Monday, 10 November 2014

Looking towards Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Centerparcs, Sherwood Forest, October 2014

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

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

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

Pancake House Selfie

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

Visit from the neighbours

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

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

Alfie, Teddy and Daddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

the "coming home from Centerparcs" selfie zzzzzzz

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

Friday, 17 October 2014

*Giveaway* Win NibNib goodies!

We are a family of snackers.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We love our snacks, both savoury and sweet.  My thighs, and Mr L's tummy, are a visual testament to this love.  Thankfully our children are so active that they have not got such issues!  So when I was approached to test NibNib mini nibs, I didn't need any persuasion.

Cheese straws are well-loved, especially by our children.  I quite often make my own version using mini cutters to make different shapes, and they never last very long.  They are a brilliant addition to lunchboxes, and handy to have in the house.  But right now, with Theo only being 4 months old, I rarely get a chance to do a batch baking session.  In fact, these past few weeks, I have baked cakes for coffee club, and that's been it.  So when the mini nibs tubs arrived, the kids were clambering to get them opened as fast as possible.

We received a tub of mini nibs Exceptional Cheddar Cheese straws, along with tubs of Exceptional cheddar and cheeky onion straws, and Exceptional cheddar and spicy chilli straws.  We also received a tub of roasted salt and pepper jumbo peanuts.

I have to tell you that after tasting the cheese straws I did not want to share them! They are extremely moreish and I would certainly use them as nibbles when we have people over.  They were a great hit with the children too.  The thing I like best about them is that they are way less fatty and therefore feel more healthy than certain curvy crisps (which also come in mini tubs) and also taste far less salty.

As for the peanuts, well, I'm only sporadically a peanut eater but the pepper gives them an edge, which makes you want to keep dipping your hand in the tub.

Here's the good part, you can win a selection of NibNib goodies to try for yourself.  Simply enter using the rafflecopter entry form below.

To find out more about the products, and where to find them, check out the website here: and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway *disclaimer* I was sent this selection to review free of charge, and all opinions are my own.  The prize consists of a selection of Nibnib goodies, and will be distributed direct from them.  Competition ends on 12/11/2014 UK entrants only.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Dettol Baby Blanket Donation #sharethememories

When we first announced we were expecting our first baby (over ten years ago now!) the first gift we were given was a stack of blankets and bedding. We didn't know whether we were having a girl or a boy, so the gifter gave us a stack of pink and a stack of blue.  

Then a relative in the States sent a handmade blanket (and did for the others too, although sadly she'd passed away before Theo arrived).  And when Meg arrived, there were more blankets sent.  All colours, some personalised, some with a lot of sentimental value attached.  There are memories woven into these blankets and also, if you are anything like our family, there'll be a fair amount of dirt.  It doesn't seem to matter how often I wash them, there's always that "kicked off into a puddle" stain, and the "dribbly patch" from being tucked under a teething baby's chin, and that's without the chewed, sucked, much loved tag!

After four children, I've accumulated a mountain of both blankets AND memories, from first newborn snuggles, to superhero capes and den-building.  When I went into labour with Theo earlier this year, I took the blanket I'd sent Mr L out to buy (because in my third-trimester nesting frenzy I didn't think we had enough!) and clutched it throughout labour.  It was the first cloth wrapped around Theo after he was delivered onto my chest, and although it is a cheap supermarket blanket, it is the one which he seems to love the most.

Unfortunately, there are babies being born who don't get the luxury of a warm, clean blanket.  Rachel Stevens, celebrity mum of two and  new ambassador of Dettol Anti-bacterial Laundry Cleanser has launched the Dettol Baby Blanket Donation by donating the first blanket to the cause.  The Dettol Baby Blanket Donation aims to highlight the dangers of bacteria on blankets and, once collected, the baby blankets donated will be hygenically washed with Dettol Anti-Bacterial Laundry Cleanser before being redistributed by Dettol to families in need.

Rachel commented: “The Dettol Baby Blanket Donation really resonated with me as a mum. I remember bringing my girls home for the first time in theirs and what a special time that was. Many babies across the world will never get the chance to experience the comfort of a warm, clean blanket. That’s the reason why I’m supporting the campaign, asking mums to donate blankets to those in need so that those babies don’t miss out.”

Dettol Anti-Bacterial Laundry Cleanser also pledges to donate £1 per blanket collected to the children's medical research charity, Sparks, to raise much-needed funds for UK families with children who are affected by serious illness or disability.

So, here's where you and I come in.  Firstly, Dettol and Rachel are encouraging us mums, dads, grandparents, carers (you get the picture) to "keep the memories, not the bacteria" by donating a blanket via Freepost, and secondly by sharing our special blanket memories, recollections and photographs on social media.  Memories can be shared with 
@DettolBlanket #sharethememories on Twitter, or on Dettol’s Mission for Health Facebook page

Blankets can be donated via Freepost (no stamp required) to:
Dettol Baby Blanket Donation
The Hay Loft
Balcombe Place StablesBalcombe
RH17 6AZ

and are being collected until the end of December.  

Here are some of my blankety memories #sharethememories

Theo snuggling his white blanket as we were waiting to be discharged in the hospital. It's still in his crib now (washed regularly, I promise)

Alf's teddy - being put down for a nap

Leicester Tigers superhero cape 

Meg wraps herself in any blanket she can find. She's always curled up with one

Alfie asleep on his stripey blanket, on my lap 

Oh and it's not strictly a blanket, although they do it with those too, but this is a regular occurrence in our house!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Sunshine Lasagne

I don't struggle as many do to get my children to eat their five a day.  They are, as I'm sure I've said before, little fruit bats.  In fact, it tends to be my husband I struggle to fill with fruit.  But vegetables are a bit hit and miss.  Some they love, some they push around the plate.  I like to cook our meals from scratch so I know what's gone into them, and I can control salt, sugar, fat etc.

One of our family favourite meals is lasagne, but as we've grown to a family of six it can be a little more costly than before to make one big enough to feed us all.  Alright, Theo isn't eating yet, but we regularly have people pop in for tea... you get the picture.  I've called this our sunshine lasagne as the past few times I've made it, I've used yellow peppers, and along with the carrots and sweetcorn, it looks very sunshiney!

So what I do is bulk it up with as much veg as I can get my hands on.  The one I made tonight had onion, celery, carrot, pepper, sweetcorn and tomatoes in.  I also make the white sauce myself.  To make it yourself, it's very simple.  You can adapt it to suit the size you need, you can swap ingredients, add ingredients, whatever you fancy.  

To make our large lasagne which would feed 6-8 people, you'd need:

one large onion                          
two-three celery sticks              
three carrots                              
two peppers (any colour) 
one can of sweetcorn
two tablespoons oil
500g minced pork, lamb or beef.  (even turkey, if you wish, or quorn, or lentils)
tinned chopped tomatoes
a squeeze of tomato puree
a garlic clove or two (or a squeeze of garlic puree)
maldon salt (or table salt)*
lasagne sheets
grated cheese

for the white sauce:

1 heaped tablespoon (25g) plain flour
1 heaped tablespoon (25g) butter or spread
1/2 pint of milk
a pinch of salt*

Chop the onion, celery, carrot, and pepper into small to medium dice.  Heat the oil, and sweat the vegetables in the oil with a sprinkle of maldon salt (or table salt)* for a few minutes until the carrots are softened.  Add the sweetcorn (it doesn't matter if you already have though) and stir for another few minutes.

Add your meat (or equivalent) and cook until no pink is showing,  Add the tomatoes, puree and garlic, stir, turn down the heat to a medium low, and cover with a lid.

Make sure your dish is out and ready and your oven is preheated to 180 degrees.

For the white sauce (which is a bechamel sauce - but my simple version)

Tip the flour and the pinch of salt* into a small saucepan.
Add the butter and using a small whisk, stir on a medium heat until the butter has melted and mixed with the flour.  Heat through to 'cook out' the flour a little.
Add a splash of milk.  When you stir, it'll almost seize up and you'll think you've broken your sauce.  You haven't.  Keep slowly adding the milk and stir constantly until you have incorporated all the milk and have no lumps.  It'll be very thin at this stage, so you need to keep it on the heat, and keep stirring it, until it thickens up to about custard consistency.  Once you've got there, it's time to assemble!

The way I do it is to spoon some vegetable/meat mixture into the dish, add lasagne sheets, and repeat til all the mixture is used, finishing with a layer of lasagne sheets on the top.  I ONLY put white sauce at the top.  Then I sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake for 35-40 minutes.

If you prefer, you can make double the white sauce and have two layers.  An American recipe I used to make called for cheese to be added to the white sauce.  I found that very rich, and I like the cheese to make a crust on the top!  

This is a great recipe to play with.  An old family member could not eat onions, so I would make it without onions.  Mushrooms can be added, or really anything you like.  Up until you add the tomatoes, puree and garlic, you could add gravy instead and put mashed potatoes over the top.  

Have a play! Tell me what you create. Look at the colours in this pan - I forgot there was courgette in there too!

*If you don't wish to add salt, please don't. I'm firmly in the camp that believes if you add it earlier you use less, but sometimes I don't use any at all and it still tastes lovely.  If I do add it, it totals less than 1/2 a teaspoon, which is obviously then divided by however many I'm feeding.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Homemade Sausage Rolls plus a cheat's version

So this week's Great British Bake Off was pastry.  Oh how we love the challenges of pastry!  According to my family I inherited my grandmother's talent for pastry-making.  Whilst the bakers dealt with pasties, Kouign Amann (I SO have to try making those!) and eclairs, I had a look back through previous challenges.  My ten year old daughter is a Bake Off fanatic so we seem to always be watching some form of the show.  There was a Comic Relief final on the other day with Angela Griffin, the reporter (who won it) who I've seen on the One Show and a Radio 4 presenter.  Their technical challenge was Paul Hollywood's sausage rolls.  

I decided that I needed to try making them.  It looked fairly simple, with the hardest element being the rough puff pastry.  You'll find the recipe I followed here 

The first thing I discovered was that the dough was far too sticky - in fact I had to add a whole lot more flour.  But once I'd done that, it was surprisingly easy - all that rolling and re-rolling succeeded in distributing the butter to make lots of layers.  

The chutney also took slightly longer than I expected but again was well worth it, and even though it took about ten minutes more to make, it's not difficult, and is little more than stirring.

As for the sausagemeat, the pack I bought was 500g so I bought two sausages from the meat counter at Waitrose to make up the weight.

Once the pastry and chutney is made, really it's just an assembly job.

Ready to go in the oven.

I regularly make homemade potato wedges (wedges of potato tossed in oil and salt and then put in the oven for 30 minutes) so served these with them and some spaghetti hoops at the kids request.

This is not the best picture and this wasn't the prettiest roll, but they were devoured so fast I only had time to take one photo!  Oh my they were so tasty I never want to buy another sausage roll again!  The kids loved them (although not the onions so much) and REALLY liked the pastry.

So, tonight I thought I'd make them again, but what with the baby's jabs today and not feeling 100% I thought I'd try a cheat's version.  The children really loved these, including the pastry, and I left the onions out (although if you wanted to you could put some Branston (or other brand) pickle in.

You need:

A 375g pack of ready rolled puff pastry (such as Jus-rol or own brand equivalent)
Approximately 600g sausages (the pack I had was 681g)
An egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 220°c
Roll out the dough and cut into 6 equal rectangles
Skin the sausages and squish two together (6 times) to get 6 bigger sausage shapes
Place the sausage shape at one of the short edges of the pastry (this is where you'd add a spoonful of pickle, if you wish) and roll up, so the join sits underneath.
Place the six sausage rolls on a baking tray and brush with beaten egg
Slash the tops of the rolls 6 times-ish
Put into the oven with potato wedges if you like, and as I did tonight, corn on the cobs
Bake for 30-35 minutes

You can see that they look like sausage rolls, and I can vouch for the fact that they taste like sausage rolls too!  I actually preferred the sausages to sausagemeat as it seemed juicier.  

Try both and tell me which you prefer?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Kiddylicious New Treats

As I have mentioned in a previous post Alfie (number 3 child, aged 4) loves Kiddylicious treats.  His favourites have been the fruit wriggles, and whilst he is excited about having hot school dinners now he has started 'big school' he has insisted that I still buy these for after-school treats (rather than his lunchbox staple).  His siblings also enjoy them, so they make a nice store-cupboard addition.

The oh-so-kind people at Kiddylicious sent us some more goodies to sample last week, as they've expanded the range.  We received Wibble Wobble jelly pots, crispie tiddlers and gingerbread buddies.  

So let me tell you a bit about each one.  The wibble wobble jelly pots are exactly that - we had the apple and blackcurrant variety, so each pot contained blackcurrant jelly with chunks of apple in.  Aimed at younger children such as babies moving onto more solid foods, they also come in pear & raspberry and peach & strawberry varieties.  Alfie enjoyed his pot but actually it was his older sister (aged 10) who liked them the most. 

The gingerbread buddies are little gingerbread people-shaped biscuits which all three children enjoyed immensely.  According to the Kiddylicious website, they are made with reduced fat and sugar, with no artificial flavours or colours.  

Finally we had some crispie tiddlers, which are little fishie shapes made from raspberry puree and puffed rice. Alfie ADORES these and I think they may just replace the fruit wriggles as his favourite.  There were some banana ones included too but Alfie was steadfast in his love of the raspberry ones.  

The children all ranked the goodies we received and put the crispie tiddlers at the top, the gingerbread buddies next and the wibble wobble pots last.  I wonder if this might change as Theo (child number 4, 3 months old) joins in the fun in the future.

The thing that I like about the Kiddlicious range, as a parent, is that as well as being handy to chuck into a change bag or handbag, are a great alternative to chocolate or crisps, and have a variety of textures and flavours to explore.  The website has information on their entire range, along with dietary and allergan advice.

Go and check them out here, there's information on where to buy too (all the main supermarkets and Boots stores)

DISCLAIMER - I have not been paid to write this post, but I was sent the products to review.  All opinions are mine alone - apart from those belonging to Alfie, Megan and Lewis.