Saturday, 31 December 2011

LifeCircle 2012: Who's joining me this year?

Life Circle It's nearly New Year and we all set resolutions. Well, maybe not everyone but it's a very reflective time with the year changing and there may be changes you want to make about your life but you know you need a little push to get going. This is the reason I started LifeCircle - I set various tasks to help you reflect on what it is you need to change and start to work on the changes that you really want.

Whether you joined in last year, either fully or fell by the wayside, whether you never quite got round to joining in but wanted to, or whether now is the time for you to start changing things in your life, then this is for you. I really don't mind. I just want people joining in, and supporting each other. There are few rules - just write your post, add the badge and link up your post. Apologies now if some of the tasks  from 2011 are repeated - feel free to skip the task if you don't want to repeat but some of them may be useful to revisit if you did them before. 

I have decided to change it this year as setting a task and writing my own response in one post got too much for me, and setting the task one week and publishing it the next felt too slow. So, from now on, it will work like this: I will set a task on a Saturday, hence the post today. I will then post the following Thursday, which is when you can link up your posts. I've changed the provider of my linkies so we'll see how it goes but they will close two weeks after publication. This should give you enough time to post but also encourage you to get your post . If you do fall behind and the linky has closed, you can still add the link in the comment under the post. 

If you're new to LifeCircle, then please read the first post I wrote about it here, as it contains some guidelines you need to bear in mind. They are not rules as such, but keep them in mind and they will help you with the process. When you publish your post, don't forget to add the badge, which you can find on the LifeCircle page.

All this stuff and I still haven't told you what we're doing this week! It's quite simple really. I want everyone to introduce themselves. Who we are, what we're about, where we're coming from, and where we're headed. Why we're here. What we want to achieve out of joining LifeCircle. Why? Because I think it will be useful for us to do a little bit of team-building. A little bit of background, however much you want to give, will help with that. Think of this as the ice-breaker at the start of a course. Include some funny things if you like, anything really, it doesn't have to be relevant to what you want to achieve; just something that you think displays the measure of YOU. 

As always, only share what you are comfortable sharing with the rest of our LifeCircle. Even if you cut out so much that it doesn't really make sense, publish it! The discipline of working through the tasks and writing a post, however limited it may be, will be enough because it's more about what goes on in your head than what you share with everyone else. Some people started up blogs just to post LifeCircle posts and that helped them to retain their anonymity. That's fine. You do whatever you want. I'm prepared to host anonymous posts related to LifeCircle too. I'm also always available via email or twitter if you want to discuss something you're struggling with. 

It's a New Year. Let's make it an amazing one for all of us. The longest journey starts with a single step. Let's take that first step. I dare you!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Some quick ideas for using leftover turkey

Fed up of turkey sandwiches yet? We're probably coming to the limit of the time you can use leftover turkey but you're probably drowning in it, whilst not wanting to waste it. Of course, a good way to jazz up a turkey sandwich is to add some bacon, or some stuffing, or even some cheese - and toast the bread first to make it a turkey club sandwich. Yum!

Anyway, here are just a few things I make to use up what's left of the turkey. Thankfully, we don't have tons as we had a turkey crown but there is still way more meat on it than 4 people will ever eat in 10 meals, let alone one. If you are reheating the turkey in anyway, don't forget to make sure it's heated right through.

Coronation turkey - this is really quick and quite a flexible recipe. It goes really well in sandwiches but if you're bored of that, then use as a filling for jacket potatoes or just have with some green salad. Look away now if you don't like fruit with meat, this is not for you!

First, chop up some turkey meat into bite sized pieces. I don't weigh how much I've got, I just cut off enough to feed however many people are eating. Finely chop an onion and cook in 1-2tbsp oil for a couple of mins without browning it. Add some mild curry powder (about 1 tbsp) or some curry paste and cook for another minute, stirring. Then, add 1 tbsp tomato puree or ketchup, a hefty dash of lemon (or lime) juice, and about 125ml of chicken stock, from a cube or proper stock. The tomato is entirely optional, leave it out if you don't want the finished result to look quite orangey. Simmer this for about 10 mins until you have quite a thick sauce. In the meantime, chop up some dried apricots and add to the turkey. If you don't have them, use raisins or sultanas instead, or even some chopped fresh apple. Once the sauce is done, cool the sauce. If you're in a rush, run some cold water into your washing up bowl, plunge the pan into that and it will be cool in about 10 mins. Now add mayonnaise (low fat will be fine) and natural yogurt in roughly equal quantities. If you're making for 4, you'll probably need about 200-250ml of each but stir it into the cooled sauce and see if you like the consistency. Taste and season, pour over the turkey and fruit mix, stir in and serve. Add some flaked almonds if you really want and have some to hand.

Turkey tacos or fajitas - This is really quick and a nice way to serve up an informal meal with a bit of spice! First, slice up some turkey meat, some onion (red or white but red looks best), and 2-3 peppers of any sort (preferably a mixture of colours). You can also use sliced mushrooms, sliced baby sweetcorn or any leftover veg that you think might go. Heat some oil in a pan or wok and add the turkey, stirring for a few minutes, then add some chilli powder, ground coriander and ground cumin. Again, I tend to do this by eye, but usually about a teaspoon of each. Stir to cover the turkey and let the spices cook without burning, then add the veg. Cook for a few minutes until the veg are softened. Then heat tacos or some tortillas according to the instructions.  Put everything out on a table in dishes, adding some pots of other things you'd like to add - such as grated cheese, sour cream (though greek yogurt will do), perhaps some salsa or some guacamole. Everyone can help themselves and build their own fajita or taco.

Turkey and ham pie - brilliant if you have leftover gammon too but you can add any ham and again, you can adapt it to what you have left. It takes longer to make but it's quick to prepare, then you can relax whilst it bakes. Chop up as much turkey and ham leftovers as you want to use into bite sized pieces. Finely chop an onion and cook it in some butter for a few minutes, then add some sliced mushrooms and cook until  golden brown. Next, either make a white sauce (like Delia's all-in-one white sauce, which I use a lot) or if you have leftover cream, add that to the mushrooms and onions, bring to the boil and simmer gently until it thickens. Mix everything together - if you have other leftover veg, you could add that too - leeks, sweetcorn, carrots, broccoli are all good. Pour into a baking dish, and cover with pastry. If you have an oblong dish and ready rolled pastry sheets, it should be as simple as putting the pastry on top, sealing the edges and then making a small hole for the steam to escape in the middle. Brush with beaten egg then bake at 220C for about 20 minutes, then cook for a further 15-20 mins at 180C.

If you have any quick and easy yummy recipes for leftover turkey, add them in the comments below or blog about them and link away in the comments.

Either way, that turkey will be gone in no time!

Saturday, 24 December 2011

All the trimmings?

Photo credit - Keira
So, I shared my Christmas menu with you in my last post. I do meal plan so it's hardly surprising that I've known for a week or two what we're having, not that it is vastly different than last year. The pudding is different, and so is the starter but I don't mess much with the main event. I have certain things I have to have - Dad's chestnut stuffing, which is an act of remembrance as much as it is part of a celebratory meal (though I do love it and can eat it by itself, bread sauce - which has to be out of a packet as I just can't master a decent homemade version, roasties and cranberry sauce.

As I said before, I do love making Christmas dinner. Maybe it's because I've got it down to a fine art now. Everything that needs peeling will be peeled today - although the potatoes were peeled, parboiled and frozen last weekend and will get chucked into hot fat and put straight in the oven - and everything that can be made ahead will be done. Today, I'll make some cranberry sauce and probably the smoked salmon parcels as we've now decided to make those and before we go to bed, I'll get the turkey crown out of the freezer to defrost (it's not huge at all so I'm reliably informed it will take 9 hours to defrost. Yesterday, I made the stuffing, which is now sat in the fridge. The meringues were made on Wednesday and are packed away in tubs, ready to be filled when it's time to have dessert. (Which won't be straight after the turkey, we'll be too full).

The other thing I did yesterday was write my timeplan. It's what helps me to relax and ensure there is not something I forget to prepare along the way. If you're panicking about doing Christmas dinner, it's really worth doing. Start at the time you want to serve the turkey and work back from there. I draw it up in Word so I can rejig it and not have to rewrite it as I add in various elements. Also noted on there is the likely defrosting and cooking times of my turkey crown - you can do that for your turkey here - and links to some of the recipes I'm following.  Remember to give yourself a bit of leeway here and there for some things - I always finding bringing pans to boil take longer than I think it will so I add five minutes. And if you have got a menu written down, check against that to ensure you've included all the elements you're intending to serve. You'll probably discover you've got more time than you think - and if you get everything peeled and prepped today, you'll have way more time to spending with the family, instead of spending it in the kitchen.

So here is my timeplan for tomorrow.

Breakfast time - Check turkey crown is defrosted and prepare for the oven, take parsnips out of fridge
1115 Put oven on to 190C
1130 Put turkey crown into oven
1310 Put oil in tray for roasties into oven, turn up to 200
1330 Check turkey, take out if cooked and cover with foil to rest.
1335 Turn oven up to 220C, put stuffing in oven
1345 Turn roasties over
1350 Get parsnips ready
1355 Put parsnips and pigs in blankets in oven, turn pans on for sprouts and carrots
1400 Serve the starter
1415 Make bread sauce
1420 Make gravy
1430 Serve main course!
Some point later - whip cream and fold in mincemeat for meringue filling.

I still can't believe there is so little to do. I keep checking there isn't more to do but it's all there. 

As for table setting, the rest of the family are responsible for that. We eat in our conservatory, something we should do more often, and we have special Christmas mats, which we bought in a post-Christmas sale last year and were a bargain. No doubt they will have fun getting it ready on Christmas morning. 

I'd really love to see what you are getting up to Christmas dinner-wise, whether you are making your own, getting it made by someone else, taking it all out of packets, going out to dinner, or just having a Christmas day buffet. So, please do join in with the #allthetwimmings hashtag on Twitter. Just tweet pictures of your food, or just tweet your menus, show us your tables, your preparations over the next day or two and add the crucial hashtag. It will allow me to indulge my nosey side but we did it last year and it was good fun. 

Whatever you do, wherever you are, and whoever you are sharing it with, I hope you enjoy a fantastically celebratory Christmas feast tomorrow and that the rest of your day is joyful and spent with those who mean the most to you.

Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The ultimate Christmas meme

I can't deny I'm beginning to feel rather Christmassy, whatever that entails. With 3 days to go (I don't do sleeps), it's allowable to bang on about it in detail and not get snarled at. So, I was tagged by The Boy and Me to complete this meme, so I thought I'd give this a go.

The Christmas song I can even listen to in June is…

This one.

Hot chocolate, egg nog or mulled wine?

Mulled wine. I cannot abide egg nog, but I do drink hot chocolate. Winter pimms warmed with a star anise and a cinnamon stick and some cloudy apple juice is also very nice and similar in taste and smell to mulled wine. And if I'm being teetotal, Copella Winter Warmer and Bottlegreen Spiced Berry Cordial are suitable alternatives!

When do you put your decorations up?

We (*cough* my husband *cough*) put them up last week, somewhere around the 15th/16th. We never do it particularly early as I don't want the children to get too giddy too early, they're giddy enough as it is. I know people who have their trees up on or before 1st December. I couldn't do it.

They come down early too. My birthday is 6th January when the decorations traditionally come down. It's depressing enough, so we take them down a day or two early and we have chance to get used to it again. Ok, me, not the rest. One year, we took them down on New Year's  Eve, but we were going away straight after New Year.

What are you having for Christmas dinner?

Starter: Smoked Salmon, tho I may make something with it but it will be low effort.

Main: Turkey crown, my Dad's chestnut stuffing (it is a must in my house), pigs in blankets, freeze-ahead roasties, roast parsnips, sprouts, carrots, cranberry sauce a la Nigella, bread sauce (out of a packet, I cannot master home made), gravy. There is a possibility the kids will demand Yorkshires. I blame school dinners.

Dessert: Golden Christmas meringues from Ruth's gorgeous blog, with an adaptation for Missy Woo who claims not to like mincemeat or cream, so I'm doing a bananas and yogurt version of the filling for her) or possibly some of our Christmas cake, also from Ruth's blog with design by Missy Woo and me. D'you like it?

And I really, really do enjoy doing it. I don't get fazed by it all but I do write a full list working backwards from proposed eating time of EVERYTHING I have to do but all the peeling gets done before the big day. The last time I didn't cook Christmas dinner, I didn't really enjoy it - maybe I've got used to doing it my way.

What’s your favourite Christmas tradition?

On Christmas Eve, the children have hot chocolate before bed, husband reads them a story, and they watch Polar Express. That, or making my Dad's chestnut stuffing recipe. Or is it having Chinese on Christmas Eve? We did that as a kid and we've resurrected doing that in the last few years.

Have you ever gone carol singing?

Not actually door-to-door but I used to belong to a choir and I've done a few midnight masses at the village church and a few carol concerts. That count?

When did you discover the truth about Santa?

Well, of course he's real but one year, we had our Chinese at the International and something upset my stomach or didn't agree with me, so I couldn't sleep. I was perturbed to hear that Santa putting presents out sounded very much like my parents.

How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

With baubles, silly. Seriously, when I moved house in the 90s, I bought a set of blue and gold baubles. Over the years, we've now added to them - some are things made by the children, or chosen by them. Other colours have crept in and I think it looks very homely. The tree is artificial and pre-lit. What? I don't care. I don't like the hassle of dealing with real trees and the mess. There is no such thing as a no-drop real tree. And the price these days is shocking. We quite often go out late on Christmas Eve and pick up some bargains and one year, our tree was at a knock-down price in Asda. It's been going 3 years and looks like it will last for many years to come. What do you think?

All I want for Christmas is…

A KitchenAid, some form of tablet (not the pharmaceutical sort) and half the Lakeland catalogue.

Oh, to tag, it is now my solemn duty.

I tag

Claire at Ninja Killer Cat (who I still can't believe came and said hello when we were at the same event!)
Menai at Menai's Posterous
Choc at Chocolate is Therapy who needs a blogging push and anyway, she knows my brother-in-law and my sister-in-law.

but feel free to tag yourself if you want to join in and no-one else has. The above 3 saw my plea on Twitter and responded, that is all.

And if you're not around the online world over the festive season, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

One for the road?

Sponsored post

When I first became a driver, I didn’t have any Breakdown Cover. There was a very good reason for this. My dad was a mechanic. I don’t think he had it himself very often, he didn’t need to. Likewise, if there was a problem with my car, I knew that Dad would fix it and being the dutiful dad that he was, he’d come and rescue me.

Not that they would break down very often. Why? He maintained it of course! Nor did he let me buy any old dodgy banger – he was on hand for all my car buying and made sure there were no major issues before I bought. Not that it was difficult to spot the lemons – we turned up to see one car, the owner reversed it onto the steep drive and when he put the handbrake on, the  wheels stopped but the car kept going backwards! We were leaving again within a couple of minutes.

Thinking back, I did take a bit of a risk because just 6 months after passing my test, I went off to University 100 miles away, taking my car with me up the M1. Thankfully, I didn’t get stranded on the motorway and when I went home, Dad would service the car.

Once I entered the big world of work, I still didn’t need it. This time, it was because I was lucky enough to have company cars for many years, where such cover was provided by my employers. In fact, one of them did break down on me on the same M1 I had travelled up and down to University.

Now, without the luxury of my Dad to look after my car or that of having a company car that someone else pays to maintain, and the added complication of driving with children in the back, breakdown cover is a necessity.

Thankfully, I have never had to use it for anything serious – I’ve always been able to get going again – but the worry and the sense of abandonment you feel when your car lets you down makes breakdown cover worth the money.  It was the first thing I ensured was up to date before I took the children away on our roadtrip in August. Even if I don’t use it, it’s worth it for the peace of mind, knowing someone is there to help if things go wrong.

This is a sponsored post. I've been paid a fee to write it, although all words and opinions are my own although it features a sponsored link. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cologne part 2 - tips for travelling with children, tips for the Christmas markets, plus win 4 flights on Germanwings!

So yesterday, I told you all about our fantastic trip to Cologne to see their Christmas markets that we were lucky enough to be invited to see by Germanwings and 9flats. I wanted to end the post by giving you our tips for travelling with children on short breaks and a few tips if you go to the Christmas markets in Cologne yourself next year. It'll have to be next year now as Friday is the last day you can see them so you'd have to be quick. And who knows? You could be there. Keep reading.

I'll start with some more general tips. If you're going away on a short break, you'll want to make the most of every second and travelling will be tiring for everyone, not least the children. And if you don't want tired children spoiling your break, I'd recommend planning a few things in advance.

Before you go

- If you're driving to the airport, shop around for great parking deals. Valet parking is often well priced booked in advance for quieter times. We managed to get a deal parking in the multi storey at the airport terminal, which meant it was a short walk into the terminal. This saves time on waiting for transfers with tired children when you arrive back.

- Try to see if you can just take hand luggage if only going for 2-3 days. We took three trolley cases for three of us when we went to Barcelona in March but managed two trolley cases between four of us for Cologne, with the addition of a rucksack and my lovely new bag. It doesn't work if you're intending to buy loads, but it will save you time waiting at baggage reclaim. Don't forget to put your liquids into a little bag though.

- Make sure you've all got E111 cards, which are free. Yes, travel insurance covers most things but I believe there is an agreement that if you have a valid E111 card, the insurers will waive the excess of any health related claims.

- Keep a wallet with passports, boarding passes, E111 cards etc. I use a plastic wallet with a popper so I can seal it when I'm not showing passports etc - there is then less chance of losing anything and it's quick to lay my hands on it.

- Check in online if your airline offers this to save more time. Even if you have luggage to check in, you can normally check in, print boarding passes and in some cases, choose your seats. Then all you have to do is go to the luggage drop if you do have cases. If not, you can just walk into the terminal and go straight through to security if you like.

- Consider buying tickets to fast track security.Ours were £3.50 each. I'm glad we did as it eliminated yet more waiting. However, it did make me forget to remove my liquids from our cases and we got our hand luggage searched! Never mind, it was still quicker.

- Buy a treat for each child that you know will keep them occupied during the flight and hide it in your hand luggage. Only produce this on the plane. We find this almost guarantees good behaviour for flights under 3 hours. Sticker books work for us, it could be colouring or puzzle books, but don't forget crayons or a pen. Buy it at the airport if you don't have the time.

At the airport

- Once through security, remember you can buy as much liquid as you like from the shops. We tend to buy a bottle of water for the flight.

- Make use of priority boarding for families if this is offered. It can make it so much easier getting on and if you don't get allocated seats, you have a much better chance of getting a good seat sat all together.

On the plane

- Don't expect a child that has previously flown OK not to be scared. Children change so much. Missy Woo suddenly announced plaintively "I'm scared" as the plane left the gate as she thought the plane was going to tip back to vertical when we took off.  She has flown before and didn't bat an eyelid. Even Monkey suddenly developed an aversion to the plane turning mid-air when we flew to Barcelona and gripped my hand but he has got used to that now.

Arriving at Cologne airport

- The train is fast, frequent and cheap (3 euros for an adult) from the airport into the central station, taking about 20 minutes.If you arrive late, when there are fewer trains, a taxi might be a better option. They cost 30-35 euros.

Getting around in Cologne

- You can get a Cologne Welcome card from the tourist office and other places, that costs 9 euros each or 19 euros for a group of up to 5 people. It gives you travel on public transport for 24 hours and discounts at various attractions. Just don't forget to validate it when you first get on an underground train or tram *cough*. I think it's valid for travelling to the airport. (At least I hope so!) It's definitely worth getting as it will probably save you more than you spend if you travel back and forth between the different markets and where you are staying.

The Christmas markets themselves

- Try to visit the busiest markets early, especially at weekends when it's at its busiest. The market by the cathedral is particularly bad at the entrance by the cathedral itself but once you're in, it's just busy by the food and drink stalls. The Gnome market get very packed and it just won't be nice for little ones, especiallyas  a small minority will try to push and shove. The Fairytale and  Angel markets seemed to be a lot quieter, the children enjoyed them a lot more and we were all a lot more relaxed.

- Pace yourself and have breaks. Visit a market or two, then go and do something else for a while, even go back to your apartment. Looking back, we think we should have done this but we felt we had to try and cram it all in. If nothing else, you will get a break from children asking you if they can buy everything.

- Wrap everyone up in layers. It will get hot in crowds but you'll suddenly turn a corner where it's much less crowded and the wind can cut you in half.

- Pace yourself on the buying too! You'll want to buy everything as soon as you see it because you'll see the same stalls repeated around the markets. The children will want to buy everything too so either set them a limit of what they can spend or just let them have a small amount of money and be firm once they have spent it. Be realistic about what you can take home.

- Plan your trip - if you have to take a late flight flying out to Germany, I would recommend a 3 night trip, but if you can get an early flight, a two night trip would be fine.

Flying back out of Cologne airport

- Beware that food and drink options airside are limited but seem to be plentiful and more varied before security. If you need to eat at the airport, I'd try landside first.

So, would you like to go yourself, perhaps next year? Or would you like to visit another part of Germany? If you do, then I have some brilliant news. Germanwings are offering one lucky winner 4 return flights on Germanwings (you can see their full network here, just click on your nearest airport to see which airports they fly to). To enter, just follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget, which I'm trying out below. As an an absolute minimum, you need to read my first post on Cologne and tell me in the comments which Christmas market was our favourite and also where you'd fly to if you won and why. (I won't hold you to this!)

The competition close at 5am on 1st January 2012. (That's midnight Eastern Time on 1st January 2012.) Get entering, and best of luck to you all.

Please note that Rafflecopter won't accept entries until 5am on 21st December 2011. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Our trip to the Cologne Christmas Markets - a bit of a mega post!

Christmas markets seem to be all the rage. Every major town and city has its own Christmas Market to attract shoppers into their centres rather than go to out-of-town retail parks. We've only been to Manchester twice - two years ago, with the children, when it was just too packed and they were too small for it to be enjoyable, for them and for us. Last year, with both of them in school, we snuck in on the train early in December and got time to wander round all the stalls, enjoy a (little) gluhwein, and snaffle some wurst. (No sniggering at the back, please.)

Ask anyone who has been to the original Christmas markets in Germany and they will tell you they are better and more fabulous. I've always wanted to go but never had the time and, now we have children and our circumstances have changed, the budget to do so.

Then, Germanwings invited us to experience the Christmas markets in Cologne. Of all the German cities, this is the one I wanted to visit, to see its cathedral, which is vast. It took me no time at all to know I wanted to go, but a bit longer to fit it into our pre-Christmas schedule. This was partly because their Friday flight from Manchester is scheduled so late. And, inexplicably, there's no Saturday flight, so the option of going Saturday to Monday was not available to us. We had to go on the Friday, meaning a very late night for Monkey and Missy Woo. Because of this, we really could have done with a third night, especially as the children were too tired to stay up to see the markets at night so we didn't get to see them lit up in all their glory. If you're further south or in Scotland, Germanwings also fly from Stansted and Edinburgh.

I'd never heard of Germanwings before but they are a budget airline owned by Lufthansa and fly all over Europe, with Cologne-Bonn airport one of its main hubs. I was impressed that when I went to check in online (I love web check in, as I hate check in queues) I could pick our seats, meaning the scrum to get on is less stressful, so better for families. I should have done both check ins earlier (it opens 72 hours before your flight leaves) as I would have liked to be a little more forward. As it is, the Best seats at the front cost an extra 15 euros each way so our Basic seats started from halfway back and needing 4 seats together meant we were further back than that, but it wasn't a biggie as it wasn't a big fligt. I chose our seats and all we had to do at Manchester was go through security although I forgot to take our liquids out of the hand luggage and we got both bags searched! Oops.

The planes were comfortable, smart looking (all grey leatherette) and clean, as you'd expect. Thankfully, the children were really good both ways on the flight so we got none of those looks from other travellers. As we'd only taken hand luggage and we zipped through passports in no time at all, we were off our flight and in a taxi within about 20 minutes of landing. And a great taxi it was too, with back seats that converted into booster seats for the children. Shame I tried getting in the driver's seat. I'd say I was tired but I was just stupid!

Our accommodation in Cologne was arranged for us by, a new website which allows you to find accommodation all over the world in private houses. It can be just a room, or it can be a whole place. The site is like a cross between social media and eBay as you can add people as friends, and after you've stayed with someone, you can review both the host and their place, and they can review you. Gulp. Children on best behaviour.

Because of the configuration of the apartment we were staying in, the owner offered to move out for the duration of our stay so we had the run of the whole place. As a result, we never did get to meet Olaf, our host, which was a shame. A friend of his met us from our taxi, let us in and showed us around. I felt a bit odd staying in someone else's place - especially when he said the fridge was full and we could take what we like from it; we barely took a thing (so British!) but it felt homely. The apartment we stayed in was on a busyish road near the entrance to an underpass and I was worried that it would disturb the children as the room that they slept in was on the front, but they slept well both nights. To be fair, they were shattered as we didn't arrive until nearly midnight German time but were still awake by 9 the next morning.

As a family, I hate staying in hotel rooms. Whoever designed most so-called family rooms obviously never had a family, or didn't think through the practicalities of them. Putting children to bed means you can't really watch telly, or indeed do anything, unless you have really heavy sleepers because there is no separate space for them to sleep so you are in for an early night - which is so not me. In the morning, your early risers giggle and disturb your sleep. Having your own apartment meant that this was much, much more relaxed. The children had their own room off the living room, meaning we could stay up and not disturb them. The children had somewhere to go once they got up in the morning - they sat in the living room drawing and reading, and even watch the police recover a car that had crashed into a wall, so they told me (They are nosey little blighters!). We could have meals when it suited us and we didn't disturb anyone else. And we fell in love with both the underfloor heating and the coffee machine!

So, Cologne. Christmas Markets. We had a whole two days to explore them. That should be easy, right? It would be - but there are seven across the city. Seven! After a breakfast of German bakery products, some as large as the children's heads, we wandered into the city centre on our first day and made a start. We started with a brief visit to the Cathedral which, up close, is breathtaking. It's over 500 feet tall. I tried to take a picture of the facade but I still couldn't fit it all in, which you can see in the slideshow below. The fact I'm a rubbish photographer may have a lot to do with that. I did not take the photograph above. Nuff said.

The first market is in the shadow of the cathedral. It being a Saturday, it was incredibly busy in places. It was a sunny day so we couldn't appreciate the starlit tent draped from the central tree but what we did appreciate the sheer variety of the stalls. Lots of handcrafted items, foods and drinks on offer - everywhere you turn was colourful and beautiful, smelt fantastic or you wanted to reach out and touch. It was pretty hard not to spend all your money right there and then, but we had to be mindful of having to get it all home. The baubles were particularly gorgeous but being made of thin glass, they would have shattered easily. Here, we had our first taste of proper gluhwein - so alcoholic and warm that it caught your throat and went up your nose as you put your mug to your mouth, making you cough. Attractive.

After fortifying ourselves on Weinachtwurst (Christmas sausage) and frites smothered with ketchup, we headed off to our second market, the market of the gnomes in the Old Town. Again, this was very busy - so busy that we headed out after a short while to avoid the crush, only to discover the next day that we'd only seen half of it. The chalets were lovely but the food and drink stalls were rammed although it was better around the edges and the children found a carousel which they loved.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

We then made it to our third market of the day. The children were getting tired at this point but Monkey cheered up when he saw where we were going, for it was a floating market on a Rhine cruiser. This was the only market that cost to enter - 2 euros per adult - but the money goes to Unicef. Monkey loved this market because he got the double whammy of being able to watch the massive barges sailing down the Rhine and the trains crossing the river on their way to and from Cologne's central station. It was hard to drag him away, and it was nothing to do with the craft stalls. He spent most of the time on the boat utterly mesmerised by what was beyond the boat.

We noticed that a fourth market was near where we were staying and so took the underground to the market at the Stadtgarten. This was much, much smaller than the other markets and we went round it quickly, partly because the children were beginning to flake as the light faded. Because of this, plus the fact we misjudged where the nearest biggish supermarket was and that not many restaurants were open early evening near where we were staying, we ended up eating in Pizza Hut. Credit to them, the service was really friendly and we had a really nice pizza that you would never have in the UK. That, combined with good value and happy children, meant it really was a winner for us. I would have loved something more typically German but we would have had to wait or travel back to the busier areas. We spent Saturday evening chilling in our apartment, whilst the children slept like logs next door. I think I've found the perfect way to travel and still feel at home.

On our second day, we had still to visit 3 markets. On this quest, we ultimately failed as we never did make it to the market at the harbour, which was near the Chocolate Museum (Oh no!) so were unable to call house on our Cologne Christmas Markets bingo card*. We did however get to our favourite markets of the weekend. Firstly, there was the fairytale market at the appropriately named Rudolfplatz, where Missy Woo loved the decorated chalets nestling round the towers of one of the old city gates, which looked like a castle to a five year old girl. It was here that we bought sauerkraut to try, as well as grunkohl - boiled green kale with onion, which was really nice - with some mettwurst. The kids thought the sausage slicing machine was funny  and it certainly was a genius piece of equipment!

But our sixth and final market of the weekend was also our absolute favourite - the Angel market, in a square near the main shopping area, was truly delightful. Slate covered white chalets trimmed with lights, completely charming and looking totally different to the other markets, with lights and stars in the trees surrounding the square. Among the chalets was our favourite of the weekend, a little shop packed to the rafters with Christmas baubles and other decorations, as well as people. I would have loved to have taken all of it home. The children had hot chocolate and we had Kinderpunsch (non-alcoholic gluhwein; yes, we are lightweights). We did, after that, wander back through the Gnome and Cathedral markets again and they were just as busy on the Sunday but we at least discovered the ice rink at the former, which was being cleaned so we couldn't try it.

Soon enough - too soon - it was time to return to the airport. Monkey was happy because we took the train back to the airport, and he got to cross the bridge across the Rhine and see the floating market from the other side.

We crammed an awful lot into two days - possibly too much for the children. The lateness of the flight on the Friday put paid to that. Tiredness didn't spoil our trip, but it was certainly a factor we had to take into account. With another day, or an earlier flight, we would have been able to do more and the children would have been able to get more out of it, although they did have a fantastic, magical time and couldn't wait to tell their friends at school about it the next day. There is so much on - like the Christmas Crib Trail, of which we only saw a few stations - that you could probably go for a week and not get bored, although by then, you'd be broke from all the retail therapy and your liver pleading for mercy from all the gluhwein.

Pick your time right and as a family with small(ish) children, you'd have a great time at the Cologne Christmas markets. I'd really love to go again with the children and it is quite the loveliest thing we've ever been invited to do through blogging. Germanwings were great to fly with, and as a family, we will definitely be using 9flats again because you are able to experience living in the city rather than staying in a boxy hotel room, and it's so much better for families. Huge thanks from all of us go to Germanwings, 9flats and our host Olaf for arranging a weekend to remember.

This post is so long, yet I still have more to say. Come back tomorrow and I'll share some tips about travelling with children on short breaks and for visiting the Christmas markets in Cologne. There will also be a competition with a fantastic prize, so you really shouldn't miss out.

*may not exist

(Germanwings kindly paid for our return flights and taxes, and our accommodation for two nights. 9flats gave us a small goody bag. We also received 4 free Cologne Welcome cards for free travel on the underground for 24 hours. I have not received any further payment and we met all other costs ourselves. Logos and some pictures have been provided as well as some suggested links but I have not been told what to write and all opinions and words are my own.) 

Monday, 19 December 2011

Meal Planning Monday - the reverse engineered edition and OMG, it's Christmas!

So, what do you know? It's Christmas week. Obviously, you know what Sunday will mean, but maybe I'll do a separate post about that but we're largely traditional. And actually, I love doing it.

What about the rest of the week? Well, I only have five days to plan. We kind of started a little "tradition" a few years ago in that we have Chinese on Christmas Eve. It's a nice difference to what is to come and it does mean I don't have lots of cooking to do. I always forget and start to ponder what to cook until my husband reminds me. So we'll have that again and I can concentrate on all the prep to make Christmas Day as easy as possible.

So, why is it reverse engineered? The answer to that is the little email that popped into my inbox on Friday, offering 20% on my food shop. So, hurriedly, I put together an order, just chucked in what I needed and perhaps a few things extra without a thought to a plan. I nearly got scuppered when my mother rang me near the end of my hour but I remembered in time and got it in. And because I was pretty busy, I never got time to go back and add anything, let alone plan this week's meals. Hence, reverse engineered - I'm planning the meals from what I know I have and hopefully, I'll plan it so I don't really have to go back to the supermarket much.

Here's the plan:

Monday - Sundried tomato and chicken pilaf (in the slow cooker)
Tuesday - Mushroom risotto
Wednesday - Keema curry
Thursday - Cheesy broccoli pasta bake
Friday - Honey mustard pork (yes, again. Monkey asked...)
Saturday - Chinese!
Sunday - Christmas dinner - turkey et al.

Friday, 16 December 2011

In control of your finances?

This is a sponsored post
Are you? I must admit, I am normally pretty good. I try to keep costs of everything as low as possible. I don't feel particularly in control at the moment because I know I need to be earning more to keep us in the black. I'm sure I'm not the only one that feels slightly out of control with costs increasing all the time and income not rising to meet those extra costs. I'd like to have a longer term plan for our personal finances but at the moment, we're living hand to mouth and the future is not on the agenda. Well, not further than a few months anyway.

I can't be the only one. Apparently, 11 million UK consumers don't use a financial advisor, and do their own financial planning. MoneyVista aims to give them a little help by providing a tool to help them create their own plan. You input your income, outgoings, investments and it shows you your current financial position and allows you to plan. It can show you the impact of various financial decisions and you can set and monitor goals.

What I like about this is that there is no advertising on the site for financial products and the business itself, although backed by Royal London, doesn't sell financial services and it won't sell on your data to other companies either. All of which means it comes at a price (£8 pm, £20 per quarter of £75 per year) but you can get the first 30 days free and you only have to give your credit card details if you decide to subscribe.

Have a look at this video (it's only 1.30) which explains how MoneyVista can help with your financial planning. Hope you find it useful. This may be a sponsored post, but I wouldn't feature this if I thought it was of genuine use and something that might actually help rather than try to sell you other things. Why not give it a try?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Hark the hungry diners sing

I'm having a go at Julia's 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups. The challenge is to rewrite a favourite carol with the theme of a Christmas Dinner. I thought I'd give it a go, using one of my favourite carols, Hark the herald angels sing.

Hark the hungry diners sing

Hark the hungry diners sing
“Give us food, we’re all starving 
Increase our girth with turkey wild,
Sprouts and chestnuts over-boiled”
Joyful all ye eaters rise
Once you’re done, there’s more mince pies
Eat your fill and don’t complain
I forgot bread sauce again

Hail the choice not to have goose!
Hail the roasts of crispiness!
Have some more of your stuffing,
(Leave some room for the pudding)
Wild they pile their plates so high
Too much food, but eat they’ll try,
Raise your glass to Christmas cheer
Stuff your face, it’s once a year

Click on the badge above and find some more seasonal silliness from others. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Meal Planning Monday - the extremely late edition

Yes, I know it's late. I did actually plan our meals for this week before we went away but we got home last night and this morning was busy with washing, shopping and general catching up so no time to blog my plan.

This is last week of term, and the children have parties and odd days so it's kind of all over the place. I'm trying to ensure that the children get their 5 a day after the amount of chocolate, chips and pizza they ate over the weekend. And they're going on a sleepover to Granny's on Saturday so I need to keep their veg intake up in advance of that.

Here we go:

Monday - Sausages in Onion Gravy (which we've already had, and was as lovely as ever!)
Tuesday - Salmon, broccoli, and dill lasagne (already made, my own recipe)
Wednesday - Slow cooker chilli con carne (with extra crusty bread, cucumber and tomatoes)
Thursday - Sandwiches
Friday - Vegetable curry
Saturday - Takeaway or meal out
Sunday - leaving free

Apologies for the lack of inspiration but mid-December does that to me! Have you got anything more exciting to share? Please do. And then hop on over to At Home With Mrs M to see what everyone else is or is not cooking. Mostly not, we're all preparing for Christmas!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Did I mention....?

That we're going away tonight? We're going to Cologne in Germany to see the Christmas markets, which is all very exciting as none of us have ever been to real German Christmas markets before. The packing has had to be left to the last minute due to it being the busiest week of the school term. We're only going for 2 nights so we're travelling as light as possible to avoid having to lug cases and tired children around too much.

One of the things that I'm most excited about is I have a new handbag to take with me. Accessories Direct got in touch and offered me the chance to review one of their products and as my current handbag - which was lovely new, all purple in croc skin effect - is showing significant signs of wear (OK, it looks tatty), this seemed perfect timing, almost fateful. It was time to get a new one but as my husband will tell you, I'm quite particular about what I want out of a bag. I'm not bothered about the "name" as some are - I wasn't even like that before I had children and I still had money - but I do want a bag that looks nice and allows me to use it the way I want. I've trailed poor husband around shops in Spain on holiday - which seems to be where I have bought most of my bags in the last few years - and looked at tens, if not hundreds, before making my decision.

I was rather taken by this Kate Benjamin bag (great name!) out of the products on offer to review as I could carry it like a satchel but I can also use the strap and wear it across my body, which can be handy if your hands are taken up holding small hands when out. Missy Woo is always telling me off if she holds my hand and I'm still carrying my bag. "Mummy, I don't want to carry your bag, thank you". So, I put it at the top of my list and waited hopefully.

The bag arrived well packed and came in a lovely dustbag. You mean, people actually put their bags away occasionally? No, not for me. Mine is going to get some serious use! As you open the dustbag, you get that wonderful smell of real leather which is just fantastic. The leather is soft and supple so it's very tactile. Inside, there is plenty of room without too many little compartments which detract from some bags. There is a mobile phone pouch inside (bag designers, please note - smartphones don't fit in them anymore: please make them a bit bigger!) which I will probably use for sunglasses, and a well proportioned internal zip pocket to keep things safe inside. I love the patterned lining too; bound to raise a comment or two.

Looking at the product on the website, I notice now how much it sells for. Eek! I have never owned a handbag costing more than £50, let alone £140. I've never really got the designer handbag thing but just from looking at this bag, you can see that it's good quality, which is what you're paying for and it is actually reasonably priced compared to the real high end designer bags. I also noticed that this bag is an exclusive to Accessories Direct, so if you want to buy one like mine, you won't find it anywhere else.

Talking of buying, Accessories Direct are offering all you lovely readers a hefty 20% off all non-sale items. To get this discount, use the code FESTIVE when making your purchase. 20% would mean you could buy the same bag as I have for £112 but there are tons of other bags, including this wide rang of across body bags, plus they have jewellery and other accessories too. Hurry if you want to use the code - it is only valid until 13th December, which should mean you get it in time for Christmas. I also noticed that delivery is free for orders of £30 and over, thus saving even more.

So, I shall be off to Germany today carrying my lovely new bag and looking far more stylish than I deserve to. Oh yes, did I mention that we're off to Cologne? More of that after we return.

(Accessories Direct kindly sent me the above mentioned handbag to review and keep. I have not received any further compensation for writing this post. All opinions are my own and genuinely held.)

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

My awesome photo

Yes, that is the title, for that is the theme of the Gallery this week. The point is, it could be made into a huge canvas, for this is a competition.

My photography is not known for its skill and awesomeness (is that a word?) but I do have a photo on my camera which, although not taken by me, is still pretty awesome. It has featured before on this blog twice. I make no apologies for including it again because it is the favourite photo I have of one of my children. It was taken on a brilliant day for Monkey and Daddy - his second ever live game and a trip to Wembley to see Blackpool promoted to the Premier League. And yes, that still pains me to type those words.

So here it is. Possibly not awesome (although I suspect Blogger has done something funny to the photo in the upload, it does that occasionally) but I love it.

Find more awesome photos at Tara's Gallery.

Do as I say, not as I do

This might turn into a ranty post. It's not meant to be but something I saw today shocked me somewhat and when I mentioned it on Twitter, no-one said anything. Not a dicky bird. So, maybe I'm alone on this. Tell me if I am once I've told this tale.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

My favourite Christmas song

Much as I am not into a huge build up to Christmas and I'm not happy until everything is bought, wrapped and posted, nearly every music radio station within earshot is playing Christmas songs now. I'm sure they have a mathematical formula which allows them to increase the number that they play daily until they play themselves into a Christmas frenzy by somewhere around 24th.

Anyway, Garry from The Blog Up North tagged me to share my favourite Christmas song with you. Actually, the answer to this question is on his own blog. Last year, he did a series called HUN's Musical Advent and I suggested this song and he dedicated it to me. When searching out said post, I actually found it straight away as I am such a saddo that I can even remember what day of the calendar it was.

This is the song. It's "I believe in Father Christmas" by Greg Lake.

The irony of it all is Greg Lake wrote it as a protest about the commercialisation of Christmas but it does sound Christmassy - and when this was released (I was 10) I was not to know that. I remember wondering why he was sat in a desert for part of it.  The words are very evocative and I always love it. It's not formulaic in the slightest and it doesn't age (unlike Greg Lake, who I suspect doesn't look anything like as boyish these days).

I think I now must tag a few more bloggers and as it's late, I'm going to have to randomly take a punt that these folk won't mind so I'm going to tag a few that like musical memes so I'm going for

Kirsty from Gone Bananas
Karen from If I Could Escape
Lynne from Honie Mummy

All they have to do is write their post, link back to me and tag a few others to carry on the fun. Peasy.

And if I haven't tagged you, feel free to join in anyway, link back and leave me a comment with the link to it.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Meal Planning Monday - the not cooking much and we're going away edition

I think the title says it all today. We're going away this weekend (which you'll be able to read about after we get back), and so I won't be cooking Friday to Sunday. Also, because we'll be away and spending money, I want to keep the food bill down and nothing be too much trouble as we have a busy week with Christmas plays at school and that sort of stuff that goes with the last but one week of term before Christmas. I went on a bit of a rummage (it certainly wasn't a forage) and dug out from my cupboard and the depths of my freezer stuff I can turn into family meals with minimum effort.

Prepare to be underwhelmed by this week's meal plan.

Monday - Salmon and butterbean mash (an old favourite I can make in ten minutes)
Tuesday - Chicken fajitas (using the smokey BBQ fajita kit I got in my goody bag from Sainsbury's last week)
Wednesday - Jacket potatoes (which is fast becoming a top favourite with the children)
Thursday - Fridge bottom vegetable soup and sandwiches (to use up what's left in the fridge)
Friday - away
Saturday - away
Sunday - away

I bet you cannot wait now, can you? I can't - my shopping list this week is very short indeed!

So, are you having anything more exciting than I am rustling up this week? Share your menus with me, and when you're done, visit At Home with Mrs M to find links to more meal plans, hopefully a bit more exciting than mine!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Not so Secret Santa

It shouldn't have been a surprise really. I've been fighting against the inevitable for the third December in a row.

You may remember last year when I posted about Missy spotting Daddy as Father Christmas when she was as young as 3. Despite us brushing her off, she walked away from Santa's grotto that night saying "That was my Daddy that was" in a loud voice, luckily to no-one but me as we'd got there early enough to be the first ones in and no-one waiting.

All through this time, Monkey has never once referred to Daddy being Father Christmas and yet he was with us both times and must have heard what Missy Woo said. I figured that either he didn't believe Missy Woo (although he's never one to pass up the opportunity of a good old argument with his sister), or - and possibly more likely - he was in denial and thought he'd better keep his trap shut. If he thought he might miss out on a present, I'm betting he'd keep quiet.

So, Daddy was Father Christmas again this year. Luckily, he was meant to be at work anyway, so his absence was easily explained - I told them he was doing a special shift to explain the fact he wouldn't be home until long after bedtime. My plan to get there early was foiled - the children faffed around and we didn't get to school until just before the fair opened and there was already a queue. By the time we got in, there was a few waiting so I decided to herd them round some of the other stalls for a while but once that was done, I decided to join the queue to enter the grotto. I wondered how we'd get on - especially as Missy Woo had asked me about a week ago if Father Christmas was going to be Daddy.

The children were excited about the prospect of seeing Father Christmas; I'm not sure if it was more the idea of the present than of seeing the big man himself. Anyway, time passed and it became our turn. We walked in and sat down and hubby started his spiel. Within seconds, Missy Woo came up to me and put her arms round my neck and whispered "That Father Christmas is Daddy" so I said "Shhhhh." Surprisingly, that worked and she walked back to the chair and sat down. The children played along with his questions and enjoyed Father Christmas's new technology - he had a magic ball which you hold and it detects how naughty and nice the children have been over the last year. And they happily took their presents from Father Christmas and said their thank yous before leaving.

When we got home, it was getting late and I sent them up to get their pyjamas on. They came downstairs and we were looking at the things we'd brought home - prizes, and their presents from Father Christmas. Suddenly, Monkey piped up, "Daddy was Father Christmas, wasn't he? It looked like his face and it sounded like him." First time ever he has admitted he's noticed this. Later, when husband arrived home, he told me he could see Monkey looking at him strangely with a hint of recognition in his eyes so he was not surprised he'd outed him too.

I then launched into the rehearsed speech about how Father Christmas can't get to all the fairs and grottoes all over the world when he's meant to be preparing all the toys and wrapping them ready for Christmas Eve, so he lets some grown ups do this important work for him, but that sometimes, the real Father Christmas turns up and you never know when that is going to be. And I told them they had to keep it a secret that their Daddy was Father Christmas today as I didn't want lots of angry parents collaring me in the playground.

Monkey is now excited about next year's Christmas fair because "it might be the REAL Father Christmas next time." Yes, already. Both children seemed happy to accept my explanation of Daddy being a stand-in for the real thing and why that has to be. The bullet, it would appear, has been dodged. The thing is, when Christmas arrives, they believe completely that Father Christmas does deliver presents for them. They leave a snack out for him and a carrot for the reindeer, and they find some presents at the foot of their bed the next morning. We follow his progress around the world during the day (oh the wonders of the internet!). Father Christmas, for them, is still a very real part of the Christmas magic. And long may it continue.

Daddy may have been outed - he's our not so secret Santa - but I'm hoping that Father Christmas works his magic over Monkey and Missy Woo for some time to come. I know the window is narrowing - and my children are smart little cookies - but the biggest part of the magic of Christmas is hoping that Father Christmas will visit your house and the excitement when he does, bringing all those lovely presents with him, is what makes Christmas morning.

Friday, 2 December 2011

My day out at Good Food Show Winter

You may remember that last year, if you've stuck around these parts that long, I went to the Good Food Show Winter for the very first time after a lovely blogger gave me the ticket that she had won and couldn't use. I had a great time and vowed to go back. Somehow, going to the Summer show never quite happened and before I knew it, November was upon us again and I was trying to decide if this year, I really ought to buy a ticket. When, out of the blue, an invitation arrived from Sainsbury's to come to the last day of the show to a blogger's lunch. I was not going to say no! I found it funny that I then had to register as press to attend the show.

This year, I decided to travel down to Birmingham on Saturday - and this gave me the opportunity to meet up with my lovely friend Ruth and head down to the pub for some food that evening and get to the show bright and early. And bright and early it was, because my hotel was at the end of the runway of Birmingham airport and the planes start landing and taking off at 6am.

I got there just before the show opened, as I wanted to get round the parts that get crowded early on. I went to collect my press badge and discovered the press office was an oasis of calm - and free coffee. Still, not much time to enjoy it as the show opened and the race was on to get out round the stalls before the crowds arrived and try lots of different things. This was why I'd had no breakfast! This year, there was a lot of cheese on offer, as well as flavoured oils and oatcakes. My favourite things I tried were:

Findlater's Pate
Cornish Sea Salt (who made me try sea salt and then table salt and wow, what a difference)
Rubis Chocolate Wine (yes, really - and it was lovely)
Orkney Herring and Salmon in different sauces, especially honey, mustard and dill

And, after a while, I was feeling full. Even the ice cream samples (admittedly huge) were too much for me so no more trying to fit in my lunch! It really struck me how much competition there is if you go into business selling food products in this country. That's good for the consumer, but it must be really hard for the producers to get noticed and their products established.

Some of our lunch, coconut prawns on the right
Talking of which, we met Thomas from Sainsbury's on what was by then a very packed stand and he took us all, including Ruth, myself, Chris, and Maggie - a real mix of parent and foodie bloggers - off to a room. Our lunch consisted of many items from the Sainsbury's party food ranges for Christmas. My favourite things were the coconut prawns, the whisky smoked salmon, and some lovely little individual christmas pudding desserts in shot type glasses.

After lunch, and a trip round some of the stalls for a closer look and a peaceful retreat to the press office again for coffee and a quick charge of my phone, we met up again and collected tickets to go into the Supertheatre to see a cook off between Mat Follas and Tim Anderson, both Masterchef champions. It was gratifying to see that part of Mat's dish didn't work - even if I was gutted for him as well - because I like to think no-one is perfect and everyone has off days, and that just proved it. Of course, John Torode and Greg Wallace were also there with their usual banter, although it felt more like Ready Steady Cook than Masterchef! By the time we had taken our seats, I'd also bought a new toaster and we'd been given a Sainsbury's goody bag so it was also nice to get a sit down and not have to lug all my stuff around. One day, I will remember to take a trolley!

One last purchase of a pink baking set for a Christmas present for Missy Woo and I then had to stagger back to my car with everything and get myself home. On getting a proper look in that goody bag, I discovered a kit to decorate my Christmas cake, a fajita kit, some cheese fudge bites, chocolates, some recipe cards, and a bottle of ready mixed mojito. All in this handy canvas bag. Huge thanks to Sainsbury's for inviting me along, I had a brilliant day, and can't wait for the next show already.

If you do go to the Good Food Show, my tips would be:

  • Weekdays are apparently much quieter so go then if you can.
  • If you do go at the weekend, Sunday is best; apparently, it was really packed on Saturday.
  • Sunday is the best day for bargains as many stalls offer further discounts towards the end of the day.
  • Plan before you go and check out where any demonstrations you want to see are taking place.
  • Get there early, preferably for the show opening, as you'll get a nearer car park and a chance to walk round without too many crowds.
  • Comfortable shoes are a must as you will be on your feet an awful lot. 
  • Don't wear a coat as it can get really warm and you don't need to be carrying anything else!
  • Pace yourself when trying samples, you'll soon fill up
  • If you are thinking of buying something, buy it there and then as it can be hard to locate a stall later on.

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