Saturday, 20 October 2018

Fab freebies of the week 20/10

Woohoo we made it to the holidays ! Now we have two weeks to rest up, have fun and get ready for another new term - phew ! To kick things off in style, here's this week's round-up of fab freebies. Enjoy ! :)


Sign up to the Glamour Beauty Club to get picked as a product tester

Try signing up to the Stylist Beauty Council too for product testing

Request a print-at-home coupon for Just Milk's new Lactose Free Milk

Request a Coffee & Tea sample from Simon Levelt International

From Grow Wild UK : Fill in our form below and in March 2019 we'll take you on a sowing journey, and if you're lucky we'll also send you a seed kit.

Correctly answer 5 questions (you can start again if you get one wrong) for a free sample of Nikwax Polar Proof

Pick up a free Divine chocolate bar with Shopmium

Download your voucher to pick up a free sample of Clinique foundation

Enter the Kelloggs Elf on the Shelf competition with code 8901 - open 8am to 8pm

To celebrate National Chocolate Week (15th to 21st), Ryvita are giving away 100 packs of their Fruit Crunch and 100 jars of JimJams hazelnut chocolate spread this October - It’s a match made in heaven! As an added bonus, you’ll also receive a Ryvita tin to store your Fruit Crunch.

We’re looking for 3,000 Insiders who are looking to swap out sugar and try SPLENDA® Sweet Minis. Does this sound like you? Apply before 30th October

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.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Madhouse recipe : Pineapple & Coconut Dream Cake

As if I'm not busy enough already, I've recently been drawn into following a new challenge based on one of the American blogs I follow, called The Great British Baking Show Bake Off. It's based on The Great British Bake Off and it looks like being a lot of fun, so I've decided to join in too. If you want to find out more, you'll need to join up on the facebook group. Well, this week's challenge was for a Fruity Cake - made from scratch, must include either dried or fresh fruit, a cake with fruit in it rather than a fruit cake ... OK !

Errr well, OK, but as they're mainly Americans (and a couple of other randoms like me, including a Brit living in America and an Ausralian !), I had to scratch my head and come up with something a bit different. This Pineapple & Coconut Dream Cake is a souped up (ie with extra pineapple) version of a Danish Drommekage, which translates as Dream Cake. You can see my original inspiration for the cake on the Nordic Food Living blog - adding a can of pineapple is purely down to me (apologies to any Danish followers !)

Pineapple & Coconut Dream Cake

ingredients :

cake :
250g flour
2tsp baking powder
250g sugar
50g butter
3 eggs
200ml milk
1 can pineapple slices minus 2 slices

topping :
125g butter
50ml milk
200g brown sugar
100g coconut flakes/slices
the remaining 2 slices of pineapple

Switch on the oven to preheat to 190°. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until they're nice and light and fluffy.

Melt the butter (in a saucepan or in the microwave, whatever you prefer) then mix in the milk. 

Add to the first bowl. 

Mix together the flour and baking powder and mix in to the batter.

Finely chop most of a drained tin of pineapple rings (keep a couple of rings back to add to the topping) and add to the mixture. Stir to combine everything.

Take a cake tin and line it with baking parchment. Pour in the batter and put it in the oven for 25 minutes. While the cake is baking, prepare the topping.

Put the butter in a saucepan and heat until it melts, then add the milk and brown sugar and bring to the boil. Keep it boiling for 1 minute then add the coconut flakes and desiccated coconut (I mixed them up, as I was clearing out the baking cupboard.) I also added in the finely chopped remaining pineapple rings.

Pour the "icing" mixture over the top of the cake and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Leave to cool in the tin before carefully pulling it out and removing the baking parchment.

You get a dainty, light sponge cake topped with a luscious, buttery, coconut topping. Hmmmm ! This has been in the kitchen all week being nibbled and it just gets better the longer you leave it - I finished off the last piece after dinner today, rats !

Linking up with the #KitchenClearout linky as this used up a tin of pineapple, some dried coconut slices and an end of a bag of brown sugar that were cluttering up the kitchen cupboards.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Series 2 Gross Zuru Smashers review

There was much excitement at The Madhouse recently when the postie dropped off some new toys for Pierre to play with and review that are perfect for Halloween. Along with the Zuru Smashers Sludge Bus, we received a pack of Smashers - an eight-pack of eyeballs to crack open to reveal the collectibles inside.

Unsurprisingly, these were what appealed to Pierre the most, and he instantly opened the pack and started clowning around with the creepy eyeballs !

He soon wanted to see what was lurking inside them though, and starting shattering them to reveal the creatures inside. 

There are over 100 characters to collect in total, including ‘Odd Bodies’, ‘Icky Insects’, ‘Ooze Dudes’, ‘Awful Animals’, ‘Filthy Food’, ‘Toilet Humour’, and ‘Smash Trash’, with rare, ultra-rare see-thru characters and playset exclusive characters to collect.

Pierre was very impressed with the little critters, and I can see him putting his pocket money towards buying more for his collection.

Now, moving on to the Sludge Bus - this ingenious play set opens up and reveals all sorts of icky weirdness inside. Yes, that is indeed a toilet that you can see there, perfect for flinging your Smashers characters into !

You actually get a springboard to help with this and Pierre has been having great fun, flinging his characters all over the place - both into the toilet and all around the room in general !

You get two exclusive characters in this play set, including a super hero poo ! 

Speaking of which, you also get a squishy poo, complete with little maggots that come out of both sides when you press it. Ewwww !

It's a fun kit with all sorts of things going on, bound to appeal to the toilet-humour of any kids aged about 5 onwards.

SMASHERS Series 2 is available nationwide. Prices start from £1.99 through to £19.99.

Visit ZURU at, Like ZURU on Facebook @ZURUToys, or Follow on Twitter @ZURUToys

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

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Taking part in the #ACEforSchool Laundry Challenge !

We were just discussing the other day how the Madhouse kids are getting old ! Sophie is now in her last year at school and debating driving lessons and whether to stay in further education or go out looking for a job. In the middle, Juliette is growing up fast too, spending way too much time attached to her phone and ipad, on Netflix and Snapchat ! Even Pierre, the baby of the family, is now nine years old - how did that happen ?! One thing hasn't changed though - they still come home covered in random stains after a long day at school !

Pierre is a typical boy, always climbing trees, skidding along the floor on his knees playing football or riding his bike through puddles. You can imagine the state of his clothes after an after-school trip to the park with his friends ! Even in the classroom, he always manages to come home with ink stains on his sleeves and random, unidentifiable food stains on his clothes from the canteen. Oh well, at least I get to know what he's been eating by looking at his clothes !

The girls aren't too bad, but they still manage to come home with ink stains on their clothes from time to time, and as a teacher, I'm the same, except mine is usually red ink. Oops ! Luckily, ACE challenged us all to deal with the school stains, sending us bottles of ACE for Colours and ACE Stain Remover Spray. Time to put them to the test !

Well, sure enough, when I came to do the weekly wash at the weekend, Pierre had come up trumps and got some unidentified stains on his coat. He has no idea what they were and my guess is that, as it was hot, he ended up tying his coat around his waist at lunch time. He always comes out at the end of the day wearing everything he has, including coat and jumper, even when it's blazing hot !

Well, ACE Stain Remover Spray tackles grease and germs along with stubborn stains, which sounded ideal for our unidentified stain. ACE for Colours also promises to help keep garments in general looking bright, robust and clean, meaning clothes last for longer - yay ! So, did it manage to tackle the stain?

Yes, it certainly did ! Which is just as well, as I only bought this school coat in September and we bought a bigger size so that it should do for next year too. Well, in theory, if it's still in one piece by then !

Disclosure : This post is an entry for the BritMums #ACEforSchool Challenge, sponsored by ACE. Get help for all kinds of stains with the ACE Stain Helper. or to buy head to your local Tesco’s, Morrison’s, Waitrose or Sainsbury’s.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

#readcookeat recipe : Lancashire Hotpot (Petals and Stones)

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my review for Petals and Stone by Joanne Burn, in which Uma discovers that her husband was cheating on her just a few hours before he dies in a crash, on his way home to talk to her. Having already lost both of her parents, this hits her hard, and she takes off to a friend's battered seaside home, to lick her wounds and decide where to go from here on. 

As Uma's mother was Indian, Uma has a deliciously exotic culinary heritage to work through, such as this recipe :

p15 If she stared into the fire for long enough, concentrating on the familiarity of the sofa beneath her, she could almost smell the coconut and cardamom from her mother's breakfast paniyaram, or hear the tapping of her father's typewriter in the other room.

I did investigate some of the Asian dishes, but they didn't sound like things that the kids would be interested in trying, so I ended up being won over by something much more typically British :

p80 'I've made a Lancashire hotpot for tea,' said Mary, bending to open the oven door, grabbing a tea towel and pulling out the baking dish to inspect its progress. 'Half an hour?'
'Shall we see if Ruth and the girls want to come over too?'
'I'm not sure they'll eat hotpot,' said Mary, running a hand through her short silver hair. 'You know how fussy they are.'
'They could have fish fingers. I have fish fingers in the freezer."

That sounded perfect, but as I wasn't that familiar with the dish, I went to investigate and discovered that it is made with lamb. Well, the Madhouse kids aren't keen on lamb, so I switched meats and made it with pork instead. Maybe not very authentic, but it certainly filled a hole !

Lancashire Hotpot

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil
1 onion
600g pork (or lamb, if you want to be traditional)
salt, pepper, Italian seasoning
gravy powder
5-6 potatoes
a few knobs of butter

Switch on the oven to preheat to 180°. Heat up the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion. I have a frying pan with a clip on handle that can go straight in the oven, but you may need to transfer the meat and sauce to an ovenproof dish otherwise.

Add the chopped pork and cook until it is nice and brown on the outside. I cooked it through all the way to be on the safe side, but you could leave it to finish off in the oven. Sprinkle over some salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.

Mix up some boiling water and gravy granules and pour over the top. Give it all a quick stir. I filled the dish almost to the top so that it didn't dry out during cooking, but the layer of potatoes kept it all nice and moist anyway.

It's up to you if you peel your potatoes or not - I decided not to, both for saving time and also getting some extra fibre into the kids' diets ! Chop them into slices a few millimetres thick, so that they cook quickly and lay them out across the top of the dish. Add a few small knobs of butter.

Put in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through and nicely browned on top. If they start going too brown, add a sheet of foil over the top. Once it's cooked, tuck in, along with a side dish of your favourite vegetable. (We opted for peas and carrots and the kids wolfed it down.)

Adding to the #readcookeat linky over at Chez Maximka.

Monday, 15 October 2018

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 2018 week #42

This week is the final week at school before we get two weeks off - yeeeesssss ! I don't know about the kids but I definitely need it ! This week, I'll be looking for a nice easy week, using up what's in the fridge in case we decide to head off to visit the grandparents (bearing in mind that we went shopping yesterday so it's totally stuffed !). As I write this, I'm planning on warming stews and things to suit autumn/winter, but the last couple of days have been strangely warm. Oh well, it's still good to have a plan !


dinner - tortillas or fajitas or something similar, using up the leftovers from yesterday's roast beef (we didn't have chicken in the end !) - I picked up some packs on offer when I went shopping and they're taking up way too much place in the cupboard !


dinner - I have some packs of vol au vents cases so something in them - I'm thinking creamy chicken, but I'll see what's in the freezer - with rice and veg


lunch - fricadelles (spicy sausages) with pasta

dinner - I'm thinking soup, but this might change if it's unseasonably warm ! There should be lots of leftovers to use up too if soup doesn't appeal to the younger members of the family.


dinner - chorizo & cheese strudel bread with salad & tomatoes


 dinner - time to welcome in the holidays with KFC-style baked chicken, curly chips & beans !


lunch - kids' choice of restaurant/fast food - possibly a kebab this week, if things haven't changed

dinner - leftovers/snack food (quiche, salads, bread, dips, crisps, fruit, yogurts, etc)


lunch -  roast chicken with all the trimmings

dinner - sandwiches and leftovers

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


Book review : Dear Mr Pop Star - Derek & Dave Philpott

"Dear Mr Pop Star,
Just heard you on the radio ... have a few issues ..."

And so begins a series of deliberately deranged letters to a very impressive number of big name pop stars from the last few decades. The father and son team of Mr Philpotts are incessant in their hilarious interpretations of various well-known classics - so well-known in fact that you usually just take the words for granted when you listen to them, without even thinking about them any more. 

Derek and Dave manage to delve deep into the words that were the musical backdrop of our better years and show us that ... well, in fact, they're rather a lot of tripe ! For more than a decade, they have been writing to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs. But then, to their great surprise, the pop stars started writing back... !

Dear Mr Pop Star contains one hundred of Derek and Dave's greatest hits, including correspondence with Katrina and the Waves, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, The Housemartins, Suzi Quatro, Devo, Deep Purple, Nik Kershaw, T'Pau, Human League, Eurythmics, Wang Chung, EMF, Mott the Hoople, Heaven 17, Jesus Jones, Johnny Hates Jazz, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Chesney Hawkes and many, many more. That sounds like the playlist of some of the better nights of my uni days !

Many of the songwriters play the father and son at their own game, replying to the letters in great depth, with often hilarious results. It's the perfect book for dipping into whenever you've got a few moments and need a break from 'real life'. If you're wondering what to get your daughter's new boyfriend for Christmas or what to put in the works Secret Santa this year, you could do a lot worse !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £16.99 (currently £11.72 on amazon)

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Unbound (20 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781783525980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783525980
  • ASIN: 1783525983
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 3.5 x 21.9 cm

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Ravensburger GraviTrax review

Back in July, Ravensburger launched a brand new product range called GraviTrax and we recently received a selection to review. Along with the GraviTrax Starter kit (RRP £49.99 but currently £36.99 on Amazon so get in quick for Christmas !), we received three add on sets : Catapult, Gravity Hammer and Magnetic Cannon (RRP £9.99 each). 

I was delighted to discover that it appealed equally to 9-year-old Pierre and to his sister,13-year-old Juliette. They both settled down together, unpacking the boxes and seeing what was inside.

GraviTrax is described by the manufacturer as a "new interactive track system that allows fans to build the track, release the gravity spheres and watch the forces of nature work to create an action-filled adventure." If that's not exciting enough, there are various bonus packs that can be bought, including Trax Extension Pack, Building Extension Pack and Action Loop Add-on, as well as the three that we received.

The Starter Set includes over 100 components, with the aim to build the tracks high and release the "gravity spheres" (otherwise known as metal balls !). It is aimed at children from 8+ to adults and, while we got to grips with it, we started out following the sample tracks suggested in the guide book.

I suggested starting at the very beginning and working upwards through the levels, so our first creation was very simple.

After quickly fitting all the pieces together in the right order, Pierre pushed the button and - hurrah ! - it rolled down to the bottom.

We worked together through the booklet until we were at the most complicated levels.

These were slightly trickier to put together, but I was delighted to see Pierre working out what needed to go where and using his brain to overcome problems. A toy that makes you think - bonus !

If the little ball came flying off or got stuck somewhere, rather than saying "it doesn't work", he would say "ohh, hang on, I need to add more height" or "ahh, that's the wrong piece, what about trying this bit so that it stays on the track?". As a parent, I love the concept of a toy that makes your child think, while quite obviously having great fun.

Meanwhile, Juliette was experimenting with the bonus add-ons and figuring out how they worked, before adding them into Pierre's simple tracks.

Just from sitting back and taking the photos, I could see how the tracks were getting more complex and, as they came across problems, they'd quickly put together a solution.

The tracks utilise a lot of things seen in STEM subjects at school (that's Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and they make kids think about gravity, magnetism and kinetic energy without even realising it. 

While they were busy puzzling things out and coming up with solutions, I'd drop in little educational facts that were met with excited cries of "oh yeah !" and "ohhh so that's why ...". I know I'm a teacher, but I think this must be seen as a bonus by any parent !

It's great to see kids using their imagination and actually learning new things. If you asked them, though, they'd just tell you they were having fun !

If you're wondering what to get the kids for Christmas, you could do a lot worse. Even better news is, the boxes label the age range as 8-99 so they're great for dad, uncles and even grandads too !

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