Friday, 30 March 2012

What is the Best Lifestyle Magazine?

I am on the hunt for a new monthly magazine subscription. I don't spend a lot of money on magazines - I mainly read blogs and online mags - but it's my luxury to have a proper glossy each month. I think it's the same with all magazines that, once you have read them each month for a year or two, they become a bit same-y. I guess it's not possible for editors to come up with fresh ideas ad-infinitum, so two years is about my limit. My current subscription is Country Living. Before that I had Good Housekeeping and Woman & Home. All are good magazines that I have enjoyed in the past, but I need something new. I am looking for value for money: something I can read in stages and enjoy over several days, rather than something I consume in 30 minutes. It's got to have a good mix of topics and pictures because, as we all know, my attention span is limited!

To this end, I had a splurge last week and bought 3 magazines: Easy Living; Essentials; and Home & Antiques.

Easy Living - April 2012 (£3.70)
Oh my goodness, what a pile of pants this magazine is. I bought it as it was £2 and I still feel like I was ripped off. It didn't show me anything new. I had already read some of it online in different guises (like 4 pages on what Kate Middleton has been wearing this past year). The most interesting article was about women and Twitter, and that was too short. Their fashion was a bit *yawn* boring. It is definitely not the magazine for me.

On the plus side, I quite liked their website ( and have bookmarked it with my favourites.

Essentials - April 2012 (£2.95)
I quite liked Essentials. I was drawn to it by the cover story - I love a good Sisters Are Doing It theme. The article didn't disappoint. It was well written and interesting, but not too heavy. The rest of the magazine didn't disappoint. It was full of articles, pictures and other items I hadn't already seen several times online. It's not the most stylish of magazines, but then it doesn't pretend to be. Besides, I am certainly not the most stylish of people. On a more shallow note, I didn't feel old reading it. I could relate to a lot of the items, and there were women featured in there who were older than me. I liked the recipes, the reader's home pictures, and the "A Few Of Our Favourite Things" feature. At less than £3, this is one of the cheaper women's magazines on the market. It has a website (, but I found it a little confusing and don't imagine I'll visit it often.

Homes & Antiques - April 2012 (£3.80)
The third magazine I bought was BBC Homes & Antiques. The cover picture sold it to me. It's so pretty - all spring colours and Easter goodness. I really enjoyed this magazine. It was interesting, well written, and chock full of gorgeousness. It's not a women's magazine as such, but it is definitely written to appeal to women. The website ( is ok. It's not the most fancy, but it is easy to navigate.

So, what is the best lifestyle magazine (for me, anyway?). I don't quite know. I'm tossing up between Homes & Antiques and Essentials. I think Homes & Antiques is one I will keep back issues of and re-read, but Essentials is something I will get more pleasure out of at the time, and will then pass on to someone else to read and enjoy. I think it may come down to the best subscription.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 26 March 2012

I thought I would start this week's post with some pictures from last week. I really enjoyed the Cheesy Chicken Pot Pie. I tweaked the recipe a little, using a can of cream of chicken soup I found in the cupboard; and some sour cream that needed using. I used frozen broccoli and the end of a bag of frozen mixed veg. It was so nice I had it for lunch AND dinner on the same day.

Here is The Cake. It doesn't look as nice as the one I copied, and to be honest I was a bit ambivalent. It reminded me of an eclair. Everyone else loved it and had seconds, so I don't expect it to last longer than a day.

This week I only have one new recipe, and that's the 7Up (or Sprite) chicken. The rest are ones we all liked, but haven't eaten for a while.

Turkey meatballs and something (whatever appeals on the day)
Sausage, mushroom, onion & cheese on sourdough bread
Beef enchiladas
Battered fish & wedges (chicken for me)
Left overs

Remember to check out more meal planning on Mrs M's linky

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Random Likings

NYC Nail Polish £1.79 at Superdrug
I love this! It is so cheap and 2 coats (no topcoat) lasted for 3 days without chipping. I have never found a nail polish that doesn't chip within 24 hours even using a topcoat, but I was even cleaned the outdoor drains (yuck) with this and no chips!

 Fentiman's Rose Lemonade
Mmmm.... refreshing and with a hint of rose, this could by my new summer alcohol-free tipple. It would also be lovely as a mixer. In fact, I can feel a new cocktail coming on. It's sold in Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury's and costs £2.69 for a 750ml bottle. Look near where the Schloer and non-alcoholic spritzer type drinks are.

I love Fink cards. When I am distracted or concentrating (usually the times my kids most want to talk to me) I am not very good at thinking of other things. Fink cards are great for times like when I am driving or cooking. I give them to the boys and the questions start interesting conversations we all enjoy, without me wracking my brain for a subject.

If you know me, you'll know I like my shinies, and here is the best shiny of all - a diamond ring made completely from... wait for it... a single diamond.

I would dearly love to be posting a picture of my perfect slouchy grey sweatshirt, but I can't find one anywhere that doesn't cost a king's ransom. Everything in the shops has stupid pictures or prints on it. Please let me know if you have seen one.

The new Legoland Windsor Hotel - how amazing does this look!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 19March 2012

Once again I found myself pushed for time this week and only managed a rushed meal plan. Next week I am going to plan over the course of the week rather than rush it the night before I am supposed to have the shopping delivered and everyone is nagging me for food because all we have left are some crumbs of non-sugary cereal and a crust of bread. Well, not quite, but they way they go on you would think that sometimes!

Thank God for Pinterest for quick inspiration. If you're not already, follow my menu boards on Pinterest as there are some really tasty dishes on there. I only need 5 meals this week as one night is for leftovers, and one night I am out. Hurrah!
 Crispy Potato Roast with sausages and vegetables
Cottage Pie
Guinness Beef Stew & Soda Bread

I am especially looking forward to the sweet potatoes as they look delicious. Except ... bugger... I have just realised I have forgotten to buy cranberries. Oh well, I will get some later.

On the baking list this week is this little beauty from The Girl Who Ate Everything

It is my birthday on Friday and this is the cake I chose. You can bet I didn't forget any ingredients for that! 
I will also make
Anzac Biscuits Traybake

Leave a comment and let me know what you think of this week's meal plan by. You will be relieved to know that, after 3 purchases of mozzarella, I finally managed the mozzarello pesto chicken and it was gorgeous. 

Remember to check out Mrs M's linky for more Meal Planning Monday posts.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Spring Cleaning

As much as I have enjoyed the gorgeous sunshine over the past week - and believe me when I tell you there is no place more beautiful in spring than Britain - it has served to show up the grime in my house. I wish grime was too strong a word to use, but the way the light has highlighted the fact that I haven't really been cleaning my oven door as well as I thought, it's probably not far off the truth. A scour (ooh, unintentional pun!) of the internet to find inspiration for spring cleaning has unearthed these gems.

Astonish Oven and Cookware Cleaner
This stuff is, well, astonishing (as far as it's possible for me to be astonished when a cleaning product cleans). I'd be really astonished if it jumped on the cloth and cleaned for me, but it does say Astonish, not Magic. It smells nice and cleans pretty much anything quickly and thoroughly. Don't use it on anything that can't be scratched. £1 at Wilkinsons.

Orange infused vinegar from Little Brick Ranch
I love the idea of this and will definitely try it. Vinegar is great for cleaning, but infusing it with orange (or lemon, or lime if you're partial to a tequila slammer) will make your home smell that much fresher (or remind you of the cause of your hangover). Some suggestions for uses of vinegar in cleaning are at  

JML Magic Eraser
Great for easily removing marks from walls, floors, furniture and crockery, as well as cleaning taps, hobs, etc.Can be cut to size
 £4.97 at Tesco or £4.98 at Wilkinson.

I have had this steam mop for a year and I love it, so this is more of a recommendation than a random liking. It's cleans floors really efficiently. I hate cleaning floors but I do it much more often th this as it cleans well and the floors dry quickly. I use scented ironing water in it to make my house smell really fresh. I can't compare it to other steam mops, but it's a damn site better than a mop and bucket.
£69.99 at Argos and £59.99 at Amazon with free delivery.

Inexpensive and effective - just want you want from a cleaning product.
£3 at Tesco. Cheaper at Wilkinson but I can't remember the price off the top of my head.

because cleaning shouldn't have to be duller than it already is
£1 for 3 at Matalan

Cleaning Caddy
If anyone sees a nice one of these, please can you let me know. I couldn't find one.

So that's it. Everything you need (minus a vacuum cleaner) for spring cleaning. I put a microfibre cloth on the end of the vacuum to dust ceiling corners. I have a microfire duster thingy but it's always somewhere I am not, and laziness is the mother of substiution

Monday, 12 March 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 12 March 2012

Normally I plan my meals and then shop accordingly, but this week is back to front. I ran out of time and had to do the shopping before I faced mutiny, so I chose things I could vaguely plan with. It was late on Thursday night and I was hungry, so this week could be a little hit and miss.

Chicken stir fry with spinach, bamboo shoots and rice noodles
Jerk gammon (in the slow cooker like I'd do pork)
Mozzarella and pesto chicken (I didn't get to do it last week)
Turkey meatloaf with chips
Chicken curry (from freezer)
Battered fish, peas and chips
Leftovers or something simple

I was really busy last week so didn't cook as I had planned. Mainly becuase I kept forgetting to prepare anything in advance and then it was too late.

Remember to check out other Meal Planning Monday posts on Mrs M's linky.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Easter Crafts for children that won't drive you nuts


Easter is a great excuse to bust out the and glitter and let your children embrace the power of pastel paint. My criteria for a good craft activities are:
  • something that can be consumed or given away
  • where the process is at least as important as the end result
  • doesn't cost a fortune and preferably uses things I already have
  • nothing that will hang around shedding tissue paper or glitter
  • is not an Easter bonnet, which I hate with a passion.
Easter Cards
This pretty much covers every criteria because even if they do shed tissue paper and glitter, they are given away and therefore won't be doing it in your house (encourage kids to make them for grandparents and teachers, rather than immediate family members.)
As well as making rectangle cards, cut some into egg or bunny shapes for decorating. If you are stuck for inspiration, Disney Family Fun has some free printables. If you want to push the boat out a little, Etsy is good for ideas, like these free printables from Peace Heart Cupcakes

Spring collages - using whatever colourful scraps you have. Maybe draw (or print) an outline of an Easter picture and let children 'colour' it by gluing things on it. Could also be used for cards.

Daffodils encapsulate the sense of spring completely and are perfect as an Easter craft. To make these we used cut up egg carton, yellow and green paint, gold, silver and green glitter, tissue paper cardboard and drinking straws. Paint the egg carton pieces and sprinkle with glitter while still wet. Cut leaf shapes from cardboard, paint and glitter. When dry, put a hole in the bottom of the egg carton (I use a scalpel) to feed the drinking straw through. Make a slit at the base of the straw with said scalpel to slot the leaf in. Scrunch up a little tissue paper and glue into the centre.
Don't feel restricted to daffodils though. Egg cartons are also great for tulips, or any type of flower your child's imagination cares to create.

Egg blowing and decorating
We used to do this quite a lot as children. Use a thick  needle to poke a hole in the broad part of the egg (which as the air pocket). Push it in far enough to break the yolk and jiggle it around a little. Then make a hole at the pointy end, bigger than the first. Blow through the broad end (over a bowl) until as much of the contents as possible are out. Flush the shell with running water through the large hole and shake. Repeat until you're sure it's clean, because raw egg doesn't smell very nice after a while.

Once the eggs are dry you can decorate them any way you like, using paint, glitter, ribbons, feathers, anything. Glue on a ribbon loop and use to decorate an Easter Tree.

Bake and decorate an Easter cake
Possibly my favourite activity here and a good use for the contents of the blown eggs. A normal sponge is great, or you could try a traditional Simnel Cake. If you are going to do this it may be wise to blow the required number of eggs for the recipe into a separate bowl so you know how many you have.
Simnel cake recipe
(from UKTV food, not my kitchen)

Chalk drawing on pavement or walls - tail target and water pistol shooting
Drawing with chalk on outside walls or pavements is a great activity for kids. Draw a large rabbit outline in chalk, making a large round tail target. You can leave it like that, or have co-centric rings with scores in them for older children. Fill up the water pistols and let them loose.

Chocolate eggs
Ok, you might have to buy things for this but giving homemade eggs is  a really nice thing to do, especially as you can customise them. Moulds are widely available from Lakeland, Hobbycraft and other hobby stores. Use paste food colouring to tint melted white chocolate pastel shades, either to make eggs or decorate them. Glue sweets to the outside with melted chocolate, or fill hollow eggs with something yummy before sealing.

Easter basket
And finally, something to put all your goodies in. Print or draw a template on an A4 sheet of cardboard. Wilkinsons has a packet of 8 for £1, which come in bright and pastel colours. Disney's site has a template for a woven style basket here. Craftscope have the more traditional template here. I remember making these in kindergarten. Fill with shredded tissue paper and all your Easter goodies, or use for collecting finds on at. Easter Egg hunt.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 5 Mar 2012

Baked Mozzarella and Pesto Chicken
Baked Sweet & Sour Chicken and Fried Rice*
I have edited this to suggest you use half the vinegar in the recipe, then taste it before adding more if necessary. Give it a good stir before deciding as the sugar needs to dissolve. It was too tangy for me. I added a little honey to counter the vinegar as it was too late for me. Otherwise it is delicious! It would also be nice with peppers and maybe pineapple.
Chicken, Broccoli, Bacon and Rice casserole (adapted from this recipe)
Baked pork with mustard crust
Pork fajitas
Frittata or omelet and chips (I have a LOT of eggs to use at the moment)

Favourite Brownies

Remember to check out Mrs M's linky for more Meal Planning Monday.

Favourite Brownie Recipe

I have just realised I have never posted my favourite Brownie recipe on here. Such an oversight! I make these very 2-3 weeks and they never last long. They are quick and foolproof and turn out lovely and chocolatey and moist. I normally make them plain, but brownies are great as you can add all sorts of lovely things to the mix, like marshmallows, white chocolate or toffee chips, Malteasers, nuts, black cherries... anything!

200g unsalted butter (I use whatever I have, normally Stork for baking)
100g good dark chocolate (or Asda's 35p own brand... my kids don't notice a difference)
350g soft brown dark sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g SR flour
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 180C or Gas Mark 4
Line brownie tin with greaseproof paper
Melt chocolate and butter
Add rest of the ingredients.
Mix well, pour into tin and bake 30-45mins (or so, depending on your oven).

If you take them out too early (either on purpose or accidentally) just cut out the middle brownie and eat it secretly the kitchen, disposing thoroughly of the warm gooey goodness *

*Disclaimer: I am not saying I have done this, just that you could if it happened to you...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Puzzlewood review - A Family day out

As the dawn of the first day of February half term forced its way through the clouds, I decided that a trip to Puzzlewood was in order. We hadn't been a for a while, but since Puzzlewood has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years I didn't think that would matter. It was a cold and damp day but we needed to get the four year out of the house to save my sanity, so an excursion was in order.

 Located in the Wye Valley near the Forest of Dean, Puzzlewood is ancient woodland. It's not just old-old but super-duper, dawn of time, Gandalf the Grey type old. It's said that Puzzlewood is was the inspiration behind Tolkien's Middle Earth and it's easy to see why. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a dwarf or a Hobbit at all. It used to be underground caves which were forced to the surface, mined by the Romans, then reclaimed by nature. It really is most spectacular, if somewhat creepy, and possibly the coolest place I have seen. The BBC like it and have filmed episodes of Merlin and Doctor Who there.

Colin Morgan Merlin looking thoughtfully magic

The woods have around a mile of paths laid out. It's not wheelchair or buggy friendly, with sets of steps here and there. If you have a little 'un, be prepared to carry them or use a backpack. It can get very muddy and as it is quite shaded, wellies are probably a sensible option year 'round. Unfortunately my son was a bit scared of the atmosphere and didn't enjoy exploring. There is a list of things to look out for as you enter, a little like a treasure hunt, which held his interest for a bit.

 Found the perfect whacking walking stick

As well as the woods to explore, Puzzlewood has a small play area with climbing frames and a willow maze; a hay barn to play in and an indoor maze. It's not massive, but it was enough to keep my four year old happy. He especially loved throwing hay around in the barn. There are also some animals including a goat, which to my shame my son pointed at and asked "What's that?" In the main season they have pony rides.

 Puzzlewood Grand Prix


Since were were last there, Puzzlewood has extended its picnic area and also renovated a lovely stone building that is used as a cafe, with lots of local art on the walls. The selection at the cafe is limited to cakes/panninis type food but it is tasty, fresh, and reasonably priced. There are a dozen or so outdoor tables if you want to bring your own food. The toilets are currently in a demountable building, but a new block was being built and these will be open soon. There is plenty of free parking.

Check the website for opening times. During Nov-Dec and Feb-Mar it's only open on weekends, but it's open daily from Apr to Oct. It costs £6 for adults and £4.50 for children, and £20 for a family ticket. Season tickets are double that price. Under 4s go in for free. It's not a full day out, but it's at least a few hours plus lunch. If you're in the area it's definitely worth a visit. It's around 5 miles from Monmouth and easily accessible by car, though not by public transport.

Puzzlewood has cottages on site and if you're considering a holiday you could do a lot worse than stay here. There is a lot to explore in the area, which is crammed to bursting with castles (it's borderland country), beautiful mountains and rivers, and lots of excellent food and places to eat. Have a look at for more information.