Monday 31 August 2015

A Madhouse Family Meal at The Treacle Mine, Polegate (review)

 One of the things we had planned with the Madhouse grandparents on our recent visit was going out for a meal, so when we were invited along to the newly-refurbished Treacle Mine Whitbread Inn in Polegate near Eastbourne, we decided to bring them along too. 

The Treacle Mine is located on the Polegate roundabout, just next to a Premier Inn and a McDonald's so there is plenty of free parking. Even before we'd got through the door, we were giggling at the cheeky sign that set the laid-back, family-friendly tone for the evening.

Everything, from the friendly staff and cosy bar area to the smile-inducing quotes painted on the walls, had us feeling at ease as soon as we stepped through the door. As we'd arrived early - it was only 5.30 and we were booked in for 6.30 but the rain had cut short our shopping trip to nearby Eastbourne - we decided to have a drink in the bar area first, although we could have gone straight to our table if we'd wanted. The kids were delighted to discover that they could have a Fruit Shoots or bottle of milkshake if they wanted, as well as the usual pub soft drinks.

Once we moved over to the restaurant, we were shown to our table - a lovely big round table that seated eight easily - and our bubbly, super-friendly waitress called Sophie explained the daily specials to us.

She dropped off the menus - a mixture of classic pub food like burgers, steaks and sausage and mash, along with some more original options including salads, quiche and curries - and we all perused the different choices. The kids' menu is brilliant - you can choose one main course and a dessert for £3.99 and there are loads of choices. The Mighty Mains include everything from burgers, sausages (even Quorn sausages), pasta, cottage pie and chargrilled chicken breast (it's nice to see it's not restricted to all the usual burgers and nuggets that most kids' menus offer) and you choose the two sides of your choice from mash, rice, beans, corn on the cob, veg sticks, salad, garlic bread, tortilla chips, jacket potato, peas , ... Even the fussiest eater is bound to find something that takes their fancy.

A few minutes later, Sophie was back with the Horrible Histories-themed activity booklets and wax crayons for the kids.

This kept them busy while the grown-ups ummed and aahed over what to eat and while we waited for the meal to arrive.

We'd told the Madhouse kids that they could choose whatever they wanted from the menu and they came up with some surprising combinations ! Pierre opted for hamburger, chips and tortilla chips - hmm a slight carb overload there ! One nice thing about the burger was that it came without ketchup - this was served separately which is great news if you're not a fan.

Juliette went for the pizza with mash and peas - not things I'd have put together either ! The Build Your Own Pizza is a great idea - you get a cheese and tomato pizza with two toppings of your choice from mushrooms, red pepper, bacon or pineapple. Juliette loves Hawaiian pizza so she went for pineapple and bacon without a second's hesitation.

The grown-ups were equally impressed with the choices and we weren't disappointed when our plates arrived (on an enormous tray complete with stand that our poor waitress had to manhandle over to our table !). I went for the Paprika Chicken & BBQ Ribs combo, served with chips, coleslaw and BBQ sauce (£11.49 for half a rack of ribs, which was plenty, but you can upgrade to a whole rack for a couple of pounds extra if you have a huge appetite).

Sophie (our Sophie, not the waitress !) went for Smithfield Sausage & Mash, served with green beans, fried red onions and gravy. (£8.99) (With a rogue pea that made us laugh - "oh look, Sophie had a pee on her plate", and it wasn't even the kids !)

The Hunter's Chicken was a popular choice at our table - freshly grilled chicken breast, topped with smoked streaky bacon and Cheddar cheese. With chips, or a jacket potato, smoky BBQ sauce and garden peas - £10.29

The Gourmet Burgers were lovely too, served with skinny chips and relish. Madhouse Nanny opted for the  Double Stack Steak Burger - two 4oz steak burgers layered with melted Cheddar cheese and smoked streaky bacon, £10.99.

Everything was cooked to perfection, the portion sizes were generous and Sophie popped back to check everything was OK and ask if we needed extra ketchup or anything. Despite my sister being the world's fussiest eater, there were clean plates all round. After I took this photo, Pierre went back to nibbling on his burger and the only one to leave anything was Juliette, who had no room left in her tummy to finish off her pizza (but she scraped all the topping off to eat because it was too nice to leave !)

We decided to have a little wander around to make a bit of room before contemplating desserts ! After a quick toilet stop where the Madhouse kids were utterly fascinated by the vending machine selling chewable toothbrushes (and luckily not the condom one !), we popped our heads outside to see the outdoor seating area. It would be lovely on a sunny evening, but was a definite no-go with the torrential rain. There is a covered seating area where a couple of people were having drinks and enjoying a sneaky cigarette though.

So, to have dessert or not to have dessert ? That was the question ! Well, we all (except Madhouse Daddy who was far more reasonable) decided that, despite being full, it would be rude not to, so we all chose  what we wanted - rocky road sundaes, banoffee pie, strawberry sensation sundae ... all priced about £4-5.

The grown-up sundaes were quite spectacular.

But even the scaled down kids' version was too much for Juliette who said she'd explode if she ate any more !

Pierre managed to scoff his way through his Scary Face Sundae though (with mini Smarties and strawberry bootlaces to get artistic). If I'd been eating from the kids' menu, I think I'd have gone for the Graveyard Horror - a deliciously ghoulish wafer coffin filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate flake "soil" complete with jelly body parts !

The whole meal for 8 (6 adults and 2 kids) came to just a tad over £100, which we thought was very reasonable, especially as we all came out feeling happily stuffed. We hadn't felt rushed but hadn't had to sit around for ages waiting either, and when we looked at our watches, it was 8.30 so the meal ended up lasting about 2 hours.

As I sat contemplating what to write for my review, I asked how many points out of 5 everyone at the table thought I should give it and what were the good and bad points. Well, the only bad thing is, we couldn't think of a bad point and I always like to give a balanced review, including things that could have been better, so that it doesn't just sound like an advert ! After really thinking hard, the only very slight niggle that we could think of is that they came and asked us three times if we wanted drinks, which felt a bit like they were pushing us into ordering some, but that was only becase we'd confused them by ordering in the bar area before heading over to our table to eat.

If you want to read another review for The Treacle Mine, Mummy From The Heart went there just a week before us (it would have been funny if we'd bumped into each other !) and I think they might have even been at the same table as us !

Dragons and Fairy Dust

Disclosure : Part of our meal was paid for, in order to write an honest review.

Children's book review : Jesper Jinx - Marko Kitti

Jesper Jinx is the eleven-year-old protagonist of a series of books by Finnish-born author Marko Kitti and, right from the first chapter, he reminded me of a (slightly) more realistic and modern version of Dennis The Menace. Even as a grown-up, his antics frequently had me sniggering - although I wouldn't find them the slightest bit funny if it was the Madhouse kids doing them ! The squabbles and pranks between Jesper and his sister do sound like the sort of things they'd be capable of though. In particular, the episode where Jesper swaps over the contents of the can of his sister's beloved energy drink for a hideous concoction because she has been winding him up about him not being allowed them, only for his poor unsuspecting dad to take a big swig out of the can, had me perfectly imagining the scene, probably with me as the dad !

I received all three Jesper Jinx books to review and I read them all back to back on our 8 hour drive down to the in laws' in Brittany, before passing them on to the kids.

In book one, we are introduced to Jesper and his family, including Snowy the Cat (who even gets to narrate a chapter) and a strange new Spanish classmate with a moustache !

In book two, Jesper Jinx and the Sneezing Season, Jesper sets off to hunt down a rare purple buzzard in order to win a nature photgraphy competition (with hilarious consequences, as always). As in book one, the animals get to talk again and the second story is narrated by a very cheesed-off squirrel ! The Diary Wars story gives us a further instalment of the high jinks and bickering between Jesper and his sister.

Book three continues in the same vein with a hilariously catastrophic camping trip, a chapter narrated by Frank Fox, the Turkish Pepper story of the title (I bet Turkish Pepper isn't what you thought it would be !) and, as a bonus, an interview with Snowy the Cat.

Each book is divided into short stories and each story is broken up with numerous illustrations, making it much less daunting and more appealing to reluctant or beginner readers. The author also gets the reader involved in the story, making him promise not to let on that he is revealing Jesper's secrets and even making him (the reader) sign a contract. The eccentric characters, hilarious pranks and outrageous stories make the books a joy to read. I would say that the target audience is tween boys, but the stories will appeal to children of both sexes and all ages - I even enjoyed them myself, especially the chapters narrated by the long-suffering animals !

Book four is on the way in September and will be called Jesper Jinx Goes Fishing - I can only imagine the scrapes he'll get into !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £4.99

More information about the book series and the author can be found at

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

A Despicably (Harry) Potty T-shirt from Tostadora ! (review)

What do you get if you cross two of the most popular and iconic film releases from the past couple of decades? Minion Potter of course !

When Tostadora asked if we'd like to review one of their TV/movie-themed T-shirts, I asked Sophie to have a look through and as soon as she saw this design, she knew it was the one she wanted.

 As you can tell, she wasn't disappointed when it arrived - it looks just as good in real life as it does on the screen. For this T-shirt, she wanted a baggy fit so she went for a large men's size. You may remember, she opted for a large women's size for her Tomlinson T-shirt last time, if you want to compare the sizes. She chose grey but there are several other colours available - black, white, army, green, orange, pink, purple, yellow, navy ...

I love quirky and original T-shirts like this one that are sure to be a talking point and raise a smile or two ! It's lovely quality with thick, soft cotton and vibrant colours on the design.

There's a back-to-school discount this week too - get 15% off with code UNI2015.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £15.40

for more information :

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

Freida's Feeding Food - for breastfeeding mums and anyone else ! (review)

Alcohol, spicy foods, cabbage, garlic, coffee, coke ... that's just part of the list of common foods that I was frequently told I should avoid while breastfeeding, so when I heard about Freida's Feeding Food, a wholesome bar designed for breastfeeding women, I thought it sounded like a great idea - something you can eat as a treat without feeling guilty or worrying about the effects on your baby, hooray !

I'd never heard of a bar for breastfeeding mums before but it's a really good idea. As the press release explains, "Walking into a pharmacy or health store in the UK you might be forgiven for assuming that nutritional support for new mums only comes in the form of tablets and pills. Whilst in the West this is the way dietary supplementation has gone, many women in Asian countries still swear by a more traditional approach… This traditional approach involves healthy homemade food bars, or muesli, which use plant based ingredients. The bars not only provide a natural energy source, to help beat the fatigue and tiredness that comes with being a new mum, but may also help with lactation and milk supply."

That was the inspiration for Freida’s Pantry's Feeding Food Bar, which contains a combination of nuts, seeds and oats to provide a host of important nutrients for both mother and baby, including omegas 3 & 6, a great source of energy and important for the development of the nervous system, and natural proteins which are vital for a strong and healthy body. The bars are very soft and squidgy - not at all dry like some cereal bars - and I really enjoyed the texture, which has a few crunchy bits of nut to make it interesting.

There was a background taste that I wasn't keen on and which I couldn't instantly place - a spice or herb, slightly aniseedy ... a quick look at the ingredients list revealed the inclusion of fennel seeds, often said to be a ‘galactalogue’, a substance which can increase milk supply, and may be of particular use for breastfeeding women. I'm not keen on that flavour but if I was still breastfeeding, I probably wouldn't mind eating them, given the benefits. 

Please note: Because Freida’s Feeding Food bar contains fennel, which is only recommended for use after childbirth, pregnant women or those trying to conceive should go for another new bar called Freida’s Fertile Food Bar.

star rating : 4/5

The new bars are on sale at selected health food stockists, Ocado, WholeFoods Market and through with an RRP of £1.35. Breastfeeding mums should eat one a day for maximum benefit - but you don't have to be one to enjoy them !

Disclosure : I received the product in order to write an honest review, even if my breastfeeding days are far behind me !

Sunday 30 August 2015

Children's book review : The School of Good and Evil 2 : A World Without Princes - Soman Chainani

Do you believe in happily ever after? What if one person's happy ending is incompatible with other people's? Such is the key question at the heart of the School of Good and Evil book series. Imagine Harry Potter with a girl power makeover and a sprinkle of the Brothers Grimm and you wouldn't be far wrong ! I read the first instalment last year and loved it - you can read my review here - so I was really excited when I received an email asking if I'd like to review book three, the final episode of the trilogy. This suddenly made me realise that despite my intention to read book two straight after book one, it got pushed down my bookpile into oblivion. I will therefore be bringing you the review of book three very soon but I wanted to catch up on book two first.

First of all, if you haven't read book one yet, look away, as there is a bit of a spoiler coming up when I tell you about book two. OK, assuming you're still reading, you must have read book one so you know that "evil" Agatha ended up discovering that she is actually a princess and "beautiful" Sophie is a gruesome, evil witch. After battling the evil School Master to get their happy ending, Agatha gave up her true love, the dashing Prince Tedros, so that the two friends could return home to Gavaldon and carry on as before.

Neither of the girls has ended up particularly happy though. Sophie is miffed that her father is remarrying and expects her to work, and, despite her best efforts, Agatha can't help thinking wistfully about her forsaken prince. As the saying goes, you should be careful what you wish for, and Sophie and Agatha are magically dragged back to the School of Good and Evil as soon as Agatha subconsciously wishes for her happy ending. Nothing is the same though. It has morphed into the School for Girls and Boys because Sophie and Agatha's story proved that princesses don't need princes. Everything has gone militantly feminist, with hilarious results for the reader, as traditional fairy tales are rewritten with princesses kicking the princes' and male villains' butts !

It's not all fun and high jinx though. The princes and henchmen have been banished and are now living in misery and squalor, desperate for revenge on the girls who ousted them from their rightful (or at least traditional) place. Speaking of revenge, Tedros is also so bitter about his lost happy ending that he wants to kill Sophie, seeing it as the only way to reclaim Agatha's heart. Poor Agatha ! What's a girl to do? Choose her best friend or the one she loves? And is Sophie really good or is she morphing back into a witch? 

It's another cracking read, full of magical mayhem, dark humour and excitement and strong female leads. All three of the main characters - Agatha, Sophie and Tedros - are by turns endearing and irritating so we can empathise with all of them. If only there could be a happy ending that would work for all three of them !

I'm definitely going straight on to book three because I can't wait to see how the story ends - the second book leaves lots of unfinished business that I can't wait to pick up again. The series targets tween-aged girls but I'm seriously loving the series as a grown-up too !

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollinsChildren'sBooks (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007502818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007502813
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm

Disclosure : I received the book in order to write an honest review.

Have a Messy Adventure with your little Dahl-ings and Persil ! (review)

 Remaining faithful to their guiding principle that "Dirt is Good", Persil sent us through a fabulous Roald Dahl-themed Messy Adventure kit to keep the Madhouse kids busy during the holidays. Inside the special tote bag that features a Quentin Blake illustration from James and the Giant Peach, we discovered two Roald Dahl kits - Magical Mischief and Whipple-Scrumptious Words - along with a James and the Giant Peach book and a bottle of Persil.

Pierre enthusiastically investigated the contents of the Magical Mischief box and happily spent the rest of the morning shaking hands with us all so that he could "secretly" stick the fake spider on our hands. Cue much manic giggling !

Let's face it - how many kids WOULDN'T be delighted by a kit containing fake eyes and bogies ?!

Juliette decided to be more intellectual and claimed possession of the book. I remember reading this in my own childhood so I will have to bring this out at the kids' bedtime so that I can enjoy it all over again.

All this fun and games was to highlight the specially-branded Persil small & mighty wash packs that have been available in store since the start of the summer, promoting the free Roald Dahl interactive adventure story that has been created by Persil, in collaboration with the Roald Dahl Literary Estate and Quentin Blake, to get kids outside having adventures.

‘My Messy Adventure’ encourages families to use the power of technology, either a smartphone or tablet, to experience the great outdoors right on their doorstep. The interactive story allows every child to be the hero of their own Roald Dahl story whilst bringing together some of the best-known Roald Dahl characters, including James (James and the Giant Peach), Matilda and The Witches, in the same adventure for the first time, enhanced by the iconic illustrations of Quentin Blake.

Luke Kelly, MD of the Roald Dahl Literary Estate and Roald Dahl’s grandson, says: "My grandfather strongly believed that children should race outside to climb trees, study insects, jump in puddles, kick a ball around or just "muck about". He thought that all children need fresh air, freedom and crazy adventures on a regular basis. He would certainly encourage you to get as muddy and messy as possible, before returning your dirty clothes to mum or dad. "My Messy Adventure" cleverly harnesses the technology kids use on a daily basis, along with the irresistible lure of some of Roald's most beloved characters and creatures, to encourage kids to get out and about and discover the wonders of nature, small and large in their own messy, anarchic adventures." This is something I agree with absolutely 100% and I actively encourage the Madhouse kids to go outside and get dirty !

When you see the results of a study conducted by Persil among parents and children aged 6 to 12, you realise how important an app like this is. Apparently, British children now only play outside for an average of 49 minutes a day, compared to 127 minutes spent playing indoors. New research reveals the rise of the ‘Indoor’ child as kids, even as young as six years old, prefer to watch TV or play on a smartphone or tablet (61%) than spend time outdoors (22%), and parents are increasingly worried about how to entice them out. Almost half of children (41%) blame the weather for their reluctance to get outside with a fifth (20%) describing outdoor activities as ‘too boring.’ Typical outdoor activities are also on the decline as over half of children have never been on a nature trail (51%) or been camping (57%) and over three quarters (80%) have never tried orienteering.


If you - or your kids - need some extra encouragement, you still have time to enter Persil's competition to win a Roald Dahl Messy Adventure Weekend for a family of four. If you're looking for ways to make the most of t, I highly recommend you download the app and get in some last minute Messy Adventures of your own !

for more information :

Disclosure : We received the pack in order to spread the word about the promotion.

#silentSunday #mySundayphoto #SundaySnap 30/8/15

Grandad-grandson bonding !

No guitars were injured in the taking of these photos !

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday 29 August 2015

Children's book review : Sister, Sister - Jess Bright

Imagine what it would be like if you suddenly discovered that your father isn't an anonymous sperm donor, as you've always been led to believe, but he's actually trying to get in touch with you. That's just the first bombshell for bewildered teen Willow though. She discovers that she also has a critically ill half-sister who is desperately in need of a bone marrow transplant and Willow just might be the highly sought after match that her unknown family have been hoping and praying for. If only she didn't have a phobia of blood and needles ... And if only her sick little sister Bella didn't hate her and not want anything to do with her. Surely she could be a little bit grateful ?!

Poor Willow goes through the emotional wringer, experiencing every feeling possible, from anger and sorrow to guilt and hope. Bella comes across as a stroppy little madam, but her illness, and the fact that she is worried about her new half-sister taking her father's love away from her, help us to empathise with her. The only characters who behave badly in this book are the adults really - while they are trying to make the best of a bad job, it is their dubious choices all those years ago that have led to such drama and upheaval and I couldn't feel anything but contempt for Willow's father's selfish reasons for getting in touch with her.

Sister, Sister takes an honest and poignant look at what friendship and family mean, as well as the emotional release offered by both reading and writing/blogging. It is a heartwarming, realistic read that targets a tween/young teen female audience, similar to Jacqueline Wilson, but I still loved it, even as a forty-something woman !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (2 July 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192738135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192738134
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Delicious Alchemy Gluten Free Oaty Cookie Mix review

One of the products in this month's Degustabox that got the biggest squeals of delight was this bag of Delicious Alchemy Gluten Free Oaty Cookie Mix. 

All you need to add is 75g melted butter or non-dairy equivalent and 30ml of water.

A peek inside the bag revealed a crumbly oaty mixture that already smelt nice.

Pierre came to help, using a spatula to squish the last bits of unmelted butter.

Then pouring in the cookie mix.

A quick stir was all that was needed. Pierre was already sneaking spoonfuls out of the bowl when he thought I wasn't looking and making appreciative murmurs !

We decided to jazz things up by using up the end of a bag of mini Smarties.

The mixture is lovely to work with. It's soft and squidgy but holds its shape really well so I just dolloped little piles on a foil-lined baking tray and shaped them with the spatula. The pack says you should get ten cookies but we got seven - they came out quite large though so you could easily make them smaller.

After 15 minutes in the oven, they were ready to devour. They were beautifully sweet and chewy and the kids kept coming back for more ! Very impressive for cookies that are gluten-free, suitable for vegetarians and dairy-free (the mix, not my cookies, which contained butter and milk chocolate).

RRP : £1.99

for more information :

As I used up the end of the mini Smarties, I'll add this to this month's #KitchenClearout linkie.

Disclosure : I received the product in this month's Degustabox.
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