Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Aquaint Sanitising Water review

My baby days are long behind me but I still remember those first few panic-stricken months when you want to sterilise everything in sight, from bottles and dummies to teething rings and plastic toys. I remember constantly disinfecting the high chair tray and boil-washing cuddly toys every now and then in an attempt to get rid of any nasty germs that may be lurking on them. But then I used to worry about what nasty chemicals may be lurking in the disinfectant products themselves !

Aquaint to the rescue ! It is a 100% natural, eco-friendly, water-based sanitiser that is completely safe for your children to handle and use because, unbelievably, it is harmless even if they accidentally drink it! I wouldn't recommend it but that is definitely reassuring. Apparently, it can even be used as a mouthwash - although I'd personally be worried about this giving kids the idea that all cleaning products are safe to put in your mouth.

 Water provides the base for the product and its only other ingredient is hypochlorous acid, a harmless, natural acid produced by the human body which provides its anti-bacterial properties. It kills 99.9% of bacteria in seconds which is rather impressive. It's the safest sanitiser on the market and certainly the most child-friendly. 

Even if The Madhouse is a baby-free zone, it's still a really handy product to have. I love giving the wooden chopping board a quick spritz every day, it's perfect for wiping down the worktops and the bin and if anyone has a dodgy tummy, I use it everywhere from the toilet seat and flush to door handles and light switches ! When I've been doing disgusting jobs like the bins or cleaning the toilet (oh, I have such a glamorous life !), I always feel queasy about going straight on to preparing food, even if I've washed my hands, so a quick spritz of Aquaint gives me great peace of mind.

The smaller bottle is great for days out, for keeping in the car, my handbag or my coat pocket – the kids always seem to want to eat a snack when we're out geocaching and we've been digging about in the dirt or stroking farm animals so it's a great product for when you can't get to a sink to wash your hands.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : 500ml trigger spray bottle £4.99, 50ml finger pump bottle £2.49

available in Boots, Babies R Us, Ocado, Vital Baby, JoJo Maman Bebe, NCT Shop and Amazon

for more information : www.aquaint-uk.com

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

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Almost enough to make me feel broody ! (review)

Time to discover ... Food Discovery Box (review)

Have you started wracking your brains for original and appealing Christmas gift ideas yet? Well, I have the perfect idea for any foodies in your family - a Food Discovery Box subscription, which delivers artisan food from high quality independent producers from across the country every month.

It works slightly differently to many foodie subscription services in that the contents of your box aren't down to pot luck, you get some input. Every month, a menu of up to 30 different items from boutique British artisan food producers is put up and members chose their favourite five items, which they will receive, along with one (or sometimes two, if you're lucky) wild-card mystery products, to get you to try something new.

I was delighted to receive a taster box to give me (and you!) an idea of the kind of products on offer. In my box, I got :

Chiltern Natural Foods Apple & Cinammon Crunch - Wholegrain, sweetened with honey rather than sugar and flavoured with chunks of apple, raisins and cinnamon - it's not naughty but it's definitely nice ! Chiltern Natural Foods believe in creating great tasting foods that are all natural so there are no hidden nasties. 

Olive Branch Red Pepper Paste - A taste of Greece in a jar ! Peeled chargrilled red peppers, ground into a paste with chilli and mizithra cheese. Lovely as bruschetta on toast, to give homemade pizzas a twist in place of tomato puree or dolloped on top of pasta.

Coriander Garden Lentil Dhal Mix - If you're a regular follower of my blog, you'll know how much I love globe-cooking so I was delighted to see this in the box. It's a mix of red and yellow lentils along with the all important spices - you just add water, boil and simmer for a fragrant meal with no hassle. The inspiration may be Indian but the company are British, based in Derbyshire.

Flavour Magic Rosemary Rock Salt - A rosemary and rock salt blend that comes with its own grinder. I was impressed to learn that the man behind the company is a chef from New Zealand who came over to the UK after the Christchurch earthquakes. This is great for grinding over steak or buttered baked potatoes.

Tregunter Fig Jam - Beautifully sweet and fruity and made with 100% natural products in a real cottage kitchen. This is lovely on toast but would also be delicious in a tart. I'm tempted to try this with melted goat's cheese too, if there's any left in the jar !

Jacc's Hazelnut Cream Gourmet Coffee - Jacc's use only the finest arabica beans and marinate them in sugar-free natural flavourings for a rich, smooth flavour. I'm not a coffee-lover but I'll pass this on to a friend who will love it.

They also provide a recipe for you to try - authentic Indian Dhal in this box.

The whole idea of the scheme is to tap into the depth of British gourmet artisan talent and help spread the word about some of the nation's unsung foodie heroes. I always love discovering small brands that never make it to the supermarket shelves so I think this is a lovely idea. 

You can become a member from £23.50 a month or you may want to offer a 1-month gift subscription for £19.99. If you sign up to their newsletter here, you'll also go into a draw where they will be picking one winner a week for a box right up to Christmas. (I've entered too and if you'd be kind enough to put my email in the box to say I sent you, I'll get extra entries ! It's on my profile at the top of my sidebar just under my photo.)

for more information : http://fooddiscoverybox.com/

Disclosure : I received a trial box in order to write an honest review.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Instant S'mores

Globe-cooking recipe : Kaiserschmarrn (Austria)

One of the recipes in my Austrian-themed Kitchen Trotter box was for Kaiserschmarrn with Apfel Strudel, but I decided to make both separately. I came up with my own recipe for Apple Strudel during the World Cup foodie challenge so I'll be keen to see how this authentic recipe compares to my own invention. For today though, it was time to try the other part, Kaiserschmarrn or Emperor's Pancakes. 

The Kitchen Trotter box contained a kit for Kaiserschmarrn but you could easily make your own. (The Austrian National Tourist Office website has a recipe for making it from scratch.) The kit contained flour, brown sugar and raisins and required 4 eggs and some milk.

You need to separate the eggs.

Mix the flour then the milk into the yolks. Add a pinch of salt 
to the whites and whisk them until they go frothy. Add the brown sugar.

Gently fold the egg whites into the other bowl.

Melt some butter in a large frying pan and pour the whole lot in.

I was expecting this to cook like a pancake but it was more like an omelette really. It takes quite a while to cook through before flipping over so don't turn the heat up too high. With hindsight, I'd have reduced the heat on mine a bit because it got a bit brown in places. You need to keep tilting the pan then scraping it off the edges as it sets, as you would with an omelette.

Once it's cooked on one side and gone solid enough to be flipped over, you're supposed to use a plate to turn the whole thing over. However, as the next step is to smash it to bits in the pan, I decided to make my life easier by cutting it in four then flipping each quarter over with a fish slice.

Cook the second side and use the fish slice (or two forks) to cut it into chunks. This looks an absolute mess but, searching on google images for homemade Kaiserschmarrn (rather than professionally made and photographed ones), this is what they pretty much all look like so I don't feel so bad !

The recipe suggested drizzling over elderflower cordial and icing sugar but we opted for pancake syrup and icing sugar. This was a real blast from the past because they tasted exactly like the thick pancakes my mum used to make (as opposed to the thin French crêpes we usually eat in Brittany).

Verdict : 0/10 for visual appeal but the whole lot disappeared and everyone made appreciative noises so I'd say they were a hit !

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

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Monday, 24 November 2014

Do you know what you're feeding Fido ?!

Premium pet food brand Applaws have launched a fun campaign to educate pet owners about some of the key facts they should be aware of when reading the labels on their dogs' (and cats') dinners. For example, did you know that products labelled ‘with meat’ only have to have a minimum 4% meat by law ? No, neither did I - that's rather scary !

They have a quiz on their Facebook page that you can take to see if you "know your fluff and stuff" or if you've been "barking up the wrong tree" ! You can find it at https://apps.facebook.com/mpm-petquiz. I scored 75% which I thought was pretty good. The rather unsavoury titbit of information in my congratulatory message soon wiped the smile off my face though.

You know your pet 75% - Top score for a top dog!

You certainly know your dog facts, but did you know some leading brands of dog food contain as little as 4% of the named meat ingredient and even then it can be anything from lungs to guts and other gross bits?

Ewwww ! Did I really want to know that ?! Well, yes, I should really, because I'm sure Vicky and Didou would like to know they're only eating quality products and genuine meat. I therefore read with interest the infographic that Applaws have put together to show off their key findings.

(Click on the image to see a bigger version or find it online at http://www.applaws.co.uk/applawsblog/index.php/2014/10/applaws-infographic-2/)

I was shocked to learn that a product labelled as "flavoured with" something doesn't actually have to contain any of the product - how misleading is that ? I was also surprised that products "high in" or "rich in" meat only need to contain 14%. That's certainly food for thought, if not for pets !

Disclosure:  Vicky and Didou will be receiving some goodies from Applaws, as a thankyou for taking part in the quiz and sharing my results.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse diaries : Doggie (hair) doos !

Book review : My Animals and Other Family - Clare Balding

Madhouse recipe : Instant S'mores

This summer, we discovered how delicious S'mores are. When I spotted a tub of Toasted Marshmallow Creme in this month's Degustabox, I wanted to see if it would work as a winter, BBQ-free version of S'mores and, I'm delighted to say, it does !

I just know the kids will be polishing this tub off in no time at all because the Instant S'mores are so simple to make and taste so lovely that this will be the go-to snack when they get home from school from now until we run out ! You just take a couple of plain biscuits (we used Rich Tea but digestives would work well too), spread one with Nutella, one with marshmallow creme and sandwich them together. That's it !

The marshmallow creme is also lovely on toast (or by the spoonful straight out of the tub !). I'd love to use it as a topping for cupcakes or cheesecake but I'm dreaming, it'll be long gone before I get the chance to try it !

We received the tub of Solo Marshmallow Creme in a Degustabox but you can buy it from www.americansoda.co.uk and selected other outlets too.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Bacon and Lentil Soup

Children's book review : Malala - The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Changed The World

I'm sure everyone knows all about Malala the girl who was shot by the Taliban or, as the title of her book describes her, Malala the girl who stood up for education and changed the world, but this co-written autobiographical book gives us a chance to see Malala the typical teenager who loves Ugly Betty, quarrels with her best friend and squabbles with her brothers over the remote control. We all know of Malala the extraordinary teenage girl but here we get a heart-warming glimpse of Malala the very ordinary teen.

The story - her story - begins in the Swat area of Pakistan as the Taliban are starting to come to power. First they take over the radio, then the TV, then the streets. As an adult, I knew all about the public floggings and executions, which are mentioned briefly and objectively without going into too much detail, but I was unaware of (or had probably forgotten about, if I'm honest) the natural disasters - an earthquake, followed a couple of years later by a major flood - which the Taliban used to further their cause, presenting them as a warning from God for Muslims to change their ways.

It shows Malala wanting to live in a way that most of her young readers would take for granted - most notably being allowed to go to school and even go out in the street unaccompanied - and refusing to abandon her dreams and aspirations, even when the Taliban close down all girls' schools and then start bombing them.

It's something you read as you would historical accounts, be they fiction or non-fiction, such as The Diary of Anne Frank, shaking your head at the unbelievable mentality of the time and reassuring yourself that it couldn't and wouldn't happen in modern times. The most startling thing here, of course, is that these real-life events happened just a couple of years ago. Malala, along with two of her friends, was shot by the Taliban because she defied them, continuing to go to school despite their intimidation, and making her voice heard internationally, asking for help to allow Pakistani girls to go to school. I love the moment when she gets to meet Barack Obama and she tells him that she is not happy about his drone attacks on her country because innocent people are hurt along with the terrorists. Who but a child would dare to be so outspoken to a world leader ?!

This young readers' version is an easy read for teens and tweens (or adults who want a narrative that isn't overly political), looking at Malala's life before the shooting, her recovery and her new life in Britain, inviting young readers to count their blessings and think about other people in the world who would love to enjoy some of the liberties that they take for granted. At the end of the book, there is a historical overview of the events in a broader scale, some questions for consideration in reading groups or lessons and news on how to support Malala's cause.

star rating : 4.5/5

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Indigo; Young Readers ed edition (19 Aug 2014)
ISBN-10: 1780622147
ISBN-13: 978-1780622149
Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.3 x 24.1 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

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Children's book review : The Foreshadowing - Marcus Sedgwick

myStyle Design & Make Shrink Design Jewellery kit review

I think I got just as excited as the kids when the opportunity came up to review a Shrink Design Jewellery kit from myStyle Craft. I used to love this stuff when I was a kid - it used to be called Shrinkie Dinkie back in the eighties and the last sheets we bought were called Fantastic Plastic - and there's just something so magical about watching your pictures shrink into miniature but otherwise identical designs in the oven.

I'd never thought of using it to make jewellery though, but it's a great idea.

The kit contains everything you need for creating seven pieces of jewellery (plus any extras you come up with by yourself), including necklaces, earrings and bracelets.  Inside the box, you get plenty of Shrink-Plastic sheets for the projects, plus 30 Jump Rings, 3 Clasps, 6 Clamshell Clasps, 4 Earring Hooks, 240 Seed Beads (in 3 colours), 1m Plastic Stretch Cord, 3m Black Cord, a Mini Hole Punch and a 32 Page Instruction Manual.

I showed Sophie some of the designs suggested on the box. Lots of them would appeal to quite young girls.

But the instruction manual also contains templates for some edgier, slightly more grown-up designs that would appeal to tweens and teens.

Sophie said she had her own idea though ...

Did you guess ? I did ! One Direction of course ! If you want to do writing, you'll need to do mirror writing so that it will come out the right way round on the finished design.

Time for the moment of truth - into the oven for a couple of minutes.

Sophie couldn't watch, because I'd warned her that the plastic might curl up and stick to itself.

Sure enough, it wasn't looking good and we feared the worst.

But I told you it's magic ! With just a little bit of patience and faith, if you leave it in the oven a little longer, when it's fully shrunk, it all flattens out again. You can place it under a book as soon as it comes out of the oven if you want it to be totally flat.

Sophie hadn't wanted to punch holes in her 1D masterpieces in case it made the plastic split but we will definitely be making some of the projects from the book next ... maybe with a 1D twist on them. We think infinity sign earrings could be very cool and Union Jacks are another design that we're thinking of trying.

The great thing about the kit is that you can follow the instructions to the letter or let your imagination run free and come up with some totally unique and personal designs. If you need more inspiration, you can download additional printable designs from the Interplay website.

The kit is designed for children aged 8+ and will need adult supervision to use the oven and maybe cut out the designs. Younger children could help out with colouring and drawing pictures on the plastic sheets for older children to transform into jewellery though.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £9.99

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

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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Kents Kitchen Bengal Meal Kit review

One of the intriguing products in my latest Degustabox was the Bengal Meal Kit by Kents Kitchen. I had absolutely no idea what Bengal food would or should taste like but a quick look at the packaging revealed that this would be a coconut curry. The kit includes three little pots of infused oil, herbs and spices (and coconut) and curry paste.

I chopped up and fried a couple of chicken breasts along with an onion. (I always add onion to all of my savoury dishes, I think it makes everything taste better !) The "ingredients to add" list on the packaging included a tin of coconut milk but I decided to use another product from the Degustabox – some Carnation Cook With It! low-fat cooking cream – and threw in a handful of dessicated coconut to add the coconut flavour.

The instructions on the pack are a bit sparse – I wasn't sure if the coconut/spices mixture was supposed to be thrown in at the start of the cooking process or sprinkled over the finished dish. I cooked the chicken in the infused oil, stirred in both the remaining pots then added the cream and left  it to simmer for a few miniutes to thicken.

The paste is very fiery so if you're not keen on spicy food, I would suggest you only add half of the pot. I threw it all in and needed to add some extra cream to tame things down !

The resulting dish, served with naan bread and rice, was lovely and made a nice change to the usual curries we make.

The kits are on sale for £2.50 and are also available in many other varieties, including Brazilian feijoada, chow mein stir fry and numerous other curries.

for more information : www.kentskitchen.co.uk

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Drinkaware : Have you talked to your kids about underage drinking?

Last week, Sophie, now aged 13, came home from school, laughing and rolling her eyes indignantly at some of the questions that they had been asked in an anonymous questionnaire. "It asked if we had ever tried drinking alcohol and then, in another question, it asked what we had for breakfast and, in the options to tick, it had beer or alcohol ! Who would ever drink alcohol for breakfast? - eurghhh !", she cried.

This was the perfect time to have one of the big life-lesson talks with her. I was secretly relieved and very reassured by her answers. I know what she gets up to at home with us but who really knows what their kids, especially during the teen years, get up to once they're out of sight with their mates? I remember the big hoo-ha back when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and his then 16-year-old son was found drunk in the gutter and picked up by police. While Blair's detractors rubbed their hands in glee, seeing the perfect chance to put the boot in, I couldn't help but feel for him as a parent. You can spend years instilling common sense and good advice into your kids while they're too young to get into trouble but, once they're old enough to be let off the proverbial leash, you just have to cross your fingers and hope that they make the right choices.

As a teacher, sitting in as a silent observer on some of the "dangerous behaviour" classes at school, I have to try not to show in my face how horrified I am by some of the responses I hear. Admittedly, some of the pupils may be showing off and just trying to shock the people asking the questions, but hearing about the 13 and 14-year-olds regularly helping themselves to the contents of their parents' drinks cabinets when they go out or sending their big brothers or older friends to the off licence for beer at the weekends had me feeling worried about my own kids.

I try to teach Sophie about responsible drinking, even now, when she still thinks she'll never want to drink alcohol because it tastes horrible. How does she know? Well, because I gave her some ! Before you call me a bad mother, she had a tiny sip of champagne last year at a wedding when she was wondering aloud what it tasted like and how she couldn't wait to try some. I decided that, rather like coping with chocolate cravings when you're on a diet, it might be better to nip it in the bud before it was all she could think of. She had a tiny sip out of my glass, pulled a face, said "eurggghhh that's horrible, why do people drink alcohol?" and swore off the stuff for life ! I know it won't last but at least she's lost the urge to try it, and at least I was around when she took that inevitable first sip.

I had a real angel-and-devil-on-my-shoulders moment when deciding whether to let her taste alcohol that early though and really wasn't sure if it was a good idea or not. That's why I was delighted to hear about Drinkaware's new campaign which aims to increase parents’ awareness of the risks associated with underage drinking and, importantly, to support parents to have well-informed conversations with their children about the risks of alcohol and underage drinking. The core target for the campaign is parents with children aged 10 to 13 years so I've been reading it all as it is perfectly suited to both Sophie and Juliette.

Drinkaware have re-launched a section of their website to provide medically approved information, facts, video resources and guides that are a mine of information for parents. (You can find it at www.drinkaware.co.uk/underagedrinking.) The website content has been developed with the support of charity Family Lives and Dr Tim Ubhi, Consultant Paediatrician. There will also be two webinars on 27th November and 10th December for parents to ask any questions on issues surrounding underage drinking.

Parents have a key role in influencing the relationship their child develops with alcohol so this is one issue that it is really worth swotting up on before it comes up in conversation with your tweens and teens. There are a range of topics covered on the Drinkaware website, including information on the risks of underage drinking, why children drink, why talking is good and how to talk to your child. The "tough questions answered" section is brilliant, helping you out if you're not sure what to say.

If I'd read it before talking to Sophie, I think I'd have managed to give her convincing arguments without ever needing to resort to letting her have a sip. At least I'll be better prepared in a few years' time when it's Juliette's turn !

It's not too late for Sophie though. We played with the Spin The Bottle feature on the Drinkaware website to open her eyes (and mine) to some of the dangers of underage drinking : teenage pregnancies, liver damage even as early as in your 20s, weight issues and bad skin, being more likely to take drugs ... But it doesn't just demonise drinking. It points out that people do get pleasure from drinking, otherwise they wouldn't do it, but clearly sets out the risks of starting to drink too early and why it is better to wait a while. The tone is perfect - it sounds like a big sister or slightly older friend, not a preachy or judgemental parent or teacher.

If you still have questions or need advice, don't forget the two webinars :
- 27/11/14 on the risks associated with underage drinking: http://bit.ly/1uZlbof
- 10/12/14 on how to address the issue of alcohol with your child and how to
have effective conversations with them http://bit.ly/1oLazGG

Disclosure : I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent
bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for
Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and
retain full editorial integrity

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This week is Road Safety Week ...

Madhouse recipe : Bacon and Lentil Soup

Looking through the cupboard, I came across a bag of lentils and decided to use them in soup. The result was a winter warmer packed with flavour. It makes up in taste what it lacks in visual appeal !

 Bacon and Lentil Soup

ingredients :

1/2 bag dried lentils, soaked for several hours
300g bacon pieces
2 onions, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
1 Knorr ham stock cube (you could use chicken or beef but the ham ones give it a lovely bacon hit)
1 Knorr herbs stock pot
3tbsp chipotle sauce
herbs and spices of your choice : I added smoked paprika, garlic granules, thyme

Put the bacon in a large pot and fry for a couple of minutes until it starts releasing fat. Add the leeks and onions and cook, stirring every now and then, for 5 minutes.

Stir in the stock pot and the stock cube. Drain the lentils and add to the pot, along with a kettle full of boiling water.

 Bring back to the boil and leave to simmer for an hour, stirring from time to time and topping up with water as necessary.

Use a stick blender to reduce to a thick puree and top up with water to the required consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning, add salt and spices to taste.

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Globecooking recipe : Goulash and Spätzle (Austria)

Madhouse recipe : Cheesy Baked Rice

Madhouse recipe : Flaky Festive Puffs