Monday, 30 November 2015

Limited Edition range of Midnight Blend Juice Drinks from J2O

What flavours and smells do you associate with Christmas? For me it would be the resinous smell of the Nordman Fir, spices and oranges. The combination of these three aromas always takes me back to my childhood days. An orange studded with cloves would be placed in the dining-room and slowly release its beautiful aroma. New Limited Edition range of Midnight Blend Juice Drinks from J2O made me think of those days with a bit of nostalgia.
There are two new blends - J2O Midnight Forest and J2O Midnight Amber. These juice drinks are festive and seasonal, both in flavour and design.
Think zesty and juicy fruit, warming spices, an indulgent hint of chocolate, mmm...

J2O Midnight Amber is a refreshing blend of orange and lemon juices with an added winter spice flavour.
You can find it exclusively in Marstons, Greene King and Fullers pubs. 
It is great that this drink is available in pubs, so that if you're a designated driver, you don't feel like you're missing on a festive drink anymore. Though I'd like to see it in supermarkets as well, as I'm not really a pub goer. 

J2O Midnight Forest is another juice blend of the season. This drink is a mix of real orange and cherry fruit juices with a hint of chocolate flavour. I love the combination of cherry and chocolate, it's always a winner, if you ask me.  The drink has a lovely dark colour.

This blend should be available in all major supermarkets. Stock up for your Christmas parties. It will be a big hit with all chocoholics. The chocolate flavour is not overpowering, but subtle.

Both bottles look stylish and festive. I was impressed with the new design. The bottles have been jazzed up with seasonal images. There are woodland scenes with a deer and birds as well as the ballet scenes, which is another trip down the memory lane. Every New Year's eve I used to watch the most beautiful animation of The Nutcracker, with its glorious music by Tchaikovsky. Even now, every time I hear The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy or Waltz of the Flowers, I feel like dancing along, just like I did, when I was in primary school.

I haven't tried these blends in cocktails, but J2O has emailed me a couple of inspiring cocktail recipes, which I reproduce here with their kind permission.
If you try these recipes, do let me know what you thought.

Midnight Martini. Image credits: J2O

For something slightly adventurous, why not try making a Midnight Martini for a devious take on a classic cocktail;

Midnight Martini ingredients:
·         ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest
·         50ml Red Vermouth (Martini Rossi)
·         1 orange zest crown
Midnight Martini recipe:
·         Fill a highball glass with ice cubes
·         Pour in ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest
·         Add a 50ml measure of Red Vermouth
·         Stir and garnish with an orange zest crown

Cherry Charm. Image credits: J2O

If you’re looking for something a little more indulging, the Cherry Charm cocktail is a naughty treat on a cold winter night;
Cherry Charm ingredients:
·         ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest
·         100ml hot water
·         3 spoons of hot chocolate powder
·         Double cream or pouring cream
·         Chocolate shavings
Cherry Charm recipe:
·         Mix the chocolate powder with hot water in a tall latte glass
·         Pour in ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds
·         Serve with a layer of cream to fill the glass to the rim
·         Garnish with chocolate shavings

Disclosure: I received samples of Limited edition J2O drinks for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Filipino-style banana chutney

A couple of days ago as Eddie and I were leaving his school, we noticed a small table laden with free fruit on offer, the leftovers from what the kids didn't choose to eat at their snack time. I picked a small bag of bananas, thinking that I would bake a banana cake or bread. Then once we got home, I decided I'd rather do a banana chutney. Having googled, I came across an intriguing-sounding recipe for Filipino-style banana chutney on The Guardian's Readers' recipe swap.
It has been submitted by Marmaduke Scarlet, a blogger who has lots of delightful recipes on her blog.
I couldn't find this particular recipe on her blog, so I'm pointing you in the direction of The Guardian's page (see the link above).
First of all, I liked the idea that you can make a small batch. If you don't like it, not a big problem, you are not surrounded by dozens of jars of preserves which are not to your liking. You get enough for two small Kilner jars.
Its ingredients include 5 mashed bananas, an onion, chilli, garlic, fresh ginger, turmeric and allspice, sultanas and cider vinegar, rum (I used Malibu), soy sauce, tomato puree and sea salt.
The recipe is very easy follow and doesn't take too long.

I made the chutney yesterday, and tried it today with a ham sandwich. Let me tell you, it's terrific. I am definitely going to make more of this chutney.
It will make a lovely Christmas gift too. It goes well with the ham, and I imagine will be great with any cold meat. Or with a cheese board. It might not be a looker: as you can imagine, mashed banana doesn't look especially attractive, but let not this fact deter you. It has a wonderful taste.
I wonder if I can prettify it slightly by adding chopped stem ginger instead of the grated fresh one.
If you're looking for a more unusual chutney recipe, look no further. This recipe is a keeper.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Photo diary: week 48, 365

Christmas is nearly here, so why are most of the local shop windows display the abysmal black outfits?! It's becoming a joke. I want to see some colour and sparkle, not the dull clothes. Did I miss something? Is it some kind of a fashion statement? I walked in town with my camera, talking one photo of black-dressed mannequins after another. If I am not feeling lazy, I'll put them on my blog.

Giggling Eddie, sleepyhead who refuses to sleep, claiming he's not that tired.

On Tuesday I met with my friend Deb and her lovely little man in a Sainsbury's cafe for a cup of coffee and a good old chin wag. While her son was happily doing the stickers in the magazine I brought with me for him, we discussed school, kids, coming Christmas. And I had my first mince pie of the season.

I'm sure I have a photo from Wednesday on my mobile, but it's run out of battery, so cannot check right now. I have more photos of mannequins on my camera taken on Wednesday, but one photo of them is probably enough for one post.

Thursday was the Thanksgiving day. Our older son was born in the States, and though we don't really celebrate the Thanksgiving, I fancied baking one of the American pies. The pumpkin pie didn't quite appeal to my guys, so I baked a honey pie instead. I loved the filling, but wasn't so keen on the pastry. Next time it will be a Jus-Rol again.

This week I have been making lots of different chutneys, including this festive apple and raisin chutney with spices and grappa.

Today was a bit of a miracle day for us. Since last Christmas Sasha has been purposefully avoiding the company of his younger brother, and it's been very difficult to do anything together as a family. In fact we hardly did anything together recently, apart from our week in Cornwall. I didn't notice how it started this morning, but Eddie was playing with Sasha, and instead of escaping upstairs to the safety of his room, Sasha was smiling and playing along. They kept jumping and running from room to room, and I tried to follow with my camera. The photos I took are pretty wobbly and out of focus, but you can see them together and smiling. That is truly a Christmas miracle.

Scalextric: My First Scalextric

Two weeks ago our Eddie was baptised. After the ceremony we invited his Godparents and guests for lunch. While I was pottering about in the kitchen, my son and his friend set up My First Scalextric to play. Even my older son, who usually ignores his younger brother's games, was very interested and played later when our guests left.

We have already tested this game a few days before, and Eddie loved it. He is quite competitive and wants his car to win all the time.
Image credits: Scalextric

We have heard of Scalextric, but we haven't bought any sets before. My First Scalextric is an introduction to the world of Scalextric racing for kids aged 3+. This set features a simple figure-of-eight racing track, two cars and hand controllers.
The hand controllers are colour-coded so that you know exactly which car you are racing. You can adjust the speed of the racing, depending on the skill level of the player.

This set has been designed for the younger children.
How easy is it to set up? The first time I assembled the track myself, while Eddie helped. Afterwards he did it on his own, as you can see from the photo (he slightly mixed up the track colours, but it still worked).

Eddie and his friend P were very proud that they managed to change the shape of the track.

They were joined by the grown-up "boys" who seemed to be very eager to have a go too. As my husband has later commented, "This game was a huge success". And so it was.

As I was finishing this post, I saw that Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews has posted her review of My First Scalextric, and wanted to see what she has to say about it. Looks like her trio has enjoyed this set as much as we did.
I have also noticed that there is quite a few critical reviews on amazon, but as I'm talking about our experience, I can only say that we didn't have any issues with the set. Yes, the cars occasionally went off the track, but we thought it was part of the fun, and didn't mind it.

My First Scalextric is fully compatible with the full range of Micro Scalextric sets and cars, so that you can extend the track as well as add some new cars. Guess who is going to get more Scalextric for Christmas?!

Disclosure: We received the set for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my family's and mine.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Divine Chocolate Advent Calendars

"Mummy, is it December yet?", asks my younger son every morning. And every morning I tell him that he needs to wait a little bit more. He cannot wait to start opening his advent calendars. This year I've even treated myself to a grown-up beauty advent calendar. And of course, we'll be opening chocolate advent calendars. They have been in the shops for over a month, and the choice is vast. If you still haven't made up your mind which chocolate advent calendar to choose, may I gently push you in the direction of Divine Chocolate Advent Calendars?!

I've been a big fan of Divine chocolate for several years. Not only they have an impressive range of delicious chocolate, their ethical credentials are very inspiring too.
As you know, Divine Chocolate is the farmer-owned chocolate company. Its chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a co-op of smallholder farmers in Ghana. These are people who take great pride in the company they co-own.
I always enjoy reading the newsletter from Divine, with the most inspiring stories. And if I spend a tad too much on Divine chocolate, I can always say that I'm supporting the cocoa growers, so it's for a good cause.

RSPB's Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar has been created as a result of partnership between Divine Company and the RSPB. This delightful advent calendar presents a scene of a snowy woodland. Open the little doors and discover the cute wildlife characters behind each door.

Eddie and I were sampling two different Divine calendars and sharing with the family and friends. We all enjoy good chocolate, and this calendar was a big hit with everyone. We loved the little chocolate birds and animals. The milk chocolate is creamy, smooth and melt-in-the-mouth.
The woodland scene is so sweet, and reminded me of the animal tales I used to enjoy as a child.
A lovely gift for both wildlife and chocolate lovers alike indeed.

There is another Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar from Divine, which ticks all the boxes. It is festive and brings a Christian message by retelling the Nativity story. Every door you open, tells you a line of the well-known story.

This calendar has been illustrated by Stephen Waterhouse. It depicts not a Biblical scene but a modern school Nativity performance, with the children playing the parts and parents clapping hands in delight. Just look at the adorable donkey and camel, says a Mum of a child whose claim to fame was to be a cow in the Nursery Nativity performance, and this year he's a Diamond (a part without words, as you can imagine).

All chocolate hearts are made of creamy smooth milk chocolate. And I loved that this advent retold the Nativity. You can say, it's not just a tasty gift, but also educational.
Go on, treat your kids or yourself!

Disclosure: I received two chocolate advent calendars for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my family's and mine.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Häagen-Dazs giveaway (c/d 15 December 2015)

A tub of a good ice cream is one of the pleasures of life. Even if you're completely and totally stuffed after a heavy meal, there's always place for a bit of ice cream.
What does ice cream mean to you? Which memories does it bring? As you might know I grew up in Russia. We had snow for almost half of the year, but this didn't stop us enjoying an ice cream. I remember I loved eating an ice cream outdoors, when the temperatures would be below zero. And by below zero I don't mean some measly couple of degrees. I'm sure it was bloody very cold, but I remember eating the ice cream and laughing my socks off with the friends, running outside our block of apartments.
My love affair with the ice cream continues. And Haagen-Dasz is one of our favourite brands.

In the recent years it has been creating fantastic limited edition Christmas cakes. You might have seen a recent competition on Facebook to win this piece of food art. I missed it by the day. Why didn't anyone tag me?

Advent cake. Image credits: Haagen-Dazs

Haagen-Dazs says:
 "In recent years, Häagen-Dazs has been celebrating their tradition of craftsmanship and ice cream expertise by  delighting the world  with  exquisite, limited edition Christmas cakes, each one of which is masterfully crafted by the chef pâtissier in Häagen-Dazs’ Paris flagship store on the Champs-Élysées
Now in its 8th year, Häagen-Dazs is proud to collaborate with one of the greatest interior designers of our time, Paola Navone, to ensure that 2015’s Christmas cake goes down in memory as one of the most stunning examples of gastronomic design ever seen.

Navone, who is originally from Turin, Italy, but now resides in Paris, is famous around the world for her avant-garde style and attention to nuances of colour and texture. It is for this reason that the partnership with Häagen-Dazs, who are known for their deliciously smooth ice cream and quality ingredients, is so well-matched.

When she proposed her design for an edible advent calendar, she and the Häagen-Dazs pâtissiers had to overcome quite the technical challenge: 31 pillars of ice cream to represent the 31 days from 1st December to New Year’s Eve. What’s more, in order to make it something truly special they agreed on a sumptuous white chocolate coating, velvety base and ice cream hidden inside each pillar. The two pillars that are designed to represent Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve stand above the rest and are covered in either edible gold or edible silver leaf.

The Häagen-Dazs Advent Calendar by Paola Navone comes in two flavours: Dark Chocolate & Almond and Macadamia Nut Brittle & Dulce de Leche. Just 35 cakes will be available in the UK, some of which will be available to win via a competition on Häagen-Dazs’ social media channels in December"

Image credits: Haagen-Dazs

Italians are well known for their exquisite fashion style as well as the most gorgeous ice cream, so asking Paola Navone to create a cake for Haagen-Dazs was a brilliant idea.
I don't know how much this cake costs, but imagine it is pretty pricey.
If I won a lottery, I'd treat my family and friends to this stupendous creation.


And while I am not able to offer this masterpiece of ice cream art as a prize to my blog readers, don't go away yet.
Lovely people at Haagen-Dazs have kindly offered a giveaway prize for my blog.

You have a chance to win 5 x £5 vouchers, enough to buy 5 tubs of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Now that's a lovely treat not just for Christmas. I wonder what flavours will you choose? Vanilla or chocolate, or any other form a wide range of flavours?

To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Rafflecopter form.

Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances).
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will contact them, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.
Please don't forget to leave a comment (What is your favourite ice cream flavour?), as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.
If you login as Anon or Unknown, please leave some clue to your identity, either your name or Twitter handle, so that I know who has commented.
The prize will be posted by the brand directly.
The giveaway will close on 15 December 2015 (at midnight)

Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sudocrem #SaveChristmas competition

This photo of my then 4-months' old Eddie popped earlier this morning as a TimeHop image on Facebook. Eddie's now 5 (going on 13, if you ask me, as he's got opinions on everything). Those cute coat and hat from Next have been passed on to another little boy in Russia, though I do keep the handmade blue blanket which was knitted by my friend Joanne. Time truly flies. It might be a cliched expression but it's spot on. Where did all these years go?!
Thankfully the days of the nappies are over for us, as I was thinking today, looking at the new Facebook #SaveChristmas competition run by Sudocrem.

The Nappy Rash Gremlins are coming and it is up to Sudocrem fans to
#SaveChristmas, in return for some spectacular prizes!
In a mobile friendly, fun game, users have to tackle the Nappy Rash Gremlins who are
coming to ruin Christmas. Parachuting from the sky, the Gremlins are looking to get
down chimneys and put a stop to the Christmas spirit. Prizes include Amazon Kindle
Fires and Amazon vouchers, plus prizes from Miffy, Milton, Aquabeads and many,
many more.
There are also thousands of exclusive discount vouchers to be won throughout the
game. So what are you waiting for? Break those parachutes to save the day and earn
To find out what’s in the nappy, all entrants have to do is:
1. Find Sudocrem on Facebook ( and “Like” the
2. Click on the ‘Save Christmas’ app
3. Beat the Nappy Rash Gremlins and avoid the presents to earn points
4. If a user scores 40 points in the 60 second time limit, users will have the chance
to win an instant prize
5. Entrants can play every day and earn extra goes too!

Launch: 23rd November 2015
End date: 11.59pm 31st December 2015

Good luck to you all!

Disclosure: I received vouchers as a Thank you for spreading the word about this competition and Infacol competition.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Sealy Zonal Support Pillow

Some people are very lucky. They can easily fall asleep while watching a video on their ipad.

... or nod off in the middle of a story (now perhaps the story was sleep-inducing)...

...or even manage to snooze while still standing...

These are lucky people who will sleep through a thunderstorm and an earthquake. And then there's me, who keeps tossing and turning, even on a quiet night when nobody wakes me up.
What does a perfect night's sleep mean to you? Is it a quiet night (no snoring partner or a baby who starts to sleep through the night for the first time)? A cool room and cozy warm bed socks (my Mum keeps her bedroom window open even when the temperature is below zero)? Fresh bedlinen with a lovely smell?
I love to be tucked in with a few little cushions around me, and even take a couple of very small ones with me when we travel. Pillows and duvets play an important part in our sleeping routine.
An uncomfortable pillow can really ruin the night. The hotel pillows are usually the bane of my life. I remember one night in Naples, when I tried to sleep and kept sliding off the ginormous pillows in fake silk pillowcases. I ended up sleeping without a pillow, with my head on a folded towel, as it was the only way I could sleep.
I also like my rather old pillow, which is quite low but still comfy.
Recently Sleepy Pillow got in touch with me, asking if I'd like to try their Pillow Selector Tool in order to find a perfect pillow for me. They know, that as a busy parent, I do value my sleep. This tool asks a few simple questions and helps you identify what sort of sleeper you are, and what's the best pillow for you.

Image credits: Sleepy People

The right choice of pillows plays an important part in providing the necessary support to our bodies.
Sleepy People say that "there's no point getting everything else right - from the firmness of your mattress to the warmth of your duvet - and then sleeping in such a way that you wake up with a stiff neck or sore back because your pillow is wrong".
Following the online Pillow Selector Tool, I discovered that there are several pillows which might help me get the best possible night's sleep.
To find out if I'd sleep better with the right pillow, I have chosen a Sealy Zonal Support Pillow.

I have chosen it as it offers extra firm support. I prefer firm pillows, and don't like soft pillows. It's curious how my preferences have changed. In my childhood I was used to humongous soft pillows. My grandma and aunt used to send us those homemade beasties which were square, big and fluffy. And I loved them.
But with years, I changed my habits, and my current pillow is firm and thin.

Sealy Zonal Support Pillow is a compact dense extra firm support pillow. It is specially designed with tubular foam insert at the base for a gentle neck support and is engineered to hold its shape perfectly.
Its cover is 100% cotton, while the filling is 100% polyester with 100% polyurethane foam.
It is meant to be great for side sleepers like me.

First impressions: it is solid and firm. One side is slightly higher.
I wasn't able to start using it immediately, as for some reason my younger son decided this was his new pillow, and I let him use it for a couple of nights. He pronounced it very comfy.

I have been using it for over a week now. To start with, this is a great pillow for reading in bed. As my old pillow is too flat, I had to prop it up with cushions to be able to read. The new support pillow does just that, it supports the neck. I found it slightly difficult to fall asleep on the first couple of nights, as I am used to a much lower and flatter pillow. Once I got adjusted to my new pillow, it does feel comfy and offers a good rest. It's also true that my neck and spine are not as stiff in the morning.

What kind of pillow do you prefer?

Disclosure: I received a support pillow for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine (and Eddie's, of course).

Infacol Challenge Game

Advent competitions are starting soon. Cannot wait, my fingers are already twitching in anticipation. I have been entering the advents for many years, and though I haven't won anything spectacular, I usually win a couple of prizes. But with the avalanche of advents, don't forget about the other festive competitions.

Today I wanted to alert you to a Facebook competition run by Infacol, a brand which many parents know well as it's a medication for the treatment of wind, infant colic and griping pain. Apologies for a gratuitous photo of newborn Eddie, but this little guy was a very colicky baby, and Infacol was one of the brands we used, trying to help him.

Have you already discovered the Infacol Challenge Game on Facebook?

Infacol is offering fans the chance to WIN some top baby
prizes in their brand new Facebook game!
In a brand new Facebook game, users are invited to take on the Infacol Challenge in
return for BIG prizes from Phil & Teds (worth over £500) and Venture Studies.
Based on a mobile friendly Facebook app, the Infacol Challenge asks users to
navigate there way through two exciting games. The first is the tricky dropper
challenge, which demands that users use the dropper to hit the target. The second
game is a frantic bubble buster where users must tap the bubbles in the baby’s
tummy before the timer is up. Only those who complete the challenge in the set time
of 80 seconds will have a chance of winning.

Terms & Conditions apply.
To enter, all users have to do is:
1. Find Infacol on Facebook ( and “Like” the page
2. Click on the ‘Infacol Challenge’ app
3. Users must then take on Infacol Challenge
4. If the user beats the clock and completes both games in under 80 seconds,
then they will be entered into an instant prize draw!
5. Entrants can play every day and earn extra goes too!
Key dates
Launch: 18th November 2015
End date: 11.59pm 31st December 2015

I have tried the game, but I'm totally rubbish at it. My ancient laptop and a vintage mouse don't do fast. Maybe I could try to have a go with my ipad. I don't have a baby anymore (sob), but one of my friends has recently had the cutest little boy, and I'd love to surprise them with a prize. So, I'll keep trying and keeping my fingers crossed. 
And good luck to you all too!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Lemon, coconut & white chocolate truffles

Listening to Classis FM, sipping a cup of tea, I was busy, rolling white chocolate truffles in a heap of shredded coconut. Now that is a very pleasant activity. Christmas is still a few weeks ahead, but I have been testing some festive recipes and sampling seasonal food. My family and friends are as always my willing guinea pigs.
The recipe for :Lemon, coconut & white chocolate truffles was sent to me by Rachel' Organic, and I reproduce it on my blog with a kind permission from them.

Chocolate mass chilled overnight

230g white chocolate
190ml double cream
180g Rachel’s Greek Style Lemon Yogurt
30g unsalted butter
200g desiccated coconut and 1tbsp for the truffle mixture
10g freeze dried raspberries (or strawberries)
2 drops of lemon oil or flavouring

Makes: 24 -30 truffles
Preparation & Cooking Time: 20 minutes plus overnight chilling
1.Melt the chocolate in an ovenproof bowl over a pan of simmering water on a low heat. When melted, remove from the heat and leave it to cool slightly.
2.Quickly add the cream, yogurt and melted butter, and beat with a spatula or wooden spoon until smooth.
3.Stir in 1 tablespoon of desiccated coconut, the dried raspberry pieces, add a couple of drops of lemon oil for extra flavour and mix well.
4.Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place in the fridge to set and chill overnight.
5.When ready to roll your truffles remove the bowl from the fridge. Take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll into a ball between your palms.
6.Roll each truffle in the desiccated coconut and place in a petit four case, then place on a tray or plate and chill again.
7.Serve at room temperature.
TIP: Truffles will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for 1 week.

I couldn't find any freeze dried raspberries, and used freeze dried strawberries instead. Otherwise I have followed the recipe as it is given above.
I found the mini-muffin paper cases in Lakeland.
Rachel’s Greek Style Lemon Yogurt is a delicious yogurt, and it was an inspired idea to add it to the truffles.

We loved the taste of these truffles. The combination of white chocolate, lemon yogurt and coconut works very well. If I may suggest a minor improvement it would be to increase the amount of white chocolate to 3 bars (300g), or reduce the amount of yogurt. Even after staying in the fridge overnight, the chocolate mass was too soft. The resulting truffles are more of a mousse type than a truffle. They are very very delicate.

They look elegant, and if you put them in a pretty box, will make a lovely Christmas gift for someone who loves white chocolate.

Disclosure: I received several vouchers for free tubs of Rachel's Organic yogurt, for the purposes of testing the recipe. All opinions are mine.