Monday, 25 May 2015

The May Degustabox : The Bank Holiday One (review)

A little earlier than usual, the May Degustabox has landed ! This month's box has a bit of a BBQ theme going on and a bit of a healthy theme going on but it's designed as a Bank Holiday box, aka a  "whooop! here comes Summer" box!

A lot of the recent Degustaboxes have been a bit heavy on the drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, depending on your subscription options), but this box is almost drink-free. As usual, it's a mix of products we've tried and loved, unknown products from well-known brands and brands we've never heard of.

This month's box contains :

Sweet Baby Ray's Honey Barbecue Sauce (£2.99) - We still have the big bottle of barbecue sauce from last month's box so this has gone into the cupboard for now. I was excited to learn that this is the number one BBQ Sauce in the States. It can be used for marinades, dips and as an ingredient in cooking, on burgers, ribs, hot dogs and a whole lot more. I fancy trying this on chicken thighs as a marinade/glaze and drizzled over steak as a sauce, but also to add a nice lift to stews and casseroles in the slow cooker. Hmmm I may just have to finally give pulled pork a go just to try it with this sauce which I'm sure would be a match made in heaven.

Schwartz Grill Mates Marinade In A Bag (£2.19) -  I've tried several of the Schwartz Grill Mates mixes in the past and loved them all, and the addition of the cooking bag sounds like a great idea, locking in the flavour and juiciness of the meat, as well as making washing-up nice and easy ! Simply put your favourite meat, fish or veg into the bag for 30 minutes and it will be ready to sizzle ! Available in six flavours : Honey & Soy (which we got), Spicy BBQ, Red Wine & Garlic, Brazilian BBQ, Teriyaki and Korean BBQ.

 Maggi So Stir Fry (2 x  £1.49) - Maggi is a great brand for injecting some excitement into quick midweek meals and this new range of So Stir Fry mixes sounds like it will hit the spot again. The recipes sound very exciting and exotic - Singapore Curry Chicken Noodles and Oriental 3 Spice Chicken Noodles. The packet contains noodles and a seasoning sachet with herbs and spices, which you add to fresh ingredients (meat and veg) to cook a complete meal in one pan. These will be great as a shortcut when cooking from scratch after a long day at work.

9 Bar Fruity Bars (£2) - A box of four healthy but tasty snacks. "This delicious bar is stacked with nutritious seeds including sunflower, sesame and pumpkin and combined with succulent dried apricots and dates then topped with carob, making it the perfect mid-morning or afternoon treat – one you needn’t feel guilty about!" I've tried these before and, while they're not as indulgent and moreish as chocolate snacks, they are pretty tasty and stave off hunger pangs until your next meal.

Daelmans Stroopwafels (£2) - We cheered when we saw these in the box ! The inimitable soft, toasted waffles with their characteristic sweet, creamy caramel filling are delicious straight from the box or warmed over your favourite hot drink to enjoy in the traditional Dutch way. I also highly recommend using them to create the ultimate banana sandwich - yum !

 Sarsons Balsamic Vinegar (£2) - I always have a bottle of Sarsons Malt Vinegar in the cupboard to shake over chips so I was intrigued to learn that they have branched out into Balsamic Vinegar too. They suggest using it on a salad or in a homemade pesto. I seem to remember reading that it goes well with strawberries too.

 Slim Pasta Lasagna (£2.49) - Pasta by name but not pasta by nature ! Slim Pasta is made using konjac so it is carb-free and only contains 21 calories per 100g. I reviewed some of the other Slim Pasta products here. Be prepared for an unpleasant fishy smell when you take it out of the pack, but don't worry, you can't taste it at all once it's cooked. It doesn't really taste of anything much so make sure you use a rich sauce to perk it up. I'm not keen on the strange texture but if you're trying to lose weight, it's a good option.

 Green Coco kid's coco juice with banana (80p) - I gave this to Sophie for taking on a school trip and the verdict was, it was very nice.

Fuel 10K Protibrick (£2.69) -  the first ever protein boosted wheat biscuit, designed to suit a growing appetite for more protein in our diets and to keep active early morning risers feeling fuller for longer. Basically it's a 100% wholegrain, high protein, bigger than average Weetabix, that is high in fibre and low in both sugar and fat. Nice with milk and fresh fruit.

This month's recipes are for Singapore Curry Chicken Noodles and Oriental 3 Spice Chicken Noodles - not very exciting as they are the serving suggestions on the packets of  So Stir Fry.

A Degustabox subscription costs £12.99 including delivery per month, with each box having a value of much more than that. This month's totals up to £20.14. I have a discount coupon code for you too, which gives you a £3.00 discount when registering - just enter code 13NC5 at the checkout. (This will be valid until October 2015).

This box is an interesting mix - some things the whole family love, some things we're not so keen on and some things we wouldn't have bought - but that's the whole point of the subscription, introducing you to products that you may not have tried otherwise.

for more information :

Disclosure : I received a free box in order to write an honest review.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Madhouse Diaries : War and Peace (Operation Dynamo 2015)

As I told you on Friday, the Little Ships have come back to Dunkirk for the 70th commemoration of Operation Dynamo and the Evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II.

As part of the celebrations, there was a parade of vintage military vehicles through the town centre yesterday.

Opening the parade was Arthur Taylor, one of seven Dunkirk veterans, all in their nineties, who have made it back to Dunkirk to mark the occasion. He got the biggest round of applause as he walked proudly past, waving to the crowds, which was very poignant and heartwarming. 

It must have been very strange for anyone who was in Dunkirk during the war to see the British, French and Belgian vehicles, along with people in WWII military uniforms, rolling back into town. Dunkirk was the last French town to be liberated at the end of the war, the day after VE Day in fact, on 9th May 1945.

As the years pass by and there are fewer and fewer Dunkirk veterans still alive to invite back, there is always a question mark hanging over the Operation Dynamo commemorations. It looks like there are still plenty of enthusiasts willing to take part in the event though. 

As well as the British and French military vehicles, there were also some vintage cars.

And some military marching bands.

Pierre asked why these ones kept sticking their drumsticks up their noses !

At the end of the parade, they all parked in the town square.

We got up close and had a good look at the insides, often complete with WWII memorabilia (or reconstitutions).

 It was great to see the camaraderie between all the participants.

 The poppy wreaths on the fronts of some of the vehicles were a poignant reminder of what we are commemorating though.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

#silentSunday #mySundayphoto 24/5/15

Sorry it's not one photo this week as per the rules, but you'd never have understood the first photo without seeing the others ! If you're wondering where the curve comes from, it's the reflection in a shiny French horn at a miltary band parade.

Sunday SnapOneDad3Girls

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Book review : The Fifth Gospel - Ian Caldwell

The Fifth Gospel is a religious-themed literary thriller. It is set in the fascinating and rather mysterious world of The Vatican, but you don't need to be a believer, belong to a particular faith or be well versed in the finer points of the religious texts to enjoy it.

I'll admit to being pretty uneducated when it comes to all things religious and I learnt an awful lot of fascinating facts about life in the Vatican, the complicated politics of the Catholic church and the ambiguity and contradictions of certain passages of the Bible. I kept thinking to myself "yes, but this is fiction, it may not be true" but the book took an amazing TEN YEARS to write, in which time Ian Caldwell studied a vast array of primary sources to use in his novel.

The central characters of the novel are two brothers, Simon and Alex Andreou. Both are Catholic priests but Alex is Greek Catholic, with an estranged wife and a young son, while Simon is Roman Catholic. Both men are friends with Doctor Ugo Nogara, a man who is working on a mysterious, highly controversial and, in terms of Catholic politics, potentially dangerous exhibition about the Turin Shroud. While he seems to be focusing on the authenticity of the shroud, Nogara makes a possibly earth-shattering discovery in the scriptures. We all know the four gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but I was totally unaware of a fifth gospel, called the Diatessaron, which tries to compare all four gospels and condense them into a truer, real-life gospel. It is commonly assumed that John's gospel is a theological text rather than an eyewitness account, using symbolism rather than realism, unlike the other gospels. Just as Nogara's exhibition is about to be unveiled and his big secret revealed, he is found dead. Even more shocking, Simon Andreou is at the scene and becomes the prime suspect.

Simon is put on trial, not in a regular civil court but in front of a papal tribunal, with its own mysterious rules and regulations. Father Alex has to try to unravel Doctor Nogara's research in order to prove his brother's innocence before it's too late.

Despite the rather high-brow content, Ian Caldwell delivers an intense, dramatic thriller with believable and perfectly imperfect characters. The Vatican, with its unusual protocol and mysterious secrets, provides the perfect backdrop for a murder-mystery and the huge amount of background research is evident when you read the story.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £14.99

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (26 Mar. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471111024
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471111020
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 24.2 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Giveaway #482 : Win a copy of The Mindful Mother - closing date 7/6

Naomi Chunilal, a Yoga and meditation teacher from North Devon, has just written a new book for mums-to-be that promises unparalleled support and nurturing throughout pregnancy, labour and early motherhood.

She explains : "I wrote the Mindful Mother after searching high and low for guidance to keep me afloat on my own journey into the unfamiliar territory of newborn babies. Upon standing on the shores of new motherhood, I realised that I didn't seem to have a natural aptitude to be a mother to say the least! And so I wanted to understand how to be present and enjoy this incredible phase of life. 'The Mindful Mother' supports and nurtures you to find more resilience, joy and fulfilment to cope with the reality of sleepless nights, feeding upon demand and looking after a young baby or child around the clock."

Speaking with humour and clarity to women's hearts, the Mindful Mother provides you with an emotional lifeline to not only survive but thrive through daily mothering dilemmas and challenges of looking after a baby. Through simple and clear meditation and self-development practices, it enables you to cultivate an authentic practice of mindfulness to help you navigate a clear path through the joys and frustrations of new family life.

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Watkins Publishing (21 May 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780288743
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780288741
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 2.4 x 23.4 cm

I have one copy of the book to give away to a lucky Madhouse Family Reviews reader. Fill in your entries in the Rafflecopter widget below.

UK only. Closing date : 7/6/15

T & C's : Entries close at midnight on the closing date. Winners will be selected with a random number generator and announced on facebook, twitter and in the giveaway post subject line. Please note, you will be contacted by email and/or twitter and if I haven't heard from you after a week, I'll have to pick another winner. Prizes will be sent out by the companies or their PR directly to winners. Madhouse Family Reviews cannot be held responsible for any prizes that go astray !

Globe-cooking recipe : Greek Salad (Greece)

This is the taste of summer on a plate ! Crunchy lettuce (which wasn't part of the original recipe but I'm glad I added it), juicy sweet tomatoes, salty feta and olives and slightly acidic vinaigrette - it's an explosion of flavours that makes you forget it's diet-friendly !

Greek Salad

ingredients (per serving) :

a big handful of salad leaves (I used little gem lettuce)
2 ripe plum tomatoes
a few slices of red onion
10 Kalamata olives
100g feta
2tbsp olive oil
the juice of 1/2 lemon
dried oregano

Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing the lemon juice and olive oil and stirring in the salt and pepper. That was it for the official recipe in my Greek-themed Kitchen Trotter box but it tasted bland to me so I added a splash of Light Asian Lucy's Dressing - it needs something acidic and tangy like vinegar to bring it alive (in my humble opinion !).

Arrange the salad leaves on the plate. Top with chopped tomatoes, drizzle with vinaigrette, sprinkle with cubes of feta, olives and very finely sliced red onion. Drizzle again with vinaigrette and sprinkle with dried oregano.

That's it !

*** Don't miss my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***

Want to try some other Greek dishes? Take your pick from this little lot ! :

Fab freebies of the week 23/5/15

Wow, it's a bumper week for freebies this week ! Don't forget that for the SoPost ones, you can't request one for yourself, but you can ask your friends to send one back to you !


Shloer's fab free OK! Magazine promotion is back - buy a bottle and get a free magazine every week until 26th June!

1000 free Kneipp Deep Sleep sachets up for grabs here

Sign up to become a Zoflora tester

Fill in a quick survey for Popchips and they'll send you a free bag

There are 1,000 free cases of Dorset Cereals Muesli up for grabs.

You can get 48 Free Bee-friendly Lavender plants worth £39.96, just pay postage £5.65

There seems to be a new magazine coming up every week at the moment ! This time, it's InStyle that's on offer. There's also a free issue of Rugby World, Marie Claire and Gardens Illustrated available

on twitter : @reactivbodycare May 18 Rest assured we make in the UK to pharmaceutical guidelines. Refreshing and natural skin care for men. FREE SAMPLES

5,000 lucky savvy circlers will get the chance to experience long-lasting laundry freshness with new Bold 2in1 Pearls - detergent tabs with a touch of Lenor for fab results in one simple step.

Download the free Bargain Booze app and you can get a free bottle of Kissing Tree Pinto Grigio white wine

Send a FREE Schwartz Grill Mates Pack to 5 facebook friends with SoPost - dont forget to ask them to send one back to you too ! Which one will you go for?

SoPost will also let you send some Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate to your friends too

If you shop at Sainsbury's online, you can claim 1 of 15,000 free 1.75l bottles of Coca Cola.

My Mail have some great money-off vouchers including one for £1 off Cif Direct To Floor, which is currently only £1 in Tesco's

Get a free Toucan Box crafts kit for the kids

For a limited time only, you can claim 4 WEEKS FREE ACCESS to Reading Eggs and Mathseeds to experience the programmes for yourself and give your child a head start at school.

It's still not too late for this one : WE have 3,000 Maybelline Lash Sensational Mascaras, worth £7.99, to give away. Plus one person will win an amazing beauty hamper, packed with the products nominated for our awards! Enter by 11.59pm on May 24, 2015, and a wand could be winging its way to you.

For Barclays customers : Let us put a smile on your face - or maybe someone else's - with a free Milk or White Chocolate Smiles Lolly from Thorntons. Pick up one every day between Friday 22 May and Sunday 7 June 2015. (You need to download their free rewards app.)

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.

You may also like to enter my giveaways :

Giveaway #479 : Win a pair of tickets to the Manchester Ideal Home Show - closing date 28/5

Friday, 22 May 2015

Madhouse Diaries : The Little Ships have come back to Dunkirk

It's a very special weekend in Dunkirk this weekend and to mark the occasion, the council have put the flags out - both the Union Jack and the Tricolore are flying from the mast of the clock tower ! As well as being the 70th anniversary of VE Day, this year is also the 65th anniversary of Operation Dynamo so the Little Ships have come back to Dunkirk. 

They are all festooned with colourful bunting and it looks like a really joyous, happy celebration.

But Operation Dynamo and the Evacuation of Dunkirk is always a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty paradox. Churchill called it "a miracle of deliverance" and, over 9 days, an amazing 338,226 soldiers were rescued from the beaches by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats. Nevertheless thousands more lost their lives and I remember reading one eyewitness account that said that the sea was red.

Numerous photographic exhibits have been dotted along the quayside next to the boats to show the historic events of May 1940.

It's actually very freaky to think that all this happened on the same beaches and stretch of sea that we now go to for relaxing walks, building sandcastles and collecting shells. This image, showing the soldiers patiently waiting to be rescued, up to chest-height in the water because the sandbanks prevented the boats from getting any closer to the shore, really brings it home.

Some of the most poignant reminders come from the war veterans and their descendants. I saw several elderly men in uniforms, proudly displaying vast quantities of medals on their chests. This wreath of poppies attached the the fence caught my eye.

"The Ferryman : I made a ferry through the foam, Dunkirk and Deal - Dieppe and Dover, I brought the flower of Britain home And took the fruits of freedom over." It mentioned a Dunkirk war veteran survivor who passed away a few years ago and whose children or grandchildren are continuing to come over with the Little Ships to honour him.

The best message that Dunkirk can show us these days is that no act of kindness is too small to make a difference. Some of these Little Ships are really small - they must only fit a dozen or so people on board at any one time.

But working together, and persevering, going back and forth as many times as was needed, each Little Ship made a real difference - this one saved 130 people.

Each of the Little Ships proudly bears a "Dunkirk 1940" plaque.

As well as many boats from the South coast, there are also a few Thames barges that took part in the evacuation.

The Ramsgate lifeboat has also put in an appearance. There are two British Royal Navy ships on a separate quay too. We might head over to see them tomorrow.

It's heartwarming to see just how many people answered the call to come and snatch a few soldiers from the hell on Dunkirk beach, putting their own lives at risk. This is the true meaning of "l'esprit de Dunkerque" or Dunkirk spirit and it's great to see the Little Ships coming back to honour the heroes of Operation Dynamo, in and out of uniform.

Dragons and Fairy Dust