Tuesday, 26 April 2016

My Fairy Garden Lilypad

A few months ago, Ruby was thrilled to be asked to go along to the photo studio with Interplay to shoot some promotional shots for the My Fairy Garden Range. It was her first time modelling and she loved it.  I enjoyed mooching about behind the scenes, sizing up the backdrops and all the lighting.  It was really interesting to see it properly done (ahem!).

She got to play with the My Fairy Garden Lilypad Garden planter which she absolutely adored, but as it was a brand new product and not yet launched, we've had to keep it quiet.



I'm delighted to say that it's now on the shelves and Ruby was over the moon to spot herself in a toyshop window the other week - she ran in and proudly announced to the cashier 'THAT'S ME!!'  It really has done wonders for her confidence.



We already had the Secret Fairy Door, so Ruby was familiar with the range, but she was itching to get her hands on the Lilypad Garden and have a proper play with it.

She spent a fair bit of time planning her 'garden', making a colour scheme and deciding on whether she wanted trailing plants or tall plants.  The boxed set does come with some grass seed, but she couldn't wait for that and wanted instant impact (can't think where she gets that from?!).

We took a lovely trip up to the local garden centre one sunny morning and selected her plants.  I was so impressed with all the care and thought she put into the process.


Back home, she set about planting it up, deciding which plant would look best where.  Once it was all in place and throughly watered in, she started on the fairy decorations.  The kit includes a mini windmill, but we added one of our own and she made some miniature bunting from some stripy straws and wash tape. She had a good hunt round her playroom looking for bits she could decorate the fairy home with and she has loads of ideas for making furniture.  She's asked me to make some more champagne cork toadstools, and she's been collecting little sticks to make a table. There's also lots of ideas in the enclosed booklet of additional furniture you can make yourself.




The little frog is adorable floating on his lilypad in the little moat saucer, and he's had a few trips up to our bathroom too for bath time! Each component is well made and sturdy, and so easy to assemble.  

Every day when she gets home from school, she rushes to check on her planter and make sure it has enough water.  I love that this is something she can take care of herself.



Check out the whole range of My Fairy Garden.  We love the little doors which you can hide around the garden. Such a magical range!

Lilypad Gardens is available from good toy stores RRP £19.99.

Disclosure: We were sent the Lilypad for the purposes of this review.  All opinions are our own.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Win a Family Meal at Pizza Express with a £75 gift card



Readers will have seen that we've recently become part of the #PizzaExpress family, which has been great fun. We've reviewed our local restaurant in Milton Keynes, today took part in a fab Twitter Party where several lucky tweeters won £25 gift vouchers, and now I'm delighted to announce we have another giveaway for a £75 gift card, meaning you can treat the entire family to a wonderful meal out at your local Pizza Express. It's a great place to dine with kids with their special menu and kid's packs to keep them entertained.  Why not use the Easter holidays as an opportunity to try out their new spring menu?

You can check out the reviews from the rest of the team here:


The giveaway is open to entrants in the UK, aged 18 and over.  To enter, complete the Rafflecopter widget below.  The giveaway will be open for one week, and the winner will be selected at random after midnight on 7th April 2016.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Pizza Express - A Gluten-Free Family meal out

Pizza Express was one of my go-to places for a family meal out.  However, since we've all gone gluten-free (for various health reasons), we've not eaten out a whole lot.  I'm a pizza addict, and good pizza is something I've really missed since being gluten-free.  I've tried some restaurant pizzas, take-out pizza and supermarket pizza to cook at home and none of them have quite hit the mark.

We've recently joined the #PizzaExpressFamily blogger campaign, so I was really keen to see how our gluten-free experience would be and especially excited since they've just launched GF dough-balls (OMG OMG OMG).

We love eating out as a family, it's a great way to sample different food and I think it's important children can feel relaxed when eating out, but also learn how to behave in a restaurant.


The children's Piccolo menu I've always found to be great value for money - £6.95 for a starter, a main, a dessert and a babyccino.  Now they offer gluten-free doughballs, and the gluten-free brownie as dessert it means that Ruby was able to enjoy every course without missing out.

It's a shame they don't keep a stock of GF pasta, but let's be honest, we go there for the pizza don't we?

We visited one of our local restaurants at the Xscape complex in Milton Keynes. This is always a very busy restaurant being close to the multiplex cinema and the snow-zone, but it's perfect to visit after a family film.  Apart from their great family welcome and amazing food, one of the things I like best about visiting Pizza Express is that they are often in pretty cool repurposed buildings - we've dined in former banks, old Masonic Halls and listed coaching inns.  The Milton Keynes one is a modern, purpose built premises in the leisure complex, so lacks the charm of some others, but it's fresh and contemporary, with subtle lighting (perhaps too subtle for decent photography, so apologies for the grainy shots!).


Ruby got stuck into her colouring and activity sheets (she enjoyed the pop-out Easter finger puppets) while I perused the menu over a chilled glass of Pinot. There was no question she'd go for the dough-balls, and I like the fact these come with a little side of crudités of tomato, cucumber and pepper, helping her get her five-a-day.  The Old Man selected the antipasto.  When it arrived it was HUGE (I suspect they brought us the sharing platter by mistake) but we all chipped in and helped - we're good like that.  The Antipasto usually comes with baked dough sticks, but these aren't available gluten-free so they swapped them for some GF doughballs. I tried one, for research purposes of course, and they were delicious. Lighter and less doughy than the normal ones, but oh how I've missed doughballs and their moreish garlic butter.  I selected the mozzarella and tomato salad which was light and refreshing, with a generous ball of delicious creamy buffalo mozzarella.  The basil pesto dressing made a nice change from the usual sprinkling of basil leaves.



Onto our mains, Ruby went for a classic Margherita gluten-free pizza, I picked the Padana (my favourite) and The Old Man, an American Hot. The gluten-free bases were thin and crispy style but tasted just as good as the regular pizzas I'd missed so much.  I was a little disappointed with the topping on my pizza, I couldn't taste the goat's cheese at all and suspect it was just mozzarella rather than any goat's cheese.  Maybe because they were thinner, or maybe the lack of gluten, but we were all able to clear our plates happily.  I used to not be able to finish a pizza here and we'd often leave with a doggy-bag pizza box, but we certainly felt less full than usual.  Great news - there was room for dessert!!


The menu has simple to follow symbols for vegetarian and gluten-free so it was easy to see what we could order.  There is a GF brownie on the children's menu, but Ruby decided she'd rather have ice cream, and managed 2 delicious scoops. Him Indoors chose the salted caramel ice cream and his badly timed visit to the gents meant I got to sample quite a bit of it.  Oh my word, it was out of this world.  Seriously additively amazing.  They should sell that in supermarkets, I'd fill my freezer up!

My regular dessert would be the Caffe Reale, tiny morsels of spiced baby figs served with creamy mascapone and a coffee on the side.  But I decided to try something new, so I opted for the Tartufo Limoncello.  A pure white lemon gelato bomb, the sharpness of the citrus was balanced with the sweet crunchy studs of white sugary meringue.  I was waiting for the liquid alcohol centre of limoncello, but instead found a small, syrupy, almost jelly centre, so while not exactly what I was expecting, it was nevertheless very tasty and a lovely palate cleanser at the end of the meal.


Overall, I was really impressed with how well they deal with allergens.  The menu was easy to follow and there's some very detailed information on their website.  They even have a gluten-free beer.  All gluten-free dishes are certified by Coeliac UK.

We’ve worked hard to ensure that you can be fully confident of no issues upon entering any PizzaExpress. This includes changing processes in our kitchens – including labelling and storage, using new equipment only for gluten-free food, as well as changing the flour we use for tossing and stretching our dough to be gluten-free.

We're delighted that we can continue to enjoy meals out at Pizza Express and it's great to know that whichever branch we visit, we'll receive the same choices.  It certainly makes family trips out much easier.


Make sure you follow the news and fun with the #PizzaExpressFamily team. There's a Twitter Party coming up on 31st March from 2-3:30pm where you can win great prizes, and keep your eyes peeled for your chance to win a family meal.  Thanks to Pizza Express for providing us with a complimentary review meal for the family.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Born To Be Wild - Nature's Playground

This weekend, I went along to the book launch of Hattie Garlick's Born to be Wild with the RSPB.  In actual fact, I'd helped to organise it, ensuring we had a lovely bunch of bloggers along.

You may remember Hattie from her Free Our Kids campaign where she pledged to go a whole 12 months without spending a penny on activities for her child.  Hattie is one cool mamma, finding fun in all sorts of unexpected places and her love for nature and general zest for life shone through when I met her.  She's also a real mum, with real kids, not someone who lives life like a beautifully shot instagram photo.


Her new book Born To Be Wild is jam-packed with nature-based activities, with suggestions and ideas that can be replicated in any community throughout the year.  The book is helpfully divided up by seasons and by materials, so you can always find something fun to do, with whatever the day gives you.

From old favourites such as making stick boats, petal perfume and daisy chains, to more unusual ideas such as 'misleading a butterfly'-

A bit mean, this one, since you're effectively luring male butterflies with the false hope of romance. It feels a bit like creating a hideously misleading online-dating profile'.

I love her honesty and humour throughout the book, and she freely admits that sometimes it's not easy to drag your kids away from the TV and out on a walk. But seriously, take this book with you and you'll have so much fun, the kids won't want to come home!

Nature provides us with such an amazing array of free materials to play with. Combine that with a few cheap craft materials and some household bits and bobs and you've got an endless source  of entertainment.  The kids will not only have fun, but they'll get fresh air, stimulation, learn about science and wildlife and be able to express themselves creatively.

Our kids are often wrapped in cotton-wool these days, so it's great to be able to throw off some of the health and safety shackles and explore.  Hattie has tips for safe wild swimming (hooray!), pond dipping, foraging, mud painting and snowball fights.  A woman after my own heart!

We met at Rainham Marshes, a RSPB reserve just outside of London.  Driving through the ugly industrial environment with towering pylons and fume-filled ring-roads, I wasn't expecting the oasis of calm we arrived at.  A huge, imposing modern-architectural wonder of a visitor centre greets you at first. Here you'll find a visitor shop, a cafe, playground, picnic tables and toilet facilities.


We headed out to the education centre, the kids skipping along the winding paths and boardwalks that cross the marshes.  Our guide, Louise from the RSPB pointed out the best places to spot water voles and enthralled the children with the secrets of some of the plant life - who knew teasels were carnivorous? Not me.

The education centre is set back from the main paths, an unassuming collection of rusted old shipping containers.  But inside this secret lair, the RSPB host up to 100 school children on wildlife visits.  The  room inside reveals a full-length window across one side giving amazing views of the surrounding area, with Eurotunnel trains whizzing by, ships on the Thames in the distance, but in the foreground, an incredible display of visiting wildlife.  This whole area was once an MOD firing ground, but now it's been totally reclaimed by nature and is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna.


Image credit: RSPB
We started with pond dipping, a family favourite, and the kids armed themselves with nets, trays and identification cards.  There was lots of excitement when water boatmen, damselfly larvae and bloodworms were found. After this, we moved inside to create Easter Trees.  A simple collection of twigs, petals and mud made the basis of these designs, and the children let their imaginations run riot embellishing them with paint, yarn and glitter.  Each child proudly held their jam jar tree aloft at the end.
Image credit: RSPB

Image credit: RSPB

Image Credit: RSPB
It was such a lovely day, and great to see the kids going wild.  The rest of the activities in the book should keep them going for the remainder of the year, never mind the Easter holidays!

You can purchase a copy of the book from the RSPB site and a proportion of the purchase price is donated to the charity to help fund the RSPB's conservation work.

Disclosure: I have a professional relationship with the RSPB for this launch, and received a press copy of the book. All opinions and views are my own.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Roast Lamb with Ginger Beer for Easter Sunday

This Easter, Sainsbury's have produced a series of little twists, new takes on traditional, favourite recipes. 

We tried out the lamb in ginger beer, and it went down very well.  I'm a big fan of cooking with fizzy drink - gammon in cola, chicken in lemonade and duck in orangeade have all been popular in our house.  We're actually away for Easter, so we got to enjoy our Easter Sunday roast with all the trimmings a little early.


ROAST LAMB WITH GINGER BEER
Serves: 6 plus leftovers
Prep time: 10mins plus resting Cooking time: 2 hours plus resting
·      1.5kg leg of lamb

·      6 cloves garlic, sliced

·      2cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled & sliced

·      1tsp cumin seeds

·      1tbsp olive oil

·      1 onion, cut into wedges

·      2 carrots, cut into chunks

·      3tbsp British plain flour

·      50ml no-added-sugar fiery ginger beer

·      250ml chicken stock, made with
·      1 chicken stock cube
Preheat the oven to 190°C, fan 170°C, gas 5.
Put the leg of lamb on a board and make small slits all over the joint. Press some of the sliced garlic and ginger and a few cumin seeds into each. Rub the oil into the joint.
Put the onion wedges and carrots in a large roasting tin and toss with 2 tablespoons of the flour. Sit the lamb on top and pour in the ginger beer and stock. Roast in the oven for 1 hour. Roast for a further 30 minutes for medium- pink lamb, 50 minutes for well-done.
Remove the lamb from the tin, cover with foil and let rest for 20 minutes. Pour the roasting juices from the tin into a small pan over a medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly reduced. Make a paste with the remaining flour and 4 tablespoons water. Whisk into the gravy until thickened.

Strain the gravy (keep the veg to make a soup). Carve the lamb and serve with the gravy, roast potatoes and the vegetables of your choice.

We're following a gluten-free diet at the moment, so I omitted the flour, and added a little red wine (what? I can't be expected to give up everything!!) to the gravy and it was delicious, really deep and flavoursome with the unmistakable zing of ginger.  The sweetness of the ginger beer balanced out the strength of the garlic. It's definitely a recipe I'll be using again and a perfect centrepiece for the Easter table.
Check out some of the other Easter Little Twists too, including eggs Benedict with avocado and hot cross buns with bacon.   There's some really exciting things going on at Sainsbury's at the moment.  I was pleased to attend their Spring/Summer preview of some of their new food ranges recently and was delighted by some of the new gluten-free products.  Can't wait for them to hit the stores.



Disclosure: I was sent a voucher to purchase the ingredients for this dish.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Where does Sport Relief Money Go?

Earlier this week I took part in the #TeamHonk challenge for Sport Relief with the lovely Vanessa and Sarah.  Today, my daughter has excitedly scooted to school in her track suit ready for a day of sport and a sponsored mile run. Tonight, Sport Relief ambassadors and celebrities will be all over our TV screens.  But where does the huge amount of money raised actually go?

Well, Sport Relief funds are split 50/50 between overseas projects and funding initiatives and good causes right here in the UK.  Lots of them will be small, local organisations who are not well known outside of their local community, but who do vital work and deserve highlighting.

This week I had the opportunity to visit NOAH Enterprise, a local charity who provide support and assistance to some of the most disadvantaged in the community.  Dealing with a wealth of issues that come with homelessness, they offer a pathway to help people back onto their feet, and to re-start their lives.


Service users come along to the centre for basic needs such as a hot meal from the canteen or the evening soup kitchen; use of the showers and toilet facilities; use of the laundry; appointments with the visiting doctor and dentist; as well as specialist help dealing with housing departments; form filling; language skills; re-training; work experience; job-seeking advice; addiction recovery programs; and more holistic services such as art therapy and drama and music workshops to regain confidence and purpose.




The day centre is open every single day of the year and provides a final safety net for those who have fallen through all the cracks.  This is often the last point of refuge. 

You can tell, that this organisation uses every penny to the benefit of the people it supports.  They don't have plush offices, swish signage or fancy merchandise.  The centre is rough around the edges, but they don't waste money on unnecessary frippery.  The team work tirelessly to raise money in any way they can, tapping into local businesses to use their staff and skills.  They've had the MD of a local aviation firm come in and give invaluable advice on job-seeking, large fast-food outlets provide food to the canteen one day a week, and other firms have donated IT equipment and office furniture.

The problem of homelessness is a rising one.  The latest rough sleeper count in Luton where NOAH are based was 53.  The previous year it was 33.  The latest rough sleeper count in nearby Bedford where NOAH are starting to work was 51. The previous year it was 25.  Jim O'Connor the Chief Executive explained that this represented just the tip of the iceberg.  It doesn't take into account the huge numbers of sofa-surfers, those in temporary accommodation, those in hidden squats or those who sleep on the outskirts of the town centre such as the rising number of tent sleepers.

I used to work for a homeless charity and I know just how hard it is to raise funds.  Homelessness is not a sexy charity, and you have to work hard to compete with the big charities who have huge budgets for marketing campaigns and advertising.  Cancer charities for example are ones that everyone has some kind of personal connection to one way or another, but homelessness and addiction still has a stigma attached.  There's still a feeling amongst some members of the public that they've brought it on themselves - I can't tell you the amount of discussions I've had with people about this issue.

But I think now, opinions are changing.  The current benefit cuts and austerity measures have given a stark reminder that actually, most of us are only one or two pay packets away from being in the same situation.  The rise of food banks and the media coverage of that has opened up the conversation about poverty. Many of the people who use the day centre, have found themselves in a spiral of poverty brought on by just one or two life changes. A redundancy, a relationship breakdown, a bereavement or an illness can be all it takes to start this journey to homelessness.

The staff at the centre had organised some people for me to interview, but this is always tricky with the transient nature of the service users.  We weren't able to meet the lady I'd been expecting to meet, but what happened unexpectedly that day gave me much more of an insight into how NOAH works.

As we were standing chatting in the corridor, a woman walked by.  She stopped and reached out her hand to my face.  She was around my age, but her face was puffy from crying and she had a cut above her eye.  She then took hold of my hand and held it tight.  All I could do was squeeze hers back.  We stood for a few moments in silence, but I could see the desperation in her eyes.

When she spoke, tears spilled over.  She was imploring me to help her, but she spoke no English.  Communication was impossible and I've never felt so helpless.

Thankfully, there were staff on hand who could interpret.  While she asked for help, she never let go of my hand once.  It was such a personal moment of despair and I felt as though I was intruding, but for some reason she wanted to hold onto me.  All I could do was offer her a hug and hold her hand.  Maybe that's what she wanted?  Some human touch and interaction?

She spoke to the staff in her own language, admitting she was struggling with alcohol and asked for help to recover.  There was a flurry of activity as the guys started the ball rolling, and lots of gentle explanation of her need for commitment to a program.

Admitting an addiction problem is such a huge turning point in someone's life. I don't know what had happened to get her to that point, but clearly it was her moment.  The staff were not going to let that moment pass.  I know how difficult recovery is for anyone, but for someone living such a chaotic life, sleeping in a squat, miles away from her friends and family, I can't imagine how difficult her journey is going to be.  She now has the right support, and I hope with all my heart she makes it.

As I left the centre, I walked through the town to visit the NOAH Boutique charity shop to see their fundraising activities there.  The shop was calm and quiet, with volunteers steadily working away in the background stocking the store and serving customers - raising funds and gaining valuable work experience.

As I browsed the books, Amy Winehouse came on the radio.  Listening to the words of Rehab, the stark contrast struck me between the celebrated artists and 'tortured souls' who have a talent which brings them world-wide fame, and those who are completely unknown, ignored by almost everyone who passes them by on the street.  Sadly Amy Winehouse never overcame her addiction problems, I really hope the story with the lady I met turns out differently.


Sport Relief have given £30,000 over three years to support their work. This supports their art, music and drama workshops, as well as cookery lessons and running the food kitchen.  If you'd like to donate, you can sponsor the Team Honk challenge here.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Win Bed Linen with Homemaker Bedding

Spring is the perfect time to refresh your bedroom, and a really cost-effective way to give your whole room a new look is with a set of stylish new bed linen.

With new bedding and a few key accessories you can bring your bedroom right up to date.

Homemaker Bedding is giving one lucky reader the chance to win a set of bedding of their choice, in any size you'd like.

How about this bold and colourful tropical set, right on trend with the exotic theme.


Whether you'd like linen for your room, a guest bedroom or a child's room, they have so much to choose from.  From romantic florals, bold colours, stylish checks and cosy Nordic there's something for every taste.  They offer great value for money too.  This beautiful child's single set is just £10.99.


Readers can take advantage of 10% off too using this special code: HOME10 which is valid on any order.

To be in with a chance of winning, please complete the rafflecopter below.  One winner will be selected at random, and can choose any style currently in stock in either single, double or king size.  Sets including curtains are excluded from the prize giveaway.  Open to UK entrants only.  Closes at midnight Sunday 20 March 2016.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: Prize will be fulfilled by Homemaker Bedding.  We received a single set of the camper van design as a thank you.