Sunday 30 May 2010

Giveaway #12 - 3 copies of TOP 10 OF FOOTBALL - 250 lists on the beautiful game - CLOSED - winners Tiny, frugalfamily, Kahanka

TOP 10 OF FOOTBALL - 250 lists on the beautiful game
By Russell Ash and Ian Morrison
Published by Hamlyn - 1st June 2010 - Priced £10 - Hardback

Fancy yourself as the ultimate football fanatic? Know your Gunners from your Canaries? Well why not put you and your mates to the test with Top 10 of Football, a fact-packed collection of 250 fascinating, useful as well as downright bizarre football lists.

From the essential to the obscure, discover...
• World cup heroes … and upsets
• Most unfortunately named players
• Hat-trick maestros
• FA Cup giant-killers
• Unusual injuries

Plus find out what year the ‘Offside law’ was adopted, who has scored the most goals in the premier league and who plays at Kitkat Crescent ?As football-mania grips this nation this summer, why not grab a copy of Top 10 of Football, the perfect accompaniment to this year’s World Cup, plus it will come in handy for the next pub quiz!


Let's face it, love it or hate it, you're not going to be able to avoid football for much longer this year ! You could impress the men in your life by swotting up on some of the lists in this book, or make them even happier by winning them a copy, just in time for Fathers' Day !

I have THREE copies up for grabs for readers of my blog. Just leave me a comment telling me who you'd like to win it for and a way of contacting you (preferably email or twitter name). Bonus entry for following my blog or RTing this competition on twitter (leave an extra comment) for each entry.

Good luck ! (And if you hate football, you might prefer my other giveaway for keeping the kiddies entertained !)

Giveaway #11 - 1 copy of All Aboard (for fun & activities with The Old Station Nursery) - CLOSED - winner redtedart

I've just reviewed this lovely book, full of brilliant ideas for creative and messy play with babies and toddlers (click here). It's guaranteed to give you new and simple ideas that you'd never thought of that would work just as well in a home environment as in a playgroup, so whether you're a parent or a childminder, it will be equally useful for you.

I have one copy up for grabs - UK only, closing date Sunday 13th June.

To enter, just tell me what you love doing with your kids on a rainy day. You can get bonus entries for leaving me comments on my reviews (up to 5) or retweeting a link to this competition on twitter. Don't forget to tell me you've done it in the comments (you can leave one comment per entry).

Please please please, don't forget to leave me a way to contact you -either twitter id or email. Every time I host a giveaway, I have to disqualify people because I can't contact them !

Good luck !

All Aboard (for fun & activities with The Old Station Nursery)

As a mum of three children, aged 8, 5 and 10 months, I've got quite a large repertoire of fun (and often messy !) activities to do with the kids. Just like Mister Maker (who the girls love to bits), we have our very own crafts cupboard full of glitter, funky paper and googly eyes. I keep a constant supply of toilet rolls, round cheese spread boxes and interesting looking odds and ends for when they want to get imaginative. I'm quite happy for them to get messy as long as it's "hands in the air all the way to the bath so you don't touch anything with painty fingers" afterwards ! I actually almost caused a woman to crash her car one day when I got the girls all dressed up in grubby worn-out clothes and wellies and took them for a session splashing in the puddles ! They're not big on messy play here in France ! When I laughingly recounted the puddle-splashing episode to some French friends who are also mums, they told me that their offspring get a smacked bum if they dare to put as much as a toe in a puddle ! Oops, that'll be a black mark against my name then, especially as we were splashing happily in the puddles on the school car park in full view of everyone !

But despite my constant brainwaves (indoor picnics ... nature scavenger hunts ... growing cress seeds in egg-shell heads ... making mouse-shaped pizzas with cheestring whiskers ... pin the tail on the pig, which the girls loved so much it has been on the wall for months !), even I found loads of inspiration and new ideas that I'd never have thought of in the pages of All Aboard. Some of them I will definitely not be doing - judging by the horrified reaction to a bit of healthy puddle splashing (and, admittedly, the fact that I doubled up in hysterics when Juliette, then aged about 3, actually decided to sit down in the middle of one especially big puddle !), putting powder
paint in puddles and mixing up the colours with a brush would probably get me locked up ! Some of the other ideas are really easy to do though, and sound like great fun for parents and kids alike - hiding little plastic animals in paint-covered cooked spaghetti sounds great fun to me ! Can I play too ?! And I definitely want to try rolling around marbles in gloopy paint to see what patterns we can make.

The best thing is knowing that all of these ideas will really work because they've all been tried and tested : author Sarah Steel is a working mum who set up The Old Station Nursery group in 2002.

Whether you're a childminder, parent, babysitter or doting grandparent, this book will give you absolutely loads of ideas for things to do on a rainy day that won't cost the earth and mainly use equipment that you'll have lying around the house. I also love the fact that when someone pays us a surprise visit when we're in the middle of messy play at home, I can now point out in a book that this is really a recognised element of child development and that I'm not just some crazy English woman who doesn't know how to bring up kids properly ! If you're very houseproud and dress your kids in designer clothes that need to stay spotless, you probably won't be quite so enthusiastic but I absolutely love it !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £12.99

for more information :

Saturday 29 May 2010

Kosmea Eighth Natural Wonder Revitalising Facial Serum

Well, here I am, about to review my third and final product for mypure - awwwww. But next month I'll get some more - yippee ! The final product in this month's beauty bloggers' package is Kosmea Eighth Natural Wonder Revitalising Facial Serum.

I have tried a sample of Kosmea handcream in the past and I remember saying it was lovely and luxurious but the fragrance of roses was a bit overpowering. Well, I was surprised to find that this facial serum has the same rose scent - it's not unpleasant but it is very strong so if you don't like roses, that might put you off. Presumably all Kosmea products must share this same rose fragrance : "Kosmea took Australia by storm in 1993 when they launched the first 100% pure certified organic rosehip oil. Since then Kosmea have gone from strength to strength with a complete range of skin care based around organic rosehip oil."

I have to admit, the actual feel of the product when you apply it to your skin isn't altogether pleasant - it's slightly sticky and even slimy. Luckily, this feeling doesn't last for long and once it has been absorbed by your skin, I have to say I'm impressed. My skin felt plumper, perfectly moisturised and soothed.

This is a serum though, not a moisturiser, so you might want to use it underneath your moisturiser, not in place of it. On the mypure website, they explain : "Apply to skin after cleansing in the morning. For added daytime hydration wear under Kosmea’s Replenishing Moisture Cream. At night-time no extra moisturiser is needed for skin that feels wonderful the very next day."
I preferred using it at night rather than in the morning because you have to wait a few minutes for the skin to absorb it, particularly if you want to wear make-up, and I'm in too much of a mad rush first thing in the morning. As part of a night-time pampering routine, it is lovely though, and I genuinely did see the difference on my skin next morning.
It's pricey - £25.00 for 20ml or £49.99 for 50ml - but then most miracle skin products that actually work usually are. If you're used to paying out for high end skin care anyway, you might like to give this natural option a try.
star rating : 4/5

RRP : £25 for 20ml

for more information :

[A'kin] Pure Rose Hydrating Facial Mist

As I mentioned on my recent review for Lovea's Moroccan Argan Brilliance Shine Shampoo, I'll be reviewing a whole host of natural and organic beauty products for mypure. Next up is [A'kin] Pure Rose Hydrating Facial Mist.

I had already heard of the luxury organic Australian beauty brand [A'kin] but had never tried their products so I was really looking forward to testing some of their goodies. I had high expectations of the company, especially after reading the write-up on mypure. "All [A'kin] products are ingredient-rich, vegan, and use certified organic ingredients where possible, they have been formulated without animal ingredients or animal testing. [A'kin] products are certified vegan by the Australian Vegan Society. They are also halal certified." Yet again, as with Lovea, mypure were the first to bring [A'kin] to Britain, back in 2004.

Although I liked the idea of the product, I wasn't totally convinced it would work in practice. "Spray over your face and body to instantly refresh and hydrate your skin, use throughout the day when your skin feels dehydrated, flushed or heated. Can be used over makeup and helps control shine. Great for dry environments, air conditioned offices and long flights. Remember to close your eyes when spraying the mist on your face !" Hmmm surely if you spray a mist all over your face, it will just make you get panda eyes from your mascara and make your foundation slide off your chin, won't it ?! Definitely one I am not going to try when I don't have a mirror to hand !

Well, I gave it a go in my bathroom (minus makeup) and was really surprised. It feels like a cooling mist of ultrafine raindrops but leaves your skin bone dry. I rubbed my fingers over my face in amazement seconds after spraying and there was no moisture at all and no sticky or greasy residue. Just a lovely lingering sensation of coolness and a gorgeous smell of roses.

I decided I had the perfect time to try it out on Tuesday lunchtimes. I finish class at my first school at five past twelve, finally getting to leave the building (especially if, as is often the case, the kids have been playing up and I have to keep them in after the bell for a few minutes !) around quarter past twelve. I then have a very brisk ten-minute walk to my other school, munching a quick lunch on the way, leaving me twenty minutes to deal with photocopies and paperwork before afternoon lessons begin. Now that the warmer weather has arrived, I now usually arrive either red-cheeked or sweaty-faced - not a good look for heading into the classroom !

So last week, I popped the [A'kin] Facial Mist in my bag and pulled out my secret weapon seconds before arriving at the school gates. An instant sensation of coolness and freshness, a nice relaxing smell of roses and I was ready to face the world (or at least a classroom full of spotty teenagers !).
In the summertime, I have occasionally bought the spray cans of pure water, made by Evian for example, to spray a fine mist of cooling, hydrating water droplets over the kids. They are lovely and refreshing but do leave your face dripping wet - the proof being that the kids invariably open their mouths for a drink ! - so there is no way you could use them over makeup and you need a towel or tissue handy to mop up the excess water. The [A'kin] Facial Mist is a much more discreet and work-friendly version.

I adore the exotic names of the natural ingredients : "Australian Bush Flower Essences, old man banksia, dog rose and tall mulla mulla are used in this mist as well as aloe barbadensis leaf juice to calm skin, and vitamins B5 to soothe skin." I found the name of one of the ingredients, hyaluronic acid, vaguely worrying as any sort of acid doesn't sound skin-friendly, but apparently names can be deceiving and it's good for you ! "Akin Hydrating Rose Mist is formulated using sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid), one of the latest discoveries in natural skin care. Sodium hyaluronate is a key water maintaining component in our skin. Modern living and ageing can cause a decrease in this vital skin boosting ingredient, and as a result the water maintaining ability of the skin is weakened." Well that's me told then !

The only thing that may not appeal to some people is the fragrance - it smells very strongly of roses, so it's definitely one for the girls ! Personally, I like the scent because it smells natural, of real crushed rose petals, unlike synthetic rose fragrances which can often be sickeningly sweet or headachey.
This is definitely going to be a permanent fixture in my school bag until the end of term, then it will be great for keeping fresh and cool in the summertime.

star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £12.99 for 125ml
for more information :

Thursday 27 May 2010


A little while ago, I reviewed Patak's Oven Bake Biryani sauce (a review that you can see here). If that tickled your fancy, I'm sure you'll love these mouth-watering recipes dreamed up by
Anjali Pathak of Patak's, which sound delicious and may also be good for your health too : "Not only do the recipes look great and taste fantastic, the spices used in my pastes also follow the basic principles of Ayurveda. I’ve enlisted the help of Dr Deepa Apté, Ayurveda Pura’s Clinical Director, to ensure all of my recipes promote good health. Practiced for over 500 years, Ayurveda is all about balanced diets, inner equilibriums and personal wellbeing, all of which help create harmony between our bodies and nature."

Patak’s Madras Basted Lamb Cutlets with a Minted Honey and Yoghurt DipServes 4

2 racks of lamb, trimmed
4 tbsp Patak’s Madras Paste
2 tbsp oil
Small handful mint leaves, picked
100g Greek style yogurt
Runny honey, to taste
Salt and pepper

1. Rub the Patak’s Madras paste into the racks of lamb. Leave to marinate for at least one hour, or overnight if possible and then refrigerate.
2. When ready to cook, sear the racks of lamb over a high heat to seal the meat and render down any fat on its surface. You don’t want it to cook through totally – just sear.
3. When seared place in a roasting tin in a 200°c preheated oven and cook for 20-25 minutes until medium rare. They should feel quite firm and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile make the dip. Finely chop the mint leaves, add to the yogurt and add the runny honey to taste. Season with salt and pepper.
5. When rested, carve into cutlets and serve with the minted yogurt dip.

Dr Deepa Apte comments: “According to Ayurveda, the garlic found in Patak’s Madras Paste helps this Lamb Cutlets recipe stimulate the nervous, respiratory, digestive and circulatory systems. Even a small amount of this powerful, rejuvenative herb will help detoxify your blood and lymphatic system.”


Zingy Salmon Ceviche with Spiced Crème Fraiche and Sourdough ToastsServes 4 (as a starter)

1 sachet Patak’s Easy Korma Paste
1 tub Crème fraiche
1 fennel bulb, green fronds trimmed and set aside
1 red onion
1 red chilli
600g very fresh raw salmon fillet, skinless and trimmed
2 limes, juiced
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of sea salt
4 thin slices of sourdough bread (Poilane is ideal)

1. To make the spiced crème fraiche: Fry the Patak’s Easy Korma Paste over a medium heat for 5 minutes ensuring it doesn’t catch or burn. Set aside to cool and when cool mix into the crème fraiche until totally incorporated and set aside.
2. Make the ceviche. Chop the fennel bulb, onion and chilli into very small, fine dice (5mm x5mm). Discard the chilli seeds. Place in a bowl.
3. Make sure the salmon has been trimmed of any darker coloured flesh. You should only use the pink/orange flesh. Chop the salmon into dice, as small as possible. Add to the bowl. Add the lime juice and sugar to taste. Marinate in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. It should start to turn milky in colour.
4. Meanwhile toast the bread.
5. Remove the ceviche from the refrigerator and season with salt to taste. Make a quenelle of the spiced crème fraiche on the side of each plate. Spread a spoonful of the salmon ceviche over the plate so it is spread out and colourful. Garnish with small pieces of the fennel fronds.
6. Serve with the toasts.

Dr Deepa Apte comments: “Ginger is a universal medicine and most widely known for its detoxifying qualities. The small amount of ginger in Patak’s Easy Korma Paste makes this Zingy Salmon recipe good for colds and coughs. It also helps to relieve headaches and pain.”


Patak’s Balti Spiced Chicken Wings with Zingy Lime Drizzle
Makes 15

1 kg chicken wings
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ jar Patak’s Balti Paste
3 limes, zested and juiced
100g granulated sugar
Coriander, finely chopped

1. Whisk the Patak’s Balti Paste and vegetable oil together. Smother over the chicken wings and marinate for at least one hour, or overnight if possible and then refrigerate.
2. Place on the BBQ or in the oven at 200ºc and cook for 25-30 minutes until tender
3. In the meantime make the drizzle. Place the lime juice and sugar in a small saucepan and boil over a medium heat for approximately 10 minutes or until a sugar syrup has formed. It should be the consistency of Vaseline when rubbed between the fingers. When ready, remove from the heat and cool. When cool add the zest.
4. When the chicken wings are cooked, remove from the heat and serve on a platter. Drizzle the ‘drizzle’ over the wings and garnish with a sprinkle of coriander.

Dr Deepa Apte comments: “The small amount of coriander found in this paste will help stimulate your digestive, respiratory and urinary system. According to Ayurveda, it’s the best household spice for heat related conditions and is effective in alleviating allergies, hay fever and skin rashes”


Seared Chicken Skewers with Mixed Leaves
Serves 4

2 packs of mini chicken fillets
1 sachet Patak’s Easy Tikka Masala Paste
10 soaked skewers
Bag mixed salad
1 lime, juiced
3 tbsp olive oil
Pinch sugar
Lime wedges to garnish

1. In a bowl, marinate the mini chicken fillets in the sachet of Patak’s Easy Tikka Masala paste. Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight if possible.
2. When marinated, thread onto soaked skewers. Cook on the BBQ or on the hob until cooked through and tender.
3. Meanwhile assemble the salad dressing. Mix the lime juice, olive oil and sugar together. Dress the salad and place on the plates. Arrange the skewers over the salad and serve with wedges of lime.

Dr Deepa Apte comments: “The turmeric in Patak’s Easy Tikka Masala Paste helps this Seared Chicken Skewer recipe become an excellent natural antibiotic. It will also help stimulate your digestive, circulatory and respiratory system while helping to purify the blood.”


for more information and recipe ideas :

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Keycamp - Château de Drancourt parc, St-Valéry-sur-Somme, Picardy, France

As I mentioned yesterday in my blog post about Keycamp family holidays and all the brilliant little extras they can provide you with to get your holiday off to a stress-free start, we've just spent a fantastic long weekend at the Château de Drancourt parc near St-Valéry-sur-Somme in Picardy, Northern France. I've decided to do this review as a diary of our holiday, to show you how much you can pack into a long weekend. We all kept saying that it seemed so much longer than 3 days and that it made a really relaxing, rejuvenating break away from the stresses of home and work. Definitely something we now hope to do again as a family !

Friday evening :

Rush rush rush, as usual - 5pm, finish work. 5.30 pick up the kids from the childminder. 6pm drop the dogs off at the dogminder. 6.30pm throw the bags in the car. 7pm we're off ... Knowing that this would be a mad rush and that we'd all be tired after a long day at work and school, we'd purposely picked a parc close to home. An hour and a half later, we were driving through the lush green fields full of horses and up the impressive tree-lined avenue to the parc. We knew we'd have missed the cut-off point of 8pm for Keycamp reception so we'd phoned ahead and been told it wouldn't be a problem, "come straight up to the château" ! Oooh very posh ! We headed to the Keycamp reception and, as expected, it was empty - but there is a logbook where you can leave a message and they pop by regularly to check, plus a mobile phone number so you can contact one of the team 24 hours a day. I gave them a ring and 5 minutes later, Luke showed up on his bike to give us our key and show us down to our mobile home.

First impressions - wow ! As a family of 5, we were in a Villagrand Deluxe mobile home, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and the deck. It also had a big lounge/kitchen/dining area and not one but two toilets. Plus, the first thing the girls noticed : the Adventure Tent, already pitched next to the mobile home ! Talk about excited ! Time for a quick bit of food (the kitchen is fully equipped with hob, oven and microwave plus all the utensils and tableware you could ever need), a quick look around the parc then off to bed. Sweet dreams everyone !

Saturday morning :

Woke up and glanced at my watch through bleary eyes : 9.30am ! How did that happen ?! The girls are always out of bed by 7am at home ! Sure enough, they were awake and whispering and giggling in their room ! Baby Pierre had slept soundly in his travel cot. Big smiles all round. Until we mentioned that we'd need to pop out to the supermarket (literally a few minutes away) and maybe go exploring at St-Valéry-sur-Somme for a few hours - the girls had seen loads of things they wanted to do at the parc and didn't want to go out anywhere ! We promised to come back after lunch and headed off to the car.

Having read the write-up on the Keycamp website and studied the information boards in reception, we were expecting St-Valéry to be a total tourist trap : "St Valéry with its walled and gated medieval citadel and brightly painted quays is the jewel of the coast. In summer a little steam railway runs from St Valéry along the coast." It was busy but we managed to find a parking space easily and were pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices for parking and eating in one of the many restaurants.

Saturday afternoon :
The girls were getting impatient so as promised, we headed back to the parc. As expected, they immediately wanted to go to the swimming pool. No problem ! The parc actually has three swimming pools but, as we're off season, only one is currently open - the covered pool. As it was a blindingly hot day, they pulled open the roof part so that it is part covered/part open-air. The girls had a great time and particularly loved the slide into the pool !

On the way back to the mobile home to get changed, the girls oohed and aahed and petted the adorable Shetland ponies that you can hire (as well as bikes, and various other contraptions that you can pedal along in as a family !).

We headed back via the Keycamp reception, in which you can help yourself to the selection of toys, books, puzzles, bats and balls, etc. Back at the mobile home, the girls disappeared into their Adventure Tent with the toys and books borrowed from reception while I sorted out food.

Saturday evening :

Mike had immediately noticed that there was no TV in the mobile home. We actually agreed that the total lack of TV and computer (although there is an internet cafe somewhere on the parc, but we didn't go looking for it !) was great, because it got us spending time as a family, doing puzzles, playing frisbee, sitting and talking, ... But, he said with a sad face, he'd miss the footie on TV tonight. I suggested we head up to the Château Bar, because they were sure to have a widescreen TV up there, almost definitely showing sport. My hunch was correct (I'd popped by reception to chat to the Keycamp couriers and find out !) and while Mike sat in the main bar watching the footie with a pint, I headed off to the kids room just next door. While the girls watched Pocahontas on DVD (choice of English, French or Flemish language !), Pierre played with the assortment of toys and I watched the hundreds of swallows flying about just outside the window !

Sunday morning :

We'd decided to go out again for the morning and come back to the parc for the afternoon. This time we visited Mers-les-Bains, with its huge pebble beach with rows of white beach huts and impressive villas. We had lunch in a restaurant on the seafront, again pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices.

Having noticed the impressive looking cliff-top walks from the beach, we headed up to Hault to look down on Mers-les-Bains below. The white chalk cliffs look like the White Cliffs of Dover and the clifftop walks reminded me of Beachy Head in my native Sussex.

Sunday afternoon :

You've guessed it, the girls were begging to go back to the parc so we did ! First stop, the pool again, where everyone had just as much fun as the day before. Even baby Pierre decided he liked the water a bit better today !
Afterwards, the girls decided it was time for a round of crazy golf, where we had a great laugh trying to do some of the (in my opinion !) absolutely impossible holes !

Sunday evening :
Having checked out the prices at the parc's takeaway and found them to be very reasonable indeed - for example, €6 for chicken wings and chips, €3.50 for hot dog sausages and chips - we decided not to bother cooking tonight (sadly, I'd failed to convince Mike he wanted to make use of the gas barbecue in front of our mobile home !). We had a last wander around the camp, a final game of crazy golf and a good play on the numerous playgrounds, all of which made me feel very nostalgic as I saw (OK, and played on !) the wooden roundabouts, swings and slides of my youth.

Monday morning :
Everyone was a bit sad this morning, knowing we had to leave the parc and go back home. But I had one final ace hidden up my sleeve. I sent the girls off for a last play in the playground as I went to reception to buy a couple of postcards and secretly paid for a pony ride ! But not just any old pony ride. For €6, they give you a Shetland pony on a lead for 1/2 hour and you wander around the park wherever you want to go. We got Zorro, described as incredibly calm - which he was, except whenever he saw a dandelion and then veered off in that direction, barging us out of the way if we resisted. They may be tiny but they have a serious amount of strength and determination. We were in hysterics for the whole half hour and I've never seen such big smiles on the girls' faces !
A final lap of honour of the parc, including a quick bye-bye to our mobile home, and we really were ready to leave.

We had an absolutely fabulous time and were stunned by how much we managed to pack into a weekend. The parc is quite busy - it's used by Keycamp plus two other holiday companies - but we were amazed at how peaceful and quiet it is. Wandering around the roads, you do see the odd car but everybody respects the very low speed limit and you feel quite safe letting your kids run off ahead. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and you feel immediately disconnected from the stresses of home. Everybody speaks fluent English and French and everyone, both staff and happy campers, are all really friendly and stop to chat whenever you pass them.

Peak-season extras :

I had a quick chat with the Keycamp reps to find out what else is on offer at the Château de Drancourt parc in peak season. As we knew, there are two extra swimming pools, a big outside one with a slide and a small paddling pool for the kids, as well as a pool bar and sun terrace. We'd noticed a funky looking tent behind the pool area and discovered that this is the Mini Fun Station for babies and toddlers under the age of 5, like a big mother-and-baby group with a Tumble Tots programme of activities. (We actually only just missed out on this, although I'm not sure we'd have found time to do it all ! Mini Fun Station clubs run from 26/5 to 5/7. Tumble Tots runs from 26/5 to 16/7.) For the older kids (aged 4-12), there is also Fun Station For All, offering sports, arts and crafts, as well as family-oriented activities like family scavenger hunts, rounders and disco evenings. In honour of the World Cup, there is also a whole programme of footie-themed activities on the cards (along with all the matches being shown on the wide-screen TV in the Château Bar).

star rating : Top marks - I asked the girls and they said it deserved 11/5 !!!

for more information on Keycamp family holidays :

Keycamp Holidays - "This is the life !"

We've just got back from a fabulous long-weekend press-trip to the Château de Drancourt Keycamp parc in the Picardy region of Northern France. I'll be writing a separate review about the brilliant time we had there (now online here), but before we even set a foot out of the door, I was well impressed with Keycamp and the way that they take all of the stress out of organising a holiday or a weekend away.

Now, I'm a totally low-maintenance girl and I can travel extremely light. It literally takes me five minutes to throw a few clothes and toiletries in a bag and be out of the door. But things get a bit trickier when you've got kids, especially a baby, to contend with. We had to invest in a roof rack for our Scenic last year because it was impossible to fit all the kid-friendly paraphernalia in the boot !

Well, Keycamp can immediately cut your luggage by half by providing loads of handy stuff for you. First of all, the Baby Pack is a lifesaver. "We understand the practical side of taking little ones on holiday, so to make it easier, we offer all those extra things that you need for babies and toddlers. Every one of our sites can provide travel cots, which double as a play pen, highchairs, baby baths and potties. But please remember to book these extras prior to your arrival to ensure their availability." And it won't even cost you a penny extra.

Next up, towels ! We knew from the outset that the girls were going to want to go swimming, probably every day. That means five big towels per day if you want to have one each to wrap around you after climbing out of the pool, so probably best to take ten just in case they don't dry out overnight. Eeeek ten beach towels ? Firstly, I don't think we even own that many ! And secondly, that's one suitcase filled already ! Well, Keycamp to the rescue again ! "Just £8 per pair. Save some space in your luggage with beach towel hire, which includes 2 large beach towels. You need to pre-book your beach towels 1 week before departure to guarantee availability." The funky blue and white stripey towels are perfectly clean and come packed up in sealed plastic bags (presumably fresh from the dry cleaners !) so they're easy to keep dry at the poolside too !

I would also recommend the bed linen hire because, let's face it, who wants to get home from a lovely relaxing break to a whole load of towels and sheets that need washing ?! "Double £15 Single £9 Now available for mobile homes, tents and chalets on all of our sites, linen hire includes towels, sheets and pillowcases. (A double pack includes 2 double sheets, 2 pillowcases and 2 bath towels, a single pack includes 2 single sheets, 1 pillowcase and 1 bath towel.)" Definitely worth it, from a mum's point of view !

Another great idea for a nice relaxing start to the trip is the Welcome Pack. "To get your holiday off to the smoothest possible start, why not opt for our Welcome Pack? It contains the essentials such as toilet roll and tea and coffee plus a little added luxury of a bottle of red wine, allowing you to put your feet up with a drink the minute you arrive. Full contents include: Bottle of red wine, 2 bottles of mineral water, salt, pepper, 2 cartons of fruit juice, jar of green olives, coffee, tea, sugar, whitener and UHT milk, washing up liquid, scourer, dish cloth, tea towel, matches, bin liner, toilet paper and bar of hand soap. " The girls loved unpacking all the goodies and lining them up on the table so that kept them occupied while we unpacked the car and made up the beds. I have to admit, I thought I'd covered all bases but I'd totally forgotten to pack any supplies at all for doing the washing up (was that my subconscious talking there ?!) and although we did laugh because both Mike and myself had packed two toilet rolls each, it's one of those things that can easily get forgotten at the last minute ! It's great to have all the essentials already on site so you can saunter off on holiday with immediate peace of mind, well worth the £7 price tag !

Another little extra that was courteously supplied for us was the Adventure Tent. Now, I thought this was a brilliant idea and got stupidly excited about it ! "Our Adventure Tents give children a taste of real camping. For just £19.95 you will have the use of an Adventure Tent whilst on holiday and it's yours to take home." Yes, you did read that right - you get to take it home with you at the end ! How's that for the ultimate holiday souvenir ?! We didn't actually use ours to sleep in, because the girls are a bit young so I had visions of them (or me !) freaking out in the middle of the night, but it was a great place for them to go and chill out (sometimes at our suggestion when we wanted some peace and quiet !) and keep out of the sun. They loved putting their toys and books in there and going for a "tent sleep" after lunch and before heading to the pool. The absolutely great thing is that it's all set up for you when you arrive - no need to fight with tent pegs and ropes when all you want to do is sit down and guzzle the bottle of wine that is in the welcome pack !

Depending on the parc you're staying at, you may also be able to hire Toddler trucks and All-terrain buggies, Dutchtubs (that's a family-sized, natural wood-fired hot-tub !) and hammocks. You can also request to hire free Decking gates and Bed rails to keep your little ones safe and spend an even more stress-free holiday.

If you need to travel abroad to get to your holiday destination, Keycamp can also organise your ferry crossings for you. One more stressful job taken care of. On the travel theme, they also provide you with highly-detailed directions to the parc from pretty much all possible directions. We managed to find the parc without going wrong even once, which is quite a miracle for us ! The directions use lots of local landmarks that an online travel-planner won't give you so it's really handy. The information sheet telling you which places to visit or which activities you can do in the local area are also a great way of planning your holiday with minimal effort, and the parc reception offers a lot more advice as well as big maps to help you plan how to make the most of your time there.

They really have come up with some fail-proof ways of making your holiday get off to a totally relaxed, stress-free start. Three cheers for Keycamp !

star rating : 5/5

for more information about Keycamp in general :

Book review : Forbidden Pleasures - Jo Rees

Having read Platinum, I already knew that Jo Rees was a master (or should that be mistress ?) of writing about the decadent lifestyles of the filthy rich and the harsh, cut-throat world that lies beneath the glitz and sparkle. She's so good at portraying the high-life that I was amazed to see how down-to-earth she is on her blog, Mum Writes Books, where she talks about - amongst other things - Jamie Oliver, Peppa Pig and running the Brighton Marathon ! I also hadn't realised that Jo Rees is the married name of Josie Lloyd, who originally wrote under her maiden name, including several best-sellers co-written with hubby Emlyn Rees.

But back to the book. As soon as I discovered that Forbidden Pleasures was set in the glamorous casinos of Las Vegas, Dubai and Shanghai, I was expecting the same glitzy but pitiless atmosphere of Platinum. Jo comes up trumps yet again, portraying a decadent and ostentatious world where danger and betrayal lurk at every luxuriously decorated corner. I smiled at the cheeky reference to Peaches Gold, the LA madam who put in an appearance in the previous novel.

Forbidden Pleasures follows the fortunes of two young women, carefree party-loving Savannah and ambitious, hard-working Lois. Whereas Savannah, or Savvy, lives the high life, having a good time and taking advantage of her rich casino-owning daddy's reputation and money, Lois is the "eye in the sky", keeping a tight reign on the security and the smooth running of a rival casino. The book portrays the huge adrenalin rush that gambling offers but also the tragedy that can strike when it all goes horribly wrong and people's lives are destroyed when their luck runs out.

But the greatest gambles for Savvy and Lois take place far away from the green baize and the teetering piles of chips. Both girls are damaged, mentally and physically, by their pasts and have to deal with a lot of emotional baggage before they are ready to take a chance on starting out on a new life and a new love. In this gamblers' paradise, where the ability to double-bluff everyone and maintain a poker face are vital, it is hard to know who your friends are and who your enemies are - as both girls discover to their detriment. When push comes to shove, the people who come to your rescue may be those you least expected, but in this world of gambling, things and people are rarely what they seem.

This is classic chick-lit, albeit with a steely edge, so it's happy endings all round - but some of the girls' dreams don't come true. To quote the classic Rolling Stones song, they discover that "You can't always get what you want and if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need" ! The girls learn a lot of life's lessons and come out of the other side as better and stronger individuals.

The sex scenes are slightly Mills & Boon, the characters are slightly flimsy, the plot is slightly predictable - but this is a perfect lightweight read for the beach or on a plane this summer. My advice is, be sure to stick it in your suitcase along with your shades and your factor 50 !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £6.99

Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Corgi Books (5 Aug 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0552156248
ISBN-13: 978-0552156240

Thursday 20 May 2010

Hovis Hearty Oats

Last month, in honour of Hovis Wholemeal Breakfast Week, I blogged (here) about the scary truths Hovis had uncovered about overstretched Mums skipping breakfast and working their little socks off before they even headed out of the door in the morning. I said on that blogpost that just a couple of slices of wholemeal toast in the morning would be a much healthier start to the day (even if I admit I rarely make time to do it myself !!). Well, if you don't like the taste or the texture of wholemeal bread, Hovis have come up with an interesting alternative.

The latest loaf to be added to the Hovis bread range is Hearty Oats. As the name would suggest, it is made from 50% supergrain oats and been approved by the UK ’s cholesterol charity HEART UK. Hovis explain, "Hearty Oats bread is the only bread available from a major bread brand where 50% of flour has been replaced by oats. Two slices provide a third of your daily suggested intake of beta glucan (3g), which can help maintain normal cholesterol levels as part of a diet low in saturated fat and a healthy lifestyle." Beta glucan is a soluble fibre found naturally in oats, which can help maintain normal cholesterol levels by reducing the amount of cholesterol absorbed into the bloodstream and increasing the amount of cholesterol removed from the body.
It also contains no artificial preservatives or flavourings and is low in saturated fat.

Taste-wise, it reminds me of the Mighty White bread that my mum used to buy in the 1980's ! It's very light brown in colour and is basically like white bread with extra oaty bits in. For those who don't like the gritty, grainy texture of wholemeal or granary bread, it's a much smoother texture. Sophie, aged 8, and Juliette, aged 5, both like it whereas they turn their noses up at bread with obvious grainy bits in. It works great as toast and can also be used for sandwiches but be warned, it's slightly crumbly if you try to fold it over so make sure your sandwiches don't fall to bits !

Switching over from normal white bread to Hovis Hearty Oats is one of those sneaky changes that you can make for a healthier lifestyle that nobody in the family but you will ever even notice. If you'd like to try it out for yourselves, you can sign up to the Hovis Hearty Oats community where you may be eligible to join in with the testing and receive a free loaf of bread and a bag for life.

star rating : 4.5/5

Book review : Wordwatching - Alex Horne

When I read the blurb on the back cover, I wasn't sure how entertaining this book was going to be. "Alex Horne loves words. He loves them so much, in fact, that he's decided to invent his own and get them into the dictionary. But, as Alex discovers, gaining entry into the official lexicon takes more than just a gentle word in the ear of the editor. Evidence is required - Alex needs proof that his words are being spoken by more people than just him and his mum. He needs what the dictionary authorities call a 'corpus' of examples, hard data showing that his new words are in widespread and long-term usage. So a corpus he resolves to create, no matter what obstacles he might meet on the way."

Well, I had visions of a nerdy bookish-type in a handknitted sleeveless jumper with a plummy Gyles Brandreth voice ! I needn't have worried. Alex Horne is about as far removed from Gyles Brandreth as you could get - although they do both have an unhealthy liking for Countdown !

It seems that Alex has limitless imagination and comes up with some very childish but nevertheless hilarious ways of getting his words into everyday usage. Repetitive graffiti in motorway service station toilets (but he does come back and clean up on his next trip !). Can he stoop any lower ? You bet ! Infiltrating teenage chatrooms on internet ? Oooh I bet the powers that be are flagging up his IP address as I type so they can keep an eye on him ! Using his made-up words in primary school worksheets in his teacher friend's classes ! How low (or should that be how bollo ?) can you go ?!

Even funnier is when his plans fail miserably. Like a naughty puppy, he hangs his head in shame and reveals (with a cheeky grin) that he got a smack on the wrists from the people at Wikipedia for replacing words in articles with his own words !

If you are a cunning linguist (ho ho !), you will enjoy the fairly serious research that Alex has done on the origins of certain words and the way that new words and false rumours can become widely accepted by the public. I say fairly serious because he openly admits that he has, in fact, totally made up one of his etymological explanations but, with that naughty puppy look combined with a cheeky grin again, informs us he won't tell us which one !

The big attraction is in watching someone pull off juvenile pranks and ludicrous ploys in an attempt to successfully achieve a fairly silly goal. Alex frequently reminded me of Danny Wallace, who comes up with equally ridiculous but funny missions for himself. The blurb on the back of the book actually quotes Scotsman as calling Alex "a sort of Dave Gorman of the intellect" - Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace were flatmates and went on a shared mission to locate 54 other people named Dave Gorman around the world ("one for every card in the deck, including the jokers") ! If Alex Horne, Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace got together, they'd probably go mad trying to outdo each in the silliness stakes but the result would be fantastically funny !

You might be interested to know that Alex Horne has a new mission on the go now - a quest to become the oldest man in the world ! You'll have to wait until about 2121 to find out if he's managed, if you can make it that far, but you can follow his progress on his blog !

If Wordwatching is anything to go by, I'm sure he'll pull it off - just maybe not in the way you'd imagine !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £11.99

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Virgin Books (14 Jan 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1905264615
ISBN-13: 978-1905264612

Book review : Henry's Sisters - Cathy Lamb

A quick glance at the cover of this book and its strapline, "Family, Forgiveness and Cupcakes - a recipe for a story you won't forget" and I thought I knew what to expect - frivolous, lightweight, chirpy chicklit. The blurb on the back of the books tells us it's a book that will make us laugh and cry, but how many times have I read that and then sat stony-faced as I read the book cover to cover ?

Well, this book sneaks up behind you with a crafty unexpected punch to the guts ! I had to stop reading it on the bus on the way to work in the morning because people were giving me funny looks when I grinned and I felt embarrassed on a couple of occasions when I could actually feel my eyes tearing up !

It is a book that will appeal mainly to women so yes, it is chicklit. But it's also one powerful novel. Twins Isabelle and Cecilia and their sister Janie are happily (or unhappily) getting on with their quiet (or not so quiet) little lives when a bombshell arrives in the form of a little slip of pink paper from their mum, informing them that she has to go to hospital for open heart surgery and that they need to come and take care of their brother, Henry. Described by their mum very cruelly but also -if we're honest - pretty accurately as the slutty one (Isabelle), the fat one (Cecilia) and the wacko one (Janie), the girls already give the author a lot to work with. But Henry is special - he's mentally disabled, but he's also the sanest, most grounded member of the whole family !

Every single one of the central characters is deeply flawed but totally loveable. Mixing humour and sadness, the author reveals their quirkiness and eccentricities but also the tragic tales of the past that explain these personality flaws. Just by themselves, the Bommarito family would keep Jerry Springer in employment for eternity ! Abusive husbands, rape, extreme poverty, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression - the girls have been through some severely dark times. But what doesn't break you can only make you stronger and they come through as survivors, fit to take on whatever the world can throw at them. And it still has a lot to throw at them.

Even the supporting cast of minor characters are deliciously unusual and will win over your hearts - especially the cunning mum River who sacrificed so much for her family, the Vietnam vet dad and the adorable granny with Alzheimer's who thinks she's the pilot Amelia Earhart. This would make a fantastic movie, along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe or Steel Magnolias. If the right actors were picked, there would definitely be a few Oscar-nominations in the bag !

Henry's Sisters
is a fantastic read, and I would defy you to read it without cracking a smile and shedding a tear. By turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, it is an empowering tale that will stay with you long after you've read the final words.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Allison & Busby (5 April 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0749007877
ISBN-13: 978-0749007874

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Lovea's Moroccan Argan Brilliance Shine Shampoo

I was really excited to be selected as a beauty blogger for mypure recently, because every month I'll get the chance to try out and tell you about a whole range of gorgeous and eco-friendly beauty products. As they explain on their website, "The basic principle behind mypure is that cosmetics, toiletries and home cleaning products made from natural & organic ingredients are easier on our bodies and less likely to cause problems like allergic reactions and skin sensitivity. Products made from natural ingredients are less polluting during manufacture and they biodegrade quickly after use. Great for you, even better for earth. . . Of course, it goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway, NONE of the products stocked at mypure have been tested on animals". Everything sold by mypure is also sulfate free, paraben free & phthalate free. Love it already, especially when I discovered that the company started out in a cabin at the bottom of the founder's garden and has now progressed to a converted chicken shed on an old farm in Kent !

But on to the goodies ! The first product to test was Lovea's Moroccan Argan Brilliance Shine Shampoo. Lovea Hair & Body Care is an organic range from France which was launched in the UK earlier in the month by mypure, the first UK store to stock it. As they explain on the website, "Lovea undertakes to respect people and the environment at every stage in the design and production of its products, and to offer you certified organic products that combine affordability and pleasure. We couldn't agree more! Lovea products are certified organic by the French organic certifying body: Cosmetique Bio & ECOCERT".

The shampoo sounded absolutely perfect for my hair, promising to "fortify hair and restore sheen and brilliance", allowing hair to be "stronger and rediscover its natural bounce". I have very long, very thick hair which tends to frizz and which isn't as sleek or shiny as I would like, despite using various deep-conditioning masks and conditioners. I therefore liked the idea behind Lovea's Brilliance Shine Shampoo but must admit I was a bit dubious about how well it would work.

Well, my first impressions weren't that good actually. When I poured it into my hand under the shower, it seemed too thin and runny - how deeply nourishing could it actually be if it wasn't really thick and creamy ? Then I lathered it into my hair and was amazed at how rich and creamy the foam was, especially for a shampoo with no chemical nasties. I also breathed in the gorgeous refreshing, zingy citrussy scent which reminded me of the "feel-good" aromatherapy shower gels you can buy - it's perfect for waking up with a smile on your face in the morning.

I was tempted to try this shampoo without my usual conditioner but decided that wouldn't really be a fair test as it doesn't claim to be a 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner and I never normally use shampoo without conditioner. However, I did reduce the amount of conditioner I usually use to see how it would cope.

Out of the shower with wet hair, my hair seemed lovely and clean and nicely-fragranced but no different to usual really. I let my hair dry naturally and when I headed back to the bathroom to brush it through, I peeked in the mirror and was amazed to see that my hair actually did look glossier and shinier than usual. Wow ! I wasn't expecting that, despite what it says on the tube, because none of the other similar products that I've tried in the past have actually lived up to the claims !

Maybe it's down to the organic certified Moroccan Argan oil, described on the mypure website as "one of nature’s treasures for its nutritive, regenerative, anti-ageing properties" because of its high levels of vitamin E and saponin. There is an interesting and informative article about Argan Oil on mypure, where they explain that : "For centuries argan oil has been a well-kept secret known only to the Berber women of north Africa who use it to nourish their skin, hair and nails. They also use it to soothe eczema, acne, psoriasis and to help heal scar tissue." It sounds like an amazing ingredient that I'm sure will be used in a wide variety of natural beauty products.

As well as being pleasantly surprised by the product itself and my extra-shiny hair, I was also impressed with the price : £4.99 for a 200ml tube sounds like great value to me, compared to other natural and organic ranges. I would definitely recommend it if, like me, you're on a constant quest for sleek, glossy hair and you don't want to compromise your natural beauty ethics. I would also recommend complementing it with Lovea Burkina Shea Butter Nourishing Conditioner or Lovea Tahitian Monoi Moisturising Conditioner, both of which sound divine and are also available on mypure.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £4.99 for 200ml

for more information and to buy online :

Sodastream - "Get busy with the fizzy" !

When I was asked to test a Sodastream machine recently, I got stupidly excited ! A Sodastream machine !! I always wanted one as a kid (along with a Mr Frosty slush maker and a candy floss machine !) but it never got crossed off my wish-list. Awwww ! I remember it being dismissed as a fad and "you might as well stick a bit of squash in some lemonade" and "I bet it'll only be as fizzy as a bottle of flat coke". Well, here was my chance to finally see if it was as good as it always was in my childish imagination.

And the answer is ... too right !! I called the girls (5-year-old Juliette and 8-year-old Sophie) to come and watch because they'd been all excited about trying it out ever since it had arrived ! I emptied out the contents of the cardboard box and followed the instructions - it all sounded quite complicated but is actually dead easy and you have everything you need (machine, carbonation bottles, gas canister) in the starter pack. You screw the gas canister into place, fill the bottle up to the line with tap water, screw the bottle of water into place, push the button in short bursts and watch the bubbles fizz through the water. The instructions tell you to keep pushing until you hear three buzzes, so the three of us stood intently listening as we pushed the button until ..."oooh it farted", squealed Juliette and fell on the floor laughing ! Opening a bottle of shop-bought fizzy pop is never this much fun !

Once you've got your fizzy water, you just add the cordial of your choice and shake. We were lucky enough to receive a Taste Sampler Pack of the 12 most popular Sodastream flavours - you can buy one in their shop for £9.99 and it's a great way to discover the flavours on offer. Zero Cola, Sugar Free Orange, Sugar Free Lemonade, Sugar Free Cranberry Raspberry, Cola, Lemon Lime, Orange Mango, Apple, Lemonade, Tonic, Ginger Ale, Xstream (which is an energy drink, with caffeine, guarana and vitamins). There's something to suit all tastes. Each 42ml sample in the Taste Sampler Pack makes 1 litre of soft drink, but each 500ml bottle makes up to 12 litres - that's the equivalent of 33 cans - so at £2.99 a bottle, that works out as great value.

Taste-wise, it gets a huge thumbs up too. We tried the orange and mango flavour and it's delicious, tasting just as nice as the stuff you buy in cans or bottles. Having been brainwashed that it wouldn't be as fizzy as "real" shop-bought fizzy drinks, I read the guidelines - three "buzzes" for regular fizziness, or go for an extra one (two or three extra pulses of gas) for extra fizziness - and decided to go for extreme fizz. I have never burped so much in my life (which the girls again found hysterically funny !). The good thing about controlling the amount of fizz is that Juliette, who doesn't like really fizzy drinks because she doesn't like the bubbles going up her nose (!), can finally enjoy lightly carbonated drinks and not feel left out.

If you're going "eurgghh don't like the taste of our tap water", you can always use bottled water or filtered tap water. Whatever you choose, I would suggest you chill it before carbonating it so you have ready-chilled fizzy drinks to drink straight away (the kids won't want to wait for it to chill in the fridge once it's made, trust me !).

They're actually a reasonably healthy alternative to shop-bought fizzy drinks. The regular flavours have around two thirds less sugar than pre-mixed non-diet drinks and there is also an extensive sugar-free range. On the website, they say : "SodaStream cares about your health and diet. Our regular flavours contain no high-fructose corn syrup and diet flavours contain non-calorific sweeteners, which are suitable for many diabetics."

The best bit though (apart from the fact that it's such great fun !) is that, as well as saving money, it's actually a very environmentally-friendly gadget too. No more empty bottles to throw away or recycle and fewer trips to the supermarket. For those of you without a car who have to struggle home on foot or on the bus, it avoids carrying heavy bottles and cans too.

You will eventually need to replace the gas canister and the carbonation bottles. On the website, they explain : "SodaStream's gas cylinders are designed out of lightweight aluminum alloy or steel, and are easily inserted into our drinks makers. Our cylinders make up to 60 litres of sparkling drinks but you control the fizz! A full CO2 gas cylinder is included with the purchase of our system in our starter packs. When the gas in the cylinder finishes, you exchange the empty cylinder for a full one, paying only the cost of the gas refill." And for the carbonation bottles : "SodaStream produces specially designed, high pressure-resistant screw fitting bottles for use with our drinks makers. All our bottles are BPA-free and can be used for up to 3 years. They are supplied with a hermetic sealing cap to keep your finished drink fizzy for longer. Also available is the iconic glass carafe for use with the Penguin drinks maker only."

Hold on, did someone say Penguin ?! Yes, you really can get a Penguin-shaped Sodastream machine ! They also come in a range of funky colours so you can coordinate them with your kitchen. Very posh !

Well, I was worried it wouldn't live up to the hype - you know how you hanker after something as a kid and when you finally get your hands on it, it's a total let-down - but I needn't have worried. I'll be getting busy with the fizzy until the gas runs out, that's for sure (and even then, I'll just have to get a refill !).
star rating : 5/5
RRP : £59.99
for more information :

Monday 17 May 2010

Asda's Great Stuff range for kids - great healthy snacks and meals

The sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hooray, the sun has got his hat on and he's coming out to play ! Yes, the sunshine has arrived - I'm not sure how long it'll last but for now, the girls are practically living outside, just running in every now and again to yell "Mum, I'm hungry" or "Mum, I'm thirsty" and then running back outside again after a quick refuel ! In an ideal world, I'd be there in a frilly pink pinny doling out fruity smoothies, healthy home-made orange juice iced-lollies and fresh fruit salad. Sadly, the reality is more likely to be a bag of crisps or a chocolate biscuit and a glass of squash because I'm in the middle of feeding baby brother or doing the washing up.

Well, Asda to the rescue ! They've extended their Great Stuff range of healthy kids' meals and snacks and have some absolutely delicious healthy treats available that are perfect for snacks in the sun and impromptu picnics. They're so tasty, the kids won't even realise you're feeding them healthy food and they're really practical, so they're also great for stashing in your handbag or the car for long journeys. As they're individually wrapped in kid-sized portions, they're also great for lunchboxes (not just for the kids either, I've been taking them along to work for lunch too !).

My absolute favourite product is the pre-packaged and pre-prepared fruit. "Asda’s extended range of Fresh Fruit Snack Packs now include succulent Orange Wedges, Pineapple Lollies, Cherry Tomato and Cucumber Wedges (44p per pack) and mums can snap up three packets for just £1." I love fresh fruit but sometimes, it's just too messy and time-consuming to be practical. Apples and bananas are great. Thick skinned oranges are impossible for little fingers and kids invariably end up dribbling orange juice down their tops and squirting it in their eye ! Pineapples are delicious but labour-intensive when you have to peel and core and slice them - plus they're so big, you end up overdosing on pineapple because you have to keep eating it before it goes off in the fridge ! Well, the little sachets of orange wedges and pineapple "lollies" are brilliant - no fuss or mess, no waste and they stay lovely and juicy (I thought they'd be a bit dry but they taste fresher than when they been lovingly prepared by me and sat in the fridge for a day or two !). Kids who sometimes turn their noses up at fresh fruit will love the fact that they can just eat a small amount and share it with their friends. I've also found that it's great for smoothies because the portion-sizes are ideal. We made a cracking instant fruit salad with a few bags of oranges and pineapple with a banana and a few grapes quickly chopped and thrown in.

If you still can't get your kids to eat fresh fruit, Asda have another sneaky trick up their sleeves. (Maybe Asda stands for Abets Sneaky Dietary Additions !) They have a delicious range of fruit-juice based drinks called Juicy Water which count as one of your five-a-day portions of fruit and veg. With the name Juicy Water, I was expecting a boring, bland, watery drink but it's delicious - refreshing, sweet and really fruity. It is in fact made with 75% juice and contains no artificial sweeteners or added sugar, although it does obviously contain natural sugars from the fruit. They're just the right size for kids to drink (unlike the big cans of fizzy pop that are always way too big to drink in one go) and the square cartons are easier to get into without making a mess than the squishy pouches. (Top tip : pull up the "ears" on either end of the carton before pushing in the straw - it gives you something to hold on to and gives you extra space for the drink in the carton so spillages are less likely to occur !)

Another fantastically kid-friendly product is the Fromage Frais bugs, that are just like the squishy pouches of fruit puree you can buy. Asda say, "Taste-tested by kids and endorsed by Asda nutritionists, Squeezy Bug Yoghurt Pouches (£1.32) are free from artificial colours and flavours and are the perfect way to fill up tummies between meal times. With three packs for £3, mums will have pennies left over after a day out entertaining the troops." They're so much more fun and less messy than the usual yoghurt pots and are great for hassle-free and healthy munching on the go. They need to be kept refrigerated but are fine if you keep them in a cool bag (or even a school bag, for a short period of time) prior to eating. They're delicious - sweet but not sickly, nice and thick and creamy and really easy to suck out of the pouch. Big thumbs up from the kids and Mum !

The whole Great Stuff range is designed as "an ideal way to get your kids eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg from a young age". Asda explain, "Loved by mums around the country, the ready meals take the hassle out of tea time planning and the pre-packaged fruit portions are ideal for summer picnics. All products in the range have tightly monitored levels of fat, including saturated fats, salts and sugar to meet children’s lower daily requirements."

It's easy for parents to feel guilty about not being perfect, especially when bombarded with healthy-eating messages all the time. Usually we know exactly what we should be feeding the kids, but we haven't always got the time. Asda have taken away the whole problem by providing healthy, appealing and economical treats and meals that are perfect for the whole family to enjoy. Stuff a load in a bag, grab a blanket and a frisbee and you have an instant picnic - just hurry up before the sun disappears again !

star rating : 5/5

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