Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Food Review - Healthy Treats from 9bar


When you need an energy boost, a 9bar really does the trick.  The wholefood bars are packed full of good stuff, like nuts, seeds and dried fruits, to deliver a great tasting and nutritious snack. I received a Cashew and Cocoa breakfast bar, an Almond and Raspberry breakfast bar, a Fruity mixed seed bar and a Pumpkin bar to try out.

healthy bars

The bars are really nutritionally dense, containing vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, and have absolutely no nasties in them.  They are approved by the Vegetarian Society and the Coeliac Society.  Their complex carbohydrates make 9bars an excellent source of energy to get you through the day, which is so much much healthier for you than grabbing a sweet snack that is high is bad fat and refined sugars.


I thought the bars were all delicious.  I love seeds so to have pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, poppy and sesame seeds all packed into one bar was a real treat.  Hemp seeds are a real superfood, containing all the essential amino acids, including the nine that are the building blocks for good health (giving 9bar its name!)  The bars are naturally sweetened with cane sugar and honey, and are packed with fibre and complex carbohydrates from their all natural ingredients.

The Almond and Raspberry Breakfast Bar reminded me of Bakewell Tart giving me a cakey fix in a healthy format!  The Fruiy bar had a carob topping which was quite indulgent.  I loved the simplicity of the Pumpkin bar with its seedy, flapjack-like texture. The Cashew and Cocoa has crunchy nuts and choc chips, for a choccy fix.

9bars are really filling and if used as part of a balanced diet provide a great energy boosting treat, with lots of nutritional benefits.  They are chewy and very satisfying to chomp on.

You can find them in Holland and Barrett, independent health food shops and in the Free From or Wholefood sections in major supermarkets.  You can also buy them online at the 9bar Shop.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Telford Town Park #countrykids

Freddy is never keen on being dragged around the shops while his sisters go clothes shopping. New Look and Primark hold zero appeal for him, whereas my girls will happily explore every rack in the shop for the latest fashion buys.  With a bored 5 year old in tow, it is hard to relax and indulge in the retail therapy that my girls so enjoy. So this weekend we reached a very welcome compromise. I took Kizzy for a girlie clothes shopping spree, while Daddy and Freddy headed into the Town Park for some boy's time together.

We are really lucky that our nearest big town Telford, which is about 16 miles from home,  has a good shopping centre as well as a great play area, connected by a new complex of restaurants, which has been built around a lake and landscaped area.  We were able to enjoy a nice lunch together, before I headed off to the shops, and Ian headed off to the town park. It's nice that we all got to enjoy a day out, whilst doing something we each enjoyed.

Ian sent me photos of my little lad having a fantastic time playing in the sand, on the giant slide and trim trail and in the water park. It is a great area and absolutely free to use.  The water park with squirting jets of water was a real hit.  Thanks to the sunny weather, Freddy was able to strip down to his vest and pants and enjoy a good soaking.  We are loving this Indian Summer!

Knowing he was happy, burning off his excess energy and having fun left Kizzy and I free to shop at our leisure. It proved a great solution to our situation and everyone was happy - just how I like it!

shropshire, days out

Saturday, 27 September 2014

After School Chefs Challenge with Birds Eye #AfterSchoolChefs

We've been slowly getting ourselves back into some sort of routine after the long, carefree summer holidays. This means I am having to be much more organised when it comes to the kids' teatime routine.  Gone are the leisurely alfresco meals or the lazy trips to our local pub for an impromptu evening meal, instead I am having to sate hungry tummies after a full day at school.  It is important to me that they get something that they really enjoy after a hard day's learning and go to bed with a full belly!

Sometimes, the teatime routine proves slightly more taxing. Delivering a nutritious meal to the children in between the school run and their after school classes means on certain days I need to be super organised and have the ingredients ready for a quick dinner. Knowing that I can rely on the frozen food in my freezer really takes the pressure off, making it so much easier to feed my hungry brood. Frozen food is just so convenient.  You don't have to peel and chop vegetables, there's nothing fiddly to contend with - it's all prepared and ready to cook.  This can be an absolute godsend to a busy parent!

Frozen veg

Making cooking and baking accessible to little ones is a great way to teach an important life skill that they will need in the future, plus it's a lovely way to enjoy some quality time with the kids. Involving them in the kitchen teaches them about the different foods, where ingredients come from and how to prepare them.  It helps with maths skills and problem solving, and also introduces them to the nutritional value of what they are eating.

cooking with kids

I am lucky that I have an 11 year old daughter Kezia who is willing to give me a hand when I need one, plus I have a 5 year old son Freddy who loves cooking up a storm in the kitchen.  Together, we make an unstoppable team of After School Chefs who can, not only whip up a tasty teatime meal, but also have some fun in the process.  Plus it's a great opportunity to chat and catch up with the goings on of their day at school.  So I love to include them in the teatime routine when I can.  Even if it's just getting them to find something in the cupboard or freezer, arrange food on a baking tray or stir the contents of a saucepan, it is lovely to get them helping out and makes them feel useful.

little chefs

My 18 year old daughter Ella has just started university and it's a great relief to me that she knows her way around a kitchen!  I don't have to worry about her going hungry or living off junk food, and I know she is a canny shopper trained to look for special offers in the supermarket.  Her cupboards and freezer at uni are well stocked! All the time spent baking and cooking with my little helpers (even when it sometimes takes twice as long to complete a task) has proven to be invaluable!

We are a family of vegetarians so for us the Birds Eye Vegetable Fingers, Potato Waffles, Mashtags, Rice Fusions and frozen vegetables are our favourite products from the brand.  It's so easy to throw the veggie fingers and waffles in the oven and boil up some peas and sweetcorn for a quick, tasty, vegetarian meal. The products are fun and child friendly so you know that the kids will be clearing their plates and leaving the table happy and full.  Or you can use the products as ingredients for recipes.  Adding a handful of frozen vegetables to stews, curries or pasta sauces is a great way to add some veg to the kids' diets.  Substitute waffles for toast and top with beans, or use instead of buns when serving burgers.  Use chopped up chunks of veggie finger to fill a pitta or wrap, just add salad.

frozen food

The kids have a favourite meal made using Birds Eye Potato Waffles, which is a wholesome and filling teatime dish.  Eggy Waffles, can be served with mixed vegetables or beans and are something the kids can really help with.

Eggy Waffles Recipe

Firstly shallow fry the waffles gently in a pan until cooked through.

teatime, Birds Eye

While they are cooking, beat two eggs and season with black pepper.  Pour the beaten egg slowly into the holes in the waffles (don't worry if the egg runs over!)

teatime, food for kids

Gently heat until the egg starts to set, then flip the Eggy Waffle to cook the other side.  

Birds Eye

Freddy added grated cheese to his and decorated it with a tomato ketchup smile!

playing with food

The Eggy Waffle can be enjoyed on it's own or served with vegetables or beans for a delicious meal.  Freddy absolutely loved his eggy waffle, with the added cheese, which melted onto it.

eggy waffle

Here is a video of Kizzy and Freddy making their Eggy Waffles.


My top tips for coping with the term time teatime routine would be:
  • Keep the freezer well stocked with frozen food for quick, easy, nutritious and convenient meals.
  • Involve the kids with the cooking.  It's educational, it's fun and it makes them excited to eat the end product.
  • Let the kids get creative...a tomato sauce smile goes a long way towards making food kid-friendly!
  • Plan ahead!  Be prepared and plan what you'll be making in advance, especially when time is tight.
  • Throw a handful of frozen veg into stews, shepherd's pies, pasta sauces or curries to add some hidden vegetable goodness.  The kids will happily eat it and you'll get no unpleasant teatime vegetable eating stand-offs.
  • Use teatime as quality family time.  Sit down together and enjoy a chat as you eat.
  • Enjoy the time spent cooking and eating with your little ones, because before you know it they will be off to university and fending for themselves just like my Ella!

This post is an entry for #Afterschoolchefs Linky Challenge, sponsored by Birds Eye. Learn more on the Birds Eye Facebook page.

Friday, 26 September 2014

What does your toast say about you?

Duerr's Marmalade and Roberts Bakery have teamed up to evaluate how a person's morning toast preferences reflect their personality. They have come up with a fun quiz so you can discover what your toast says about you!

From the thickness of the bread to your opinion on double dipping the knife between the butter and the jam jar, your thoughts unlock your breakfast personality and check your compatibility with whoever you share your breakfast with in the morning.

Duerrs, Roberts Bakery

With my love of lightly done, thick sliced, 50/50 bread toasted and topped with a medium spreading of no-bits jam and butter (no double dipping allowed!) and with a penchant for leaving my crusts,  I have been identified as a Peacekeeper, which is a surprisingly accurate reflection of my personality!

Marmalade and Toast

If you want to have a go simply visit and take part in this fun, and in my case, surprisingly accurate personality test!

Ben and Holly Magical Playground Playset - Swing with Holly Review

In the Little Kingdom, Holly is having fun swinging on her magical swing set.  The swings are attached to the stems of flowers making a colourful playground scene for the fairies and elves to enjoy! 

This swing playset is one of three interlocking sets, which connect together to create a bigger play area for the Ben and Holly figures.  The other two sets are a slide playset and a roundabout playset, each including a Holly figure. (It would have been nice to have each set come with a different character for variety, or you'll end up with three Hollies if you buy all three!  Freddy would have loved to see a Ben figure included.) 

The swing playset, is leaf shaped and features two flower swings and a toadstool.  Holly can sit in the swings and be pushed.  Holly also has a removable base, so when she is not being swung, she can stand up independently.

The quality is good and the playset is well made, colourful and perfect for fans of Ben and Holly, bringing the magic of the Little Kingdom to life.  I applaud the inclusion of a character so kids can play with the toy straight from the packaging.

It is priced at £9.95 and can be found alongside lots of other lovely Ben and Holly toys at Character Online.  

Nick jr, swings, Ben and Holly

Freddy received the playset to review.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Stampin' Up Hip Hip Hooray Designer Card Kit

It's always very special to receive a handmade card from a loved one.  Knowing the love and effort put into creating a card especially for you makes it a wonderful keepsake to treasure.  However, if you are anything like me, you may struggle to think of creative ideas or find it hard to execute any ideas that do bubble to the surface.  Sometimes, I just need a little help to get my handmade mojo into the swing of things.  That is why, when I was sent a Stampin' Up UK Hip Hip Hooray Designer Card Set to try out, I knew it'd be the ideal kit to get me crafting cute, fun and stylish cards (that were also quick and easy to make!)

The Stampin' Up Designer Card Set compromises of 20 printed card bases (10 each of 2 designs), 5 sticker sheets, 20 envelopes, 1 sheet of Stampin’ Dimensionals, 18' Whisper White Twine; 10 mini paperclips; 3-piece Hip Hip Hooray Stamp Set & clear stamp block and 1 Basic Grey Stampin' Spot mini ink pad.  It also comes with an instruction sheet with guidelines on making the card designs. You can make up a whole batch of 20 homemade greetings cards for special occasions.

craft set, homemade cards, crafts

The first thing to do is to make up the stamps, sticking the self-adhesive rubber stamps to the backing sheet.  Bar one small mishap where we put one on upside down, we achieved this pretty easily.  The stamps say "Hip Hip Hooray It's Your Day", "Just For You" and "Thanks" making the kit pretty versatile.  The instructions give you a technique where you can mask off some of the big stamp so you can use either of the phrases on its own, with or without the pattern that divides them.  This brings even more versatility to the product.

I loved the quality of the cards with their spotty or lined designs.  The sticker sheets are really impressive as the pieces are made from strong card that peels away from the backing.  They stick securely and look very professional on the finished items.

We chose to make one of the more simple cards for our first try, which was very easy to do.  The patterned card made it very easy to line up the stickers to get a good finish.  Then it was just down to using the stamp to print the message onto the card.  OK, at this point there may have been a little nudge that caused a little smudge on the ink, so it wasn't a perfect result, but it wasn't bad for a first attempt.  Once you start, your confidence grows and you learn techniques that you can then apply to future projects.

crafting, homemade cards

Stampin' Up sell a whole array of paper crafting products and kits, including some seasonal things, which are really fun. (I love the Halloween range!)  There are products for all levels of crafting expertise from beginners (like me!) to the more experienced crafters.  The kits are a great starting point for those new to crafting and are also a great idea for craft parties or for gifts.

The Stampin' Up products are sold through independent demonstrators as well as online.

Hip Hip Hooray Designer Card Kit is £17.95 and makes 20 lovely homemade cards with envelopes, (and of course adds three versatile stamps to your collection).

crafts, homemade card making

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

How my kids keep making me proud - a new job and starting university

Last weekend, we packed up the car and drove to Manchester, the city that Ella will be calling home for the next three years.  With a car laden with bags of clothes, shoes, kitchen equipment and of course Ella's guitar, we headed up the M6 to our destination.  We were all a bit unsure about how the day would pan out and Freddy had been quite over emotional about losing his sister and having his family change.  In fact, we had seen some epic meltdowns over the smallest things, which is not like him at all.  But we tried to keep things light and have fun, stopping for some breakfast at the services and having an in car picnic en route!

university, student

We arrived in good time and found the campus. The brand new university building with its adjoining townhouse accommodation was an impressive sight. Although all the building work and landscaping was not completely finished, and although there had been some issues over allocating housing to students because of this, seeing the place put our minds at rest.  Once it is completely finished the place will be quite spectacular!

Ella was lucky enough to get her choice of accommodation in a lovely townhouse.  We were impressed that the university had a team of helpers on hand to advise arriving students on what to do, plus there were porters to help transport the loads of luggage from the car to her door.  Fantastic service!

The accommodation itself was lovely.  Ella has a fully furnished room with a desk, wardrobe, shelving, drawers and a large 3/4 bed.  She shares a shower room and toilet with the room next door and shares a huge kitchen/living area with her eleven flatmates.  With three full sized fridge freezers, two full size fitted ovens, two microwaves, two full sink units, toasters, kettles and a load of storage space, there is plenty of room for everyone to cook.  The living space has sofas, a big, wall mounted TV and a massive round table and seating.  It is more like a holiday home than student digs.

bedroom, halls of residence

Megan came across to give us a hand moving Ella in, as she has made Manchester her home after graduating.  As ever it was lovely seeing her and catching up on all her news.  Megan took a career break earlier this year to try her hand in the world of film and TV.  In six months she had worked on two shorts (one starring some bloke off of Corrie, which made my mum' day), one feature film starring John Hurt (in which both Megan and Ella had roles as extras) and a CBBC series.  It was a real adventure for her, but the 14 hour days, extreme pressure and the hierarchy of the industry made her realise that, although a great experience, it wouldn't cut it as a career choice for her.  So Megan set about returning to the corporate world and quickly was approached by the biggest digital marketing agency in the UK who offered her a job there and then.  She starts in October!  I'm so very proud of her.

sisters, siblings

Once we had moved Ella's stuff into the townhouse, we took the 10 minute walk to the main university complex and enjoyed a vegan lunch at Falafel, a delicious and healthy fast food outlet serving freshly cooked falafel in a pitta wrap with salad, hummus, tahini and chilli sauce.  One of the perks of city life is the choice of fabulous world food on your doorstep!  While Ian and Freddy had a play in the park next to the university, my girls and I went for a wander to check out the student union and pick up Ella's Fresher's wristband and help her find her bearings in her new hometown.


A quick spot of shopping at the huge Asda, which is a short walk from Ella's campus, and we had done everything we had to do.  I didn't plan how or when we would leave, nor did I want to think about it in case I cried and upset Ella, but it actually ended up so easy.  When we got back to Ella's house, her flatmates were chatting and getting to know each other and it was the most natural thing in the world for Ella to join in their conversation.  Gone was my timid little girl and in her place was a confident young woman, eager to start this new chapter in her life.  My heart swelled with love and pride as we said our good-byes.  It was like she belonged there and it would be the making of her. Yes, I shed a tear, but not because I was sad, but because I was so bloody proud and happy for my little girl being given this chance to shine.

As we drove away from Manchester, with my slightly smaller family, Freddy started talking about why he had been so upset over the last couple of days before Ella left.  He told us that he hadn't understood what university was.  He thought Ella was going to "another country with glowing floors and shiny walls" and that he wouldn't be able to see her.  However, he said that after seeing where she was living he now knew that it was "just normal" and that Ella would be OK.  In that instant, my calm, loving, well behaved little boy returned and all was good with the world once again.

Now, a few days since Ella left home, I've talked everyday by either phone, text or Skype to both of my girls and I've been enjoying Facebook updates and photographs of Ella's student antics.  She has embraced student life and has some wonderful flatmates.  There have been big nights out and impromptu house parties.  She is making the most of this opportunity and I could not be more proud! Having my third chick fly the nest has not left me bereft at all. My heart isn't emptier it's fuller and bursting with love for them all. My life feels even richer now, knowing I have another grown up child, doing me proud and making their mark. This is what being a mum is all about, raising kids to become confident, happy and fulfilled adults, and right now I am feeling pretty damn content about my life, watching my three big kids forge their own paths in the big wide world.


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