rented house we moved in to could have been any dirtier! But thanks to the UltraCaptic's amazing suction our brown carpets have returned to their beige origins, and my husband was extremely thankful for the "Compact & Go" function that the UltraCaptic boasts. 

In fact the compact and go makes it really easy to empty your vacuum! Let me tell you about it. It's bagless - thankfully, it has an easy carry handle which means that even my three year old can lift and carry it one handed (perfect when you only have one hand because your carrying a child!) I was hoping that it would fully compress my dust, it does squash it, which minimizes the mess but I would have loved a more solid block. It's actually quite frightening when you consider what your vacuum gets up! I was shocked by how many non dust like items my UltraCaptic picked up. 

Things that you need to know is that you can control the suction level. As soon as I started using the UltraCaptic it all been very clear as to why the suction levels are needed. My recommendation is that you use it on a 5 (the highest level) on hard floors, a level 3 on carpets and a level 2 on rugs. I found if the suction level was too high on my rug it just pulled it off the floor (that tells you just how powerful this little machine is). For more delicate cleaning tasks start at a 1 and work up (if you need too), jobs like cleaning curtains. 

Everyone has been desperate to try out my new UltraCaptic whilst we have been moving house. It has been lovely having the help, it's been a clean my new house party and use my new snazzy UltraCaptic too. So far they are impressed - it has been a bit of a talking point! Not quite the glamourous dinner party I was quite hoping for but fun all the same. Check out my little one showing you how easy to UltraCaptic is to use on YouTube.

I told you everyone was enjoying trying it out, found this little one helping too.
So what are in my opinion its best bits:

1. It is incredible on Hard Floors 

In fact I can't sing its praises enough on hard floors because it has such great suction it makes hard floors a breeze. 

2. At a flick of a switch it transitions between floors

From Carpet to tile to carpet to a rug, it really is that easy! 

3. The suction power level controller

I love that you can change the suction level (between 1-5) which is perfect for those tricky hard to reach jobs like curtains, where you want a more delicate approach rather than a full blasting suction. 

4. The 3 in 1 nozzle

So clever, it appealed to my geeky side. Check out my video here on YouTube

5. The handle on the 'Compact & Go' Dust removal container

It makes things so much easier! Check out my video showing you just how easy it is here on YouTube

6. Great suction

This would be perfect for sucking up spiders from far away! The suction is very powerful, in fact when vacuuming my rug I had to turn the power down! We created a suction video to show you how powerful it is, check it out here on YouTube

Overall we love the UltraCaptic and its perfect for a quick spruce up (in record time) before you guests arrive, as well as being great as a deep cleaning vacuum cleaner too (new house is proof of that one). This post is part of the #mycleanercleaner campaign for AEG. Check out their website if you want more information or to find out more about the UltraCaptic Vacuum Cleaner'''. 

Thursday, 27 June 2013

My Cleaner Cleaner

I have been sent an AEG UltraCaptic to test out and review. So I thought you would all like to find out how I am getting on.

I admit that I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and myself and my two boys were very excited opening the box and putting it all together. It has three different main heads which I found a bit intimidating at first as how would I know which one to use? However the instructions are really clear and helpful, and I soon got to grips with what would work best and where! It also has a three in one nozzle which is just fab.
Here is me having a quick go!
As soon as it was all set up, I got going. My two boys create plenty of mess on a daily basis so the UltraCaptic has had plenty of use since its arrival. One of our challenges set by AEG was to "spruce up our home in the quickest time" which I was able to complete with the imminent arrival of some friends. Just before my friends arrived I turned around to discover biscuit crumbled all over my sofa, rug and hard wood floor. I already had plenty to finish up, but after taking a deep breath decided this was the perfect opportunity to see what the UltraCaptic could do. Armed with my three in one nozzle (for the sofa) and my multi cyclonic suction end, I was off. Within minutes it was sorted. I am very impressed at this point! It was so easy to change the button on the head between the hard wood and the rug, and normally with our hard wood floors I can't access the edge of the room very well and I end up changing the head to the nozzle over and over again. But not this time. The UltraCaptic is great at getting right to the edge of the room with the main head. This is a huge plus for me! Mission complete in record time, minutes before my friends arrived.
In use as it sucks up the biscuit!
On another note usually when I put the vacuum on my boys make a huge fuss at the noise and my three year old storms out complaining its too loud. The UltraCaptic is quieter than our usual vacuum and I didn't have the normal storming out. Instead my three year old stayed to help, and plugged me in.

Over the next few weeks I will be continuing to update you on how I am finding the UltraCaptic. That way you get a real view of what its like and you can learn about each feature as I use it (without being too overwhelmed), so watch out for more posts.

I'm not an expert on all of the functions of the UltraCaptic, but AEG are so if you want to know more why not check out their website.


I am always trying to bring you new and exciting things and I believe that Shopcade might be just what you are looking for. I confess I had never heard of it until recently, but someone should have told me about it! I love a good deal and I am always hoping for a bargain particularly on clothes and shoes as, as much as I would love to spend lots on them, other things have to come first.

Shopcade is perfect for finding those deals, with millions of different products to choose from! It also does all the hard work for you, searching through finding you the best trending products. All you have to do is log in and have a quick look (as you use it it learns your preferences too). The best bit is that if you click and save items in your wishlist, when a deal comes up for that item it lets you know. It really does do it all.

Here are some key points you need to know about the site:

1. Create a wishlist and when a deal comes up for them it lets you know! Think of it as your personal shopping app! (By the way you can download it as an app on your phone too so you can keep track wherever you are)

2. It picks new products out for you that it thinks you will like, and shows you the current trends

3. With over 100 million products and more than 130,000 brands who wouldn't want to shop! Thats a lot of choice.

So here are somethings that I love from the site (and I have added them to my wishlist too)

Stripy casual dress

I love these shoes! 
I thought this might brighten up my bedroom
New Dress - Yes Please!

There is definitely something for everyone, and what a great way to get the best deals on your Christmas presents. All you have to do is save what you want in your wishlist and await marvelous deals! So what are you waiting for, head straight over to shopcade now.

This post is my entry for the etailpr blog competition to win a £200 Asos voucher PLUS a £200 voucher for a retailer of your choice on Shopcade!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

My Dream Dinner Party Menu

This is my entry for the Taylor Wimpey Dinner Party Competition. Where as the title suggests they are inviting people to come up with their dream dinner party menu. So here is mine.

Twisted Gin & Tonic
A frozen Gin & Tonic slushy served with fresh lime and basil

Caprese salad served with a balsamic and beetroot glaze
The earthiness of the local beetroot is the perfect accompaniment to the Mozzarella, and the balsamic brings out the flavour of the tomato

Lemon Sole served with roasted new potatoes, samphire and asparagus
This is a perfectly balanced dish allowing you to savour each mouthful

Profiteroles with lavender infused cream and a dusting of popping candy 
The Norfolk lavender infused in the cream brings an added perfume to these delicate profiteroles whilst the popping candy brings you back with a zing. Weird and wonderful.

Accompanying Wine
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 
A perfect wine for my perfect dinner

So that is my menu, I hope you like it. I had great fun putting it together and its all my favourite foods put into one menu!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Hungry to Happy Challenge

This post is an entry for BritMums’ Hungry to Happy Challenge sponsored by Richmond Mini Meatballs, you can read more about it here on BritMums

We are always up for a challenge in our house and anything that turns my three and one year old from hungry to happy is a winner for us. As it seems that they are always hungry! In fact for me as a Mum, and I am sure you are all the same, from the moment I am up and sorting breakfast, I am also thinking about lunch and what I need to do to make sure dinner is served at the perfect time, catering for everyones individual tastes and wants! 

Time is precious in our house and I am always looking for, quick and easy recipes that are nutritious and tasty as well as enjoyed by both my two children and my husband. Thats no easy feat, but this one really worked well for us, using Richmond Mini Meatballs (which by the way you can cook from frozen in 10 minutes and they were designed with children in mind!), here is my recipe which served 4 of Tomato Sauce Meatballs and Rice. The meatballs cost £2 and most of the other ingredients are stock items that I keep in most of the time but it didn't cost me anymore than £5 to make. 

Meatballs! Frozen and ready to be cooked.
Tomato Sauce
Tomato Sauce 
1 red onion 
1 or 2 cloves of garlic 
5 closed cup medium sized mushrooms
1 red pepper
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Blob of tomato puree
Splash of tomato ketchup
Splash of Soy Sauce
Splash of Mushroom Ketchup
Splash of Worcester Sauce
Sprinkle of Pepper to taste 
Oil seed Rape or Olive oil 

Other Ingredients
1 pack of Richmond Mini Meatballs 
Basmati Rice (Or if you fancy something different it would work well with pasta too)
Cheddar Cheese

1. Chop up the onion and garlic and heat with a little oil slowly on a low heat until cooked and get your rice on and your meatballs in the oven!
2. Chop up Mushrooms and Pepper - this is a great step for little hands to get involved in and I assigned this to my 3 year old as both mushrooms and pepper tear really well (see the picture below). Then add to the saucepan.
3. Add in tin of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, worcester sauce, mushroom ketchup and grind in a little pepper. Bring it all up to the boil and leave to simmer. 
4. Put your cooked meatballs into the tomato sauce and serve with your rice.
5. We love cheese so we just added a little bit grated on top for serving.

The finished dish!
This is Jake breaking up the mushroom ready
All in all this took me about 15 minutes in total to make and whilst cooking I had a three year old "helping", a one year old tugging at my leg and I had to take a phonecall as well! 

Whats more important is that everyone enjoyed it and my husband and three year old went back for extra helpings of the tomato sauce and meatballs, nothing says yummy mummy better than a cleared plate! So why not give it a go too! What I love about this recipe is that you could also make the tomato sauce earlier in the day and just bring back up to temperature later if you need to, or you can make it up really quickly without much preparation or planning if you are having "one of those days"!

Friday, 31 May 2013

Lunchbox #HoopsandCrosses

This is my entry for the Tots100 Lunchbox creations competition with hoops and crosses #HoopsandCrosses we had lots of fun creating it! Inspired by the hoops and crosses we went with chesse hoopla, skittles and off course naughts and crosses!

Lunchbox creations #HoopsandCrosses

Handmade Christmas - Is it frugal or madness?

This post is my entry for the competition over on Pinching-Pennies a great little blog all about saving money.

They got me thinking about what my biggest and expensive costs are throughout the year. You won't be surprised to hear that Christmas came out on top! It is the presents that really push me over the edge and I usually spread the cost out throughout the year by buying things as I see them (hopefully in the sale too) and not having the expense all in one go. But the expense is still there. This is when I had my latest brainwave why not have a go at a handmade christmas where all the presents are made by myself? It's May so I still have time on my side and I do love a project once my children are in bed.

I can make cards, thats no problem, but could I really make presents? So this is where I need your help and I would love some ideas. I don't want to be giving my relatives and friends things that look like the dog made it, but I would love ideas for things that look amazing but are easy to make and don't require me to spend a fortune in order to do it? So what do you make already? What on earth do I make for the men in my life - brother, husband, dad?

I have already started to come up with a few ideas of things;

1. Bath bombs - I have never made these, but they look pretty easy and the ingredients aren't very expensive, plus I could make really pretty boxes.

2. Jewellery items - I have loads of jewellery making stuff already and I am pretty good at necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I made all the jewellery that my bridesmaids wore when I got married. I would also love to have a go at rings.

3. I have quite a few leather offcut pieces so maybe brooches, belt buckles? I am open to suggestions?

4. Cakes, Marmalade, Jam, Chutney and other sweet treats.

So I am dying to know, what fantastic ideas do you have? Could I really make this work with beautiful handmade gifts? I hope so! Are you with me?

Sunday, 19 May 2013

My playdough is purple and I'm fine with that!

I made my son some playdough and I was surprised how easy it was to make at home. After carefully colouring it into red, yellow, blue and pink (as requested by my son) I was a little sad to see that after a few times playing with it, it has now become one big purple mass. A few years ago this would have driven me crazy that my carefully separated four colour's had become one, however I am ok with this! I  have come to realise that children have to learn and the purple is quite a cool colour too.

We also had great fun using the garlic presse to make hair, you really don't need any special tools to have fun with playdough when you have a fully resourced kitchen. So do you fancy having a go?

Playdough recipe:

2 cups of plain flour
1 cup salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups water
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
A few drops food colouring (be careful not to stain your fingers)

1. Bung it all in the pan together and mix with wooden spoon on low heat
2. Keep mixing until it no longer looks sticky and forms a ball
3. Knead until smooth (be careful it will be hot when you first turn it out)
4. Colour with food colouring whatever you like!
5. Enjoy and have lots of fun with it!

Thrifty Tips - A different way

This post is my entry for From Spending to Saving top thrifty tips competition.

I love being thrifty as it gives me such a buzz and a sense of achievement, I can't help but love a bargain (who doesn't). Savings are there all around us for the taking, and we have to be savvy enough to decipher when to take them. This post is about a different approach that I am taking to being thrifty. I am putting aside price matching online, planning meals in advance and up-cycling old furniture. Don't get me wrong I am not discounting them, as they are a great way to save. Instead I am thinking closer to home getting back to our community, our street and our neighbours. This seems like the perfect place to start.

When we moved into our house 18 months ago the front garden was an overgrown mess. After pruning and trimming back, removing all of the nettles and thistles we were left with a huge empty garden bed with one bush and little else. This is where my thrifty story begins, we had no money for a garden centre trip, nor would I have known what to buy anyway, but I also knew we could only leave the empty garden void for so long. This is when I had this thrifty epiphany, why not ask our neighbour's for help. They all had established gardens with flowers that suited our soil and environment, so I figured what have we got to lose asking them for a few cuttings? A few days later two of our neighbours had found us a selection of seedlings and cuttings for us to use. Wow! I was in shock, how nice of them to help us out! In return we offered them cuttings from our thriving rosemary bush perfect for roasting with potatoes! It saved us a huge amount of money that we didn't have.

The Rosemary bush! Pretty with its purple flowers.
So have you always dreamed of that perfect garden makeover? Ask away, borrow equipment, trade for seedlings and cuttings and reward physical help with goodies from your kitchen?!

It baffles me that I hadn't come up with this before it is so simple and easy, trade resources with neighbours, family and local community. The process has evolved into something quite naturally - no I don't have eggs or crops like years ago but I do have homemade marmalade, green tomato chutney (made with green tomatoes left over from our garden and windfallen apples from a friend's garden) and blackcurrant jam. I  have a happy little baking assistant who loves to make bread, cakes and cookies, and a garden full of herbs including a thriving rosemary bush. Why not pool resources sharing herbs for cooking that would cost you an arm and leg to buy fresh each time?

This year has been a trading year, marmalade for rosehip syrup, letting our friends dog out for some help lifting and moving. It seems small but each trade, help and conversation builds another stake in our community and street, the smaller things grow into bigger things and overtime I hope it will keep growing.

I think back to when I was a child and we would spend hours walking through country paths in search of elderflowers for my grandad to make wine with and blackberries to eat for our tea. I want my children to have as much fun learning about our natural resources as I did, and get back to this notion that thrifty isn't just about great savings online or buying the latest gadget at a really good price but it is also about using what you have.

If you don't know where to start why not use this easy recipe for a Hermann friendship cake, it comes from Germany and tastes really good. It is a sourdough so you feed it over 9 days milk, flour and sugar - and its a perfect recipe for little ones to help and take ownership of. Then on the final day you split it into four containers keeping one for yourself, which you then bake into a delicious cake. The other three you give to friends or neighbours with a copy of the recipe to do the same again. I love that this cake goes on and on, your one little cake reaches lots and lots of people. Use it as a gift or a trading resource, eat it, freeze it and save for a rainy day when you desperately need a sweet treat but don't have the money. It is the perfect conversation starter for getting thrifty with your neighbours, you might be surprised about what you have that they need and vice - versa!

Here is the recipe: Herman Friendship Cake

Start up: You only need this bit once
- Add 1/3 cup of warm water to a large plastic bowl
- Sprinkle 1 tbsp sugar over the water
- Sprinkle 2 tbsp of active dry yeast over
- Let it all stand in a warm place until it has doubled in size (approx 20 ish minutes)
Then add and mix:
- 2 cups of plain flour
- 2 cups of milk
- 2 cups of sugar

Cover Herman loosely with a tea towel (he needs to breathe) and leave on the side, tomorrow will be day 1 in the below instructions! Always stir with a wooden spoon, and never put him in the fridge!

This is the bit you have to remember to give away with Herman when you pass him on.

Day 1 - Stir well
Day 2 - Stir well
Day 3 - Stir well
Day 4 - Herman is hungry! Add 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of sugar and stir well
Day 5 - Stir well
Day 6 - Stir well
Day 7 - Stir well
Day 8 - Stir well
Day 9 - Herman is hungry! Add 1 cup of plain flour, 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of sugar and stir well. Then divide into 4 equal portions. Keep 1 for yourself and give 3 away. Your friends start back at day 1 and you leave your for one final night before:

Day 10 - Herman is very hungry. Stir well and add
1 cup of sugar,
1/2 tsp salt,
2 cups of plain flour,
2/3 cup cooking oil,
2 eggs,
2 tsp vanilla essence,
2 heaped tsp of baking powder,
2 heaped tsp of cinnamon,
2 cooking apples
1 cup of raisins.
(Feel free to omit the cinnamon if you don't like it, and we substituted the raisins for chocolate chips the recipe is flexible enough that you can be creative! In fact thats the beauty of it you can use whatever you have around)

Place in a large greased baking tin sprinkled with 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of melted butter and bake for 45 minutes at 180c

Herman cake with chocolate chips - this was my very first attempt!
If you can't eat it all at once you can freeze it and I suggest you cut it up into squares and do either give some away or freeze it because it makes a lot!  This recipe really inspired me to pass on cake and be thrifty, and I am sure there are other things that we could pool and share with our neighbours too. Kids clothes, toys, bulk buying food? Some food for thought!

As part of my competition entry I also have to give one reason why an offshore pension with Whichoffshore is a good idea so here it is. We lived in Texas for 3 years as expats and knowing about Whichoffshore would have made managing our finances much less of a headache, because you can have an account that uses multiple currencies. Plus you never know when your situation is going to chance so having these already set up makes life easier for you.

So be inspired, be thrifty, and think closer to home!

Monday, 29 April 2013

How I have changed - It's me versus Special K

Kellogg's Special K turns 30 this year and to celebrate they have given it a makeover with a new more delicious and wholesome recipe. I have been lucky enough to have a try of the new Special K already and this post is my entry for the BritMums / Special K "How I have changed Linky Challenge" #SpecialK30, thats what this post is for!

I turned 30 last year too so I know how you feel Special K, in 1983 I was 1 and the last 30 years have been amazing, challenging, fun and a huge learning curve for me as I am sure they have been for you to. I couldn't quite get over it, 30? How did I get here so quick and yet pack so much into my life? In my head I still feel 17 and I constantly have to remind myself that I am not. I have two little boys of my own to think about, its funny to think that my youngest Peter is the same age I was when Special K was born.

Hello Special K breakfast!
LOOKS can be deceiving and my new Special K box felt like an old friend when it arrived, one that you haven't seen for a while. You recognise them, you love them, you see slight changes in their apperance but essentially its the same good friend just older and wiser. A friend who can now walk in their high heels with absolute confidence knowing that the years have refined and given them an integrity and zest that only comes with age. The new Special K really felt like that friend, the same brand and taste we love but tastier with three grains - rice, wheat and barley instead of the previous 2. I was also a bit surprised that this was the first change since 1983 and I know that for some people change can be taken very hard but please let me assure you, this is a good change. Its like that realisation when you finally ditch your mini skirt in favour of a more sophisticated look and you turn more heads and get more looks than you did before - and you think to yourself, why didn't I do this earlier!

This is me in 1983, I must be about 11 months old.
Which brings me to me. Am I that friend, older and wiser like Special K? I hope so, I am definitely older and although I could perhaps do with losing the baby bulge (I am sure Special K will help with that) I don't think I need any help looking younger. In fact not so long ago I had to take my son to the emergency doctors, we had been staying with my Mum and he had had what turned out to be an allergic reaction to dog salvia (off all things) on his face. My Mum came with us as it was really late at night and the Doctor asked my Mum to sign the prescription form as she "needed someone over the age of 16 to sign it"! 16! I am 30 for goodness sake! As I said looks can be deceiving, and mine have totally changed over the last 30 years - from baby to woman.

This is me now with my youngest son.
Special K is a bit like me, it might have aged but it isn't outdated and a bit of a glamourous makeover is definitely good for its image!

TASTE is really quite important, and Special K has it. I really enjoyed the new formulation and it was a welcome change from my usual breakfast cereal. I did find it quite sweet to start with, but having eaten breakfast with lots of people over the years I know that its probably just me and my weird taste buds. I confess that I also had a sneaky taste on the day it arrived too as an additional evening snack once my kids were in bed!

Then we get to me, and I was thinking if I was food what would I taste like? I started to think about how people might describe me and I started with marmite (you either love it or you hate it) but I just don't think that quite fits, so I have settled on a Parma Violet. Even as a child I it always seemed like I never quite fitted, people liked me but I never fitted the mould that other people expected - in other words I was a little odd, hence Parma Violet; sweet and sugary but not to every one's tastes and yet delicate and sensitive encased in a little purple concave circle. I am still the same Parma Violet shaped me I was 30 years ago but I know my strengths and play to them and give people a taste of me without overpowering them (most of the time)! As a young person my unique oddness was a tough part of growing up, whereas I have changed by learning to accept me as me.

THE TOUGH AND THE CHALLENGING is apart of every 30 years development and I am sure that behind the scenes (that I can't tell you about) the Special K team spent hours contemplating this 30 year change and how it would be accepted, packaged and presented to us. What I love about Special K is that many people come to it looking for advice with weight loss and health management. The Special K website is a great source for seeing that there are lots of other people in the same boat who are facing the same challenges too. It wouldn't be right if Special K didn't evaluate and change with the times, and I love that they have created an app to help us with our goals!

Here is my box of Special K - the new design!
Life for me over the last 30 years has changed hugely and at times not always been that easy. As a one year old I am sure that my focus was on eating and playing all day and as a Mum of two now that doesn't feel much different as it's all about playing and eating, but with my boys at the centre not me. One of the things I love most is getting to play all day again building with duplo amazing houses, tower blocks and castles!

If you had told me that in the last 30 years I would lose my best friend in a car accident, or be married to a man that I once didn't want to be friends with I might not have wanted to face it, but I think its these things that have made me, me. For every challenge I have faced it has made me stronger, given me more patience, passion and zest for life. As a child you take each day as it comes learning lots and soaking it all in, as an adult I apply that learning and I have become the teacher wanting my children to have the opportunities I had and equipping them to face their 30 year challenge (and more) ahead of them.

THE GOOD BIT is that its nice to know Special K is made up of three wholegrains - rice, wheat and barley. I want to be putting good things into my body (doesn't everyone) but as a busy Mum I don't always have the time to look and figure it all out. So its good to know Special K has got it covered for me in one little bowl of wholegrain with 8 vitamins and mineral goodness. So relax and try it, knowing they have got you and me sorted! Plus they do some great flavours with additional things too like chocolate or berries.

Like Special K I have matured focusing on the good things and I have had a refinement of character. I hope that I am nutritious to my friends being generous and giving, kind in spirit and full of life. I realise that I am no longer the focus of me, my family are at the centre of my attention and my two little boys need my energy and teaching to set them on their 30 year path.

Me and my two boys - I think this sums us up perfectly!
I really hope you have enjoyed reading about my #SpecialK30 and how I have changed. I hope my journey has inspired you to think about how you have changed too, and I'm sure it will set me thinking on what my next 30 years will look like!