Friday, 30 November 2012

HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof - Review

HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof. Phew. That's a mouthful & a half for poor little non-German-speaking me.  And that's the name of the latest product we've received as part of our HABA Mums Club membership to review.  Take a deep breath & say it slowly with me. HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof.

The HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof, as the name suggests, even to a non-German-speaker like yours truly, is an advent calendar.  I figured out the "pony" bit with not too much difficulty (the pictures helped), but I had to resort to begging twitter to help me with the "hof" part.  Roughly in English, it means Pony Yard Advent Calendar.  And as you can see, the calendar shows a festive stable scene.  The cover, shown, slips off from a lidded box.  Parents need to get into the calendar before the morning of the first to take the lid off the box so that their little ones can get the full fun of opening the advent calendar windows to find the treat inside.  I love the fact there is a proper box & lid, because it means that the pieces can be put away safely at the end of advent, and reused as a whole toy in the future, rather than becoming 24 small pieces of clutter to find underfoot at 2 in the morning.

Also underneath the slip-cover is a booklet.  HABA's instructions usually come in an array of European languages, but this is the first time I've encountered the booklet only in German.  I slightly feel like we're missing out a bit here, as each day has a little story, rhyme or game to play, relating to that day's toy.  Toy? Oh yes.  You can forget chocolate, the HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof has toys inside!  There's 12 wooden pieces, all up to HABA's usual high standards of production & fabulous colours, and 12 cards.  These come together to make up the pony yard, and can be used for all sorts of imaginative play and role-play.

From what I can gather, Ratz Fatz is the name of a whole collection of puzzle games from HABA, all featuring stories, rhymes & riddles, designed to develop language skills & understanding.  As we don't speak German, we may be skipping that part, but we can still have a whole lot of fun with our pony friends, inventing our own stories about them & their adventures.

Nails: Jessica - Black Ice
I know it's not December for another couple of hours (I'm writing this at 9.30 on the 30th), but in the interests of reviewing, I had a sneaky peak behind door number 1, and found this little gentleman waiting to find a new friend.  He's the first piece in our collection.  Squeaky's already seen the box, and knows there's something very exciting inside, she keeps asking for her "horsey calendar", so I know this is going to be a huge hit, and I'm looking forward to the stories she comes up with.

The HABA Ratz Fatz Adventskalender Ponyhof is recommended for children aged 3 and above, due to small parts.  Squeaky is 3 in January, but having checked the contents, I am happy for her to play with the advent calendar supervised by an adult.

For more HABA reviews, why not pop over to the HABA Mums Club?

Disclosure: I was provided with the advent calendar free of charge for the purposes of this review.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.  A version of this post will also appear on the HABA Mums Club site.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Life Story - Barnardo's

You might have seen an advert earlier this year, called Life Story, for Barnardo's.  It followed the story of Michael, a vulnerable child, whose life was turned around by Barnardo's workers, showing that a life doesn't have to end up the way it began.  The advert showed some of the range of services that Barnardo's offers to children, young people, and families, and won a 2 Gold and 2 Silver Awards at the British Arrows advertising awards.

Well, Michael was a fictional character, but there are plenty of "real Michaels" out there.  For one week from today (26/11/12), Barnardo's will be turning their facebook and twitter channels over to Jenny, Kirsten, Laura and Caitlin, four young women who are real Barnardo's service users, who want to tell their Life Stories about how Barnardo's helped turn their lives around.  They're stories to inspire, to amaze, and to make you think.

I haven't read their stories yet, any more than you have right now, but I'll be watching with interest all week.  Barnardo's does a whole lot more than people think.  They haven't run children's homes since the 1970's, despite popular belief, but they do work with vulnerable children & young people across the UK, in all sorts of settings.  From young carers to asylum seekers, fostering & education to substance misuse & family support, and campaigns to raise awareness of issues such as child sexual exploitation and youth criminal justice, there's a lot more to Barnardo's than you'd think.  And with over 800 projects across the UK, there's probably one close to you as well.  (Not to mention over 500 charity shops!)

The aim is to spread these four Barnardo's Real Life Stories as far across the web as possible.  You can follow the stories on facebook & twitter, with the hashtag #lifestory.  Can a tweet change a life? I think so, so join me in following the #lifestory all week.

This is not a sponsored post. I have not been told what to write. I am sharing this post because it is a charity I believe in.  Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Never Failed Yorkshire Puddings (recipe)

I mentioned these in an earlier post, and I know I've promised the recipe to a few people, so here we go.

I can't remember where I found this recipe originally, who gave it to me, it's just hand written in my recipe book, so if it's yours, thank you!  This has never ever failed me, in our old house with its thermostatically challenged oven, or our new house with its fully functioning fan oven. (I'm still getting used to that, by the way!)  The secret is, it's all measured by volume.  No scales, you just need a measuring jug, or a child's beaker with ml measures on the side.  And because it's such simple measures, it's easy to scale up or down, depending on your family size.

I made these. Really.

2 eggs
100ml milk
100ml plain flour

makes 6 muffin-sized yorkies, or 12 cupcake sized. Or probably one giant one, if you're a greedy person.

1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, whisk gently with a fork & make sure there's no lumps
2. Put it to one side for at least half an hour (while you get on with making the dinner!)
3. Preheat the oven to gas mark 8, 220c, or whatever if you've got an old Fahrenheit oven.  If the oven's on for everything else, just whack it up for the last bit of cooking time.
4. Put a greased muffin tin into the oven to heat for 5 mins
5. Carefully remove the tin from the oven & pour the mix into the hot tin. Don't fill the spaces more than halfway, these are going to RISE!!!!
6. Put the tin back into the oven
7. Cook for 20 minutes
9. Remove from the oven
10. Be amazed.
11. Eat.

There you go folks, easy as that!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Perfect Roast Potatoes!

The former parish priest at my mum's church had a regular sermon he used for children's masses called "the last roast potato", this post is dedicated to him.

After many failed attempts, I have found a Yorkshire Pudding recipe that works every time, with no problems whatsoever.  Remind me, and I'll post the recipe another time.  Because this post isn't about my Yorkshire Pudding skills, it's about potatoes!  Perfect potatoes! Splendid Spuds!

I was sent a fabulous pack to help me in my attempts to make the perfect roast potatoes, including a bag of Good Natured Splendid Spuds, goose fat, Cornish Sea Salt, an apron, and the all-important recipe.  So, at the weekend, I set to making an extra-special roast dinner.

The Splendid Spuds are a firm-fleshed white potato, easy to peel, and turn beautifully fluffy when cooked.  That's how a good roastie should be - crisp on the outside & fluffy on the inside.  And look!  How great do these roasties look to you?    Take it from me, they were stunning.  Not a single leftover, and I made WAY more than we needed for the three of us.

Would you like to give the perfect roast potato recipe a try yourself?  Here you go...

1.5 kg Good Natured Splendid Spuds
50g Goose Fat
50g Butter
Cornish Sea Salt
(Serves 4)

  1. Preheat oven to 190C/gas 5/fan 170C. Peel the potatoes and cut into big chunks. Put them in a large saucepan of salted water and bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  1. Once just cooked, remove from the heat and drain well. Scratch roughly with a fork (the rougher surface will give you crispier potatoes). Season with a pinch of Cornish Sea Salt.
  1. Heat the goose fat in a roasting tray until it is sizzling hot and then add the potatoes and butter to the tray. Baste or turn the potatoes (carefully) as soon as they go into the roasting tin so they have a light coating of goose fat from the start. Roast for 1 hour or until golden and crisp. Turn the potatoes during cooking at least once to ensure even colour.
  1. To serve, sprinkle the potatoes with Cornish Sea Salt and serve immediately.
Of course, if you're a veggie, you can replace the goose fat with more butter or oil of your choice, but honestly, goose fat does make a difference to the taste & crispness of the potatoes.

I served with Never Fail Yorkshire Puddings, roast chicken breast & assorted veggies, but you could serve these spuds with pretty much whatever takes your fancy.  Frozen roasties will never match the taste of real home made roast potatoes, and now I have a recipe that works, our Sunday lunches have just got one step better.  I need someone to teach me how to make proper gravy now!

Good Natured’s Splendid Spuds are pesticide-residue free, using only natural predators to control pests and disease, good bugs to keep the bad bugs at bay, leaving you safe in the knowledge that you and your family are getting just what nature intended.  Good Natured Splendid Spuds are perfect for roasting & mashing, with a soft fluffy texture & gentle taste. 

Good Natured Splendid Spuds are available in selected Asda stores nationwide, along with other fruits and vegetables from the Good Natured range.

Disclosure: I was provided with a Perfect Roast Potatoes hamper including the ingredients detailed above free of charge for the purpose of this review.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Master Moves Mickey Mouse Review

Squeaky is nearly 3.  There's something about children of that age, they develop overnight all-consuming obsessions, and they're a marketing officer's dream.  Squeaky's latest obsession is Mickey Mouse.  There's a very old cuddly Mickey in our house, that someone brought me back from Disney World long before Disneyland Paris opened, when I was just a small person myself.  He's been well looked after over the years, and Squeaky loves him dearly, but you can see he's vintage.  It actually surprised me looking at Disney toys today, how much the design changes over the years.

The very kind people at K and Co sent Squeaky a much more up-to-date Mickey.  The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Master Moves Mickey to be precise.  Or "that breakdancing Mickey on the adverts" as Daddy put it.  The postman crept up on me first thing in the morning while I was putting toast out for the birds, and handed me this MASSIVE box.  Foolishly, I opened it in front of Squeaky, just before we had to leave the house for nursery/work.  We were late.  He has a couple of "Try me" moves & sayings he can manage even when he's fixed in the box, and she figured this out in seconds.  Eventually, after much persuasion, we put him on the table and went out.

When we got home that evening, well, love is the only appropriate word for it.  I freed him from his cardboard prison (actually quite easily, the fixings are all twisted card, so totally recyclable), and set him free on the floor.  I thought the advert was putting it on a bit, but no, he actually dances, moves around, breakdances, it's really quite impressive.  If he gets stuck (which does happen sometimes), he even asks for help, and thanks you when you set him upright again.

I was pleased to find he came with batteries included.  Batteries slip into some kind of Bermuda Triangle in our house, and I can picture the scene if we had needed to find the 6 (yes, six!) batteries Mickey needed before we could play with him.  They're still going strong after a weekend of constant singing & dancing, so you can be sure that they will last through Christmas Day before you have to raid the remotes!

Despite the cuddliness of this photo, Mickey's body is quite hard, and he's not all that cwtchy.  I guess this is because he's got a lot of moving parts in that tummy, and it would be kind of difficult to pad him out.  It would have been nice though.  The upside to this is that he is absolutely, definitely, not a cuddly to take to bed.  Which in turn means we don't get woken up at 3 am by him wanting us all to practise our Mouska-moves. (Not Moussaka Moves, they're different!)

At £70.00, Mickey is not a cheap present, but if you have a Disney-obsessive in your house, like I do in mine, he's well worth it.  In the words of Pat & Mick "[He] hasn't stopped dancing yet!"  (Apologies to anyone who really didn't need reminding why it's a good thing the 1980's ended)

K and Co have a great range of toysgifts and clothes for the whole family, with free delivery and returns, there's no need to sharpen your elbows for the battle on the high street.  And with the option of interest free credit, you can spread the cost of Christmas too.  Please use credit carefully.

Disclosure: I was provided with Master Moves Mickey free of charge for the purpose of this review.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Hotel Chocolat Advent Calendar Review

There are some things that really get me starting to feel festive.  The first time I break into the super-sparkly red & green glittery nail polishes, the Christmas lights going on in town, and popping open the first door on the advent calendar.  I was a bit cheeky this year, and when Hotel Chocolat sent me their milk chocolate advent calendar to try out, I couldn't wait until December 1st!

Normally chocolate advent calendars are, well, a bit meh.  A nice exciting picture on the front, but the chocolate tend to leave you feeling a bit underwhelmed.  They're best left for the children, or shared in the office.  That's not the case with Hotel Chocolat!  From the outside, this is an advent calendar for the grown ups!  Subtle, beautifully designed, straight away you know this is going to be a treat that you don't want to share!  I actually opened this parcel in my office, there were a lot of very jealous co-workers peering over my shoulder & volunteering to be taste testers, as if I'd need any help.

The advent calendar itself is freestanding, and opens up like a card.  It's something that I haven't seen before this year, but seems to have become quite a popular concept for adults' advent calendars.  It means you can display the card, without the constant temptation to sneak open the next day's door just a little bit early (that's not just me, is it?)

Not pictured: drooling co-workers!
The sleek design continues inside the card, the numbers are embossed in silver, and the whole feel of the calendar, even before you get to the chocolate is one of luxury & quality.  By this point, I knew I wasn't sharing with anyone, no matter how nicely they asked!  I waited until I got home, but there was no way I was going to manage any further restraint, and so I'd soon popped open door number 1, and poked an eager fingernail through the foil beneath.  Always a good sign, the foil keeps the chocolates fresh.

Nails: W7 Metallic Mars

I was almost surprised to find a fairly traditional Advent Calendar chocolate shape, at least behind the door I've seen so far (I'm being good, doors 2-24 will be opened on their "normal" dates), and I found a chocolate Santa staring back at me.  In traditional jelly baby style, I promptly bit his head off!  Yum!  Like I said earlier, most advent calendar chocolates leave me disappointed, but these are something else. 40% cocoa milk chocolates.  That means Good Chocolate.  I can't wait to start my days with a mouthful of this advent calendar every day next month!  Can't we have "November Calendars"?  And every other month.  I'm a much nicer person when I start the day with some chocolate!  Looking at the images on Hotel Chocolat's website, the daily chocolate sculptures get less traditional, and more sleekly designed, but I'm keeping the rest of the month a surprise.

At £12, this isn't a chocolate advent calendar for the children.  But it would make a great gift for a friend or loved one, or if you just need a bit of a treat yourself in these dark mornings, and even darker evenings.  Go on, treat yourself!

Hotel Chocolat have a great range of treats for all tastes & budgets.  I'm definitely eyeing up the Secret Santa gifts page, as soon as the names get drawn out of the hat on Monday, I'll be away.

Disclosure: I was provided with the Advent Calendar free of charge for the purposes of this review.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme, and will not receive reward for their use.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Chicago Town Takeaway Review

Big gap in the freezer, must be popular
I don't need to tell you I'm a pizza addict, do I?  It's pretty much common knowledge nowadays.  If you went on Pointless & the question was "Foods Lorraine Eats", Pizza would score you at least 85 points, and unless someone said "sprouts", which would score 100 for being WRONG, you wouldn't be through to the next round & wouldn't win the coveted Pointless Trophy.

Well, you can guess my reaction when I was asked to sample Chicago Town's Takeaway range.  I hadn't actually tried these pizzas before, as I tend to buy fresh, because I prefer bases that haven't been pre-cooked.  So I was really pleased to find that these are frozen fresh, so the dough bakes & rises in the oven.  You'd be surprised how much difference it makes to the taste.  Or would you?  Chicago Town's Takeaway range recently beat both Domino's & Pizza Hut to be voted the UK's number 1 pizza on description, price & taste.

I wanted this one SO much!
We rushed out to see which of the range they had in our local store.  Chicago Town have introduced a new Limited Edition Sloppy Joe, which I was really excited to try, but was foiled by our shops not stocking it.  They had a big gap where the New Yorker was meant to be as well, which was previously a limited edition, but has now taken its place as part of the full range.  Not to be disheartened, we selected the Pepperoni  and Cheese pizzas from the range, and rushed home to get them in the oven.

And we had to get them in the oven.  I didn't realise how big they were, in comparison to the majority of other pizzas on the market.  We've only got a fairly small fridge-freezer, and I couldn't fit them in the freezer.  Not to worry, as we couldn't wait another minute anyway, but if you're buying in advance and don't have much space, it's worth bearing in mind.

Eight slices! EIGHT!
Do you want to know what I mean by big?  8 slices.  8 generous, pick up and bite, slices.  A regular shop bought pizza will normally only achieve six before they get too skinny to handle.  8 slices means we can share a pizza between Squeaky, Daddy & I, with some garlic bread, and the adults don't feel robbed by a pizza-addicted 2 year old.  So we did share with Daddy, though not the pepperoni, that one belongs strictly to us girls!

What you can't quite see on the picture to the right, is something very clever.  It took me many years to be convinced by pizza cooking instructions that said to place the pizza directly onto the shelf in the oven, but when I did, it was a revelation, as the base cooks more crisp and evenly.  You don't do that with the Chicago Town Takeaway range though.  The pizza comes with a disposable cooking base, made of cardboard, with a black, reflective top to it.  I don't know how it works, but it keeps that soft uncooked base flat, and helps the pizza cook to an even, crisp finish.  And stops bits of cheese dripping onto the base of my oven, which is a very welcome development.

My pizza!
Did we enjoy the pizzas?  It's a resounding yes!  The only criticism I have is that the sauce in the stuffed crust gets, and stays, very very hot.  Hot enough to burn my tongue when the main body of the pizza has cooled down.  That'll teach me to slow down a bit, I guess.  We actually did a taste test between the Chicago Town Takeaway and another frozen cheese & tomato pizza, and the difference was clear.  The base tastes fresh, the toppings are really generous, and it actually tastes just as good cold (a very important consideration)

For those who don't like the stuffed crust, or are worried about incurring the sort of injuries I risk in the name of blogging (a slightly singed tongue, fine in five minutes), Chicago Town have also launched a new Classic Thin version of their Takeawy range, without the stuffed crust.

Chicago Town Takeaway Pizzas are available in major supermarkets, RRP £3.79.

Disclosure: I was provided with vouchers to purchase pizzas for the purpose of this review. I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Monday, 5 November 2012

CLOSED Friends Giveaway!

The theme tune to Friends is one of those songs that's instantly recognisable, from the first jangly guitar notes, to the clapping bit, to the "I'll be there for yooooooooooooou" chorus.  It's so cute & jaunty & guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

I wasn't immediately a Friends fan, it started when I was at uni, and I couldn't quite empathise with a bunch of glamorous New York 20-somethings with their perfect haircuts and imperfect love lives.  But then I grew up a bit, and became a somewhat less glamorous Yorkshire 20-something myself.  With an imperfect haircut and a non-existant lovelife, hence why I had the time to watch, and I discovered what I'd been missing.

Well, to celebrate the release of the complete series of Friends on Blu-Ray on November 12th, Warner Brothers have come up with an amazing prize for me to share with you.  How would you like to recreate the set of Friends in your own home?  Two oversized cappucino mugs to pretend you're in Central Perk, and a picture frame like the one on the back of Monica's apartment door.  (How I ever resisted the temptation to do this, when I lived in a flat with a peephole, I still don't know!)

Well, apart from this great prize, they've come up with all sorts of fun to get involved, and get back in touch with your Friends roots.  There's a daily quiz, so come back again tomorrow to take part again!  There's a whole load of Friends memes, for your amusement.  And a weekly video mashup of some of the best moments across the series.

So. I reckon you want to know how to win now, don't you?  Well, it's dead simple, just use the rafflecopter widget below, (you might need to use a laptop or desktop, sorry mobile people.)  The giveaway is open now, and closes at 5am on Saturday 24th November (blame Rafflecopter's timezones).  Open to UK residents aged 18 or over only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck people.  I'll be there for you...

Cbeebies The Album 2012 - Review

I went away for a few days recently, being a normal person (OK, one with a bit of a nail polish habit), rather than a mummy.  It was great! I spent about 9 hours driving (total), and had my own choice of music the whole time!  Trouble is, I didn't know what to do with myself, and ended up listening to a random Spanish holiday cd, and Radio 2.

No such luck the rest of the time.  Squeaky loves her music.  We have a couple of CDs made especially for her, titled "Really Very Annoying CD" and "Annoying vol 2", featuring such wonders as Agadoo, Chocolatte,  Star Trekkin', Purple People Eater, and "1,2,3,4,5" (actually Mambo Number 5).  You can imagine how much I love listening to these, especially on long journeys.  That's the same sort of love I have for watching Deal or No Deal.  (I have trained Squeaky to slap Noel Edmonds' face every time she sees it)

So when I was given the chance to review the NEW CBeebies cd with Squeaky's help, I was glad of the chance for a change of music.  We bought the previous one a couple of years ago, only it's living in Daddy's car, so I don't get to listen to it.  I've claimed the 2012 version as my own.  The CD arrived just in time for us to take on a weekend trip away.  As soon as the first track started, Squeaky was singing along.  And looking slightly confused, as to why she could hear all her favourite tv shows, but not see any of them.  Given not much time at all, she was soon asking for her favourites on repeat.

I did wonder why there needed to be a new CBeebies CD, when one came out a couple of years ago, but there's a pretty fast turnover of shows.  I only noticed one song repeated from the previous cd - Timmy Time.  Other than that it's new shows, different songs from within the shows, and happily some of the other CBeebies songs - including our favourites, The Winter Song, and Goodbye Sun, Hello Moon.  There's even "Meet The Veggies" from Mr Bloom's Nursery and "I Am A Shape" from Mr Maker.  I'm *this* close to putting them on my phone as ringtones.  That would be normal, right?

There were a couple of "oddities".  Songs from single episodes of shows, that I barely recognised, mostly from shows that don't really have a distinctive musical theme tune - Charlie & Lola and Grandpa In My Pocket.  They slightly seemed like filler tracks, but given there's 50 tracks in all, a couple of less familiar songs is to be expected.  Oh, and as a word of warning, there's a bit of Justin Fletcher.  It's CBeebies, it's inevitable.  I know some people may have issues with too much Justin, but 4 isn't really too much, is it?  You can skip those tracks, if you must.

Is it worth getting? Yes!  The schedules are so different to when the last CD was released, if you have a current CBeebies addict, it's well worth the cash to keep them entertained.  The next thing I want to see, and I really, really do mean it, is a CD of Sid & Andy's number raps.  Seriously. I'd buy that.

The 2012 CBeebies CD is available from Amazon for £7.99.

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the CBeebies CD free of charge for the purpose of this review.  I was not told what to say, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme, and will not receive any reward for their use.

And the NEW winner is...

As I didn't hear back from one of the winners of the Kelly's Ice Cream draw, I've had to choose a new winner. chose number 8, and that's Attachment Mummy!

Congratulations, I've dropped you a tweet, if you can get your details to me, there's ice cream on its way!