Monday 31 August 2020

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 35

The summer holiday has drawn to an end *sniff*. This week we all go back to school - boo ! As I write this plan, I have no idea of who will have school when, who will have something at the canteen or come home for lunch, whether I will have an afternoon off (fingers crossed very very tightly !). Sophie leaves to go back to England on Thursday morning too. I'll make a rough plan but it will probably end up going completely out of the window !


lunch- I'm the only one at school today so Sophie is making lunch. I'll leave her some money to grab some shopping at Lidl if there aren't enough leftovers to keep them going.

dinner - I'm thinking a big bowl of spaghetti carbonara (or bacon/tomato sauce, if Sophie wants to avoid dairy) - oh, I mustn't forget, there's a melon that needs eating too


lunch- Pierre's back to school just for the morning ... so is Juliette but later going in and getting home - I think it will end up a free-for-all so I'll make sure there is pasta left over from last night

dinner- I'll dash to the shops after work if necessary so it depends what meat I picked up from there - I'm thinking chicken gyros for the girls as it's one of Sophie's faves (there's some in the freezer) and some other kind of chicken for me & Pierre (as he doesn't like chicken gyros) - with rice 


lunch- we'll all be at home for lunch, except Juliette, but I have no idea whether I'll be dashing home from work or on my morning off - beefburgers with mash & green beans is quick enough to throw together

dinner- Sophie's last meal at home so she can choose - if she doesn't know, I'll go for couscous (chicken, chipolatas, couscous, courgettes, peppers, tomatoes)


lunch- Sophie will have left this morning, heading off to the station at the same time as I go into work. I think Pierre will be home alone so he'll find something in the fridge.

dinner-  Sophie's not here so we can get back to eating fish - breaded dab or cod is usually what they have on offer, with ebly & ratatouille


lunch- Pierre will be home alone - he can make do with a sandwich or toast if there are no leftovers

dinner - pork paupiettes (sausage meat wrapped in a thin pork fillet) with mash & veg


lunch- quite possibly a trip to McDonald's

dinner- pizza


lunch-roast chicken, roast potatoes, veg & gravy

dinner- fridge grazing /garlic bread/cheese on toast

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


Sunday 30 August 2020

Project 366 : Photo diary week 35

 The summer is finally over - school kicks off again tomorrow. Sophie's heading back to England on Thursday morning, I go back to school tomorrow morning, Juliette and Pierre on Tuesday. I don't know how I feel about it at the moment, as everything is up in the air. Will it still be half classes or are we back to full classes? Will the pupils be staying put in one classroom all day or are they moving around as before? So many unanswered questions, but I guess we'll find out tomorrow ! Our final week of the holidays has been a bit rubbish as it's been raining really hard at random moments so we haven't really wanted to go out much.

Sunday 23rd August - I thought Juliette was still sorting out her room but when I popped my head around the door, she wasn't there. Looked in the kitchen (probably looking for a snack in the fridge !) - nope. In the toilet? Nope. Looked all over the house, asked Sophie if she'd seen her sister, then we both sniggered as we spotted a leg sticking out of the heap of covers on her bed. Yep, she was having a little nap ! What I thought was a big pillow is actually her hoodie with the hood up. Ahhh teenagers ! lol

Monday - My shopping bill will go down when Sophie goes back to England next week ! She's always spotting things she wants to try, like these Nutella doughnuts. Juliette added extra sprinkles to hers ! We spent ages doing a big shop online for Sophie's new flat in England - she'll be in confinement all by herself for two weeks so we bought loads of food, plus all the basics that we kept thinking of (toilet roll, kitchen roll, cleaning supplies, bin bags ... I'm sure we'll think of more !)

Tuesday - Another quick DIY job ticked off my list. A brand new toilet seat, as the old one was looking a bit worn out. The kids cracked me up by all lining up to go to the toilet to test it out ! It's been declared very soft and comfortable !

Wednesday - Having gone to a bigger supermarket and bought some crispy taco shells, we had tacos, instead of our usual fajitas. Very tasty and great fun to eat. I'll have to go back and buy more !

Thursday - Pierre had asked if I could fix up his old bike - the tyres needed to be pumped up and we couldn't find the pump in the garage, then Juliette said that the tyre had a hole in it anyway. One of the post-lockdown moves in Dunkirk was the introduction of a new scheme reimbursing 80€ (or €150 I think, if you're low income) if you buy a new bike from a shop located within Dunkirk. Well, why not? His old bike was getting a bit small for him anyway. We went to Decathlon, a huge sports store on the outskirts of town, where they have four or five aisles of bikes to choose from. The only problem was, the aisles were completely empty ! They had about ten pink bikes with baskets on the front (something special as they were 270€ each), three or four toddler-sized bikes and one bike that looked the right size for Pierre. I told him to grab it while we looked at what else they had, which was obviously a good idea, as it ended up being the only one there ! Luckily, he loves it. I planned on getting a photo of him on it but didn't manage - maybe next week ?! I just have to fill out the paperwork now for the reimbursement.

Friday - We headed back to the sports shop to change a pair of leggings that Juliette had bought for school PE lessons. It's a pain in the bum that all the changing rooms are shut now - I don't really understand why. Even if they shut every second cubicle, surely people could use them without breathing on each other ?! Oh well. We finished off with a walk along the canal with the dog, in between the showers.

Saturday - I finally managed to go and visit one of my friends - someone who I used to work with until she retired a few years ago. I took her a huge bag of books (everything I've read since February!) and she gave me loads of things from her allotment. Lots of lovely tomatoes (black, yellow and dark red ones), a cucumber, some apples, some pears. Plus some peanuts and almonds that her husband had grilled and some chocolate cake for the kids. It was lovely to have a big catch-up on all that has been going on in their lives.

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Saturday 29 August 2020

Fab freebies of the week 29/8

I can't believe we're at the end of the summer holidays and going back to school next week. Definitely time to make the most of this final weekend ! Have a great time, whatever you're up to, and I hope you find some lovely freebies to nab in the list :)


Hipp are giving away 700 Where The Little Things Are books, with special seeded paper on the front and back pages

Vote for your favourite Henry Weston's cider and win one of 140 prizes

Now available, only on Google Assistant: SB Reserve CBD oil.  Just say to your Google Assistant… “Ask Send Me a Sample for SB Reserve” 

Over on Mumsnet :  Want to test Warburtons Half White Half Wholemeal bread with your family? Sign up here

Greenalls Party Kits up for grabs -  Prizes: 1 x street party hosted by Greenall’s, 200 x Greenall’s street party kits.

Over on Shopmium, you can get a free S. Pellegrino Essenza Sparkling Water (Esso, Co op), Rachel's Organic Cream Topped Yogurts (Waitrose), Minor Figures Oat M*lk (Waitrose, Booths), Allinsons Bread (Tesco)

 We’re delighted to announce the launch of Vogue Insiders – an exclusive beauty membership for our dedicated Vogue audience. An opportunity for us to bring you closer to the heart of what we do behind the doors of Vogue House. (Includes trialling beauty products)

Ebuygumm are giving away free facemasks

To receive your FREE Salonpas® Pain-Relieving Cooling Gel-Patch sample, simply fill in the form.

ComeRound have a new Lady Gaga campaign :  Our latest campaign is for a brand new book called Channel Kindness, a collection of 51 stories of kindness, bravery and resilience from young people all over the world collected by the Born This Way Foundation and introduced by Lady Gaga. We'll select 51 applicants to receive a free copy of the book and a limited edition Channel Kindness tote bag and there's the chance to win 2 x Lady Gaga 2021 Chromatic Ball London concert tickets by taking part in the activities printed on the personalised Channel Kindness postcard that will be in the pack. To apply, you just need to do 2 things: 1. Using the #ChannelKindness hashtag, post on social media (text/image/video) an example of when you showed kindness to others or they showed it to you 2. Then click Join the fun to apply.

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Friday 28 August 2020

Madhouse recipe : Honey Orange BBQ Chicken


If there's one thing I can say about cooking throughout the long summer holidays, it's that I'm getting fed up with eating chicken ! With three kids, trying to find food that they all like is sometimes complicated. Sophie hates fish. Pierre doesn't like pork. Juliette's not a fan of beef (apart from minced beef). So what's left? Well, chicken and turkey basically, along with sausages, bacon and ... err, no that's about it ! Well, I do like chicken but, I have to admit, I'm getting bored of it, so I decided to try out some dishes with different sauces and flavourings. This recipe, based on the Honey Orange BBQ Chicken recipe on the Food Network website, is very quick and simple and it tastes pretty good. The best thing about it? The kids can decide if they want to try it or just settle for plain chicken ! The original recipe has a marinade then a glaze, but I needed something quick so just went for a simple sauce.

Honey Orange BBQ Chicken 

ingredients :

drizzle of olive oil

500g chicken breast 

salt, pepper, smoked paprika

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (a generous splash will do)

3tbsp butter

1/4 cup honey (a good drizzle)

1/4 cup BBQ sauce (a dollop out of the bottle is good enough)

Pour the olive oil into a frying pan and turn on the heat. Add the chopped chicken breast and sprinkle over the salt, pepper and smoked paprika. (You could use chilli powder instead for an extra kick of heat.) Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the chicken is perfectly cooked through. Chop one piece in half to check it's white all the way through. When it's cooked, remove the chicken to a plate.

In the same pan, toss in the orange juice, honey, BBQ sauce and butter. You can use the measures or just go freestyle - taste and adjust until you get the flavour combination that suits your tastes.

Heat through, stirring frequently, until the butter has melted and it all combines. Keep cooking until the sauce has reduced to a thick consistency. Either put the chicken into the sauce and stir until it is all evenly coated, or serve the plain chicken and the sauce on the side, then pour it over the chicken as desired. (Which is the best option if you have fussy kids !)

The sauce is very sweet so it appeals to kids' palates. You might want to add some extra chilli powder to balance things out. It's very quick to throw together and got a unanimous thumbs up at the dinner table. Phew !

Thursday 27 August 2020

Bright Barley 'Mylk' review

For the past few years, Sophie has been dairy intolerant. She does still eat and drink products containing milk occasionally - she has a weak spot for custard and can't say no to my mashed potato or spaghetti carbonara when I'm cooking for the family ! - but she knows that she'll have to stay close to a toilet afterwards ! She has therefore been trying various milk substitutes, with varying degrees of success. Oat milk, coconut milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk, soya milk ... they've all been sampled, but I recently saw a brand new product : Bright Barley, the first 'mylk' made from the supergrain barley. Definitely worth a try !

Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains, dating all the way back to the Iron Age, and it has a whole host of health benefit claims. It helps reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease and is an excellent source of heart-friendly beta-glucans. It can reduce the rise in blood glucose after a meal and improve digestive health. it helps lower cholesterol and provides slow-release energy, helping you feel full for longer and avoid cravings for naughty nibbles. Barley is also a source of fibre, which is great for supporting digestion, keeping colon and intestines healthy and maintaining weight.

But being great for your body isn't enough - Bright Barley also has the planet's health as one of its core values. Founder Jiali Jiang grew up in an area of China near the Tibetan plateau, where barley, with its hardy ability to grow in extreme altitudes and climates, formed an important part of the diet. Jiali came to the UK to study at Cambridge University and teamed up with an Oxford Masters student to develop a food product that involved ancient grains and organic ingredients. All of the barley flour used in Bright Barley comes from organic farms in the UK that practise sustainable farming methods. Their grain is ground in Shipton Mill in the Cotswolds, which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The Sustainable Food Trust even suggests that barley could be a nutritious key to fighting climate change and feeding future generations.

So, it's good for your body, good for the planet ... and the packaging is eco-friendly too. It's sold in recyclable Tetra Pak cartons made from paperboard, a renewable material sourced from Forest Stewardship Council and other controlled sources. All key suppliers and producers are British small independent companies.

Well, the company ethos, health benefits and eco-friendly credentials are important, but ultimately it's all about the taste. Bright Barley is available in three flavours - Chocolate, Coffee and Salted Caramel. Firstly, the drinks need to be chilled, or if you've forgotten to put them in the fridge, add ice cubes. They have a thick consistency, similar to milkshakes, which is very pleasant. Barley has quite a nutty flavour, which blends well with the flavours. I keep wanting to say that they're creamy, but that's probably not the right word for a mik-alternative ! They're great for breakfast but also perfect as a refreshing drink mid-afternoon on a hot day. Well worth a try.

RRP : from £1.69 per 330ml carton

Available from Eat17 and selected independent health stores, delis and cafes. Also online via Bright Barley, Yumbles, The Food Market and Amazon.


 Disclosure : We received the product in order to share our honest opinion.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

Book review : Kill Me Twice - Simon Booker

Kill Me Twice by Simon Booker is the second book in the Morgan Vine series, but I hadn't read the first book and discovered that it can be perfectly enjoyed as a stand-alone novel. Morgan is a journalist who focuses on miscarriages of justice, a theme close to the author's heart, as his ex-wife married a man who spent 26 years in a prison in America for a crime he didn't commit. As well as writing novels, he is a screenwriter, having worked on primetime TV dramas for ITV and BBC1, as well as romantic comedies for American TV. This comes through in his writing, as he focuses on describing the landscapes in perfect detail. This appealed to me even more as the action takes place in and around Dungeness, a place I've visited, and the descriptions of the lighthouse, the little wooden houses, the miniature railway and the beach brought back memories.

Kill Me Twice introduces (or reintroduces) us to single mum Morgan and her twenty-year-old daughter Lissa. The action starts on the very first page when the pair are attacked on a clifftop walk. And this is just the beginning ! 

Morgan works as an investigator, trying to check out the stories of people in prison who claim to be innocent. One such person is Angelica, a young mum accused of murdering her partner, Karl Savage. Various forensic experts have identified the corpse recovered from a fire as that of Karl but, when Morgan's daughter comes across a picture of Karl, she is in for a shock - it's her ex-boyfriend, Pablo !

Morgan sets out to protect her daughter and get Angelica out of custody, but this is not an easy job and her life is frequently put in danger as she follows all the leads, being drawn into a sordid underground web that centres on the prison. The police can't help her so she goes on a one-woman mission to set the world to rights. One thing I did notice that grated slightly is that there is not one single character in the book who appears to be on her side. She is the only "good" character and all the others are either distinctly evil or just substandard hero-helpers. The character of the hotel manager is a great example - he seems like a bog standard nice guy, he has no real part to play in the novel, but even he gets dragged into a quick tale of installing peeping Tom cameras in smoke alarms. I just shook my head and thought "why him?" as it didn't really add anything to the story.

That's my one criticism though. It's a fast-paced book that is big on action. The little flashbacks to Karl Savage's childhood do help you to understand why he ended up so evil, even if you can't feel sorry for him. It's a tense read with plenty of descriptions of people and places to help you really imagine the settings and a feel-good ending that all the bad guys are locked up and you can go to sleep happy. Just one thing disappointed me - the fact that the series ends here. Come on Simon, I'm sure Morgan has a few more great stories in her yet !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Zaffre (24 Aug. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1785760785
  • ISBN-13: 978-1785760785
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm

Monday 24 August 2020

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 34

Last week we stuck completely to the plan ... except for the pad thai sauce which tasted disgusting so we switched to sweet soy sauce at the last minute ! This week is Sophie's last week at home, so I am predicting lots of last minute changes as she remembers things that she hasn't eaten for ages or decides she needs a final trip to her favourite foodie places !


lunch- fishfingers / chicken gyros with rice (Pierre doesn't like chicken gyros so he can use up the last few fishfingers)

dinner - chicken casserole with carrots, onions, potatoes


lunch- tacos

dinner- creamy pork chops with pasta


lunch- chicken burgers in buns with chips

dinner- Stuffed tomatoes with pesto rice (for me and Sophie) / breaded chicken (for Juliette & Pierre) with rice or leftover pasta


lunch- homemade sausage rolls with mash, peas & carrots

dinner-  mac & cheese, quite possibly with some added bacon if I'm feeling nice !


lunch- chicken fajitas

dinner - cottage pie


lunch- possibly a trip to McDonald's, if not I have some bolognese-filled chicken fillets (we usually get the cheese and ham-filled ones but Sophie is intolerant so we'll give these a try) with ... hmmm not sure rice, potatoes or pasta !

dinner- I think we'll have leftovers of cottage pie to use up


lunch- cassoulet pie with mash & veg

dinner- fridge grazing or garlic bread or toast

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


Sunday 23 August 2020

Project 366 : Photo diary week 34

 I can't believe this time next week, we'll be getting ready for heading back to school. It's been a really weird year. With the confinement, it seemed too early to be starting the summer holidays, but now it seems too early to be going back to school. Ah well, we'll just have to go with it and see what happens next. This week has been pretty quiet. Lots of random showers so we haven't been out that much really.

Sunday 16th August - Not much going on today, just a lazy day, watching Netflix, phoning my mum and dad and just chilling. Another nice sunset picture for you. It was quite windy and there are lots of leaves all over the ground, making it look like autumn is on the way. Boo !

Monday - I headed back to the bank (again !), to resign the papers that hadn't been filled in right the first time. The woman at the reception didn't have a clue what I was on about, but her colleague who wandered past said "oh, it's all on my desk, I'll grab it for you". Phew ! Signed it all with the woman at reception, she didn't seem very sure of herself and said she HOPED that would be ok, she'd need to check with the other woman but she was in a meeting now. I decided to go round the shops with Sophie then head back in an hour, to be on the safe side. Popped to the sports shop with Sophie who spent her birthday money on two pairs of Converse shoes, one in store and one ordered online in the sales. When I went back to the bank, she said "oh, just as well you popped back. We need a photocopy of your livret de famille" - this is a little book that you get when you get married, with a page for each spouse, then every time someone is born or dies in your family, they get a bit filled in. You need it as official proof of identity in terms of benefits, school applications or anything official ... including transferring money apparently ? This is just getting weirder and weirder ! Obviously, I didn't have it on me so we'll have to come back ... again! *sigh* Took the dog out for a walk but stuck to the top path as it had been raining on and off all afternoon and Juliette didn't want to get her new shoes muddy !

Tuesday - Guess what we did today ! Went to the bank ... AGAIN ! Dropped off the paperwork and, in theory, that's it. (No phonecalls during the rest of the week .... is this really the end ?!) Juliette took over on the DIY front, changing her door handle and filling up all the little holes in the wall with filler. The main thing was a crack down the wall by the side of her door, which has been there for years since Madhouse Daddy had to break down the door when the handle broke and both her and Pierre were stuck inside. (I was gaily looking up how to get in the room online, then I heard a whacking great crack and Madhouse Daddy said "it's ok, it's done" ! Hmmm ... I'm sure there would have been another solution !) She also filled in the holes in Pierre's room. I was thinking one or two behind his door and came back to this. Hmm I guess we're repainting his room too then !

Wednesday - Juliette finished off painting her room. She used to have pink and purple walls so it all looks a bit colourless to me, but it was what she wanted. She'll soon have all her posters back up on the walls which will brighten it all up. She did a good job though. It's a much smoother finish than it looks in the photo - that's the light coming through the window. She's moved her bed and just needs to have a good sort-out now.

Thursday - I used the mixer that the kids got me for Mother's Day to make homemade hash browns. It has a really cool grating function that made short work of the potatoes and onions. It's only been used for smoothies so far, so it's good to experiment with it. The hash browns were a big hit with the kids and they really are simple to make. I'll have to share the recipe with you.

Friday - The kids wanted to go out for a Chinese so we decided to try out our local restaurant. There are no Chinese takeaways here and our local does a buffet so I wasn't sure how it would work with coronavirus measures. Well, it is still operating as a buffet which surprised me, but there were literally two customers when we arrived and another big group (about six people) who arrived when we were halfway through our meal, so it wasn't too bad. Everyone wore masks all the time when serving themselves but it still felt weird. We went for a walk along by the canal to help digest it all afterwards !

Saturday - Popped into town to pick up Sophie's shoes that she ordered, then decided to chill out in front of the telly. How much microwaveable popcorn can one family get through on a Saturday night Netflix session? Well, quite a lot apparently !

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

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Saturday 22 August 2020

Fab freebies of the week 22/8

It's incredible to think that this time next week, we'll be getting ready to go back to school - eeeek ! The school supplies are bought, we've stocked up on masks, now we'll just have to wait and see what's put in place for the new school year. Fingers crossed it all works fine and we don't head back into confinement too soon, if at all. Anyway, in the meantime, we still have the end of the holidays to enjoy ! Have a great weekend. Here's my pick of the week's best freebies :)


Head over to Shopmium for free McVitie's VIBs - these look very tasty !

Win one of 20 The Gruffalo Trunkis with ASDA

If you are selected to join the S&B virtual curry party, you will receive a pack of S&B Golden Curry (Medium Hot). (You'll need to cook the curry to join in the party.)

Fun Kids Live are giving away 1,000 Marvel Battleworld Battle Balls. Win one for you AND one for your nominated friend.

Free Elizabeth Shaw Biscuits, if you're doing an online shop at Sainsbury's

Join the This Works beauty products panel of testers

Buy Harrington's Cat Food and get your money back

Love Raw are launching a BRAND NEW, top secret vegan chocolate bar and they're giving YOU the chance to get your hands on it! Simply refer your friends and get chocolate. Yeah, it's really that easy!

 Now available on Send Me a Sample:Carte Noire coffee (you might get an Out of Stock message, in which case you'll need to come back later)

Help us make better Quorn & Cauldron products for you and the Planet - test at home and fill in a questionnaire or attend a sampling session

 Are your dry hands in need of some love? Treat your skin to a Cath Kidston Hand Cream. Expert Home Tips are giving away 30 tubes. 

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

You may also like to enter my current giveaways :

Friday 21 August 2020

Madhouse recipe : Swedish-style Baked Meatballs

Apparently this dish tastes like Ikea meatballs. I have no idea, as we haven't got an Ikea local to us, but I've heard various people mentioning how tasty their meatballs are, so that's presumably a good thing ! The original recipe came from the Pioneer Woman, so it uses various American ingredients that have been swapped for European ones. You can check out the original recipe for Pioneer Woman Baked Swedish Meatballs here. I thought it was nice enough, but I'd add extra herbs and spices to the meatballs next time and I wasn't a huge fan of the sauce. I personally think a tomato-based sauce would be better. It would give the photo a bit more colour too ! The main reason I loved this dish though was because it was great fun making them with my son, Pierre. He really got hands on and pretty much made the whole thing himself, with a bit of explanation from me. Well done Pierre !

Swedish-style Baked Meatballs

ingredients :

500g minced beef
500g minced pork
1 cup breadcrumbs (I just shook some out of the box without measuring)
1tsp salt (the original recipe used two but that sounded a lot)
1tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2tsp garlic powder
1tsp smoked paprika 
1tsp Italian seasoning (or oregano, basil, herbes de Provence ... whatever you have)
1/4tsp nutmeg (I left this out as we don't like the flavour)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60ml milk

For the sauce :

5tbsp salted butter
5tbsp flour
1tsp salt
1/2tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 cups milk (again, I just splashed some in there without measuring !)

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl. Feel free to add extra spices in there. I'd even be tempted to add a grated onion and maybe some fresh chopped garlic to the mix for extra flavour. 

Wash your hands and get mixing ! Pierre loved doing this, even after I warned him it was raw meat ! Don't over-mix it though - you don't want the meatballs to end up overworked and tough.

Roll into meatballs that about 5cm across and dot them across a baking tray covered in foil. (You don't really need the foil, but it does make it easier to clean !)

Off to the oven for about 20 minutes or so. Choose one sacrificial meatball and chop it in half to check it's cooked right through to the middle. Put them back in the oven for a few more minutes if it isn't.

While the meatballs are cooking, you can work on the sauce. Melt the butter and whisk in the flour, salt and pepper.

Cook for two minutes or so, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or a whisk to get rid of any lumps.

Add the milk and keep on whisking until you have a lump free sauce. Keep cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens and comes to the boil. Keep on stirring for another minute then turn off the heat. Taste it and see what you think. I thought it was way too bland so I added extra pepper and more herbs and spices. 

Take the meatballs out of the oven.

Serve with mashed potatoes. I did a simple green salad on the side but this would work well with peas and carrots, ratatouille, green beans, ... whatever you fancy really.

I drizzled some of the sauce over the top of the meatballs (the original recipe said to roll the meatballs in the sauce before serving) but the kids ate theirs without sauce.

It's a great family dish, as much fun to make as to eat. I'd definitely play about with the spices in the meatballs and change the sauce though, as it was a bit too bland.

Thursday 20 August 2020

Stay-cation Essentials for Summer (Self) Loving ! (review)

Apart from our quick trip around Belgium at the very start of the holidays, we haven't done any travelling during the summer holidays this year. I have been busy giving the whole house a big overhaul, dejunking, recycling, redecorating and reorganising things to within an inch of their life, but I felt in need of some me-time too. With perfect timing, this selection of stay-cation essentials arrived, giving me a chance to pamper myself, alongside the house !

First up was this Glo32 Advanced Whitening System (RRP £10 at Boots), which provides an enamel-safe and peroxide-free way to whiten teeth, as well as apparently promoting healthier gums. Definitely a win-win product, by the sounds of it ! It contains coconut oil and promises effective stain removal in just 20 minutes. Inside the box, you get a Teeth Whitening Stilo and 28 Whitening Strips. The strips are very simple to use - you just press them onto your teeth for 20 minutes before brushing away the excess gel. The Whitening Stilo (surely that should be stylo ?!) can be used in between whitening sessions or as a quick on-the-go fix. Just brush it on your teeth avoiding the gums and leave for 10-20 minutes. Don't eat or drink and just give your mouth a quick rinse with water at the end. I have to say, I was impressed. My teeth did look visibly whiter to me, but I knew I'd been using the kit so I was presumably already convinced. The thing that really impressed me was when a close friend, who had no idea about the review, commented on my very bright and shiny teeth. It's a great product to try out - simple to use, not expensive and perfect for use during these times of pandemic when you might want to avoid non-essential trips to the dentist.

Jolen Creme Bleach (RRP £4.35 - currently on offer at £2.90 - at Boots) promises a fast, gentle and effective way of lightening dark hairs. Now, I will be honest - this is a type of product that I have never used before, so I had no idea what to expect. Inside the box, you get two products - a cream and a powder - which need to be mixed together before use, then smeared on to the treatment area with a little spatula. I decided to try out the dark hairs at the bottom of my legs, as they'd be easy to shave off if it didn't work and the whole area could be hidden with trousers in case it all went wrong ! Well, there were no big dramas. It was a bit tricky to mix together without knocking some on the floor (oops !) and it did tingle a bit on my skin after I applied it, but I had no negative reaction apart from this. Some of the cream flaked off during treatment - I put this down to bad mixing on my part, as I was a first-time user ! - but it did work and left the dark hairs looking blond and, to all intents and purposes, invisible. I wouldn't really use this on my legs, to be honest, as it's too much faffing about, but I could see it being useful for bleaching the annoying hairs above your top lip.

Kids Stuff Crazy Foaming Soap (RRP £1.99 at The Range) made me smile because it's a product that I frequently used to buy when the Madhouse kids were little. They used to love squirting it in their hands, moulding it into balls that they'd throw at each other, squishing it through their hair, using it to make mousse bikinis, ... ! Well, they told me that there was absolutely no way I was taking a photo of them with a bathtime mousse-hican ... but they still played with it in the paddling pool outside and I could hear their giggles and shrieks from all over the house ! It has a gentle, pH balanced, hypoallergenic formula that is kind to young skin. Awww I miss the kids' bathtimes - they were great fun !

Disclosure : I received the products in order to share my honest opinions.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Book review : The Ascendant - Drew Chapman

The Ascendant by Drew Chapman is one of the books I picked up at The Works way back before the confinement kicked off. It was in the sale and cost a whopping £1. For that price, you can't go wrong, but it's actually a pretty good read.

The main character is a young high-flyer on Wall Street called Garrett Reilly. He has a gift for spotting patterns in numbers and data that nobody else will pick up on, so he can see when it's time to make a killing by buying or selling whichever stocks and shares are on the way up or down. He has the big bucks that go with the job, but also the big attitude. Getting drunk and picking random fights seems to be how he enjoys spending his free time.

When he spots a strange pattern emerging at work - two hundred billion dollars worth of US Treasury bonds being sold off at an unbelievable rate - he, surprisingly, decides to inform his boss, rather than just cash in on the unexpected transactions. His boss informs the people that need to know in the government and money is ploughed back into buying up the bonds to shore up the economy and avoid a crash. Then there's a car bomb which almost costs Garrett his life.

With no idea of what is actually going on, Garrett is grabbed by government agents and taken to a secret location, where he is asked to work for the government, spotting similar patterns and helping avoid threats that would lead the United States into a new war. This new war would not involve guns and artillery. It would hit America where it really hurt, causing big businesses and important markets to fall down in ruins, infecting the computers that control all the essential services that the nation needs and, basically, just causing total chaos. 

Garrett is assigned a small team of co-workers and, together, they set out to observe news feeds and data from all across the world in the hopes that they will spot weird patterns and events. Surprisingly, they do but the president and his military aides have a hard time trusting Garrett in this new function. While he is busy fighting the unseen enemy, he also has to deal with the threat of federal agents who are convinced he could be dangerous if he has too much power.

That all sounds quite complicated and confusing, but once the basic concept of the new government department has been explained, it all actually focuses more (or at least as much) on the relationships between the different characters. The foundation is laid out in this book - the feisty language expert Celeste, the tech-obsessed military expert Bingo, a political advisor Lieutenant Lefebvre and the seductive Alexis Truffant, who works in the military and was involved in recruiting Garrett.

It's a fast paced novel with so much going on that it's hard to keep up at times, but this is presumably the intention of the author - Garrett and his team are in the same situation, thrown in at the deep end and left to sink or swim. The idea of the new generation of wars being played out through technology and online damage is quite believable, but Garrett does come across as a totally indestructible anti-hero. Every time someone tries to take him out, he just rises from the ashes. He's a likeable guy with a huge chip on his shoulder but a bit too damage-resistant to be completely believable.

Some plot lines aren't followed up and some characters are just left floating in the outer reaches of the action (Celeste, for example), but I presume these stories will be picked up in subsequent books. I've just checked - there is a second book in the series, The King of Fear, available as The Complete Saga or in three parts. As Drew Chapman works as a writer of movies and TV shows, I also wouldn't be at all surprised to see these books made into a fast-paced, all-action film or maybe a Netflix series.

star rating : 4/5

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (12 July 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476725896
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476725895
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21.3 cm

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Island Bay Hard Seltzer review

It has been so incredibly hot for the last couple of weeks that settling down at the end of the day, watching the sun set with a glass of something chilled in hand, has become the perfect way to wind down. This was the ideal time to try out the selection of drinks that the Island Bay team had kindly sent over to us - three fabulously fruity flavours of Hard Seltzer that myself and Sophie have been happily putting through their paces !

Now, I have to admit, I was a little bit intrigued by the concept of the drink. On the cans, it says "alcoholic sparkling water", which sounded too good to be true, so I went to investigate. On their website, they explain : "Alcohol. Water. Flavour. Fizz. A deliciously refreshing alcoholic sparkling water with hints of natural fruit flavour, the perfect alternative to your usual calorific drink! If you’re anything like us, you’ll love this guilt-free alcohol drink that comes fully loaded with no added compromise. At 70 calories, no preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, certified gluten free and suitable for vegans, Island Bay Hard Seltzer ticks all the boxes!" This just keeps on getting better and better - it's even suitable for those on a keto diet !

However, the most important thing would be the flavour. Would we be impressed or would it be a bit of a let-down? Well, we both loved all three flavours. My favourite was Strawberry, which has a refreshing, sweet, fruity flavour. Sophie loved the tropical flavour of Mango and we both also approved of the refreshing Watermelon variant. They can all be enjoyed straight from the can or you might like to serve them in a glass, adding chunks and slices of fresh fruit for some extra flamboyance !

You can buy the drinks over on the Drink Island Bay website with free delivery. You can order one flavour or a mix of all three and they cost £14.95 for six, £25.95 for 12 or £49.95 for 24. Keep your eyes open at the top of the page for a "Subscribe and save 20% banner" !

Disclosure : We received some samples of the drink.

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