Tuesday, 1 December 2015

DVD review : The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm

Yesterday saw the release on DVD and digital of The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm,  the new star-studded adaptation of the classic children’s book series by Norman Hunter.

Professor Branestawm (played by Harry Hill) is the ultimate mad professor, an absent-minded inventor who is oblivious to the chaos his hare-brained creations cause when they go wrong, which they always do ! If it weren't for the efforts of his long suffering housekeeper, Mrs Flittersnoop (Vicki Pepperdine, Getting On, Rev.), and his dim but loyal best friend, Colonel Dedshott (Simon Day, The Fast Show, Mount Pleasant), the professor would long ago have blown himself to smithereens !

In this adventure, the professor’s friends and his young apprentice Connie (Madeline Holliday, Holby City) join forces when evil businessman Mr Bullimore (Ben Miller, Johnny English, The Armstrong and Miller Show) and officious local councillor Harold Haggerstone (David Mitchell, Peep Show, 10 O’Clock Live) plan to have Branestawn branded a danger to the community so that they can bulldoze his workshop and make way for a giant munitions factory in the middle of town.

This is the role that Harry Hill was born to play ! He's absolutely perfect in the film and the silly jokes and slapstick humour had the Madhouse kids giggling their way through the whole film. We were surprised at how short it is though - it's only an hour long. The second adventure is airing on BBC One this festive season so this is the perfect way to catch up.

star rating : 4.5/5

DVD and Digital Release Date: 30th November 2015
Runtime:  60 minutes
Certificate: U

Disclosure : We received a screener in order to write an honest review.

Book review : With a Friend Like You - Fanny Blake

When I first started reading chick lit, it was all about carefree 20-somethings looking for love, booze-fuelled parties and the ultimate exotic holiday. All of which has very little at all to do with my life these days ! I was therefore delighted to discover that Fanny Blake's With a Friend Like You offers a tale of chick-lit for the slightly older forty or fifty-something woman.

Having a daughter just a few years younger myself, I could instantly empathise with Beth's disarray and absolute horror when she discovers that her 18-year-old daughter Ella is pregnant. To make things even more complicated, it turns out that the father is her best friend Megan's son. As if that didn't already make things awkward enough, she discovers that Megan knew before she did and chose to keep Ella's secret, as requested, rather than immediately run to Beth to let her know.

Despite initially empathising with Beth, my loyalties soon turned to Megan. I really appreciated and identified with her down-to-earth lifestyle - constant baking and a happy, if slightly chaotic, family home, alongside a career in teaching. As the two women struggle to come to terms with everything life throws at them, it seems unlikely that their friendship will survive intact ... unless the fact that they will become grandmothers for the first time at the same instant will take them forward into a new period of understanding.

Unlike much frothy chick lit where the heroine's biggest dilemma is which dress to wear and which eligible bachelor to pursue, it was enjoyable to see the characters going through the more realistic and mundane dramas relating to their work and personal lives. I did want to bang Megan and Beth's heads together at various points in the novel and tell them to get their act together and behave like grown-ups, and it did also strike me as slightly caricatural that all four men in the novel seem to be totally spineless and useless in a crisis, but the complex relationships between the female characters in the book (as friends, wives, mothers and daughters) kept me turning the pages, intrigued to see how things would ultimately play out.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (13 Aug. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409129667
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409129660
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

The Snowman and The Snowdog Great Festive Bake Off Blog Tour ! #SnowmanSnowdog

The Snowman has been a part of my Christmas routine for as long as I can remember, as has baking with the kids, so I was delighted to be asked to join in with The Snowman and The Snowdog Great Festive Bake Off Blog Tour. Two things that we love in one project !

Raymond Briggs first published the iconic book all the way back in 1978 and I instantly fell in love with it, but watching it on TV for the first time in 1982 really took the festive magic to a new level. The heartwarming and often humorous tale of the friendship between the snowman and the little boy, along with a visit from Father Christmas, is a timeless classic that has enchanted generations of children (and grown ups !). I don't think there has been a single year when we haven't sat down to watch it and it still works its magic every time. The Snowman and The Snowdog will be shown on Channel 4 again this Christmas and we'll definitely be watching ! We also have the book but it is well-used and decidedly tatty so we were delighted to receive a brand new, deluxe hardbacked edition of the original classic tale - the story and illustrations are just the same but we love the fresh look of the front cover. The book is available from Puffin and costs £12.99 - as it is wordless, it would be a fabulous gift for children who love books but haven't learnt to read yet. We love looking at the pictures together and making up the dialogues - giggles guaranteed at bedtime !

I always love seeing all the spin-off products to help bring The Snowman off the pages and screens and into our home. We were delighted to receive a gorgeous Snowman and Snowdog advent calendar from Thorntons, which the kids wanted to open immediately, along with some ultra cute cookie cutters (£4.75 from Party Delights) for us to have fun in the kitchen with and join in the challenge.

Now, I would love to say that this is how ours came out, but I'd be lying ! These fantastic creations that look almost too good to eat are from Biscuiteers - their beautiful Snowman and The Snowdog Big Biscuit Card costs £22.50 and shows just how fabulous edible creations can look.

Biscuiteers have kindly provided a video tutorial to show you how to try to make your own Snowman biscuits. She makes it look so easy ! I also didn't realise you could bake icing to make it set - that's a new technique to experiment with in the kitchen.

But on to The Madhouse version ! I decided to use basic cookie dough and add some cinnamon because it's just such a festive flavour. We went for three different decorative options, using ready-to-roll icing, a tub of frosting and white chocolate, along with sprinkles and icing gel pens. I'll let you decide which one worked best !

As I scuttled around the kitchen getting out ingredients to make the biscuits, I told the Madhouse kids to scatter some flour on the table for roling out the dough. I laughed when I turned round and was confronted with this !

The cookie dough I used was a bit too soft so they didn't hold their shape that well, but they didn't fall apart either, which is always a bonus ! For our first option, we used up the end of a tub of ready made vanilla frosting.

For the second option, we rolled out some ready-to-roll icing that was lurking in the cupboard. It had gone a bit hard but seemed to come back ok with a bit of enthusiastic squishing !

For the third and final option, I melted some white chocolate and spread it over the top. Then the real fun started and it was time to decorate them, using icing gel pens and sprinkles.

 We soon had an entire table full of Snowmen and Snowdogs, much to Pierre's delight !

Here's how  the ready-to-roll icing ones came out. 

And the buttercream icing ones.

And the white chocolate ones.

I asked Pierre which ones he thought looked and tasted best and he said all of them ! I think his favourite part of all was licking out the bowls !

They may not be as impressive as the Biscuiteer ones but I bet they didn't have as much fun making theirs as we did !

If you want to see some of the other entries for the #SnowmanSnowdog Bake Off challenge, head over to twitter and search for the hashtag. Also don't miss Mummy's Little Peeps tomorrow, as the blog tour will be stopping off there !

Disclosure : We recived the products in order to take part in the blog tour and bake off.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Inspirational Personalised Stocking Stuffers from Snapfish (review)

If you're pulling your hair out trying to think of Christmas present and stocking filler ideas, I have some great news for you - Snapfish has put his Santa hat on and come up with some great ideas that you can buy from the comfort of your own home, without braving the bitter wintry wind or the manic crowds in the shops.

With three kids to buy for, I always think the contents of the Christmas stockings end up costing more and certainly using more brain power than the main Christmas presents. It's easier to buy things in triplicate but with kids aged 6, 10 and 14, finding things that appeal to all three is usually problematic. I thought I knew exactly what to expect when Snapfish asked me to check out their stocking filler ideas but I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of gift ideas on offer.

There's nothing wrong with the classic ideas like photo books and mugs, but they're not really very original. You could make them a bit more exciting by making a photobook using a mixture of personal photos, celeb/cute pictures and inspirational quotes that the recipient has liked on facebook or pinterest, or order a photo mug and fill it with chocolates, kitchen utensils or pens and pencils, depending on their tastes, but how about getting something truly unique like a photo ornament for the Christmas tree?

I scrolled through for some more ideas on the Snapfish website and saw phone cases, coasters and teddy bears with a personalised photo T-shirt. That could be a lovely gift for a child or a romantic gift for a girlfriend or even newlyweds if you use a picture of the happy, smiling couple.

Other ideas were posters, keyrings, jigsaw puzzles and notebooks.

Snapfish gave me some credit to get creative with and see what I could come up with and I started off by creating an album with some favourite photos featuring all of the Madhouse gang. As you can see above, some of the photos have a little warning triangle next to them - this is Snapfish telling you that the quality may not be great if you use these ones. There's nothing stopping you but you've been warned, which is a handy feature.

After selecting your photos, you can crop them, recentre them or zoom in or out. It's all very simple and painless, even if you're technologically challenged. I decided to make some placemats using these photos, each one featuring a different member of the Madhouse family. I love the way they all represent special holiday memories or family fun moments which will make us smile every time we sit down for dinner. They cost £8.99 for an individual placemat, £14.99 for 2 or £24.99 for a set of six.

I also decided to order a notebook (£5.99) for each child, personalised with a photo of the recipient and their name. You can also add a special message inside, choose the colour and theme of the front cover and choose between plain or lined pages.

I also decided to create some fun personalised stickers for each of the kids, which can be used to decorate their rooms and also keep track of their belongings at school. As well as choosing the photo, you can select the background colour and design, as well as add text. They're great value, costing just £2.49 for 24 stickers. 

I'll be back to add photos of the finished items once they've arrived, but I wanted to let you know about a "50% off everything sale" with code SALE1115 until tomorrow. Don't miss out !

Disclosure : I received some credit to create some personalised stocking stuffers.

Forget Christmas jumpers and check out the festive Selfie Clothing range ! (review)

I'm sure you've all heard about the Elf on the Shelf but what about Elfie Selfies? The name already had me smiling but when I clicked through to find out more, I instantly fell in love with the range of cute personalisable festive kids' T-shirts available from Selfie Clothing.

It's not just elves though - there are twelve different Christmas T-shirt designs available, including snowmen, reindeer and even a Mini-Claus.

You just need to find a close up photo of your child looking straight ahead, send it off and let them work their magic. 

Your totally unique shirt will be handmade in the UK and delivered within three days. Even Santa would be impressed !

Selfie Clothing was born from a love of fashion and an appreciation for the global selfie phenomenon. John Treby, owner of Selfie Clothing Co, said: “My boys love Christmas and always enjoy dressing up as part of the festive celebrations. Rather than spend money on badly made Christmas-themed clobber that never fits properly and gets quickly abandoned, we wanted to give people the option to create something unique that could be enjoyed in the run up to Christmas, or as a unique gift on the day itself.” I think it's a great idea !

All of the T-shirts are available in four sizes, catering for children aged 2-8. They are made from a lightweight jersey blend with long sleeves and a round neck and they're lovely quality.

Here's the one I ordered for Pierre and I can't wait to see his face when he discovers it - many families give their children a new pair of pyjamas at Christmas so this would make a lovely alternative. 

The T-shirts cost £15 but you can get 20% off if you use code madhouse20 at the checkout.

for more information : www.selfieclothing.co.uk/

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

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Christmas Degustabox has arrived ! (review)

I couldn't help but smile when I saw the Christmas card enclosed in this month's Degustabox, featuring all the team grinning away in their Santa hats. It really is starting to look a LOT like Christmas ! Excuse me while I repress a squeal of excitement !

So this month's box is, unsurprisingly, labelled as the festive box. What Christmassy delights and indulgent treats would be nestling inside?

I always love the first peek when we open the box - there's always something that gets a gasp of appreciation from the kids (the popcorn in this month's box) and it's like Christmas every month, trying to work out what's hiding beneath the protective bubble wrap !

After going through and unpacking everything, here's what we had :

Butterkist Discoveries Salted Caramel Popcorn & Butterkist Sweet & Salted Popcorn (£1.49 & £0.55) - We started off with the Sweet and Salted Popcorn and loved it despite being slightly unsure to begin with. The Salted Caramel Popcorn is even more delicious and moreish though - like a cross between toffee popcorn and the sweet & salted. Perfect for nibbling on in front of a festive movie.

Ryvita Thins Cheddar & Cracked Black Pepper (£1.89) - The box says that they're perfect for sharing but they're also perfect for dipping and they go with everything, from tomato salsa and guacamole to baked camembert and chutney. Perfect for sharing in front of the telly in place of a bag of crisps or biscuits.

Ryvita Green & Black Olive Crackers (£1.29) - I've tried lots of Ryvita products in the past but I'd yet to try their crackers. They're lovey and crispy and crunchy and the olive flavour perfectly complements Mediterranean-style toppings such as sun dried tomatoes, grilled red peppers and feta. Maybe Santa would like some of these to be left out in place of the traditional mince pie this year?!

Belvita Red Berries Soft Bakes (£2.79) - We got the red berries ones but they are also available in Golden Grain or Chocolate Chips varieties.  As their name sugggests, they are softer than regular breakfast biscuits with a moister, chewier, more cake like texture that got a unanimous thumbs-up at The Madhouse. Great for breakfast on-the-go or snacktime at any time of day. They are made with five wholegrains, are rich in cereals and fibre and contain vitamin B6, iron and magnesium.

Nim's Mango & Pineapple Fruit Crisps (£0.99) - High in fibre and vitamin C, fab fruity taste, count towards your 5-a-day, lower in fat and calories than sweets or crisps ... What's not to like? The kids wolfed these down and declared them delicious.

Bourne & Wallis Baby Beetroot (£1.40) - I love pickled beetroot but I rarely buy the whole baby beetroot - they're great in salads though so would be perfect alongside the turkey leftovers on Boxing day !

Teisseire Vanilla & Caramel Gourmet Drops (2 x £2.79) - Teisseire is a well-known French brand that we are very familiar with - we love the wide range of cordials that are available in France, with anything from grapefruit and mint to peach and kiwi flavours. I'd never heard of or seen their Gourmet Drops though, nor the unusual flavours of caramel and vanilla. They can be used in hot or cold drinks or even alcohol to create interesting cocktails, hot chocolates or milkshakes. The kids love the tiny concentrated squeezy bottles that are easier to handle than big bottles. They're also lighter when you're lugging around the shopping and take up less space in the kitchen cupboards. Win-win !

Divine Dark Chocolate With Raspberries (£1) - I'm not usually a huge fan of dark chocolate because I find it too bitter and harsh, but the addition of raspberries takes the edge off, giving it a sweeter, mellower flavour. The Fairtrade credentials of Divine make it taste even sweeter as you know it's doing good in the world, helping out the smallhold farmers who provide the cocoa.

Hartleys Black Cherry Jelly & Strawberry Glitter Jelly (£1.29) - The Madhouse Kids love jelly so we always have a few packs in the cupboard, but we'd never tried the glitter ones - needless to say, the kids were over the moon ! I've used moulds to make the jelly into interesting shapes before but I found some really exciting recipes to try out on the Hartleys website, including layered jelly, orange jelly slices and pinwheels. Lots of fun to be had trying those out !

Branston Orchard Fruit Chutney (£1.49) - I love chutney - in sandwiches with ham and cheese, mixed in with melted cheese in toasted sandwiches, on the side of the plate at mealtimes, ... There aren't many savoury dishes that can't be improved with a dollop of chutney on the side, and that's especially true when using up the leftover turkey after Christmas ! This blend of Bramley apples, sultanas, orange zest and spices has a particularly festive flavour that would jazz up turkey salads and sandwiches and could even be mixed into turkey pies or pasties too.

Rekorderlig Dry Apple Cider (£1.49) - If you like wines and ciders that aren't overly sweet, you'll love it. It has a crisp, slightly sharp flavour that I found really refreshing. Make sure you drink it nicely chilled

This month's DB Discoveries products : Food Thoughts Organic Fairtrade 100% Cocoa Powder (£2.35) - it's unsweetened, contains no added sugar, is gluten-free and promises beter baking. I think I may have to use this for rolling chocolate truffles in in the run up to Christmas - I've already used it in these tahini truffles, which were rather nice.

Jim Jams No Added Sugar Hazelnut Chocolate Spread - The Madhouse kids (like most kids !) are huge Nutella fans, so I wasn't sure what they'd think of a no added-sugar variety. They loved it and said it had a chocolatier, nuttier flavour - bonus !

Holy Lama Mulled wine spice drops - These were a gift in this month's box and if you fancy trying them yourselves, use the code "Degustabox" at www.holylamaspicedrops.com for 15% off. Great in drinks but I'm also wondering what else I can use them in - cupcake icing? fruit pies? jelly?

And an extra gift in this month's box - Baileys - Enough said, yum ! This is my favourite Christmas tipple - it's creamy and indulgent with a little warming kick as it trickles down your throat. Perfect for supping by the fireside waiting for Santa to come !

This month's recipe suggestion was for Black Forest Trifle, using the black cherry jelly - nice idea !

There is also another recipe for Butterkist Salted Caramel Pizza which sounds very strange but could be worth a try !

And another one for Orchard Fruit Chutney & Walnut Scones, which definitely needs testing.

I was over the moon with this month's box, both for the products (there's nothing we don't like or won't use) and also the recipe cards. It's always great to have ideas to use up the odds and ends of jars that clutter up the cupboards and the fridge.

A subscription to Degustabox costs £12.99 per month including delivery, with each box having a value of much more than that (£23.60 this month, not counting the gifts), 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.

for more information :

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

Sunday weigh-in : I Believe I Can Fly !

Last week, I said I'd made the decision to dust off the SlimPod. If you don't know what a SlimPod is, it's a 10-minute mp3 that works, like hypnotherapy, to retune your brain to subconsciously make healthy decisions that wil help you lose weight - yes, I know, it sounds like a load of old mumbo jumbo but it's been clinically proven to work in trials and, even if I still don't understand how, it genuinely does work. I also mentioned that I didn't know why I'd stopped listening to it. Well, this week has reminded me - every time I try to play the mp3 on my computer, it wants to go through HP Connected Music which takes 20 minutes of hard work and frustration to get it to play. This week, my computer totally crashed and I had to do a restore which, although a total pain, deleted some of the files that were causing a problem - the SlimPod now works first time every time - yay !

I've instantly seen the first changes that show the SlimPod is working its magic - I imediately went off Diet Coke and started drinking water instead (because I wanted to, while thinking to myself that it was strange !). I've also been craving stir fried veggies and soup. My mindset has switched from "will I lose weight this week?" to "how much weight will I lose this week?" Subtle changes but every day, there's been something that made me do a double take and think "hmmm what's that all about?, that's the SlimPod making me do that !"

So last week I weighed in at 89.2kg. This week it's 88.6kg - another loss, which is great ... although the real kicker is that yesterday it was 88kg (and I even saw 87.9kg flash up on the screen as it was settling down to the final weight). Oh well, that'll be for next week - and given the time of the month, it's probably just water retention anyway.

Positives of the week

- After such a long time stuck on a plateau, two consecutive losses is great news !

- The SlimPod is definitely having its first effects - drinking water instead of Diet Coke, wanting fruit, stir fried veg and soup, ...

- My jeans are definitely feeling looser already

- Last week's badges - 5kg lost, 51lb to go, 10lb lost - this week 5kg lost, 50lb to go, 11lb lost ... I was sure I was going to cross off the next mini target (get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's) but never mind, that'll be for next week :)

Current targets 

Last week's target : Don't focus on the numbers, just listen to the SlimPod and come what may ! (DONE !) 

This week's targets : Keep listening to the SlimPod. Hit the next mini target - get my "weight to lose" badge down into the 40's.

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  : 89.2kg (BMI 33.2)
WEIGHT TODAY : 88.6kg (BMI 32.9)
STILL TO GO : 18.6kg

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, 28 November 2015

Hornby My First Scalextric review

If you're scratching your head wondering what to buy for a car-mad toddler for Christmas, you'll be pleased to know that Scalextric have launched My First Scalextric, dubbed "racing fun for the young driver" and targetting kids aged 3+. We received a set to review and it appealed to all three of the Madhouse kids, regardless of age and sex.

The cars are much bigger and chunkier than the usual die-cast cars so they are easier for little fingers to manipulate. (It's 1:64 scale.) The whole set has been designed with young children in mind so the controllers are also easy to use and colour coded with the cars for simplicity. You can adjust the speed using the controllers and also limit the power, if there is only one speed (the top one !) as far as your children are concerned ! That said, the cars seem to stay on the track even when they're racing round really fast, unlike the old-fashioned Scalextric I remember playing with in my youth. They did fly off a few times but that just had the Madhouse kids squealing with glee even more !

As I remember, Scalextric was always great fun to play with for kids but a total pain to put together for the parents, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that they've simplified the track too. It slots easily into place as a simple figure of eight with two bridges to elevate one section. I didn't even need to read the instructions - a glance at the picture on the box was all that I needed to work it out.

You can see the TV ad here to get a feel for the toy. It's an ideal introduction to Scalextric for young children of both sexes, before moving on to the proper "grown up" sets when they're a bit older.

As I went to link up to the product on amazon, I noticed that there are a lot of negative reviews, alongside the positive ones. I had a quick scan through and the problems mentioned are multiple - one car going quicker than the other, the controllers going wrong, the track coming apart ... I decided to play with the set for a bit longer before writing my review, in case the problems started appearing after a longer period of use, but even after a few weeks, I still haven't had any issues at all. Scalextric do also address the negative feedback on their websie and say : My First Scalextric, and the whole Micro range, has been designed with younger people in mind. The cars and track are actually very robust but the set does require maintenance. Care needs to be taken assembling and disassembling the track and the cars’ braids (small brushes on the underside) do need to be looked after. We also recommend using the power limiter on the hand controllers for smaller children who want to go as fast as they can all the time. However, with this small amount of care and attention the set should offer tonnes of fun for many play times."

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £34.99

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