Sunday, 25 September 2016

#MySundayphoto #SundaySnap 25/9/16


At a multi-era military camp reenactment we visited recently. The dog has a first aid kit on its back in saddlebags !

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Lalaloopsy Glitter Hair Dough Doll review

Lalaloopsy have just launched their new Autumn/Winter range, including the Potty Surprise doll, Princess Style N Swap range and Glitter Hair Dough Doll, which we received to review.

It made me laugh when an email popped into my inbox to tell us about the new products. Now that Juliette has reached the grand old age of 11, I thought she'd no longer have any interest in them whatsoever, but when I passed it by her, she gave me a cheeky grin and said, "well ... I still like them" ! It just goes to show that the press release saying that they are suitable for ages 4 to 104 was quite right !

I can see the appeal - she has such a cute face and the attention to detail, if you're slightly older and actually think about, is very clever when you realise she is supposed to be made of material, with woollen hair, button eyes and sewn-on features. That's sew clever, as well as sew cute and sew magical, as it says on the box !

The new Lalaloopsy Glitter Hair Dough Doll offers more than a pretty face though. She comes with three different glittery hair dough colours, so you can choose one or mix them up for rainbow styling. Simply pop the dough under your chosen hair cap, then turn her pigtails to make the hair grow longer. She even comes with her own seat so she can sit up unassisted, whilst you concentrate on the hair styling. You can play with twists, braids, curls, plaits, buns and more, the styling fun is endless, and when you've finished, you can just cut it and ‘grow’ it again!

The set also comes with three styling caps, scissors and hair clips so you can style it in any way you like for hours of hil-hair-ious fun ! Both Pierre and Juliette have been having great fun making the hair grow and then chopping it off over and over again. The colours are really vibrant and look beautiful when you make multi-coloured rainbow plaits and twists.

Lalaloopsy Glitter Hair Dough doll is priced at £29.99, available from all good toy retailers. I can see this being on a little of Christmas wish lists this year !

You might also like the new Mini Lalaloopsy Style ‘N’ Swap Princess collection. Collect the whole range to Style ‘N’ Swap across all the characters and create new and exciting looks for the Mini Lalaloopsys.

I also love the sound of the new Lalaloopsy Babies Potty Surprise doll, which is a fun and quirky addition to the ‘sew cute’ Lalaloopsy range. Little ones will love to feed Jewel Sparkles her special baby food - and when she's ready to go, just place her on the potty. She will magically poop different shapes every time, including cute stars, hearts, flowers and buttons! Tiny Tears eat your heart out !!

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £29.99

For more information, visit

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.

Madhouse recipe : Tuscan slow-cooked pork belly and beans

Yesterday was officially the first day of autumn so pulling out the slow cooker seemed like the perfect way to welcome in the new season. You really can't beat coming home after a long day at work to a hearty, comforting dish, ready and waiting to be served, with appetising cooking smells wafting around the house. I'd been invited to take part in  a foodie challenge by To Tuscany, a travel company that offers charming, private villas in Italy’s most famous region, Chianti. They challenged me to create my own Tuscan-inspired recipe, using typical flavours and influences from Italy.

Tuscan food is what I would call peasant food, and that is by no means derogatory. The region instantly makes me thing of rustic soups, stews and casseroles, made with fresh local produce, relying on the natural flavours of the food rather than complicated seasonings or spices. Forget nouveau cuisine with three carrot sticks and a slice of cucumber artistically arranged on a plate - this is belly-filling, soul-warming comfort food at its best.

Cannellini beans are often used in Tuscany - in fact, Tuscans are sometimes called mangiafagioli or bean eaters ! - so I paired those with a cheap, no-frills cut of meat (pork belly) and some in-season vegetables : tomatoes, carrots, courgettes and onions. The result was simple but simply delizioso !

Tuscan slow-cooked pork belly and beans

ingredients :

250g dried cannellini beans
a piece of pork belly (about 400g)
2 large onions
3 carrots
4 tomatoes
2 courgettes
2 cloves of garlic
3tsp semi-dry sage
freshly ground salt and pepper
1 tin tomatoes
1 glass white Chianti wine 

Soak the beans in cold water overnight. They're supposed to be soaked for 12 hours according to the instructions on the box, but as I was going to be cooking them in the slow cooker for several hours, I actually only let them soak for 3 hours, but this will depend on your cooking method.

Drain and rinse the beans and throw them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Peel the onions and carrots, chop them into large chunks and arrange them around the sides of the slow cooker.

Chop the tomatoes into quarters and roughly chop the courgettes then toss them in too.

Crush the garlic in a little dish and mix in the sage. Spread this paste over the pork belly and transfer to the slow cooker.

Pour in a glass of Chianti (I used white wine as I already had a cheeky bottle open, but you could use red if you prefer !) and season with salt and pepper. Cook on the high setting for 5 hours or the low setting for 8 hours, or whatever suits you - the slow cooker has to be the most forgiving cooking method ever in terms of timing !

A couple of hours before serving, I added a tin of tomatoes - I went for Cirio's tomato fillets which have a chunkier texture than chopped tomatoes. You can add extra water (or wine) if necessary but the slow cooker always keeps all the steam and moisture in so you don't usually need to add much liquid at all.

Once the pork has cooked through and started falling apart, stir the contents of the slow cooker every half hour or so to mix everything up, help the flavours mingle and make sure everything is covered in the rich tomatoey sauce. Serve with a chunk of crusty bread and feel free to use it to mop up every last bit of sauce from your plate !

Disclosure : This is my entry in the To Tuscany blogger competition -  I want to win a week in one of their Tuscany villas!

Fab freebies of the week 24/9

We're officially into autumn and the freebies are falling from the sky like the leaves from the trees. Grab 'em quick before they run out !


Boots are now giving away samples of Chanel's new perfume too (there was a Facebook offer in last week's freebie roundup)

Send an email to Estevia at to receive a free sample before you purchase their luxurious fragrances

Caffeine Nights (crime/horror fiction publisher) will send monthly ebooks for review to their newsletter subscribers

These ones tend to run out incredibly fast but try to grab yourselves a sample of Rimmel London Fresher Skin from Sopost

@LaRochePosayUKI Toleriane is specifically designed for sensitive skin and proven to reduce sensitivity. Order your free sample here:

You can still request a voucher for a free Little Dish kids' meal here

@3M_UK Want to see how 3M™ Black and Gold privacy filters work? Click here for a free sample

Yum ! Grab yourselves a tub of Soreen's Sqishy Cake Bites at ASDA with this voucher - you could even print several and use one on each visit !

A nice freebie with spend (worth over £20) for new mums or mums-to-be at Boots - My Baby Bundle is the ideal treat for both baby and mum, providing all of the essential products to keep baby happy whilst also giving mums that well deserved treat! To be able to receive this free gift, customers just have to spend £20 or more in store, on baby* (*In a single transaction. Spend threshold excludes items on prescription, all baby milks and Mini Club. Worth based on individual selling price when bought separately. ) My Baby Bundle contains the following:

• Boots Baby Teethers
• Boots Cotton Wool Pads
• Boots Baby Sensitive Wipes (64 pack)
• Boots Baby 2in1 Bubble and Bath Wash
• Sanctuary Salt Scrub Sachet
• Boots Baby Superdry with Active Stretch Nappies
• Sanctuary Travel Body Wash
• Botanics All Bright Refreshing Eye Roll-On
• Pampers 12 Sensitive Wipes sample pack
• Benefit make-upper voucher
• Voucher booklet full of exclusive offers on baby essentials and treats for you too!

@Clinique_UK Pick up your free 10 day sample of Clinique’s Superbalanced Silk plus a primer trial at your nearest counter.

This sounds like it could be cool : "Hi, we're Mars Petcare. You may not know our name but you will have heard of our brands, and we want to know what you think of them. That's because, as our customers, your opinion is the one we value the most. We've launched this portal to do exactly that. As a 'Meet our brands' reviewer, you will join an exclusive group of customers invited to test our products and review them for us - completely free. We will share the reviews collected so that other customers can buy with confidence and get trusted, independent opinions of our products."

You can see previous weeks' freebie roundups by clicking here but be warned, many of the offers are only valid for a short time. Let me know if any have expired and I'll remove them from the roundup.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Madhouse diaries : VW Beetle Mania !

You may remember last week, I told you about the kite festival at the beach with its magnificent flying creatures and cartoon characters filling the bright blue sky. That same weekend, further along the prom, there was a vintage car rally for VW Beetles and campervans.

They're such iconic vehicles that everyone, from little kids to OAPs, was oohing and aahing and taking selfies with them !

The sunny day, sandy beach and blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds were the perfect backdrop for them, encapsulating the "life's a beach" vibe.

Our in-laws have a big, splosh, all mod-cons motorhome, but for some reason, I actually get more excited about the old-fashioned campervans. They may be more cramped and there's certainly no shower or toilet on board, but I love the escapism of throwing your suitcases (or more likely rucksacks) on top and heading off into the sunset at a moment's notice !

Adding a surfboard to the roof rack just takes the coolness to a whole new level !

 Some have been customised with 60's/70's-style stickers or even pirate flags !

I've always thought that Beetles look like they have happy faces but I'd never noticed that the bonnet looks like a big tongue sticking out before ! Or maybe it's supposed to look like a surfboard ?

This was one of the more recent models and although you can't really see it in the photo, it had a gorgeous, mermaid-like, irridescent paint job that made the kids think of the Rainbow Fish.

You can't beat the originals though !

What's Cooking at The Madhouse? menu plan 23/9

Cookery challenges are like buses - you won't get invited to take part in one for months then loads of them arrive at the same time ! I've got enough to fill a whole week's worth of meals, so this week's menu plan was a bit of a no-brainer ! I'll be mixing and matching with the meals from last week that I didn't get to make (due to leftovers or making some of the meals from this week's plan in advance, as the blog challenges came in). Luckily they all sound delicious and like the sorts of things we usually eat anyway, so there will be no complaints from the rest of the family !


lunch - probably McDonalds as it's a nice way of easing into the weekend :)

dinner - something quick and simple because we're usually out and about all day and I can't be bothered with cooking a big meal ! - homemade soup or smoked salmon bagels sounds perfect


lunch - probably a roast dinner but we might manage to squeeze in one final bbq, depending on the weather

dinner - cheese on toast or a salad if anyone's hungry


dinner - turkey schnitzel with parsnip chips


dinner - I need a fish dish - I have some salmon in the freezer so I'll do something with that - either wrap it in puff pastry or top it with lime zest and garlic salt, or maybe pomegranate molasses and sumac, or possibly even chorizo and grilled onions - served with rice or boiled potatoes and leeks


lunch - cottage pie

dinner - fully loaded nachos with salad and coleslaw on the side


dinner - something from Tuscany - I'm thinking a slow-cooked pork belly and bean hotpot type of thing


dinner - Day off ! I always end up having one day a week where the fridge is overflowing with leftovers and I don't need to cook, so I'll go for a dead easy spaghetti carbonara if needed, but it'll probably be leftovers !

***Click on my Menu Plans tag to see all my other weekly menu plan blogposts.***

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Globecooking recipe : Banoffee whoopie pies (USA) #GameOnCooks

How much time a week do you spend watching, reading and hash-tagging food? As the nation’s obsession with social media, high profile chefs, cookery books and foodie TV shows continues (with Great British Bake Off attracting a whopping 10.4m viewers), research by Lurpak has revealed that the average Brit is now spending more than five hours a week consuming food culture and just 4 hours cooking. 

Lurpak is stirring up a cooking revolution with a new Game On, Cooks campaign, which aims to tackle the problem head on, by challenging Brits to turn their screens off and ovens on to remind everyone that nothing compares to the thrill of cooking.

Hopefully these beauties will make you want to join in. They are the first recipe that I tried from this month's New York-themed Bake Box (click through to see what else was in the box) and they are utterly delicious. Soft chocolate chip-studded cakes sandwiched together with a rich cream filling and moist banana slices then drizzled with salted caramel - and yes, they're as indulgent and moreish as they sound, but we did decide to cut them in half because they are just a little bit too-much in one sitting! I simplified things slightly, so head over to the Bake Box website to check out the original recipe and handy technique tutorials.

 Banoffee whoopie pies

ingredients :


125ml (4fl oz) buttermilk
1½tsp lemon juice
125g (4oz) unsalted butter, diced and softened
175g (6oz) caster sugar
1 egg
275g (10oz) self-raising flour
150g (5oz) dark chocolate chips


75g (3oz) unsalted butter, preferably Lurpak, 
100g (3½oz) full fat cream cheese
275g (10oz) icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 bananas, peeled and sliced


200g (7oz) caster sugar
2tbsp double cream
100g (3½oz) salted butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan 160°C)/350°F/gas 4. 

Stir the buttermilk and lemon juice together. (I used up a carton of coconut milk that was lurking in the fridge instead.) Beat the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl until light and fluffy.

 Mix in the egg and flour then stir in the buttermilk (or coconut milk) and fold it in, along with the chocolate chips, until they are evenly distributed through the dough.

 Place the whoopie pie tray (from the Bake Box) on a baking tray and dollop on spoonfuls of the mixture. Bake for 10-12 minutes until springy to the touch. Leave to cool in the tray for 5 minutes before carefully removing the whoopie shells and transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Repeat three times until you have used up all the dough and made 18 whoopie pie shells. Leave to cool.

To make the filling, beat the butter until it is pale and creamy. Add the cream cheese and beat until evenly combined, then gradually beat in the icing sugar on a slow speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the vanilla and beat for a further 5 minutes. I'm not sure why - maybe it was too hot or the butter and cream cheese had warmed up too much? - but I couldn't get this to thicken up, so I went for plan B and quickly mixed together some marscapone with some icing sugar.

Spoon the filling into a piping bag (or just use a spoon) and spread the filling over the flat side of half of the whoopie pie shells. (I'd made too much so I spread it over all of them for extra indulgence !) 

Add the banana slices and place the other half shells on top.

To make the caramel drizzle,  heat the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat until melted. Boil, without stirring, until it becomes a rich caramel colour. Remove the pan from the heat. Warm the cream in a small bowl in the microwave and pour it into the caramel in a thin, steady stream. Add the butter and stir until it has melted. Put the pan back over a low heat and whisk hard to dissolve any lumps of caramel. Pour the caramel into a bowl and leave to cool. (I took a short cut here because I had a squeezy bottle of gorgeously gooey salted caramel sauce from Brittany in the cupboard!) Drizzle the caramel over the whoopie pies using a teaspoon.

Then tuck in - I defy you to stop at one half !


Bake Box delivers a new package of goodies every two months and each box costs £14.99 + £2.99 postage. For more information and to see the recipes :

Get your Game On and share your experiences @Lurpak #GameOnCooks

Disclosure : I received a free Bake Box subscription in order to share my attempts at recreating the recipes. Lurpak provided a shopping voucher for ingredients to take part in the #GameOnCooks campaign.

Creating 3d art with IDO3D Vertical Design Studio (review)

When the opportunity arose to review the IDO3D Vertical Design Studio, I instantly knew it would be a big hit - it was already on Juliette's Christmas list and we're still in September ! I didn't know that Pierre was equally enthusiastic though, which just goes to show that it appeals to children of both sexes and all ages.

Inside the box, you get four gel pens (red, orange green and blue), a light attachment (which is used to dry the gel - more about that in a moment), two moulds (a small half egg and a larger half sphere) and a sheet of plastic.

You also get an instruction sheet with three projects to get you started - a helicopter, a dinosaur and a bike - which you can use with the plastic sheet to trace the different elements. You can find further ideas on the IDO3Dart website, including video tutorials which are a great introduction to how it all works, or you can let your imagination run wild, which is what the Madhouse kids did.

Juliette picked up a picture book about robots and used the front cover as a pattern, tracing over the design on the plastic with the gel pens.

You need a reasonably thick line so that it doesn't break once you've dried it and pulled it off the plastic, but you can go back over the line if necessary or you can fill in the whole area with a block of colour so that it's less fragile. Juliette opted for a 2d flat design to begin with.

Whereas Pierre decided to go for something slightly more complicated and use the half egg mould to create a little bowl for his fairy friend. I did point out that he could make two half eggs and then join them together to make a whole egg, but he was adamant that he wanted to make a bowl - so that's what he did !

They both got the hang of it really quickly. After drawing a line of ink gel, you have to use the special light to dry it out before adding the next line.

It came out a little bit rough and ready around the edges but Pierre was nevertheless very proud of his finished egg/fairy bowl.

The thing they had both seen on TV and desperately wanted to try out, though, was the vertical drawing, so Pierre decided he wanted to build a house next. After getting off to a false start, we realised that you have to screw the light on to the gel pen so that it shines on the ink gel, drying it as you go. You have to go quite slowly for this to work, so Pierre's lines were a bit wobbly, but it's still very impressive, especially for a first attempt.

You can work in all directions, horizontally or vertically, so the options are limitless. We need to practise a bit more before we get neat lines without wobbles, but it's a lot of fun trying ! I must admit, when I saw the advert on TV, I never thought it would work, but it really does.

With a bit of practice and a steadier hand, I'm sure we'll soon be able to recreate some of the more complex projects such as this dinosaur, or I fancy having a go at the Eiffel Tower, which looks really cool. There is even a windmill with rotating sails and a water fountain that look unbelievably cool on their youtube channel so I think I may have to have a play when the kids are in bed !

That is the absolute best thing about the kit. Besides the fact that it creates cool artwork and helps boost your child's creativity, I love the fact that it appeals to children (and grown-ups !) of all ages so the whole family can play together with no squabbling.

I'll definitely be looking into buying more of the pens as stocking fillers because I'm sure they won't last long - the kids have a head full of ideas that they want to try to bring to 3d life now !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £24.99

for more information : 
Facebook – IDO3D_UK (there's currently a giveaway on there)
Twitter – IDO3D_UK
Instagram – IDO3D_UK
YouTube – IDO3D_UK

Disclosure : We received the product in order to write an honest review.