Thursday, 31 May 2012

You don't have to be mad to be a MADs finalist...

but it helps. Here are some of my fellow MAD Blog Awards finalists making fools of themselves answering a few questions. Enjoy...

The final stage of voting closes at 5pm next Thursday. Get voting if you haven't already - by clicking the MADs finalist badge in the sidebar.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The issue of weight and female athletes - no wonder our female athletes struggle

Photo credit - peter_w
In the last week, I've read two stories about female athletes that have disturbed me greatly. The first was about Hollie Avil, the triathlete who has retired from her sport after beating an eating disorder which was triggered after a coach told her she would get faster if she watched her weight. She lost lots of weight to the point that it was dangerous and although she did run faster, her swimming times suffered. She has been so brave in telling her story - even though there is no shame in having an eating disorder, there is still a stigma attached to it - but I'm left wondering what sort of person says that to an elite athlete in the near peak of condition, and with what justification.

Then, and thankfully almost on the flip side to that, I heard that heptathlete Jessica Ennis's coach Toni Minichello has spoken out after an (unnamed) high ranking official from UK Athletics told him that "she's got too much weight." In other words, she's fat.

Thankfully, Jess is of strong mind and has a great relationship with her coach, who supports her all the way. She has more important things on her mind right now - a small matter of trying to win an Olympic gold medal in a matter of weeks - than whether she needs to lose weight. I suspect at this stage of the summer, most track and field athletes are in peak condition. She hasn't taken it personally, and her answer was to break the British record held for 12 years by Denise Lewis at an event in Austria over the weekend.

Hollie Avil's story reflects with this. It shows how easily a comment like that can destroy someone's self-esteem and can wreck their sporting career, with a wider impact on their emotional well-being and daily life. Jess has had a difficult year, losing her world title in South Korea last September with a below par performance in some of the disciplines. Heptathlon requires many skills and not all of them speed related - sprinting requires power and speed, hurdles and high jump require good technique, shot put and javelin a reasonable amount of strength, and 800m endurance. And there are no prizes for being the skinniest heptathlete in the competition, only the best ones.

 I can't add any of the photos on the internet of Jess, but just Google her and look at the recent pictures of her. Does she look fat to you? She has abs most men would kill to have and it's obvious that she is both slim and strong.

Are we setting female athletes up to fail here? Are we confusing fitness with thinness? What sort of a message does this send out to our children? Hollie Avil's story already proves that losing weight doesn't necessarily guarantee success. I don't know what the answer is but coaches really shouldn't be allowed to make throwaway remarks like that without some form of proof that it is negatively impacting the athlete's performance. Not all weight is bad weight anyway - if it's mostly muscle, then it could be a hugely positive thing and as we've seen, swimmers need a certain amount of fat to stay buoyant.

What bothers me most is that no-one would dream of commenting on the weight of a male athlete and yet, apparently females are fair game. I've linked to The Guardian as they are at least a responsible newspaper but others (*cough* Daily Mail *cough*) think nothing of printing stories featuring female celebrities, commenting on whether they look fat or not, so they can hardly take the moral ground here.

It saddens me that we're so quick to judge a woman by her perceived weight (which is actually her size as we don't, thankfully, walk around with our weight in a blue neon sign above our head). It saddens me even more than my children are growing in a society where women appear to be judged primarily by their appearance and not what they have achieved. It saddens me that Missy Woo will have to work harder on this front than her brother and I pray that I can instill the sort of confidence in her that Jess Ennis has and that stupid remarks like both she and Hollie Avil have been subjected to don't have a negative effect on her.

But that's probably too much to ask.

I'll now be wondering when I'm watching the British female athletes competing in the Olympics this summer just how many of them have been subjected to the same sort of thing. It stands to reason that if top athletes have been, then those further down the tree will also have had similar experiences. How many medal performances will this taint? How many medals will this cost us?

And, more importantly, how many lives will have been changed for the worse?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the using everything up edition

Please don't feel short-changed but I have a confession to make. This is only half a week's meal plan. Why? Well, we are going on holiday on Friday so there is no point meal planning for then and the weekend. 

Because we're going away, I need to empty the fridge and I seem to have loads of bits in that need to be used, I've made a meal plan using them so nothing goes to waste. The aim is to buy as little food as possible this week. I've just done the plan and there is actually very little I need to buy. In fact, I've already made tonight's tea so all I have to do is put it in the oven - hot work but not as hot as if I'd done the prep, cooking and assembly whilst it was warming up. 

Don't expect anything particularly inspiring or innovative this week. Here we go. 

Monday - Lasagne
Tuesday - Fridge bottom risotto
Wednesday - Chicken fajitas (I need to buy a few wraps for this)
Thursday - The usual - sandwiches and crisps!

As you might have guessed, it's very unlikely you'll get a meal plan out of me next week! We are self-catering so there will be some cooking but routines will be slightly awry and days out may affect how much or how little I cook. We plan to relax, catch up with my sister (who lives down there), and have some great days out. Oh, and meet another lovely blogger who's going to be staying on the same park at the same time. 

Don't forget to let me know what you're eating this week and then, pop over to Mrs M's place to see what everyone else has got planned. 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Quiche sans pâte

If you know a smattering of French, you're probably thinking I've taken leave of my senses. "Quiche without paté? Has she gone mad? What quiche has pâté in it?" Well, you're right - none of them do. What's crucial is that their is no é making this pastry, not pâté (pronounced quiche sanz pat, literally). So, we're talking pastryless quiche.

If it sounds a strange concept, it's not. It's brilliant. If you're not good at pastry, (like me), it's a revelation. It's quick to prepare, can be made in advance and eaten at just about any temperature from straight out of the oven hot to chilled for hours cold. And it's made out of store cupboard ingredients and perhaps whatever you have in to fill it. With no baking blind, what is not to like?

I first came across quiche sans pâte when a mum (from southern France, of course) made one for a shared buffet - I was going to say Jacob's Join till I remembered it's a Lancashire term. I asked her for the recipe as it was so fab and made my own a few times. Then I managed to lose the recipe. As Googling doesn't produce a recipe in English, I have taken a recipe in French and adapted it for English tastes. It can be made with various fillings - the original recipe used ham but anything that you would normally use to fill a quiche will be great.

There's hardly any prep, unless you choose any fillings that need pre-cooking but don't forget to leave them to cool a little before adding them to the dish. Feel free to use any hard cheese for the filling. Gruyere is not to everyone's taste (although it is best cooked) and a mature cheddar does just fine. You can add herbs if you fancy it.

Oh, one final thing - it's best cooked in a metal/non stick dish. Make sure you grease anything you use really well as eggs will weld to the surfaces. If you use a dish with a smaller diameter (under 25cm), make sure you use a deeper dish to cook it. Small deep quiches may take longer to cook.

Quiche sans pâte
Serves 4-6, with leftovers


3 large eggs
200ml milk
100ml creme fraiche
2 heaped tbsp flour
100g gruyere or other hard cheese, grated
salt and pepper

Optional fillings
4 slices of ham, chopped
100g bacon lardons, fried until crisp
125g mushrooms, sliced and fried
1 red onion, chopped
4 asparagus spears

1. Heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 4 and grease your dish well (I always use butter but you can use oil if you like).

2. Mix all the ingredients (except the cheese) for the quiche together in a bowl with a fork. Add all but a handful of the cheese to the mixture and stir together. Season well. All you need to ensure is that any lumps of flour are broken up.

3. Pour into the greased dish and add your chosen fillings to the dish. Scatter over the reserved handful of cheese.

4. Cook for an hour (although I check it about 35 mins in and if the top is already browned, I turn the oven down). It's done when there is no liquid egg left on the surface and it's all puffed up, although it will collapse again quickly. If you are eating hot, just leave it a few minutes before cutting.

This is great with chips or boiled new potatoes, and for veg, a green salad or steamed green beans.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Gold medal stamps! Yes, really.

This is a sponsored post.

As you know, we are big sports fans here and are very excited about the Olympics. The arrival of our tickets for the football at Old Trafford has just ramped that up yet another notch.

There's going to be loads of Olympic memorabilia on sale over the next few months, but nothing says it quite like commemorative stamps. Having issued stamps to commemorate the 1948 London Olympics with a stamp bearing the five Olympic rings, Royal Mail has a proud history of commemorating London Olympic games. There are already stamps on sale, marking 2012 as the Olympic and Paralympic year. On 27th July, a "Welcome to the Olympic Games" special set of stamps will be issued. But that's not all.

This year, Royal Mail has come up with a unique approach to stamps. For the first time ever, they will issue Gold Medal stamps for each gold medal won by Team GB. Not only that, their aim is to have each stamp on sale by lunchtime the next day at 500 post offices across the UK and on the Royal Mail site. Each stamp will feature, where possible, a photograph of the athlete of team in action during their gold medal winning performance. If that's not possible, it will feature either a shot of them in action during a heat or on the podium receiving their medal.

The stamps will then be distributed to a further 4,500 post offices during the Games 3 times. It's the first time Royal Mail has issued next day stamps and it's a huge undertaking, with their team of designers and picture editors on standby throughout the Olympics, ready to create new stamps every time Team GB wins gold. It's also the first time that a host country has turned action shots from gold medal winning performances and made them into stamps so quickly. They are going to be pretty unique, (and possibly worth a bob or two?). It will be no mean feat as during the Beijing Olympics, Team GB won 19 medals, which is more than one every day.

There are also going to be some of the 500 post offices which will open for the first time ever on Sundays during the Olympics. You'll be able to buy stamps individually, or as part of a special sheet. Also, at the start of the Paralympics at the end of August, Royal Mail will also be issuing stamps to commemorate the start of those games - another first.

If you want to keep up to date with all the stamps from the Olympic year, you can register your interest now and be kept up to date. I think I will be buying some for the children to keep as a little piece of history.

Sponsored Post

Friday, 25 May 2012

Dyeing to make a difference

Confession time - I'd never dyed my own hair. Before children, I used to have highlights done in a salon but it became a luxury that went by the wayside when trying to cut costs. I've always chickened out of the thought of doing my own and I was worried that my hair would look flat. However, I've been thinking recently I needed to do something as my children are most definitely giving me grey hairs!

Then, John Frieda offered to send me a pamper pack including one of their new Salon Blends collection from their Precision Foam Colour range. I said yes, and then promptly regretted it. What on earth was I doing? But they do say in order to deal with your fears, you need to face them head on.

The point of the collection was that they have been pre-blended with 3 different shades, as you would get if you went to a salon to get your hair dyed. I selected what I thought was a shade similar to my current colour, which I took to be light brown. When the pamper pack turned up, I was delighted to find it contained a lovely black towel, some nail varnishes AND a set of straighteners - which was fantastic as I've been wondering whether I should replace mine.

My fantastic pamper pack

So, no turning back, I had to dye my own hair. First, obviously, I had to do a patch test, which is bizarre as they tell you not to get it wet OR to cover it for two whole days. I managed to get it done and still shower and there was no reaction. Which, of course, meant I had no excuse. It was time to dye my hair.

Before. (Looking surprised)
From start to finish, it took about an hour although I was taking my time and messing about. Covering the hair evenly with the foam was a challenge, as was adding the right amount. What I thought was enough was not according to the instructions. And then, I had to massage it into my hair and then leave for half an hour. Well, I gave it half an hour because I have greys in my hair. The foam was nice as it didn't drip anywhere and I got with normal activities, whilst waiting for it to work. I couldn't do that in a salon!

Then came the moment of truth. After rinsing and conditioning, I got out of the shower to have a look. My first thought was, when looking in the mirror was "It's dark!" but my hair was still wet. Once my hair was dried and straightened, I would still say my hair was a shade darker than it was before. It's probably difficult to tell from these pictures but it definitely is darker in real life. As trueness to colour, I'd say this shade (supposedly Light Amber Brown) was darker than advertised - unless of course, the extra time I left it on added to the depth of colour. Although I like it, I definitely prefer to have been closer to my original colour and next time, I'd definitely go for one of the dark blonde colours. Maybe I am dark blonde after all! The colour is nice and has depth to it -  although I think it looks obvious it's coloured, it's more natural than a lot of hair that I have seen. I'm hoping that the colour fades a little because I'm worried it looks a bit severe.

And after. (Smile, Kate!)
The conditioner has left my hair in really nice condition - not straw like at all. And my new straighteners really are fab - they are SO much better than the ones I had and my hair now looks all swishy and lovely with very little effort.

As for other's reaction to my hair, well, there has been very little. The children didn't say anything until I said have you noticed anything different but they couldn't decide if my hair was lighter or darker. Husband, bless him, has yet to say anything after 24 hours. Maybe it's not all that different and I'm just being paranoid.

Would I do it again? Well, yes - despite my fears, it was a lot easier to do and a lot less scary than I thought it would be. I think I just need to tinker around a little with the shades I use. A tenner for a pack of hair dye is much cheaper than getting it done in a salon.

(I was sent a pamper pack, as detailed above, for the purposes of a review. I have not been paid a fee to write this post and all words and views are my own.)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Olympic meme

It's been a while since I last did a question and answer meme so when Lou from Bloggomy tagged me in her Olympic meme, I had to join in. We're stupidly excited about the Olympics in this family, which is unsurprising given our love of sport.

Lou has asked nine questions for me to answer so here we go.

1. If every day tasks were Olympic events what would you get a gold medal in?
Tweeting, perhaps? On second thoughts, Hidden Talent is currently on my telly which I've found fascinating. I did some of the online tests and I got 6 out of 6 in the lie detection test so maybe I could win a gold for that too.

2. As a child (or now even) did you excel at a particular sport and if so which one?

Lord, no. I was always rubbish at sport and still am. I may be a fitness freak but I certainly do not excel.

3. Michael Phelps (swimmer) or Michael Johnson (runner) - which sport appeals to you more?

Running. I'm going to be very British here - Michael Phelps made swimming a bit boring for a while when he kept winning everything. Michael Johnson was awesome but didn't dominate in the same way whilst remaining a true champion.

4. How fast can you get out of bed and ready to go out the door if miss the alarm and sleep in?

This happened to me not long ago actually. Luckily, the children were already up and dressed but hadn't had breakfast. I woke up at 8.40 (the time we usually leave for school), jumped out of bed, threw clothes on whilst shouting the children to brush their teeth, grabbed them some fruit for breakfast, piled them in the car and dashed to school (within legal limits of course!). They walked into school at 8.54. As it takes 5 mins to drive and a couple of minutes to get out of the car etc, I reckon we got out of the house in 5 or 6 minutes. Oh, and I now set a second alarm on the phone for 8.15 in case I miss the first one!

5. What fantasy sport would you like to see made into an Olympic event?

Omelette making. I love the omelette challenge on Saturday Kitchen. It could be the 100m final of the Culinary Olympics - were there such a thing - and it would be a great topic of conversation - were they making an omelette or scrambled eggs. Imagine the controversy!

6. Claim to fame time - Have you ever met an Olympian and who was it?

Hmm. You know, I don't think I have. I have met lots of sportsmen but I don't think I've actually, knowingly, met an Olympian. Which is odd, considering so many cyclists live around here, because of our relative proximity to Manchester and the Velodrome.

7. What event in past Olympics can you remember most vividly?

I think it would have to be Kelly Holmes winning her second gold medal in Athens. Yes, I was shouting at the telly. What of it?

8. Tuning in at home, not for me or tickets clamped ready in sweaty palms?

We were lucky enough to get tickets for the football at Old Trafford. One of the sessions we picked out in May last year turns out to include a match featuring Great Britain, which is even more exciting for us all. We decided it was a trip too far to go to London with the children so the rest will be watched from home.

Edit - and our tickets arrived this morning. Even more excited now!

9. Who do you think most deserves a gold medal (any walk of life not just Olympians)?

Having just spent a long day in school as part of an interview panel to recruit a new teacher, I would have to say all teachers. They are a very underrated and sometimes beleaguered profession but they have to maintain high professional standards, have to juggle all the various aspects of their daily work and they have to jump through massive hoops just to get a job in the first place. They deserve our praise and our support but they are often an easy target.

Now I need to tag a few people to carry this on like an Olympic torch (which funnily enough, is coming to our town next week!)

They are

Kate at WitWitWoo
Helen at Casa Costello
Alice at An Essex Wife

Monday, 21 May 2012

Where was your best family holiday? Answer this and you could win a prize!

V60 - image courtesy of Volvo Cars UK
This is a sponsored post (but stick around, it's not that bad!)

Well, where was it? Our best was probably last year to Devon (which I blogged about several times) when  we stayed in a lodge, visited the Eden Project and my sister, and ate cream teas until we were fit to burst. We loved it so much that we're going back there soon - it was a good location for day trips as well as easy for us to get to, there was plenty for all of us to do and the lodges are of a really nice standard. We're all excited about our trip back there soon.

If you can answer this question - and others - you could win a prize this coming Sunday. Volvo Cars will be giving away a range of prizes - such as a Kindle or a family adventure weekend - in their V60 getaway competition on Twitter. Oh damn, that means I need to have fitted that answer into 140 characters. Brevity was never my strong suit. Maybe you can do better?

I do a lot of online competitions as a hobby and I dislike most Twitter competitions - they usually require you to follow an account and then to retweet stuff into your followers' timelines, effectively spamming everyone. So, I was pleased to see this was not like that.

First, you need to be following Volvo Cars on Twitter. On Sunday 27th May, they will ask a series of questions. Tweet them your answer using the hashtag V60getaway and they will give away prizes every hour during the duration of the promotion. No spam! A Twitter competition I can join in.

Personally, I was hoping they were going to give away an actual V60 which you can learn more about here, but sadly not. I could do with something a little more stylish but practical to drive and the V60 would definitely fit the bill, although sadly, my budget definitely doesn't stretch to it at the moment.

So don't forget - if you want to try and win a prize, follow Volvo Cars UK and keep an eye out for the #V60getaway questions starting on Sunday. Good luck, I hope you win a prize!

I am a member of the Netmums Parent Bloggers Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team from our database to review products and brands on their behalf. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I can ‘opt in’ to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.

Meal Planning Monday - the vegetarian edition!

Today sees the start of National Vegetarian Week so in its honour, I'm cooking a week's worth of veggie meals. Well, kind of - Missy Woo is going to a party after school tonight and Monkey wants to play there so the grown ups are having leftovers from our Sunday roast for tea but apart from that, the week is vegetarian.

For a long time, I didn't eat meat. I never called myself vegetarian because I ate fish and seafood - but now I'd have the label pescatarian to call myself. We still eat veggie at least once a week and then a few weeks back, I came up with the idea of cooking veggie for the week and then discovered how soon National Vegetarian Week was. So this is totally off my own back - no-one has asked me to blog about it. I like cooking veggie things and so a lot of these meals are already firm favourites. There isn't a lot new because it is a very busy week - parties galore for the children, sports day and school fair on Friday afternoon and I am going to be in school all day on Tuesday as part of an interview panel for a new teacher. Eek!

So here's the plan:

Monday - leftovers for the grown ups, children out for tea
Tuesday - Mushroom burgers and sweet potato chips
Wednesday - Roast veggie moussaka with feta
Thursday - Squash, ricotta and sage pasta bake (tho the children will still be getting sandwiches)
Friday - Asparagus, mushroom and red onion quiche sans pate
Saturday - keeping free for now as the children are off to parties again
Sunday - Mixed vegetable curry with chickpea pancakes

I've realised after doing this plan that this is a lot of vegetables, a bit of dairy and not a lot else! Usually, I would choose at least one dish containing beans but I guess with it being almost summery (we're promised some warmer weather this week), they feel a bit wintery and these appealed more.

Are you having a veggie week this week? Tell me what you're having and then don't forget to check out Mrs M's place for more MPM entries.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

7 year olds can be strange things sometimes

I love the insights you get from children sometimes.  Some of them can reveal an aspect to their personalities that you hadn't considered before.

I am sure I've mentioned in the past that Monkey loves school and learning and always tries his best, which is all you can really ask of a 7 year old. His best is pretty good too and he makes us very proud. I have always thought of him as a child who is confident in most of his abilities, but now I'm not so sure.

The other day, he told us a little story. He said that in the playground, one of the girls in his class said to him,"You're the smartest one in our class."

"That's nice," I said. "What did you say? Did you say thank you?"

He looked at me, slightly mystified. "No," he said, "I said you must be joking."

I really need to teach him how to accept compliments more gracefully.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Well, I'm not going to bore you.

Or maybe I am. You see, a few weeks ago, I received an approach to do a review and I accepted. I accepted because it was for a brand with which I have had a chequered history over time. I assumed that because they were approaching bloggers to do a review that they had got their act together.

After I had said yes, I realised that when they said they had approached bloggers, they had asked just about everyone in the parent blogging community. Review after review started to appear and I'm sure that readers who read a lot of parent blogs got very bored. Not only that, my fears were founded as many had dreadful experiences there and the best seemed to have had an OK experience, but nothing terribly great. Actually, excuse me, I think I read one completely positive review.

I had committed to doing this review so I feel I should write it. However, I'm not really sure what I can add to what's already been said but here goes.

The brand that offered me the opportunity was Frankie & Benny's, and as I said, we have a chequered history. We have had extremely slow service at times and instances of substandard food that the staff have tried to conceal, but at other times, they have been great. Our last visit had been disastrous, but nothing to do with them because Monkey was sick in the toilets shortly after we arrived. The staff were troopers and even arranged for our breakfasts to arrive at different times so one of us could sit outside with an improving by the minute 7 year old.

We chose to return to the same branch to do our review, not because we liked it so much but because it was at the Trafford Centre and we chose to meet husband there after he'd finished his marathon. The area was rammed that day because of the appalling weather, but Frankie & Benny's itself wasn't too busy. The main purpose of our review was to try out one of the four new menus. As it was a Sunday afternoon, we couldn't try the lunch or the breakfast menu so we tried the specials menu.

The kids are always well catered for with activity packs full of things that they really want to do. They love the kids menu which is £3.95 for main, dessert and a refillable drink - and it is not stingy at all. Missy Woo had the pizza because she knew that it's big - in fact, you'd expect it to be 3.95 by itself.

The specials menu was 2 courses for £10.95. Looking at the menu, it was struck by how unbalanced it was for vegetarians. All but one of the starters was vegetarian, but only one of the main courses was. This seemed strange as there were 10 choices for the mains. I was also a bit disappointed at the range of choices. - 4 pizza type dishes, 4 chicken dishes doesn't leave a lot of room for variety. We chose dough sticks and chicken wings to share with the children to start, then a New Yorker and a chicken burger for mains. When the starters arrived, I discovered how hot the wings were - there is no way the children would touch them; my lips were still tingling 10 minutes later. The children enjoyed the doughsticks before their mains arrived.

What of our mains? Well, they were OK. They weren't fantastic burgers and I felt the portion sizes were a tad small. Still, husband was still full of running gels and water so didn't finish his main but his chips got plundered by the children and me. We moved onto puddings - well, I had some crumble and the children had ice cream. Again, nothing exceptional.

The service was as good as before. The staff were generally friendly and helpful and the children loved the waiter who did tricks with drink napkins when he brought your drinks. What they loved was the staff treated them like grown ups and chatted easily to them. What I found annoying was the birthday routine. If someone has a birthday, they turn the music right up, bring out a pudding, play happy birthday (presumably singing it) then Congratulations comes on over the speakers. It's annoying enough when you're having a quietish meal and want to talk to your family but this happened SIX times in one hour, two of them back to back. I mean, seriously? I know a birthday is special  but does the whole restaurant have to be subjected to it? I sat there dreading the volume knob increasing and if I'd heard Cliff one more time, I swear I couldn't be held responsible for my actions. The only other thing that grated was that after I handed over the voucher to pay, the waiter didn't say thank you and didn't come back to explain that they weren't going to give me the balance in vouchers. In fact, the waiter barely said thank you.

Would I go again? Possibly. I would go to eat from a different menu; the lunch menu is too restrictive when you consider the price. The children love it but I yearn for something a bit different and the food really was a bit samey on the specials menu. I'm happy enough to go for breakfast but that's it. I prefer to go elsewhere for family meals although we do go occasionally because the children do get well fed.

However, I know that we were lucky that had a decent experience, and that's my problem with this. Frankie & Benny's have a reputation for providing inconsistent service that is often slow for no apparent reason and that often translates itself to the food. When I was approached, I assumed that they had put some considerable effort into offering a more consistent standard of service across the board. How wrong I was. You won't have to look far to find reviews that are far from flattering. Which begs the question - why run this campaign? Why give a large number of bloggers the chance to review your brand when you know that in some branches, they may not have a good time? People are going to be searching the internet and finding some awful reviews which people will take note of as they are written by bloggers. And I don't get why they approached so many people to do this - there is such a thing as brand fatigue if it gets written about too much but it seems that they didn't think about this when planning their campaign.

I'm sorry if you're fed up with yet another review for this brand. I shall be more careful next time - I don't like doing something that everyone else is doing because well, it's boring really. What this campaign has proved to me is that quality is definitely better than quantity and that brands really need to be sure of their product before they offer it to bloggers to try.

(I was sent a £50 voucher to use on a meal to try out one of the four new menus. The branch didn't know we were coming, nor that we were paying by voucher until we had been given the bill. I have not been told what to write and all words and opinions are my own.) 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Doubly MAD, doubly WOW!

Mum and Dad Blog Awards 2012You see that badge there? Yes, last week, I found out I was to be a finalist once again in the MAD Blog Awards this year. More amazingly, I'm a finalist in not one but two categories this year - firstly in the Family Fun categories and in the Schooldays categories. If you nominated me in those categories, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. The competition in both categories looks pretty tough, so I'm doubly honoured to be a finalist alongside them. Last year's ceremony was a real experience so to be able to experience it again is very special and I feel very proud to have the opportunity to experience it all over again.

Voting is now open for the final stages until early June. If you enjoy reading my random ramblings, perhaps you'd like to vote for me this time too? Just click on the badge.

Thank you!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the Wembley edition?!

If only it were me that were going to Wembley but the male half of the household is going on Saturday to see Blackpool play in the play-off final against West Ham, leaving the female half at home. Actually, I'm going to a conference on Saturday morning and Missy Woo is going to a friend's house to play, and in the afternoon, we may watch the match on telly and go out for tea. The rest of the week is still quite busy in that kind of post-sale way - catching up with things that went by the wayside last week. We're actually having something that is not sandwiches this Thursday, because Monkey has no football so I can bring them both home after school - so happy about that! 

So, here we go with this week's plan - links where available. Some recipes are from this month's BBC Good Food magazine and therefore not yet on their website but they might be in a few weeks. 

Monday - Sweet chilli dogs
Tuesday - Aubergine, tomato and lemongrass curry (original and full recipe from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries)
Wednesday - Sticky marmalade chicken with mash and broccoli
Thursday - Herbed lamb cutlets with roasted veg
Friday - Healthy salad nicoise
Saturday - keeping free
Sunday - Roast chicken (this will either be a celebration or comfort food for the Wembley wanderers). 

What are you eating this week? Is your menu becoming more summery or are you sticking with warming meals?

Thursday, 10 May 2012


Photo credit - dimitri_c
This post might sound like I'm talking in riddles because I want to discuss Monkey and Missy Woo's names. Which are not, let me tell you, really Monkey and Missy Woo; apparently someone reading my blog the other week really thought they were their real names. Hey ho.

We chose fairly traditional names for them when they were born. Once we had chosen Monkey's name, we couldn't really chose something terribly exotic for Missy Woo, even though she has an exotic middle name. I just didn't think it would sound right saying something like "Yes, this is Robert and this is Pixie." (Note - also, not their real names!).

I always imagined that I would shorten their names once they were born. After all, I am not really a Kate (shock, horror). I was born a Katherine but always known as Katy by my family until I decided I was going to be Kate around the age of 11. In contrast, my younger sister has never been known by anything other than her full name, apart from when she had a kind of nickname I used when I couldn't say it as a toddler.

Since the children arrived, I have never used diminutives for their names. If I don't use their full names, it's their nicknames.... which are actually Monkey and Missy Woo. More to the point, I don't like the thought of using shortened versions of their names. This is particularly true of Missy Woo. Her name is a bit of a mouthful but her name is the feminine version of a male name and the short version just makes her sound like a boy. Which she most definitely not - she's very girly. It just doesn't sound right. I thought I wouldn't mind about others shortening her name, but if I hear someone using it, it's the verbal equivalent of running fingernails down blackboards to. I wince. I don't say anything as I don't like to correct people, partly because although we gave Missy Woo that name, it's now hers to do with it what she likes. I don't have to like it necessarily.

A couple of years ago, her eldest cousin (who is in his 30s now) told me that he called her by the short version and she told him in no uncertain terms what her name was. Things have changed since then - she's started school and it doesn't help that the only other girl in the school with the same name as her uses the shortened version, which kind of sets an expectation that she will be the same.

I thought about suggesting other alternatives to her when she wants to write the shortened version of her name, but would that just confuse her? Probably not - she told me a little while ago that she'd like to be called Rosie (not even close), for reasons I have yet to work out. Going on the basis that the grass is always greener, I laughed it off. I seem to remember I told my Dad once that I wanted to be called by a different name. Now that I'm a parent, and knowing that it was he that specifically chose my name, I understand how that can feel like a metaphorical slap in the face from the child whose name you took so much care over choosing, and agonising over how to define them.

For now, I think I'll just carry on in my own way. I don't know why, but the names we chose for them just feel right so I shall go on using them in full. I shall continue to wince, but bite my tongue, if someone uses diminutives for them in my presence. And in time, they will come to know how they want their name to define them and choose how they want to be addressed by those around them.

And that's when I'll turn into the mother that uses their Sunday names.

Do you shorten your children's names? Do you mind it when others do or are you protective of using the correct names for them? Or have you never used your child's full name and used a diminutive instead? Or did you choose a name for your child, and then regret it? Do leave a comment and let me know. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the May bank holiday edition!

Yes, even on a bank holiday week, I get planning (although I won't be for the next one). I could have subtitled this the busy week edition as it seems that way. Even though today is a bank holiday, my husband is working a bank shift so it's just me and the kids (joy!). Then, on Wednesday, he's working a late shift so he can go into school in the morning, then I'm out in the evening. And at the weekend, I'm helping at our NCT branch's nearly new sale all day so I don't cook. I think I might be exhausted by Sunday! 

Here's my week with links where possible; Tuesday and Wednesday are from the latest edition of BBC Good Food and often don't make it onto their website for a few weeks afterwards, so try looking in a few weeks if you don't want to buy the magazine. 

Monday - Chicken, sweet potato and coconut curry
Tuesday - Chorizo pilaf
Wednesday - Halloumi aubergine burgers
Thursday - Sandwiches
Friday - Quiche sans pate with salad - I have an English recipe (or at least I think I have!).
Saturday - Chinese take away (it's traditional!)
Sunday - Prawn pasta bake

Don't forget Mrs M is the place to go for Meal Planning Monday entries.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Chocolate cake with lavender cream - another Cake of the Week!

Tuesday saw another meeting of the South Lancs Clandestine Cake Club and this time, the theme was "In an English country garden." Not being great at sugarcraft, I thought I'd better just include an element of a garden in my cake and the first thing that came to mind was lavender. I'd heard of it used in various dishes and cakes, hunted around and thought I'd give it a go.

The basic cake was the chocolate cake according to Ruth's recipe which is now my go-to recipe for chocolate cake as it works every time and it is always lovely. I even panicked this time because I made it in one tin, and then put it in the fridge to chill so I could slice it and the outside seemed very firm but I can report it was not dry at all. I did make a little bit of last minute lavender sugar (made by adding edible lavender to caster sugar and leaving it overnight in a box) but I don't think you could taste it. 

For the cream, I had read about various ways to add the flavouring to the cream. Some infused the cream with the lavender overnight, some ground it with icing sugar in the food processor then added it to lightly whipped cream. So I did both! I added some edible lavender - which I bought from Waitrose by the way - to double cream and left it overnight. Then I lightly whipped the cream and tasted it. The flavour was very mild so I did the grinding thing and added that to the cream and whipped some more. Unfortunately, I had a mini-disaster at this point - the cream got to the right consistency but I went to turn my handmixer off and turned it the wrong way so it mixed faster! So it was slightly over-whipped but I think I got away with it. I used that to sandwich the cake and top it, then sprinkled a bit more lavender over the top. 

As ever, my cake didn't look that pretty up against some of the other cakes there but it was the first one I tried. I was praying that the lavender taste wasn't overpowering and wonder of wonders, it wasn't - it worked! A nice chocolatey cake with a twist - slightly floral but not too medicinal. Relief. But the array of cakes was splendid - a honey cake baked in a honeycomb tin, a gorgeous chocolate, raspberry and rose cake, and a beautiful butterfly cake flavoured with elderflower. But special mention has to go to Linzi for her English country garden cake which really looked the business.

It's always a good event - you get to meet lovely cake people, have a natter, eat and talk cake; this time, I finally got to meet the lovely Dolly Bakes who made the lovely butterfly cake. And then you get to take cake home! Bonus. I enjoy it because it forces me to try things I wouldn't usually try and that helps to push my boundaries and improve my skills.

I'm linking up again with Helen's Cake of the Week linky

Thursday, 3 May 2012

LifeCircle 2012: Outside the comfort zone, but not what I was expecting

Life Circle

Once again, this was not the post I was intending to write. I have been working diligently on pushing my comfort zone and thought it was all in hand but I managed to pick something that was not totally under my control.

And then, earlier this week, I had the rug pulled from under me and I truly am out of my comfort zone. As a result, I currently have no regular work lined up for the foreseeable future and that is scary as hell. I feel I need to work on that but I didn't want to leave this post another week.

This may mean the end of Life Circle for a while. At the moment, achieving some kind of financial security for my family is my top priority and that may mean I can't commit to writing posts on particular days. I will do what I can, but I'm not going to promise. On top of that, I have a busy time for the next week or so as it is Nearly New Sale time again. To add further to this, I'm really not sure where to take Life Circle - I am wondering about whether just setting prompts to blog about and explore in your life might work better. What do you think?

I hope you have had a better time with this task than I have. I do look forward to seeing what you've done in the time we've been off. Hopefully, doing something slightly scary is good for you, it can kick start all kinds of things and who knows where it will take you?

As ever, the linky opens at 6am today and stays open for 2 weeks so you have until 17th May to link up your post.

Thanks for reading.

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