Saturday, 27 May 2017

Fab freebies of the week 27/5


Morning all - it's looking like it should be a lovely day today so I hope you've all got something nice planned. We'll be taking the kids out later for a soft play event in the town centre but first, here's this week's roundup of fab freebies.

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If you're up and about on a Saturday morning wondering what to do with the kids, look no further - We’re having a party and you’re invited! This May we invite you to visit Smyths Toys Superstores and join the party! All of our stores across the UK and NI will be hosting a party in-store that will be bigger and better than ever on May 27th from 9am-2pm. Join in the fun in your local Smyths Toys Superstores and collect your FREE goodie bag* which will contain FREE giveaways from your favourites including Play-Doh, My Little Pony and LEGO! There will also be a DJ, FREE face painting** and candy floss available on the day in addition to a live raffle taking place every hour on the hour in all stores between 9am-2pm where you could win a £50 Smyths Toys gift voucher to spend in-store! *While stocks last, strictly one per child. No purchase necessary. First come first served, queuing system in operation.**Face painting for children aged 3+ only.

We're looking for parents with children aged 3-11 years old and community groups who'd like to help us spread the word about Soreen Lunchbox Loaves in the next few months.
Parents - If you're a parent who is chosen you'll receive 160 individual Soreen Lunchbox Loaves. You'll keep some yourself and hand some out to other parents and share across social media. We'll also ask you to choose one special friend who you'll give 80 loaves to so they can pass onto their own parent network at a different school. As well as getting free Soreen, you and your chosen friend will be entered into an exclusive prize draw for taking part - where parents can win £50 high street vouchers each.

Share your filter free selfie on instagram then show instore for a free Benefit Porefessional sample


Get a free Dulux T-shirt while stocks last


Request some free tea from Alternative Alice

Order a free copy of Making Cards magazine



Grab some Go Free gluten free cornflakes for you and a friend

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my current giveaways :


Friday, 26 May 2017

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 26/5


It will be a busy week, with dental appointments on Monday (for me) and Wednesday (for the kids), plus a school trip to London on Friday if it still goes ahead, given the recent events in Manchester. Can't believe this week will take us into June already ! Must be time to start coming up with some summery recipes, but for now, I want to clear out some jars of sauces and exotic ingredients from the cupboards.

Saturday

lunch - it's that time of week again ... McDonald's !

dinner - red pepper tapenade tarts with (hopefully) homegrown salad leaves (if the slugs don't get them !)

Sunday

lunch - probably BBQ, depending on the weather - if not, it'll be roast dinner. Either way, we'll have the Madhouse grandparents over for the day :)

dinner - fridge grazing

Monday 

dinner - Caribbean pork with a jar of sauce (& red peppers, onions, mushrooms, courgettes), with rice

Tuesday 

dinner - smoky BBQ Jamaican marinade in a pouch, with chicken thighs, pork chops or steak, depending on what I find in the freezer, wedges & peas

Wednesday 

lunch - chicken breast, cooked with a seasoning sachet (either herbes de Provence infused frying papers or soy & garlic seasoning mix), with regular rice or maybe a simple porcini mushroom & parmesan risotto

dinner - sweet & sour prawns with noodles & Chinese veg

Thursday 

dinner - Chicken biryani

Friday  

dinner - there's bound to be a fridge full of leftovers to use up - in any case, if the day trip to London isn't cancelled, I'll be leaving home at 5.30 and getting home about 11pm so they can fend for themselves !

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Join in with the weekly meal plan bloghop !


Love At First Sip - AQUA Carpatica review


The other day, I was standing outside of my workplace in the morning, waiting for the automatic gates to open, when my eye landed on the flower bed next to me. There was a very non-descript bush with dark green foliage that barely deserved a second look, but what caught my eye was that inside each cupped leaf, there was a perfectly round, unadulterated droplet of dew, reflecting the clouds above and looking like diamonds against the velvety surface of the leaves. I was mesmerised by their absolute perfection as they sat in their final resting place or slowly rolled and dripped across the vibrant green backdrop. It bought out my inner poet as I reflected on finding beauty in the simplest of things and how the morning dew is Mother Nature's life-giving elixir of youth, which allows the plants to look so lush and healthy. When I saw the beautiful droplet created by water brand AQUA Carpatica, it brought it all back to me. It's a fabulous representation of all that water is, or at least, should be - natural, pure, untouched by human hand, beautiful, inspiring, simple, ... - all that for a drop of water, which just goes to show how good a job the marketing team have done !



This sense of purity and back-to-basics is further reinforced by the strikingly simple bottles, which show the crystalline water inside. The square ones look more like they contain expensive liquids like perfume or alcohol than water, giving the brand a real sense of luxury and prestige.


But what about the most important thing - the water inside? AQUA Carpatica don't beat about the bush - they call themselves nature’s most perfect mineral water. The first of its kind in the UK, the water is naturally nitrate-free and has the lowest sodium level of any bottled natural mineral water on Earth. I knew that nitrates were often present in tap water, particularly in rural areas, but I didn't realise that they are also a problem in bottled water. AQUA Carpatica explain : "Nitrates are fertilisers and can be traced in almost every bottled water on the market. Found in nature and used in agriculture, they are colourless, odourless and tasteless but are pollutants, and in large quantities can be damaging. Nitrate-free water is particularly important for pregnant women as infants can become seriously ill if exposed to Nitrates. It has also been proven that birth defects are more likely to occur if expectant mothers are exposed to high levels of Nitrates."


Supporting overall health and well-being, AQUA Carpatica present themselves as the ideal water choice for the most demanding health conscious people, pregnant women, organic food lovers and those with active lifestyles. Available in both still and naturally sparkling varieties, it's a little taste of nature in a bottle that is perfect for keeping yourself hydrated throughout the summer and beyond. It is completely unremarkable in taste, which is exactly how it should be !


for more information : www.aquacarpatica.co.uk


Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

In Chocolate Heaven at The Madhouse ! (Cadbury Dairy Milk review)


"OK kids, who wants to help with some reviewing?"
(vague mumbles, distinctly lacking enthusiasm)
"It's for chocolate ..."
"COMING !!! Wait for me !"

I must admit, even I let out a little squeal of excitement when I saw the fabulous selection of Cadbury Dairy Milk bars that we received through the post. Although we've tried lots of them in the past, there were some, such as Whole Nut, that I would never have bought because I was convinced that the kids wouldn't like it - but they proved me completely wrong !


Unsurprisingly, the kids wanted to start with the most exciting sounding one - Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Jelly Popping Candy. Hiding under the chocolate in this weird and wonderful bar you get chewy jellies, colourful sugar coated chocolate beans and ... wait for it ! ... popping candy ! I know it sounds like a very strange combination but weirdly, it works and you get the extra excitement of not knowing which combination you'll get in each piece. The Madhouse Mini-Testers were squealing "oooh I've got a jelly" or "awww I haven't got any Smarties in this bit" then the popping candy came through and their face was a real picture ! It's certainly too good to reserve for the kids though - the grown-ups loved it too, especially with the crazy paving-type irregular "squares" that mean you can have a big or small piece.
 
 
 Next we moved on to Dairy Milk Crunchie Bits which was sure to be a big hit as Crunchie is one of our favourite sweets. This was studded with lots and lots of sweet, crunchy honeycomb pièces that perfectly complemented the smooth, creamy chocolate. As delicious as we expected.
 
 
Dairy Milk Daim was another dead cert because we all love Daim. I was worried the Daim flavour would be overpowered by the chocolate but no, it holds its own and both flavours come through. Perfect !
 
 
I was hoping to keep the Dairy Milk Caramel hidden until the kids went to bed but it didn't happen. I always pick the caramel keg type chocolates first when we have a box of chocolates and this didn't disappoint in bar form. The oozy, gooey, sweet caramel comes flooding out when you bite into a square ... this is possibly my favourite.
 
 
For the traditionalists or those who like a fuss-free, purer chocolate experience, the classic Dairy Milk, Dairy Milk Fruit & Nut and Dairy Milk Whole Nut are all perfectly nice, but I must admit I've been won over by the more original flavours of the newer additions. The kids absolutely loved the crunch and "Nutella flavour" of the Whole Nut bar, much to my surprise.
 
 
They were excited to discover Dairy Milk Oreo in both Peanut Butter and Mint flavours, both of which were deemed delicious, although the mint and peanut butter flavours, lovely as they are, do tend to overpower the taste of the Oreo pièces, which we thought was a shame. We made short work of the bars though so it obviously didn't put us off that much !
 
So basically, we loved the whole lot ! It was an eye-opener as we usually buy the same varieties and this has convinced us to mix things up to add a bit of variety.
 
What do you prefer? Have you got a favourite bar?
 
Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Madhouse recipe : Tomato salad, two ways


If you try to eat what's in season, the chances are you're tucking into lots of juicy fresh tomatoes at the moment, but did you know that this week is British Tomato Week? I always try to buy local produce from farmers' markets because it helps cut down on my carbon footprint, but choosing British fruit and veggies instead of foreign counterparts also helps our economy and our British farmers so it's a win-win situation. Another bonus is that tomatoes are a good source of Vitamins A, C and E and the antioxidant lycopene, and studies have shown that ripe British tomatoes have a considerably higher lycopene content than their imported long-life variety counterparts. To get the most out of your tomatoes, they should always be stored at room temperature, as refrigeration is detrimental to their flavour.

Yesterday I shared a quick and simple recipe for cream of tomato soup, which tasted surprisingly like the tinned variety but with the added bonus of knowing exactly what went into it. Today, I have a couple of different versions of tomato salad to share with you that are perfect as a side dish when you're having a barbecue.


Cherry Tomato Salad

Ultra simple but bursting with fresh flavours - chop cherry tomatoes into quarters, scatter over some fresh chopped basil and drizzle in a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Stir to evenly coat the tomatoes, add a couple of whole basil leaves to decorate and serve at room temperature.

If you want something more complex, here's a suggestion from British Tomatoes.


Three Tomato Salad with Avocado & Bacon

This gorgeous platter of tomatoes uses a trio of British favourites – classic, cherry and baby plum – with sliced avocado and crispy bacon, dressed with a wholegrain mustard, cider vinegar and olive oil dressing. Yum!

Serves 2-4
 Prep time: 15min 
Cook time: 5min

ingredients ;

6 British Classic Tomatoes, sliced
12 British Cherry Tomatoes, halved
12 British Baby Plum Tomatoes
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
6 rashers streaky bacon
A few basil leaves

Dressing:
3tbsp olive oil
2tbsp cider vinegar
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
Pinch of sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Preheat the grill.

2 Share the slices of classic tomato between 2 serving plates, or arrange them on 1 large platter. Scatter the cherry tomato halves and baby plum tomatoes on top.

3 Slice the avocado neatly, and arrange on top of the tomatoes. Put the rashers of bacon onto the grill pan and grill until crispy.

4 While the bacon is cooking, make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, cider vinegar and wholegrain mustard. Season with a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper.

5 Snip the bacon rashers over the tomatoes, then serve, sprinkled with the dressing and a few basil leaves.

Cook’s tip: Choose your own favourite British tomatoes for this wonderful salad – try a combination of Beef, Large Vine, Classic, Baby Plum or Cherry – just aim to choose 3 varieties with a size or shape variation.

Do you have a favourite recipe for tomato salad?

Brilliant bathroom buys for tweens, teens and the young-at-heart (review roundup)


Although the weather doesn't seem too sure about what it wants to do at the moment, there is no doubt that summer is definitely on the way so now is the time to stock up on sun cream. Sun Sense recently offered samples on twitter and sent us through a selection of their sun protection to try out, with everything from Daily Face (SPF50+ with invisible tint finish), Ultra (SPF50+ for the family), Kids (for young delicate skin) and Sensitive. Make sure you always have some in your handbag, changing bag or glovebox so you don't get caught short when the sun comes out unexpectedly !


The Madhouse kids are obsessed with pinching my lip balms so, when we received a selection of  Amber House's Candy Crush lip balms to review, I knew that I wouldn't get a look-in ! They come in four tasty flavours inspired by the game : Lemonade Lake, Peppermint Palace, Chocolate Mountains and Bubblegum Bridge. The kids loved the packaging and allusions to the game, but also the fun flavours and the creamy texture that is easy to apply. Did you know it's National Smile Month this month (15th May - 15th June) ? Now there's a good excuse for giving your lips some TLC ! They're available at Primark.


Now, the sun has barely started putting in an appearance (and even then it's on-off), but I've already spotted teens and tweens at the park in shorts and vest tops. Depending on the age of your daughters, this may be the first year they start feeling uncomfortable about having hairy legs so it could be a good time to give them a little chat about the options they have, if they're so inclined. We received a Dorco Eve razor to put through its paces and, although it doesn't look all that impressive when it comes out of the box (I thought it looked a bit chunky and basic), it actually gives a really close and comfortable shave with no nicks or razor burn. It features six blades split into a unique ‘double blade’ format to contour to your body shape, a moisturising band with Aloe, Vitamin E and Lavender that calms and protects even the most sensitive skin and an innovative brush finger to massage the body and raise hair follicles for a closer, smoother shave. For more info, head over to Razors by Dorco. (RRP £4.90 for 3)


On the subject of baring skin that has been covered up for the best part of a year, you might like to invest in a tube of Superdrug's new own branded Scar Gel (RRP £14.99 for 19g), which can offer scar reduction caused by troublesome acne, burns, skin irritations and even surgery. Scars can affect both the body and mind, and while over time they can often fade in colour and become generally less sensitive, the healing process can be lengthy. Scarring usually develops within the first few months after the injury, peaks around 6 months and will usually resolve or mature in 12-18 months. The gel treatment helps to make existing scar tissue flatter, softer, more elastic and less visible, whilst also helping to reduce pain in the area. It can also reduce the formation of new scars. 


We all loved the name of Good Bubble's Bish Bash Bosh! hair and body wash (£3.69 for 250ml) that we were sent to try. The brand came to light in 2014 after the founder secured backing from Dragons' Den. Pierre was most impressed to see that it contains extract of dragon fruit (which he automatically assumes comes from a real dragon's lair somewhere, where intrepid botanists have gone to steal it away to make shampoo and shower gel !). While that may not be true (sadly!), all Good Bubble products are free from artificial colours, sulfates, parabens and PEG, as well as using 98% naturally derived ingredients. We love the moisturising properties that nourish young children's sensitive skin, the fragrance and the no tears formula.


Meanwhile, Sophie was delighted to give her make-up bag an overhaul with this fabulous selection of implements from QVS Beauty. I was not really all that surprised to learn that only 61% of women clean their make-up brushes once a month, but with bacteria, dirt and grime lingering on them, they're a breeding ground for all sorts of nasties. With everything from emery boards, fake lashes, nail trimmers, make-up brushes, brow and lash groomers, and a whole lot more, and prices starting at £5, it's definitely a great time to get spring cleaning in your makeup supplies. I personally recommend replacing your emery boards first - it wasn't until I swapped over to new ones that I realised just how worn and useless my old ones were ! Available from ASDA and Tesco

Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Super Stretchy Fun With Mini Stretch Armstrong (review)


Just one look at Stretch Armstrong was all it took for the Madhouse kids to be in fits of giggles. Pierre thought it was hilarious that he was wearing nothing but a pair of skimpy pants and the girls couldn't stop laughing because they thought he looked like Donald Trump. Well, yes, I can see a passing resemblance - I think it's the hair and the orange hue of his skin !


This is a Mini Stretch Armstrong measuring 7 inches, but don't be fooled by his smaller size - he has the strongest formula yet and is just as stretchy as the bigger version, so these new action figures can be stretched again and again, but always return to their original shape. The packaging promises that he can be stretched to seven times his original size so it was time to put it to the test.
.

Grabbing an arm and a leg each, it was time to streeeeeeetch ... and he certainly did, before pinging back to his original shape ! I was convinced he'd end up ripping apart but he does seem very resilient. You can wrap his arms around his body or even tie him up in knots. The kids had great fun with him but it's strangely soothing using him as a stress toy too - who needs fidget spinners ?!



This is just one of a new range of stretchy toys from Character Options, who also brought back the iconic Vac-Man and villainous Stretch Monster, plus Stretch’s friend the Octopus and super stretchy dog Fetch, as well as Scooby Doo.

recommended age range : 5+

RRP : £9.99

for more information : www.character-online.com


Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Madhouse recipe : Cream of tomato soup


This is so quick and simple to make and tastes just like the tinned version - same flavour, same texture - but you have the added feel-good factor of knowing there's nothing artificial lurking in it.

Cream of tomato soup

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
3 tomatoes
salt, pepper, garlic salt, smoked paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tins water
15cl crème fraîche
fresh basil leaves, chopped and a couple whole to serve
parmesan shavings, to serve


Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion until it softens and starts to go transparent.


Add the fresh tomatoes and the seasonings and continue to fry.


Keep cooking until the tomatoes go soft and mushy - about 5 minutes. Stir frequently so it doesn't stick or burn.


Add the tinned tomatoes and the water and simmer for 10 minutes until most of the water has evaporated.


The liquid should be just above the level of the tomatoes and onions.


Turn off the heat and blitz with a stick blender.


Drizzle over the crème fraîche and stir through.


Stir through some chopped fresh basil - I added 1tbsp dried basil too for extra oomph.


Scatter over some shavings of parmesan and a couple of whole basil leaves and serve.

Don't forget a chunk of crusty bread to mop up the last bits, or if you prefer, a cheese toastie to dip in it !

Monday, 22 May 2017

Disney Crossy Road toys review


At the weekend, we took the kids to a free Gaming Festival in the town square, which had several marquees filled with computer and arcade games from various generations. While the Street Fighter tournament on a huge video screen was popular, the part that was teeming with the most people (of all ages I might add !) was the retro-gaming tent, which had dozens of old-fashioned pinball machines and arcade games, as well as a selection of old fashioned games consoles like the first Playstation and Sega games. 


I rediscovered the joy of playing some of the oh-so-simple but totally addictive games like Frogger, which just involved jumping a more-or-less amphibian shaped blob across a road, dodging cars and lorries. Little did I know that this simple concept from my youth had been given a modern makeover in 2014 in the Crossy Road game, which had in turn created a spin-off game in 2016 called Disney Crossy Road. 


The game features a whole host of Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck, as well as characters from numerous Disney franchises such as The Lion King, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph and Pixar's Toy Story and Inside Out. In total, the game features over 440 characters, with secret characters like Mortimer from the Mickey & Friends franchise and Lenny from the first Toy Story movie.


Character Options have now unveiled a range of pixelated mini figures and plush toys to collect, swap and play with, based on characters from the popular game. There are already 40+ characters to collect, including Mickey and friends, Toy Story, Big Hero 6 and Lion King, meaning your child will have great fun hunting for their next character. I've no doubt further characters will be added at a later date too.


 Each character comes with its own rarity status, ranging from rare, epic, secret, legendary and limited edition. With prices starting at £2.99 for 2 x Mystery Figures, they will be a great pocket money purchase that kids can buy with their own money.


They remind me of a cross between Minecraft and Disney and I love the retro feel. The Disney Crossy Road toys target a 6-11 year old audience, but, as with most Disney films and merchandise, they will appeal to fans of both sexes and all ages, from young children right up to adults.


My favourites are the mini figures, which can be bought in four packs for £9.99, including one mystery figurine, and blind packs containing two figures for £2.99. The plush figures retail at £9.99. If you're intrigued about the figures and want to see some great unboxing videos, head over to the Moose website to see what they found in their packs.

I sense a new collectible craze on the way !

for more information : https://www.character-online.com/

Crossy Road items are available to purchase at:
Tesco
Asda
Toys R Us
Smyths
Argos



Disclosure : We received the products in order to write an honest review.

New Year Resolutions Review week #20: Phew, where's the pause button?


Sometimes I wish life had a pause button ! I seem to be running around like a headless chicken, but my to-do list isn't getting any shorter. We're into the final weeks of the school term so I'm doing my last assessments and assignments so every time I clear my backlog of marking, I get another load. I know the end is in sight but at the moment, I can't see the wood for the trees. Luckily, we have a four day weekend next week so I'll have time to catch up but this last week has been a non-stop whirlwind. I don't feel like I achieved much, but let's have a look. (You can tell what the week's been like as this is going out on Monday rather than the usual Saturday or Sunday !)

1. Get Fit(bitting) !
It wasn't just an impression that I was running around all week. I hit my 10k step target every day at work, with daily figures anywhere from 10-15,000 steps. This weekend, I only got 5271 on Saturday and 2900 on Sunday which looks like a lazy weekend but it's actually the total opposite. I was stuck inside with piles of marking when I'd much rather have been out geocaching or exploring with the kids !


2. Get cooking bookmarked recipes ! 
I made Pineapple Bissap, a drink from my Cameroonian Kitchen Trotter box, and a Chechen soup for the #FoodForThought challenge. I also made a Turkish dish, Chicken Tava, so it's been a very cosmopolitan week foodwise!

3. Get geocaching !
Nope - not this week. I've been enjoying seeing comments from other people finding my caches though.

4. Get comping !
Last week, I put out a call for the comping fairy and she must have heard me because I got a lovely email telling me I'd won a £100 shopping voucher from Britmums for my Elastoplast blogpost - yay !

2017 wins :
January : 4 wins - £20 shopping voucher, Mr Lee's noodles, Ambrosia trifle glasses, set of 5 books
 February : 1 win - tea & personalised mug (prize for Galina)
March - 1 win - a Bear Grylls adventure book
 April - 4 wins - a colouring bundle, And Then We Ran book, Aram book, 6 months supply of Hairburst vitamins
May - £100 shopping voucher


5. Get reading !
 My reviews went live for The Lies Within by Jane Isaac and The Overlook by Michael Connelly which I finished the week before. I'm now reading Under A Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander.

6. Get FLYing !
The kids have been keeping their rooms under control and I've invented a new game - they set off their fidget spinners and keep tidying until they stop. It seems to be working for the moment, until the novelty wears off !

8. Get bloggy housekeeping !
The worst thing about having a blog is that, in terms of housekeeping, you often take one step forwards followed by at least one if not two steps back. My average pageviews always used to be steady at around 1000 per day, then they dropped to about half that last summer and I discovered I'd been hit with a google penalty so I'd stopped showing up in search listings. I started blogging way back in 2009 when follow/no-follow links were unheard of, so all my original links were by default follow. I went through and cleared out all the follow links up to 2010 then put in a reconsideration request and was cleared. So my stats slowly but surely climbed back up to their original level. Last week, they suddenly dropped to half of that again and, digging around a bit, I discovered there was a google algorithm update called Fred which targeted spammy links. So I've picked back up where I left off and am going back through old posts from 2011 onwards, removing dead and broken links, spammy links that slipped through in comments in the early days when I was less vigilant/more gullible and swapping over follow links to no-follow. It's a boring and soul-destroying job but it'll be worth it in the end. I've done a couple of hundred pages over the weekend and my stats are slightly up already, but this could be a coincidence.

I also set myself two targets - getting my emails down to 200 from 226 - I'm now on 227 so at least I kept on top of new ones - and I wanted to get my draft posts down to 400 from 483 (by deleting now irrelevant posts or bookmarked recipes for ingredients that I no longer have). I got down to 408, which isn't bad, as I got sidetracked by clearing broken/spammy links.


9. Get French !
Still waiting to be summoned to the préfecture with Madhouse Daddy.

What about you? Did you set yourself any targets, challenges or new year's resolutions this year? How are they going?