Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Peter Rabbit Organics juices review



Peter Rabbit's got a fly upon his nose,
Peter Rabbit's got a fly upon his nose,
Peter Rabbit's got a fly upon his nose,
And he flipped and he flopped
And the fly flew away !
(to the tune of Glory Glory Alleluia if you were wondering !)

Peter Rabbit is a popular character in our house - we have several story books and when he was tiny, Pierre had a lovely blue Peter Rabbit sleepsuit too that someone bought him because in French, he's called Pierre Lapin ! I therefore grinned excitedly when we were given the opportunity of receiving some Peter Rabbit Organics juices to review.

The drinks come in three flavours - Pear, Apple & Grape and Blackcurrant & Apple - and the different colours used for the packaging make it very easy to guess the flavours for kids who are too small to read yet : bright green for apple, light green for pear, purple for blackcurrant.

Each small carton contains 150ml of juice so they are ideal for smaller children because they are easier to hold and lighter than most other cartons of drink. The straws are easy to push into the carton and are long enough that they can't be pushed right inside, but they would be easier to manipulate with a bendy straw.

The drink itself is a diluted juice drink - it's a mix of organic juice concentrate and water - so the flavour is quite weak compared to many other juice drinks. It also contains no added sugar or chemical nasties, which is a very good thing indeed for your kids but older ones, who have been "corrupted" by stronger-tasting drinks, may find the flavour too wishy-washy. (There are larger 250ml Peter Rabbit cartons available for older kids though, made with 50% water and 50% juice, which gives a stronger flavour.)

For giving babies their first taste of new flavours, they're absolutely ideal though - they're suitable for tiny tots from age 6 months + - and Pierre (22 months old) absolutely loved them. I like the fact that they're diluted as they're perfect for keeping his hydration levels topped up in the summer without overdoing the sugar. The smaller size also makes them ideal for throwing in my handbag for when we're out and about.

Perfect for helping your little bunnies beat the heat this summer !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : 55p for 150ml


Other reviews you may be interested in :

HMS Belfast Operations Room Now Open - Half-term day out idea & fun worksheet

Anyone who's ever been to London must have seen HMS Belfast, moored just next to the iconic landmark and unmissable photo opportunity of Tower Bridge. If you're planning a trip up to London this half term, you might like to know that the ship's Operation Room is now open, offering a fascinating glimpse into life on board. And even if you're not going anywhere near London, you may like to print out this fun activity sheet (click on it to see it bigger) to get five minutes peace when the kids are bored !

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For the first time since HMS Belfast opened to visitors in 1971, the ship’s Operations Room is now fully open to the public with an exciting and new interactive display that shows the inner workings of the ship’s central nervous system.



Visitors can imagine exactly what life was like onboard the ship exploring nine different decks of maritime history. The new Operations Room gives you the chance to plan your own mission at sea and includes a new simulated radar which plots other ship's positions, based on the real-life Pony Express exercise of 1961 which involved 60 warships, 20,000 naval personnel and 6,000 US, British and Australian troops off North Borneo in the South China Sea.



There are lots of exciting presentations, hands-on activities and workshops available on visits to HMS Belfast with Signalling and Signals workshops, Morse Code activities and Ship’s Conversations lessons available. Full details of events are listed at the end of this release.


One of the most powerful large light cruisers ever built, HMS Belfast is now the only surviving vessel of her type to have seen active service during the Second World War.



In May 1971, after 32 years of service during which HMS Belfast had steamed nearly half a million miles, the last of the Royal Navy’s wartime cruisers was ‘reduced to disposal’ in preparation for sale and destruction by the ship-breakers. However, help was at hand. The Imperial War Museum encouraged the formation of an independent trust led by one of HMS Belfast’s former captains, Rear-Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles. Eventually, this devoted band of enthusiasts succeeded in bringing her to London, where she opened to visitors on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1971. The ship is now permanently moored on the Thames near to Tower Bridge.


*** Click on the image for a bigger version that you can print out for the kids ***

HMS Belfast Operations Rooms

FREE ENTRY for children under 16, Adults £13.50, Seniors/Students £10.80

Opening Times: 10.00am – 6.00pm

Recommended for ages 8 and upwards

for more information : http://hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk/


Other blogposts you may be interested in :



Toffee Dodgers review


If you ask any grown-up to name their top five childhood biscuits, I can almost guarantee (at least if they're as old as me !) that they'll name Party Rings, Jammie Dodgers, Toffee Pops, Pink Wafers and Iced Gems, just not necessarily in that order. Well, how excited was I when I was asked if I'd like to try out the new biscuit from Burton's called Toffee Dodgers ?! It's like a cross between Jammie Dodgers and Toffee Pops - wowee !

But it's not just me being all nostalgic that loves the concept - the kids loved them too. Pierre munched away happily saying "mmmm" and rubbing his tummy appreciatively. Sophie and Juliette said that they were even yummier than the usual strawberry Jammie Dodgers. High praise indeed !

As a mum, I love the fact that the kids can enjoy eating a gooey sticky toffee treat with minimum mess because it's sandwiched between two biscuits. It's a great alternative to chocolate coated biscuits too, which are a messy nightmare in the hot summer months.

The new Toffee Dodgers join the Original Jammie Dodgers on the shelves and if you're really quick, there's also a limited edition Choccie Dodgers, supposedly available until June 2011 exclusively in Tesco's but so tasty (we've tried those too !) that I'm convinced they'll make them a permanent fixture. (Or maybe that's just wishful thinking !)

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £1.15 for a 140g pack

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Children's book review : The Gardens of Mayland


Last time I reviewed something created by the people at Anorak (it was their Food Is Fun book, which I reviewed here, but I've also reviewed their Happy Mag for Kids here and their activity book here), I called them Lovable Loons ! This time, I'll have to call them Nostalgic Nutters because as soon as I saw their book, it reminded me of the Little Golden Books I used to read when I was a kid in the seventies (my favourite of which was called The Bouncy Baby Bunny !). 



The latest Anorak offering is a hardbook children's storybook, called The Gardens of Mayland. They explain : "The Gardens of Mayland is no ordinary garden. The flowers in The Gardens of Mayland are no ordinary flowers. They talk. Sometimes at you. You will meet Terrified Turquoise, Bellowing Brown, Prattling Pink, Rude Ruby and many others."



The cover and format of the book remind me of my childhood reading, but so do the pictures and psychedelic, retro-style colours and illustrations inside. Parents and grandparents will love reading it and looking at the pictures because of this vintage feel.



But what do today's kids make of it ? Well, the first time we read it, 6-year-old Juliette complained that "nothing happened" and "there wasn't a story". 9-year-old Sophie pointed out that it's like the first pages of a Christmas annual which introduce you to all the characters before they go on to appear in bigger stories and activities.

But the second time we read it, they couldn't help but giggle at the silly voices I used to to read the texts, and you can follow on with some imaginative roleplay by asking them to carry on, making up things that the different flowers would say in-keeping with their personality. The funniest one is the angry one because the girls loved ranting and raving about everyday childish things. A bit of encouragement and you'll all be dissolving into fits of giggles at bedtime.

It's also great for leading on to a discussion about different personalities and which pupils and teachers at school are most like each of the flowers. Sophie told me about some nasty things some of the kids have said to her at school, a topic she usually doesn't like to go into, and we had great fun taking the mickey out of the bullies, likening them to flowers in the book and dedramatising the whole thing.

As usual, Anorak have come up with a kids book which is light-hearted and silly on the surface but which can lead kids to deeper understanding of themselves, their personalities and the world around them. It's not cheap, but we have had lots of giggles and great discussions which are things you can't put a price on.

And, judging by Pierre, the illustrations are even very entertaining upside down !



star rating : 4/5

RRP : £6.99


Other reviews you may be interested in :

Bargain alert : buy yourself a £7.99 breakfast and get two free kids breakfasts !


Whitbread restaurants are offering free all-you-can-eat-and-drink breakfasts for kids when you buy an adult breakfast, which sounds absolutely perfect for a half-term treat. Parenting experts are constantly telling us we should all get back to the dinner table and eat meals at the same time as the kids so why not start the day with a leisurely family brunch ? Even better news - no washing up afterwards ! For more details see below :

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Free Breakfast for Kids
2 children eat free with every adult paying just £7.99


Beefeater Grill, Table Table, Brewers Fayre and Taybarns restaurants nationwide are opening up their doors for breakfast to everyone, whether they are staying at the adjacent Premier Inn hotel or not. Previously, only guests at the UK’s biggest budget hotel chain could enjoy the spectacular breakfast.



Furthermore, from today, one adult and up to two kids can enjoy the all you can eat and drink, full English and Continental breakfast for only £7.99 - that’s just £2.67 per person, making a saving of £15.98.



Customers can choose to eat as much (or as little) as they like from the amazing choice that is on offer including a range of Kellogg’s cereals, fresh fruit salad and organic yoghurts, as well as tuck into a hearty cooked breakfast with bacon, eggs (cooked anyway you like), tasty sausages, all washed down with Costa coffee, tea or a selection of fruit juices. On top of all that, the restaurants have recently introduced some tasty new additions to their buffet, including 2 egg omelettes, crumpets and mixed berry compote. All that and more for only £7.99 - and it’s all available until the later time of 10:30.



So why not take your family for a special treat one morning? Or you could treat yourself to a nice long lie-in whilst they head off for a Premier Breakfast and leave you in bed!






Terms & Conditions:



Up to 2 children can eat breakfast free per paying adult, purchasing a £7.99 Premier Breakfast at any Brewers Fayre, Beefeater Grill, Table Table or Taybarns restaurant next to a Premier Inn hotel.



Offer available Mon- Sun until 31st August 2011.


Other blogposts you may be interested in :





My Mini Baby Born Ambulance Car review


As an adult, I have to admit I was a bit puzzled when I looked at the information about this ambulance playset. It's from Mini Baby Born and the key word in there for me is "baby". I had visions of a burbling (or maybe grizzly, as it's an ambulance) baby for little girls to be "mummy" to and look after. But no, this baby has mastered the art of walking, talking and getting a nursing qualification and is ready to jump in the ambulance and head off to Toy Town. Wow, that's one clever baby !

This didn't bother 6-year-old Juliette in the slightest though and she happily started playing with the ambulance and the doll, making up stories and rushing her injured toys off to hospital. I breathed a sigh of relief because for once, it wasn't me who had to act as a patient or a nurse with a constant stream of injuries to deal with !

Now, I've just had a look at the write-up on amazon and this is where I get a slapped wrist - she's not a nurse, she's a doctor. Now why did naughty mummy assume that she'd be a nurse just because she's a girl ? She comes complete with a doctor's bag and a stretcher and, if you want, you can buy additional "patient dolls" that are perfectly sized for fitting in the ambulance, as well as a hospital playset. Juliette is quite happy to use all sorts of soft toys, Little People, Playmobil people and small dolls as injured parties though.

I thought making the ambulance pink was a bad marketing move - I'm sure little boys would love to play with the ambulance too so why make it so decidedly girly ? - but Juliette said she loved it and it was the prettiest ambulance she'd ever seen. She also loves the fact that when you push the steering wheel, it makes a siren sound.

The ambulance and doll set has a RRP of £12.99 but - get this ! - you can currently get one on amazon for an amazing £3.99 ! Quick, stock up now for Christmases, birthdays and any little girls' parties you have coming up this year !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £12.99 but currently £3.99 on amazon !


Other reviews you may be interested in :



Monday, 30 May 2011

Yankee Candle review


When it comes to all the little decorative knick knacks that can help to transform a house into a home, I always think you can't beat the Americans. I use a lot of country-style designs for my own crafts projects - think little gingham hearts, patchwork cushions and Amish country cross stitch samplers. (If you like cross stitch, you have to check out Jeremiah Junction - I love all of their designs and have several that I have sewn hanging around the house.) "Americana" is one of my favourite things to search on ebay.

I also love candles, especially pretty ones with beautiful fragrances, so I was really excited when Yankee Candle said they'd send me some of their products to review. As you can see in the photo, they sent me three candles to try out - all in their iconic jars, which look great on the sideboard and smell fantastic, even when they're not burning.


Yankee Candle have a huge array of different fragrances available, so you're bound to find one (or several !) to suit your tastes and to perfectly complement each room and mood. The fragrances are grouped into a number of families : fruit, floral, fresh, food & spice, festive. Each family contains some amazingly original and delicious-sounding candle fragrances to discover : Christmas Cupcake, Strawberry Buttercream, Pomegranate Cider, Midnight Jasmine, Wedding Day, Baby Powder, Sun & Sand, to name just a few that leapt out at me. There are fragrances to mentally transport you to exotic locations, remind you of key moments in your life, evoke nostalgic memories of cakes and cookies that you used to make with your granny ... Aromatherapy is now well accepted as an efficient way of enhancing your mood and these candles have fragrances to suit every emotion you could ever want to feel !

The first two fragrances that I sampled are variations on vanilla - Vanilla Cupcake and French Vanilla. They both smell of actual natural vanilla rather than the sometimes sickly artificial vanilla fragrance you get in cheap alternatives. (This makes sense, as the write-up for French Vanilla explains : "Sweet and traditional, the source of the vanilla fragrance is oil extracted from tropical orchids".) The smell of both candles is warming, uplifting, relaxing and perfect for creating a sense of cosiness and welcome in a living room or bedroom. The fragrance is really potent, which I think is great as I love big "in your face" fragrances for my beauty products and candles. I get a real sense of well-being and contentedness with these ones.

The final fragrance I discovered is the evocatively-named Bahama Breeze. It smells exotic, fruity, invigorating and makes me think of faraway places (although that could be down to the name and the picture on the jar !). The fragrance - a zesty mix of mango, pineapple and grapefruit - actually reminds me of the smell you get when you walk past the door of The Body Shop and you get that incredible, heady mix of all the fruity perfumes inside ! I love this one when I'm feeling tired or sad and need a quick burst of energy and happiness. It's guaranteed to lift my mood every time.

Yankee Candle have more than just candles though - the range of fragrances is also available as room sprays, car jars, scented sachets, reeds and warming oils. They are beautiful to look at, smell absolutely gorgeous and have such a wide range of fragrances that you could find a lovely gift absolutely tailored to the person you're buying for which would be perfect for housewarming, Christmas, Mothers Day, Valentines Day, birthdays or just a romantic or friendly surprise present. Every time I light one of the candles, I have to pause and breathe in the lovely scent to really appreciate the moment of relaxation and well-being so they're absolutely perfect for a bit of well-earned me-time.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : small jars £7.75, medium jars £15.45, large jars £18.45

for more information : http://www.yankeecandle.co.uk/

Other reviews you may be interested in :




Spice up your life again ! - Indian Summer Recipes from Patak's (part 2)

As promised, here's the second and final part of the selection of summery recipes from Patak's. Yum, I fancy a cheesy Naan now !

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Lemon Rice

Ingredients
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
3 tbsp Patak's Biryani Paste
225g basmati rice
600ml water 1 tsp lemon juice grated rind of 1 lemon 1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped


Method

1. Wash the rice in several changes of water and leave to soak in cold water for half an hour.

2. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the mustard seeds until they pop.

3. Add the Patak's Biryani Paste and the drained rice. Stir together for 1 minute then add the water, lemon juice and lemon rind.

4. Cover and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes until all the water is absorbed.

5. Stir through the fresh coriander before serving.
 
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Pan fried Duck breast with cloves and cinnamon

Duck tastes great with aromatic spices. This dish originates from Northern India and uses Patak’s iconic Rogan Josh Curry paste
(Serves 2)


Ingredients

2 duck breasts, skin scored in a crisscross pattern without permeating the meat
1½ tablespoons Patak’s Rogan Josh Curry Paste
300 ml chicken stock, homemade or shop bought
1 tablespoon butter
salt, to taste

Method

1. In a pan heat the chicken stock with the Patak’s Rogan Josh Paste. Reduce to two thirds.

2. Season the duck breasts with salt.

3. Heat a frying pan on high heat until smoking.

4. Place the duck breasts skin side down in the pan and do not move them for a few minutes.

5. Remove the fat that has rendered out of the breasts.

6. Cook the duck breasts skin side down for 7-8 minutes removing the fat that collects in the pan.

7. Reduce the heat to medium and turn the duck over so it is skin side up. The skin should be crispy and dark golden brown.

8. Add the butter and 3-4 tablespoons of the reduced Rogan Josh gravy.

9. Keep spooning over this jus in the pan whilst the duck is cooking.

10. Cook for 4-5 minutes.

11. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.

12. To serve, slice the duck and serve with the remaining juices from the pan with extra gravy on the side.
 
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South Indian Lamb Couscous

Serves: 4 people
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 45 mins
Difficulty: Moderate


Ingredients

For the Lamb

2 - 3 tbsp Patak's Madras Paste
1 onion, finely chopped
450g lean diced lamb
200g canned tomatoes, drained
50ml water
handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped

For the Couscous

75g couscous
100ml boiling water
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
5 sprays of one cal oil
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
6 baby courgettes, sliced in half lengthways
sea salt and black pepper

Method

1. Dry fry the onion for three minutes in a large wok or non-stick frying pan, adding a splash of water to prevent the onion from burning. Stir in the Patak's Madras Paste and allow it to sizzle for one minute.

2. Stir in the lamb and toss well to coat. Add the tomatoes and water, stir and cover with a lid and simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the couscous in a bowl. Season and pour over 100ml boiling water. Stir once and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave to stand for 15 minutes and then fluff up with a fork.

4. Heat a non-stick pan or ridged griddle pan and spray with the oil. Add the peppers and courgettes and sear until they have browned. Add the mustard seeds and toss until they start to jump and pop. Fold into the couscous.

5. Drain off and reserve any excess sauce from the lamb. Fold the meat into the cousous mixture, add the coriander and serve the dish drizzled with the excess sauce.
 
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Spicy Meat Balls In A Yoghurt Sauce

Ingredients

 450g finely minced lamb
 1 tsp ground paprika
 1/4 tsp chilli powder
 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
 1/2 tsp ground coriander
 1 tsp ground black pepper
 Salt to taste
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
 2cm piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
 120g plain natural yoghurt
 Plain flour, for dusting
1 tbsp ghee or veg oil
1 tbsp Patak's Rogan Josh Paste
 200ml whipping cream
 Large pinch of unrefined sugar
1 tsp garam masala


Method

1. Put the mince in a large bowl. Add the paprika, chilli powder, fennel seeds, coriander, pepper, cardamom, ginger and salt. Add 1 tbsp yogurt, then use your hands to mix together. Shape into 16-18 balls or koftas, using a little flour to prevent sticking.

2. Heat the ghee or oil in a frying pan and fry the maetballs, in batches if necessary, for 10-15 mins, until cooked. Set aside on kitchen paper.

3. Add the Patak's Rogan Josh Paste to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the cream, sugar and a little salt. Return the meatballs to the pan and heat through. Stir in the remaining yogurt and sprinkle with garam masala.

4. Transfer to bowls and serve with chapattis or biryani rice.

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Steamed Fish Parcels

Ingredients
 4 Salmon steaks, estimate 150g (5 oz) per person
2 tablespoons thick natural yoghurt (greek yoghurt)
2 tablespoons Patak’s Korma Paste
1 tablespoon fresh coriander
1 teaspoon honey
 juice of 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
 good pinch of black pepper
fresh chopped coriander, to garnish

Method

1. In a bowl mix together the yoghurt, coriander, honey and Patak’s Korma Paste. Season with black pepper to taste. Rub the marinade over the fish and leave to marinade for 30 minutes, if you have time.

2. Cut 4 pieces of foil into squares, about 20 cm x 20 cm (8 inches x 8 inches). Remove the salmon fillets from the marinade and lay one fillet in the centre of the foil square.

3. Carefully wrap and seal the parcels so no marinade can escape. Repeat until all the parcels are complete. Place in a preheated oven (200°C / 400°F / gas 6) for 20 minutes or cook to your liking. It tastes best when the salmon is just cooked through in the middle.

4. Serve garnished with a wedge of lemon, and sprinkled with fresh coriander.
 
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Tandoori Chicken

Ingredients

For The Marinated Chicken

1 Whole Chicken (Around 1500g)
140g Tandoori Paste
140g Natural Yoghurt
 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

For The Vegetables

1 Red Pepper (Deseeded and diced roughly around 3 cm)
1 Green Pepper (Deseeded and diced roughly around 3 cm)
1 Yellow Pepper (Deseeded and diced roughly around 3 cm)
1 Courgette (Diced roughly around 3cm)
2 Medium Red Onions (Peeled and cut into wedges)
350g Butternut Squash (Deseeded and diced roughly around 3 cm)
45g Honey
35g Patak’s Tandoori Paste
35g Yoghurt
Salt
Cracked Black Pepper

For the Yoghurt

300g Natural yoghurt
5g Fresh mint (Finely chopped)
30g Honey
Freshly Chopped coriander

Method

For The Marinated Chicken

1. Mix together the tandoori paste and yoghurt.

2. With a small sharp knife carefully make small incisions (around 1 cm) all around the chicken flesh; this will help the marinade penetrate the meat.

3. Coat the chicken in the marinade ensuring it’s completely covered.

4. Cover with cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

For The Vegetables

1. In a large bowl mix together the yoghurt, honey and Tandoori paste.

2. Add the vegetables and mix around ensuring they are all evenly coated.

3. Cover with cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Cooking the Dish

1. Preheat the oven to around 180⁰C (Gas Mark 4)

2. Place the chicken on a roasting tray and pour over the Vegetable oil.

3. Cover with foil and place into the oven for 30 minutes.

4. Remove the foil and slide a large Carving fork into the chicken and lift it out of the roasting tray.

5. Place the vegetables on to the roasting tray and place the chicken back on top of the vegetables.

6. Place back into the oven un covered for a further 40 minutes.

7. Remove the chicken and leave on a wire rack to rest.

8. Drain any excess juice from the vegetables, turn the oven up to 220⁰C (Gas Mark 7) and place the vegetables back in the oven for a further 15minutes.

9. Divide the chicken into 4 portions, serve with mint yoghurt and garnish with coriander.
 
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Tandoori Chicken Naanchos

Ingredients

250g chicken breast
100g mozzarella
2 x naan bread
Patak’s Bengal Pickle
2 tbsp yoghurt
1 tbsp Patak’s Tandoori paste

Tandoori marinade

1. Mix the yoghurt and tandoori paste together

2. Add to sliced chicken breast and marinade for a minimum of 30 mins (overnight would be great).

3. Oven bake until cooked

Naanchos

1. Cut the naan breads into triangles and the split in two to make thinner.

2. Oven bake until a little crispier

Assemble

1. Place the Naancho’s on a plate or tray.

2. Roughly chop the Tandoori chicken and sprinkle on top

3. Squeeze the Bengal Pickle over the top.

4. Spinkle with mozzarella cheese and place back in the oven until lightly browned and the cheese has melted.
 
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for more information and recipe ideas : http://www.pataks.co.uk/recipes/
 
Other blogposts you may be interested in :
 


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Book review : The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life - Cathy Lamb


I was over the moon recently when Cathy Lamb contacted me in person and asked me to review her latest novel. When it arrived, I took in the cover and the title and thought that it sounded like a light, romantic work of typical chick lit. But she caught me out last time when I thought the same thing of her previous book, Henry's Sisters (which I reviewed here) so I came to this seemingly frivolous book expecting much deeper, darker, enthralling prose.

And I was quite right ! Like the wolf in sheep's clothing, this is a cracking, gripping read sneakily disguised as chick lit. In my last book review (that you can read here), for Oliver Harris's The Hollow Man, I complained that even as I turned the final page, I still felt I didn't know or understand the central character and his motivations at all so I couldn't really empathise with him or care about what happened to him. With Cathy Lamb, it's the total opposite. Within just a few pages, I was filled with sorrow, pride and a sense of moral righteousness as the scene played out of a young mother shooting dead three men in a courtroom so they couldn't get back out of prison and come after her Pink Girls. As a mum myself, I could so easily put myself in her place and really feel her pain.

But you will run through the entire emotional spectrum as you read this novel. I was incandescent with rage and revulsion as I read of the horrors inflicted on the two young girls by their horrifically sadistic abusers, but just a few pages later, I'd be smiling and laughing at the outrageous flirtatiousness of the adorable grandmother (who could have been best friends with the other grandmother in Henry's Sisters).

So much is understated or hidden behind guarded silences, leaving you to read between the lines and fill in the blanks, either as the girls reveal their horrific past, piece by piece, or in the seemingly strange mutterings and paintings of Grandma Madeline, losing her mind to Alzheimer's but never her love for her husband and granddaughters or her own private memories of pain.

This book reveals tales of utter horror and extreme suffering, on an individual but also on a wider historical level, which are hard to read but it is ultimately an empowering novel of hope and healing. The characters are pushed to breaking point and beyond, enduring things that no human being should ever have to bear, but they ultimately overcome the odds and find inner peace and acceptance.

I am not an overly sentimental person and rarely cry at things I read or watch on TV (apart from when I'm pregnant and my hormones are raging out of control, which, I hasten to add, is not the case now !), but Cathy Lamb has done it AGAIN and made me cry on the bus AGAIN ! Her writing will grab your heart and soul and refuse to let them go, even long after you've turned the final page. Some of the life lessons learned and the advice given in the novel will stay with me forever and really make me appreciate the life I have now. Read it and weep - literally !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

Paperback
Publisher: Allison & Busby (15 Oct 2011)
ISBN-10: 0749040424
ISBN-13: 978-0749040420


Other reviews you may be interested in :


Barry M make up review

A little while ago, I reviewed (here) some fabulous Barry M nail products that they sent me to test. This time, I've been testing out some of their make-up products. Now, as they have made a name for themselves as a company for brightly coloured makeup, I wasn't sure what they would have on offer for people (like me) who want a subtle, natural look for work. Well, the answer is : a lot.

They sent me a lip gloss wand, lipstick and little pot of the magically-named dazzle dust which are ideal for a barely-there look. In fact, they are so subtle and natural-looking that I was happy to let 9-year-old Sophie act as my make-up model for the afternoon. How excited was she ?!



First up was the lip gloss. Now, I smiled indulgently when Sophie told me it smelt of caramel, but it turns out she's absolutely right ! The write-up on the website says : "Get glossing and perfect your pout with Barry M’s latest treat for lips. Available in 14 shimmering and sparkling shades, each one deliciously infused with an irresistible scent, our new lip gloss wands are essential wear for a dazzling smile."



My one criticism would be the sparse information on the website and on the packaging. We received a wand with the number 2 and the number 103 on the bottom so I would assume that this is the "Toffee" colour, especially as it tastes of caramel. I had no idea, neither from the packaging or the website, that it would be toffee-flavoured and, although most of the names evoke flavours as much as colours, there are a few - Coral, Bronze Shimmer, Pastel Pink - which leave me totally nonplussed about what they will taste of. I love the natural, shimmery colour that this leaves on your lips. It's perfect for a natural look at work - or for any young girls who want to start wearing subtle make-up without looking like a clown !



Next up was a lipstick or, as I see they call them on the website, lip paint. Barry M say : "With over 30 shades to suit every mood and taste from softly shimmering pastels to vibrant colours. All Lip Paints have a soft, beautiful smooth texture that is packed full of natural moistures to help them glide on and stay comfortable to wear for hours."


I love the colour, which is pretty but natural - this has a number 153 and a 038 on the bottom so I think it's Pink Ribbon. It slides on easily and feels comfortable, but it was hard to remove when Sophie slightly wobbled and went over the edge of her lips ! That would be a good thing for having a lipstick that lasts a long time though.



The final product was the wonderfully-named Dazzle Dust. I wasn't entirely sure what to do with this so I checked the website for advice : "A spectacular collection of breath taking loose, highly pearlised powder available in a profusion of colours to enhance your eyes, cheeks or lips. Each little pot contains multiple facets of intensive reflective colour that glides on smoothly adding sparkle and sheen. These luscious shades can be applied bright and bold or shimmering and subtle, with over 60 original colours to choose from everyone can find a favourite pot or two or three… "



We received the bronzey/beigey colour (number 51 or 101 - I think it's Buff but it could be Mushroom as there are both numbers on the bottom of the little pot) which looks perfect for a subtle glittery shimmer over eyelids. As I didn't have a brush or sponge to hand, I dipped a finger into the pot - bad move ! it's incredibly soft, loose powder so your finger sinks right in, gets absolutely covered in shimmer and then it's almost impossible to apply it to your eyes or wherever you wish without getting it all over your face ! I love this product and will be looking at buying some of the brighter colours for using on my eyes.



I've been really impressed by these Barry M products which give a simple, natural, low-key but pretty and funky look that's perfect for work (or for letting my 9-year-old experiment with make-up during the holidays!). If you want a more glamorous, colourful look, you have the choice of all the colours of the rainbow too !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £4.49 lip gloss wands, £4.49 lip paint, £4.49 dazzle dust
 
 
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Cookery book review : Stewed! : Nourish Your Soul - Alan Rosenthal


I absolutely love my slow cooker. You can't beat coming home after a long, stressful day at work to a house filled with delicious cooking smells and a hearty, homecooked meal ready and waiting for you to serve. I have to admit, I always tend to cook the same things in my slow cooker though - chicken casserole, beef stew, beef bourguignon, chilli con carne ... My slow cooking repertoire is in desperate need of an overhaul !

A little while ago, I reviewed the range of Stewed! pots (here) and was blown away by the convenience, the fact that the shop-bought pots tasted as good as homemade and, above all, the innovative range of flavours available. Well, this book is written by the creator of the Stewed! pots, Alan Rosenthal, and brings the same spark of exoticism into your home cooking.

The book seems quite small for a recipe book but certainly packs a lot in. It contains eighty recipes for, as they say, "irresistble stews and one-pot wonders" but what really appeals to me is that the fact that it also takes you on a gastromic world tour, with chapters covering the Americas, the British Isles, Europe, Asia and the Middle East & Africa.

Some of the recipes are well-known classics that I already make - Irish Stew, Hungarian Goulash, Boeuf Bourguignon, Beef Stroganoff - but it's great to read through the recipes for little tweaks or extra ingredients that can change a good dish into an outstanding one.

Some of the recipes are much more unexpected and exotic though, taking me into culinary areas I'd never ventured into before - Armenian Lamb Stew, Ghanaian Chicken and Peanut Stew, Kashmiri Lamb with Yogurt and Ginger, Brazilian Black Bean Stew. I'll need to buy a few ingredients that I don't usually have in the cupboards - in particular spices - but the recipes sound so delicious that I'm willing to give them a go. The ones that I've tried so far have all been delicious and really simple to make.

All of the recipes are not illustrated but those that are, with full page colour photos, show that this is hearty, warming, nourishing food. Forget prettily arranged, pretentious nouvelle cuisine - this is rustic, no nonsense food that will be served in a big bubbling cooking pot to put a smile on everyone's face. It certainly is food to nourish your body but also your soul !

If you want to check out some of Alan's recipes before buying the book, I posted a couple here. The first one isn't in the book but the Boston Baked Beans one is in there.

star rating : 5/5

Hardcover: 160 pages

Publisher: Ebury Press (7 Oct 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0091938023
ISBN-13: 978-0091938024

RRP : £14.99 (but only £9 on amazon - see below)

for more information : http://www.steweduk.co.uk/


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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Spice up your life ! - Indian Summer Recipes from Patak's (part 1)

If you fancy putting some zinga-zing-aaah into your summer menu, you might like to try out some of these new recipe ideas from Patak's (whose products I will be reviewing shortly). There are quite a lot so I'll split them up into a couple of posts. Enjoy !

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Baked Chicken with Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients
 8 chicken thighs, skins removed
4 tbsp thick plain yogurt
3 tbsp Patak's Madras Paste
1 medium onion, cut into thick slices
4 tbsp water
1 tbsp fresh coriander, for garnish


Method

1. Wash the chicken and drain. In a casserole dish, mix together the yogurt, water and Patak's Madras Paste. Add the chicken and ensure it is coated well. Sprinkle over the sliced onions and cover the dish with foil.

2. Bake for 1 1/2 hours in a moderate oven 200°C / 400°F/gas 6.

3. Check that the chicken is cooked through before garnishing with fresh coriander and serving with rice and Patak's Naan Breads.

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Balti Crab Cakes 

Ingredients


For the Crab Cakes
2-3 tbsp Patak's Balti Paste
1 x 410g can chickpeas, drained thoroughly
375g tinned white crab meat, drained thoroughly, or use fresh crab if you prefer.
3 spring onions, finely chopped
grated rind of 2 lemons
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp beaten egg

For the Rice
 500g Basmati Rice
 175g dried apricots
 1 small bunch fresh coriander, chopped
 1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced
 lime wedges to garnish

Method

1. Put the chickpeas in a food processor and blend until smooth.

2. Transfer the chickpeas to a bowl and add the crab, spring onions, Patak's Balti Paste, lemon rind, coriander, chilli and egg.

3. Mix well, season and shape into 12 fish cakes.

4. Grill for 10 - 15 minutes, turning once, until golden.

5. Meanwhile, cook the rice according to the cooking instructions. Stir in the apricots, coriander and chilli. Serve with the crab cakes & lime wedges as garnish.
 
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BBQd Fish Kebabs


Ingredients
400g cod or haddock chunks


For the marinade
3 tablespoons thick yogurt
1 teaspoon garlic purée
½ -1 teaspoon ginger purée
juice of 1/2 lime
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons Patak's Mild Curry Paste

Method

1. In a large bowl mix together the yogurt, garlic purée, ginger purée, honey, lime juice and Patak's Mild Curry Paste.

2. Add the fish to the marinade, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (if you have time).

3. Skewer the pieces of fish and cook over hot coals or under a hot grill turning frequently until tender
 
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Channa Dhal

 Ingredients
250g dried split chickpeas or yellow split peas / lentils, soaked overnight in cold water
800ml water
2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
few curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch asafoetida (hing)
salt, to taste
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp Patak's Madras Paste
2 tomatoes, chopped


Method

1. Drain the chickpeas and put in a pan with the water. Bring to the boil and cook on a moderate heat for approximately 35 minutes or until they are well cooked and have gone mushy.

2. In a separate pan heat the oil, add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida (if using) and cook for approximately 1 minute taking care not to burn the mixture.

3. Add the Patak's Madras Paste and cook for a further 1 minute.

4. Add the tomatoes and allow to cook for 2 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the heat and add all the mixture to the cooked chickpeas. Check the seasoning, and adjust the salt and add the sugar. Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir through the chopped fresh coriander. Serve with chapattis and rice.

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Chettinad Chicken Bites with Red Pepper Salsa

Ingredients

For the Chettinad Chicken Bites

550g skinless chicken breasts, cut into mini fillets
1 tbsp low fat thick yogurt
¾ tbsp Patak's Madras Curry Paste

For the Red Pepper Salsa

½ tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
10 curry leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
¼ tsp mustard seeds
75g red pepper, sliced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, sliced
50g red onion, sliced
juice of half a lemon
fresh mint, to garnish
salt, to taste

Method

1. In a bowl marinate the chicken with the Patak’s Madras Curry Paste and yogurt. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight if possible.

2. Remove the chicken from the marinade. In a pan spray some oil and cook the marinated chicken on a medium flame for 7 minutes, turning occasionally to prevent the chicken from burning. Alternatively cook the chicken on a hot griddle or barbecue.

3. Remove from the pan and wipe clean. Spray with some more oil to stir-fry the rest of the ingredients.

4. First add the mustard seeds, once they start popping add the red onions and the red pepper.

5. After 1 minute add the desiccated coconut, black pepper, ginger and curry leaves (if using). Sprinkle in some water if the mixture starts to stick.

6. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt if required.

7. Squeeze in the lemon juice before removing from the heat and garnishing with some fresh chopped mint.

8. Divide the chicken between serving plates and spoon on some of the salsa.

9. Delicious served with Patak's Raita.

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Halloumi Stuffed Red Peppers

Ingredients
4 large red peppers
3 tbsp oil
290g fresh finely sliced mushrooms
1garlic clove crushed
150g cooked Basmati rice (approx 70g raw Basmati rice)
½ block (125g) Halloumi cheese
4 tbsp (90g or 1/3 jar) Patak’s Jalfrezi Paste
70g grated Mozzarella


Method

1. Preheat oven to 180°c/375°f/gas mark 5.

2. Cut the peppers in half length ways through the stalk, remove seeds, place cut side up on a foil lined baking tray. Place in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes.

3. Slice the halloumi block into 4 or 5 slices lengthways, then cut each slice in half length ways then cut into small 10 -20 mm cubes.

4. Combine the halloumi with Patak’s Jalfrezi Paste and leave to one side.

5. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms and fry for 5 minutes.

6. Add the garlic to the pan and fry for a further 3-5 minutes.

7. Add the halloumi and Jalfrezi paste, fry for a few minutes, until the halloumi is lightly browned. Remove from the heat.

8. Add the cooked rice, mix well.

9. Fill the peppers and sprinkle with the grated mozzarella, place in the oven for 15 minutes.
 
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for more information and recipe ideas : http://www.pataks.co.uk/recipes/

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