Monday 30 September 2013

Ozeri Double-Walled Glass Tumblers

We've reviewed for Ozeri before, so when they asked me if I'd like to review again I was more than happy. Last time we reviewed their Glass Digital Kitchen Scales and now they have sent their Ozeri Curva Artisan Series Double Wall Beverage Glasses - or Glass Tumblers to you and me.

They arrived beautifully packed, safe and sound.

Inside were the 4 handmade tumblers, each with a different double-walled 8oz design.

Unlike most glass tumblers, these are made from borosilicate glass, which is stronger and more durable than standard glass, and is heat and shatter resistant. This means that you can use them with ice or hot drinks with confidence. Because they are double-walled whatever you choose to drink won't burn your hands or get them wet because of condensation - brilliant.

8oz drinks tumblers glasses

Like the scales we reviewed beforehand, these are an item often overlooked, that is generally designed for usefulness only, but in this case is a thing of beauty. 

These are quite large, somewhat clunky, glasses but they're still comfortable enough to hold.The glass feels thin and delicate, but as it's borosilicate we're assured it isn't - we've had them a week now and my teenagers haven't managed to break any!

They look stunning. A real discussion point and a beautiful thing to have on display. I'm delighted with them and have really enjoyed having something so nice, and which makes standard tumblers look incredibly boring.

The Ozeri Curva Artisan Series Double Wall Beverage Tumblers (bit of a mouthful!) have an RRP of £29.99, and are currently on sale on Amazon for £24.95 with free UK delivery.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Christmas Surprises from Orchard Toys

We love Orchard Toys, and we love Christmas, so I was delighted when they asked me to review a new game that has been produced especially for Christmas! Christmas Surprises by Orchard Toys is our new favourite game. It's brilliant fun!

Christmas Surprises is actually 2 games in one - a shapes game and a colour game - printed onto 100% recycled board and recommended for children aged 3+. The games are played on 4 double-sided game shaped boards with 24 baubles and 24 presents. There are 2 special dice, one for each game.

The Colour Game is played using a Christmas Tree board. It's incredibly simple and ideal for a very young child. All you have to do is roll the special dice, take a bauble of a matching colour from the table and cover the matching circle on your board. If you have already covered it then play passes to the next player. The winner is the first person to cover all of their baubles.

This game was nice and simple and quick, easy for anyone to grasp and actually quite competitive towards the end. 

The Present Game is played using a Santa board and play is very similar to the bauble game only instead of matching coloured baubles, you match shaped parcels. What's special is that you don't get to see what is inside your presents until the end of the game, this is brilliant as is it gives a real excitement and buzz and the same air of expectation and anticipation that you do feel at Christmas.

It doesn't really matter who wins this game because everyone gets to turn over (open) their presents, so everybody feel a winner. It's an all-round feelgood game.

Both games are brilliant for observation and turn-taking skills. They promote memory skills and teach colours and shapes. The wide array of fantastic presents are brilliant for encouraging discussion and broadening language. Matching the shapes onto the correct places on the gameboards is also excellent for manual dexterity.

We think this is an absolutely brilliant pair of games. We all prefer the shaped presents game over the coloured baubles game, mainly because the idea that you have all of those amazing secret presents is really exciting. It's also an excellent way to teach your child shapes.

Unusually for an Orchard Toys game, we do have one complaint. The colours on the dice and baubles don't quite match up, which immediately led to a disturbance when we played. When we investigated it was clear which side of the dice was blue, but because the blue bauble is slightly purple and the purple side of the dice is much darker and more 'blue' than the lilac bauble, it does make it confusing.

Christmas Surprises has a recommended age range of 3-6, and clearly my 3 1/2 year old had no problems playing either game. The games were also popular with my teenage girls, especially the Present/Shape Game. Christmas Surprises retails at £9.50 and is exclusive to Tesco, where it is currently on offer at £7. In spite of the confusing colour dice we give it a very well-deserved 5/5 because the Christmas Present/Shape game is so excellent.

We were sent our  Christmas Surprises to review.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Fighting Gender Norms With Birthday Cake

We've always encouraged our children to be whoever they want to be. As long as it hurts no-one, it doesn't matter. Because there are so many of them maybe that forms a protective group. Maybe because none of us care they're given the courage and freedom to just go for it when others might hold back. Maybe they just don't care.

Boy no.3 was 5 yesterday and it's tradition in our house that the children choose their cake. I expected him to say 'chocolate' or 'carrot', but he had a very specific idea about what he wanted.

He is colour-blind, he sees no green, so his views on colours are different to other people's, but he still knows what he likes and what he finds attractive.

Was he pleased with it? I think he was....

 And what did he ask for?

He asked for "a pink and purple cake with lots of balls on the top"....

He can't see why pink is a girl's colour. He doesn't understand what the fuss is about. It's his favourite colour because to him it really stands out from all the khaki yellow. It would be so easy for him to fall into the trap of disliking it because he's told to. I'm really pleased he hasn't. 

And he had a great birthday.... it's a win.

Friday 27 September 2013

Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand Of Dead Men Review

HarperCollins Children's books have sent my teens (and me) a copy of Skulduggery Pleasant: Last Stand of Dead Men by Derek Landy to review and it's really rather good.

Last Stand Of Dead Men whisks you away to the amazing far off land of.......erm.....well, modern day Ireland.

But it isn't just any Ireland. This is a secret, hidden world that the general population simply don't notice, or forget about immediately. This is the world where 400 year old skeleton Skullduggery Pleasant works magic with his assistant, the rather kick-ass Valkyrie (or Stephanie to her parents).

Written by Derek Landy, this is the 8th book in a series, but it is absolutely fine to read as a stand alone story. My son has read a couple of the others, but I haven't, and I found it easy to get to know the characters and have a good feel for who they were and what their intentions might be. It has a recommended reading age of 11 and over, and I feel that any 11 year old not put off by the sheer size of this book (it has 604 pages) will be able to read and very much enjoy it.

The two main characters are male and female, and gender really is no measure of power in this book, which is really refreshing. The characters are very witty, and their relationships show as almost entirely unprofessional and more 'bumbling' in the way we really would be more likely to behave if we were really faced with zombies or witches or attempting to destroy the world. There's a good amount of chatty dialogue and you can get to know the characters really well very soon into the book.

While there are witches and zombies and all manner of creepy characters in this book, it is far more Discworld than Lord Of The Rings. It never takes itself too seriously and is incredibly funny, although it has huge and vibrant battles and plenty of very serious moments.

I think that as much as I'm enjoying this book, any of my 5 teenagers would too, which is backed up by the fact that it was the no.1 Children's book in the UK very soon after release.

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Last Stand of Dead Men is published by HarperCollins and has an RRP of £14.99. It is currently on special offer from in hardback with free UK delivery for a stunning £6.

I gave away 3 copies of this book. That giveaway is now over.


British Food Fortnight with help from Oxo Good Grips Kitchen Tools

British Food Fortnight takes place 21st September until 6th October, and there are events all around Britain aiming to promote local and home-grown meals. 

In Harvestime Britain has an abundance of amazing produce which is really fresh, full of goodness and flavour because it hasn't had to travel halfway round the world to get to us. We should all take more advantage of these crops, as they also have low food miles and support British Farmers, and in times when food come into season the price drops - or if we're very organised, we can harvest the crops we've grown ourselves. 

We have loads of fantastic regional recipes that take advantage of local produce. Around here in North Manchester we're famous for our Black Pudding, which I won't be using on this occasion, and the main farming is vegetables. Hotpots and roast dinners are very popular, and very welcome when you get in from yet another rainy grey Manchester day. Yorkshire is barely a step away from me, so fairly local and I'll be making a Yorkshire Pudding.

OXO have challenged Bloggers to cook for their family in support of British Food Fortnight. To help me they've sent a new 11" Silicone Balloon Whisk and a Serrated Peeler. 

I've decided to make Toad-In-The-Hole with Roast Potatoes and seasonal local vegetables, and the dessert with the most humorous name - Spotted Dick.

 Toad-In-The-Hole is a real favourite in our house, so I've blogged about it with a recipe before in this post.

I tested the OXO 11" Silicone Balloon Whisk to mix my batter and I have to say I was really impressed. The soft handle is lovely to hold and the whisk was great - it was really light and worked incredibly well, genuinely noticeably quicker and better than a metal whisk. It also washed very well, and I'm able to put it in the dishwasher if I wish. 

On this occasion I added a 1/2teaspoon of Sage and  some quartered Lancashire mushrooms to the mix with my spoon of Thyme and 2 Lancashire red onions cut into wedges. Britain has a huge array of native herbs that really do add a lot of extra taste to our meals. I used Lincolnshire style (probably cheating) meat free sausages because the black pepper taste goes really well in this dish.

Creamed Carrot and Swede is an excellent vegetable accompaniment, and one that makes good use of the plentiful home-grown root veg at this time of year. It has a little sweetness and a complete change of texture. I like to add half an onion, which gives depth to the flavour.

I used the Oxo Serrated Peeler to peel the carrots and then cut off the outer layer of the swede with a knife. Slice, dice and then boil your veg in just enough water to cover them. When they soften let the water evaporate and you won't be pouring away all the remaining water-soluble vitamins. Season with salt and pepper and maybe a drop of cream if you're spoiling yourself. Mash to a pulp.

Crispy Roast Potatoes can be virtually guaranteed by taking a few simple steps. 

Preparation takes the same amount of time whenever you do it, so a good few hours before you're going to need them peel, chop and boil your potatoes. 

I used the Oxo Serrated Peeler to peel my spuds.  It was magic. It really did glide through the peel and was a joy. The handle is again soft and feels really nice in your hand. The peeler isn't really designed for potatoes, the serrations are there to catch hold of the skins of soft and waxed fruits, and they're incredibly sharp so the included blade guard is an excellent thing. 

When you boil your spuds don't add anything to the water - no salt, nothing. You need the potatoes to boil to the point they're soft and delicate, but not actually falling apart. You can tell they're ready when they start 'feathering' around the edges. 

Immediately, and very gently, pour away the hot water and refill the pan with cold. Do this 2 or 3 times to cool your spuds quickly, but don't let the potatoes turn to smush. You can even ice the water if it's a warm room as you want your potatoes to stop cooking. Leave your spuds in the water in the fridge until you need them.

When you're ready to cook get the oven nice and hot (at least 200/400/Gas Mark 6, slightly higher if you can, or put the potatoes on the top shelf of a non-fan oven) and put a little oil in the tray. You need to be able to use a teaspoon to pour the oil over the potatoes, but you don't need a ladleful. Carefully tip out your potatoes into your tray and drizzle over a little oil seasoned with Salt, Black Pepper and plenty of Rosemary. 

After 10 minutes, 20 minutes and 40 minutes use a spoon and baste your potatoes using the oil in the pan with them. Cook them for around 50 minutes to an hour, depending on just how crispy you want them..

Spotted Dick is a real English classic nursery pudding. Stodgy and filling, yet very cheap and easy to make.

 I used a recipe that is freely available on the BBC Good Food  Website. 

Although it wasn't entirely necessary I wanted to try out the Oxo Serrated Peeler for it's proper purpose. The serrations are vicious, and they are there so that the peeler can grip onto the peel or skin of soft fruits and fruits with a waxy skin. It worked a treat on lemon and orange peel to chop and add to my mix.

A lot of the old-fashioned steamed puddings are made with a basic stodgy recipe to which you add whatever fruit you desire, wrap and steam. You can also add spices such as Nutmeg, Cinnamon or Cloves to give a more seasonal feel during Winter. 

When you wrap your pudding in greaseproof paper place the pudding in the middle of the paper and bring the two edges together and roll, then tie the ends like a cracker. This way there is room for the pudding to expand during cooking.

Make sure your pudding never touches the water, or you'll end up with mush. Mine was actually a little dry. When you make your dough it should be soft, but not sticky. I also didn't have anything long enough for a 20cm pudding, so I bent it a little....

And naturally we served it with custard....

I've linked this post with At Home With Mrs M's Potato Recipe Linky, which you can find here...

Wednesday 25 September 2013

My Personal Room 101

I've been tagged by Tami from Mummy Of Two to take part in the Room 101 meme.

My list could be extensive right now. It'd be all too easy to include the fact that Meningitis AND a broken leg are a bit too much for one family in such a short space of time, and that I broke my leg on the way home from the only 4 days away that we managed this whole Summer, but they're 'here and now' complaints which won't seem so bad this time next year.

1. People who park at the entrance to a school.
You selfish people. I've had babies, I know it's a pain to carry them any distance, but I did it. I've got a broken leg, but I still wouldn't think it was appropriate to pull up opposite the entrance and just abandon my car so that 8, 9 and 10 year olds can't see to cross safely, and I sure as heck wouldn't park all over the pavement so that people coming out of school have no choice but to battle along the road instead of the pavement. Whatever happened to walking? Why not walk the last 1/4 mile at least? Park up safely, you don't need to be able to fall out of your door and straight into the school you imbeciles. One day it'll be your child walking alone, and you'll want to know they aren't going to be mown down by someone who simply has to be at home by 3.35pm or else presumably they turn into a pumpkin.

2.Andrew Wakefield.
I have more to say about this than works for a meme, so I've created a post especially - Andrew Wakefield and the MMR. I hate to give him more pagetime, but to me at least this man deserves Room 101 and as he's discredited the world over and can't work in half of the1st world countries, I think he's probably there... 

3. Melted Cheese. I can't stand it. I'll try really hard, but I can rarely eat anything hot with more than a hint of cheese. As a vegetarian this can make eating at friends' houses a little tricky....

I'm tagging Tina from The Soup Dragon Says, Kelly from Writings, Ramblings And Reviews, and Anna from In The Playroom to take part in this meme.....

Andrew Wakefield and the MMR

This morning in the school playground I was part of a discussion about whether someone should give her child the MMR jab. She specifically mentioned Autism. Really? After all of this time?

Andrew Wakefield was a Doctor who invested in several companies, including a company which made single vaccines for Measles, Mumps and Rubella.
He took a group of 12 Autistic children and subjected them to a series of tests, including invasive tests such as Lumbar punctures and Colonoscopy, and in 1998 published a paper stating that possibly the MMR was the trigger of Autism in 8 of the children (and Mumps was responsible in one other). He then went to a Press Conference and stated it was definitely true and the MMR should be withdrawn. He suggested the best way to get around this was?....You guessed it...give single vaccines.

Some of the children recruited for the testing were only there because their parents had already decided the MMR was responsible and were filing Lawsuits. Other children were recruited via anti-MMR campaigns. Andrew Wakefield was paid at least £435,600 by the Lawyers involved who wanted to prove the MMR was responsible for Autism. His paid job was to try and find a link.

5 of the children had recorded developmental delay dating back to before they had the MMR jab.
3 of the 12 children didn't even have a diagnosis of Autism.
His findings have never in any way been backed up by any other research before or afterwards.
Some of the findings reported to The Lancet were different to the original tables of data held by the Royal Free Hospital.
One of the children involved in the initial research developed life-threatening complications as a direct result of 'testing' and received a hefty out-of-court settlement.

Measles, Mumps and Rubella can all have serious side effects, including encephalitis, with Rubella most dangerous for adults. All can cause damage to an unborn baby including deformity, deafness, miscarriage and stillbirth. Mumps famously can damage a male's fertility, although this is incredibly rare.
Approximately 1/3 of children who catch Measles will develop complications including Pneumonia and Ear Infections.  For every 1000 children who get Measles 1-2 will die and 1 will develop Encephalitis which may leave them deaf, blind or mentally damaged.

In 2003 the uptake figures for MMR were as low as 70% in parts of the UK, and in the Welsh Measles epidemic of late 2012- early 2013 1455 people developed Measles. Around 180 of these were babies and toddlers too young to be given the MMR, who should have been protected by the fact that everyone else had it. 1 child died.

In 2010 Andrew Wakefield was found guilty of Serious Professional Misconduct by the the General Medical Council and struck off. His greed is directly responsible for the death and permanent injury of many children.

And anyway, what's so horrific about Autism?

Sources -
The Centre for Disease Control And Prevention (The CDC)
The Guardian
The British Medical Journal

Monday 23 September 2013

Pom-Bear Halloween Edition

Pom Bears asked Bloggers to review a Pom-Bear Halloween Edition in Pickled Onion flavour. We like Pickled Onion, and we definitely like Pom Bears, so naturally we volunteered.

When I opened the box I was suitably impressed. It was very Halloween-y! 

 The packaging is also very Halloween-y!

So I must admit to being a tiny bit disappointed when we got inside. Why aren't they shaped like teddy devils with pointy 'horn' ears? Or Scarecrows? Or Skeleton Bears? I can't believe they didn't think of it, so I imagine possibly the cost was too prohibitive.

The Pickled Onion flavour is really very mild, yet still tasty, so they'll still suit younger children and toddlers. They don't have an unpleasant aftertaste, and they only have 96 calories a packet. They're gluten free, vegetarian and don't have added colours or preservatives. I like them, all 7 of my children like them, my partner likes them. You can't really do better than that.

Follow Pom Bears on Facebook to hear all the latest news. The Special Edition Halloween Pom Bears will be available from Supermarkets for a limited time ready for  Halloween and they make an excellent, and more tooth-friendly, alternative to giving sweets to Trick Or Treaters. They have an RRP of £1.59 per multipack of 6 bags, and are currently available for £1.39 from Ocado.

Pom Bears, with a little bit of horror....

Disclaimer - no Pom Bears were harmed in the making of this post.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Mister Maker Alien Puppet Show from Hobbycraft

Hobbycraft are a company we've all heard of, but did you know they stock an amazing range of craft sets and items for children of all ages? They sell everything from Lego and Fancy Dress through to Baking and Horrible Science sets, plus all of the craft and activity sets for which they're most widely known.

Hobbycraft childrens craft sets

We were asked to choose something to review from the Hobbycraft range and we chose the Mister Maker Alien Puppet Show. We're fans of Mister Maker here, especially now that we've met him in person! My boys are also very keen on aliens, so this is perfect.

The box is really nicely presented, everything is safe inside and all that you need to make the Alien Puppet Theatre is included in the kit, with the exception of scissors. 

I was delighted that 2 very good glue sticks were included, but we were disappointed that most of our felt tips didn't work, fortunately, like most households, we had plenty of pens the boys can borrow.

The boys are not usually very keen on crafts, but they sat for hours making this theatre and they did their best the entire time. Boy no.3 is colour-blind, which possibly explains why some of the colouring wasn't to everyone's taste, but it really doesn't matter. Although Mister Maker gives ideas for decorating your aliens and backdrops, there are extra bits included, and lots of scope for personalisation and creativity. I like that a lot.

It was loads of fun building this kit together, even 2 of the teenagers joined in.

The box that everything comes in is your theatre once decorated, and serves as storage once you have completed your kit. This is brilliant. It keeps the theatre and the puppets together and relatively safe from harm.

The instructions are really nicely laid out, very easy to follow and the language is simple, so an older child could easily complete this as a solo project. The only bit that could be frustrating is attaching the curtain, and we found holding it with a couple of clothes pegs while the glue dried was helpful.

We think this set is excellent. It retails at £12 and is suitable for children aged 3+. The age range is right, it's a great craft set that makes a useful toy and we've definitely had more than £12 of fun from it already. I'd definitely recommend this and buy it as a gift. To buy it youself visit Hobbycraft online.