Thursday 31 March 2016

The March Pawsomebox review

There was much excited sniffing and wagging of tails when the postie delivered this month's Pawsomebox. I don't know if Vicky and Didou are starting to recognise the boxes with their distinctive pawprint logo or whether they can smell some of the treats tucked away inside, but they seem to be much more interested in these boxes than when something arrives for me !

If you're unfamiliar with Pawsomeboxes, they are a subscription scheme for pet owners (there are Pawsomeboxes for dogs and Purrfectboxes for cats) which delivers a box of surprise goodies every month, including foodie treats, toys and useful accessories. (Click through to the pets section of my blog and scroll through the latest blogposts to see what was in the Christmas, January and February boxes.) Each box contains 5 to 6 goodies that are specially selected to correspond to the size of your dog. The scheme costs from £14.90 per month (depending on the length of subscription you choose) and you can get a £5 discount off your first box with the code ukbcskkv. In addition to treating your little fur ball, Pawsomebox and Purrfectbox have dedicated themselves to giving to animal protection charities, so for every 2 boxes thery deliver, £1 is given to a local animal organisation or association.

So what was in this month's box? Well, let's start off with the foodie treats, as that's what the Madhouse mutts were most interested in ! The Wagg Training Treats are little chicken, beef and lamb flavoured bone-shaped bites and they sent both Vicky and Didou wild ! I was surprised to see that the the sweet potato and pumpkin flavoured vegetarian sticks got an equally enthusiastic reaction. Staying on the veggie theme, after squealing in disgust when I pulled a pig's ear out of the box, I was relieved to see that is another veggie treat, made out of vegetables and potato-flavoured - phew ! It is described as a chewy toy that will promote dental hygiene, but I snapped it in half for the dogs to share and within 30 seconds, they'd gobbled it all up so I'm not sure they really had time to chew it !

There were three small toys in this month's box - a squeaky plush rabbit, a squeaky rubber pig and a tiny rope chew toy. I'd say these are more adapted to very small dogs and puppies.

This month's final product is a very handy grooming glove, which Vicky and Didou much prefer to their usual brush, because they think I'm stroking them when I'm really dealing with their matted fur. Very sneaky ! It's easier to handle too, because you can hold the dog with the hand covered in the glove if they get too wriggly, and it doesn't get snagged in their fur, unlike their brush.

As usual, it's a good balance of food, toys and functional accessories and the cost of the products, if bought separately, would be higher than the cost of the box. I love seeing Vicky and Didou getting all excited, rooting around in the box when it's arrived, and I love to discover what's hiding in there too, as there are always some big surprises. I'd never have thought of giving sweet potato and pumpkin to dogs, for example, and I was even more surprised to see that they like it !

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

Globecooking recipe : Irish Stew (Ireland)

I always thought that Irish Stew was made with lamb but the recipe in my Irish-themed Kitchen Trotter box called for veal, so I took an even bigger liberty and used pork ! I think you could probably use any cheap cuts of meat to be honest. I decided to verge even further away from the recipe and use my slow cooker and I was really pleased with the result. Good hearty rustic food that gets all of your five-a-day in one plateful !

There was a sachet of Irish seasoning in the Kitchen Trotter box, which is a blend of white pepper, garlic, fennel, chilli, rosemary and thyme.

Irish Stew

ingredients :

500g stewing pork or lamb
2 onions
2 carrots
3 turnips
8 green cabbage leaves
1 leek
4 potatoes
2tbsp parsley
2 bay leaves
3 chicken stock cubes
salt, pepper
2tbsp Irish seasoning (see above)

Collect all your veggies together and get peeling and chopping !

Put the meat in the bottom of the slow cooker with the onions and a drizzle of olive oil and sear on the hob to give it some colour. (Depending on your slow cooker - you can leave this step out if it's not possible.)

Toss in the carrots and turnips.

Then add the leek and potatoes. When I lived in halls of residence with some Irish girls, they never used to peel their potatoes before boiling them, which is something I've now adopted !

Add the stock and seasoning and cook on high for 4-5 hours, adding in the chopped cabbage leaves for the final hour or so.

This makes a huge potful that fed a hungry family of five with leftovers.

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

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Globecooking recipe : Baileys Cheesecake (Ireland)

The dessert recipe in this month's Irish-themed Kitchen Trotter box was for Baileys Cheesecake with Chocolate Sauce. It's a simple no-cook recipe that just needs to be chilled in the fridge - I followed the recipe and thought it was quite runny so I'd actually recommend using marscapone instead of cream, as I usually do. (See my Daim no-bake cheesecake, for the alternative version.) I left out the Baileys for the kids and they still loved it. I decided it might be just a bit too sweet with chocolate sauce on top of everything else, so I just sprinkled a few chocolate drops on top to make it look pretty. I only used a splash of Baileys but the taste really came through - yum !

The recipe used one ingredient from the box - Just Oats Flapjacks - but you could just leave them out and increase the quantity of digestive biscuits, or throw in a handful of oats instead.

 Baileys Cheesecake

ingredients :

5 mini flapjacks
5 digestive biscuits
50g butter
200g Philadelphia (or similar cream cheese)
3tbsp icing sugar
1tsp vanilla essence
25cl thick crème fraîche (or double cream)
2tbsp Baileys (optional)

Crush the flapjacks and digestive biscuits. Mix in the melted butter and press into the bottom of individual ramekins.

Mix the cream cheese, vanilla and icing sugar together in a bowl. In a second bowl, whip the cream until light and fluffy. Carefully fold the cream into the cream cheese with a spatula.

Spoon the cheesecake mixture onto the biscuit bases for the children, but keep some back for the grown-ups.

Gently fold a couple of tablespoons of Baileys through the remaining cream and spoon onto the grownup portions.

Chill in the fridge to firm up slightly and scatter chocolate drops on top just before serving.

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

Qixels Turbo Dryer review

When Character Options got in touch and asked if we'd like to review the Qixels Turbo Dryer, I knew that it would be a big hit with Pierre. The concept is very similar to Aquabeads and Hama Beads, both toys that the girls have had and that Pierre has enjoyed getting involved in, but Qixels are specifically aimed at boys aged 4 and over, with edgy, boy-oriented designs such as Skeletons, Warriors and Monsters.

Unlike the other products of this kind that we've had at The Madhouse, Qixels are square, not round, so the designs really reminded us of Minecraft - an aspect that is sure to appeal to young fans of the game.

Inside the box, you get : 1 x Turbo Dryer, 1 x Water Spray Bottle, 2 x Design Trays, 4 x Design Templates, 2 x Stands, 2 x Display Bases, 2 x Plug in accessories, 1 x Bag Tag and thread, 500 Qixels, 1 x Storage Tray, 1 x Instruction Booklet. I was actually surprised to learn that there were 500 cubes because the bags are very small, but I'll take their word for it !

The designs are on double-sided templates so you can make a Viking, a rocket, a scorpion and a dinosaur. There's nothing to stop you going freestyle and creating your own designs or using your own colour schemes though, particularly if you buy refills of the cubes.

Pierre jumped straight in, knowing exactly what to do without needing to read the little instruction booklet.

They're quite fiddly because they're very small but they slot quite snugly onto the little peg boards so they stay in place while you're creating the design.

The enclosed storage tray for the beads makes it easier to find the exact colour that you're looking for, especially as some of the colours - the greys in particular - look quite similar.

Within about ten minutes, Pierre had finished creating the Viking design.

This is where the clever bit happens - when you spray the cubes with water, they expand and go sticky so they fuse together. I love the fact that, unlike Hama beads, there is no need to use the iron because I invariably have designs waiting on top of the washing machine to be ironed (I'm usually in the middle of dinner then they get forgotten about and knocked and the beads fly everywhere !). Using just water means that Pierre can be totally independent and do it all himself without even needing my help.

After spraying twenty squirts of water across the whole design, you place it in the turbo dryer and press the button repeatedly so that it spins and throws off the excess water. Make sure you wash your hands afterwards because if you put your fingers in your mouth, they have a disgusting bitter taste from the cubes.

After twenty minutes, you can carefully peel it off the pinboard. The Viking worked perfectly but the Scorpion, that we made afterwards, lost a claw because it was only held on with one cube thickness. According to the instructions, you can add more water if this happens, but we still haven't managed to make it stick. I'll have another go though !

Pierre is quite content to just make the designs at the moment but once he's played with it a bit longer and totally got the knack, we'll look at making one into a bag tag. There are also two special green cubes that are open on both sides, allowing you to attach accessories to the finished designs, such as the battleaxe seen in the picture.

I've been looking at the refill packs, because I know Pierre will want more, and I was pleased to see that they come in themed packs : Monsters, Medieval, Martial Arts, Deep Sea, Space, ... He's also spotted the Fuse Blaster which is like a water pistol that you can use to spray your designs with water. I think I know what he'll be getting for his birthday !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £19.99

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

My wins for February and March

One of my new year's resolutions was to make some time to get back into entering competitions to see if I could win some nice treats for me and the kids, and I got off to a great start. At the start of February, I did a blogpost detailing all the lovely prizes that I'd won in December and January. Things trailed off in February and I thought my lucky streak had ended, but they seem to have picked up again in March, albeit it mainly with small but nevertheless useful wins.

I won a big bottle of Carex shower cream from somewhere, but I have no idea where.

I got another Ooharr face mask - it was for the first 1000 people to follow on twitter, facebook and instagram so was pretty much a dead cert !

My next prize was a big bottle of Dettol surface cleanser on twitter.

This selection of Elvive Extraordinary Clay products came from an online competition on the L'Oréal newsletter, if I remember correctly.

Sophie got incredibly excited when I won a Fujifilm Instax camera by sharing a holiday photo on twitter.

And I also won a Paddington prize pack with the DVD, CD soundtrack and book from the TIPS website.

I've also won a book and some luxury skincare which haven't arrived yet, so it looks like April is off to a good start :)

Have you had any nice wins lately ?

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Madhouse diaries : An Easter adventure with the Madhouse Grandparents

The Madhouse kids were ever so slightly excited about it being Easter this weekend !

We started off on the Saturday morning with a very small scale Easter egg hunt in our local park.

It was only for 0-6 year olds so Pierre was the only one who could take part, but he was so happy his feet were barely touching the ground !

One egg carton full of half a dozen chocolate eggs and one very happy little boy !

On the Sunday, the Madhouse grandparents and Auntie Em were over visiting for the day so we decided to take advantage of the free weekend buses and head off on a little adventure.

I'm not sure who was most excited about standing in the middle of the bendy bus as we went round the corners - Pierre or Madhouse Grandad !

Our destination was the circus that was visiting our town for a few days. We never go to the shows (they cost a fortune !) but we invariably pop into the circus zoo to see the animals. France is way behind the UK in terms of animal rights so they still have animals and there aren't even any protests. 

We started off with some very curious ostriches.

They were looking at us as closely as we were looking at them !

The camels were happy just lazing about in the straw.

In fact, pretty much the only animals jumping about like loonies were the wallabies. I'd never seen a white one before.

As we were watching, a baby popped his head out of its mum's pouch ! It was grabbing handfuls of straw to eat as she jumped about - very cute !

I always love how intricate the zebras' stripes are.

But they've obviously been breeding zonkeys at the circus too so they also have donkeys with stripy legs and this fabulous specimen with light grey shading between the black ad white stripes, which I'd never seen before. One of the zebras looked pregnant which made me think that the animals must be reasonably happy, as I'm sure they wouldn't breed otherwise.

How many times can you say you've stroked a zebra ?!

I'd purposely timed it so that it was just before showtime so the trainers were taking all the animals out of their cages to go into the big top. The llamas went lolloping through the tents on their dainty legs !

The horses had really wavy manes - I'm sure they must have been permed !

Outside we saw some tigers and lions, including some cute tiger cubs, a sealion and a group of elephants, but my camera had run out of battery. You can see our photos from last year though, when we got to feed bread to the elephants by hand !

I do feel sad for the bigger animals but they seemed relatively happy this time. Some of my friends went to see the show so I'll be intrigued to hear what they thought.

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