Saturday 28 February 2015

Madhouse diaries : Spring has sprung, geocaching is resumed !

After several days of rain, the sun finally put in a very welcome appearance at the end of our first week of holidays so we decided to head out into the fresh air. As usual, I had a vague idea of where we'd be going but we always play it by ear so if we see anything exciting on the way, we can divert.

We started off with a walk along the canal by the barges

We saw the first fragile springtime blooms poking their heads out of the grass.

Pierre got very excited by the double-decker bus that has been transformed into a pizza restaurant because it reminded him of our weekend in London.

We stopped off for a play in a little park where I knew there was a geocache - it's still there so we swapped over a few treasures.

We had a look on a big statue (with big boobies, as Pierre pointed out !) for a nano (ie very small) geocache.

We found it cunningly poked into one of the holes and suspended on a thread (which I already knew because I'd done this one on my lunch break a while ago but I didn't dampen the kids' enthusiasm by telling them !).

Heading into the commercial port area, we found another cache (that I'd also already found on my lunch break) in a big anchor.

On to uncharted territory as we crossed the huge lock. There are big signs everywhere saying you're being filmed by CCTV and you're not allowed to be in this area without an official reason - would geocaching count ?! - so the kids were freaking out and we moved on before finding the cache.

As I pointed out, even if the signs do make it look like you shouldn't be here, the lighthouse is only a few hundred yards away and that's open to tourists so I'm sure we wouldn't be in trouble ! I told you all about Dunkirk lighthouse here.

We found the geocache and dropped off a travel bug.

The kids were flagging so I said we'd stop exploring and head to the beach for a play before going home ... which involved a big detour anyway. We ended up walking 11km in total (nearly 7 miles) so it's hardly surprising they were tired !

At the beach, the kids wanted to take off their shoes to play in the sand but they soon gave up because their feet were frozen !

Well, we visited one lighthouse but I still haven't made it to this one in the distance, that I vowed I would get to last year. I just need to convince Madhouse Daddy because it's too far to go on foot or by bus !

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Madhouse diaries : Helping a travel bug on his way !

Our last proper geocaching adventure (apart from a very quick one when we were visiting the Madhouse grandparents in Hastings for New Year) was way back at the end of October. We have done a few urban caches since then but they are rarely big enough for dropping off treasures so we've been keeping this cute travel bug warm all through the winter.

He's called Xiefehl's CITO (that's Cache In Trash Out) Monster and we found him at what I enthused at the time (and still believe, at least in our experience so far) was the Best Geocache Ever. It was in some woods near Dunkerque and you had to locate the first part of the cache which was a doorbell that made birdsong sounds. You pressed the button and had to listen and follow the sound to the other part of the doorbell unit which was attached to a tree. Great fun !

Well, yesterday, we had blue skies and no rain for the first time in ages so I bundled up the kids, grabbed the GPS unit and we headed out for a geocaching adventure. We managed to drop the travel bug off at Dunkirk lighthouse (le Phare de Dunkerque) and I can't wait to see where he ends up next.

The lighthouse is also known as the Phare du Risban because it is built on the ruins of the Risban fort, which was built by Vauban way back in 1681. The original lighthouse was constructed here in 1683 but it was destroyed in a storm in 1825. The current lighthouse was built in 1842, it's the northernmost lighthouse in France and was declared a historic monument in 2011. Juliette will be visiting it with her school in a few weeks so we didn't bother climbing the 63m and 276 steps to the top !

I always love seeing where the travel bugs that we find have been. This one started out in The Netherlands before coming to France in the Rhone-Alpes region (near Lyon and the Swiss border) then coming north to Cassel then Dunkirk. I wonder where it will go next? Hopefully a tourist might pick it up and take it to a new country. Happy travels, little monster !

Friday 27 February 2015

Maggi So Tender Italian Herbs Chicken review

I'm on holiday so I've been doing the traditional kitchen cupboard inventory to clear out all the stuff that's been lurking in the back of the cupboard before it passes its use-by date. I came across this pack of Maggi So Tender Italian Herbs Chicken that had come in a Degustabox some time ago and decided it was perfect for lunch today.

Inside the pack, you get four herb-crusted sheets of cooking paper. You just need to put a chicken fillet on one half then fold it over. As there are five of us and there were six fillets in the pack, I doubled up on two of them and squished two pieces of chicken inside each one, which worked fine.

You place each paper parcel in a dry frying pan - there's no need to add any oil so it's a very healthy way of cooking. This also has the added advantage of making washing-up a breeze !

I was amazed at how well they work - the chicken stays lovely and juicy, becomes perfectly browned and ends up coated in all the herbs.

I was actually quite dubious about these before I tried them because I thought it was just a pointless gimmick, but I was very impressed so I'll be looking out for them on special offer. As well as the Italian Herbs one that we tried, they come in Mediterranean Tomato Chicken, Garlic Chicken and Paprika Chicken. I'd love to try these with salmon and fish too - I wonder why they're restricted to just chicken? 

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : 95p (but currently only 50p on Ocado)

Globecooking recipe : Apple Strudel (Austria)

I actually made up a very simple recipe for Apple Strudel when I took part in the World Cup Foodie Challenge last year, but when I saw a genuine recipe in my Austrian-themed Kitchen Trotter box, I decided to give it a go and compare. It was very similar to my own creation but I thought I'd share it with you all the same.

Apple Strudel

ingredients :

1kg apples (about 5), peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks
1 pack filo pastry
olive oil or melted butter
90g sugar
50g raisins
1tbsp cinnamon
2tbsp dried breadcrumbs
50g butter
icing sugar to serve

Melt the butter and stir in the breadcrumbs.

Separate the sheets of filo pastry and pile them up on top of each other, wiping each with a piece of kitchen roll soaked in olive oil or melted butter. I used some mandarin-infused olive oil that I had, to give it a lovely zesty topnote.

Add the apple and raisins to the breadcrumbs, sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon and toss to mix.

Pour the apple mixture onto the filo pastry.

Fold over both sides and flip the whole thing over on the baking sheet.

Put in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 180° until the filo has gone crispy and the apple is soft. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Cut into slices and serve warm or cold, with ice cream or whipped cream if you're feeling extra naughty !

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 27/2 #Dukan2

Second week of the holidays - I'm sticking with Dukan 2 but adding family-friendly additions for those who aren't watching their carbs !

Saturday (carbs allowed)

lunch - salmon salad at McDonalds

dinner - pasta bake with pan-fried chicken fillets

Sunday (everything allowed)

lunch - roast chicken, roast potatoes and veggies - followed by a belated birthday cake for Juliette with the Madhouse grandparents

dinner -  I doubt if anyone will be hungry but if they are, it'll be sandwiches or toast

Monday (protein day)

lunch - ham omelette

dinner -  ginger & lemongrass prawns with Konjac noodles (prawn/chorizo paella for everyone else)

Tuesday (protein + veg day)

lunch - chicken sausages with bubble & squeak and beans

dinner - Tandoori chicken with salad & rice

Wednesday (protein + veg + fruit)

lunch - Chinese orange chicken with stir-fry veg

dinner - veggie sausages with cauliflower cheese

Thursday (bread allowed)

lunch - garlic pepper beef with tomato & courgette bake

dinner - Sumac chicken with pide (Turkish bread) and rice

Friday (cheese allowed)

lunch - cod with spicy lentils & patatas bravas

dinner - probably a fridge full of leftovers to use up by now - if not, homemade soup

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

Meal Planning Monday

Want to see what everyone else is eating ? Head over to Meal Planning Monday at Mrs M's blog !

Are Ewe Ready For Shaun In The City Art Trail ?

I have fond memories of wandering around New York City back in the year 2000 looking for cow statues in unlikely places for Cow Parade and, more recently, tracking down the cute bears on the Paddington Trail  on our weekend in London, so I was very happy to learn that a new Shaun In The City Art Trail will be launched next month that will fill the streets of London and Bristol with a flock of five-foot tall sculptures of Shaun the Sheep. Read on for more info - I really hope we'll manage to see at least a few if we make it to London over the summer.


British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes is announced as the first artist who has designed a Shaun The Sheep for the London trail. The 74-year-old who's famous for her iconic designs and vibrant pink hair has designed a shocking pink sheep she has named 'Woolly Wiggle' which features a distinctive gold Zandra Rhodes 'wiggle' pattern

Many other high-profile artists, designers and celebrities have designed and decorated the sculptures which will stand at iconic London landmarks, attractions and locations throughout the capital from next month including Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Carnaby Street, St Paul's Cathedral, Chinatown, The View from the Shard and The Tower of London.

The charity behind the project, Wallace & Gromit Children's Foundation organised the 'Gromit Unleashed' trail featuring the classic Aardman Animations character around Bristol in 2013 which raised over £2.3 million for Bristol Children's Hospital. The two 'Shaun In The City' art trails during 2015 will see 50 Shaun the Sheep in London from 28th March to 25th May and 70 different sculptures from 6th July to 31st August.

Zandra Rhodes, who recently became a Dame and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1964, said: “I felt that my design had to be iconic and I'm a designer known for my patterns which are very wiggly so 'Woolly Wiggle' came about by putting lovely wiggles all over the whole sheep so it looks like his wiggly fur, and then there's an amazing top knot on his head which is a different type of wiggle.”

'Woolly Wiggle' can be found at One New Change, London's premier shopping and dining destination near St Pauls. One New Change will also be home to a second fantastic Shaun creation, designed by another famous fashion face to be revealed soon.

Companies throughout the UK have sponsored the individual sculptures and following both trails, all 120 'Shauns' will be sold off at a public auction in October. The money raised will go towards the Wallace & Gromit Children's Foundation, which supports sick children in hospitals throughout the UK.

Rhodes added: “I can't wait to see my Shaun out in the wild in London, I think it's going to be absolutely fabulous and now I've seen how big he is, no one is going to miss him! I am also very excited to see how much money my sculpture raises at auction for the Wallace & Gromit Children's Foundation.”

Director of Wallace & Gromit's Children's Foundation Nicola Masters said: “After an incredibly successful trail of 'Gromit' sculptures across Bristol in 2013 which raised £2.3 million for the charity at auction, we wanted to bring our next project to London and Bristol. More than 1.2 million people visited the Gromit trail which contributed over £123 million to the local economy, we are now looking forward to bringing Shaun to the big city.”

Creator of Shaun The Sheep Nick Park CBE said: “It's been a busy year for Shaun - he has just launched his first movie and now he has his very own arts trail! Shaun is such a well-loved character with so many fans around the globe, I am sure many will flock to London to be part of the fun.”

'Shaun In The City' featuring 50 sculptures will take place around London from Saturday 28th March to Monday 25th May. The Bristol 'Shaun in the City' trail will feature 70 different sculptures and run from Monday 6th July to Monday 31st August. Full details of artists, celebrities and Shaun locations will be in the week of launch.

for more information :

Thursday 26 February 2015

Talk to the And! - 2015 is the year of &powerment #UseYourAnd

I've no doubt the title of this blogpost has left you somewhat perplexed so let me explain ! Gillette Venus have launched a new campaign to empower women and girls (and basically anyone - it applies equally to men and boys) and invite them to embrace their And, refusing to be limited by labels and stereotypes.

They explain : "Put an end to the one-dimensional labels that limit your potential. Because you are beautiful AND smart. You can be an astronaut AND a soccer player AND a ballerina. Your life is composed of many ANDs – an empowering sum of all of the things you are, and all you want to be. Venus invites you and women everywhere to take a stand against one-dimensional labels. #UseYourAnd."

If you're nodding your head thinking "yeah, girl power !", head on over to look at the campaign video.

Saying the words "girl power" just made me think of The Spice Girls which is actually a great example of the concept - why choose between being the Scary, Sporty, Posh, Baby or Ginger Spice when you could be all five ?  During childhood, there is no such thing as restrictive labels. Ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and they'll throw all manner of weird and wonderful answers at you, from famous singer, princess and film star to bus driver, teacher and doctor.

When she was little, Sophie told me she wanted to be a fireman during the week and a dustman at weekends (goodness knows why - she wants to be a holiday rep or bilingual tour guide now, in London or New York or Paris or all three, which suits me better and shows that she still hasn't lost her And!). Pierre will jump from being Mike the Knight to a fairy princess in minutes (you can tell he's got sisters !) without a second's hesitation. So why does it all change when we grow up?

Empowerment spokesperson Claudia Chan has developed lots of tips for girls and women on how to overcome any labels they’ve been given, and embrace their ‘&’. She explains :

"You will have many dreams in your life, but the likelihood of attaining these dreams is based on your perception of your abilities. You need to have the confidence to know that you have what it takes to do it. So it’s extremely beneficial to assess your beliefs about yourself, understand where they came from and identify any lies you’ve accepted from others, or have been telling yourself, so that you can shift them into new, positive truths.

Here are 4 steps to determine if you’ve been stereotypically labeled and what to do if so:

1. Determine If You’ve Been Stereotypically Labeled:

a) Reflect: Take some time to reflect back on your life stages. Can you think of someone, or even you yourself, who may have boxed you into a category or label of some kind? Since this really requires getting into a different headspace, consider doing it lying down, in a relaxed meditation pose, on a walk or in conversation with your partner, friend or life coach.

b) Journal: On a piece of paper, or on your favorite mobile app (I prefer Evernote), write down a list of stereotypical labels that were ascribed to you. Who assigned each to you? How old were you? How did it affect your perceptions about yourself? Which ones empowered you and which limited your perceptions of your skills or opportunities for your future? Do you remember decisions you made because of it? In this process, it’s important not to second-guess yourself. Trust your instincts and be open to what you may discover through the exercise.

2. Understand the Effect of Old Labels

Review the old labels you wrote down and try to trace back any decisions you might have made, consciously or not, that may have limited your potential. For example, were you labeled the “smart” one in the family and when given the opportunity to explore your creativity, you chose to focus more on academics instead of taking art or musical instrument lessons? Identifying the decisions you made and any interests you may not have discovered due to your labels can get you thinking about new ANDs to explore today.

3. Replace Old Labels with New ANDs

Now that you have a clearer understanding of your labels, think back a few years. What are some achievements you’ve made, skills you’ve honed or passions you’ve developed that are contradictory to your old beliefs? Write these items down and try to define them. For example, did you believe you were never a good writer but now do a lot of writing that gets praise? Were you told you were not creative, yet several of your accomplishments required creative skills? Reflect on these new qualities and where you want to focus your energy and self-identity in the near future. Doing this will help you rid old false beliefs and recognize the new ANDs that make you the remarkable, multi-dimensional woman you are today.

4. Start Taking Action on New ANDs: Now that you’ve found new ANDs, take actions that will allow you to explore these ANDs and realize more of your potential in those un-tapped areas! In the above example, you could sign-up for a local art class or watch YouTube videos to begin to learn how to play that instrument you’ve always wanted to. Moving from idea to action makes your new ANDs real, helping you to see your tremendous potential.

I personally think that a great place to start thinking about your labels is your twitter bio - you're limited in the number of characters you can use so you end up resorting to the labels that instantly spring to mind. Mine says : "Mum of 3 bilingual kids, keen cook, teacher of teens & online reviewer of ... well, pretty much everything really ! Books, toys, food, days out - you name it !". I ran out of space but I could have continued with book addict, obsessive geocacher, Most Haunted fan, eternal optimist and big kid ! What about you ?!

Disclosure : I'll be receiving a little Venus care package to celebrate the launch of the campaign.

Our first ever attempt at making cheese !

When Cheeky Monkey sent us through one of their cheesemaking kits to try out, I had literally no idea what to expect. I know that cheese is made from milk but that's as far as it goes ! When the goat's cheese kit turned up in the post, I opened it and discovered three little sachets of citric acid, cheese salt and herbes de Provence, a square of cheese cloth and an instruction leaflet.

You need to buy two litres of milk to make the cheese. As our kit was for goat's cheese, we needed goat's milk. Madhouse Daddy headed off to the supermarket and came back with two cartons but, on closer inspection, it was UHT which wouldn't work because the bacteria necessary to make the cheese have all been killed off. After a couple of weeks of looking, I found a lovely lady  at the farmers' market who was selling raw cows' milk and asked her the ultimate dumb question - could I make goats' cheese with cows' milk? (I knew it wouldn't be goats' cheese any more but wanted to know if it would produce something cheesy !) She said it would so we were off !

Pierre was as intrigued about making cheese as I was so he helped. It's actually dead easy. You mix citric acid in warm water and add to the milk. (You can use lemon juice instead, apparently.)

Warm it to the required temperature (85°) and it will start to coagulate. The temperature was rising really slowly so I left it to answer the phone and when I came back, it had started to boil - eeek ! It now looked like boiled milk and the lumps had disappeared. I was convincd I'd killed it, but decided to keep going and see if it could be resurrected. (I had an extra bottle of milk so I added that plus a bit more citric acid and reheated very gently.)

You put the cheese cloth in a colander, pour in the milk then leave to drain.

It looked like thick liquid but after a few hours, I did have a semi-solid lump of cheesiness ! I squeezed out a bit more liquid then it was the moment of truth.

I added some of the salt and herbs, along with some garlic granules, then used the cheesecloth to shape it into a rough square. 

It has a very mild flavour and is very soft - it reminds me of cottage cheese. If there are any cheese experts out there, maybe you can tell me - is that what I made?!

The picture on the Cheeky Monkeys website shows a much firmer cheese so I'm going to keep looking for unpasteurised goat's milk and have another go.

If you fancy unleashing your inner dairy queen, check out the kits at Cheeky Monkey - they also have mozzarella/ricotta kits and a range of exciting-sounding molecular gastronomy kits too.

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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...