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Monday, 5 December 2016

A Festive Breakfast with Santa at Selfridges

This weekend, we started our Christmas activities off in style with a visit to the intu Trafford Centre, where Freddy was invited to enjoy breakfast with Santa at Selfridges. Dressed in his best Christmas sweater, Freddy joined the other boys and girls on a beautifully decorated table nestled in a corner of the shop floor, and began his morning with some festive colouring while awaiting the arrival of the special guest!

intu Trafford Centre


With a Ho-Ho-Ho, Santa Claus arrived looking resplendent in his red fur suit and hat. He took a seat at the table with the children and chatted to them about his reindeer, the elves, life in Lapland, magic dust and other Santa-y things. The children were all so engaged and delighted, it was magical. Freddy remarked at how much he enjoyed having a real conversation with Santa and not just being asked what he wanted for Christmas and whether he'd been good or not. So this experience was really special to him.

The children were each given a box filled with a selection of amazing looking breakfast goodies including blueberries, a sparkly topped boiled egg, toast soldiers, a rainbow cereal bar, a raspberry mousse, a muffin and star shaped pancakes with syrup. Freddy's favourite was a white chocolate and sprinkles covered apple! Everything was so colourful and fun. Apparently, this is what the elves have for breakfast in the North Pole. It certainly made a change from Freddy's usual bowl of Shreddies!!

Once the food was eaten, Santa lead the group of children to an area where they had a Christmas sing song. Santa then gave out some really nice presents to all the children and posed for photographs with them. It really was a lovely way to spend the morning, leaving us feeling very festive indeed!

We followed Santa's breakfast with a good mooch around Selfridges, looking at all their festive things and getting some gift inspiration. Who knew there was a Primark concession in store? So neat and tidy and with a very good range of clothes and accessories. Amazing! And the food hall is the perfect place for picking up some exciting Christmassy foodie bits.

A visit to Selfridges at Christmas promises to be fun, as Santa will be making appearances throughout the store at designated Santa Stops on Saturdays from 12 - 6 pm until the 18th December. Families can share some magical moments or even grab a Santa selfie.

There is lots going on at the intu Trafford Centre over Christmas including The Polar Expedition, a festive fair at Barton Square and the intu Christmas Wheel as well as holiday happenings, pop-up stalls and other exciting things going on in stores. And the whole place is decorated and looking gorgeous. You can't help but get into the Christmas spirit.

Find out more at intu.co.uk/traffordcentre.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Children's Books for Christmas #StoriesForLife

Books make such wonderful gifts for children. In gifting a book, you are giving a child access to a whole world of imagination. As they enter the pages of a book they are transported to different places, embarking on new adventures and meeting exciting characters. The gift of reading will last a lifetime!

This Christmas I am taking part in the Britmums and Penguin Random House Children's Books Christmas Present Challenge. I have been sent three fantastic books to gift to some of the special little people in my life.

children's books


Girl Online: Going Solo - Zoe Sugg

Zoella


Zoe Sugg, best known as vlogger Zoella, has released a third novel in her bestselling Girl Online series. The story follows Penny, who accepts an invitation to visit a friend's performing arts school. An opportunity to meet new people and make new friends seems just the remedy that Penny needs as she faces the world on her own.

Zoella's books have proven to be a big hit with many of the YA audience who can't get enough of her fluffy, light, comforting and easy reading style of storytelling. So for her adoring fans, this latest installment will be a fantastic Christmas gift.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down - Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney


7 year old Freddy is a very reluctant reader, however the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series is something that has totally grabbed his imagination. Double Down is the 11th book in this bestselling series. Greg's mum has decided that video games are turning his brain to mush and wants him to explore his creative side instead. So, inspired by a bag of gummy worms, Greg decides to get his mum off his back by making his own film. He hopes he might also become rich and famous in the process! But will doubling down on this plan just lead to double trouble for Greg?

Jeff Kinney's humorous and relateable style of writing and the brilliant, funny sketches throughout the book, is perfect to keep kids thoroughly entertained. The pages aren't too wordy making them easy to read.  The series has really captured my Freddy's imagination and he will be very happy to find this latest installment under the Christmas tree this year.


The Racehorse Who Wouldn't Gallop - Clare Balding

Clare Balding


Clare Balding, is more familiar to me as a TV sports presenter, so I was surprised to discover that she is also a children's author. This heart-warming tale tells the story of horse-mad, ten year old Charlie, who accidentally manages to buy herself  a racehorse. When the family farm becomes under threat of being repossessed, Charlie plans to race her horse on Derby Day. She knows he has got what it takes to win and save her home. However, the horse has a problem - he won't gallop and he won't go anywhere without his best friend, a naughty palamino pony called Percy. Can Charlie and her family help the horse overcome his nerves and become the champion she knows he can be?

My 8 year niece is an avid bookworm and this book will definitely be finding its way to her this Christmas.

***

As a child, I enjoyed the freedom that reading gave me, allowing me to visit far flung places and experience amazing things as I immersed myself in my books. One of the books that I absolutely loved, and which has stuck with me over the years is The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden.

Kizzy


The Diddakoi is the story of a little girl called Kizzy. She is half gypsy and lives in a wagon with her gran and her horse Joe.  They embrace a peaceful life holding on to bygone traditions. This means that she is seen as 'different' to the other children in town and cruelly judged by the adults who interfere in her life 'for her own good'. When her beloved gran dies, Kizzy finds herself all alone in a hostile world. She experiences bullying and loneliness that no child should ever have to endure. This book is written with a deep sensitivity and challenges the theme of acceptance with its gritty realism. Kizzy's indomitable spirit, feisty personality and strength of character will not be beaten, and we are heartened to find that there are good people who want to help this young girl find her way in the world.

I saw a lot of myself in Kizzy. A soulful child who didn't quite fit in. I loved her grit, her refusal to be kept down, her feistiness and her stubborn determination to do what was right for her. Kizzy was my first taste of girl-power!

This book made such an impression on me as a child, that I even named my daughter Kezia (the name that Kizzy is derived from in the book). That is the extent that this book impacted my life. I highly recommend it as a gift idea this Christmas. It is a story that I have already passed on to my own children, a real classic.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas - Bratz RC Hoverboard

This Christmas, the Bratz dolls are jumping on the latest hoverboard trend. The new range features fully functional RC hoverboards so the dolls can whizz around dressed in their cute helmets and safety gear. Cloe and Yasmin are both available with a co-ordinated hoverboard, which matches their accessories. 

The range combines all the appeal of a Bratz doll with the fun of a remote controlled vehicle. Just like a real hoverboard, the Bratz hoverboard goes forward, backward and in circles and LED lights shine on the board when it is in motion adding to the cool effect. The RC controller is egg shaped and matches the colour of the hoverboard, pink for Cloe and purple for Yasmin.

Bratz


The set features an adjustable doll stand, which enables Yasmin or Cloe to stand on their light up hoverboard while in motion for realistic hoverboard action. Both dolls are wearing a trendy new, casual outfit, as they adopt their hoverboarding style, accessorised with pink or purple elbow pads, knee pads, and helmet. The fact that they are wearing safety gear is setting a great example to encourage children to always stay safe when playing on bikes, skateboards, skates or even on a hoverboard like Cloe and Yasmin.

The easy to use Hoverboard RC controller allows a range of movement so the board can move forward, backward and complete a full 360° turn. The remote control requires 2 AA batteries and the hoverboard requires 3 AA batteries. So be sure to stock up ready to play.

Bratz


The Bratz RC Hoverboard dolls are recommended for children aged 5 and up and have an RRP of £39.99. It is a great Christmas gift idea for Bratz fans this year.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Del Monte - Vegan Peaches and Cream Cupcake Recipe #yestothebest

As a child growing up in the seventies, tinned fruit in syrup was something we often enjoyed as a special treat. Sliced peaches, pineapple rings, pear halves, mandarin segments or my personal favourite fruit cocktail were served as dessert, sometimes with some evaporated milk poured over if we were lucky. We loved it. It seemed very fancy to be eating what we saw as 'exotic' fruits all year round.

Nowadays, tinned fruit is still a store cupboard staple, but with greater accessibility to so many other fresh and frozen foods, we have tended to overlook this convenient, versatile and delicious product. Modern tinned fruit often comes in juice making it a much better choice than the syrupy fruit of my childhood memories. It counts towards our five a day giving us nutritional benefits. One portion provides fibre, vitamins and phytochemicals. It is an easy way to get some extra fruit into our family's diet, by incorporating it into recipes, serving it in jelly, in smoothies, using to top cereals or for eating on its own for pudding. Its long shelf life means it doesn't go off and it retains its quality so we can always keep a tin or two to hand in the kitchen ready to use straight from the can.

canned fruit


At this time of year, with Christmas racing towards us, using quality convenience foods in recipes can save us time and effort. It can also inspire us to try new ideas in the kitchen, which is something I always enjoy. Del Monte want to encourage us to start using tinned fruit in the run up to the festive season, by saying #yestothebest. For creating family favourites, both sweet and savoury, Del Monte fruit can be a great addition, needing no peeling or preparation.

I decided to use a can of Del Monte Peach Slices in a recipe for Vegan Peaches and Cream Cupcakes. Del Monte fruit is suitable for vegan diets so they make a great addition to this recipe. The fact they come ready prepared makes them such a time saving ingredient. Anyone who has tried to peel, de-stone and slice fresh peaches will know what an arduous task this is. The only effort required for tinned peaches is to open the can!

vegan cake, tinned fruit recipe


These cakes are light and fluffy and studded with colourful, juicy, sweet pieces of peach, which moisten the sponge. Topped with non-dairy cream and decorated with a piece of peach, they look very appetising. I love the vibrant, glossy colour of the tinned peaches against the pure white cream.

Vegan Peaches and Cream Cupcakes
(makes around 18)

Ingredients

1 can of Delmonte sliced peaches
200g of white SR flour
3 tablespoons of wholemeal self raising flour
200g of golden caster sugar
1 teaspon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use Rice Bran)
1 cup water

1 carton of soya whip cream (dairy free alternative to whipping cream)

Method

del monte


Chop up about 6 - 8 peach slices into small chunks and set aside.
In a bowl mix the flour, sugar and bicarbonate of soda.
Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla extract to the dry ingredients and quickly pour over the water.
Mix together to form a batter.
Add the chopped peaches and fold in.
Put spoonfuls of the batter into muffin cases in a tray.
Cook for around 10 - 12 minutes at 200 degrees C.
Remove from oven when springy to touch.
Cool on a cooling rack.
Cut a few of the remaining peaches into wedges for decoration.
Once the cupcakes are cool, whip the cream according to the instructions on the pack.
Spoon dollops onto the cupcakes and top with a chunk of peach.
Serve immediately.


del monte


Find out more about the Del Monte range of products at  www.delmonteeurope.com. Find the Del Monte products in supermarkets nationwide.

Personalised Videos from Santa from Portable North Pole

The 2016 Christmas countdown is on and what better way to celebrate than with a message from Santa himself. Dedicated to bringing the magic of Santa into homes at Christmastime, The Portable North Pole (PNP) website and mobile app is back once again to delight families, with personalised video and call messages. There are some amazing brand new features and content, with exciting new videos to create and calls to organise. 

Message from santa


Each message is carefully crafted to engage children of all ages, creating excitement in the lead up to Christmas Day. With personalisation including the child's name, each video and call is unique and magical.

The Magic Pass for 2016 is £9.99, which includes lots of unlimited premium content.

With the Magic Pass you will get: 

  • Unlimited Premium Videos featuring Santa and his elves, including one for Christmas Eve. Santa will be giving his naughty or nice verdict to encourage little ones to do their best in the hope of making the nice list!
  • The brand new Reaction Recorder to capture your child's look of wonder as they watch the video for the first time (only with the mobile app). 
  • Unlimited Santa Calls with lots of fun call scenarios including some to encourage good behaviour!
  • HD downloads of all your videos. 
  • Storytime with Santa with a new personalised story video for each week in December to keep the magic alive throughout the month.
  • A Santa-Approved Certificate to print for each of your videos.
  • Birthday videos for children's birthdays throughout the year.


This is great value for money and the quality of the videos and calls will delight kids of any age. I love PNP, it is a lovely family tradition to send messages and organise calls to my loved ones. Last year my grandson Ted was excited to get a phone call from Santa on Christmas Eve and my 7 year old son loved receiving personalised videos in the run up to the big day! They really are very special, magical and bring a lot of joy to homes across the world at this time of year.

New for 2016, there is a PNP toy and gift collection, which is exclusive to John Lewis, which includes lovely items such as elf toys, a storybook and a good deeds jar.

Find out more at: www.portablenorthpole.com.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Christmas Review Round Up - featuring Cuddledry, Peter's Yard and Stag Bakeries

Cuddleduck

How about this adorable little rubber duckie as the perfect stocking filler for little ones! Cuddleduck is a soft and squishy, 100% safe baby toy suitable for bathtime or for use as a teether. It is made from natural rubber that has naturally anti-bacterial properties and contains no nasties at all. It is shaped for little hands to hold and explore, and for little gums to chew.

Cuddledry


The gentle colours and polka dot pattern are stylish. Cuddleduck will look great in any bathroom and provides plenty of playtime fun for babies and children. They come in blue, pink and original polka dot designs and come attractively gift boxed.  At £7.99 they are a lovely little gift this Christmas.

Find out more about the Cuddledry range at www.cuddledry.com.


Peter's Yard

Christmas tea always involves cheese and biscuits in our house. I like to get some good quality savoury crackers and crispbreads to complement the selection of cheeses that I buy. I love the Peter's Yard selection boxes for offering a good range of biscuits for cheese that are a little bit different.

Peter’s Yard’s new Sourdough Crispbread selection box gives a great variety bringing together three quality, distinctive crispbreads with differing colours, shapes, textures and flavours. The Selection Box includes Charcoal, Spelt & Poppy Seed and the classic, award-winning Original recipe. Charcoal is recommended for a Brie or soft goats’ cheese; Spelt & Poppy Seed for Single Gloucester, Camembert, Wensleydale or Caerphilly whilst the neutral base of the Original crispbread is a perfect match to any cheese.

biscuits for cheese, crackers


They are made using natural ingredients to an authentic Swedish recipe making a light and crisp textured biscuit. They make a good gift idea for foodie friends who don't have a sweet tooth! Peter's Yard products are available from quality independent retail stores, Waitrose and Ocado and priced at £6.00 for the 265g box.


Stag Bakeries

Stag Bakeries is one of the most remote bakeries in the UK, based in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis on the Scottish Outer Hebrides.

New for 2016 they have produced a range of Dipping Crackers in Lentil & Biriyani, Green Bean & Ras El Hanout and Chickpea & Garlic varieties. These innovative and exciting crackers are part of their West Coast range.

The Lentil & Biryani dipping crackers are made with Mathia flour and delicately spiced with traditional Indian flavours. They work well with curry as an alternative to poppadoms. Or dip into mango chutney or raita for a delicious snack. They would make a lovely addition to a homemade foodie hamper and are suitable for vegetarians.

Indian crackers


Each variety is packed into 80g resealable bags which are available from speciality food stores like farm shops, delicatessens and independent retail stores for RRP £2.30.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Celebrating those Little Moments of Christmas Chaos

Christmas is a wonderful time of year and I spend hours making lists, researching recipes, buying thoughtful gifts and getting myself organised to ensure my family have the best day ever...but that doesn't necessarily mean that things always go to plan!

Christmas


However well organised you are, sometimes fate just comes along and tramples all over your best laid plans. It's at times like this that you either crumble and burst into tears or you pull up your festive socks and initiate Plan B!

Two years ago I had my house full with all the family joining us for Christmas Day. Making Christmas dinner for twelve people is always a juggling act, swapping things around in the oven to try and get everything cooked evenly and on time. Packing the shelves with nut roasts, stuffing, roast veg, potatoes, parsnips, Yorkies and veggie pigs in blankets is a test for any oven at the best of times. But this year, my oven decided enough was enough. It took me a while to realise that things were not cooking very well and then it dawned on me that everything was in fact getting colder. The heating element had lost the will to live. The oven was stone cold dead!

With twelve people hungry for their festive fayre, panic began to set in. Visions of feeding them Primula cheese spread sandwiches and a bag of crisps went through my mind. (That might be a yummy emergency lunch at other times of the year but not on Christmas Day!) What a disaster to happen on this day of all days!

 However, the spirit of Christmas was with us that day. My next door neighbours, who were away visiting family, saw my pitiful social media updates and came to the rescue. We had a spare key to their house to use in case of emergencies and this was definitely deemed as one of those times. We were told to go ahead and use their kitchen - their double oven was ours for the day. It was a Christmas miracle!

To add to the drama, it was raining. I gathered my troops to help, and clad in their festive jumpers and new slippers, we paired up. One of us carried a partially cooked tray of food while the other held an umbrella over head. There was lots of to-ing and fro-ing as we kept popping back and forth to check on potato roastiness and stuffing crispiness. Goodness knows what our other neighbours must have thought! Eventually, through top teamwork, our dinner was cooked. We carried it all back to our house and we were able to sit down together and eat Christmas dinner as a family. Only slightly later than planned and slightly chilled from being carried down the street in the rain.

When things go wrong, you have to find the humour in the situation. You've got to pull together and laugh about the broken oven or the smashed Christmas baubles or the inappropriately drunk auntie or the bout of ill timed gastroenteritis or the embarrassing moment when you realise you have forgotten to buy a present for one of your guests (yes all these things have happened to me.)

You can't avoid the unavoidable, but there are things you can do to help the day go smoothly. One of my top tips is to do all your food preparation on Christmas Eve. It's a family tradition for us to don our Christmas jumpers, whack on our favourite Christmas tunes and get peeling, chopping and prepping whatever we can in advance. This leaves Christmas morning free for the fun stuff like opening presents.  Speaking of presents - always keep a couple of extra wrapped gifts under the tree, just in case of unexpected visitors. Boxes of biscuits or bottles of wine are perfect choices, because if you don't need to gift them, you can enjoy them yourself. And don't forget to have plenty of batteries and a screwdriver available, so any new toys found under the tree can be powered up or assembled. There's not much worse to a child than having a new toy that can't be played with!

Even if the day does end up going completely pear shaped, remember that the 25th of December is just one day out of 365. Do a re-run on another day if need be. In the future, it's the laughs, the smiles and the fun that comes from being a family that will be remembered. We don't need everything to be perfect to have a great time. Embrace the chaos, keep a laid back approach and enjoy every moment.

Primula have a campaign this Christmas to encourage us to celebrate the big day in all its chaotic glory. They have teamed up with bloggers to share their own tales of Christmas woe alongside some top Christmas hacks to help you survive the day.

You can view or download the 'Primula Little Moments of  Christmas Chaos' booklet for free at https://issuu.com/primulacheese. Inside you can also find recipes, ideas for games and hints and tips for surviving and embracing the little moments of Christmas chaos!

You can join in and share your own moments of chaos or some of your own Christmas survival plans using the hashtag #LittleMomentsOfChristmasChaos on social media. Together we can celebrate Christmas 2016 without the stress!

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