Sunday, 22 October 2017

Banana oat cookies

The last ten days have been rather stressful here, hence my blogging has suffered. I didn't have any enthusiasm to write, even when I had spare time. It started with a phone call from school, as I was sitting in a cafe with an old friend, A. She is actually a friend of one of my dearest friends who sadly passed away three years ago. I haven't seen A since the funeral, as she lives in Sweden. She was visiting Oxford and we arranged to meet. I hardly ever go to Oxford these days, and you can always find me at home during the day time. By Sod's law, the only time I go out to meet a friend outside town, the incident happened.
My darling Eddie managed to knock out his front tooth at school. They called me, I jumped on the taxi, and unfortunately due to road works we were stuck in the traffic, with me frantically trying to call a friend in town to ask her if she could take Eddie to the dentist asap. I wish the school didn't wait for me and took him to the dentist who's based literally across the square.
By the time we got there, and the tooth was put back in (without any anesthetic), it was already an hour and a half since the incident happened. The dentist told me that if the tooth was put back in during the first five minutes, the tooth would have had the best chance. In the first hour - 50/50. After an hour, the best we can hope is for the tooth to stay for several years.
So, now my poor chap will have years of dental work and possibly implants etc ahead.
I nearly fainted when they were putting his tooth back in. My little boy was so pale, he was clearly in shock. I had to sit on the floor, as my head was spinning.

He was a real trooper when they were putting the tooth in, and later stitching the gum and placing a big staple across four front teeth with blobs of paste over it to hold it in place.
He's not been eating well, as the brace/staple bothers him. He also needed antibiotics for five days.

On top of that, Sasha had a bad cold, then it was my turn to be poorly, and yesterday Eddie woke up with high temperature as well. Arrrggghhh.

I haven't been baking much these days, except for a batch of banana oat cookies.
I had one miserable-looking banana in a fruit bowl, getting softer and darker. Not enough for a cake or banana bread, so I decided to try it as a partial substitute for sugar and margarine I use in choc chip oat cookies. It worked really well.

Banana oat cookies
1 banana (about 100g weight, peeled)
50g caster sugar
50g margarine
70g oats with nuts and cranberries
180g self-raising flour
1 small egg
50g milk chocolate, chopped

In a big mixing bowl mash a banana with a fork, add the sugar and margarine and mix well. Add oats, flour, beat in egg and mix in chopped chocolate. Dip hands into flour and then pinch walnut-sized pieces of cookie dough, roll and flatten them slightly, and place them on a parchment paper in a baking tray.
Bake for about 12 minutes at 180C.
They will be still very soft, when you take the tray out. Transfer them carefully on a cooling rack.
Eat warm or cold. They are lovely.

In this recipe I used some of the American Road Trip muesli from Dorset Cereals which is basically oats with dried cranberries, almonds and orange zest. If you don't have this brand of muesli, any porridge oats would do, with dried berries, nuts or plain.

As I've made a good use of old-ish oats and an over-ripe banana, I'm adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky on Cheryl's Madhouse Family Reviews blog.

Veritaserum tea from Adagio teas

novelty tea, Halloween tea, Harry Potter gifts

The last hour before bedtime is Eddie's and mine reading time. We snuggle up under the warm duvet, and I read to him. All kinds of books: Astrid Lindgren, Roald Dahl, Jeff Kinney, David Walliams, Matt Haig etc.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was one of the books we've read together recently. He also watched several Harry Potter movies, and was totally fascinated by the world of wizards and sorcery.
He know it's fiction, but I think he half-believes in magic. 

When I received a selection of Adagio teas over a month ago, one of their seasonal novelty teas was Harry Potter-inspired Veritaserum tea.

novelty tea, Halloween tea

Though Veritaserum potion appears in later HP books, Eddie has seen several films and got an idea of what it was supposed to be.
Veritaserum is described as a clear, colourless and odourless liquid, almost indistinguishable from water. The potion is a powerful truth serum which forces the drinker answer any questions truthfully.
"Three drops of this and even You-Know-Who himself would spill out his darkest secrets".

When I told Eddie what I had brewing in a teapot, he got rather anxious that I might make him drink the magic potion, bless him.
If only this tea blend was truly magic. I know a few people I'd offer it to and ask some uneasy questions.

For those of us who are a bit sceptical about truth potions, here is the list of ingredients: black tea, natural raspberry flavour, raspberries, raspberry leaves, natural chocolate flavour, dark chocolate chips (contain soy lecithin), cocoa nibs, natural hazelnut flavour.

novelty tea, Halloween tea

Robert Pirlot, who created this inspiring tea blend, has based this mix on an episode from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when Harry makes his first visit to Diagon Alley, and Rubeus Hagrid offers him a large ice cream (chocolate and raspberry with chopped nuts).

novelty tea, Harry Potter gifts

It's a well-balanced morning or early afternoon tea, when you need a caffeine boost. Hazelnut and chocolate chip go well together with a raspberry flavour. It has a slightly sweet taste.
It is better without milk.
My Mum, who is visiting this month, loved this tea. Eddie didn't dare to try it (he must have some dark secrets indeed).

If you are looking for a novelty gift for Halloween or Bonfire Night, this seasonal tea might be just right for the occasion. And of course it will be totally irresistible for any Harry Potter fans.

Harry Potter tea, Harry Potter gifts, novelty tea

Disclosure: I received Veritaserum for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Brand new Kazoops adventures are back! Just imagine...

If you have a pre-schooler or a primary age child in your family, I bet you have heard of Kazoops! animation show from CBeebies. It's a fun entertaining programme about a 6-year-old boy called Monty Kazoop and his best friend Jimmy Jones who just happens to be a pig (as in oink-oink, not because he has no manners). They have imaginative adventures together and travel to different times and places. Each episode comes with a unique song.
The styles and genres of music in the show vary from episode to episode.

Monty and Jimmy Jones look at the world with fresh eyes, they challenge the grown-ups' preconceptions about the earth and all things around them. Their imaginary adventures help them explore the concepts and ideas, for example, discovering the different ways the music makes you feel or finding out why everyone cannot be happy all the time and why fun things have to come to an end - all those questions that your children have probably asked you, expecting you to know the answers.

And now the cheeky duo are back with brand new episodes, which you can watch on weekdays at 3.45pm on CBeebies.

Today's episode no.63 is called "Fun with clouds":
Monty's family are all frustrated by the grey clouds ruining their plans, and wish they'd go away, but Monty and Jimmy Jones set out to show them that the sky wouldn't be nearly as interesting without clouds.

This episode could be a start of an interesting discussion on what clouds are, looking at the shapes of different clouds and their characteristics. Try to spot clouds which are coming in forms of rolls, ripples or patches.
And of course, use your imagination. Eddie and I love looking at the clouds and spotting all kinds of fantastic creatures. For example, this cloud reminded us of a dinosaur.

I love it when children's animation combines fun with educational elements.

Will you be tuning in at 3.45pm?

If you've ever missed an episode, you can catch up now on BBC iPlayer.

You can also find out about Kazoops on different social channels - like Kazoops on Facebook, Instagram - @kazoops_official and Twitter @_Kazoops

Monday, 16 October 2017

Vytronix VTBC01 Compact Cyclonic Bagless Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner

lightweight vacuum cleaners

When you live in an old house, you never know when the next big job of repairs will come. In the last year we had to deal with a collapsed stone wall in the garden, a broken stone window ledge, floors and a collapsed ceiling in the hall among other things. The ceiling partially collapsed one evening, when we were just getting ready for bed. Then the great crash and "boomphh" went deep in the night, and the remains of the old plaster were down. The dust spread everywhere, even as high as the attic. Thankfully, noone was harmed.

We picked the big pieces by hand and tried to brush away most of the plaster powder, but the dust had to be hoovered from the carpets, walls, furniture etc.
Needless to say, our hoover has never been the same since. It was hardly working any longer, and I started looking online for a new one. I knew what I wanted - a bagless vacuum cleaner which won't be too heavy to carry around and up the stairs.
By a fortunate coincidence I was offered to choose a vacuum cleaner for reviewing.

Recently Vytronix has launched two new products in their trend-setting vacuum cleaner range.
We've been testing a Vytronix VTBC01 1400w Compact Cyclonic Bagless Cylinder Vacuum for the last three weeks, and here is what we thought about it.

value vacuum cleaner

Product specifications:
- high power 1400w motor
- compact, lightweight, easy to use and store
- weighs only 4.3kg
- 4 stage HEPA filter
- compact bagless design
- large 2L capacity
- 1.5m flexible hose + 80cm telescopic extension tube
- dimensions: (L) 33cm x (W) 25cm x (H) 29cm

It comes with a dusting brush, upholstery tool and 2 in 1 crevice tool.

value vacuum cleaner

Nick Battams, the ecommerce Manager of Direct Vacuums says: "We've seen Vytronix quickly rise to the top on our website, with their two vacuum cleaners consistently outselling other products. The bagless model has been our best-selling item for the past few months".
The two Vytronix items move to the very top in the Best Carpet Cleaner Guide's top 10 cylinder vacuums in the UK.
Vytronix vacuum cleaners can be found on Amazon or online at Direct Vacuums.

With a price tag under £40 it is a very good value for money.

The cylinder vacuum features a HEPA filter, making it perfect for households with pets and for allergy-sufferers.

Ir is sleek and light (weighing less than 4.5kg), with a 2 litre capacity, easily-transportable around the house. I like that it is compact and doesn't take much space, it is easy to empty and reassemble.
This compact vacuum cleaner works well on both carpeted floors and hard surfaces.
It is lightweight enough for an easier cleaning of the stairs. I've seen some online reviews which say that Vytronix is not very good for stairs, they clearly have not worked with my old vacuum cleaner. In comparison cleaning the stairs is a doddle.
Our previous vacuum cleaner was much heavier and bulkier, and always a pain to use on the stairs. Vytronix is just right for this job.

It comes with several adds-on to use on different surfaces.

I can easily reach all the surfaces high up - the ceiling, old wooden beams, carved posters and lamps.

- lightweight and compact
- HEPA filter
- ease of assembly
- good value for money
- dust container is not very big (due to the compact size of the vacuum cleaner itself) and needs emptying regularly
- the cord does not retract smoothly when you press on the side button

Disclosure: We received the vacuum cleaner for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Chilean Easy Peelers

Caterpillars, dealers, healers...
All rhyme well with Easy Peelers.
A juicy citrus to stave off munchies;
They're great for packed school lunches.
We know our rhymes are silly,
But we have fun with fruit from Chile.

Now that Eddie started a new school, he begged me to allow him to have packed school lunches rather than hot meals. He is slowly settling in in this big school environment, and so far I haven't been pressuring him into eating school lunches. I might at some point encourage him to eat school meals on some days.
He loves simple homemade sandwiches or wraps, with ham and cheese. I also add a yogurt on a stick to his lunch box, a cheese string, a drink, a pack of fruit rolls and a piece of fruit.
He chooses which fruit to have, it is usually an apple or a clementine.

Easy peel clementines and mandarins are a great source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and water, which helps to keep you hydrated. Chilean easy peelers are now in season, and are widely available at the moment, from September to November.
What we like about easy peelers is their juicy sweet taste and convenience. They are portable and easy to peel. Children won't need help to peel this fruit, especially in the school environment. A lovely snack for a lunchbox or after school.

Did you know that last year the amount of Chilean mandarins sold in the UK reached over 2,000 tonnes, that's a pretty big mountain of fruit. Eddie and I tried to imagine just how big a mountain of 2,000 tonnes might be.
Another bit of useful information: Easy peelers are a great source of water; in fact 87% of their nutritional composition is water.

If you've been at school around playtime, you know it is a total chaos. Many a time, when I arrive to school to help with reading, and the kids run around like mad, screaming, throwing leaves at each other, fighting. It's a wild-wild world. They all look red in the face, hot and flushed.
No wonder they are all thirsty after the playtime. Having plenty of fluids is paramount to stay hydrated. And if you have a piece of fruit which gives you more water, it is even better.

Eddie comes home tired and peckish after school. He likes to relax on the sofa, watching his favourite shows on TV, with a few selected snacks including mandarins on a little table nearby.

It was an Inset day at school yesterday, and Eddie and I watched Witches together. We liked the film more than the book for one simple reason - it has a happy end, while the book ends on a sad note.
We were sitting on the sofa, wrapped up in a duvet, and at times we felt like throwing the mandarin peelings at the screen, when witches were getting particularly nasty.

This post is an entry for the BritMums #ChileanEasyPeelers Challenge, sponsored by Chilean Citrus Committee.

Disclosure: we received 10 easy peelers to sample and give a seal of approval. All opinions are our own.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Wonder Woman DVD

Image credits: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc

If you missed seeing Wonder Woman in the cinema earlier this year, now you have a chance to catch up on this year's most exhilarating blockbuster.
Wonder Woman arrives onto 4K UHD, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD on 9 October and as Digital Download on 25 September. The 4K UHD, Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray will include an all-new bonus scenes never before seen in cinemas, as well as interviews with filmmakers, featurettes and extended scenes.

Image credits: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc

Gal Gadot is a convincing Diana, a woman-child who still believes in goodness of the humankind and doesn't understand the dirty politics and cynicism of people whom she tries to help by defeating Ares the god of war.
Diana, being brought up in a world void of male aggression, is naive but good-hearted. She is one of a few Marvel heroes who doesn't fight inner demons. She is compassionate, courageous and selfless.
You can see why this character has been hailed as a feminist icon. Though happy to work in a team, she doesn't rely on men to save the world.
This story has several strong female protagonists - Diana's mother and aunt are good role models for young Diana.
Her mythical island is a utopia, an ideal place for women. Links to Greek mythology are quite loose, the plot doesn't follow the original myths of Ancient Greece, more taking inspiration from them rather than being truthful to them.
It is an interesting interpretation of myths, with references to Amazons, Zeus and Ares.
The first part of the film reminded me of Xena the warrior princess which I used to watch twenty years ago (and I loved it too then).
Like Xena, Diana is athletic, strong and excels in martial arts.

When an American pilot crashes in the sea nearby the shores of the island of the Amazons, Diana's world becomes exposed to the perils of the modern world. Outside, the WWI is raging, and Diana leaves her island in order to end the war by finding and destroying Ares.

It's fascinating that one of the major villains in this story is another woman. Dr Poison is a lethal threat to the world. She is fragile physically, and facially disfigured (presumably some experiment has gone wrong), but she is pure evil.

And when the time comes to fight, Wonder Woman is the iconic figure we recognise from Marvel comics - she diverts the bullets with her famous bracelets.
You have to see it to appreciate the merits of the bulletproof outfit during the battle scenes.

I haven't been a big fan of Marvel characters and stories until my younger son got me hooked on them. We've watched together many films with superheroes, and we enjoyed Wonder Woman.

Image credits: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Inc

Disclosure: We received a copy of the DVD for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Monster Brew from Adagio Teas

Halloween tea, autumn tea

The rain is knocking at the windows,
The shadows dance across the garden.
I'm blissfully content with my cup of tea.

There's no denying that autumn is a great source of inspiration for many creative souls: artists, poets and tea experts. I love autumnal flavours of tea: fruity, spicy, flavourful and zingy.
All tea and coffee lovers rejoice, when autumn comes, as there are so many vibrant seasonal flavours appearing in the shops. And while I'm not euphoric at the arrival of Pumpkin spice latte at the famous chain (it's so sweet, it sets my teeth on edge), I do love seasonal teas from my favourite brands.
And if they come in a cute tin, then it's even better.

Monster Brew from Adagio Teas would appeal to those who love all things Hallowe'en-related.
Adagio Teas' blurb on the tin says: "A flavourful tea to help you battle demons and monsters, including the few that like to hide under the bed".

Adagio Teas, Halloween tea

Its ingredients include: honeybush, green rooibos, raspberry leaves, orange peels, cocoa nibs, chocolate chips, coconut, apricots, cherries, cherry and orange flavours and strawberries.
You need to leave the tea to steep for 5 minutes.

Halloween tea, Halloween

It is quite a mild tea, all the flavours are well-balanced, and none of them screams Me-me-me! It is a fruity brew which is caffeine free, and thus perfect for a second half of the day, even before bedtime.
Some of the teas with chocolate flavours that I have tried in the past had an overwhelming chocolate taste. Not Monster Brew, thankfully. As much as I love chocolate, in tea I prefer only a subtle hint of it.

Adagio Teas, Halloween tea

The tin - what can I say?! It's uber-cute. I collect tins, and this is one is a definite keeper. Eddie's already got his eye on it, he says it's a good box for some of his minifigures.

Even if you can't be bothered with Hallowe'en and all the dark paraphernalia, treat yourself to a fruity brew and celebrate autumn.

Halloween tea

Disclosure: I received this tin for the purposes of tasting and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

September Degustabox

We are always looking forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in September Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box

Miso Tasty Original Ramen Noodle Kit serves 1-2 people (depending on one's appetite). This kit contains 2 non-fried noodles nests, 2 white miso paste sachets and 2 seaweed garnishes.
Vegetarian, 100% natural, protein rich, fermented and full of antioxidanst, low fat, it contains 284kcal per serving.

This kit provides a light and savoury base for a quick noodle meal that hails from Sapporo, Japan - simply add your toppings.
Noodles have a good bite after 6 minutes of cooking.
I had one noodle nest with two quail eggs, and that was plenty for my lunch.

Santa Maria Latin American Kitchen Arroz Amarillo Yellow Rice is a long grain rice with garlic lemon & turmeric.
An easy favourite which goes with everything. Its distinctive colour comes from the turmeric. This kind of mild, lemony rice is popular both in Latin America and in Spain and adds a great colour and flavour contrast to any dish.
231kcal per portion (two portions in a pouch).

I made stuffed tomatoes with yellow rice and mozzarella, and it was a tasty vegetarian meal.

Santa Maria Latin American Kitchen Caribbean Pineapple & Chilli Sticky Sauce is a tangy sweet and sour sauce made wtih pineapple, onion, red chilli pepper, garlic and spices. It has been inspired by the Chinese-Caribbean fusion cooking of the 19th century, when the workers from the Southern China and India worked on the sugar plantations.
170kcal per portion (2 portions per pouch)

For an easy midweek dinner, cook chicken fillets with sweet peppers, butternut squash, rice and Santa Maria Latin American Kitchen Caribbean Pineapple & Chilli Sticky Sauce.

Knorr Rich Beef Concentrated Liquid Stock is made with real beef extract and is gluten free.
Free from artificial preservatives and No added MSG, it is a versatile ingredient for many dishes.
The latest box comes with a recipe for Spaghetti Bolognese, which suggests adding a few drops to the sauce for a richer meaty flavour.

Nestle Cheerioes Oat Crisp is a combination of crunchy flakes with whole grain oats and mixed with crispy Cheerios. It is not the most inspired combination. My sons like Cheerios but wouldn't eat crunchy flakes, and I'm not keen on Cheerios. Let's say, our family is not enthusiastic about this new cereal.
On the plus side, it is high in fibre, low in saturated fat and contains beta-glucan from oat fibre.

Wild Planet Albacore Wild Tuna Steaks are ranked no.1 in the US by Greenpeace for sustainability. These wild tuna steaks are 100% pole & line caught, hand packed and cooked just once to retain the natural juices in the can. A great product to have in the pantry for a quick salad meal, or a baked potato with tuna and mayo.

There is also a voucher included for Seriously Spreadable Squares, which I keep forgetting to use.

Sweet treats this month:
Green & Black's Velvet Edition is a smooth 70% dark chocolate. I have already tried it before, and it is very moreish. Made with the finest Ghanian cocoa, it is balanced with Madagascan vanilla.
A real treat for dark chocolate fans.

My guys usually gobble up sweets from Degustabox, but this month we received a Mentos Mint Sharing Pouch - and it is still unopened, as they don't like mint flavours.
This is a refreshing mix of peppermint and spearmint.

Green's Egg Custard Mix promises a silky smooth delectable egg custard. I was recently baking a custard tart, and opened the box, only to realise that this custard is not suitable for cooking. You just mix it with liquid, then pour in the pastry case and let it set. I ended up making my own custard, and hope to use the custard mix another time.

Virtue Sparkling Energy Water Lemon & Lime flavoured water with natural caffeine and vitamins includes zero sugar, zero calories, no sweeteners, natural energy, nothing artificial.
It has a high caffeine content - 32mg/100ml, and hence is not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.
I liked that it is not sweet at all, though haven't noticed any extra energy.

The second can was Berry-flavoured. It is a lovely refreshing drink.

San Miguel Gluten Free beer (see above) is a premium gluten free lager, with a slightly fruity aroma, with gentle hints of hops and yeast, and a moderate bitterness on the palate. It is 5.4% ABV.

Dream Ancient Grains is one of two new flavours from Dream. Ancient Grains is made with a blend of oat, spelt, buckwheat and linseed. This plant-based milk has no added sugar.
It sounds awfully healthy. We're not dairy-intolerant, and I haven't had a chance to try this product yet.

Disclosure: I receive a monthly food box for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.