Sunday 31 January 2016

Random Acts of Kindness #BlogItForward

Karen Salmansohn Everywhere you go is a chance to change the world. One smile, one hug, one act of kindness can make the world of difference to someone

My biggest pleasure at Christmas is watching people's faces show surprise and delight when they open the presents that I've spent ages hunting down or creating. Sure, it's nice to receive presents too but I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I get more enjoyment out of watching everyone else open their presents than opening my own.

Throughout the months of December and January, Wayfair have challenged bloggers to spread festive cheer by doing a good deed. Deeds could include any act of kindness, no matter how big or small. They gave some examples and I'm pleased to see that some of them are things that I've already done - sending flowers to the office staff at your child's school (well, mine was the office staff at the school I work in and it was a box of chocolates brought back from Poland), making baked treats for a neighbour or offering to do the shopping for an elderly neighbour (we've semi-adopted the little old lady on the corner and often pop in to see if she needs anything - time's run away with us lately but I was just saying last week that we must go and see her and take along whatever we've been baking) and clearing the snow from a neighbour's driveway while they're at work (I shovelled and salted the pavement all the way to the corner last time there was snow).

Showing kindness to others is one of the biggest life lessons that I want to teach to the Madhouse kids so I'm always trying to find ways to reinforce the message. If you saw my #SilentSunday picture today, you'll have seen that we were at a kids' carnival yesterday, which ended with people throwing soft toys to the kids' from the balcony of the town hall. Pierre (with a little help from us) managed to get two but a little girl next to us was crying her eyes out because she didn't get one - I discreetly asked Pierre if it would be OK and he instantly agreed to giving her one of ours. On the way to pick up the sachet of sweets offered to all the kids, we passed a boy (quite a big one, in his teens) who was clutching about six or seven of the soft toys and Pierre grabbed my hand and said "look Mum, he could have shared them rather than taking them all for himself when some people didn't get any." Sophie is also working on a project at school to collect toys to take to the children's ward of the local hospital. Both of these examples make me very proud.


The Blog it Forward challenge ends today, so I won't bother tagging anyone else (I was tagged by the lovely Ali at Dragons & Fairydust), but along with Wayfair, I encourage everyone to keep spreading acts of kindness anyway!

Disclosure : Wayfair will donate £50 to Habitat for Humanity in return for this blogpost

#SilentSunday #MySundayphoto 31/1/16

 (St Pol sur Mer children's carnival yesterday)

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Sunday weigh-in : A slight anticlimax

Last week I lost 1kg which was really motivating. This week, I did everything the same - ate well, went out for a run on Sunday afternoon (with Pierre and Sophie which was great), carried on with the XLS and the Slimpod, but I just didn't get the same results. Midweek, my weight had gone back up by the kilo I'd lost, so I was actually quite pleased to see that today I was back to exactly the same weight as last week. I hope next week I'll get another loss though because I feel like I deserve it for all the effort I'm putting in !

Positives of the week

- The kids have got well into the running thing, which is great for motivation and also for getting them active too

- I'm still in the 87's - phew !

Current targets 

Last week's target : Stay in the 87's - aim for mini target 4. Get back on the wii fit and try to get in one long walk or a run. (close enough)

This week's targets : Manic week at work with parent-teacher evenings so just do my best - aim for a no change.

Short-term targets 

(1) get back into the 80's
(2) get my "lbs lost" back into double figures
(3)  get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's
 (4)  get back to 87kg, my pre-holiday weight   
(5) get my "kg lost" badge back into double figures 
(6) get my "weight loss" badge higher than my "still to go" badge
(7) get back into my (smallest) bright blue jeans comfortably
(8) get back to 77kg - my lowest weight since my pregnancies

Longer-term targets :  Hit my target weight of 70kg.

START WEIGHT :93.7kg (BMI 34.8)
WEIGHT LAST WEEK  : 87.8kg (BMI 32.6)
WEIGHT TODAY : 87.8kg (BMI 32.6)
STILL TO GO : 17.7kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to my weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement. You can even grab the linkie code and add it to your own blog if you like. :)

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

 MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

Saturday 30 January 2016

Madhouse recipe : Warming Veggie Soup

Hearty warming soup packed with healthy vegetables and topped off with earthy Middle Eastern spices - a hug in a bowl ! The first time Madhouse Daddy made his delicious veggie soup, I asked for his recipe and was stunned to see how simple it is. You can just mix up the recipe to suit whatever's in your fridge too.

Warming Veggie Soup 

ingredients :

2 potatoes
2 carrots
1 leek
1 onion
2 tomatoes
3 mushrooms
1 stock cube or stock pot
salt pepper
to serve : black onion seeds, berberé or ras el hanout spices (or similar : coriander,cumin, smoked paprika, ginger ...)

Put all the roughly chopped veggies in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Add salt and the stock cube/stock pot and boil for 10-15 minutes until the veggies are soft. Use a stick blender to liquidise it all. Add extra water if it's too thick. You could add cream for a more luxurious texture. Serve into bowls and sprinkle black onion seeds and mild spices on top. Serve with a hunk of crusty bread.

Tasty Tuesdays on

Picture book review : Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip - Lou Treleaven & Julia Patton

Professor McQuark and the Oojamaflip is the wonderfully-named debut book by Lou Treleaven, who is a new author at Maverick. It's illustrated by Julia Patton, who also illustrated The Curious Tale of Fi-Rex, the Children In Need book that was written by a host of celebrities. The Madhouse kids had never heard me say oojamaflip before but I think it might have turned into their new favourite word - in fact, I wonder how they ever survived before having it in their vocabulary, especially as they dissolve into giggles every time they say it (which is often) !

The main character, Professor McQuark, is a fantastic rolemodel for little girls (and boys) because she's a very clever and very creative scientist. There are so many picture books featuring princesses, ballerinas and fashionistas that it's fabulous to see a book encouraging girls to become inventors and (slightly mad !) scientists.

Professor McQuark comes up with all sorts of crazy inventions and labour-saving devices - zip doors, tissues that say bless you and self-making beds all sound very useful and we decided that  a wind-up goldfish that swims through air would be great fun ! 

In honour of the annual Science Fair, she comes up with the ultimate invention - the oojamaflip - but there's a problem. It's too big to fit inside the exhibition hall ! It all works out OK in the end though and she gets the recognition that she deserves.

The book is written in rhyme, which is always great news for a story that will be read out loud at bedtime, and the hugely detailed illustrations had us smiling and pointing out all sorts of things as we read along. I thought it had a bit of a Cat In The Hat vibe going on, both in terms of the slick rhymes and the entertaining drawings. It's fun, it's quirky and it promotes science to girls. It also led on to lots of fun discussions and crafting sessions afterwards, deciding what crazy inventions we could think of and design - what more could you ask for in a picture book?

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £6.99

  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Maverick Arts Publishing (28 Jan. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848861885
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848861886
  • Product Dimensions: 26.6 x 0.3 x 26.3 cm

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

Friday 29 January 2016

Globecooking recipe : Snickerdoodles (USA)

Snickerdoodles are one of those all-American recipes that I've always known about from US TV shows without ever really knowing what they were. When I saw a recipe go through on my blogreader on The Pioneer Woman, I scuttled off to have a look and decided to have a go. Hers came out as puffy round pillows, mine came out as flat cookies, but they still tasted gorgeous and the kids loved them ! Must be a difference in ingredients? Anyone got any ideas what went wrong? (Ahh, looking online I found this article about American baking with French ingredients and it mentions the problems with different flours and the fact that confirmed US bakers often open their ovens to find their cookies melded into one giant blob - suddenly I feel better about my Snickerdoodle cookies !



2-1/2 cups All-purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Cream Of Tartar
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
3/4 teaspoons Salt
1 cup Unsalted Butter, Softened
1-3/4 cup Granulated Sugar, Divided
2 Large Eggs
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 200°. Mix together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Now this could be where mine went wrong. Baking soda is bicarbonate of soda. Cream of tartar doesn't exist in France but baking powder is a mixture of baking soda/bicarb and cream of tartar so I just tossed in a spoonful of baking powder and one of bicarb and hoped for the best !

Beat together the butter and 1.5 cups of the sugar in a separate bowl. Now as I was using child labour, I replaced the butter with margarine so it would be easier to mix.

Nice and creamy and airy but probably not as rich and maybe firm as with butter?

Crack in the eggs.

Gently fold in.

Then gradually beat in the flour.

Mix the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and the cinnamon in a separate bowl.

Roll out balls of dough with your hands.

And roll them in the cinnamon sugar.

Put them on baking parchment (or foil) and pop them in the oven for 8-9 minutes until just golden around the edges.

Hmmm this isn't how they are supposed to look so make sure you head over to the original recipe to see her perfectly shaped, airy beauties !

There were no complaints from the kids though - they just yelled "yum, cookies" and polished off half a plateful before I could say that they were supposed to be snickerdoodles !

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

Link up your recipe of the week

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 29/1/16

I have two parent-teacher evenings this week so I'll be handing over the reins to Madhouse Daddy on Tuesday and Thursday, unless I get organised and sort out something in the slow cooker.


lunch - spaghetti bolognese

dinner -  sweet & sour chicken with rice


lunch - roast dinner of some shape or form

dinner - bagels with smoked salmon


dinner - coconut prawn laksa


dinner -  something from the freezer (I think there are some stuffed tomatoes, with a sachet of microwavable rice)


lunch - tacos

dinner - Turkish fish fritters with wedges and salsa


dinner -  Slimming World Beef & Bean Hotpot (pinched from Shell Louise), prepared in advance in the slow cooker hopefully


dinner - 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 !

Thursday 28 January 2016

You'll want to hug U Hugs! (review)

Juliette is 10 and, apart from Monster High and Bratz, has basically grown out of dolls so I almost didn't bother clicking through to find out more when an email came in talking about U Hugs dolls from Flair, which are aimed at girls aged between 6 and 10 years old. I'm glad I did though, because as soon as I laid eyes on them, I knew they'd appeal to her. Visually, they really remind me of Monster High, with a cute but distinctly ghoulish vibe going on.

We received two dolls from the collection but there are six available in total. They are designed as collectible quirky characters that bring together creative play and stylish doll characters, allowing girls to express their style, mood and personality by selecting the pins of their choice. Each doll has sixteen holes and a selection of pins, including wigs, accessories, clothes, shoes, brooches and features, so that you can customise them to reflect your mood. We thought that the little plastic containers that they come in would be good for making sure the pins dodn't get lost, but there are actually handy storage compartments on their backs, which is a great idea.

We discovered Scary Baby - that may be her name but we thought she looked ultra cute rather than scary ! She has cute baby accessories such as a dummy, bottle, teddy bear and safety pin, but also seems to have a very sweet tooth, loving anything from biscuits to doughnuts ! The shoes can be reversed, giving you even more options.

The Starry Fairy looks very feisty in this picture but you can make her look much happier if you twist around her eyes a bit ! She has more natural themed pins (bee, star, flower, ...) but the great thing about having several of the dolls is that you can mix and match their pins because they are all interchangeable. Each of the dolls also has a "diamond" UH pin with string attached so that you can hang them up.

The other characters are Sassy Fashion, Screamy Queen, Scratchy DJ and Sweety Rock. I get a distinct feeling that Juliette is going to want to collect them all and I'm sure there will be many more added to the collection in the future.

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

Book review : The Terrorists - Olufunmi Omopariola Olayinka

I recently read and reviewed another of Olufunmi Omopariola Olayinka's books, The Dragon Society (click through to read that review), and was impressed with how she managed to take a subject  that was rather fantastical - namely a powerful and deadly occultist group - and render it totally believable and realistic. The Terrorists has a similar angle - the plot initially seems far-fetched but she makes it seem so real and convincing that by the end, I had bought into it, shuddering with the realisation that this is something that could possibly happen one day. (I'm not telling you any more about the plot though or it will spoil it for you !)

The book opens with scenes that are becoming horribly common - a suicide-bomber taking out himself and lots of innocent victims in a public place. It is assumed that he is representing the Boko Haram terrorist group and his shocked family have to come to terms with the fact that the loving, kind person they knew and loved had a hidden darker side. When a second suicide bomber kills himself in similar circumstances, with an equally unsuspecting family left scratching their heads, police sergeant Samantha Daniels starts to suspect that things aren't as clear-cut as they seem and decides to go undercover to get to the truth.

I initially felt slightly uneasy about a story that promoted the idea that terrorists could be blameless, or that seemed to be commercially exploiting the climate of fear and incomprehension surrounding the current wave of terrorist attacks, be they Daech, Boko Haram or any other group, and I certainly got a few strange looks when reading the book on the bus on the way to work ! As I got further into the story though, I realised that the real terrorists weren't being absolved of guilt, even if they weren't the obvious suspects.

It's a chilling story with an interesting plot that really makes you think. I did roll my eyes at the romantic interlude at the end of the novel that seemed pointless and not really in-keeping with the rest of the book, but maybe I'm just too cynical ! It's a short book - only 136 pages - so I was surprised at how powerful and gripping it is. If you like thrillers and science fiction with a realistic edge, you'll love it.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 142 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (24 Nov. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1518727360
  • ISBN-13: 978-1518727368
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 0.8 x 22.9 cm

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

Globecooking recipe : Doro Wat (Ethiopia)

As one of the recent Kitchen Trotter boxes was Ethiopian-themed, I've been looking around online for some recipes to use up my remaining ingredients, in particular my berberé spices. I discovered a traditional Ethiopian dish called Doro Wat that sounded ideal. There are many ways of making the dish - some use pureed onions and no tomatoes, some use chunky onions and tomatoes/tomato concentrate, some use chicken on the bone while others use fillets - so I used a mixture of all of them that suited my needs.

I had a bit of a clearout and used a trio of products from past Kitchen Trotter boxes - berberé from the Ethiopian box, smen butter from the Moroccan box and crystallised ginger from the Colombian box. You could use regular butter and fresh or powdered ginger though.

 Doro Wat 

ingredients :

4 onions
50g butter
drizzle of olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1 small piece of ginger (or powdered ginger - I used 2 pieces of crystallised ginger)
2 tomatoes
2tbsp tomato concentrate
2tbsp berberé spices
4 chicken breasts
1 boiled egg per person

Start by peeling and chopping quite a few onions as this will be the base of the sauce. Put them in a large pan along with a couple of knobs of butter and a little oil. (Some recipes suggest blitzing the onions in a blender to create a smooth paste before cooking it on a low heat for 20 minutes or so.) 

Once the onions have gone soft (but not browned), add the chopped garlic and ginger. Add extra butter as needed.

If you've pureed the onions, you probably won't need to add tomatoes but if not, chop and toss in two tomatoes.

Add a squeeze of tomato concentrate and mix in the berberé spices and a pinch of salt. Add a little water to create a thick sauce.

As the Optigrill was out on the worktop, I decided to save time by grilling the chicken while I was preparing the sauce but you would usually put it in the pan raw and let it cook in the hot sauce.

Give it all a stir and leave to simmer for 15 minutes or so. During this time, boil a couple of eggs - some recipes say hard boiled, some say soft boiled so the choice is yours. The white needs to be firm but the yolk can be slightly soft. You can prick the eggs all over with a fork to help the sauce to soak into them.

Put the eggs into the dish and spoon over some sauce. Allow the flavours to mingle for at least ten minutes and serve with rice.

I was unsure about the addition of the eggs but it actually works really well (even if the white stuck to the shell when I peeled one of them !). Berberé is a flavoursome but relatively mild spice so this isn't overly hot. I'd be tempted to add cooked potatoes along with the chicken for a tasty and relatively simple one pot supper next time.

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

Fancy trying out some more Ethiopian cuisine? How about Lega TibsInjeras or Ye Masir Azifa?

This was a great dish for using up some of my exotic ingredients so I'm adding it to this month's #KitchenClearout linky.

Linking up with the Simply Eggcellent linky.

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