Sunday 31 January 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 5


We pretty much stayed on track last week, but Sophie forgot to grab some dairy-free cream in the big supermarket  (I think it was soya cream she got last time, as she's intolerant to the real stuff) so we still didn't make the courgette bake or spaghetti carbonara. Her front door key safely arrived back in England (phew) so she has now moved out of her flat, thanks to Nan and Grandad's help. She'll be here until after the summer now so has just bought a new bike, to head out for some socially-distanced exercise. This week, Juliette's on a "home" week, so I picked up lots of simple bits that the kids can eat for lunch while I'm at work. Here's the plan for the meals when we're all together.


lunch- pork chops, mash & veg

dinner - spaghetti bolognese


dinner- last week, I discovered that the kids all love steak, so this week, when I saw it in the yellow label section, I grabbed it again ! Steak, chips & peas


lunch- chicken burgers, ebly & ratatouille

dinner- pork with sauce (peppers, onions, tomatoes) & pasta


lunch - there will probably be leftovers to use up

dinner- chicken with cream & mushrooms, peas and carrots & rice


dinner - Chinese chicken with noodles


lunch- spaghetti carbonara

dinner- beef casserole with boiled potatoes


lunch- twice baked potatoes stuffed with bacon, mushrooms, cheese, onions

dinner- toast or sandwiches

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


Tuesday 26 January 2021

The January 2021 Degustabox : Breakfast & On The Go


I really can't get my head around it being 2021. I keep writing 2020 whenever I write the date and it never normally happens so I think this is my brain trying to write off 2020 and pretend it didn't happen ! We are indeed in January 2021 though, and the postie kicked off the year with a brand new Degustabox delivery.

This month's Degustabox has a theme of Breakfast & On the Go. Even if there's not much "on the go" at the moment, with us sitting through another lockdown, this month's box contains lots of snacky things that the kids are more than happy to snack on !

The first product that we pulled out of the box was the Baker Street Rye & Wheat Bread (RRP £1.69). This is a half loaf, containing about eight slices, so it won't last long, but it comes in clever packaging designed to retain freshness - reseal the packaging after opening to keep it fresh for 7-10 days. It is made with a sourdough starter and is stone-baked. It is high in fibre, low in fat, dairy-free, contains no added sugars (just those occurring naturally) and it's suitable for vegetarians and vegans. It's very nice as toast or in sandwiches - the only problem is, with four of us eating it, it doesn't last long !

Barley Cup (RRP £2.50) is an interesting option for those who drink lots of tea and coffee and want something different to reduce the amount of caffeine consumed. Made from cereal grains and chicory roots, it is low in caffeine and vegan-friendly. It's supposed to taste similar to coffee but as we don't really drink hot drinks (apart from the odd hot chocolate), we'll be passing this on to someone else to enjoy. Available at Holland & Barrett, independent health food stores and amazon.

Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard Vegan Mayo (RRP £2.50) is a vegan-friendly mayo, perfect for sandwiches, dips and salads. I didn't notice at first that it was a vegan-friendly product (they should make it more obvious on the jar so that it leaps out at you when you're browsing the supermarket shelves), so I went to investigate. It contains Sunflower Oil, Water, Dijon Mustard, White Wine Vinegar, Salt, Pea Protein, Concentrated Lemon Juice and Thickeners: Xanthan Gum and Guar Seed Flour. Well, there you go - presumably the pea protein is what replaces the eggs in "normal" mayonnaise? Either way, it's very tasty and we've been gobbling it up in ham and chicken sandwiches (which rather defeats the whole object of it being vegan - oops !). Available in Tesco.

Gregory's Tree Organic Strawberry Fruit Twists (RRP 2 x 89p) were rapidly devoured by the kids ! No complaints from me as they're one of the healthier snacking options out there. Made from juicy organic fruit that is bursting with flavour, the tasty twisty snacks are gluten free, contain no added sugar, are vegan-friendly and only 60 calories per pack. Available at WHSmith, East of England Co-op, Planet Organic and Amazon.

Lizi's Super Muesli (RRP 75p for a 50g pack, £3.50 for a 500g pack) offers some tasty breakfast options. Boost offers a blend of mango, papaya and turmeric to beat fatigue and boost your immune system. Toasted oats are combined with turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties and it also contains added vitamin C and B6. Focus is your helping hand when you need to keep your mind alert. It contains brain boosting vitamin B6 and zinc to stay sharp, alongside hazelnuts, pecans, hemp, maca and pomegranate seeds. A great way to start the day. 

Mallow Puffs (RRP £1.59) is another vegan option, offering a Salted Caramel Mallow Bar Dunked in Belgian Dark Chocolate - a puffy snack that is as tasty as it sounds, made with UTZ certified cacao and natural flavours and colours. A bit on the expensive side but it's lovely.

Sun-Pat Peanut Butter (RRP £1.50 for 200g) is a firm favourite here at The Madhouse, so I knew this would go down well. On toast, in sandwiches (with or without added bananas) or in cookies, it always gets a warm reception !  Each jar is packed with 96% peanuts and is full of natural protein. We got smooth, while other Degustaboxers got Crunchy, which is what we usually buy. Very nice.

Mister Free'd Tortilla Chips Avocado (RRP £1.59) are a great idea as they offer the taste of guacamole without all the fuss of actually making it. The perfect way to avoid the hassle of having a perfectly ripe avocado when needed (how many times do we end up with either a rock hard, unripe one or a gone-too-far mouldy one in the bowl ?!). They're gluten-free, high in fibre and taste great. The only slightly off-putting thing is the price - £1.59 for a small bag is a bit on the expensive side, in my opinion.

Nat Bears Breakfast Cereal (RRP £2.90) are a fun breakfast choice for kids because they come in a cute bear shape. Available in Honey or Chocolate flavours, each pack contains six bars ... umm bears ! Just put them in a bowl and enjoy them with milk. The number one ingredient is wholegrain oats and there are no artificial colours or flavours. Each box contains six portions, so it's a bit on the pricey side, but kids will love them !

St Pierre Millionaires Waffle & Brioche Waffle (RRP £1) are perfect for a little moment of much-needed me-time. Sit down with a hot drink, rip open the pack and mmmmm, let your worries waft away as you bite into the tasty offerings ! The Millionaires Waffle, made with real Belgian chocolate, soft creamy caramel and a waffle biscuit is utterly delicious, but the soft Brioche waffle is very tasty too. Délicieux !

Whitworths Shots Fruity Biscuit (RRP £1.60) are another delicious snack. The box contains four tubes (perfect - one each !) and each snack pack provides a very reasonable 93 calories. Sunshine sultanas, cranberries and white chocolate-topped shortcake biscuits - they all go perfectly together. Very tasty ! (Have you noticed how often I've been saying that in this box ?!)

Rowntree's Fruit Pastilles (RRP £1.29 for 150g sharing pack) are one of my favourite sweets. Every sharing bag contains a mixture of five fabulously fruity flavours: blackcurrant, lemon, strawberry, lime, and orange. Still irresistibly chewy and now vegan friendly for even more people to enjoy! OK, I will admit it, I might have hidden these somewhere the kids won't find them for me to enjoy - tee hee hee !

Trek Power Millionaire Shortbread (RRP £1.75) is part of the new higher protein range. 100% plant based ingredients, vegan, gluten free and containing no artificial sweeteners or refined sugars, so you can eat it with a totally clear conscience ! Very tasty but a bit on the expensive side, so this would be great as a special treat.

 A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that, but the great news is, I have a discount coupon code for you which means you'll get the first box for just £9.99 - enter code PKUFE at the checkout. 

for more information :

Also now on Instagram @DegustaboxUK

Disclosure : We received the box in order to write an honest review. As a Degustabox blogger, I receive all of the products that go into the monthly boxes, but subscribers may not get exactly the same selection.

Sunday 24 January 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 4


We pretty much stuck to the menu plan last week, except I always end up having leftovers to use up that I thought the kids would eat at lunchtime. French style chicken and tacos didn't get made in the end, so they can be rescheduled. I've just gone shopping and filled the fridge with reduced price meat - I'll have a sort-out then put the remainder in the freezer. This week, Juliette is back at school. Sophie has spoken to her landlord and her and her flatmate have decided to cancel their flat rental for now - all classes are online until the end of the year so it doesn't make much sense to keep the flat. Now we have to figure out how to empty the flat (thanks nan and grandad !) and get the key back to him. It's all changing ! Right, let's see what we're eating this week :)


lunch- tomatoes stuffed with sausagemeat for me and Sophie, Pierre can have a beefburger, all with rice - Juliette will be at school

dinner - pork chops with courgette gratin and pasta


dinner- steak, mash and peas


lunch-  chicken fajitas

dinner- slow cooker beef stew with baked potatoes


lunch - spaghetti carbonara

dinner- chicken burgers, chips & coleslaw/salad


dinner - fresh pasta


lunch- we're in lockdown from 6pm onwards so it's too tight for time for going to the kebab shop, so the kids have asked for kebabs for lunch - well, why not ?!

dinner- leftover kebab meat or other leftovers


lunch- chicken paupiettes with couscous & green beans

dinner- toast or a sandwich

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


Wednesday 20 January 2021

Book review : The Coffin Trail - Martin Edwards


The Coffin Trail is the first book in The Lake District Mysteries series by Martin Edwards. We are given a good introduction to the main characters in the stories (notably Daniel Kind and DCI Hannah Scarlett) and the ever-present Cumbrian setting almost starts to feel like another character, watching over the events unfolding in her midst. As well as magnificent views of mountainsides, green hills and clear, blue lakes, this location provides close-knit communities, with everyone living in each other's pockets, sneering at the tourists and those who have only just moved to the area. 

Daniel Kind is one such newcomer. An Oxford historian and TV personality, he is visiting the Lake District with his girlfriend Miranda, a lifestyle writer for the glossy magazines. On a whim, they end up buying Tarn Cottage in Brackdale, a secluded valley which offers them the chance to get away from it all - a welcome break from their busy lives in Oxford and London. But Daniel has failed to mention that he has deeper ties to this area. As a boy, he came here on holiday with his father and befriended a local boy, Barrie Gilpin. Barrie was a bit of a loner and had some learning difficulties but the boys shared some fun times in the hills. Then a local woman was found murdered and Barrie's dead body was discovered nearby. With all the ends nicely tied up, nobody bothered digging any deeper, but Daniel is determined that his old friend would not have carried out such a dastardly crime.

DCI Hannah Scarlett has just been put in charge of a new cold case review team. One of the cases that her team start to take a new look at is this old murder up on the Altar Stone. An anonymous phone call suggests that there is more to discover so the team start to re-interview the locals, which ruffles a few feathers.

While Daniel is hoping to clear his old friend's name, he also wants to uncover tales of his long-absent and now dead father - a policeman who used to work with DCI Scarlett. The two get in touch with each other and, separately, start chasing the truth about what happened on that fateful night.

I've never been to the Lake District but, as I read, I could really imagine the muddy paths and misty hillsides with views stretching out as far as the eye can see. Things have been majorly hectic at work lately and sitting down to read a few chapters each evening gave me a welcome break and a feeling of getting out in the fresh air (much appreciated during lockdown !). I enjoyed all the interplay between the characters and watching their personal lives slowly being revealed. I failed to predict the wrongdoer and even at the last moment, there was a final twist in the tail.

It's a fairly sedate read that is not big on blood and guts so even the faint-hearted won't be offended reading it. I had a slight inkling that the characters' names rang a bell and, after checking, I've just discovered that I read and reviewed The Frozen Shroud, the sixth book in the series, a year and a half ago. I've just started book two, The Cipher Garden, so look out for that review some time soon.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £8.99

  • ASIN : 0749082917
  • Publisher : Allison & Busby; UK ed. edition (31 Oct. 2005)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 9780749082918
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0749082918

Sunday 17 January 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 3


I've just checked through the menu plan and we ate most of it as planned, until Saturday night when Juliette asked if we could have burgers and chips instead of tartiflette - I think she's missing our Saturday trips to town with lunch at McDonald's ! (To be fair, they had been on the plan earlier in the week, but got bumped as we had leftovers to use up.) I must admit, I've got into the routine of planning lunch for Saturdays too now so I don't know if we'll go back to burgers or not once coronavirus has packed its bags and restaurants open up again. We'll see ! So, on to this week ... Juliette's on a "lessons at home" week this week. It's hard keeping track of who's eating where !


lunch- leftover cooked chicken, pasta, onions, mushrooms, peppers (it's basically a fridge clearout but shh, don't tell the kids !)

dinner - I picked up some yellow-stickered stewing beef when I did the shopping so something in the slow cooker resembling beef bourguignon, with some leftover baked potatoes (possibly made into wedges)


dinner- I need to reschedule Tartiflette quickly before the cheese gets too stinky ! - baked potatoes, onions and bacon, topped with reblochon cheese and thrown in the oven


lunch- I picked up some yellow-stickered chicken too so French style chicken with peas and bacon sounds good, without the lettuce (I don't like the idea of cooked lettuce !), served with rice or pasta

dinner- I'm thinking there will be leftovers to use up


lunch - smoked sausages, peppers, onions, tomatoes with rice

dinner- chicken paupiettes (chicken breast wrapped around sausagemeat) with mash & veg


dinner -spaghetti bolognese


lunch- tacos or chicken fajitas - I'll let the kids choose 

dinner- Whatever I picked up at the supermarket (pizza?)


lunch- looking through the cupboard, I found the giant vol au vent cases that I bought - they can be filled with creamy chicken & mushrooms in a thick white sauce (they're called bouchées à la reine in French - "mouthfuls of the queen" !) - they can be served with salad and mash

dinner- leftovers or toast

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


Sunday 10 January 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 2


Last week was a great week in terms of food. We totally stuck to the plan (apart from when we were using up leftovers instead of cooking a new meal), ate loads of new dishes and everyone liked everything (including homemade coleslaw and frozen peas ... the kids usually turn their noses up at both !). Maybe they've hit that stage (every seven years, I think?) where their tastes change. Hmmm I'll have to work through loads of different vegetables again and see what appeals ! Right, on to this week's plan ...


lunch- Chicken Gyros (this is the recipe but I use pre-spiced meat from the supermarket) with rice & salad (Pierre can have a beefburger as he doesn't like the marinade)

dinner - pork meatballs with pasta and whatever veg is to hand (red & yellow peppers, onions, mushrooms, not sure what else) (The kids can use up the leftovers tomorrow for lunch.)


dinner- Tacos (as we didn't have them last week in the end)


lunch- beefburgers & chips

dinner- cannelloni


lunch - I'm thinking there will be leftovers to use up

dinner- Pork chops with cream & mushrooms, mash & veg (carrots? Thinking about it, Sophie grabbed a load of courgettes and promised to make a courgette gratin so she can do that !)


dinner - Chinese chicken with veg & noodles (I'll be honest, the chicken and veg are frozen in a bag - we'll see what it's like. Adding noodles and loads of soy sauce should make it nice anyway !)


lunch- spaghetti bolognese

dinner- Tartiflette - baked potatoes, onions and bacon, topped with stinky reblochon cheese and thrown in the oven


lunch- roast dinner, with whatever I pick up at the supermarket

dinner- Chicken spring rolls

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


Monday 4 January 2021

Blippo Kawaii Face Masks review

Christmas is over (sniff !) and school is ready to kick off again. That means I have to sort out our stock of face masks again. With three of us going to school every day (me as a teacher and the kids as pupils), needing to put on a new face mask after lunch, we get through a whopping 27 masks per week, without even counting the weekend ! Luckily, Wednesday is a half day so I can quickly throw them all through the wash but even so, it takes some organisation ! Blippo helped me out by sending over a pack of their Kawaii Face Masks to try out.

The masks are a lovely pale pink colour and feature a whole host of cute pictures - that makes sense as kawaii refers to the culture of cuteness in Japan. Hearts, rainbows, fluffy clouds, sweets, stars, bows and balloons all feature on the masks and are perfect for spreading a message of happiness in these stressful and sometimes miserable times.

The masks are made from high-grade fabric (they feel like thick, soft tissue paper but they're very resistant and I couldn't manage to rip them) and offer three protective layers. They are very comfortable to wear and didn't make me sweat at all.

The top of the mask has an adjustable nose band that you can bend or squeeze into shape to give a closer fit to your nose.

The earloops are made of a stretchy elastic type material and they fit me perfectly. If they are too big for you, you can easily twist them to shorten them though.

They are big enough to cover your mouth, nose and chin completely. (I hadn't used the nose band in this photo, which is why it looks a bit too big.) It's the first time I've worn this type of mask, as I usually use washable fabric masks, but I was impressed at how comfortable they are and how well they cover your face.

A pack of 10 Kawaii masks costs £7.25. There are various other designs available, so have a good look. There's also an after-Xmas sale offering up to 50% off at the moment.

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

Sunday 3 January 2021

Project 366 : Photo diary week 52

 We finally made it to the end of 2020 and thank goodness for that ! It wasn't that bad for us as a family to be honest - none of us fell ill and I was working (and therefore getting paid) all the way through, which was better than many people out there. But it was all just a bit depressing, living with constant worry, for example on the buses when people get on with their mask around their chin or in the street when they walk really close to you, and living with lockdown and home-schooling (and home-teaching !). I took some time offline over Christmas, just chilling out, spending time with the kids and slobbing out - much needed and I now feel ready to go back to work. Here was our final week of the year 2020. I'm taking a break from #Project365 for a while - there seems to be nothing going on, apart from non-stop work at the moment. Maybe I'll come back to it when coronavirus is a distant memory and we have time to actually get out and live a little again ! Here are our final photos of the year.

Our town (St Pol sur Mer) decided to put on some Christmas activities for the kids - not on the same scale as usual but there were some people dressed up as cartoon characters alongside a big Christmas tree and a postbox to Santa. In Dunkerque (the main town), there was no big wheel, free skating rink or Christmas market this year, but they did decorate the town hall with a special Santa world that you could visit, as long as you signed up in advance (80 people at a time).

After a couple more visits to the town centre shops and some last minute deliveries from the postman, our stash of presents under the Christmas tree was complete - phew !

Despite living in a country that opens its presents on the 24th in the evening, I was a rotten mum who made the kids wait until the 25th in the morning ! They didn't mind though and, to make things last a bit longer, I did let them open their stockings before bed. After giving out all the presents, we had one happy face ...

Two happy faces ...

Three happy faces ! Phew !

Turkey isn't a traditional Christmas meal in France. It is one option but not a very common one, with most people opting for a seafood starter (maybe smoked salmon or scallops) or a foie gras rich duck liver pâté, then a gamey type of meat for main course (maybe wild boar or deer, with ostrich and kangaroo more recent options), followed by cheese, then an ice cream or cake (or both!) yule log. I did find some turkeys in our big local supermarket but they had a use-by date of the 23rd. Finally, a few days before Christmas, I found a turkey in Lidl - yippee ! They only had about four so it was sheer luck that I managed to nab one ! I couldn't find anything for making pigs in blankets though - no mini sausages and no bacon ! - but never mind. Christmas dinner was a success.

This was our Christmas dessert ... but we didn't eat it until the evening as we were all stuffed ! Vanilla and raspberry ice cream yule log. A lighter option than the usual Christmas pudding !

Our Christmas leftovers didn't seem to last long at all. I put most of the leftover roast potatoes, veg and turkey in a pie with some gravy for Boxing Day.

I managed to throw together a turkey stir-fry too, but the rest disappeared in turkey sandwiches, which the kids couldn't get enough of ! Two days later, it was all gone !

For New Year's Eve, we opted for an apéritif - this is usually eaten along with drinks, before sitting down for another huge meal. We decided to have an apéritif as our meal though, which was perfect after all the heavy eating. Plus there was ice cream yule log left over for dessert.

We'd stocked up on Malibu, cherry beer and alcohol-free kids' champagne, so there was plenty to drink too !

Apart from that, we've been chilling out and going to the beach for some fresh air.

We've been taking the bus down to the far end of the beach which, as you can see, has plenty of space for everyone. There are lots of other people about but they're those dots in the distance so there's no worrying about being too close to others.

There were even some people riding their horses along the beach.

We went for a look at the mirror-covered bunker. It was made into a graffiti-style piece of artwork - the anonymous artist (who eventually made himself known) never asked for permission before covering one of the bunkers in shards of broken mirror. It was a big hit with the locals so, when he announced that he was giving up on reinstalling the pieces of glass (and the costs of glue), the council said they'd take over. At this point, he said he wanted payment for his "work". I'm not sure what they decided in the end, or maybe it's still going through the courts.

I even managed to find the time to write a review this week and this is the review that best sums up 2020 in my opinion. Kawaii style face masks ! 

Well, that was 2020. We made it ! Fingers crossed that 2021 will turn out to be happier and safer for us all.

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Saturday 2 January 2021

What's Cooking At The Madhouse ? menu plan week 1


And here we are back at week 1- time for new beginnings and hopefully a goodbye to coronavirus too. I didn't do a menu plan for the final week as we were eating leftovers and nibbles. Time to get back on track. Sophie is still with us at the moment - she would have gone back normally but with Hastings entering zone 4, I don't even know if she can travel down from London. With Brexit thrown into the mix, we'll work it out next week ! :-/ Here's this week's plan. I'm going back to posting my plans on a Saturday, but this might swap to a Sunday - I can't work out if it's easier to plan then shop (good if they've got everything I need - and as my freezer is back up and running, I'm thinking this will work) or vice versa. Lots of family-friendly dishes from BBC Good Food this week.


lunch- tacos

dinner- pasta with leftover taco sauce


lunchChicken, bacon and potato stew with green beans, mushrooms and carrots added

dinner- big mixed salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, bacon, onions, olives, .... and whatever anyone else can find in the fridge !


lunch- chicken burgers, rice & ratatouille

dinner - Meatball & garlic bread traybake with homemade coleslaw


dinnerSausage & leek mash pie, with extra carrots


lunch- spaghetti bolognese

dinner- Hungarian beef stew with rice


lunch - One pan egg & veg brunch for me & Sophie, leftovers for Pierre


dinner - Twice-baked potatoes with bacon, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes & cheese stuffing


lunch- omelettes (leftovers for Pierre)

dinner- spaghetti carbonara


lunch- roast dinner (chicken maybe?)

dinner- toast (or maybe soup with the leftovers, if it was chicken)

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


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