Monday, 27 August 2012

"Style Me Up" Jewellery & Fashion Designer Craft Set Review

Sometimes it feels like my 8 year old is going on 18!  But other times, she's still my baby and doesn't want to grow up!  One thing that has changed with how she plays is that she loves (and I mean LOVES!) drawing designs of clothes and "things she wants to make when shes older"!

We were sent 2 craft design sets from Wooky Entertainment.  The Style Me Up Designer Sketchbook is a flip pad full of blank outlines of girls complete with stencils of various items of clothing (from shorts and skirts to sunglasses and bandanas and everything in between!).  There are pattern ideas and colour schemes and themes at the front of the pad and stickers to further adorn your daughter's masterpiece.

My daughter was very impressed with the set and has designed outfits for all of our future outings (including a family wedding... maybe!)... we may need a trip to the fabric wholesaler and dust off my sewing machine as she's itching for these creations to come to life!

There are different themes to each sketchbook available - Pink & Black, Rock Star, Summer Crush, Graphic Tees, to name a few.  Have a look at the website here where you can create a profile and make further designs online.  Or pop over to their Facebook page here, say hello and keep up with the latest products and future fashion designers!

The other craft design set that we received was a Button Weave Jewellery set... an array of buttons, diamante stickers and cords with a set of earring findings.  So now I have my very own CP-styled earrings for the upcoming wedding!

The fastening and threading was a little bit fiddly for my daughter  but she is at the lower end of the age range that these products are aimed at (aged 8+).  There are plenty of buttons and cord in the set to make a pair of earrings and a necklace with some left over - there's nothing worse than running out of something which has kept your child entertained for ages.. and they "have" to finish it!

Products from the Style Me Up range can be purchased from John Lewis and other retailers; with prices starting at just £4.99 you can be assured that a quailty craft kit and at a very reasonable price will keep your tweens entertained for hours!

Fashion designer in the making.....?  If she's happy, then I'm happy!  x

Hotdog sea monsters (& free Lego!)

I came across this idea to make cool hotdog monsters/creatures/whatever takes your fancy whilst browsing the web a couple of weeks ago - I cannot remember where I first saw them but the idea stuck in my mind as it is soooo simple...

Using cold tinned hotdogs, cut each one into 4 (or more/less depending on what size monster you would like!).  With raw spaghetti, push a spaghetti strand through the piece of hotdog lengthways... repeat with more strands for how many "legs" your monster is to have!  I broke each spaghetti strand into 2 so they were shorter than normal but it doesn't really matter how long they are - all monsters are different, right?

Place into boiling water and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the pasta has cooked through.  Drain and rinse with fresh boiling water to remove the starch - and voila, hotdog sea monsters!

We decorated them with small pieces of pepper for eyes - any small vegetables can be added to make the monsters even more scary!

Since doing this experiment, we had a further idea - a hotdog centipede using full strands of spaghetti and smaller chunks of hotdog... since my youngest has come down with the dreaded chicken pox, this will be something to try this week :)

The Lego has made an appearance as coincidently, we received a free pack of Lego in the post the same day - youngest had great fun "killing/eating" the sea monsters with assistance from the equally-scary looking Lego Ninjago character!  Thank you Mr./Mrs. Lego!

If you are/know the originator of the "hotdog sea monster" idea, please let me know and I will gladly credit them - I don't knowingly "copy" ideas, only share for the benefit of others!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Wern Mynach, Barmouth - how many flowers can we find?

Local to where we live, there's a great piece of open space known as "Wern Mynach".  Wern Mynach woodland is located in Barmouth town centre, not far from the football field.  A large area of the land surrounding Barmouth used to belong to the Cistercian monks from the Cymer Abbey, Llanelltyd.

There are number of places in Barmouth which have been named after the monks: Ynys y Brawd, Ffordd y Mynach, Bryn Mynach and many more. The monks would bring their animals to Barmouth over winter as the Wern's salty marshes was ideal grazing for them.

After the construction of the railway back in 1886, small lakes were formed at the site, and the land was given to the residents of Barmouth for their recreation by Mr Davies from Bryn Mynach. A football pitch was built on the site, and the rest of the land was made a landfill site.

In 2005, the Barmouth Environmental Conservation Group took over the site, and with funding from Cydcoed and help from Gwynedd Council and volunteers this urban green site was created. 
Hundreds of trees were planted on the site recently, including oak, apple trees, mountain ash, broom and willow. The combination of wild flowers, old trees, the fruit of the thorn and the mountain ash attracts a wild range of flies, birds and animals.
The Wern Mynach area had a total revamp - the work involved the local community coming together and clearing the site, dealing with invasive species, and planting trees and a wild flower meadow.  Local school children also were very busy setting up bird boxes and planting trees and bulbs. 

A professional artist was commissioned - Wern Mynach has a green oak sculpture by Jony Easterby of the tall ship once built in Barmouth.  We call this "the pirate ship" and my children love playing pirates, baddies and sea monsters in and around it.

But the purpose of this visit was not to catch the pirates but to see how many different coloured flowers we could find... so here goes...

We found many more flowers than expected and so it proves if you look closely, you will find lots of secrets and surprises!  We often go for a walk along the paths at Wern Mynach - blackberry picking in early September is a favourite of my children... anything that gives us all a bit of fresh air and wears the children out is good for me!

The background historical information has been taken from the Gwynedd Council website here.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

"All I Really Need To Know" by Robert Fulghum

I first heard this poem over 16 years ago and it still means a lot to me now.  It really struck a chord with me, I'll never forget it and I think we all should think carefully about it's words and meanings.  

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. 

Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school. 

These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
Everything you need to know is there somewhere. 
The Golden rule and love and basic sanitation. 
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of these items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

And this picture from the London 2012 Olympics sums it up completely...

One day maybe we'll live in a world of peace... maybe...

Ainsley Harriott BBQ & Cous Cous Pack Review

A couple of weeks ago, we reviewed some Ainsley Harriott Spice Sensation cous cous and following on from this, I was given the opportunity to review a great BBQ pack and various flavours of cous cous, again from Ainsley Harriott foods.

We were thrilled to receive this pack with the recipes and ingredients to make some lovely recipes for BBQ eating and of course, lots of different cous cous' (cous cous's, cous couses, cous cousi - please correct me and let me know which you think is right!).  Actually, it would have been easier to write "packs of cous cous"!

Well, anyway, grammar aside, the pack was fantastic and the recipes went down a treat.  My family were visiting for the weekend and so to celebrate my recent exam results and the end of a busy week, we had a great BBQ all together.

One of the recipes was for marinated steak and pepper kebabs with Roasted Vegetable cous cous.  This is one of the simplest but tastiest BBQ recipes I have made. Simply marinate cubes of steak (preferably sirloin) in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a couple of crushed garlic cloves - for at least 20 minutes (or overnight in the fridge).  I was a bit pushed for time - as always! - and so only marinated for about 40 minutes and the flavour was fantastic so don't worry if you haven't planned very far ahead and are having an impromtpu BBQ!
Thread onto soaked wooden BBQ skewers alternating with squares of peppers (any colour) and onion, if you want, and BBQ for about 10 minutes turning frequently.

Everyone was impressed with the kebabs and they complemented the Roasted Vegetable cous cous perfectly.  In fact, the recipe was taken home by some of the BBQ-ers for furture reference! 

The other recipe was for a kofta-style kebab spiced with garam masala, cumin and spring onion bound together with Greek yoghurt.    Previously, every time I have made these types of kebabs, they always fall off the skewer but these definitely held on tight and so for me, forget the egg to bind the meat together - Greek yoghurt all the way!  These were cooked on a supermarket disposable BBQ - nothing fancy! - and you can see how good the kebabs looked when cooked.

Cous cous is a great addition to any BBQ - it goes with any meat and/or vegetable main meal and with the array of flavours on offer, there's always something to please everyone.  From fruity lemony flavours to spicy aromatic flavours you will be spoilt for choice.  As reported in the last review, cous cous has great nutritional benefits and a low GI to keep your energy levels steady throughout the day.

I also have a secret confession, I had a slight infatuation with Ainsley a few years ago. I saw him present "Ready, Steady, Cook" at the BBC Good Food show in Birmingham and since then have though him to be fantastic!   So I was extra pleased to receive the hamper and goodies from him... but my children don't get the fascination with Ainsley - they just loved the great picnic basket and green ribbon that tied the utensils together!

Even Lucy the dog came and enjoyed the al fresco eating... but she didn't have any cous cous - just not her thing! 

Let's hope our summer stays sunny and enjoy eating tasty BBQ treats - next time why not try a new flavour of cous cous?  Or an easy BBQ party game - guess the flavour of the cous cous!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Discovery Mexican Fajita Recipe Kit Review

Another parcel popped through my door the other day... another great product from Discovery Foods!  We have reviewed one of their fajita kits before - the Mexican BBQ flavour - but this time we received the orginal Mexican flavour.  Now, this one has a bit more of a "kick" and is more suited to my taste buds!  It is still family-friendly though as my children happily ate the fajitas, although some may find it too spicy for their children... mine are used to eating spicy foods and we always encourage them to at least try whatever we eat and it has not done them any harm yet!

Again, the kit contains the spice mix, tortilla wraps and a tomato salsa.  It's very quick and easy to make  - a simple one-pan meal which means for me, less washing up and more time for playing with the kids, walking the dog, blogging, etc,etc!!!

We served the fajitas with a simple side salad but would also be complemented by some spicy potato wedges or curly fries (my youngest's favourite at the moment - but I don't mind too much as he doesn't like chips at all!)

You can also buy the spice mixes separately - I think chicken and kidney beans stir-fried with the spice mix and served with boiled rice would make a lovely Mexican alternative to chilli con carne.  You could even just use mixed beans and vegetables for a great vegetarian alternative.  The flavours of the spice mix are strong enough to hold their own in a recipe and so would be compatible with almost anything!

Keep your eye on the Discovery Foods Facebook page for updates and news; and don't forget Freebie Friday!

Have a look in your local supermarket for the full range of recipe kits - the new sized boxes fit great on the shelf and in your cupboard, using less cardboard and so reducing their (and your!) carbon footprint!

And, never fear, if you can't find what you want in your local supermarket, you can now order Discovery products online here via Discovery Foods Direct.  Now there's no excuse for an empty store cupboard as delivery is usually made within 48 hours of the order being placed!  With the warm weather back with us, get planning your Mexican party evenings and share the Mexican love!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Love Your Library!

Every summer, libraries all over the UK run a summer reading scheme for school age children.  The summer holidays can be a loooong break for the children (and parents!) and so a weekly trip to the library offers some structure to the time you have together and the children can gain rewards as they go along the story journey!

Each year has a different theme - this year the title is "Story Lab" ("Lab Straeon" yn Gymraeg!).  With each visit to the library, they receive a small prize and stickers to add to the chart to show their progress through the bronze, silver and gold stages.  My children love to receive the medal and certificate at the end of the challenge - for us, this is usually presented at school in a special assembly when they have started the new term in September.

There is a website linked to the scheme - this provides additional fun and educational activities.  There is not a reading list as such, but the "Book Sorter" on the webiste is a handy way of encouraging your child to read something different but that has been recommnded and is age appropriate.

The scheme is free to join and is supported by The Reading Agency, Welsh Books Council and the Welsh Government - this year it is also part of the London 2012 Festival.

With the summer holidays now in full swing, why not try your library for ideas?  It's (usually) free to join, there's a wealth of information and books just waiting for you to have access to and you never know, you may learn something new yourself whilst browsing for books.

Keeping children reading throughout the summer holidays is important to continue their education.  It is a sad fact that children read less now than years ago, but with free schemes like this one there's no excuse to not join in!  They will be keeping up with their learning without realising as they can choose the books they wish to borrow and so keep themselves interested in the process.

Currently on the Story Lab website, there's a competition running where your child can finish a story that has been started by various children's authors... my eldest has decided which one she is going to complete so watch this space for the fairytale ending to a never heard before story!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Carrot Cake Disaster!

I love carrot cake (without raisins/sultanas!) and when my youngest decided that we needed to use up some carrots using the "whizzy machine" - read food processor! - I looked for a quick and easy recipe on the Internet.  I usually make carrot cake baked in a loaf tin and top with sweet cream cheese or similar but I came across a different method cooked in the microwave for a really quick and easy carrot cake.  From ingredients to cake in 10 minutes flat, yes please!

The recipe is here as found on the BBC Food website - now, I am not criticising the recipe or website in any way as I often use BBC Food for recipes ideas and inspiration... but let me tell you, my "cake" was nothing to boast about!  I knew it would never be a "pretty" cake for decorating and I knew it would be similar to a steamed sponge because of how it was cooked but I'll let you judge for yourselves....

The transferring from deep microwave dish to serving plate was my stumbling block I think(!), on the plus side, it tasted lovely and when partially hidden/covered with custard... job well done!  So it just shows you, following a recipe to the dot can still result in unexpected results!  I blame my microwave... well, I have to blame something!  Back to the longer but more reliable method of ovens and loaf tins for me!

Following this unsuccessful "bake", we went on to make apple pie as well and I'm pleased to say this looked much more appetising and went down a treat.  I still have some carrots and apples left so it will be apple crumble and "proper" carrot cake on tomorrow's schedule!

Now it's your turn to own up, have you had any kitchen disasters you'd like to share with us?  You can remain anonymous....!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Win a short break for 2 adults and 2 children!!!

As promised, to mark the 1st of August (still summer, somewhere!) we have a great new competition!  You could win a short break (2 nights - mid week or weekend) for 2 adults and 2 children at Crystal House Hotel in Barmouth, North Wales!  Total prize value of upto £168!

Crystal House Hotel is a family run bed and breakfast is situated a stones throw from Barmouth's award winning beaches and the hotel enjoys the fantastic scenery which Cardigan Bay, Barmouth and the Snowdonian Mountains have to offer.

For those who have never experienced the pleasure of a holiday in Barmouth, and frequent visitors there is something for everyone. The clean and safe sandy beaches are never overcrowded even in the peak of summer; there is enough room for everyone.  If your family enjoy crabbing then pick yourself up a line and bait from the harbour and join the young and young at heart on the harbours edge catching and comparing their crustaceans.

For the more energetic, Barmouth is full of opportunities for activity holidays. There are an abundance of walks in and around the town. Walk through the Old Town climbing to the top of Dinas Olau for spectacular views of Cardigan Bay Barmouth and the Mawddach Estuary. Alternatively walk across Barmouth Bridge to Morfa Mawddach Station and follow the former railway track along the river bank to Penmaenpool. Above all else, Barmouth has a unique charm and this little fishing village turned seaside resort has really stood the test of time.

Today, thanks to the dedication of locals and visitors alike the town thrives as it has since it rose to popularity in the early 1900's. An extensive annual calender of events and festivals means that often there is always something new to see and do in this beautiful coastal resort.

Barmouth also has a market every Thursday & Sunday (Sunday only between April & September). Barmouth enjoys a remarkably mild climate which makes it a ideal location for out of season visits at any time of the year. Crystal House is ideally situated to explore the wonderful coastline of Cardigan Bay and the Llyn Peninsula.

For a scenic day out the coastal train line is perfect for groups of adults and families alike. Barmouth train station, only 100 metres from Crystal House has a regular service both north, towards the beautiful Llyn Peninsula or south over Barmouth Bridge towards the unspoilt seaside village of Aberdovey; an area full of character. Steam railway enthusiasts are particularly well catered for in this area. There are approximately 13 steam railway sites within an hours drive from Crystal House - all a great day out for adults and children.

An easy competition to enter for all - complete the Rafflecopter entry below and good luck!

The winner will be responsible for their own travel arrangements and spending money.  See Rafflecopter for full T&C's.

This competition has been listed on ThePrizeFinder - UK Competitions and Loquax.

a Rafflecopter giveaway