Saturday, 31 October 2015

Dracula pumpkin

Eddie asked me to do a Hotel Transylvania pumpkin. So here he is, our Dracula.
Happy Hallowe'en!

Friday, 30 October 2015

How did our Halloween Pumpkin Twitter party go? (party in pictures)

Frankenstein cupcakes

The hashtag #NickJrPumpkinParty has been trending this week on Twitter, and you might have joined in and entered a few competitions as well, both on Monday and today. But did you ever wonder what's it like in real life? What would you see if you were present at our Pumpkin party on Monday? If you're curious to find out, keep reading (with a warning: photos-overload).
This was our third Twitter party, organised with UKMumsTV. Before the party the bloggers receive a big bundle of crafts materials and suggestions for activities.

We invite guests and try to cram as many activities as possible in a couple of hours (by the end of which Mums are ready to have a rest).
If you are running a Twitter party, it's all a juggling act, as you entertain the guests, take photos and tweet-tweet-tweet.
Eddie and his friends had a fantastic time. Just look at my son, enjoying every minute of it.

First all the boys coloured a great set of masks and paper goodie bags. There were six masks to choose from including a witch, a Dracula, a bat, Frankenstein and more.

Boys were very good at colouring.

I like the creative approach to colouring, very unorthodox.

We played the game Put the wart on Wallykazam, which everyone found hilarious.

And of course, everyone appreciated the Frankenstein cupcakes. We received a batch of pre-baked cupcakes from Tesco. It's the first time I decorated the pre-baked cupcakes. But all boys loved them and asked for seconds.

Many thanks to UKMumsTV and NickJr for a wonderful supply of party goodies!
My son keeps asking when we're going to host the next party, as he can't wait.

Schleich Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs. Do I need to say more? They fascinate both kids and adults alike. My younger son cannot have enough of the dinosaurs. He has books, toys, DVDs, he loves watching that silly guy Andy who travels in his time-machine and hobnobs with the dinosaurs. He knows more about them than I do. As soon as the latest dinosaurs from Schleich Toys' prehistoric animals range arrived, he told me who they are.
Well, I did know that the bigger guy was a triceratops.

Triceratops might look menacing, but it was a herbivore who loved eating plants. The front part of its jaw reminds of a parrot's beak. Its three horns were made of keratin, and the top horns were nearly a metre long.
It weighed as much as a small car.
Triceratops from Schleich -as all the toys from the range - is made with great attention to detail. Just look at its textured skin or the frilly ruff.

Eddie's class is studying dinosaurs this term, and he cannot wait to take his new dino toys to school to show to his class mates and teachers.

They are beautifully made, and also durable. We have had a selection of mini dinosaurs for over half a year (see my review New Mini Dino-world from Schleich), and they still look as good as new.

The Anhanguera means "old devil" in the language of the Indians, and I can see why. It looks pretty menacing. The Anhanguera was a pterosaur with a wingspan of up to 4 metres, with a small body of around 20cm long.
It had an elongated skull and very sharp teeth.

The toy is very colourful. I wonder how did the paleontologists find out what colour they might have been?

These fabulous dino toys would make a super gift for any dinosaur fan. If you're looking for ideas for Christmas, this might be a splendid Christmas stocking gift.

For the full range of prehistoric animals, visit Schleich Toys.

Disclosure: We received two toys from the range for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Snacking for young daredevils - Yollies and Cheestrings

Midterm break couldn't come too soon. By the end of the first half-term we were all exhausted and needed a much coveted break from the school routine. Eddie's social life is extra busy, what with two birthday parties to attend (the first one was last Sunday, and I came back home half-deaf from all the screaming). We had our own Halloween Pumpkin Twitter party on Monday, when we did a lot of crafts and activities. Yesterday we had another of Eddie's friends coming for a play date. Plus, there's Halloween coming. And of course, when kids are playing together, they need some fuel to keep their energy levels up. Luckily, we had plenty of Yollies and Cheestrings to refuel our young daredevils.

Cheestrings Twisted

As our little people grow, they need a good amount of calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones and teeth. Milk, yogurt and cheese are well known sources of calcium and vitamin D.
As you might know, vitamin D is mostly found in liver, eggs and fish oils, and is essential for the absorption of calcium. My guys all hate liver, but thankfully there are other sources of vitamin D.
Cheestrings are rich in vitamin D and provide 25% of the recommended intake in just one string.
Personally I am not overly enthusiastic about their stringy texture, but these cheese snacks seem to be very popular with the younger generation. They come sealed in individual pouches, which are easy to divide and open. Very handy for lunch boxes as well as eating on the go.
The packs of Cheestrings we received for reviewing run a Star Wars' promotion. Each pack has 4 free Star Wars trading cards inside, and there are 60+ cards to collect. Star Wars are taking over at the moment, you'll find their merchandise in most shops, which I imagine pleases Star Wars' fans immensely.

While we knew Cheestrings well enough, I haven't heard of Yollies until recently. Hello, where have you been hiding?! If like me, you don't know what Yollies are, they are amusing yogurt lollies for kids.

Yollies are the latest addition to the Kerry Dairy range. Just like Cheestrings, Yollies are a great source of calcium and vitamin D. They are made of extra-thick fruity yogurt and come in three flavours: strawberry, apricot and raspberry.

We loved the design, each yolly comes in a plastic "shirt" depicting a different character. Eddie loves their funny faces.

Inside each Yolly you will find a collectable stick with a letter stamped on it. Collect all the letters and spell words.
There are no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. They are also mess-free, and would be very handy to carry with you as a snack on the go.

Yollies are perfect for snacking, or like Eddie likes to put it "gobbling it all up". They are healthy, funky and have a big appeal for kids like my younger son. We have also offered them to our guests, and most of them loved them (except one who didn't like the texture, as he's used to "normal" runny yogurt).
Eddie likes them a lot, and once our supplies end, I'll have to find them. We'd also love to try an apricot flavour.
You can find promotional packs at the moment: when you enter codes from two packs at Brave Bones Club, you get a free talking keyring. You bet, we have already applied for one.

If you are running out of ideas how to entertain your kids during the midterm break, head over to Brave Bones Club and Netmums for playtime inspiration.

Disclosure: We received a selection of Yollies and Cheestrings for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Crab, lemon and cheese souffle (The Cornish house)

I feel affinity with Cornwall, and bought the Cornwall-inspired trilogy by Liz Fenwick purely on the basis of its titles. I knew nothing about the author or her novels. I really wanted to like The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick. I truly did.
I liked the cover illustration, the blurb sounded mildly interesting too.
I found the setting fascinating, an old house with a sad history, which keeps repeating in the devastating lives of its inhabitants. Old houses all have a tale to tell, and Trevenen has its share of tragedies and secrets, including a ghost.
Maddie, an artist, who was recently widowed, inherits a house in Cornwall (very conveniently, as looking after her dying husband has left her with a lot of debts, so she had to sell her house in London). Her step-daughter Hannah has severe behavioural problems. The relationship between two female protagonists is at the heart of this novel.
The story was quite cliched in many aspects. There's a handsome dark Cornishman (of course! are there any other in Cornwall?!), a love interest of Maddie. And another man: a viking with chiselled jaws. Love triangle develops under a watchful eye of a hating step-daughter. Well, add the whole village to it, as apparently everybody knows everything that goes on.
The village gossips who come across you in the pharmacy exactly when you buy a pregnancy test.
Knees go week. The earth moves after a kiss under a mistletoe, etc.
The best part for me was the story of the old house.
It's the characters I had some issues with.
I felt like slapping both Maggie and her stepdaughter Hannah. Hannah, for being so obnoxious that it was becoming too tedious. Maggie, for letting her stepdaughter treat her that way. She's an adult, and she should have set the boundaries. Hannah sounds like a teenager from hell, not very believable as a character, more of a caricature, of what an evil stepchild should be like. I also found hard to believe that Maggie would go along with her dying husband's decision. If she wanted a child that much, she should not have gone through what she did.
Her new flame Mark too. Most people do mistakes in life, and have tragedies too, but that doesn't make them behave like idiots, or at least not all of them.
I wanted to know more about the house than the main protagonists, who annoyed me one by one.
Tamsin? I cannot abide nosey people who think they have a right to ask everything about your life.
I think the only character I liked was Old Tom.

Saying all that, I now moved on to the second book in the trilogy, A Cornish Affair. So far it hasn't been connected to the first novel in any way.

There were a few mentions of the food in the novel. I liked the sound of the crab souffle.

"The souffle melted in her mouth. Maddie would love to know how the chef blended the crab, lemon and cheese in such a divine way.
"The starter please you?" Gunnar smiled.
"Very much so. It's so light yet so rich. Would you like a taste?"

Crab, lemon and cheese souffle
melted butter, about 30g, enough to coat four ramekins
breadcrumbs, 2-3tbsp
crabmeat of 1 crab (over 200g)
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp butter, melted
2tbsp self-rasing flour, heaped
150ml semi-skimmed milk
150ml double cream
75g grated Grana Padano cheese
1tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
salt, pepper

First deal with the crab. I bought a ready-cooked crab from Tesco, claws and all bits and bobs still there. For a fiver it was a big beast.
It took me a while to remove the meat from all the pieces. I don't have any special kitchen tools for crab eating, as I don't buy it often, and when I do, it's already dressed, i.e. it's just a big shell filled with meat, without any legs etc. I used heavy kitchen scissors to open the claws and a wooden toothpick to get the meat out.

If you don't want all the faffle, just buy a tin of crab meat in brine though the taste won't be as good.
Butter the ramekins with the melted butter and sprinkle with fine breadcrumbs inside. Shake off the excess breadcrumbs.
In a medium sized pan melt 1tbsp of butter, then stir in the flour, cook stirring for a minute. Pour milk and cream a little bit at a time, keep stirring until you get a smooth creamy consistency. Add the zest and grated cheese, mix well. remove from the heat and beat in the egg yolks. Add the crabmeat (I used both white and dark meat) and chopped dill. Season well.
In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until all fluffy, then carefully fold the egg whites into the crab-cheese mixture.
Ladle the mixture into the ramekins.
Place the ramekins into a big baking tray and pour enough water around them about halfway up.
Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C and bake for 35+ minutes until they're golden brown and all risen.

My souffles looked pretty puffed and quite high when I took the tray out of the oven. By the time I found my camera, they went down, eeek.
One day I will bake a perfectly risen souffle and keep it that way until I serve it.

They were delicious, if not perfect in shape. I can imagine the hosts of GBBO would tut-tut at my semi-floppy souffle, but hey, my family is more forgiving.
I did read you need to add a bit of cream of tartar to the egg whites for the souffle to keep its shape better. Have you tried it? Any tips on making a perfect souffle?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Chocolate dreams with Haagen-Dazs

Chocolate Salted Caramel ice cream

The Chocolate week (October 12-18) is already a happy memory, but if you ask me, every week should be a chocolate week.
When Haagen-Dazs asked me if we'd like to try their chocolate flavours, how could I resist?! We love Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Vanilla being my family's top favourite flavour.
Mention Haagen-Dazs, and it takes me 14 years back to New Haven, Connecticut. We discovered Haagen-Dazs then. I was pregnant with Sasha, and we kept buying tubs and tubs of delicious ice cream. For some reason a tub never lasted beyond one evening.
At that time my favourite flavour was Dulce de Leche, and it probably still is, though these days I buy it rarely, as I find it too much of a temptation. If it sits in the freezer, it sort of calls to me "Eat me, eat me!"

I was curious to try the chocolate flavours and see if we should venture further from our usual Vanilla.

Chocolate Salted Caramel is a delicious combination of chocolate ice cream with salted caramel, which comes as a smooth swirl as well as pieces of caramel brittle. Our family verdict was divided. Eddie and Daddy weren't too keen on pieces of caramel in the ice cream, while I and Sash found it a tasty ice cream.
I think if you like salted caramel generally, then you'd love this ice cream.

The texture of smooth ice cream and pieces of caramel work well together, and the sweet and salty flavours are balanced well.

Belgian Chocolate, as you would it expect from its name, is made with real Belgian chocolate, not just cocoa. When you eat it, you can taste the actual pieces of chocolate (almost like grated chocolate). It is smooth, creamy and very chocolatey. Great chocolate ice cream for chocoholics. It is very rich though, I struggled a bit with my generous helping.
If you serve it as a dessert, you might want to add some fresh berries like raspberries to cut through the very rich chocolate flavour.

In my opinion, both flavours would work best in a dessert of assorted ice cream, for example, a Vanilla and Belgian Chocolate. or Chocolate Salted Caramel and Mango Sorbet.
For a purely decadent chocoholic dream serve it with a warm chocolate brownie.

What is your favourite Haagen Dazs flavour?

Disclosure: I received vouchers to buy both ice cream flavours for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Photo diary: week 43, 365

Last Sunday, as we were going grocery shopping with Eddie, we stopped for a few minutes at the book shop, where he spotted Star Wars Advent calendar. I couldn't resist his pleading looks. Now he asks every morning if it's time to open the first door of the advent.
He was cheerful and jolly during the day, only to start crying before bedtime. His ear was hurting so much, and as the doctor confirmed the next day, he got a middle ear infection.

I received a pack of Snazaroo face paints for testing as a Mumsnetter. Eddie looked through the booklet enclosed with the paints but asked me to paint a Ninja turtle mask on his face. No surprises then.

He was still very poorly on Wednesday, and spent a lot of time in bed, snuggled in a big duvet. He asked me to give him a cup of hot milk with honey.

Lego takes over our house, there are Lego pieces and minifigures everywhere, including the kitchen.

Lovely people from Bluebird often send me their latest tea releases, knowing how much I enjoy their tea. I was thrilled to receive an early Christmas gift from Santa, but then I am a good girl. Snowball tea with coconut flavour and marshmallow pieces is a delightful festive brew.

After several days of being cooped at home, we finally got out. We found this Halloween photo stand by Waitrose, and of course, we just had to have our photos taken (Eddie did one of me as well, as a skeleton, but he certainly looks much cuter).