Sunday, 7 February 2016

Sunday weigh-in : Glass half full !

December 02, 2013 at 10:14AM

This week was manic. Two parent-teacher evenings until 8.30pm, plus an orthodontists' appointment for Juliette's braces on my day off. I had no time and even less energy for getting active or even worrying about what I was eating. But I knew this would be the case when I wrote last week's Sunday weigh-in post so I didn't aim to lose any weight this week, I said I would be happy with a no-change.

Today the scales said 87.8kg. The no-change I was aiming for. I could whinge and moan about being stuck there for the third week running, but I prefer the positive approach of saying I haven't put any weight on in a tough week. I think the XLS must definitely be helping because I've been eating quite a lot of rubbish this week ! Steak and chips at a restaurant on Friday lunchtime, Chinese New Year meal at the school canteen where the only fruit option was pineapple fritters and the only starters were greasy spring rolls ! On the other hand, I went for a salad at McDonald's and when the kids had a rare treat of kebab and chips, I chose to eat a wrap at home instead.

For the next two weeks, I'm on holiday so I'm back in control. Next week, I'll be pushing myself harder so I'll be hoping for a loss. To be honest, I'm happy to still be in the 87's !

Positives of the week

- I survived a crazily busy week without putting on weight - that's a victory in itself !

- Forward planning is the key - I stocked up with a healthy option (stuffed tomatoes) for the first meeting and prepared a meal in advance for the other

-  Note to self : A few bad food choices don't mean that the week is a write off (especially with the XLS helping out !) so don't jump off the wagon when you think you've wrecked your chances of having a good week

- I'm still in the 87's - phew !

Current targets 

Last week's target : Manic week at work with parent-teacher evenings so just do my best - aim for a no change. (DONE)

This week's targets : Fit in at least two runs (one on the wii fit, one outdoors) and one long walk with the kids. Eat loads of salads, veggies and fruit. Swap at least half of my diet coke for water. Get back into listening to the Slimpod. Aim for 86 point something (lower end of 87's would be great too).

Short-term targets 

(1) get back into the 80's
(2) get my "lbs lost" back into double figures
(3)  get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's
 (4)  get back to 87kg, my pre-holiday weight   
(5) get my "kg lost" badge back into double figures 
(6) get my "weight loss" badge higher than my "still to go" badge
(7) get back into my (smallest) bright blue jeans comfortably
(8) get back to 77kg - my lowest weight since my pregnancies

Longer-term targets :  Hit my target weight of 70kg.

START WEIGHT :93.7kg (BMI 34.8)
WEIGHT LAST WEEK  : 87.8kg (BMI 32.6)
WEIGHT TODAY : 87.8kg (BMI 32.6)
STILL TO GO : 17.7kg

Feel free to add your weightloss posts to my weekly linkie - it's great to see how everyone else has been getting on and give each other support and encouragement. You can even grab the linkie code and add it to your own blog if you like. :)

Created by MyFitnessPal - Free Calorie Counter

 MyFitnessPal - Nutrition Facts For Foods

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Globecooking recipe : Crunchy Veggie Salad (China)

When I read through this recipe in the Chinese Kitchen Trotter box, I didn't think it was anything special, but as the kids had eaten so much of the pork, noodles & beansprouts (recipe to follow tomorrow) that there was barely enough left for me and Madhouse Daddy, I decided to knock it up to pad out the dish. It ended up being so lovely (not to mention totally guilt-free and healthy) that I'll definitely be making it again.

 Crunchy Veggie Salad

ingredients :

3 carrots
1/4 cucumber
optional : other crunchy vegetables such as bamboo shoots, red cabbage or radish
2tbsp vegetable oil
1 heaped teaspoon Sichuan pepper
2tbsp black rice vinegar
4tbsp soy sauce
2tsp sugar

Peel and finely slice the veggies. (I used a peeler to cut off thin slices of cucumber and carrot.) Heat the vegetable oil in a pan and toss in the peppercorns. Leave to sizzle for 30 seconds then turn off the heat. It's up to you whether you use a skimmer to take out the peppercorns or leave them in.

Pour the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar into the veggies, mix and taste. Adjust if necessary. Pour over the hot oil, mix and serve.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

The January Degustabox review

January's Degustabox has arrived - if you're scratching your head thinking "hang on, didn't you blog about a Degustabox just about a week ago?", you'd be quite right, but that was actually December's box which they sent out in the New Year to avoid the festive period. As soon as I glanced in the box, I could see a definite Chinese New Year theme going on - great news !

So here's what was in this month's box :

 Amoy Taste of Asia Thai Green Curry & Malaysian Laksa Cooking Sauce (2 x £1.79) - I love globecooking, as you'll know if you've ever glanced at my country-by-country recipe index, but it can often be complicated sourcing all the exotic spices and ingredients. These handy cooking pouches are ideal for taking out all the hassle and both provided very tasty and simple meals. I didn't think they'd be very authentic but I was surprised to learn that they are made in Thailand - I'll definitely be exploring the rest of the range.

Tsingtao beer (£2) - Apparently China's finest beer. It's a smooth pilsner that Madhouse Daddy really enjoyed alongside the Thai Curry.

Yushoi Lightly Salted Snapea Rice Sticks (£2) - Made with green peas and baked, these are a healthier snack option than most crisps and similar snacks, providing 99 calories per 21g serving. They're nice but we found them a bit bland. They're available in other flavours though : Smoked Salt & Szechuan Pepper, Sweet Chilli & Lemon and Soy & Balsamic Vinegar.

Slim Noodles (£2.49) - You may remember in the past I reviewed Slim Pasta which is basically the same. It still has a very strange smell that I find unpleasant but it's pretty much tasteless once you've rinsed it and covered it in sauce. Flavours like soy sauce, ginger or curry would work well with this. The huge selling point is the fact that it's made with konjac, is carb free and only contains 9 calories per 100g. Great news if you're trying to lose weight. It's also Dukan-friendly.

Finn Crisp Crispbread (£1.20) - These crunchy strips have a tangy sourdough flavour and can be munched like crisps straight from the pack or spread with whatever sweet or savoury toppings you like. We had some topped with salmon pate.

They can also be crushed and used as a crunchy topping for things like pasta bakes or, here, a cheesy vegetable bake.

Coldpress Apple juice (£1.40) - This is a really tasty apple juice or, more precisely, a really tasty golden delicious juice. Coldpress juices and smoothies offer just one variety of fruit so you can really savour the unique flavour, so you get to choose between golden delicious or pink lady rather than just apple juice. It's cold pressed rather than heated and isn't pasteurised so it retains more nutrients and natural flavour. Delicious !

Conscious Chocolate (£3) - If I eat chocolate, it's my naughty-but-nice indulgent treat so I'm never really attracted to the "healthy" chocolates on the market. This one is raw, organic, handmade, paleo and vegan friendly, free from gluten, dairy, soya and refined sugars. I got the Intense 70% dark chocolate which was a shame as I'm not a dark chocolate lover. It's pricey given the size of the bar, but if you want a healthy, raw chocolate or have special dietary requirements, it could be worth a look.

Jordans Country Crisp Fruit & Nut (£2.69) - I am rather partial to a bowl of Country Crisp. It has a great flavour and I love the crunchy texture that makes it really satisfying. I wouldn't have said that this was a new flavour though as it tastes similar to one I've had before.

Clarks Carob Syrup (£2.39) - I often use Clarks Maple Syrup but I had yet to try their carob syrup. It's a naturally sweet low GI syrup that is is suitable for vegetarians, vegans and diabetics as part of a controlled diet. It can be used to sweeten drinks and in baking as a healthier alternative to refined sugar.

Degustabox Discoveries Crobar (£2.25) - Sorry but nobody in the family wanted to try this one. It's a revolutionary natural energy bar, containing cricket flour, as well as nuts, seeds and fruit. Yes, that's cricket flour as in groud up grasshoppers. Hmm. I know they're supposed to be ultra healthy and a great source of protein and more eco-friendly than rearing meat but I still didn't want to try this one. I can see a lot of disgruntled people not realising that these contain cricket flour until they read the small print because it's not made clear on the packaging !

This month's recipe card suggested Chicken Chow Mein and Mint Chocolate Baked Oats, which both sound like things I'd like to eat.

A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that (£23 this month), but the great news is, I have a discount coupon code for you which gives you a whopping £6 off the price of your box - just enter code BLDEG15 at the checkout. Even with a couple of things I wouldn't buy (the cricket flour bar and the raw chocolate), that still makes it great value and it's a good way to discover new products.

for more information :

Also now on Instagram @DegustaboxUK with a free box being given away for each 100 likes.

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

A winning beginning to the year !

Lucky Charms, Chocolate with Five Clover Hats
In 2014 I won absolutely loads ... so much so that I did a monthly "here's what I won this month" prize roundup. I don't think I entered fewer competitions last year but I won basically nothing - possibly a handful of prizes and even then, they were all blogger competitions - so I decided to have a proper go at comping in the run up to Christmas and during January and see if I could boost my luck a bit for 2016. Well, it seemed to pay off - despite not having the time (or patience) to enter the advent giveaways, I got a few wins at the end of December and a few more in January.

My first win was a useful one. A fabulous Cheerios family calendar from their instant win competition which I love because it has a personal photo on each month.

Next was a7-day Slimfast starter pack as a surprise win for being on their mailing list.

My only advent win was a goodie bag from containing a beanie (which Sophie pinched !), a notebock, a card wallet and a pen.

I got a WEM telling me that I'd won the monthly Crazy Jack's recipe competition for my Ethiopian recipe. This lovely selection of goodies arrived in the post - I wonder if I can come up with another winning entry with them !

The foodie wins continued when I received a lovely hamper of haggis from Macsween for sharing some recipes on twitter. 

I won a fabulous prize next - a £100 amazon voucher from FlexiOffices :)

Another useful prize - a set of three Arts & Crafts tea towels, worth £19.50 per set, from the V&A Shop via Homes & Antiques on twitter

And finally, a prize that I donated to someone else because it was in Manchester - a free breakfast from @bangersandbacon for Breakfast Week

This has definitely inspired me to keep on entering competitions throughout the year. Maybe I'll win some prizes on my wishlist : a Fitbit, running shoes, clothes, foodie hamper, crime fiction, Lush goodies, a onesie, bedding ... :)

Have you had any good wins recently?

Fab freebies of the week 6/2

Lots of people gave up alcohol for Dry January but the freebies seem to have dried up too ! Hopefully they'll be back with a vengeance now that we're into Freebie February !


Red Bull are giving away 15,000 free 2 cans of their famous energy drink - 750 winners a day

Request a free copy of Esquire magazine

Buy Garnier Olia hair colour at selected retailers and you can claim your money back

Free Kiddylicious Crunchy Samples available here

Sign up to Amy Childs clothing newsletter and get a free beauty gift

Request free tickets for the Allergy & Free From Show Scotland (in March)

Request some free honey bee friendly wild flower seeds

When you join Boots Parenting Club you'll receive free gifts for you and your little one every step of the way.

Sign up your child for the free Playmobil Birthday Club and get free goodies (certificate, badge, xmas and birthday cards ...)

Claim your FREE copy of the Scotland 2016 Guide

For kids aged 6-14, join Dino's Dnamo Club and receive a free gift and coming any minute now, Scotland's Geoparks Poster

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Giveaway #532 : Win 4 amazing Lego sets - closing 11/2

Friday, 5 February 2016

Giveaway #534 : Win 2x DVD copies for Shaun The Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas - closing 19/2

After the tremendous success of Shaun The Sheep: The Movie, which took £14m at the box office, Shaun and the team are back for an all new adventure on Mossy Bottom Farm.

The already well-loved characters in the Aardman family, will be joined by a pack of new mischievous llamas: Hector, Fernando and Raul in a comedy Llama Drama.

When the Farmer and Bitzer go to a Country Fair, Shaun tags along intent on causing mischief. Shaun spies an auction where he sees three exotic and very crafty Llamas going under the hammer. Instantly besotted by their fantastic pranks Shaun gets the unwitting Farmer to buy them. Back at Mossy Bottom Farm, Shaun is delighted with his prank and convinces the Flock that the Llamas are just what they need to spice up their lives. At first everything’s great fun, but soon their new Llama room-mates get a bit too comfortable in their new home. When things spiral out of control, Shaun is forced to take action to oust the intruders and save the farm.


Cert. U | Running Time: 35 mins approx.| RRP: £12.99

Shaun The Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas is available on DVD 8th February

I have two copies of the DVD to give away to Madhouse Family Reviews readers. Just fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 19/2/16

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook, twitter and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after 28 days, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

You ay also like to enter my other giveaways :

What's Cooking at the Madhouse? menu plan 5/2

It's the holidays so I need to plan lunches and dinners - time to work through some more of my bookmarked recipes so expect lots of #readcookeat and globecooking recipes.


lunch - Macaroni cheese

dinner -  homemade soup


lunch - roast dinner of some shape or form

dinner - leftover soup and/or toasties


lunch - Jollof rice & moimoi

dinner - sloppy Joe's topped with garlic bread


lunch - Philly Cheesesteak with wedges and salad

dinner -  General Tso's chicken with rice


lunch - Dublin Coddle

dinner - Butter chicken with rice


lunch - fakeaway KFC with Actifry chips and coleslaw

dinner - Algerian fougasse


lunch - Chicken fricassee with mushrooms, veggies & pasta

dinner - I've no doubt there will be a fridge full of leftovers to use up

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Meal Planning Monday

Want to see what everyone else is eating ? Head over to Meal Planning Monday at Mrs M's blog !

Thursday, 4 February 2016

No time to read? Check out this year's Quick Reads (review)

I am a total bookworm and always have at least one book on the go - in fact, I signed up for the 2016 Good Reads challenge and pledged to read 52 books in a year and I've already finished seven so I'm well ahead of schedule ! Reading is my little bit of escapism and I love winding down at bedtime or whiling away a boring bus ride to work with an exciting pageturner. Many of my friends, especially busy mums, say that they don't have the time or energy to read books, so I'll be passing on the new selection of Quick Reads to some of them to see if they can rediscover the pleasure of reading.

The books only cost £1 each and they cover popular genres such as chick lit and crime fiction. This year's selection, which launched today, are as follows :

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb)
When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, 9th October 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price when she was shot in the head at point-blank range. Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinary journey has taken her from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations. She has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I Am Malala will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

A Baby at the Beach Cafe by Lucy Diamond
Evie loves running her beach café in Cornwall, but with a baby on the way, she’s been told to put her feet up. Let someone else take over? Not likely. Helen’s come to Cornwall to escape the stress of city living. She hopes a seaside life will be the answer to all her dreams. When she sees a job advertised at the café it sounds perfect. But the two women clash and sparks fly… and then events take a dramatic turn. Can the pair of them put aside their differences in a crisis?

The Anniversary, edited by Veronica Henry
From family secrets to unlikely romance, from wartime tragedy to ghostly messages, The Anniversary is a wonderful collection of short stories from some of the best writers around to celebrate 10 years of Quick Reads. This collection includes specially written short fiction by Fanny Blake, Elizabeth Buchan, Rowan Coleman, Jenny Colgan, Philippa Gregory, Matt Haig, Veronica Henry, Andy McNab, Richard Madeley and John O'Farrell. It also includes delicious anniversary recipes from The Hairy Bikers.

The Double Clue: Poirot Short Stories by Agatha Christie (Edited by Sophie Hannah & John Curran)
A man is found shot in a locked room. A wealthy banker disappears while posting a letter. A thief vanishes with a haul of rubies and emeralds. And, in the golden sands of Egypt, the men who discovered an ancient tomb are dying one by one . . . Hercule Poirot, the fussy Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head and neat and tidy moustache, solved some of the world’s most puzzling crimes. This book contains four of the very best stories, selected by John Curran, author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, and Sophie Hannah, who wrote the brand new Hercule Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders.

Too Good to be True by Ann Cleeves
When young teacher Anna Blackwell is found dead in her home, the police think her death was suicide or a tragic accident. After all, Stonebridge is a quiet country village in the Scottish Borders, where murders just don’t happen. But Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez soon arrives from far-away Shetland when his ex-wife, Sarah, asks him to look into the case. The local gossips are saying that her new husband Tom was having an affair with Anna. Could Tom have been involved with her death? Sarah refuses to believe it – but needs proof.

On The Rock by Andy McNab
This is the call he is always ready for. They’ve had word of a planned attack. That’s why he’s back here, opposite some suit who’s trying to tell him what he needs to do. But he knows exactly what’s required. Four men. Plain clothes. Eyes peeled. Three targets. Two cases. One car. Gibraltar isn’t an ideal location. Too many people. Too many blind alleys. But then again, he’s not the terrorist. Who knows what goes through their minds? Well, he will soon. If everything goes to plan.

With such a stellar line up of top authors, it makes sense that the Quick Reads initiative has been sponsored by Galaxy for six of its ten years of existence ! Which one takes your fancy? Or will you be buying the whole lot ?

Disclosure : I received the Quick Reads books and a lovely bar of Galaxy - I'm not sure which of the two I was most excited about !

Globecooking recipe : Sweet & Sour Chicken (China)

When I looked at the recipes in this month's Chinese-themed Kitchen Trotter box and saw that one of them was for sweet & sour chicken, I was initially disappointed. Everybody's eaten sweet & sour chicken before, even if it's often from a jar of ultra-sweet, very orange sauce with lumps of pineapple in it. Even with the dodgy photo due to the lack of light, you can see that the dish using the recipe looks nothing like the ones that are produced with a jar of cooking sauce though. It has a fabulous crispy texture and the explosion of flavours from ginger, goji berries and soy sauce had my tastebuds dancing. My kitchen smelt exactly like a Chinese takeaway too !

This recipe called for three ingredients from the Kitchen Trotter box - black vinegar (also called black rice vinegar), chilli paste and goji berries.

I'm also trying to use up some of the leftover ingredients from past boxes so I used some panela (Colombian sugar) in place of brown sugar, crystallised ginger (also from the Colombian box) in place of regular ginger and soy sauce (from a Korean Kitchen Nomad box, which was way back before I even started with Kitchen Trotter). I also decided to use up some of a bottle of ginger wine in place of white wine, as it's been sitting in the cupboard for longer than I can remember !

Sweet & Sour Chicken

ingredients :

500g chicken breast
1 clove of garlic
5-10g of ginger (or crystallised ginger)
4tbsp cornflour
1.5tbsp black rice vinegar
1tsp chilli paste
15g goji berries
vegetable oil for frying
1 egg
4tbsp soy sauce
30cl water
2-3 heaped tbsp brown sugar
2tbsp white wine
salt, pepper

Combine 2tbsp soy sauce, 1tbsp white wine (I used ginger wine), salt and pepper in a bowl.

Slice the chicken breast into thin strips. I pre-grilled mine but you can use raw chicken too. Stir to evenly coat and leave in the fridge to soak up the marinade.

I must say, I've fallen in love with panela, the Colombian blocks of brown sugar that you shave with a knife. Regular brown sugar would be fine too though.

Mix 1tbsp cornflour, 2tbsp soy sauce, 1tbsp white wine (I used ginger wine again), the vinegar, water and sugar in a small bowl. This will be the base for the sauce.

In a separate bowl (there will be lots of washing up at the end of this recipe !), whisk the egg and beat in 3tbsp of cornflour to make a batter. Season with a little salt.

Dip the chicken pieces in the batter and turn to cover on all sides.

Put a couple of centimetres of oil in a deep pan and heat to a high temperrature. Drop in a drip of batter and if it bubbles and rises to the surface, you're good to go. Cook the chicken in the hot oil in batches until golden brown and crispy. 

Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.

Finely chop the ginger (I used crystallised ginger) and garlic and weigh out the goji berries.

Heat 1tbsp of oil (I reused some of the oil from the chicken) in a deep pan (or pour out the oil and reuse the same pan as for frying the chicken). Throw in the garlic, ginger and goji berries, then add the chilli paste and finally the sauce. (Give it a good stir first because the cornflour sinks to the bottom.)

Cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. This only takes a couple of minutes.

Toss in the chicken and stir quickly to coat in the sticky sauce. Serve with rice or noodles.

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

 Adding this to #KitchenClearout as it used up some of my exotic ingredients and ginger wine.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Essence of Arcadia aromatherapy oil diffuser review

When I was a child growing up in the eighties, aromatherapy was the in-word. You could suddenly buy mood candles, aromatherapy shampoos, body lotions and bubble bath, amongst other things, with feel-good fragrances, but the one thing that every single one of my teenaged friends had (as far as the girls went anyway - the boys tended to stick with the aroma of smelly socks, damp towels and boy sweat in their rooms !) was an oil burner with a tealight candle to heat the oil and release the scent. Now that I'm a mum, there's no way I'm letting my teen and tween daughters light candles in their bedrooms any time soon, so I was very pleased to see that you can now buy aromatherapy oil diffusers that plug into the mains - a much safer option !

Essence of Arcadia sent us through one of their aromatherapy oil diffusers to review. It all came in a very elegant looking black and gold box with a magnetic lid. Carefully packaged inside were the diffuser unit, the cable/plug, a water jug, instructions and three 100% pure, therapeutic grade, 10ml oils of Lavender, Eucalyptus and Tea Tree.

The diffuser is easy to take apart and reassemble. You just need to add some water and a few drops of the oils, put it back together and plug it in then wait for the lovely scents to fill your room. I was dubious about using just a few drops but these oils are obviously a lot more potent than the ones I've used in the past and that really is all you need. 

Most oil diffusers that I've seen in the shops are made of white plastic and, to be frank, look a bit cheap and nasty. The Essence of Arcadia diffuser has a decorative outer casing made of glass so it looks more like a vintage vase or ornament that you can leave out on the shelf. It has various settings, such as continuous or intermittent vapour and a colour-change mode, which is pretty funky. It can run for four hours and has a warning light when the water runs dry, as well as an auto-shut off function, although I haven't actually tested it because I turn it off because the water has all gone.

I love experimenting with home fragrances but I am often a bit disappointed. Air fresheners often smell artificial and the fragrance doesn't last for long, pot pourri is great at collecting dust and candles are a no-go with kids in the house, so the plug-in oil diffuser is a great option. Once it's turned on, you can't hear it so you only know it's there when the room starts smelling nice !

I wasn't too sure about the oils included in the box because they're not my favourite scents. I know that lavender is relaxing but I often find it quite cloying, tea tree reminds me of head lice treatments and I don't really like eucalyptus, but I discovered that I like them better in the pure, natural form of the oils than in the products I've used in the past. The eucalyptus one is great when someone in the house has a cold or a bunged up nose and the lavender is great for winding down in the evening.

What is extra lovely about Essence of Arcadia is the lady behind the brand, Rebecca Jest. As a stay-at-home-mum, she has set the whole business up herself, from importing to setting up the website and you can tell it's a real labour of love. Her passion and desire to make you love her products as much as she does really come across in her follow-up emails (via amazon so it's not just because I'm reviewing for her) and this personal touch is a great bonus as she's always ready to answer any queries you may have.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : usually £65, currently on sale on their website or amazon for £49.99

for more information :

Disclosure : I received the product in order to write an honest review.