Wednesday, 27 February 2013

And another thing!

An unexpected bonus relating to my last post (what? You haven't read it yet? Hop to it!)

Miss Squeaky's still stuck at home with the chickenpox, and we're rapidly running out of the Toy Story Trilogy.  However, the paella ingredients came in a massive box, filled with what Douglas Adams called "missing matter" - polystyrene packing peanuts to you.  Add these items together, and you get... FUN!

So a second thank you to the folks at Thomson Al Fresco for not only providing Daddy & I with a tasty meal, but also giving Squeaky an afternoon's entertainment.

Paella Galés (Welsh Paella) - Recipe

Well, I admit it, it's not actually all that Welsh.  Just made in Wales, that's it but that's enough.

Squeaky spent last weekend with her grandparents (shortly before coming down with chickenpox), so for Daddy & I it was the perfect opportunity to treat ourselves a little bit.  A trip to the cinema (first time since the night before Squeaky was born!), and the kind of meal I can't make with a preschooler hanging around the kitchen wanting to help.  We're off to Spain later in the year, so to get us looking forward to it, it was time to make paella.  I apologise now to those readers of Spanish origin, because I am probably about to do untold damage to your national heritage, but for those of you who aren't, here's my take on it.

Thomson Al Fresco sent me a whole hamper full of paella ingredients to make my job a little bit easier, including a whole kilo of chorizo, and that little box you can see at the front, with real saffron in it!  Saffron is the thing that makes paella into, well, paella, as opposed to just rice & stuff.  Now that it lives in my kitchen, I feel all accomplished.  I didn't need to use everything in this picture, there's enough to keep me going for lots of future meals, so if you're planning on visiting me any time soon, you may well be eating it!

For two people, I used:

200g chicken, diced
approx 70g chorizo, sliced (or one of the sausages, as above)
200g paella rice
1 onion
3 or 4 roasted canned red peppers, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
800ml water
Either: half a sachet of paella seasoning, or paprika & saffron to taste

Here's how it goes:

Heat the oil in a paella pan, or a wok if you haven't got one.  You need a wide & shallow pan, bigger than a frying pan.
Fry the chicken, onion and chorizo for a couple of minutes. You just want to colour the outside of the chicken.
Add the rice, and toss until it's all glossy with the oil.  Add the seasoning and mix. Everything should now look scary shades of yellow.
Add the peppers.
Pour the water into the pan, and simmer until absorbed, about 20 minutes.  (If your pan is small, add the water in 2 goes)

The finished article
Serve with some crusty bread.
We teamed it with a bottle of white wine, and followed it with homemade (OK, packet) Natillas Caseras, or Spanish Custard, as I'd picked up some mix last time we were in Spain, and I'd been looking for an opportunity to use it.

Paella is an incredibly versatile dish.  Mine was made with chicken & chorizo, because that's what I had to hand, and what we eat most of.  You can swap those for fish, seafood, other white meats (I have a recipe that includes rabbit, but I've not seen that in my local supermarket. Yet.)  It's a great food to share, and that's kind of why I made it.

I remember when I was a lot younger than I am now, visiting my great aunt, who lived in Spain with her Spanish husband.  One time we were there, he invited what seemed to be the whole village round (but was probably just his extended family), and cooked a huge paella for us all, outside on the terrace.  I remember sitting at a big long table, and everyone passing prawn heads down the table to one elderly auntie who liked nothing more than to suck the meat out from them.  Some memories never leave you, much as you wish they would!  But that feeling of family, of community, of sharing a meal is really what it's all about.

Thomson Al Fresco offer family mobile home holidays in France, Spain & Italy.  Paella is a great dish to cook & enjoy outdoors (but not in a rainy February!), and I'm just in the mood for a sunshine break right now, or as soon as the chickenpox passes.  Why not try my paella out for your own Al Fresco evening?

Disclosure: I was provided with the contents of the above hamper free of charge for the purposes of creating this recipe.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Chicken Pops!

Not that sort, sadly!
Squeaky's got what she's named "Chicken Pops".  You're probably more familiar with it as being Chickenpox, Varicella virus, or that horrible scabby itchy thing.  And Squeaky being Squeaky, she can't be one of these lucky children who has half a dozen spots in out of the way places.  No, she is covered already.  It's been about 24 hours since the first spot showed up, and they're everywhere, even in the most uncomfortable of places, if you know what I mean.

So apologies if you're expecting exciting posts from me, reviews, or insightful comments on the world at large, I'm going to be busy the next few days with a bottle of calamine lotion, and endless repeats of Toy Story on dvd.  Someone send me some sanity!

And if you have any useful tips, feel free to enlighten me.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Our entry to the Tots100 Printerpix Competition

I have many talents. Apparently.  I'm not all that convinced photography is one of them.  I like taking photos, and occasionally I'll take one I'm really proud of, but there's an awful lot of misses compared to the number of hits.

Tots100 have teamed up with Printerpix to showcase our family photography talents, with one lucky winner taking home a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 bridge camera (that's the big clever camera, but not as complicated as a DSLR to us mortals) worth £500, and £100 to spend on prints & gifts at Printerpix.  4 others will also win a large framed photo or canvas print.  You can find out more, and all the rules at Tots100.

The photo I've chosen is one I took on our recent visit to Cheddar Showcaves.  This naturally formed raised pool is just inside the entrance to Gough's cave.  Squeaky was a bit scared about the idea of going into the cave underground at the time, until she spotted this little pool.  We'd been talking about people living in the caves, and she decided that this pool was the Cave Baby's bath, and had to test the temperature of the water to see what it was like for the Cave Baby.  (It was cold. Very cold. Poor Cave Baby.)

I love that this photo captures the innocence and imagination of a pre-schooler.  Would *you* have said it was a baby's bath?  Or would it just have been a pretty puddle?  We've got lots of posed photos, but I like that this was just a natural moment, and wonder what the Cave Baby would have thought of us.

I'm entering the Children Aged 2-4 category of the competition, though I suspect the Cave Baby is considerably older than that!

This post is Lorraine's entry into the Printerpix Photo competition

MitoQ Anti-Aging skincare Review

I'm becoming quite the beauty blogger here of late.  I'm not even sure how, it's just crept up on me, much like my age.  Well, never one to turn down trying something new, I was recently given the chance to try out MitoQ, a powerful antioxidant, anti-aging cream, which has just been launched in the UK.

The cream comes in a very stylish smoky 50ml bottle, with a pump action dispenser, something I always find comes in handy, as I can be quite heavy handed otherwise & end up squeezing out far more than I need.  According to the manufacturers, MitoQ is 1000 times more effective than other antioxidant creams, restores your skin's natural defences, and lightens & brightens your skin leaving you looking younger & hiding blemishes.  Sounds good to me, I need all the help I can get!

They claim that after 1 day your skin is radiant & hydrated, after 3 days your skin feels noticeably softer, and after 10-30 days skin will look younger with less fine wrinkles and scars.  I've been using MitoQ for about a week now, so I can't comment on that last one just yet.  Maybe I'll have to post a new picture next month, and you'll mistake me & Squeaky for twins!

I've been using MitoQ for about a week, as I said, and now I've got past the initial surprise of the colour of the cream.  I know certain other moisturisers are yellow (that one that's different, in a dramatic way!), but this is really yellow.  Custard yellow.  It doesn't matter though, it's the effect that counts.  The cream is really smooth and light, and easily absorbed into my skin, without any feeling of tightness or irritation.  I was pleased to notice that the cream is suitable for even hypersensitive skin types, as I am prone to reactions to some creams.
Nails: Leyla Soft Touch Effect Noir

It's also completely unscented.  Most times, that would mean there's a kind of base smell, while not unpleasant, not exactly pleasant either.  But no.  When I say MitoQ is unscented, I mean it has no smell.  At all.  That's strange but a good thing, as it means it won't interact with perfumes, and I'm not at all conscious of wearing it.

One thing to note is that MitoQ doesn't contain an SPF, so you will need to add a UV sunscreen or sunblock as well to protect your skin from UV damage.

MitoQ is available to order direct from their website.  It has a 30 day money back guarantee, so you can try it with confidence.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a bottle of MitoQ 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 & will not receive reward for their use.

For Part 2 of this review, click here

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Oh How Many Peas?

I'm not a teacher.  In a former life I may have been a trainer (no, not a shoe, before you start giggling), but it's one thing standing in front of a room of adults who may or may not want to be there, with my powerpoint presentation to back me up, talking about something that while they might not be very interested in, at least they're going to understand some of. It's altogether different trying to teach a preschooler.  Especially something as abstract as the alphabet.

How am I meant to get her in a receptive enough frame of mind to get A B C to stick?  The letter shapes, not the song.  Though the song is another story altogether.  Have you figured out the title of today's post yet?  Let's sing together.

H I J K Oh How Many Peas?

I shouldn't laugh, but you've got to admit it's funny, and pretty inventive.  I can see the thought process "I don't understand this, so I'm going to sing words I do understand that sort of make sense."  I do it all the time while singing along to the radio.

But there's a more serious side to it.  I've noticed for a while, and the nursery have pointed out to me now as well, that Squeaky's having a bit of trouble with her "C" sounds, mostly at the start of words.  She can say them well when she chooses to, but doesn't.  Apparently I drink Toffee in the mornings, the people over the road have a black and white Tat, and that green thing in the living room in December was a Tristmas Tree.  What's frustrating me is that if she talks about Father Christmas, or a Pussy Cat, she says it perfectly. ARGH, it's driving me crazy (or trazy?)

I've spoken to a speech & language therapist - I knew my office was good for something - and we've made Squeaky's C Box, with a load of toys & familiar objects beginning with C in it, so we can try and work on it,  but it's difficult to get her in the mood to concentrate and play along.  When she realises what you're trying to do, she starts being silly and saying things with a T sound even more, deliberately.  (It's all the more important, because our surname begins with a C, so she needs to be able to say that.)

Has anyone got any tips?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Jordans Crunchy Oat Granola Review

My New Year's Resolution this year is to TRY and eat breakfast every day.  It's the effort that matters, not whether I actually achieve it every day without fail.  I try.  I'm fairly easily bored as well, so I like to take the opportunity to try out new breakfasts, and I was keen to give Jordans Crunchy Oat Granola a try.

I'm fairly taken with granola recently.  It seems to have taken off in the UK in quite a big way in the last few years, or at least describing those crunchy oat "things" as granola has, rather than calling them clusters.  I don't know, maybe I'm just old and things have been this way for a long time, but granola is one of those foods I always associate with America.  I'm glad it's here though.

I was sent a bag of Jordans Crunchy Oat Granola in Raisin & Almond flavour.  There's also Fruit & Nut and Tropical Fruits varieties.  The bag took me slightly by surprise, but it's quite sturdy, and with a bag clip on top it'd be secure & not spill all over the cupboards in most houses.  Knowing our house though, I put it into one of those cereal dispensers that makes me feel like a Stepford Wife.  It's something to bear in mind, but you could always slip the bag inside a recently vacated box of another cereal if you're worried.  It cuts down on waste and transport costs, and I'm happy with that.  The bag was a generous 1kg size, which means less trips to the shops, and better value for money.

Anyway, onto the taste test.  We're not big nut eaters in our house, by any stretch of the imagination, but I make an exception for almonds.  The slices of almond in the granola add a little texture, and a subtle flavour, but not overwhelming.  The main taste comes from the honeyed granola and the raisins.  I tried a handful without milk and it makes for a tasty snack while watching tv, and also goes well with yogurt instead of milk if you're in the mood for something a bit different at breakfast time.

I was feeling kind, and decided to share my granola with Squeaky Daddy.  He's a bit more of a traditionalist than me, and tucked in to a bowl with cold milk.  He was impressed with the generous amount of raisins, and said that the cereal was not too sweet, so he felt he was eating something good that he enjoyed, and not a children's cereal.

As it's not too sweet, I'm tempted to try it out as an ingredient in cooking, I've seen some recipes online using granola in stuffing for pork that sound quite tempting, or maybe just homemade cereal bars to keep me away from chocolate at work.

Jordans Crunchy Oat Granola is available from most major supermarkets for around £3.29 for a 1kg bag.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a bag of cereal 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, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive payment for their use.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Sid's Show - Review

Do you remember last year, when I gave away a family ticket to see CBeebies' legend Sid Sloane in his very own stage show, Sid's Show? Well, I did.  And today, Squeaky and I got the chance to see Sid's Show for ourselves when the tour reached Cardiff.  Off we toddled to St David's Hall, along with about 600 other people for Sid's one & only visit to South Wales in the tour.  He's still going until June, but this was the Wales show, and we were going to make the most of it.  The rest of the tour dates are here, but you know that, right?

It's getting to be a bit of a theme when Squeaky & I go to shows, that we find ourselves in the audience alongside the glitterati of Welsh showbiz circles.  We sat in front of John Hartson when we saw Peppa Pig, bumped into Lucy & Rhodri Owen in the foyer of The Tiger Who Came To Tea, so it was only fitting that we were joined at Sid's Show by his fellow CBeebies presenter Alex Winters (No, not the guy out of Bill & Ted, that's Alex Winter. Different fella altogether).  Squeaky was convinced that the whole show was going to be Sid dipping some bread into sauce.  Specifically brown bread into tomato sauce.  Interesting concept, but I was hoping for slightly more than that!

We settled down in our seats up in the gods for the first half (and moved down right in front of Alex & his family for the second half - yes! That was me ::grin::)  Right on time, Sid bounded onto the stage, there's no other way to describe it.  Full of energy, and had the children and adults in the audience joining in straight away with If You're Happy & You Know It, swiftly followed by a crazy action song about getting up & dressed.

And getting dressed is where Sid's problems all start.  He can't find his favourite socks & shoes, and we're soon off on a fantastic adventure to find them, without ever leaving the comfort of his bedroom.  It's all in the imagination, you see, and Sid's box becomes a hot air balloon, a spaceship, a submarine.  Part of me was a little bit surprised, but it works.  Give Squeaky a box and it becomes a house, a rocket, or a car.  So for the audience, a simple box becoming the key to an adventure is absolutely right.

The box. Or the spaceship. Or maybe the hot air balloon!
We shifted downstairs at the interval.  Not so much for a better view, there aren't any *bad* seats in St David's Hall in my experience, but more so that if she wanted to run to the front, Squeaky would have the opportunity to do so.  She didn't.  Ah well.  During the interval, there was mayhem as children searched high & low (OK, low) for, well, I can't tell you that!  Something special.  No, sorry, wrong show.  Something to help Sid, anyway.  I'm not going to give the story away, but with a bit of help, and another very funny action song, Sid gets his socks & shoes sorted, and even cheers up his dog Fuzzy.
Cheering up Fuzzy

Squeaky was transfixed.  Even Peppa, who was in her bag, was transfixed.  I was amazed that the show was just Sid, and Fuzzy, on the stage for an hour.  No dancers, no supporting artistes, just Sid.  The energy coming from the stage was brilliant.  And Sid is quite a dancer.  I'm thinking of starting a campaign now to get Sid on the next season of Strictly. Are you with me?

A couple of things I loved about the show, just because.  The range of music was fab - there was a blues song, reggae, rap, as well as silly action songs & kids favourites.  And a very simple thing that made me happier than you'd expect.  In one of the last songs, Sid sings "Thank you" to us all for helping him, and he signs "thank you" as he says it.  I know I mentioned Something Special as a joke up there somewhere, but it's such a simple way to make the show inclusive, and such a nice touch.  I'm not going off into Deaf Woman Ranting territory here, it was great.  Thank you!

The foyer area wasn't Merchandise City either.  I've been to other shows where you can't get in without running the gauntlet of glowsticks, balloons, programmes and assorted stuff you never look at again.  I didn't actually notice any merchandise on sale, but that might have been due to being upstairs for the first half & not going into the main bar/foyer area.  Did my wallet the world of good!  We had a great time at Sid's Show, even if he didn't dip his bread into his sauce, Squeaky wasn't disappointed.

Sid's on tour until June, you can keep up with his tour dates here if you haven't already been to see the show.  Or you can keep up with him on facebook, and twitter as well.

Disclosure: I was provided with a family ticket to the show 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, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme & will not receive reward for their use.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Steve The Pet Dragon

"Mummy, I want to make something!"  6 words.  6 words that mean 2 hours of preparation, hunting down crafting supplies & scrap from the recycling bin.  Followed by 2 minutes of intense concentration, and mummy spending the next half hour carefully creating a whatever whim passed through the head of a preschooler in the ad break between Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly.
Deep in concentration

This week it was "Mummy, I want to make a pet dragon!"  While I was still in my pyjamas.  Somehow, we managed to postpone making dragons until after breakfast.  There's no way I'm doing craft activities when I can't see straight yet!  Somehow, I gathered together a random assortment of junk from our "rainy day drawers" (mostly sourced from the closing down sale at Woollies, bored moments in Wilkos, and leftover tat from long since abandoned craft ideas of my own).  Added a few bits & pieces from the recycling bin, and we were off.

So, I've no doubt you're wondering, how DO you make a Pet Dragon?

One empty toilet roll tube
One empty Yeo Valley yogurt pot (other brands are available, but the shape was good)
One A4 sheet of green sugar paper
Some green tissue paper (toilet roll would probably work too)
A small piece of red sugar paper
Glitter Glue
2 Googly eyes (you mean you DON'T have a stash of googly eyes?)
Sticky tape or sticky pads
PVA glue
Green paint

First, paint your toilet roll tube green.  This is the bit your preschooler will actually deign to do.  Maybe.

Cover your yogurt pot with PVA glue, and then stick the tissue paper to the pot.  Be a bit rustic.  It's a dragon, not Kate Moss.

Put them both to dry for a few minutes.

Cut your piece of green sugar paper in half.  Make one half into a cone for the tail, and use sticky tape to fix it together.  Fold the other piece in half again & cut out two wing shapes.

Attach googly eyes to the front of the yogurt pot, and cut a tongue shape from your red paper, and stick this to the front of the yogurt pot too.

Stick the toilet roll tube to the inside of the yogurt pot using sticky tape to form the body.

Stick the cone of paper to the inside of the toilet roll tube to form the dragon's tail.

Stick your wings to the underside of the dragon's body, so they are flappable.

Decorate using glitter glue.

Take daft photos of a toilet roll dragon eating from your birdtable.

The dragon is called Steve.  For some reason EVERYTHING is called Steve at the moment.  She doesn't even know anyone called Steve, except for a cousin of mine who she hasn't seen in a couple of years.  But this is Steve the Pet Dragon anyway.  He's quite a welcome addition to our household, as I've had to be a pet dragon a lot recently and crawl around on my knees making firey noises, and apparently making toast.  Welcome to our home, Steve!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

#FairtradeFortnight - Visionary Soap Company Review

Fairtrade Fortnight is coming.  25th February to 10 March 2013, to be precise.

Fairtrade Fortnight is about spreading the word, getting involved, and promoting Fairtrade.  Fairtrade products guarantee a fair price for their producers in the developing world, ensuring they are paid enough for the good they produce, so they can make a living.

Fairtrade products available in the UK include coffee, chocolate, sugar, tea, fruit, clothing, and even soap!  That last one surprised me, but thinking about it, why not?  Products like cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil and herbs & spices, can be traded fairly to their producers, and they can carry the Fairtrade mark just as easily as the products that spring to mind more readily.  So for me, joining forces with the Visionary Soap Company is a really good way to get involved with Fairtrade Fortnight, because I'm learning about new Fairtrade products, challenging my beliefs about what a Fairtrade product would be, and spreading that information to you, my beloved readers!

The kind people at Visionary Soap Company offered me the chance to review a couple of products for Fairtrade Fortnight, and I was delighted to receive a parcel containing Lemongrass soap, and Lemon lip balm.  I absolutely love citrus scents, so these were perfect for me.

This is the point where I realised I should have taken a photo of the lip balm before I broke it out of its box & started using it. Sadly I'm not great at patience or self restraint, and within moments of it landing on my doormat, I was smacking my lips together, with a slick of balm.  The lemon lip balm is lush.  No, that's the only possible word for it. LUSH.  It's come in so handy during the cold snap of late, going in & out from heated houses & offices to the great British outdoors normally plays havoc on my lips, and I end up with cracked lips that invariably lead to a very fetching collection of cold sores.  Not so this year.  The balm is soft to apply, more so than brands I've used in the past, but feels really light and not at all greasy.  And my lips, well they're soft enough for Squeaky to lay a smacking kiss on, and that's what matters to me!  The smell is lemony without being overpowering, and slightly sweet.  Kissably delicious.

I managed to be slightly more sensible when it came to the soap, so you get a better photo.  Let's go for the obvious first.  Yes, it's an odd colour.  But I kind of like that.  It looks authentic, rustic (and a little bit expensive!).  And there's a certain high street soap company that makes all sorts of crazy colours of soap.  It doesn't have to be bleachy white!  Moving on from the colour, again the smell is divine, sharp lemon, not as sweet at the lip balm.  The scent comes out stronger when you use the soap, the hot water seems to bring it out more.  I sort of expected there to be less lather from this soap than a bar of ordinary white soap, I don't know why. But I was wrong, it lathers up perfectly, and leaves my hands feeling soft and clean. There's shea butter and olive oil in there, which is probably why they feel so soft.  I'm keeping it in the kitchen, as it's great for getting cooking smells off my hands.  As my new year's resolution is More Home Cooking, this is definitely a big help.

The lip balm is available in 4 flavours, including Lemon, for £3.45.
The soap is available in 8 fragrances, plus unscented, for £3.69.
You can order these, plus other Visionary soap products direct on their website.  Wouldn't you like to spend Fairtrade fortnight smelling & feeling great, as well as making a difference to the lives of the farmers who make our treats possible?

Disclosure: I was provided with the above products 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 & will not receive payment for their use.