Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Disney Infinity Phineas & Ferb Toy Box pack review

Just in time for the Easter holidays, we were over the moon to receive the Disney Infinity Starter Pack for the Wii, along with the brand new Phineas & Ferb Toy Box pack that was launched at the start of the month.

We knew a bit about the game because the Madhouse Mini-testers have wanted one ever since its release. It's a bit like Skylanders in that you use real-world toy figures representing various characters from Disney and Pixar films along with a device called the Infinity Base and transport them into the virtual game worlds of Monsters University, the Incredibles, Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lone Ranger and Toy Story, as well as into a giant Toy Box.

The starter pack comes with the game, the Disney Infinity Base and three figures: Mr. Incredible, Jack Sparrow and Sulley, which open up the play sets for Monsters University, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Incredibles. You also get a Power Disc. The Phineas & Ferb Toy Box pack contains Phineas and Agent P figures, as well as Phineas and Ferb Texture Set and Skydome Power Discs, but they don't open up a new play set in the Story Book mode - they only work in Toy Box mode.

After starting out in the Toy Box area, discovering the different characters and switching over the figures, Juliette decided to start playing the Story Book mode and work her way through the adventure.

She set off as Jack Sparrow and had great fun running around, completing mini missions, climbing up towers, jumping across gaps, sliding down cables, breaking open chests and killing baddies (but there's absolutely no blood and guts or scariness involved).

Her face says it all - she's been having a whale of a time (and if you get totally stuck, you can google "disney infinity walkthrough" and watch other people playing it on youtube to help you out before you pull your hair out !).

The Phineas & Ferb Toy Box Pack allows you to embark on secret spy missions and defeat enemies with Agent P’s flying fedora or Phineas’ baseball blaster and tuck n’ roll moves. Both character figures are accompanied by their own unique adventures so in the Phineas adventure, players are set into a giant pinball machine and challenged to create a play field where they can destroy waves of oncoming robots and in the Agent P adventure, players participate in a top-down adventure with side-scrolling elements that pay homage to old school arcade games.

The Phineas and Ferb Toy Box Pack also includes two new power discs to give players’ Toy Boxes a makeover. The “Tri-State Area Terrain” Texture Set and the “Danville Sky” Sky Theme provides well-known location backgrounds from the show, including the Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated building and a small waterslide park invented in one of the cartoon's episodes.

As we're playing on the Wii, two-player mode is only available in Toy Box mode, not Story Book mode, which is a real shame. That's apparently down to the space limitations of the Wii platform though and multiplayer mode IS available on other consoles. Another limitation that is quite disappointing is that each character can only play within its own world, so you can't transport Jack Sparrow to Monsters University for example (which could be quite funny). Other add on characters, including Phineas and Ferb, can only be played with in Toy Box mode. As long as you are aware of these restrictions when you buy it, it's a great game though and one that will be keeping the Madhouse Mini-testers amused for quite some time to come.

star rating : 4.5/5

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

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Madhouse diaries : Our first foray into geocaching

After seeing Elaine at Fun As A Gran talking about her family having a fab time geocaching, I decided to go and have another look online. The idea really appeals to me but, the last time I looked a few years ago, there were hardly any caches in France and certainly none near us. It has really taken off though because there were absolutely loads around us this time so I signed us up and we headed off on our first ever geocaching adventure today. We don't have a handheld GPS or a smartphone so I just noted down the instructions and looked up the locations on google maps before setting off. Our first cache site was located at one of the war memorials in Dunkirk.

The hints had said that we had to find a cosy place for a baby bird so we were delighted to finally spot this after walking around the statue twice !

Pierre's face was a real picture when he got to discover the first treasure !

I think I was just as excited as the kids to be honest !

We proudly filled in the log (and I'll go and add it online in a minute).

There was a tiny magnet in the box so we took that and left a heart-shaped keyring in its place. The kids had scurried around the house looking for little treasures to leave before we left ! We popped it back in its place and headed off for our second cache.

This bridge was the next site and I was convinced it would be on or around the big wooden chair that you can just spot on the right bank.

As we wandered across the bridge, we spotted a few engraved padlocks that had been attached - this one was our favourite : a double heart-shaped padlock with Marcus & Sophie forever inscribed on it. 

There were quite a few people sitting around on the chair so we headed just to the side, along towards the bank of the canal. I spotted a sign and had a quick look - bingo !

Now this one had a logbook but no surprises inside - awww maybe someone not playing the game properly? - but we put one of our little toys inside anyway. We filled in the log book again and popped it back in its place.

We went looking for another one at the statue of Jean Bart in the main town square but didn't manage to find it. This was in the middle of a busy market though so we'll come back another day when it's quieter. And we failed to find the fourth one too but it's next to the theatre which has been totally renovated so I think the cache markers may be non-existent now or have moved.

We'll definitely be having another go though - it was great fun ! I'm already looking into buying a handheld GPS to make things easier !

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Bahlsen Pick Up! review

You may remember my recent giveaway for Pick Up!, the newest biscuit from Bahlsen. Well, they kindly sent some through to The Madhouse for us to try out too. Pick Up! is described as "a mouth-watering slab of thick milk chocolate sandwiched between two crisp biscuits". To be perfectly honest, that sounded nice but not hugely original to me.

We were actually really impressed though. The biscuit part reminds me a bit of Rich Tea biscuits. They are quite plain and not overly sweet which is the absolutely perfect complement to the sweet milk chocolate nestling inside.

They weren't kidding when they mentioned a slab of chocolate either. The chocolate filling is real solid chocolate, not the fake chocolatey paste that you get inside some biscuits. We love the fact that having the chocolate on the inside avoids getting chocolatey fingers when you eat them and also means you can take your time, lingering over every delectable mouthful, rather than scoffing it quickly before it melts all over your hands !

Each bar contains 143 calories which isn't too bad because one is enough to fight any hunger pangs or sugar cravings you may have.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £1.69 for 5 x 28g

for more information :

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

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Santa Maria First Taste Kit - Steak and Chips

As I told you last week (when I took part in the Santa Maria Canapé Challenge), Santa Maria, a brand new range of Herbs and Spices, is launching this week. In honour of the occasion, they created a selection of First Taste Kits - First Aid Kits but for your food - to showcase the ease with which the new Herbs and Spices range can transform an everyday dish into a flavour sensation. If you watch the video below, you can see what was in our kit for Steak and Chips.

Time to move into the kitchen !

Here are the two Santa Maria products from the box - Tellicherry Black Pepper on the left and Rock & Sea Salt on the right.

First I made the herby butter by mashing together 100g softened butter, 100g finely chopped parsley, 1 small garlic clove, zest of 1 lemon and 5 tsp black pepper.

Next, the steak gets the Santa Maria treatment too, with a generous sprinkling of Tellicherry Black Pepper and the Rock & Sea Salt. 

I decided to go for oven-baked wedges rather than chips, and tossed the potato slices in a little olive oil before shaking on plenty of Tellicherry Black Pepper and the Rock & Sea Salt, along with some of the Chips Perfect Shake Seasoning that I told you about last week.

A hot pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a knob of butter is the only other thing that is needed. Time to sizzle the steaks for a few minutes on each side.

Add a simple side salad of lettuce of cucumber and you're ready to go. The herby butter on top of the steak was a lovely touch and one that I'll definitely use again.

Santa Maria wanted to showcase the ease with which the new Herbs and Spices range can transform an everyday dish into a flavour sensation. Mission accomplished, without a doubt !

Disclosure : I received a First Taste Kit from Santa Maria in order to write an honest review.

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Skips CrossWord and CrossMaths Books review

In France, there is a huge market for educational "cahiers de vacances" or summer holiday activity books. You can get them for every single school year in primary and secondary education and you have the choice of one subject or a quick overview of the whole year. We sometimes buy them, not because we're pushy parents but because the kids ask for them, but they usually do a few pages then get bored and find better things to do ! I must admit, I always think it's a bit of a shame making the kids sit down and do vast quantities of homework over the summer, and I'm a teacher myself ! When Skips got in touch and asked if we'd like to try out some of their educational activity books focusing on English and maths, I was keen to see what we'd think. They describe them as "innovative activity books for spending quality time together, having fun and learning school stuff without the pain and frustration sometimes experienced". Sounds perfect.

Well, I think this photo says it all. Juliette, just out of bed, still in her onesie, eagerly clutching her Skips book and a pen, working her way through the puzzles then coming and showing them to me with a big smile on her face AND SHE DOESN'T LIKE MATHS ! Despite following the school curriculum and being highly educational, making Juliette reuse all the skills that she's been practising (and sometimes struggling with) at school, the crossword puzzles manage to stay fun and motivating. If you ask Juliette, she's playing, not learning, which is absolutely ideal.

We got some KS1 and KS2 books, as well as Year 7, which both of the girls have been happily working through, but little brother Pierre wanted to get involved too so Juliette let him trace over the numbers and count the dots in some of the earlier puzzles, which he was very proud to do.

Each puzzle focuses on a different skill and they get harder as you work through the book, gaining in confidence. The KS1 Crossmaths book, for example, contains three chapters. In chapter 1, you practise adding, subtracting, one more or one less and number lines up to 30. Chapter 2 focuses on tens and units, 2/10/5 more or less, ranking numbers, odd and even numbers, money and time. Each chapter ends with a test and chapter 3 contains five practice crosswords that mix up everything you've used in the book.

The bright colours are really appealing to little learners and, for extra motivation, there are gold stars and "well done" stickers for you to put at the bottom of successfully completed pages.

I picked up Juliette's book for writing this review and was amazed to see how many of the pages are already complete. On several pages, she's put wrong answers then crossed them out and corrected them as she realises she's made a mistake due to an interlocking answer, so it's a great tool for making your kids work out where they've gone wrong and solve the problem all by themselves. If you're not great at maths youself, you get all the answers at the back of the book too.

You can view some of the worksheets for yourself over on the Skips website and there's a nouns crossword that you can print to try out. Skips suggest doing about half an hour a day and we've got into a routine of doing a page before bed (or at another quiet moment in the day) but the girls are also working their way through all by themselves with no encouragement or help from me. Even better than seeing them have fun while learning is seeing them gain in confidence. Juliette said to me the other day that she's "not very good" at maths at school but she can manage to get all the answers right in her CrossMaths book - I pointed out that she's using exactly the same exercises as at school, just in a different format so she must be good at maths. Her shy little smile showed that the positive message got through and for that alone, I'd definitely suggest buying these books !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £7.99

for more information :

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

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Persil Stain Challenge Video review

For a recent Bzz campaign, we received a stain kit from Persil to put their new Dual Action capsules to the test. It contained a box of their new capsules, a pot of strawberry jam and - eeek - a brand new white T-shirt.

You can see how we got on in the video below. I have to admit, I was amazed at the results and will be seeing what other stains the Madhouse Mini-testers can come up with over the next two weeks while we're on holiday to test them some more !

Disclosure : I received a bzz kit containing the product in order to write an honest review.

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Madhouse recipe : Moroccan lamb stew #seizetheflavour

I'm sure we weren't the only ones to sit down to a roast leg of lamb for Easter Sunday lunch this weekend. We ate leftovers the next day for lunch (some meat with leftover gravy, potatoes and veggies) but in the evening, there was still a small amount of leftover lamb, so I decided to do something a bit more inventive and use some of my new Knorr Flavour Pots to jazz things up a bit.

Moroccan lamb stew


leftover roast lamb
2 onions
1 red pepper
tin of chopped tomatoes
tin of chickpeas
1 garlic Knorr Flavour Pot
1 mixed herb Knorr Flavour Pot
1tsp ras el-hanout

Drizzle a little olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion and red pepper until tender, then add the cooked leftover lamb and heat through thoroughly.

Add the tinned tomatoes, the tinned chickpeas, the ras el-hanout and the two Knorr Flavour Pots. Bring to the boil, stirring to mix in the Flavour Pots, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Serve with rice or couscous.

Disclosure : I received a Knorr Flavour Pot Mystery Box to experiment with. Follow the #seizetheflavour hastag @UnileverKitchen to see everybody else's Mystery Box Masterpieces.

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Fentimans botanical drinks review

When Fentimans got in touch to ask if I'd like to try out some of their drinks, I was intrigued because it's a company I'd never heard of. They describe themselves as "creators of botanically brewed drinks made using time-honoured methods which preserve the flavours of the finest natural ingredients".

This seems to be their guiding principle because it's even stamped on the bottle caps. I went to investigate online and find out a bit more about them. I love the story of how the original product, ginger beer, came into being : "Fentimans was founded in 1905 when Thomas Fentiman, a Yorkshire iron puddler, was approached by a fellow tradesman for a loan. A deal was struck and a recipe for botanically brewed ginger beer was provided as security. The loan was never repaid so Thomas became the owner of the unique recipe. He began making botanically brewed ginger beer and delivering it door-to-door using a horse and cart. He sold it in handmade stone jars stamped with an image of his dog ‘Fearless’ who still features on the bottles today." The business is now owned by the great grandson of Thomas Fentiman.

As the ginger beer was the first product to be produced, I thought it should be the first one to sample too. I haven't drunk ginger beer for years - my grandad always used to buy it so this was a real trip down memory lane ! It has a very light colour - you could mistake it for lemonade - and the ginger flavour is quite delicate. You can certainly detect it but it doesn't have the spicy bite that some ginger beers have. Very refreshing with a crisp flavour and just the right amount of fizz.

Next, I tried the curiously-named Mandarin and Seville Orange Jigger. I was expecting this to be quite sharp or even bitter but it tastes like a naturally-flavoured, refined version of orangeade. Again, very refreshing, with a lovely sweet, fruity flavour and enough bubbles to tickle your tongue but not make you burp uncontrollably !

Best served chilled, these would be great over ice in the summer for refreshment on a hot sunny day. They're also great to help digestion kick in after a big meal. Ginger beer always used to help with morning sickness during my pregnancies too. As the label mentions "botanical brewing" and "natural fermentation", I had a moment's doubt about whether they had any alcohol content (particularly the ginger beer, which can be alcoholic or kid-friendly, depending on the brand) but they appear to be soft drinks with no alcohol content at all.

The rest of the range sounds lovely too, with some delightfully old-fashioned variants available : Victorian Lemonade, Rose Lemonade, Curiosity Cola, Cherrytree Cola, Dandelion & Burdock and Brewed Shandy, as well as a range of mixers including Tonic Water, Light Tonic Water, Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £1.50 for 275ml

for more information :

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

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Kids' book review : What Do The Grown Ups Do? Sean the Actor

You may remember last month, we reviewed the first two books from the What Do The Grown Ups Do? series, featuring Papa the Stockfarmer and Joe the Fisherman. This time, in the third book, author Mairi McLellan takes on a slightly more glamorous career, describing the life of Sean the Actor.

Just as in the previous titles, the book is a well-balanced mix of highly informative and detailed texts alongside colour photos, which give you a real feel for what it means on a day-to-day basis to be an actor. We meet up with the little girls from the other books, Ava, Skye and Gracie Mackenzie, at the start of the book and their questions guide the book all the way through.

The texts are quite long, so they are more suited to slightly older children (aged about 8-12), although younger children will be happy looking at the pictures while you read a shortened version of the narrative. Even parents will find lots of interesting snippets of information they probably didn't know too.

And the rugged good looks of Sean the Actor means that it is no great hardship reading this one in several sittings !

Actually, I can't believe I just said that - this is the same actor (Sean Maguire) that I used to secretly lust after as Tegs in Grange Hill when I was was barely into my teens back in the nineties !

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, it's an interesting read which even has a great message for young readers about education being a priority for getting on in life, whether or not you plan on being an actor.

Three more books are planned to continue the series - Fiona the Doctor, Richard the Vet and Gordon the Wildlife Filmmaker will be the next titles to be released.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £10 paperback, £3.99 ebook

  • Paperback: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Matador (28 April 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1783062002
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783062003

for more information :

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

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