Thursday, 31 January 2013

Grandparenting for Beginners

I never really appreciated how it would feel to become a grandparent.  Having had my first born son as a 19 year old, it was always on the cards that I would be a young granny.  At 43 I have found myself taking my role in the generation shift that occurred following the birth of baby Ted.

I never doubted that my son Joe would be a wonderful dad.  He has been an amazing big brother to his four siblings, the youngest of whom is three year old Freddy.  He has grown up with little people around him and has always demonstrated the skills necessary to be a dad himself one day.  So when I got the phone call telling me that his girlfriend was pregnant, I had no concerns about his ability to care for and support his new family.

Throughout the pregnancy I shared Joe's thoughts, dreams, hopes and fears.  I was thrilled for him, knowing he was going to experience the greatest love of his life.  He didn't understand this until Ted was born.  Understanding that feeling made him understand my love for him.  A whole host of puzzle pieces fell into place, consolidating the relationship we had.  I felt such utter pride in my son knowing that he had reached this point in his life and was facing this new responsibilty with a maturity and enthusiasm that was humbling.

dad, father and son

But what about me?  What about my new role, my new responsibilities?

Meeting that baby boy was magical.  When you have your own child you are so wrapped up in the enormity of being a parent that it consumes you.  As a grandparent, you are a step away from that.  You get to look at that child and see his place in the greater picture.  You look at that beautiful face and see reflections of the generations that have come before.  You feel wonder at the emergence of a brand new generation and feel the boundaries of your genetic immortality push further outwards.

I live two hours away from my grandson.  I don't get to see him very often, but I know he is there thriving, growing, becoming who he is destined to be.  I feel his presence in my life, as I do my older children who are no longer living here with me.  They are all a part of me.  I am a part of them.  Physical distance is never a barrier to love.

I wonder if he will 'know' me, recognise his paternal family.  See himself in our faces, our mannerisms, our quirks.  Will our morals, values and beliefs influence him, help shape his future? Will he love us?  

One thing is for certain though, my son's child is a precious gift to our family.  He has been born surrounded by loving great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles and aunties.  We all have his best interests at heart and will do all we can to give this little boy the best start in life.  He is pathing the way to the future for our families.

I know that I will miss out on seeing much of my grandson's day to day life.  I know he now smiles and kicks his legs around as he watches Ben on Holly on TV.  I know he wakes up at 6am and goes to his daddy for a cuddle which makes daddy so happy before he goes to work.  I know he sits with his dad while he plays his online games, and daddy secretly hopes he will grow up to be a games geek too!  Although I don't witness these things first hand, I hear about them and share in the pleasure of my grandson's development.  I know the joy that Joe is experiencing being Ted's dad.  

I was worried before he was born that I would somehow feel jealous of his maternal grandmother who gets to see him everyday.  She lives close by and is very close to her daughter so it is only natural that she will get the lion's share of time with our grandson. She was there when he was born and is very involved in his life.  Instead, I am so glad he will have a close relationship with her, someone he can rely on, be loved by and trust.  He is a lucky lad.

The relationship he has with me will inevitably be very different.  I will be the one he sees once a month, which is how often we try to get down there.  I won't be involved in discipline, routines or everyday things as a rule.  I will however be there for the fun stuff, outings, meals out, special days and holidays.  Hopefully I will have a role in his life that brings a bit of extra colour and an opportunity to do things our way. Every moment will be cherished, that's for sure!

Grandparenting is definitely going to be a learning curve.  Learning my place, my responsibilities and my role in this little person's life.  Knowing when not to overstep the mark.  Knowing when to speak out and when to stay silent.  Hoping that this baby boy will love me and make memories with me, like my children have been privileged to do with my parents. I will  be there for him, and any future grandchildren that I am blessed with,  in any capacity that I am needed.  I feel honoured to have this opportunity and look forward to the future and how our lives will develop. I hope I live up to my own expectations. I am so looking forward to trying. 

We Made Muddy Puddles!

A Fun Activity for Pre-Schoolers

Freddy loves getting messy in the kitchen!  He also loves eating yummy things.  At his nursery, Freddy had made pirate coins using melted chocolate and was so enthusiastic telling me all about it that we adapted the activity to make our own choccy treats.

So we got busy and made Muddy Puddles!  The mud is made of molten chocolate with dried fruit as the rocks and stones.  This is a super easy activity for pre-schoolers who will be able to decorate the Muddy Puddles all on their own.

You need:

1 bar of milk chocolate
An assortment of dried fruit (we used raisins, sultanas and chopped apricots.)

chocolate, cooking with kids

What you do:

Melt the chocolate in the microwave and pour puddles onto a silicone baking tray or onto greaseproof paper. (This is obviously a job for the grown-ups, but after this little ones can take over!)
Use a spoon to swirl the melted chocolate to the required shapes.
Then decorate with dried fruit. (You could also use cake sprinkles or cereals like Rice Krispies too.)
Pop in the fridge to set, them remove from the silicone to enjoy.

chocolate, activity, kids

This is such a quick and easy activity to do with your children.  It gives you the opportunity to talk about the science of melting the chocolate, changing its state from solid to liquid when heated.  It's never too young to learn about science!

Freddy loved arranging his dried fruit on top of his Muddy Puddles.  We used a healthy topping to offset the fact that it was on a chocolate base!

Freddy loved eating a Muddy Puddle after his lunch and said it was 'delicious'!  He also had a lot of fun getting busy in the kitchen with me.

January In Pictures

snow, food, new year
January in Pictures

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Cupid Dog Film Review

Cupid Dog is a new DVD from Lionsgate due for release on February 4th.  The story centres around Gabe the matchmaking mutt, who comes up with a plan to get his newly single owner Eric a girlfriend to stop him from moving to London for his job.  Unhappy at the prospect of six months in quarantine with big scary dogs, Gabe will stop at nothing to get journalist Eric together with pretty neighbour Sara. Inspired by a TV dating show, Gabe sets the wheels of romance in motion. The plan goes awry however, when Sara suspects that Eric is using her when he finds out about her big secret.  Their future happiness rests in the paws of Gabe, the pup with a gift for love.


This film is a light hearted romantic comedy for families that focuses around the dog who causes trouble and chaos despite his best intentions.  Kids will be charmed by the talking dog but the film doesn't quite match up to the charm of the little pooch Gabe. The dog monopolises the camera time meaning that you don't really get to connect with the human characters, which could have added an extra dimension to the story.  Consequently, the relationship between Sara and Eric has no real depth and the dialogue between them is superficial.  

However, the message of the film and Eric's dawning realisation that relationships are more important than his job is quite heartwarming. There are some funny moments as Eric finds himself on dates he hasn't organised and being thanked for flowers he has never sent  Anyone would be questioning their own sanity, or be thinking that the woman in question was a dangerous and delusional stalker!

Overall it is an amusing canine romp, with a few laughs and a cute mutt which will make you smile. Yes it's cheesy, yes it's implausible...but it's a bit of lightweight fun.

With Valentine's Day approaching this DVD could be a nice gift for a loved one who has a liking for frothy talking-dog-movies.  Just add some wine and chocolates and 'Puppy Love' just might be on the cards! 

DVD technical details:

o   Number of discs: 1
o   £9.99
o   Certificate: U (UK) 
o   Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
o   Running time: 87 minutes approx
o   Copyright: ©2013 Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Win A Hotel Transylvania DVD and Book! - Closed

To celebrate the release of Hotel Transylvania on Blu-ray™ 3D, Blu-ray™ and DVD on February 4th, we’re giving away a DVD plus The Art and Making of Hotel Transylvania book to 1 lucky winner. 
Sony, monsters

Out now from Titan Books, The Art and Making of Hotel Transylvania features over 400 pieces of concept art, character sketches, storyboards and digital art, plus interviews with key filmmakers and crew. A spooky treat for the eyes! Visit for more information!
book, DVD, Titan Books

All you have to do for your chance to win is leave me a comment below telling me who your favourite monster is.  Are you a fan of Frankenstein? Are you mad about Mummies? Personally, I love a good werewolf!!  Don't forget to leave an email address or Twitter id so I can contact you if you win.
For a second entry Tweet:
I've entered to win #HotelTransylvania on DVD with @wendymcd83 at
Leave me a second comment to let me know you've done it.  Competition closes at 11.59pm on February 8th 2013. (Full T&C's below.)
If you’d like to win even more Hotel Transylvania goodies, check out the MONSTER ME Facebook competition  You could win a Micro Scooter for the kids by uploading a video of them doing monster impressions from the film, enter if you dare!
© 2012 Sony Pictures Animation Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Terms and Conditions
UK only.  No automated or bulk entries permitted.  Maximum of two entries per entrant.  
 • The winners will be drawn at random from all the correct entries, and only they will be contacted personally. Prize must be taken as stated and cannot be deferred. There will be no cash alternatives.
• Sony Pictures UK and Inside the Wendy House do not accept any responsibility for late or lost entries due to the Internet or email problems. Proof of sending is not proof of receipt. Entrants must supply full details as required on the competition page, and comply with all rules to be eligible for the prizes.
• No responsibility is accepted for ineligible entries or entries made fraudulently.
• Unless otherwise stated, the Competition is not open to employees of: (a) the Company; and (b) any third party appointed by the Company to organise and/or manage the Competition; and (c) the Competition sponsor(s).
• This competition is a game promoted by Inside the Wendy House.  Inside the Wendy House’s decision is final in every situation and no correspondence will be entered into. Inside the Wendy House reserves the right to cancel the competition at any stage, if deemed necessary in its opinion, and if circumstances arise outside of its control.
• Entrants will be deemed to have accepted these rules and to agree to be bound by them when entering this competition.
• Prizes unclaimed after  10 days will be deemed to have been forfeited and Inside the Wendy House reserves the right to either offer the prize to the entrant whose name is next drawn at random.
ThePrizeFinder - UK Competitions

The Winner is:  @rachcowling76  Congratulations!!  Please email your address details to me at : and I'll forward them to the PR company for your prize to be sent out to you!!

Mushroom En Croute Recipe

We love a good pie!  It makes a perfect alternative to meat in a roast dinner when served with all the accompaniments.  It also goes perfectly with mash and peas and gravy, or even with chips and mushy peas!  I have a few pies in my repetoire, but this is one of the quickest and easiest ones that I make (especially if you have some previously cooked rice to use up).  It has evolved from a Rose Elliot Christmas recipe that I once made.

Mushroom En Croute

vegetarian recipe


1 pack of puff pastry

1 lb mushrooms
2 small chopped onions
1 crushed garlic clove
 4 oz cooked rice
4 oz cream cheese (full fat works best)
1 teaspn chopped parsley
2 tspns lemon juice
black pepper


Fry the onion until soft (using butter or oil).
Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes
Add the sliced mushrooms and gently cook until all the liquid has evaporated.
Remove from heat.
Add parsley, rice, lemon juice, pepper and cream cheese and stir through.

Roll out pastry and place filling in centre.
Bring up edges and seal using a little water.
Fold up ends.
Glaze with egg or milk.

Cook for about 25 minutes at GM6

Link up your recipe of the week

A Taste of New York

New York Bakery Co – the makers of the nation’s favourite authentic bagels – has created two NEW mouth-watering bagel flavours for you to enjoy; Fruit & Oat and Red Onion & Chive. These flavours have been created with an authentic recipe so that the whole family can enjoy a taste of  cosmopolitan New York at home.


The new Fruit & Oat flavour is low in fat and a source of fibre and is packed full of  cranberries, raisins, sunflower seeds and topped with crunchy oats. Eat toasted and buttered alongside a cup of morning coffee. Or, if you’re looking for a savoury snack, the tasty Red Onion & Chive bagel makes a hearty lunchtime treat when filled or topped with your favourite topping .  They are both premium quality bagels.

New York Bakery Co make all of their bagels the authentic NY way by boiling them before they are stone-baked, giving them a deliciously chewy crust and a soft, fluffy centre.  

We were sent some to try.  We are big bagel fans anyway, and really enjoy the New York Bakery Co. bagels.  They are really soft and very yummy and we love the different flavours available.  We toast them and top with butter and eat instead of toast or a sandwich.  The kids also like a spread of jam on the Fruit and Oat bagel.

bagels, snacks

We are pretty conservative with our bagel consumption, but they are so versatile and provide an excellent base for any of your favourite deli toppings.  I did like the idea of this serving suggestion:  
Cheesy Treat - Create a yummy pizza bagel by melting mozzarella on a bagel and topping with juicy cherry tomatoes and freshly cracked black pepper.  However, our bagels all got eaten before I had a chance to be experimental!

New York Bakery Co’s Fruit & Oat and Red Onion & Chive bagels cost from £1.55 for a pack of four and are available at Tesco and Morrisons stores nationwide from January 2013. Visit the New York Bakery Co Facebook page at for more information or recipe tips.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

Our Visit To Build-A-Bear Workshop

teddy bear, Hamleys

Most of us have had a favourite teddy bear at some point in our lives.  Whether it was a teddy from our childhood or a more recent gift from a loved one for Valentine's Day, they hold a place in our hearts forever. Even in this age of technological playthings, a simple teddy bear still rates very highly on my children's list of favourite toys.

At the weekend, we were lucky enough to be invited to our local Build-A-Bear Workshop in Telford to make ourselves a brand new teddy bear.  Freddy was in charge of choosing what he wanted in order to make the perfect bear, which he wanted to be a present for his eldest sister Megan.  (Her childhood teddy bear recently had a traumatic run in with a washing machine.)

teddy bear

As soon as you arrive at the shop door the magic hits you.  At the Build-A-Bear Workshop you get to choose your bear and bring it to life. You just have to smile at the sights, sounds, colours and energy of the place!  We were introduced to Will who was in charge of helping us make our bear.  He was absolutely lovely, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and engaging and he involved the kids throughout the process.  The interaction of the staff is a big part of the Build-A-Bear experience, elevating this beyond the normal toy shop teddy purchase.

teddy bear

The first step to making your bear involves choosing the design.  There are lots of different bears and other animals to choose from, in many different colours.  Freddy immediately chose the very lovely Rainbow Hugs Bear.  He picked out his unstuffed bear and was ready to go.  (The Rainbow Hugs Bear costs £16.50.)

build a bear workshop

Freddy wanted to call her Daisy and was very excited as he helped bring her to life!  The staff were all so lovely and attentive, Freddy had a great time assisted by his sisters Kizzy and Ella under the guidance of Will.

Build a bear workshop

You can add optional extras to your bear.  Freddy chose a voice box that said "I Love You" but he could have gone for giggles, roaring or even a song to pop inside his teddy bear's tummy.  You can even record your own message for a really personal touch. (My nephew actually proposed to his girlfriend assisted by using a personal message in a teddy bear!)

build a bear workshop

Will then stuffed the bear while Freddy pressed the foot pedal to work the stuffing machine.  A bubblegum  scent was added as well as a satin heart.  Freddy made a wish and kissed the heart before popping it into Daisy Bear.  It is such a lovely touch.  Freddy gave his bear the hug test to make sure she was just right!

build a bear workshop, teddy

Will pulled the stitching together and tied off the threads to complete Daisy the Rainbow Hugs Bear.  The process is very quick and efficient, and the stitching is very secure on the bear's back.

Once the teddy is completed, you can really go to town personalising it with clothing and accessories.  The array of gorgeous little outfits is amazing.  There are several ranges that are brilliant.  The new Disney Princess outfits are totally adorable and come complete with little wigs.  There is also a fantastic medical range including a surgeon's outfit that I loved.  But Fred had his own idea of what he wanted for Daisy.

build a bear workshop

Freddy chose a sparkly pink princess outfit for Daisy along with some fabulous accessories: pink silk pants, frilly socks and bejewelled satin shoes.  Megan is going to love her!!

build a bear workshop, teddy

Daisy was taken to the changing room where Will helped Freddy get her all dressed in her gorgeous new outfit.  She then had her hair brushed and was ready to have her birth certificate issued.

build a bear workshop, teddy

Parents (or in our case Big sister Ella) can complete the online form to register the teddy bear and create the birth certificate.  Daisy was officially registered as Freddy's teddy.  Whereas it was originally going to be completely for Megan, Freddy decided that she could instead share the bear with him and they could play with it together at Megan's house.  Bless him!  Every teddy registered can be played with online in the virtual Bearville game.

build a bear workshop, teddy

Freddy was then presented with Daisy Bear in a box with her birth certificate tied with a pretty, pink bow.  Before he left the shop, Will lead Freddy in the Build-A-Bear promise where he promised to make Daisy a friend for life.  Freddy was very proud to do it!

teddy bear

Daisy will definitely be loved and cherished by Freddy and also by Megan who is so touched by her little brother's lovely gesture to share Daisy with her.  Making her was a wonderful experience that we all enjoyed.  It is such a wonderful shop that just makes you feel happy!!

build a bear, teddy boy

I love the attention to detail that the bears, clothes and accessories have.  The quality is excellent and the designs are simply lovely.  I love that the ranges have something that will appeal to everyone.  I was particularly impressed that Build-A-Bear Workshop stocks items to personalise bears that includes glasses, wheelchairs and crutches.  Everyone can create their perfect companion.

build a bear workshop, teddy

With Valentine's Day coming up, Build-A-Bear Workshop has some lovely bears and accessories that will help create a perfect present for your loved one.  You can also have a child's birthday party hosted at Build-A-Bear workshop with prices starting at £9 per person.

Find out more at their website or pop into your local Build-A-Bear Workshop!

Freddy was gifted with Daisy the Rainbow Bear thanks to Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Homemade Vegetarian Haggis Recipe

Burn's Night is here and in my house that means an excuse for a special dinner.  I love punctuating the year by recognising all the 'special' days.  It gives me a bit of inspiration to cook something different and have a bit of themed fun with the family.

So I have made homemade vegetarian haggis using an adaption of the Vegetarian Society's recipe from 2001 using lots of veggies, lentils, pulses and nuts to make a very delicious haggis without a single sheep's stomach in sight!!  (It is all ready in the loaf tin to be cooked for tonight's dinner, so I've used photos from last year's haggis to illustrate this recipe.)

burn's night, haggis
Vegetarian Haggis

Veggie Haggis Ingredients (makes a 1lb loaf)

4 oz chopped onion
4 oz chopped carrot
2 oz chopped mushrooms
2 oz red lentils
1 pint veggie stock
1 tin mashed kidney beans
3 oz mixed chopped nuts (I usesd peanut, cashew and hazelnuts)
2 tblspn soy sauce
1 tblspn lemon juice
2 teaspns thyme
2 teaspns rosemary
2 teaspns mixed spice
ground pepper
8 oz fine oatmeal


Pre-heat oven to GM5.
Saute onion for 5 minutes, add carrot and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes more.
Add lentils and three quarters of the stock.
Mash beans with remaining stock and add to pan with nuts, soy sauce, lemon juice and seasonings.
Cook together for 10 minutes.
Add oatmeal and simmer for 15 minutes.
Put into loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes.

veggie haggis

Serve with tatties and neeps!!  We use Morrison's mashed carrot, swede and potato and then add some green veg like cabbage to the plate!  Top with gravy for a delicious, warming, healthy meal.  Here is last year's Burn's Night dinner!

burns night, haggis, veggie

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Slow Cooked Veggie Lamb Hot Pot Recipe

My love affair with my slow cooker is continuing.  The latest offering that I have made is vegetarian Lamb Hot Pot.  I am not an exact, scientific cook.  I am more of a 'throw in what you have' and improvise type cook, but this is the basis of what I did and it seemed to work well.  It is really delicious, even though I say so myself!

Vegetarian Lamb Hot Pot 

hot pot, vegetarian


4 parsnips
2 red onions
2 cloves garlic
4 potatoes
6 carrots
1 butternut squash
1/2 pint veggie stock
1 can butter beans
1 can canellini beans
2 teaspoons rosemary
ground black pepper
1 bag Quorn lamb strips

slow cooker, crock pot


Chop up the veg and throw it all in the slow cooker with everything apart from the Quorn lamb strips.
Cook for about 6 hours then add the lamb strips.
(At this point you can also top with a bag of Aunt Bessie's frozen dumplings).
Cook for a further hour.
Tip: If it is too wet add a few teaspoons of gravy granules to thicken up the stock.
You can finish it off in the oven for the last 15mins at GM6 if you like a crisper dumpling/cobbler (like I do).

vegetarian, Quorn, lamb hot pot

Rambling On About Miranda, Tampon Girl, Cook-Offs and Ambition

I simply cannot believe that January is almost over.  Clearly, time is showing no intention of slowing down anytime soon.  Already this year we have achieved a few things on our to-do list for 2013 and have put the wheels in motion to organise a few more.  It's nice to feel we're getting somewhere albeit slowly.

The over-riding thing that is putting our lives on hold at the moment is the imminence of Ian's operation. Last year he had an op with a 50% success rate.  Unfortunately he fell into the wrong half and so now needs a bigger op to correct the first and put right his original problem.  The recovery time is going to be quite arduous, but we are psyching ourselves up to deal with everything and get ourselves prepared.  We just want it all over and done with so we can move on, with what will hopefully be a cure for Ian.

Today, I was meant to be at a Cook-Off with three other bloggers, making my Quorn Enchiladas for a celebrity chef to try to win a trip to Australia.  I forfeited my place because I wasn't sure if Ian's operation would have been done by now and because he is taking a lot of time off for hospital appointments at the moment so I couldn't justify him taking another day off to look after the kids while I went to London.  But when I thought about the competition I decided that I really wouldn't want to win a trip to Australia without my family anyway.  I just couldn't have done it.  It made me realise that I won't be trying to seize every opportunity that comes my way.  Maybe last year I would have gone ahead and done it, but right now my priorities have really changed and my personal ambition is much less important to me than I thought it was.

Yesterday, Ella asked me if I'd seen 'that' video.  Not knowing what 'that' was, I surmised that I probably had not seen it.  I pressed her further to discover that 'that' video was the latest viral video of 2013 to spread itself across the  internet.  This new video is basically a young girl pulling out a used tampon and sucking on it.  Yes, seriously.  Already there are hundreds of reaction videos and photo memes in honour (or in disgust) to this phenomenon.  It just made me feel really sad to think that someone is so desperate for their 15 minutes of fame that she would dream up such a grisly stunt and that it would then go on to become an internet sensation!  The world wide web is an amazing thing, full of so much potential but it also has given rise to a society where a girl sucking on a tampon becomes a huge success in terms of views, exposure, reach and influence.  Frightening!  In short, my advice is don't watch it. Period.  It's bloody awful. (Sorry, couldn't help myself!!)

Another thing that has left me confused and perplexed this week is Miranda, the 6' 1" comedienne who everyone seems to adore.  That is everyone except me.  Why is she funny??  Because she is tall and awkward and a bit funny looking?  Because of her slapstick comedy acting?  Watching her show is like going into a time machine and a returning to 1978 when comedy like this was en vogue.  Surely we have left that sort of humour behind us?  Surely we have evolved as a nation.  Surely we want more sophistication in our comedy than a tall woman falling off a gate?  Obviously not.  I admit to watching the Gary Barlow episode because, you know...Gary Barlow was in it.  The series of mistaken identity moments, silly walks,  slapstick comedy, implausible relationships and unbelievable, stereotyped characters was just so old fashioned. I'm sure Miranda is a hugely talented woman, I love her in Call The Midwife as a straight actress, but this sit-com and its massive success just confuses me.  If we have gone in a big comedy circle, I look forward to the return of the alternative comedians.  Bring back the Young Ones!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Slow Cooked Five Bean Chilli Recipe

I love my slow cooker.  It's taken me a while to see the full potential of my Crock Pot but I think I am now giving it the usage it deserves.  It is just so easy to throw the ingredients into the pot in the morning and then it is ready to serve up at dinner time with no further effort required.  The healthy, cooked from scratch meals are so easy to make and I feel like a domestic goddess (albeit fraudulently because it is just so easy to do!!)

Today I am making my lazy cook's Five Bean Chilli using Napolina beans.  Tinned beans are a main staple in our home.  They are convenient, nutritious and versatile plus I think they taste good too!


1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 carton of passata
2 chopped onions
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoons Gourmet Garden chilli
2 teaspoons Gourmet Garden coriander
1 can of Napolina butter beans
1 can of Napolina kidney beans
1 can of Napolina chick peas
1 can of brown lentils
1 can of Napolina cannelini beans
4 oz sliced mushrooms
1/4 pt of vegetable stock
(You can throw a bag of Quorn Mince into the pot an hour before serving if you like.)

vegetarian recipe, chilli


Literally throw it all in at 10am after the school run is done.
Serve it with rice and creme fraiche at 5pm when the kids are back home and hungry!  It's easy to make, nutritious, delicious and warming in this cold weather.

slow cooker, vegetarian

I was sent a selection of Napolina beans but the recipe is my own.  Napolina beans are priced at 79p a tin and are available from all good stockists.

beans, pulses

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Weekly Essentials Challenge - How Much Could YOU Save??

Switch To Poundland and Save Money

money saving, brands, shopping

With everything in the supermarket costing so much more these days, shopping around for bargains and special offers can really cut a chunk off of the weekly shopping bill.  But this can be complicated and time consuming as we try to work out which supermarket will be the cheapest option from one week to the next.   So it was with real interest that I heard that Poundland has launched over 100 new grocery lines, selling big brand favourites for just £1!

Poundland stocks more than 3000 everyday essentials and over 1000 top brands including household favourites such as Warburtons, Heinz, Cadbury's, Kellogg's, PG Tips, Dorset Cereals and Ambrosia.

I was challenged to spend £15 in store instead of in my usual supermarket to see how much I could save by  incorporating my Poundland shop into my weekly spend.  I mostly opted for breakfast items and packed lunch and snack products as these are essentials that we buy week in, week out for the kids.  The range also included chilled items, fresh fruit and vegetables and baked goods.

ready Brek, Heinz, daddies

Here is my shopping list with the prices of the products that I would have paid in a supermarket at full price excluding any special offers (sourced from


Kellogg's Cornflakes 375g                           £2.09                                        
Kellogg's Rice Krispies Bar                         £1.99                                         
Oreo Cookies snack pack                           £1.29                                          
Mug Shot Pasta (3 for £1)                           75p each
Tilda Mushroom Rice (3 for £2)                  £1.59 each
Fruit Bowl Yogurt Raisins                            £2.00
Fruit Factory Lunchbox Snacks                   £1.49
       Quavers 5 pack                                   8 for a 6 pack
Heinz Squeeze and Stir (3 for £1)               59p each
Daddies Brown Sauce 600g                       £1.98
Nestle Shreddies                                         £2.29
Ready Brek Squeezers                               £2.18
Harvest Chewee Bars 8 pack                     £1.69 for a 9 pack
Capri Sun 5 pack                                       £1.86

Total cost in Poundland £15.00

     Total cost in supermarket £29.33

Obviously supermarkets may sometimes have BOGOFs, 3 for 2 offers or price cuts on the products you want to buy, but it is good to know that with Poundland everything costs just one pound every single day, making it easier to budget and compare deals.  Some of the products came in slightly smaller sizes but the savings were still impressive. Just be sure to do a quick weight comparison to see if it is still better value. The sell-by dates are all well in the future so you are not compromising on shelf life or quality.  These are the same top brand products that you will find in a supermarket, consistently on sale for just £1.

The Ready Brek Squeezers are a brand new product on the market that we've seen advertised on TV.  I didn't mind giving them a try for £1 but wouldn't pay the £2.18 price tag that the supermarket next door to Poundland was charging.  Freddy was particularly pleased with this bargain and wanted to try one as soon as we got home.

Poundland, breakfast

I was quite amazed at the savings to be made in Poundland on everyday grocery items.  I've never really considered Poundland for food shopping before, but was pleasantly surprised!  The only downside is that my nearest store is in the middle of a shopping centre.  I could only buy what fitted in my hand basket and then I had to carry my bags back to the car park which is quite a trek, meaning I couldn't buy too much, but for buying a few big brand essentials it is excellent.  I will definitely stock up on Kizzy's lunchbox snacks.  The Fruit Bowl and the Fruit Factory dried fruit snacks are her favourites, but they are so expensive in my local supermarket.  For £1 a pack, she can have them every week!  I am very glad to know about all the grocery items available to buy in store at Poundland and will definitely include them when considering my weekly shop in the future.  The 15 items I purchased in the challenge saved me a whopping £14.33 against a supermarket shop, that makes a Poundland basket virtually half the price of a supermarket basket.  That is a saving you simply can not ignore!!

Find out more on their website's Food and Drink section. 

I received a £15 voucher in order to take the grocery challenge with Poundland.

Monday, 21 January 2013

A Romantic Meal for Six

Chiquito Restaurant Review

The whole date night thing...I just can't do it!  The idea of sloping off with Ian to a restaurant, leaving our children at home just does not appeal to me.  If it's a special occasion I can just about be persuaded to have a date night, but otherwise, I am just as happy being with Ian along with our children.  In fact, the pleasure that the kids get spending quality time with us and eating quality food makes for a perfect evening.  One day when the kids are all grown-up we will have our time together, but for now, romantic meals out are for two + the kids!  I know it's not everyone's idea of fun, but it's how we roll and we love it!

When the opportunity to review Chiquito's new menu came up, we tied it in with a visit to see Megan in Manchester.  The Chiquito restaurant in Salford Quays is ideally placed with its own car park, near the waterfront.  It was warm and welcoming which was exactly what we needed on a cold winter's evening in Manchester!

mexican, tex-mex

I love the Mexican themed decor of the restaurant with its authentic artworks and cosy, wooden booths.  The atmosphere is very relaxed and informal, and the soundtrack gives a very cool vibe to the place.  Chiquito is definitely one of my favourite restaurant chains!


We were able to book our table online in advance to guarantee a table which is a really useful feature on their website.  The new menu features many old favourites alongside some brand new dishes. I was glad to see some good vegetarian options on offer for both adults and children.  We were given bowls of complementary seasoned popcorn to munch on while we perused the menu.


The kids ate from the children's menus which consisted of a main meal, a drink and a dessert.  Freddy had the £4.95 meal and chose the flatbread pizza.  Kizzy had the £7.95 Young Adult meal and chose roasted veggie fajitas that you make up yourself.

One of the new meals on the menu is the warm Goat's Cheese and Roasted Veg Wrap which I ordered.  It was absolutely delicious, packed with tasty veg and creamy goat's cheese.  It came with house fries, salad and coleslaw and cost £9.45.


Ella opted for the Veggie Burger topped with veggie chilli. again it came with fries and coleslaw and cost £9.95.

Chiquito, burger

Ian picked his old favourite Baked Veggie Chilli Enchiladas for £10.95.  Megan went for a winter special of chimichangas with sweet potato fries.  The chimichangas were meant to be filled with veggie chilli but Megan requested a roasted vegetable filling instead.  They were happy to oblige. 

Chiquito, mexican

We had a delicious feast, all sampling each other's dishes.  

Chiquito, mexican, tex-mex, food, restaurant

The food was plentiful and very delicious.  we couldn't leave without sampling the desserts so we ordered a selection to share between us.  We ordered the Banana Taquito which was a banana wrapped in a tortilla, deep fried and flavoured with cinnamon sugar.  It was amazing!

dessert, Chiquito

We also got the Churros which came with chocolate dipping sauce.

Mexican dessert, Chiquito

The ice cream that Ian ordered came in a cinnamon, tortilla bowl which was such a lovely touch.  Desserts start at £3.25 and round off the meal perfectly.  

Freddy and Kizzy had ice cream sundaes as part of their meal deal.  I was so impressed with the size and quality of their desserts.  Freddy's strawberry sauce was absolutely fab, made with real fruit and not like the synthetic sauces you normally get on a kids' pudding.  Freddy actually said to our waitress, completely unprompted "It's the best food I've ever eaten!"  For my fussy boy to say this, it must have been good!

Chiquito, ice cream

The staff were very friendly and accommodating.  The food was great and we really enjoyed everything we ordered.  The atmosphere of the restaurant is very relaxed making Chiquito a great venue for family dining, eating out with friends or for a romantic meal for two (Valentine's Day is coming up!)  They also have a lunch time menu available until 5pm weekdays where you can eat a main for £5.95 and add on a dessert or starter for £2.50 each, which is excellent value.

We were there for over two hours as service wasn't very swift,  but as it was late afternoon the restaurant and kitchen wasn't fully staffed.  But as we were enjoying each other's company and making full use of the free wi-fi we were perfectly happy relaxing, chatting and having fun.

restaurant, family dining

To find out more about Chiquito, to view the menus and to book a table, take a look at the website at

We received a £50 voucher to put towards our meal for the purpose of doing this review.

Friday, 18 January 2013

There's No Business Like Snow Business

It was a treacherous drive to school and nursery this morning, but thanks to the new Winter tyres that Ian bought 'just in case' I managed not to slip and slide.  I really recommend having them if you are, like me, a rubbish driver!  Every other year I have done 180 degree spins and end up facing the wrong way and crying!  I felt so much more confident, and even though I didn't get into anything over second gear, I managed to deliver the kids to school in one piece and untraumatised by their mother's driving skills.

The snow did not abate at all and by the time I had to pick up Freddy three hours later, there was a good three inches on my car.  I opened the door dropping a tonne of the stuff from the roof onto my car seat and had to endure a cold bottomed drive to nursery.  Freddy's nursery is off the main road, down a tiny side road with a 90 degree turn into the drive which is surrounded by high walls.  Scary stuff as the road was now impacted with icy snow.  I inched round the corner without hitting anything (I thank my new tyres again) and managed to collect him safely albeit with a wet bum.

We drove back home and I Googled school closures as the snow was getting heavier and I was worried about Ella and her one hour bus journey, only to discover that Kizzy's school had closed 15 minutes earlier.  Another trip out in the Arctic conditions to rescue her.  She was panicking thinking I wouldn't know to get her as I don't listen to the radio so didn't hear the announcement.  She had asked the school to phone me and they said they wouldn't and if necessary she'd have to walk home!!!  I'm just glad I had checked online.  It was blizzardous by now and I wouldn't have wanted her to walk home in her little school shoes on her own.

By now Ian was on his way back from Birmingham and had already witnessed two accidents on the M6.  I always worry about his commute when the weather is bad and was relieved to know that he was on his way home.  We also heard that the bus company was suspending its service from Shrewsbury and so Ella had to leave college early to catch the last bus home or risk being stranded! With everyone heading back to the safety of home I was able to at last relax and do the one positive thing that everyone loves to do in the snow...PLAY!

snow angels, snow day

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Now Is Good Film Review

Now Is Good is a film based on the young adult book Before I Die by Jenny Downham.  Tessa Scott is a 17 year old girl (played by Dakatoa Fanning) who is dying from Leukaemia after refusing further treatment.  She has a bucket list of things she wants to experience before she dies.  Things that 'normal' teenagers do such as losing her virginity, breaking the law and taking drugs.  However, an unexpected romance turns out to be the biggest and most exhilarating experience of all.

dakota fanning, dvd

I was expecting a bit of a sentimental weepy movie but was surprised at how gritty, sincere and moving it actually was.  There was a realism to the story and to the characters that transcended the storytelling above the schmaltzy sad film that I was anticipating.  It reminded me a bit of 'Skins' (especially as the girl who plays Effy in Skins plays Tessa's best friend in the film).  The simple filming style has the feeling of a quality TV drama and the UK seaside setting strips it back, bringing the focus onto the scripting and the acting which are both excellent.

Tessa's dysfunctional family and the situations that arise are very true to life.  The issues of raising a teenage daughter are explored, complicated by the fact that Tessa is dying. Her family copes with the fear and grief, each in their own way, while Tessa makes the most of the time she has left. When she meets Adam, the boy next door, Tessa's life changes and although she is dying she feels alive.  Dakota Fanning and Jeremy Irvine play the bittersweet love story so well.  They give assured, mature performances and the chemistry between them is authentic.

This heartfelt and inspired adaptation had us laughing and crying as we shared the final weeks of Tessa's life. The story was beautifully told and utterly heart-wrenching.  But rather than it being depressing, it celebrated life, reminding us to live every moment and love every minute. We all cried real tears and the film stayed with us long after the credits rolled.

Now Is Good (Certificate 12) is released on DVD on January 21st 2013 from all good stockists.


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