Friday, 30 November 2012

Reindeer Gingerbread Men

Check out my cool reindeer bickies made from upside down gingerbread men! They're in plastic bags because I made them for the school Christmas Fair/Fayre (never sure on the spelling of that one). Copied from Inspired by Foodie Quine (awesome foodie blog - check it out). I was so impressed with how easy they were. I tend to make more cakes than biscuits and I'm still a bit hit and miss with the temperature sometimes on my new-ish oven, but I used this recipe from CookUK and it was a doddle. I did muck around with the spices using 1tsp of ginger and 0.5tsp of cinnamon.

I also tried making snowmen with the bickies turned the other way around but they looked like something you'd see on Cake Wrecks so my kids made short work of them.The recipe is easy and foolproof enough to do with the kids and icing anything is always great fun (unless it's the cat, in which case I don't recommend it).

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Random Likings

1. Toothpaste Squeezer
Just recently - ok, for the last year or so - my eldest has been driving me nuts complaining that once the toothpaste tube is half used that it's "empty" and he can't get any toothpaste out. It goes against the grain for me to chuck things away unnecessarily and I remembered the little clamp we had on the old metal tubes of toothpaste when I was a kid (you know, back in the day when there was only one type of toothpaste and nothing for different ages). I picked these babies up for 99p on eBay and am hopeful they relieve me of the twice-daily irritation. 

2. December

 I love December! The whole excitement of the lead up to Christmas Day (or my personal favourite, Christmas Eve) is intoxicating. It's not just the whole kids and Christmas thing I enjoy, but the thought of being able to relax from work for a few days and eat lots of delicious food guilt free. I am being strict with myself now (both work and food wise) so I can really enjoy myself over Christmas.

3. Christmas Find and Colour
9781741837421 I See Snowman Search & Find And Colour

 These activity pads are £3.99 at The Works (online and in store) and well worth it. They're huge (50cm wide or so) Where's Wally type things where you have to find items in a larger picture. There are two levels of difficult in the one picture, with a list of words for older kids and drawings for younger ones. Each pad has heaps of pages, with the Snowman ones being in black and white for colouring. My 5 year old particularly loves them and he and his 10 year old brother will quite happily do them together. Anything they do together without arguing is a rarity so I am doubly glad for these activity pads! The Works have a good choice of Christmas stories and activity books and is worth a visit if you're looking for something to keep your kids quietly occupied.

4. Tweetie Tag Necklace
This cute necklace caught my eye when I saw a tweet about it this week. It's made by Victoria Wallop and costs around £50. I like this trend for identity and charm style necklaces (even though I'm not a necklace wearer myself. I you like this you might also want to check out Chambers & Beau. 

5. The Polar Express

Despite a love for, and a large collection of, Christmas films I have never seen The Polar Express, a fact which elicited shocked gasps from friends when they discovered it yesterday. Before I go crazy and spend a whole £5 on it tell me, is it really one I should watch. I think it's never appealed because it has a train so prominently in it and I always hated Thomas the Tank Engine, but I am willing to be convinced otherwise

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Monopoly zAPPed - a Review


When catalogue shopping kings Littlewoods got in touch to ask if I'd like to review the new Monopoly zAPPed Edition I nearly bit their hand off. Would I?!  I played loads of Monopoly in my youth (back in the day when there was just the one version) and my kids are just as keen as me on the classic so both Monopoly and Monopoly Junior get played quite a lot in our house. Monopoly zAPPed needs to be played with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. You download a free app and you're good to go. As yet there is no android version.

Let's start with the look of the game. It's a lot slicker than the old version. The board has some snazzy graphics with the train stations looking more like bullet and less like steam trains. The old utilities have been replaced by modern counterparts like Satellite, but all the property cards are the same. The pieces are cool little plastic numbers with the car looking like a red Ferrari! My ten year old son held up one asking "do you want to be the chapel?" Chapel? It's the base of an iron love... Some domestic eductation required there. Setting up is almost the same except instead of dealing out the money (and keeping a few hundreds for yourself if you're the banker. C'mon - we've all done it) you register your credit card and scan it on your device (we gave this game a go with both an iPod Touch and an iPad), which then goes in the middle of the board for the duration of the game. 

Play is virtually the same as the original version of Monopoly except all monetary transactions are done by swiping your credit card. Chance, Community Chest and Get out of Jail are done on the iPad/Pod/Phone too, with little games to compete to see who won. These were my least favourite part as despite landing on Community Chest three times I never won the money as I couldn't get the hang of the game that went along with it. The kids, however, had no problem and thought my ineptitude was a great laugh. If you're the sort of person who is anal about lining up your money neatly in a line by denomination and always got a bit stressed when other players chucked theirs any old how into a pile you will appreciate the streamlined look of this game.

With such rubbish weather on the weekend we gave this game a thorough workout and generally agree that it was good fun and, the kids in particular, preferred it to the original version due to the novelty of swiping their credit cards, the screen (natrually) and the video games within the game. The downsides were that you can only have four players, sometimes the card doesn't swipe automatically and it takes a little while for the iPod/Pad/Phone to register it's there, and play is actually a little slower than the old-fashioned handing over of the money. 

Hasbro say it's suitable for ages 8 and up and I would probably agree with this. My five year old was totally confused by the money because it is in massive and unfamiliar denominations (like some sort of generic faux Euro) rather than the paper dollar denominations in numbers he can recognise. I liked that you can clearly see how much money everyone has, but then I'm nosey like that.

I'll admit I was a little sceptical that this would live up to the origianl version which I love so much but I was proven wrong. Hasbro have left the essence and rules of the game pretty much unchanged so it's just as competitve as it always was. If you're looking for a great compromise between a family game and getting the kids off their personal screens then, at £30, Monopoly Zapped is a fab choice not just for Christmas but for any time of year. It won't be gathering dust on our shelf, that's for sure.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, but all words and views are my own. I used stock photos because I couldn't work out how to play with my iPod Touch and take photos at the same time!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 26th November 2012

Hello and welcome to another healthy and nutritious week on my pre-Christmas diet. I am mixing things up a little bit this week, being the glutton for punishment that I am, and adding at least one "fast" day where I only have 500 calories, or two if I can manage it without turning into a snarling snapping beast. Although I am enjoying the great feeling that comes with sustained low calorie healthy eating, I do look at my Pinterest meal boards with yearning at times. Christmas is probably going to be a massive blow out!

Chicken, spinach and mushroom risotto
Chicken, brown rice, spinach, mushrooms and soy (fast day)
Mozzarella, parma ham and pesto ciabatta 
Bangers and Mash
 Quorn Bolognese
Tomato and Vegetable Soup (fast day)
Spinach and ricotta pasta bake

Sorry it's not very inspiring menu but it's healthy and I am losing weight.I'm impressed with the range of meals Tesco has in their diet plan although I chop and change them at times to fit my mood or what is going on.

Next week I'll do a Dream Meal Plan with more interesting options as I have seen some gorgeous looking recipes lately!
Remember to check out Mrs M's Linky for more Meal Planning Monday posts. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Top Charity Christmas Presents This Year Are...

Charity shops are so much more than second hand shoes and books. They are a real treasure trove of fantastic new items that you can not only enjoy owning (or giving) you can enjoy the sense of warmth that your money is going to a better cause than to fuel some faceless corporation's management bonuses.
Here is my pick of the best charitable Christmas pressies.

National Trust
"The National Trust works to preserve and protect the coastline, countryside and buildings of England, Wales and Northern Ireland"

Just £12 will get you this nifty woollen rug that is perfect for keeping in the car or over a chair for tucking around you when it gets a little chilly. In Britain you can pretty much guarantee that it will get used year round and because they're made from recycled wool you an extra kick of feel-goodness that you're buying a present that looks after your wallet, your recipient, and the environment.
Handmade in Exmoor, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh handmade soaps are a fab twist on tradition and at £2.25 each they are ideal as stocking fillers, Secret Santa pressies, or tarting up your bathroom to impress guests.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
"...saving threatened birds and wildlife across the UK and overseas"

I love watching birds. We mainly get sparrows but I have put one of these on my Christmas list in the hope that I can encourage a more diverse array into my garden to give me a more comprehensive way to procrastinate when I am supposed to be working. At £4.99 this Treat Tray Window Feeder is sturdy enough to withstand weather and clear so you can see all the tasty meal worms (yuck!)

The RSPB have a wide choice of jewellery (surprisingly so, I though) and this sweet Scarlett sterling silver beehive necklace is £59.99. It is hand made in Brighton so choosing it supports British artisans as well as the birdies. The range also includes bees and dragonflies.

British Heart Foundation
"funds research, education, care and awareness campaigns aimed to prevent heart disease"
Another stocking stuffer or Secret Santa pressie are these wild flower hearts at £2.99 for a packet of 3. Made of biodegradable stuff with seeds in them, they're an easy way of growing gorgeous flowers indoors at any time of year.

Alice's Escapes
Alice’s Escapes is a charity run by a team of volunteers committed to providing free holidays for families with a seriously ill child.

£10 from the sale of every one of these special Emma Bridgewater Sailing 1/2 Pint Mugs is donated to Alice's Escapes. Alice Pyne BEM is a pretty awesome 16 year old who, despite her own terminal cancer, has not stopped in her relentless quest to do what she can to improve the lives of other families living with cancer. Follow her blog or catch her on Facebook and Twitter

Marie Curie Cancer Care
"Our Nurses provide care to terminally ill patients in their own homes or in our hospices, while offering support to their families."

I love this wooden fishing game £10.49 and it would be on my shopping list if only my kids weren't too old. I have always found toys from Marie Curie Cancer Care to be great quality so this game would be great if you have several children to entertain.

 They also have these tiger and chick LED torches for £2.99 each. They don't need batteries as they charge by squeezing the handle a few times. These are great for kids who are a little scared of the dark as if they fall asleep with them on the batteries won't go flat.

Their website says "100 per cent of profits from every product go towards providing a Marie Curie Nurse this Christmas".

British Red Cross
"Caring for People in Crisis"

I really liked this Scotty Dog doorstop from the British Red Cross and it's currently on sale for £11.99 instead of £20.

If you have seen any charity shop gems let me know by leaving me a comment. I'm always open to shopping with a conscience.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday-ish

Whoops! I have a meal plan but haven't had a chance to write it up yet. Actually, all I need to do is copy it across from Tesco Diets since I am following that again this week. It's been pretty easy to stick to but I am missing my slow cooker. Things are pretty manic lately and am am struggling to cook dinner on time (ie: before my family starts eating the furniture or nagging me so much I feel like battering them with it). I forgot my shopping list when I went to the supermarket on Sunday so some meals have had to be tweaked or repeated as I refuse to go back or order any more groceries until next Sunday. We have plenty of food here and I'm not doing a special shop just for diet food. I'll have to tweak the meal plan to suit what I have.

Baked Leek and Bacon Risotto (this is lovely and where I thought the portion would be too small, by adding a massive handful of fresh spinach  it is perfect).
Vegetable Soup
Spicy Parsnip and Apple Soup
Stuffed Peppers with Basil and Feta
Thai Red Chicken Curry
Tofu Salad with Garlic Bread
Turkey Burger with Salad

I can pretty much guarantee I won't get more than half of that and the other half will be what I can cobble together from the food I already have at home.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

DIY Decorated Letters Tutorial

I'm actually going to attempt a tutorial today. I thought of doing this blog post retrospectively so please forgive the fact that I start with one letter and finish with another. I have eight nieces and nephews to buy prezzies for at Christmas, ranging from a 2 year old girl to a 14 year old boy. Three of them are in Australia which means whatever I give has to be light enough to send or something I order online and get sent to my mum's for her to wrap and deliver. This year I started planning in August (I kid you not) will the full intention of having everything done in time to post surface mail. Yeah... right... like that happened. In a fit of crafty passion and because I finally bought some Mod Podge and I was dying to do something with it I decided to do a personalised decorated letter for them all as part of their prezzie.

Here is what you'll need:

  • Cardboard letters (I got mine from Hobbycraft but they're widely available online)
  • Mod Podge (again, Hobbycraft) sparkly and plain
  • Scissors
  • Paintbrush
  • Something to cut up for the pictures. Comics are great but I had a couple of these rubbish Hello Kitty books to butcher for the girls' letters
You'll need to get all your bits of paper and pictures cut up before you start gluing. The first two letters I did were comic ones and it was a bit fiddly trying to find the right pictures to cover all the brown of the letter. The later ones I did I used different coloured plain paper to cover the letter first so it didn't matter if I missed little bits here and there. I don't recommend using tissue paper, by the way, as I did on the K & M. It's ok, but it can get a bit soggy and wrinkly if you're a bit heavy handed with the Mod Podge.

Cover your letter with your choice of background paper. It doesn't have to be plain - spots or other wrapping paper could also work well. Cutting squares around 3cm x 3cm is an easy way to patchwork it, rather than trying to wrap it. Let it dry (it doesn't take long).

Then you need to cover your letter with your pictures of choice. Here is one partially completed.

... and here are two I made earlier. Give it all a final coat of Mod Podge which dries like a varnish to seal and protect everything. My boys have these on their doors stuck on with those sticky Velcro dots but they can also stand on their own on a shelf.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Christmas Starts Here

Here is my perfect November weekend. All the December mags I like, some hot chocolate and Jilly Cooper's How to Survive Christmas. My copy is battered and in danger of losing pages but it's been an annual staple of my Christmas preparations since I bought it at a jumble for 55p about ten years ago. It doesn't matter that my life is nothing like the O'Agas - the family in her book. I just love Jilly Cooper and Jilly Cooper doing Christmas is like, well... Christmas!

I make sure the house is quiet, make a mug of hot choc with the trimmings, and settle down to escape the clutter of my house into the pages of someone else's styled home with tables laden with gorgeous food, their glitzy sparkly party dresses and the pages of cute prezzies I always mean to track down but never quite get around to. For me, Christmas doesn't start with shopping it starts with this and it's one of my favourite traditions.

When does the whole festive season start for you? Do you have a routine like mine, maybe with cook books or writing lists? Let me know by leaving a comment because I'd love to hear.

PS: I'd just like to point out that is a shaggy rug (and very good for hiding spills by messy kids) and not shagpile carpet!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

What You Truly Can't Live Without This Week (... or not)

Haven't had a "random likings" for a while. Here are some bits and pieces I have seen on my online travels.

1. Leopard print Converse
I saw these ones at Office...
 ...but when looking for a suitable pic to use I found these ones in the States with a zip, with just a leopard tongue.
Then there are these sparkly beauties for those who think leopard print isn't enough on its own, and that it could use a little bling
I, however, am a woman of simple tastes and the top pair have been added to my Christmas wish list.

2. Folding Water Bottle 

This one came thanks to Mrs Thrifty when she posted about her favourite Money Saving Handbag Essentials.  I thought it was a great idea and ordered one for myself. Anything that reduces the amount of crap I seem to forever be lugging in my handbag is a good thing and this has proved to be great.

3. Arthur Christmas!

Not exactly random as this has been on my radar for a while and I pre-ordered it last week. I loved Arthur Christmas and have been waiting for it to come out on DVD so it can be added to my growing collection of Christmas films. It's currently £9.99 at Amazon but am sure it will be on offer in the supermarkets as well.


4. LEGO Sweets
You can tell what direction my online searches have been heading recently - first Arthur Christmas and now LEGO sweets.You can get these from various online retailers including Sweet Greetings and Amazon (I love browsing all the imported sweets and food on there!) But look at these awesome gummy LEGO sweets.
Unfortuately you can't buy them but if you want to make them the instructions are at Sweet and Nerdy.

 If you were keen then you can either make a silicone mould or buy one from eBay. Actually, while I was searching I turned up this gem: a Hans Solo in Carbonite mould so you can munch him in chocolate, jelly, ice - whatever takes your fancy.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - 12 November 2012

Happy Monday peeps. After a successful first week I am looking forward to the second week of my diet (not going to kid myself it's a lifestyle change, because I know I'll never stick to 1300 calories a day for the rest of my life). Stuck to plan 100% and was impressed with the ease of the meals, though I miss my slow cooker! I have deliberately repeated two meals from last week, the omelet and minced (Quorn) beef, because I like them and will fit well into my week.

This week's dinners are:
Baked Leek and Bacon Risotto
Cheese, tomato and spinach omelet with toast
Greek Style Lemon Chicken with Salad
Ham & Pineapple Pizza
Pasta Bake with Goat's Cheese
Minced Beef and Potato
Chicken and Spinach Rice

I didn't get much of a chance to peruse other blogs last week but will definitely be looking this week. Remember to check out Mrs M's blog for more Meal Planning Monday posts, and have a great week.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Popcorn Treats and Saved By Cake - A Review

I'm not really one for food mags or cookbooks. There's so much online and I'd much rather spend my money on ingredients than books to clutter up my already cluttered house. I recently ventured out of the kids section and into the cooking section of my library and found two books worth sharing.

The first is Popcorn Treats by Hannah Miles (Amazon £6.99). I'm a bit of a popcorn fan, particularly if it's sweet. You might remember I recently made Caramel Marshmallow Popcorn - if you haven't tried it yet, you should! Popcorn Treats has 60-odd recipes, each on a separate page with an accompanying full page photo. I liked the layout because it's easy to follow - ingredients in one column and method in another - and there's no trying to guess what picture relates to which recipe. It's separated into Sweet, Savoury, Treats (things like popcorn cookies and lollipops) and Gourmet (nutty popcorn, margarita popcorn). Some of the savoury recipes might make it into my Christmas hampers this year but it's really the sweet ones I fancy.

Popcorn Treats would make a great addition to a popcorn hamper Christmas present. You could package it up with some ingredients, popcorn bags or boxes and an air popper for a teenager (or someone like me!) Given that my popcorn cooking skills are a bit hit and miss (I burnt the last batch and stunk the house out) I have put this £14.99 popper on my Christmas wishlist.

The second book is Saved By Cake, by Marian Keyes (Amazon £10). You just have to look at the gorgeous gooey pastels on the cover to know this is going to have some gorgeous recipes in it and it doesn't let you down. I'm a fan of Ms Keyes anyway and it's fab to be able to read her new stuff after such a long silence. I missed her! The tone of this book is engaging and chatty and it feels like you're in the kitchen with her while she's mixing and stirring away in her floral pinny. Kind of like a female, Irish Jamie Oliver. Keyes starts the book with a preface talking about how baking helped lift her from her recent bout of depression. I was impressed to learn she was a baking novice before this (she looks so competent on the cover) and the recipes are pretty ambitious at times, but all of them sound gorgeous. There are plenty of tips as you go along or when she introduces a new technique.

Download a free recipe card for no-bake Rocky Road Cake here

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Top 5 Christmas Books You Have to Read With Your Kids

I love Christmas and one of my favourite ways of getting into it is by reading my kids Christmas stories and hyping them up just before bedtime. My 5 year old likes three stories a night (as do I, since they make handy bargaining tool when it comes to getting him ready for bed). Here is my pick of the best Christmas stories for kids. I have linked them all to Amazon for ease but these are all widely available.

  1. The Dinosaur who Pooped Christmas - Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter.

If the authors sound familiar to you it's because they're from once teen-sensation, now all grown up boy band, McFly. This book was only published last month and I knew as soon as I saw it that it had a place on our bookshelf. Dinosaurs, poo and Christmas - what more could a 5 year old boy want from a story? It's engaging and funny, with a good rhyming pattern that makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The pictures are big and colourful and there's a lot going on in them to discuss. Probably not one to read if you're feeling weak of stomach, but I love it.

2. An Aussie Night Before Christmas - Yvonne Morrison and Kilmeny Niland 

Ok, I lied. This one is not widely available in the UK, but my mum sent me a copy when my oldest boy was about 5 and it is now a favourite of my youngest at any time of year. It'll probably seem a little weird if you've never had an Aussie Christmas but because it keeps the same rhyming style as the original Night Before Christmas (which you should also have a copy of!) it will be familiar enough for them to enjoy the differences. C'mon - where else would Santa pull a ute instead of a sleigh, and use 'roos instead of reindeer?

3. Mr Christmas - Roger Hargreaves

I love the Mr Men and it's always been a point of disappointment for me that my kids are not the fans I am. I love the language, the joy of every picture, and the feelgood factor of the stories. Mr Christmas doesn't fail to deliver. It's all about helping out to make others happy with plenty of Mr Men nonsense and familiar characters. Short enough to read in a few minutes but long enough not to feel like a baby book, and small enough for your handbag it's a good one to read when you're waiting at the dentist (or something) or before bed.

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Dr Seuss

I love reading Dr Seuss books. Their rhyming and cadence is fun to read and enjoyable to listen to. We have as much fun with the words as we do with the story and pictures. This book was first published in 1957 and I can't find that it has ever gone out of print. It has a great story along the lines of A Christmas Carol, about a cold hearted, greedy creature who wants to take all the pressies and pleasure of Christmas from the Whos only to see the error of his ways, yadda yadda. The pictures are full of character and perfectly match the story.

5. The Chrismtmas Story - Ian Beck

This one rounds out my list of the best Christmas books for children because I think it's important to balance the commercial aspect of Christmas with a little history. I looked for a book that wasn't OTT religious but which talks about the story behind Christmas. I can't help giving them a bit of a history lesson along with it (Romans, persecution, pagan solstice celebrations, different religions) but the simplicity of the story and the lovely pictures make it a gentle bedtime story that calms rather than excites with tales of Santa and presents.

What Christmas books do you read with your children? And do you read them all year around, or only get them out in December? Let me know with a comment because with a kid who likes three stories a night you can understand that I'm always looking for new stories.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

It's Movember! All Things Moustache

Welcome to Movember! Are you cultivating luxuriant facial hair or supporting someone who is (I am doing the latter - just thought I'd point that out in case you thought I had 'tache envy. In honour of all the men growing mos a- nd the women who have to put up with them - feast your eyes on these moustache related goodies.

1. Zap! Stick on moustaches (£3 at Wilkinson - currently OOS online).
 I have bought a packet of these for each of the boy's stockings, but have had to hide them in the loft so I won't be tempted to use them myself before Christmas)

2. Moustache Doormat - £19.95 from Dotcomgiftshop. They have a lighter version for £25.

3. Debenhams Moustache Mug - £7

4. Moustache Dummy - £4.95 at RED5 Gadgets

 5. Fingerstache - £2.25 for 24 tattoos (inc. postage) on eBay
Ok, I *may* have bought some of these as well...I never knew I had a thing for fake moustaches until now!

6. Moustache Straws - £4.99 for 5 at I Want One Of Those
You could do these yourself with cardboard for a party.