Monday 30 September 2013

A Visit to Cadbury World

We were recently sent some new Cadbury Pebbles and an invite to Cadbury World.  Pebbles are fab, if you love mini eggs then you'll like these, basically the same but you are allowed to eat them all year round!  The little coloured crisp shelled nuggets come in a re-sealable bag so they're perfect for giving out a small handful as a treat.  I think they'd be pretty good as cupcake decorations too.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Pebbles

So with our appetite whetted, we headed off to Cadbury World yesterday.  We're currently reading Charlie and the Chocolate factory, and to be honest I think that gave us rather inflated expectations - I mean this place was never really going to be made of cocoa or have molten rivers of chocolate running through it. Shame.

Cadbury Factory

The original factory buildings are stunning, as was the small section of the Bourneville village we drove through to get there.  I'd have loved to have seen more of the architecture and learnt more about the history of the town, perhaps seen inside a mock-up of one of the worker's houses.

I should say, there is the 'Bourneville Experience' which is more museum-like in feel according to the website, and perhaps I'd have learnt more here - if I'd have been able to find it.  It's obviously somewhere people miss as the tickets are all stamped 'don't forget to visit the Bourneville Experience'.  But how do you get there?  I didn't see any signage, and I assumed the 'Essence' section which is situated outside the main building was it.

Anyhow, going back to the tour.  You are required to book a slot in advance, which is a good idea as it keeps numbers down meaning you have a better chance of seeing and hearing everything - providing of course you're not stuck in the video rooms with a rowdy bunch...

You first enter the Aztec area, showing where the cocoa beans come from and their historical importance.  Sadly, this first section wasn't very interactive, and the kids (daughter aged 5 and nephew aged 6) weren't interested in reading the information boards.  They whipped through here, hardly paying it a second glance which was a shame.

On to the story of how chocolate was discovered by the Spanish and brought to the Western world and on to Bull Street to hear how John Cadbury first became involved with chocolate.  There is a replica of his first shop here but sadly we couldn't see it or take pictures because the whole area was filled with people waiting for the first video tour.  We here shepherded into a series of rooms, one of which is a 4D experience, and jiggled about on our seats like cocoa beans being processed for consumption.  The children looked a bit confused at this point!  

Next we were on to the sections I was most looking forward to - the actual factory to see how the goodies are made and packaged.  Walking up the stair cases and along the corridors, the air is filled with the sweet, warm scent of melted chocolate.  Mouths watering and expectations high, we entered the doors expecting to see a throng of activity, tonnes of chocolate and a whole team of people in white coats.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed.  There wasn't much to see through the windows, apart from some wrapped bars plodding along a conveyor belt.  I was really hoping for a true 'behind the scenes experience' and although the kids seemed happy enough (particularly as they'd just been handed even more free samples) I was left feeling a little disappointed.

Here the kids got to feel the temperature of a chocolate vat. They wanted much more of this - anything they can press, push, touch or generally get 'hands-on' is good.  They did manage to have a go at writing their names in chocolate and were very proud of their efforts.

Watching the decorating was fascinating, and seeing some of the beautiful chocolate creations was really interesting.  Again, I'd have liked to have seen more of this, and some of the more bespoke items.

The next section was the one that the kids claimed to enjoy the most.  Although frankly, I found it bizarre to the point of being almost surreal and trippy.  Cadabra is a little train ride where you go through the world of little chocolate bean characters.  The kids thought this was hilarious, but I just found it very at odds with the rest of the experience, almost as though it had been tagged on later.  There seemed to be no clear message, character or consistent style running through the whole experience.

On to a green-screen photograph area where you can have your picture taken in a 'bath of chocolate' or surfing on a Dairy Milk as the kids chose to.  Of course, there's the opportunity to buy this image as a keyring, mouse mat, mug... you name it, but helpfully you could also purchase a download copy at £2 to use yourself which I thought was quite reasonable.

More photo opportunities!

Next we went through Advertising Avenue which I loved.  I'd have really have like to spend more time looking at the vintage packaging and the TV adverts from my youth.  I was sad not to spot the Flake Girl one (serious girl-crush on her made me spend a large part of my youth wanting to live in a Romany caravan), but I was very pleased to see the Phil Collins drumming gorilla - sing along now...

I can feel it coming in the air tonight...

The kids had already legged it round to the Purple Zone, a selection of interactive and computer generated games.  As chance to work off a chocolate bar or two, this area was a big hit.  The bubble screen was brilliant, and we all spent quite a while under the 'shower' of bubbles, catching them, letting them gather in pools on our shoulders or heading them into the air.

The dance floor was also a lot of fun and all the children went a bit crazy here jumping in chocolate puddles, smashing up chocolate chunks or kicking around CGI creme eggs.  The blurry shots are an indication of how much they were cavorting around!

After that, you predictably exit via the gift shop, but we managed to persuade the kids we'd have lunch first and them come back for some souvenirs.  It was a glorious day so we decided to go outside and let them carry on letting off steam in the play park while we ordered lunch from the hut.

They had lots of fun on the equipment, in fact it was a struggle to get them back to sit down and eat.  For me though, I think they missed a trick with the playground.  It's themed as an 'African adventure' but I really didn't think it was anything different than you'd get an any other attraction.  How much cooler would it have been to slide down a giant Twirl, or climb a Curly Wurly ladder, or have a ball pool full of Bubbly bubbles?

Anyhow, maybe I've just become to accustomed to living in a world of branding.  While they happily cavorted round there, we ordered lunch from the Costa concession.  I grabbed a seat and dodged errant ping pong balls from the play tables, angry wasps and a very enthusiastic magician who was rounding up an audience for his show.  Lunch arrived and it was a very average panini and a bag of crisps and quite possibly the most disappointingly insipid cup of hot chocolate I have ever tasted.  I really was hoping for more from a hot chocolate at Cadbury World, and it was so bad I returned it and asked for my money back.

After lunch, we popped in to 'Essence' another computer generated video experience, which told us all about how the famous Dairy Milk came to be.  I found this interesting and we were then allowed to 'create our own chocolate concoction' although this wasn't exactly all it was hyped up to be either.  An operative deposited some melted chocolate into a cup and gave us a choice of one of four ingredients to add - white buttons, jelly babies, marshmallows or rice crispies.  It was all done for us and handed to us.  Now, I realise there's probably all kinds of health and safety reasons why you couldn't let the general public loose with melted chocolate, but really it didn't feel very participatory, or like we'd created a unique product.

Finally, we returned to the gift shop and bought a few treats.  We marvelled at the new Halloween lines and Christmas products, but there wasn't anything really on sale chocolate-wise that was very different.  Nothing that made it feel like a special experience.

So all in all - the kids loved it, although they were a bit bored in places.  I found it a bit disjointed, I was very disappointed with the refreshments from the hut (although the cafe looked much nicer), and I was left feeling that I wanted more from the visit.

Overall I think the admission price is good value for money - we were there for about 4 1/2 hours and adults are £14.95 and children £10.95 (although there are family and online deals available).  You do get lots of free samples so take an empty bag, but I think you'd have to be VERY strong willed not to spend more on the extras available.

Disclosure: We were sent a complimentary family pass for Cadbury World and some Pebbles chocolates to review.  All opinions, words and photos are my own.

Check out some other blogger reviews here and if you're quick, Becky at Baby Budgeting is giving away a group ticket to one winner this week.

Northern Mum's Review
Sticky Fingers Review
Baby Budgeting Review
Not Supermum's Review
Pink Oddy's Review

Magpie Monday - Back to school

Sometimes a great find for me in a secondhand shop is not something spectacular or beautiful.  Sometimes it's just something that's so appropriate and useful at that moment in time, it's like the charity shop gods have placed it there just for me to stumble upon.

This week I went into school along with all the other Year 1 and 2 parents for a session on phonics.  Teaching us how best to support our children's learning at home, there was much talk of blending, phonmes and split digraphs - most of which went over my head I have to admit.

Ruby has an insatiable appetite for books and stories, and yet the reading books she comes home with are not sparking her imagination.  I can't say I blame her, I mean there's not much of a plot line!  The cut-out paper sounds cards are also pretty dull looking and it's a struggle to get her to sit down and look at them after school.

So, on Saturday, after I'd deposited her at a birthday party in town I was killing an hour by mooching around the charity shops and spotted this set of flash cards for 99p.

Consonant sounds flash cards phonics

They are perfect for building on her sounds group work and I plan to build them into her after-school routine to help her learn more word sounds.

So, if there are any teachers reading this that can suggest any interesting ways of using them, I'd love to hear.

Have you found any brilliant pre-loved items lately?  I'd love you to grab the badge and link up.

Friday 27 September 2013

Big night out at Benihana, Chelsea

The Benihana chain has been going strong now for nearly 50 years since it's founder Rocky 'Hiroaki' Aoki opened his first restaurant in New York.  As the pioneer of the Teppan-yaki style of dining, he built up his chain of restaurants offering customers great fresh ingredients, cooked in front of them by talented and theatrical chefs.

The Chelsea branch is on the Kings Road, found behind an unassuming door you follow the staircase downstairs to an underground cavern of delight.

The sumptuous bar served us cocktails before we were led to our table to experience the talented chefs cook our food on a gleaming hibachi stainless steel grill.

Benihana Teppan-yaki chef

Our chef was charming, funny, talented and hugely entertaining.  Watching his deft knife skills and he cracked jokes (and eggs) was brilliant and I think children would really enjoy the experience.

He was mesmerising and showed off some great tricks, like catching an egg in his hat, and making the steaming onion 'train'.

Benihana Teppan-yaki chef steaming onion

Benihana is a great place to go if you're celebrating a special occasion.  They make a BIG deal about birthdays - expect cake, balloons, applause and the entire staff singing to you!  You can also book a private room if you want a more exclusive party.  Want something more romantic?  They can cater for that too!

Benihana Teppan-yaki chef I Love you

The food was delicious - we were served miso soup to start, and prawns, chicken, vegetables and steak all theatrically cooked right in front of us.  You can see the full menu here.

It is a little pricey - or maybe not, I'm not a regular diner in Chelsea - but for a special occasion I would recommend it, both for the atmosphere and the experience.

Disclosure: I attended a blogger event free of charge.  All images and words are my own.

Win £100 to spend at The Range

This time of year I always start to think about making small changes to my home.  Just to make it feel more cosy and reflect the changing seasons.

Not big or expensive changes, maybe some new lighting for those darker evenings, some snugly cushions and throws for the sofa.  The Range is perfect for this, bringing you great value and bang-on trend accessories.

Table lamp reduced to £7.99; throw £10.99; candle holder £11.99; cushion £8.09

It's also time to put away the lightweight summer duvet, and pile the bed high with warm bedding and new linen.

Stag bedding set from £10.99

The good people at The Range have given me a £100 voucher to give away. So, if you'd like the chance to win, what would you choose?  Of course, you don't have to spend it on home ware, there's plenty to choose from including clothing; DIY; garden and craft materials.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway, please complete the rafflecopter below.

The competition is open to UK residents aged over 18 only and closes on Friday 4th October 2013.  The voucher is for in-store purchases only, so please check for your nearest store here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This is a featured post in association with The Range.

Rebuild lives with ActionAid

Today sees a massive focus on social media of ActionAid's new campaign - REBUILD which is helping the children and communities from war-torn countries to put their lives back together.

With the images on our screens and newspapers of devastation and suffering in Syria it needs to be remembered that those who witness and suffer these type of atrocities suffer physically, emotionally and financially for many many years after the fighting has stopped.

Actress Sarah Alexander visited Sierra Leone, a country recovering from a civil war.  She said:

 “Children in conflict are at the forefront of everyone’s minds due to what’s happening in Syria. I’ve seen with my own eyes just how devastating the effects of war are long term on generations of children. Please help us to give everyone the right to a happy childhood.” 

Giving youngsters a happy childhood is fundamental to this campaign.  Since my last work with ActionAid, we were inspired to sponsor a child in Rwanda.  It's an honour to receive letters and photos from him and hear news from his community.  As a family we very much look forward to hearing from him and seeing his drawings, and of course sharing stories about what we are up to.

I hope writing letters and sending pictures across the sea to him will very much be one of my daughter's memories of her childhood.

ActionAid are encouraging everyone to share their childhood memories today.  My own childhood was a very happy one - sure I wouldn't describe it as idyllic, I wasn't skipping through fields of buttercups all the time.  There were squabbles and arguments as in any family.  But I was bought up in a loving, safe and supportive home with my parents and brothers.  I attended great schools who tried their best to give me a good education, even if I didn't appreciate it at the time. I remember long happy summer holidays hanging out with friends and peals and peals of laughter.  I remember camps and dens in the garden, climbing trees in the park so high I got stuck and my brother had to go and get my dad to rescue me.  It was just normal, like I think my daughter's is.

But that's the thing isn't it.  Normal is relative.  Our normal is not the same as other's normal.

If you believe, like I do that every child has the right to a safe and happy childhood, please support this campaign.  Share this post on social media, join in with the #REBUILD conversation, take a look at the sponsorship campaigns.

Thursday 26 September 2013

How to make Cinnamon and Cider Apple Fritters

How to make cinnamon cider apple fritters

Apple season is well and truly upon us, so whether you stock up on basketfuls at the Farmer's Market; have your own tree in the garden or scrump from the local neighbourhood, it's always nice to experiment with new recipes.

This is a delicious Autumn pudding and is super-quick and easy to make, filling the kitchen with the delicious aroma of warm cinnamon.  Substituting the milk for cider in this batter recipe makes it light and bubbly. You can make up the batter in advance (in fact it's maybe better if you leave it to sit for an hour or so), but do the apples last minute to prevent them from turning brown.

Ingredients (to serve 3-4)

2 or 3 apples - depending on size
1 medium egg
80g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
100ml dry cider
sprinkle of cinnamon sugar (I make a batch up in a shaker of 5 tbsp granulated sugar/1tsp dried cinnamon)
sunflower oil for frying

apple fritter ingredients

Put your flour and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack in the egg.  Slowly add the cider whisking to a smooth, lump-free batter.

Peel and core your apples when you are ready to eat them.  Slice into thin rings - no more than about 1cm thick or they won't cook through.

Dip them straight into the batter mix and ensure they are completely coated.

Cider batter

Heat up your oil in a pan until it is smoking hot then carefully drop the battered rings in.  Turn once and fry until golden brown all over - it only takes a minute or two.

Scoop out from the hot oil and drain off on kitchen paper, and give a good sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Serve straight away with custard.

Cider and cinnamon apple fritters

Fight you for the crispy bits!

What's your favourite apple recipe?

Link up your recipe of the week

Homemade Thursday

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Bribery Vs Reward - what's the difference?

We have all done it I'm sure.  Whether it's promising pudding if they eat up all their greens, or giving in and buying a magazine because they're making a fuss in the shop.

But what is the difference between a bribe and a reward?  I'm the first to admit that sometimes the lines can become blurry.

Mum to two, Helen Neale, who owns which provides beautifully drawn personalised charts for children helping with everything from staying in their own beds to potty training, says:

"Sometimes parents can be confused as to whether they are offering a bribe or a reward to their kids. It really depends on when you provide that little incentive."

So perhaps this could explain why so many parents are resorting to what they feel is a bribe to help them with their child's behaviour?

Helen continues, "If you are in the middle of trying to manage your toddler who is having a tantrum in a supermarket, and you offer a sweet for them to calm down; then that's bribery. However, if you have given them something after they have behaved well, or they have achieved an agreed goal, that's a reward. It's the desperate placation of challenging behaviour that we should try to avoid if we can. Though I know myself how hard that can be."

Rewards can be a very useful and positive tool, and I try to use them where I can.  For example, Ruby has eye exercises that she has to do every night.  It can become boring for her but she receives a sticker in her book every time she completes them, and for that task it is enough for her.

We are also tackling her sleeping which has become a major battleground.  She's been promised a treat at the weekend if she manages to sleep all night, in her own bed for the week.  Week One down, and she managed it perfectly - it did however mean I had to endure the One Direction movie, but I guess that's a small price to pay!  We are halfway through Week Two and so far so good so it seems to be working.

Dr Amanda Gummer, a child psychologist who works with The Good Toy Guide, says 

"Bribery and positive reinforcement are two sides of the same coin. The difference is that with positive reinforcement the aim is to help children learn the natural consequences of their actions. These can be positive and negative, but you get more of what you focus on so it's good to incentivise, notice and reward good behaviour.

Occasional mild bribery is no bad thing and it helps children learn how the world works so they can be a bit more street wise and not succumb to actual bribery, but do it too often and you'll end up with a child who won't do anything you ask without asking what's in it for him/her."

To help parents with the increasing challenge of parenting in today's fast-paced world, Helen has developed a range of personalised children's reward charts at KiddyCharts retailing at £2.99 each for printables, and £4.95 for A4 and £8.95 for A3 charts. The company's charts are the only behaviour charts to feature in the Good Toy Guide. Uniquely, subscriptions are also available so parents and schools can use the charts as and when they are needed throughout the year without paying extra. For the largest subscriptions, per chart costs are as little as 50p each.

Aside from helping to stop the need for bribery, KiddyCharts products can help with other aspects of parenting including:

  • ·       Care charts, that use images to help working parents show who looks after their children day to day
  • ·       Progress charts, that allow children to move along a track to reach a pre-agreed goal, and can also be used a simple reward charts
  • ·       5-a-day charts, to encourage children to get their five different fruit and veg in everyday.

All the charts allow photo personalisation where pictures can be placed as an integral part of the background; turning our children into pirates and princesses!

"Our personalisation is not just about dumping a photo into the background.  It's about involving the child in building the charts so they really feel they are part of the learning process and not just an afterthought. That way the charts are so much more likely to be a success in helping you help them."

Monday 23 September 2013

Magpie Monday - The Kitsch Collection

Time was when Ruby was very happy to trundle around charity shops and car boots with me, gladly settling herself down in the toy section to have a little play while I browsed.

She's still happy to come second-hand shopping, however she's no longer satisfied by the toys on offer.  Perhaps she's growing up.  Maybe she's picked up too many of my habits, but now she'd much rather scan the bric-a-brac shelves with me.

I used to let her spend a small amount on a toy or book if it took her fancy, but lately she's been picking up ornaments off the shelf and asking if she could have one instead.  I started by refusing, thinking that they weren't suitable for small children (ok, ok I admit I vetoed some as they were just horrendous), but she kept on an on about wanting to start a collection - where on earth did she get that from I wonder?

Anyway, after explaining that a 'collection' by virtue had to be a group of similar things, she soon developed a pattern of picking up gaudy, kitsch porcelain ornaments, the kind that are classily back stamped 'Foriegn'. The sort of thing my mum would refer to as 'Early Thurston' - the tat they used to give away at the fun fair.

After much badgering, I gave in and over the course of a few months, she now sports a collection of the finest kitsch on her bedside table.  Be afraid.

She's settled on poodles and deer, and at least this does limit her purchases and target her buying.  And actually, it's been kind of good for her - it's taught her that ornaments are not playthings like toys and they need to be treated carefully.  Admittedly, their hardly priceless heirlooms, and only cost a few pence, but she's learning to respect items much more than she would with a crappy plastic toy.

What do you think?  Should I be disturbed by this new collection or encourage and nurture it?  Will we be over-run with cavorting deer or do you think she'll keep it in check?  What was your first collection?

If you've found anything second-hand lately I'd love you to grab the badge and link up.

New Marmite Advert - I hate it

It's the long standing slogan of Marmite that you either love it or hate it. Incidentally I do love the product, but I have to say I HATE the new TV advertising campaign.

I only saw it for the first time last night, although I since understand it was released a good few weeks ago, and despite receiving over 500 complaints  the Advertising Standards Authority will not be investigating it, claiming that 'most viewers will realise it's a spoof.'

Now, I'm not a hugely over-sensitive soul.  I'm not often riled enough to complain to governing bodies.  I'm no Mary Whitehouse, I swear, laugh sometimes at un-pc jokes and have been known to make the odd close to the knuckle joke or two myself.

But abuse, neglect and cruelty are NEVER funny.  Surely?

The opening scene to me looks like a child protection raid, with uniformed figures conducting an early morning visit on a suburban house.  The officer informs the man answering the door "we've had a couple of reports of neglect" as they enter the house and head for the kitchen.  Inside the faces of the children are pixelated out, suggesting to me a child safeguarding issue.  

The officers head straight for the food cupboards and start their inspection.

Neglect.  Food cupboards.  

I'm sorry, but in a world where Victoria Climie; Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan to name a few, all suffered extreme neglect and cruelty, were denied access to food, were severely malnourished and starved - is this the kind of thing a multi-national company should be poking fun at?

Michael Burke, a reporter associated with hard-hitting news reports and documentaries narrates the film:

"For those new to the job, such scenes of neglect can be traumatic"

while a uniformed officer, wearing latex gloves is see sat against the van outside, crying, and says to his colleague "I've not seen one that small before".

Because the images of animal cages and re-homing centres make reference to animal rescues, many of the complaints have been concerning belittling the issue of animal cruelty, and have since resulted in Unilever, Marmite's parent company donating £18,000 to the RSPCA.

Yes, there are references to animal welfare, also a subject hardly worthy of mockery, but to me my first impression and the one that will remain with me is the chilling similarities with child abuse cases.

So yes, I hate it.  Shame on Unilever, and shame on Michael Burke for his involvement.  

If you want to read more about why child neglect should not be an issue used as a marketing tool, read about Daniel Pelka's case over on Mummy Barrow's blog.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Dining alfresco on an autumn day

Guest post

While there's still the possibility of some more sunshine, it seems a shame to dine indoors. More often than not, dining in the home can cause distractions. Items surrounding the kids, such as the television, game consoles and any toys that may be lying around, can often preoccupy their minds.

This is one of the reasons we choose to dine outside as much as we can. When eating outside, it’s wise to stick to a number of simple dinner recipes. Summer salads, sandwiches, cold meats, tortillas and pastas are all good options and if you make too much then leftovers can always be eaten cold the next day.

These are often the meals that create memories and a picnic in the park or at the beach is a great option. Packing a picnic basket is an enjoyable activity for many children and unpacking its contents is just as fun. When eating in the great outdoors, our moods often change and we become more relaxed. This is the same for children.

From a very young age, kids tend to enjoy setting up makeshift tea parties. As they get older, buying them their very own tea set or picnic basket is a great present and one that will probably get a great deal of use. If you’re looking for tasty summer recipes to fill this picnic basket, there are a variety tochoose from on the super savvy me website.

Getting the little ones to help prepare a number of meals will allow them to learn where each and every food type comes from. It is important to teach them that real foods don’t come from a factory; nor do they live in a box.

If you can, create a vegetable patch in the garden. Let your little ones help you grow the likes of potatoes, carrots, lettuce and cucumber. By doing this, they will begin to understand that healthy food comes from the ground. They’ll also enjoy watching their own produce grow and learning what they can do with it in the kitchen once it’s ripe.

Allowing them to help you prepare certain dishes in the kitchen is a great way to teach them a few simple meals. This knowledge can then be applied to more complicated dishes as they grow older. 

In association with SuperSavvyMe.

Family eye health

This week is National Eye Health Week and it's a subject that is important to us as a family - as I guess it is in most families.

We have one member in our extended family who is registered blind as spending time with him makes me realise how those of us with sight take it so much for granted.

We are a family who have regular eye tests, my partner wearing glasses, and contact lenses for sport, and Ruby is also under a specialist eye doctor for a squint, although thankfully her sight is fine.

For children, 80% of their learning is done through sight, so keeping their eyes healthy is really important. Eye checks can pick up early signs of other illnesses such as diabetes. There's lots of useful information on the Boots website:

  • Ensure your child has a balanced diet - Vitamin A found in foods such as milk and eggs, and Zinc found in bread and meat are just two of the nutrients which are essential for good eye health.

  • Protect your child's eyes from harmful UV rays by wearing sunglasses. It's estimated that 80% of a person's exposure to ultra violet rays happens before they are 18.

  • Book an eye test to pick up any problems early on.  It's advised that children have an eye test at around 4-5 years old, and this can pick up any problems such as squints or a lazy eye.  The sooner these are discovered, the easier they are to correct without the need for surgery.  Eye tests for kids are nothing to worry about, the Optician will make if fun and age appropriate and there's no need for them to be able to read or even have great letter and number recognition skills.

Our children use their eyes all the time - to alert them to danger; to explore the world and learn new things; to recognise places and people and to differentiate emotions.  To see the world through my child's eyes, I gave her my camera and encouraged her to take photos on her daily walk to school.  This is a little of what she saw:

Of course, National Eye Health Week is not just about children - when was the last time you got your eyes checked?  Why not book an appointment today?

Disclosure: This is a featured post in association with Boots.  I received an eye-health parcel in exchange for this post.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

When to switch energy providers

With winter just around the corner, most of us are beginning to think about when to turn the heating on, which of course leads us to fret about the ever increasing energy bills.

Changing suppliers is easier than ever nowadays, with the process being quick and painless and can often be done with a few clicks on the internet.

So what are the reasons you might consider changing to a new energy supplier?
  • Perhaps you were on a fixed price plan and that deal is now coming to an end?
  • You're on a standard tariff and want to switch to a company offering a fixed price for stability and peace of mind.
  • You are shopping around to see if you can find a cheaper tariff.
  • You want to see if there's a cashback deal, loyalty points or other new customer reward initiatives.
  • You're looking for better customer service.
  • Maybe you'd like to install a smart meter and are looking at who can supply you one.
  • You'd like to move to paperless billing and manage your account online or via your smartphone.
  • Or, conversely you'd like the option to receive printed bills for your accounts.
  • You are moving home and re-evaluating all your utilities.
  • Maybe additional features might be of benefit to you like appliance cover or boiler repair.
  • You're looking for a company who can provide you with both gas and electricity, and a good dual fuel deal.

So, if any of those reasons ring true for you, maybe it's time to start comparing suppliers and make the switch.


This is a featured post in association with British Gas.

Monday 16 September 2013

What to make with blackberries

There's still time to get out blackberry picking, although with all this rain we're having they won't be about for long.  Seek out those in sheltered spots, away from the full sun and there will still be pickings to be had.

Our walk to school is lined with bramble bushes and invariably I come home with a pot full, so here's a selection of some of my favourite uses.

1. Jam.  

It's the obvious choice really, but making a good store of jam now will see you through the winter months and you'll still be tasting the autumn sun on the coldest and darkest of days on your hot buttered crumpets. Chris at Thinly Spread shares her recipe for blackberry and apple jam and Aly at Plus 2.4 tells us how to make hedgerow jam in the slow cooker.

2. Liven up lunchboxes

Pop in a handful of berries or try mixing them with strawberries for a pretty colour contrast and a healthy fruity snack.

3. Fruity lollies

Aly again makes some delicious berry cheesecake lollies - perfect for these last days of sunshine. They look mouth-wateringly yummy don't they?

4. Juice up your gravy

Add a few blackberries to your gravy when you're making the Sunday roast.  It adds a rich, fruity flavour which goes really well with dark meat - we had this with our roast lamb and it really added a depth to the sauce.  You can add them straight from the freezer too.

5. Juicy jellies

Homemade jelly is surprisingly easy.  Blackberry jelly is fruity and packed full of flavour and vitamins, but without all the added nasties of shop-bought jelly.  Make them in mini pots to add to school lunchboxes, or dress it up for an after dinner treat.  As it's sieved, it's a great way to get those who don't like the pips to eat them.

6. Fruity cakes

Adding berries gives a whole new dimension to cakes - both in terms of texture and colour.  I love this cake from Life at the Zoo.  If you have super-sweet berries you can reduce the sugar in the recipe too.  Maggy shares her recipe for Forager's Cake.

7. Let's get ready to crumble

Yeah, I now that's a corny joke, but we ALWAYS sing it when we're making a crumble!  Blackberries are perfect to go into a crumble, either fresh or frozen.  The traditional combo is blackberry and apple, but try adding it to other fruits too like this honey and fig crumble with almond topping

9. Fruity drinks

Blackberries are great for making your own fruity concentrate.  Brilliant to keep in the fridge for kid's drinks or a mixer, and it's surprisingly easy to make blackberry cordial - add other foraged fruits too such as elderberries or plums.  Blackberry gin or vodka is every bit as tasty as sloe gin, and in my opinion easier to make as you don't have the laborious task of pricking all the fruit.  Simply add a large handful of washed berries to a small bottle of vodka or gin, with a spoonful of sugar.  Keep in the dark (a kitchen cupboard is perfect) and give the bottle a good shake every day for a week, then leave for around a month.  After that time, strain and decant into a sterilised bottle, and it makes a pretty handmade Christmas present.  Amanda at the Ana Mum Diary has a lovely recipe for Elderflower and Blackberry Vodka.

10. Get crafty and dye

And finally, if you're looking for something non-edible to do with your foraged fruits, how about this clever and all natural blackberry dye idea from Kids Chaos.  I love the tie-dye effect, and the vibrant colour the fruit gives.

So there you have it, 10 ideas for using up your blackberries. What do you do with yours?  I'd love you to share any suggestions or links in the comments below.

With thanks to all the featured blogs for allowing me to share their ideas and images.