Saturday, 28 March 2015

Kärcher SC1 Steam Stick review


I'm sad to say, my time as a Kärcher Clean Ambassador has drawn to an end. Well, actually, I can't be too sad because I think I've reviewed pretty much all of their products over the past year ! You can check out my previous reviews to see what we thought when we roadtested their pressure washersteam cleaner, vacuum cleanerfloor polisher and Window Vac, as well as some of the accompanying accessories. For our final review, we received a brand new product from Kärcher, the innovative Steam Stick which is the first handheld steamer that can also clean your floors.


Inside the box you get a small handheld steamer unit with various attachments - a hand tool, a floor mop tool, an extension hose, a power nozzle, a detail nozzle, a round brush and two Terry cloth covers, one for the hand tool and one for the floor.


What I love about Steam Cleaners is that they deep clean without chemicals, killing 99.99% of all bacteria just using tap water. When Allergy UK independently tested them, they concluded that Kärcher steam cleaners remove 99.99% of House dust mites, 99.83% of Cat allergens, 99.01% of Dog allergens, 99.37% of Pollen allergens and 100% of Fungal spores. All without bleach or harsh chemicals so it's better for the planet and safer if you have kids or pets around.


It's not just the hidden germs though, steam cleaning is a fabulous way of tackling the stubborn grime that you never thought you'd get rid of - limescale build up on the shower walls, the grime around taps, the nooks and crannies in the oven, the extractor fan filter, ...


Kärcher are very proud of their new addition. They explain : "In a recent independent study the Kärcher Steam Stick outperformed all leading competitors using just tap water. It features an innovative new boiler system which combines the deep cleaning power of steam with the latest safety functions in a light-weight handheld design. With up to 3 bars of pressure in the palm of your hand, the Steam Stick is able to blast away the most stubborn of stains in the hardest to reach places. The Steam Stick is the ideal solution for all of your household chores, able to clean your kitchen and bathroom on just a single tank of water."

It is a really good product, although I'd have to say it's no better than the original SC 2.500 C Steam Cleaner that we reviewed. It heats up very quickly and provides consistent powerful steam cleaning. It has the advantage of being lighter and smaller, so it's easier to manouever and takes up less space in storage, and it also has a lower price tag (RRP £99.99 as opposed to £219.99 for the larger model, although you can find cheaper deals online). As we already have a bigger Steam Cleaner, I wouldn't bother buying a Steam Stick because they both do basically the same thing, but if you haven't got one yet, it's definitely a suberb ally for the spring cleaning (and winter, summer and autumn cleaning too, for that matter !). It makes cleaning much quicker and easier as well as - dare I say it ?! - rather fun. I may have been heard shouting "I'm a dragon" as I tackled the shower, but it was only to make Pierre laugh, honest !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £99.99

For more information on the Kärcher Steam Stick and other home and garden products visit www.karcher.co.uk

Disclosure : As a Kärcher Clean Ambassador, I have received a selection of products throughout the past year in order to write honest reviews.

Book review : White Hunger - Aki Ollikainen


Pereine Press always surprise me with their quirky, translated, contemporary European novellas. I tend to think of them as "Quick Reads for Intellectuals" and The Times Literary Supplement described them as "two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting : literary cinema for those fatigued by film." That is actually a really good description because, despite being short (this one is only 136 pages long), they manage to sweep you away to a time and a place that you can see, smell and even taste, as they are so rich and evocative in their descriptions.

I recently received White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen, translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah, which is the 16th Pereine title and included in the Chance Encounter series. (An annual Pereine subscription consists of three books chosen from across Europe and connected by a single theme.)

White Hunger takes us to Finland in 1867, a year which saw a devastating famine that wiped out the population in vulnerable farming communities and left the glacial wastelands dotted with starving beggars, wandering from farmstead to almshouse, hoping for a charitable bowl of gruel and a safe place to lay their heads for the night before resuming their hopeless trek to St Petersburg (this intially confused me but I learnt that northern Finland was part of Russia at the time) or another bigger town which may provide salvation. Despite the universal hardship they encounter - at best, people have watery gruel or stale bread made from ground bones or bark to offer - most people accept to provide them a safe place until morning, particularly the women, who ignore their less charitable husbands who often say that they have enough trouble feeding themselves.

The narrative follows the plight of Marja, a wife and mother of two who makes the heart-wrenching decision to leave her dying husband and set off into the white wilderness with her two children in the hopes of finally reaching a better place, where they will at least have bread made with flour to eat. As she crosses the icy landscapes, encountering the best and worst of humanity, protecting her children as best she can, you get the sense that nothing is happening - just an endless chain of days spent walking through the unforgiving snow and nights hoping for enough warmth to live to see another day - but when you take a step back, there is actually a lot going on. The death of loved ones, rape and violence, loss of hope - all traumatic events that are shrugged off as trivial in bodies anaesthetised by the biting cold and wracked with constant gnawing hunger.

The book follows one mother's plight but the writing also has a universal quality, not just describing the Finnish famine of the 1860's but also today's refugees, hopelessly plodding on in the hopes of finding a safe place to survive in. It's a bleak read that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £12

Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (1 Mar. 2015)
ISBN-10: 1908670207
ISBN-13: 978-1908670205
Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 1 x 19 cm


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

There's more to Costa than Coffee ! (review)


When I was a teen spending my Saturday afternoons hanging out in the town centre of Hastings with my best friend, this used to be a shoe shop. That was actually the last time I went in there because, for the last few years, it's been a Costa coffee shop. I don't drink coffee, or tea come to that, so I've never had any desire to call in to Costa Coffee. Until an email landed in my inbox inviting me to go along and try out some of their tasty baked products. It turns out that, all this time, I've been seriously missing out. Costa do so much more than just posh coffee !

To be honest, I did actually know that they served sweet treats to go with your shot of caffeine, but I didn't know they also sell paninis, toasties, sandwiches and wraps. They look really nice and fresh so it's definitely another option to look into when we need a quick family meal out and want to avoid the usual fast food suspects.


But on to the task at hand. We'd been invited along to try out their limited-edition Easter Teacake, described as "a soft sweet dough, jam-packed with juicy sultanas and jumbo Chilean flame raisins and hand finished with an Easter cross."


I'd have called it a Hot Cross Bun rather than an Easter Teacake, but whatever you call it, it was very nice. I usually eat hot cross buns cold, straight from a pack plucked off a supermarket shelf and spread with butter, but toasting them does give them a lovely texture. The Costa Easter Teacake is soft and chewy with a lovely crunchy crispness where it's been toasted. They haven't skimped on the raisins so you get a lovely sweetness coming through - basically, it's a very nice hot cross bun. It's not as spicy as I'd have liked - I always like the warming spices coming through as you chew a hot cross bun - but the kids actually preferred this. I was impressed with the price too - £1.65, which is cheaper than a lot of options, especially as it's big enough to cut in half and share.

The Hot Cross Teacake isn't the only seasonal treat on offer - the Easter specials also include  Chocolate Cornflake Crunch (cornflake cakes topped with Mini Eggs, what's not to like ?!), Pecan and Maple Muffins, Malty Chocolate Crunch and Mini Lemon and Raspberry Cakes.


We'd been given a second task though - it's such a tough life being a blogger ! - and settled down to sample their Layered Carrot Cake. The kids were not at all sure about eating a cake containing carrots - they thought I was joking initially ! - but they were reassured when they saw that it wasn't bright orange, as they expected ! They had a taste and loved the soft texture and the cream cheese icing but they were put off by the nutty flavour of the cake. Which wasn't a bad thing because it meant all the more for me ! The Carrot Cake is apparently Costa's most popular whole cake and since its launch in 2009, Costa has sold over 5.9 million slices, which corresponds to a whopping 23,517 slices every week - I can see why ! The £2.10 price tag is again quite reasonable for the size of the slice.

This was our first venture into Costa but it certainly won't be our last !

Disclosure : We received a voucher to sample the products and write an honest review.

Fab freebies of the week 28/3/15



It's unbelievable to think that we're into the final freebie roundup of March - where is the year going?!

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To commiserate losing an hour after the clocks change, Starbucks are giving away free coffee on Monday - head instore between 10am-12 noon on Monday 30th March and show them your watch or phone for a free latte (see posters instore)

If you hot foot it to a Clinique counter now, you could be one of the first 500 Glamour users to bag a free sample of this wonder product, as well as free subscription to three consecutive digital editions of Glamour! See here for the details

You can claim a 2-week sample of dog food from Tails (but there's a £1 postage charge)

Request a free baby crochet or knitting pattern from Woman's Weekly

Get a free sample of BareSkin by BareMinerals by answering a 2 minute questonnaire

PG Tips have 300,000 samples of their Red Berries of Smooth Green Tea

You can claim a pair of complimentary entry tickets to Gadget Show Live 2015

Complete the form and receive your free sample of Eminence Clear Skin Probiotic Moisturizer

spotted on twitter : @Ijblade Look after you skin and body by using the correct products. Free samples available to try. I am a independent consultant for Arbonne

another twitter spot : @xangorick Want a better night's sleep and better recovery? Check out Xalo Reload! Free samples available.… https://instagram.com/p/0t5vjwqHVQ/

You can get a completely free 500ml bottle of Coke Zero! Get your free voucher now and collect this freebie from your nearest Greggs or One Stop.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Telegraph readers can claim an exclusive copy of Alice's Adventures Underground, an early version of Lewis Carroll's classic tale. See details in this Sunday's paper.

Gotta love a bit of clever couponning - you can a totally free pack of Cif Power & Shine Wipes at Tesco with this £1 off voucher

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.

You may also like to enter my giveaways :

Friday, 27 March 2015

Giveaway #467 : Win 2 x Shaun the Sheep: Picture Perfect and Bing on DVD - closing date 12/4


There seems to be a sudden influx of DVD releases at the moment, many of which I also have up for grabs in giveaways - right now, you can win copies of Fairytale : A True Story, Chuggington Turbo Charged Chugger, Ribbit and Two Night Stand right here on my blog. But that's not all - I have two more family-friendly titles for you to win that will be perfect for keeping the kids entertained over Easter.

First up is Shaun The Sheep : Picture Perfect, available on DVD from 30th March. Shaun is a sheep who doesn’t follow the flock – in fact, he leads them into all sorts of scrapes, turning the peaceful Mossy Bottom Farm into mayhem in the meadow. Shaun and his pals run rings around their poor sheepdog Bitzer, as he tries to stop the Farmer finding out what's going on behind his back.

PICTURE PERFECT brings you the following episodes, available to own on DVD for the first time since their TV airing: Duck • Bitzer for a Day • Bitzer’s Secret • The Stare • Ping Pong Poacher • Save the Dump • Picture Perfect • Hidden Talents • Fruit and Nuts • The Intruder

The DVD bonus content also contains a huge treat from Aardman Animations – a further 5 brand new Morph episodes, from the makers of Shaun the Sheep.

The Madhouse kids didn't know Morph but they thought he was great fun - it was a real blast from the past for me too, as I remember watching him on Take Hart when I was a kid. Shaun The Sheep : Picture Perfect is also great fun movie and the whole family enjoyed watching it. If you want to keep the kids busy over the Easter holidays, maybe you could tie it in with going out to spot the newborn lambs in the countryside or even tracking down some of the fabulous Shaun In The City models that will be popping up across London this weekend.

Cert. U | Combined Running Time: 70 mins approx. | RRP: £9.99




The second DVD introduced us to Bing, a lovely character we were unfamilair with, who, along with his carer Flop (voiced by Mark Rylance) and all their friends, celebrates the noisy, joyful messy reality of being a pre-schooler. Bing is a CBeebies series, based on the books by Ted Dewan, and this is its first time on DVD.

The DVD contains the following episodes: Swing - Bye Bye - Ducks – Growing - Hide & Seek - Lost - Frog – Bake - Atchoo! – VooVoo. The DVD also comes with a ‘Grow With Bing’ height chart which will look great in a child's bedroom. This is a lovely DVD to watch snuggled up on the settee with a pre-schooler and each episode covers everyday experiences that your child will be familiar with, such as going to the park or making cakes.

Cert. U. | RRP: £9.99



Two lucky Madhouse Family Reviews readers can win one of each of the DVDs (Shaun the Sheep: Picture Perfect and Bing : Swing). Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below :



UK only. Closing date : 12/4/15

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 a week, 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 !

Other giveaways you may be interested in :

#KitchenClearout : Mojito Lime Salmon with Cheesy Veg


I'm trying to keep the momentum going for my #KitchenClearout, which is still very much an ongoing work in progress - I seem to be replacing things faster than I'm using them, which is how the problem started! Having defrosted some salmon fillets, I couldn't decide what to do with them - I usually smother them in garlic salt and lime juice but recently I tried Grilled Salmon with Moroccan Spices which was equally delicious so, looking for something original to try, I turned to my tin of seasoning sachets and came across this Mojito Lime Marinade Mix - perfect.


The packaging suggests mixing it with white wine vinegar, white rum and oil but I just added oil to mine, then smeared it all over the salmon fillets to form a crust. Off to the oven they go !


While in my seasoning sachets tin, I saw a packet of cheddar cheese sauce mix and decided to use that up too. I fried off some mushrooms and red onions in a pan.


I had a good clear out in the veg compartment of the fridge and put a couple of carrots and some chicory (endives) on to boil. 


Once tooth-tender, I drained off the water and reused the pan to make up the cheese sauce. I always find packet cheese sauce quite bland so I added some minced garlic and smoked paprika to give it a bit of punch.


Once thickened, I stirred through the carrots/chicory and the mushrooms/onions. Usually I put this in an ovenproof dish with extra grated cheese on top but tonight, I couldn't be bothered (and the oven was in use for the salmon so I was worried about the flavours mingling !) so I served it straight from the pan.


And there you have it. Zesty, zingy mojito lime salmon with a side serving of cheesy veg. Two sachets down, many more to go !


Fancy having a #KitchenClearout too? Join in the linky here !

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 27/3


On to a busy week of after-school meetings so I'm back to family faves that I can throw together blindfolded !

Saturday 

lunch - time to start the weekend with a trip to McDonalds for the soft play - salmon salad for me

dinner - Madhouse Daddy hasn't made soup for a while so maybe he'll make his signature veggie soup - I need to dust off the bread machine too

Sunday

lunch - traditional Sunday roast - probably chicken, maybe pork

dinner -  sandwiches or apple cinnamon baked porridge

Monday 

dinner -  chicken & veg pie with garlic mash

Tuesday 

dinner -  chicken pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes and mushrooms

Wednesday 

lunch - homemade hamburgers and spicy wedges with salad

dinner - chilli con carne and rice

Thursday 

dinner - ham and cheese toasties

Friday

dinner - chicken chasseur casserole with baked potatoes


***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, 26 March 2015

Giveaway #466 : Win a £25 amazon voucher with a2 milk - closing date 10/4



a2 Milk is real, fresh cows’ milk for people who don’t get on with milk. It’s different to regular cows’ milk because it contains only the A2 protein, rather than the more common A1 protein found in the majority of milk we keep in our fridges. It’s this A2 protein that makes all the difference because it’s easier to digest and kinder on the stomach. No more bloating and discomfort. It also means that the 1 in 5 Brits who struggle to digest dairy may now be able to drink cows’ milk again with no associated problems.

We've tried a2 milk in all sorts of ways - in hot drinks, in cheese sauce, in mash, on cereal, ... - and we couldn't notice any difference at all - you can read our review here.

If you've been avoiding milk because you love it but it doesn't like you, I've no doubt you can identify with the mum in this advert !



Find out if you can drink real milk again at www.a2milk.co.uk

a2 Milk have kindly offered to send a £25 amazon voucher to one lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.


UK only. Closing date : 10/4/15

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 a week, 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 !

Other giveaways you may be interested in :

Globecooking recipe : Choucroute (France)


Choucroute, or sauerkraut as it's called in Germany, is a dish that has variations in so many countries (to name just a few, Poland, Holland, Russia, Bulgaria, even China, the USA and Chili) that I wasn't sure which country to label it under. However, as the version that I first tried (and have recreated here) is the French one from the Alsace region, I've labelled it as French. 


This is more an assembly job than an actual from-scratch recipe. Peel some potatoes and put them on to boil. Prepared some smoked meats - I used Toulouse sausage and lard fumé (thick cured bacon).


You could make your own pickled cabbage but it needs a month of fermenting with salt, pepper and juniper berries so I went for the easy option and picked up a jar of Polish sauerkraut in the supermarket ! It was a bit more vinegary than I would have liked so with the saltiness of the cured leats, I almost felt like I was eating a bag of chips smothered in salt and vinegar !

To serve, fill your plate with reheated cabbage, dot a few potatoes around the edges and pile meat on top.

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

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Book review : Confessions of a Mother Inferior - Ericka Waller


I've heard of Yummy Mummies and Slummy Mummies but I couldn't help but laugh out loud when Peta, the central character in Ericka Waller's Confessions of a Mother Inferior, reveals that she is a "Looks Like A Camel-Testicle" Tummy Mummy ! The tone is set for the rest of the book.

Peta is a mum of three totally lovable, boisterous and slightly eccentric under fives. She's far from perfect and finds it hard to fit in with the well-groomed mums in their Boden twinsets at the school gates. She also finds it hard to come to terms with the sudden death of her best friend Sara a few years ago. I did find the start of the book a bit muddled as it crashes from laugh-out-loud anecdotes of Peta's teenage years and family life to a heart-rending account of watching her best friend drop dead at her feet - but then I decided that that is just what being a mum is all about, juggling kids, jobs and personal trauma in a crazy whirlwind of emotions and activity on a daily basis.

Just like one of my favourite authors Kathy Lette, Ericka Waller manages to tap into the ridiculous humour of everyday life as a mum. You probably have to be a parent to really appreciate it but it had me grinning on numerous occasions as I slightly guiltily recognised myself in Peta ! Pooing in public, accidentally killing the class pet, cringeworthy school play performances - it's all there and it will all make you feel much better about your own parental failings, which will seem minute in comparison !

As if she didn't already have enough on her plate with her unruly offspring, Peta also has growing suspicions that her husband is cheating on her. I did want to scream at her to just sit down and talk to him rather than drive herself slowly insane wondering what is going on, and I did also guess exactly where the book was going long before I got to the end, but it's a light-hearted, enjoyable read that has its fair share of poignant moments too. It could have done with a good proof-read before being printed because there are quite a few missed words or jumbled up sentences that could easily have been rectified, but that doesn't detract from the enjoyment of reading.

I was slightly apprehensive about picking up the book when I learnt that Ericka Waller is a blogger. I have nothing against bloggers, obviously, as I am one, but I see a surprising number of bloggers who seem to think, quite wrongly in my opinion, that being a blogger and being able to write a good novel are the same thing. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised though and I've also now headed over to the Mum In The South blog to find out if the real Ericka Waller (also a mum of three) is just as funny and endearing as Peta !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Britain's Next Bestseller; First edition (30 Jan. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1910565067
  • ISBN-13: 978-1910565063
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 1.9 x 19.6 cm



Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.