Monday, 16 March 2015

Organix snacks

As I've previously mentioned, our house is one of many snacks.  And with our youngest well into the mix and weaning, there's another mouth eager to join in the snackfest.

All four children have really enjoyed the Organix apple rice cakes and the carrot sticks (which look like giant wotsits) so when Organix asked if we'd like to try their red pepper hearts, it seemed to be a no-brainer.  When the box arrived there were also some apple rice cakes - 4 very happy children!

 


The red pepper hearts go very nicely along with the other snacks on offer, and my eldest - who is coming up to eleven years old - thought they were really nice, as did the middle two.  I can't say for certain how much my youngest likes them, as with most 9 month olds, as much food ends up on the floor around the high chair as does in his tummy!  The hearts are almost as hand-friendly as the rice cakes and sticks - meaning that they are easy for little hands to hold.  This means they are ideal for those interested in baby led weaning.

I really like the Organix brand and have been buying their products since my eldest was weaning (over 10 years ago now), so I'm not waxing lyrical about them because they sent me a couple of freebies.  With crisps and chocolate really not being the best thing to give your troops on a regular basis, it can become a bit of a challenge to have something to hand that you know they'll enjoy.

One of the reasons that I liked the range was that when a particular one of my friends used to come over, her son could enjoy the same snacks as his peers.  He was pretty much allergic to EVERYTHING (alright, slight exaggeration, but he was pretty allergic) so when, for example, everyone else could enjoy toast, he couldn't eat wheat or dairy.  He was also allergic to many types of fruit, so it made snack-time even more challenging.  Thankfully finding this range of snacks, amongst others, meant that my friend's son could enjoy snacks and eat the same as his friends with no fuss.

Organix are available from most supermarkets (including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, Ocado, the Co-op, and Boots) and you can also buy them online. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Penwizard personalised books

If you know me at all, you'll know I love books. It's a lifelong love, and one which I have tried to pass on to my children.

Years ago, my dad bought my eldest a personalised book, and she loved it. I don't know where it came from but then a few years ago I came across Penwizard, who make these types of books.  I used it to create our second child his own book, called "Lewis saves Christmas".  He was rapt, and so too was his younger brother.  In fact, this past few weeks we've had to read it to him, rather than Lewis!  

So when Penwizard got in touch to see if we could review a book, it seemed perfect timing.  With Alfie's birthday fast approaching, we chose The Little Boy Who Lost His Name. (There's also a Little Girl version - and before the gender police start harping on, neither seem to be gender-stereotyped).  We also paid for another book, called Alfie The Medieval Knight. 



Let's talk about the Little Boy Who Lost His Name first.  The basic premise is that your child wakes up and doesn't remember his name, so he sets out on an adventure to find it.  Here's the clever bit.  The rest of the story is made up of that adventure, but depending on what your child's name is depends on who he or she meets!  Because each character they meet correlates with the letters in the name, so in our case it was A (Aardvark) L (Lion) F, I and E.  So in theory each child could have their own version and it would be completely unique (assuming that your children don't all have the same first name, that is!)  

Alfie was fascinated by the adventure, and the fact that we had to read it to him before school on his birthday says it all.  He skipped off with a smile on his face and chatted about it all the way there.  





The second book we ordered is Alfie the Medieval Knight.  It's a great tale, and again involves an adventure (who doesn't love an adventure?)  and this time Alfie has company!  Here's where I think the book could be improved/ tweaked.  As part of the personalisation you add in 2 siblings or friends, as well as mum and dad.  But what if, like us, you have four children?  In this case, we've had to leave out the baby, but I'd like to see a tweak to at least add another character if needs be.

Again, this book was very well received and both boys have enjoyed the story several times over.  These books make fantastic presents, and really capture the imagination of children.  To have a look at their range, and order your own books, visit http://www.penwizard.co.uk  

Thank you to Penwizard for kindly sending us The Boy Who Lost His Name to review.

PS when we ordered, the books arrived super fast :)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

*Giveaway!* £25 Cafe Rouge Voucher with Inntravel and #FlavourFromFrance



When I think of French cuisine, I think of rich, cream-based sauces, croissants, pain au chocolat, and crusty baguettes.  And then I wonder how the Parisienne population remains so slender and chic.  Mr L. struggled to come up with any french dishes to begin with, until I reminded him we'd enjoyed beef bourgignon only days before!

Anyway.  One of the things which has surprised me is just how much my children like fish, and another is just how little fish I actually cook.  So this year I've decided to cook more fish dishes for us all.  I myself love it, and shellfish, whereas Mr L. is distinctly unadventurous when it comes to seafood.  Too many bones is his usual answer, and trying to get him to eat calamari?  Forget about it!

The kids however, have been extremely taken with mackerel pate, which I made for them, and have declared it one of their favourite meals.

The reason, by the way, I mention both french cuisine and fish, is because I was recently asked to create a dish inspired by France.  Now, whilst I immediately thought of chicken and tarragon, or some sort of pot au feu, or even a hearty tartiflette, I kept being drawn back to the fish.  Think moules mariniere or bouillabaisse and you can see my attraction.

So, after browsing some cookbooks for inspiration and visiting our local fishmongers (in our supermarket - I WISH we had a proper fishmonger close to us) I came up with this Provencal inspired fish stew.  It's a cross between a stew and a soup, I suppose, but it's quick to cook, and filling too.  

It's entirely a base for whatever is on offer/you like the look of/ you can get into the kids (or in my case, the husband) and is so easily adaptable.  You can also add stronger flavours, or keep it clean and simple so you can really taste the fish - I think this would taste lovely with seafood caught fresh the same day. 

Ingredients to feed 5 or 6 hungry people:

1 onions, finely chopped
garlic - about 2 cloves, minced
herbs - I used bay, thyme, rosemary and oregano
350ml fish stock - it's worth buying a decent fresh one if you can
dry white wine - 150ml (about a glass)
a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

On to your fish:

Really you can choose whatever you fancy but a nice meaty firm white fish (such as monkfish) is a great starting point.  When I went to the fishmongers, they didn't have monkfish but cod loins were on special offer, so I chose them.  Try to aim for a good mix of fish and shellfish.

I used:

approximately 400g of cod loins (cut into chunks)
2 good sized salmon steaks (any skin removed, cut into chunks)
king prawns - I'd say 250g (raw for preference)
mussels - about 125g shelled or 300g in shells (debearded and cleaned)

The fish counter also had samphire (also referred to as sea asparagus) so I bought that too - it was about 100g

Fry the onion and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil, until they're softened, in a heavy based frying pan or saute pan.

If using the white wine, add that to the pan and let it bubble and reduce slightly, before adding the fish stock.  Tie the herbs in a bundle, drop into the stock and bring it to the boil.



Reduce to a gentle simmer, then add your cubed fish - if using cod loins, add the salmon first, as the cod is more delicate.  Add in the can of tomatoes (what would be really nice, but I didn't think of at the time, would be to add a few pitted black olives right about now)





Next, throw in your shellfish.  I can't tell you how long it'll take to cook through, but it's quick, so keep an eye on it.  Raw prawns will be pink all the way through, and mussels will be open (discard any which don't open when you tap them).







Finally, if you have some, add the samphire for the final few minutes.  You'll note I haven't used any seasoning up until now, so now's the time to taste and add any sea salt or freshly ground black pepper.  Of course, this all depends on what fish you've used, if you've added olives, or if you've used samphire.

Remove the herb bundle and serve up the stew with crusty fresh baguette hunks.  If you are that way inclined, you could even make the bread. (I would have, if time had allowed).

So what's your favourite french dish?  As part of Inntravel's campaign to promote their french holidays, I'm hosting a giveaway so, for the chance to win a £25 cafe rouge voucher please enter below and don't forget to use the hashtag #FlavourFromFrance on twitter to join in with the conversation.  You can visit Inntravel by going to http://www.inntravel.co.uk



a Rafflecopter giveaway



Disclaimer: I was provided with a budget for the ingredients used in this post.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Well hello there!  I hope the Christmas season was kind to you?  I certainly was to me, and my family too.  Despite the revelation three days before Christmas that my eldest no longer "believes" (I think I was sadder than she was!) it was still a magical time and surprisingly it was Facebook which came to the rescue.  A letter posted (and reposted ad infinitum) to a child in a similar predicament - I'm sure you've seen it - stuck in Mr L's head and he adapted what he could remember.  I'd only gone out for an hour or two! 

Still, our traditions include going on Santa's steam train at Loughborough's Great Central Railway, so once we'd been there on Christmas Eve, we headed home to find four little parcels on the sofa, containing a pair of pyjamas for each child and a pair of slippers, along with a big bag of popcorn to share and santa's magic key (as we have blocked the fireplace up).

I don't know about you, but I am usually so wrapped up in organising that I don't think about myself.  I'll get asked by both my parents and Mr L what I'd like - present wise - and my answer is the same every year; "I've not even thought about myself".  I can't be alone in that right?  I'm fortunate that I don't desperately need anything, I think, and I have to admit I do love a surprise.

I DID ask for a cookbook - Mumsnet's Top Bananas! which I asked mum if she'd ask Santa for.  Recommended by a friend, I will be writing about it very shortly.  I got three other cookbooks too, The Great British Bake-off's Christmas Bakes, Tom Kerridge's Best Ever Dishes and Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food.

Lots of cooking and baking for me then! In Santa's sleigh there was also a day's course at Bridge67 cookery school.  I'm nearly as excited about the prospect of a full Saturday to myself as I am about the cookery itself!

And so then to the new year.  Whilst I don't really do resolutions any more, I am trying to control my weight, and would like to lose a little this year.  Last year wasn't practical, I was pregnant for half of it and breastfeeding the rest, and whilst I'm still breastfeeding, now Theo is eating solids I can start looking at my diet without it affecting him.  I'm not doing massive changes but instead trying to implement little things which should hopefully add up without causing me enough bother to lose interest.

So, that's me.  I'd love suggestions for recipes, books, and ideas for the coming year. Right now I'm off to read my books!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Time is here again

The last few weeks have happened in a sort of tinselly blur.  I don't know about you, but the Yuletide preparations are in full swing from mid-November.  Pre-children, it would have been mid-December. 

My 2nd-born's birthday is exactly 5 weeks before Christmas.  Once this date has passed, I can begin to 'openly' get on with present-buying, festive-planning, and food preparation.  I'll *actually* have been doing it in secret since October anyway.

Once upon a time, Christmas didn't need that much forethought.  As a child, Santa was responsible for everything, and 'not-santa-but-not-me' did everything else.  When I was a student and immediately afterwards, I would go shopping as close to the actual day as I could.  Now, with four children, I need to be seriously organised.  But as well as the shopping and the food, as parents we have Christingle services to attend, nativities to watch, Christmas school fairs to visit/help at/bake for and numerous other festive activities to be involved with.  

This year, I was asked to make a Christmas cake for the school fair.  I was all set to say no, on account of not really being brilliant at icing/decorating, and not really having made a Christmas cake before.  But something in me just wanted to give it a go.  I had great fun but I ended up spending about £30 to make it, then walked into Waitrose where I could have bought one for about £8 (admittedly not as big).  Anyway, some simple decoration and a sparkly silver ribbon was about my limit.


My absolute top tip for anyone is to create an Excel spreadsheet of gifts.  It doesn't matter how you do it, but it's a godsend.  Every person we have to buy for goes on the list.  I should point out at this point that as well as our 4 children, Mr L, and my parents, we have 10 nephews and nieces to buy for, plus godchildren - plus two birthdays within four days of the big day itself.  So I NEED a list. You can colour code it if it helps, you can make it as complex or as simple as you like. But, if you've got any amount of people to buy for, make a list! 

Then the children want to make teachers homemade presents.  At the Christmas fair, I helped out on the nail bar.  I'm possibly the worst person to paint nails, but I gave it a good go.  As there were teachers on there too, I took the opportunity to ask what teachers like/don't like to receive.  Wine.  Good.  Homemade goods.  Also good.  Mugs?  Not so good.  It's not that teachers don't use mugs.  But apparently they do get rather a lot.  Anyway.  My 4 year old spied the Snow-Globe hot chocolates in the November issue of BBCGoodFood Magazine.  If you want to make them, click here.   The older two wanted to make chocolate chip cookies and stained glass biscuits.  Stained glass biscuits are great fun to make, and it's certainly good to take your aggression out on a bag of boiled sweets with a rolling pin (mind your fingers though - I hit mine OUCH!) but you'll be scrubbing fragments of sweet off every surface for weeks afterwards.



Mince pies are only acceptable to me when they are in mini form - I have a mini cake tin, (instead of the usual twelve hollows, there are twenty-four small ones) which does the job perfectly.

And finally, I always make my dad something homemade to go in his Christmas box.  In previous years we've made cakes, biscuits, chocolate bark etc, but this year I decided to make a savoury treat - and as he loves Greece, (and I've been going through my Nigella Christmas book) I have made him some marinated feta.  It certainly looks the business - just hope it tastes nice!



So, with that, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!  

Monday, 10 November 2014

Looking towards Christmas

Is it just me?  My social media feeds are full of two types of people, it seems.  There are those who love this time of year, and appear to have been waiting for Christmas since LAST Christmas, and there are those who loathe it, sneer at, snipe and despise it, it seems.

Me?  I've got 4 young children, so it's still magical in our household.  My daughter points out regularly that the only time I get up before them is on Christmas morning (I'm not even slightly ashamed to admit that it's true) and that's because I love creating the magic, the snowy boot-prints, the stockings at the end of the bed, the nibbled piece of carrot and mince pie crumbs.  

I spend from September onwards squirrelling away stocking fillers, and surreptitiously trying to find out what the children want from Santa.  It isn't usually until late November when I get into full swing, after my son's birthday.  By then,  internet shopping reigns supreme.  I don't mind wandering through shops when I'm just browsing, but honestly, I love being able to order it online and then wait for the postman/email to say it's ready to collect.

Right now, it's all about the food.  What will we eat this year on the day itself?  Turkey, rib of beef, goose?  What do we want for dessert? (traditionally we have an Adnams Broadside Christmas pudding) but do we want something different?  Do we WANT pudding - do we want to dive headlong into a huge pile of chocolate instead?  Breakfast: croissants and prosecco? Or Buck's Fizz and whatever cereal we can cram in quickly?  Then there's Christmas Eve, traditionally (there's that word again) a bit of luxury for Mr L and I once the kids are in bed.  And the family gatherings.  Oh, the family gatherings! 

Then, and you know this if you've read ANYTHING I've ever written previously, there are the edible, homemade, and/or food related gifts.  Teachers, family, friends, no-one is safe left out!  And the tree decorations.  So far, Alfie, my 4 year old, has seen a snow-globe inspired hot chocolate jar which he'd like to make for his teacher.  Lewis wants to make biscuits for his teacher.  Meg wants to make nearly everything she reads in her cookbook for hers.  There's the Christmas Fair, who this year have asked if I'd be interested in making a Christmas cake for them to raffle off.  I'm not THAT good, but I'm game for giving it a go.  So, you can see that food takes up a significant portion of my Yuletime thoughts.

And that's my question really, some people love receiving homemade foodie gifts, some people loathe it.  Do you like it?  If so, what foods do you love to receive?  One year I made homemade nutella (the recipe, from 2011, is here)  and if you DON'T like to receive these types of gifts, what do you do with them?


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Centerparcs, Sherwood Forest, October 2014

We've been to Centerparcs a few times, over the years. The first time was when our eldest was a wee dot, aged 2 years old.  We went with family, and having never been before, hadn't got a clue what to expect.  Suffice to say we enjoyed it, and over the years we've taken our expanding brood.  This October half term (which is a week earlier in Leicestershire than nearly everywhere else) we booked ourselves a New Style Executive 3 bedroomed lodge (in the past we've just had the comfort plus villas).  

You can't see the baby, obviously, but this is our "on our way to Centerparcs" selfie

When we arrived, we had a separate entrance. We weren't expecting that.  Then the lady in the booth told us we had parking outside the lodge.  We weren't expecting that either.  Oh what bliss! We drove straight to the lodge (at 10am) and there were no cars in our spaces.  We parked up and went into the village.  No car parking space roulette for us!  We had coffee, we went to the Jardin du Sport and the kids hurtled round the soft play area, we had lunch and we went swimming.  We were on holiday as soon as we arrived.  Mr L and I had alcoholic drinks, because we didn't need to move the car.  

Pancake House Selfie

Another thing we weren't expecting was a daily maid service.  The beds were made and the towels replenished daily, and the boys were THRILLED when we returned back there and their towels had been made into elephants every day.



Visit from the neighbours

The only thing I wasn't thrilled with was the oven.  I tried to cook one night, and despite the oven being at temperature, the food was still raw after leaving an additional ten minutes on top of the cooking time.  It didn't taste quite as good as I'd like after microwaving it. 

Activity wise, Alfie, our four year old, went on the teddy bear's picnic.  He took Teddy, his teddy (in case you were unsure) along with him.  He was very happy and Rupert the bear gave him a NEW teddy (he called him Freddie - can you sense a theme?).

Alfie, Teddy and Daddy


Meg (aged 10) did jewellery making and made a friendship band and some dangly earrings.  She had fun and was pleased with the results, and I sent Mr L off to the lodge with the boys (including the baby) and I got myself a mug of tea and squirrelled myself into a corner with my book.  Well alright, my phone. Be fair, I've got to keep up with Candy Crush FaceBook and Twitter.

Lewis, who will be 7 next month, met the owls.  He's done this before, two years ago.  I think he was a little disappointed this time.  Last time, this activity took place at the nature reserve, and the participants sat in a line and the owls hopped down the line, so each person got to hold the owls.  Lewis, then almost 5yrs old, was far braver than some of the adults, and had owls flying to his gloved hand.  The only owl he wouldn't hold was the eagle owl, which had "eyes like the gruffalo" and was, to be fair, about the same size as him.

This time, it took place by the bowling green, and they only got to hold three owls.  Lewis had been excited to hold the eagle owl, and see all of the owls again, but it was a different person running it, and the experience wasn't as good as the previous time.  That said, Lewis now wants a barn owl for a pet.  I wonder if I can find any Hedwig toys?




Overall we had a great time at Centerparcs, the staff at the Pancake House and Hucks were brilliantly friendly, and the pool was, as it always is, a giant hit.  Theo, at 4 months old, was not bothered about the pools.  He did however, love the hot tubs.  Mr L loved the sauna which we weren't expecting to be included with the property.  You may be wondering what exactly we WERE expecting, but to be honest, I can't remember.  The different parks and play areas are great, with lots for little (and not-so-little) imaginations.




One thing I think I would like to see Centerparcs embrace is contactless payment services.  Not just the debit-card-type within shops, but specifically within the subtropical paradise.  If you've been, you'll be familiar with this; you get into the changing rooms, you get into your cozzies.  We're a family of six so we need the family changing rooms (nearest to the exit).  We select lockers near to these changing rooms.  We go into the pool, and we enjoy the different pools and activities.  Then someone wants a drink.  So we have to trot back through the changing room, sort through the locker, get out a purse or wallet, and trek back.  We buy the drinks, receive the change.  Then trek BACK to the locker to put it back again.  Please, Centerparcs management, could you look into a better way of doing this?  Whether that's a wristband, charging it to your accommodation, or something else, please, please PLEASE look into it?  I'm sure you'd see a rise in sales, as half the time, I'd think I could just do with a drink, but faced with the trek back to the locker I decided against it. 

Despite having been several times I STILL make the rookie mistake of going to all the shops on a Friday (when everyone else leaving has the same idea, and everyone arriving is having a look around), I'm still surprised when we go to the Forester's Inn that there are squash courts there, and I still stomp over all footbridges cackling after the kids "who's THAT tripp-trapping over MY bridge?!"  And I'm sure I'll be embarrassing my children by doing that for years to come.

the "coming home from Centerparcs" selfie zzzzzzz


*disclaimer* this post is not sponsored, we booked and paid for our break under our own steam and all opinions are my own.