Sunday, 19 February 2017

Courgette and asparagus risotto

How quickly did the holiday week go. Back to school tomorrow. Deep sigh. Tomorrow our house will be in total upheaval, as we finally are going to have works done on the collapsed ceiling in the entrance room. I want all the old plastering to be removed, but that means, everything will be covered with dust, even with the doors to the other rooms closed. So, if I disappear for a while, that would mean, I'm fighting the dust and serving endless cups of tea and coffee to the builders.
Tonight for dinner we had a risotto, later followed by a fresh fruit salad.

vegetarian risotto, Italian recipes


Courgette and asparagus risotto
Ingredients:
2 medium courgettes
100g asparagus tips
5tbsp olive oil
25g butter
300g arborio risotto rice
100ml dry white wine or prosecco
230g Roots Garden Peas blended vegetables juice
150ml single cream
40g Grana Padano, grated

Slice courgettes in half lengthways, then into thin crescents. Chop the asparagus. In a deep frying pan heat 3tbsp of olive oil, add the courgettes and asparagus. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
In a different frying pan add the sliced shallots to the hot olive oil (2tbsp), and sweat on a medium heat until softened. Add the arbotio rice, stir with a wooden spoon, so that all the rice grains are coated with the onion-flavoured oil.
Add the white wine, and allow it to evaporate. Keep stirring. Add the Garden peas vegetable juice, a bit at a time, as you would with the stock. Add the single cream too. Keep adding juice and cream, and a little bit of hot water for about 20+ minutes, until the rice is cooked. The time will depend on how al dente you like to eat your risotto. If you like it well cooked, you will need more time for cooking.
Add the fried courgettes and asparagus to the risotto in the last 5 minutes of cooking. The vegetables should still have a bite rather than turn into slushy mushy bio-mass.

vegetarian risotto, Italian recipes


Grate Grana Padano and stir in at the last minute. Serve with more grated cheese on top.

vegetarian risotto, Italian vegetarian recipes



In this recipe instead of the usual stock I used Roots Garden Greens - cucumber, peas, kale & mint vegetable juice. It gave a lovely fresh green flavour to risotto.



For a different vegetarian risotto with Garden Greens, check out the Roots Collective Greens Risotto, cooked with broccoli, spinach and broad beans.

Since I used the remains of prosecco (leftover from Valentine's day dinner) and Grana Padano (which I keep in big chunks in the freezer), this recipe is joining in #KitchenClearout Linky, run by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.



Saturday, 18 February 2017

Grow your own salad giveaway (c/d March 12 March 2017)

In the last month vegetable lovers were left despondent by the so called courgette and salad shortage. Some supermarkets have limited purchases to three lettuces per person. I can't say I have noticed any shortage in the shops locally. There was plenty of salad and courgettes, though when I was doing a grocery order online at Tesco the other week, salad and courgettes were indeed unavailable.
It is a good time for garden centres though, with seeds' packets flying off the shelves.
Yesterday a friend took my younger son and me on a trip to Burford garden centre, for a cup of coffee and a good browse in their gardening section.
I bought several packets of seeds - a couple of varieties of tomatoes and some herbs like borage, fennel and chamomile. I won't be growing courgettes this year. They are considered to be the easiest veg to grow, but the snails and slugs love them too much, and I am not keen on using pesticides when growing vegetables.
I have read gardening advice that growing garlic and marigolds among the salad and vegetables prevents the slugs and snails, but our creepy crawlies haven't read this advice. I remember coming one morning after planting a whole lot of marigolds on the strawberry patch, only to find them half-munched and covered in sticky trails. I have tried coffee granules and crushed egg shells. The snails win the battle.
Basically, I gave up on growing courgettes.
I always have a good crop of tomatoes in the greenhouse, and will be growing them again this year. I grow them in big pots and grobags.

I am offering a selection of packets of seeds for one of my blog readers. Some of these seeds were freebies from gardening magazines.
The winner will receive 5 packets of seeds including Lettuce (red & green salad bowl mixed), the smallest lettuce Tom Thumb (with about 1000 seeds, so you'd have plenty of salad this summer), Lollo Rosso lettuce, sweet basil and St Valery carrots.



If you don't have a garden, herbs and salad are very easily grown in pots or grobags. I will direct you to a couple of useful blog posts written by Attachment Mummy - Balcony Gardening and How to plant a garden in a small space. It's incredible just how much you can grow in a small space.

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter using a Rafflecopter form.
The only mandatory step is answering a question - What do you grow in your garden/greenhouse, on your balcony, patio? If you don't, what would you like to grow given a chance?

Also if you win, would you like some seeds of bronze fennel (a must for all fish dishes) and borage (edible flower, lovely in Pimms or gin cocktails). Just say Yes next to your answer. I will gladly share those with you, as both packets I have bought have 100 seeds.

T&Cs:
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 day, the prize will be allocated to another person.
Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.

The giveaway will close on 12 March 2017 (at midnight)


  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 17 February 2017

Our #BearHunt Twitter Party

toy bear


If you were on Twitter yesterday, you might have seen a hashtag #BearHunt trending and wondering what it was all about. Perhaps you even joined in with the activities and competitions run by @UKMumsTV. Several bloggers were hosting We're Going on a Bear Hunt Twitter parties and tweeting-tweeting-tweeting.
With Twitter parties, it's all about the organisation and planning, everything has to be prepared in advance for it to go smoothly.
Eddie loves having his friends over, and if they have activities to do and a film to watch, he is very happy.
Days before the party we received a big box of party goodies with invitations, colouring sheets and pencils, tasty snacks, bear-ears making sheets, toys, books and DVDs.


"We're going on a bear hunt" by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury has delighted several generations of children and parents alike since 1989. Our old copy, from the days when my 14-year-old son was a toddler, is quite battered and has chewed corners.
I remember reading this story hundreds of times, when he was little and enjoyed the rhythm and repetition. He was delighted when I made all those Squelch squerch, Splash splosh sounds. We definitely knew the book off by heart.
The plot is quite simple:
Children are led on a challenging adventure by their big brother. They have to go through the high grass, a river, a thick oozy mud, dark forest, snowstorm until they reach a bear cave. The bear is startled to see them. Terrified, the kids flee back home, in reverse order, before finally hiding under the duvet in their big bed. They vow never to go on a bear hunt again. The poor bear who was woken up from hibernation in his cave, looks sad and desolate.
This children's classic appeared on the screens last Christmas as an enchanting animation (see my full review - We're Going on a Bear Hunt DVD review)

To celebrate the release of the DVD of We're going on a bear hunt, selected bloggers were invited to host a Twitter party.

children's animation

We managed to pack in a lot of activities in those two hours of the party.
First, Eddie and his friends watched the film. I was a bit anxious about the story, as it has been changed from the original book, made darker and more poignant. But nobody was particularly distressed or affected by the sad parts. If anything, it was I who felt my eyes were brimming when the girl put her late Grandpa's scarf on the bear's neck. It made me think of my own Dad who died many years ago, and who never met his grandchildren. But I digress.

As soon as the film has finished, the quiz sheets were out. Eddie got all of his answers right except one, he forgot the name of the dog.

Decorate a Bear Hunt Biscuit activity was great fun. We had a packet of digestives, two bags of chocolate buttons and chocolate-flavoured icing pens.


decorating biscuits with kids

Eddie always enjoys decorating cupcakes and biscuits, but doing bear biscuits proved to be quite a challenge. I also had to remind the guys that chocolate buttons were for decoration, as they kept sneakily eating them, one after another.

decorating biscuits with kids

Eddie's bear was an Angry Birds hybrid, with bushy eyebrows, but he was proud of his creation.
I had a quick go too, though my bear wouldn't win me any prizes. Well, my excuse is I had to entertain and tweet at the same time.


Some of the icing ended up on the sleeves, but it didn't really matter. It was great fun.





Some of the biscuits were promptly eaten as soon as I have taken photos.

Bear Hunt Treasure Trail was another great activity. Who doesn't like the idea of looking for treasures - DVD, book, toys and sweeties.


By then I was a bit exhausted, running up and down the house, shouting Hot or Cold to give a hint how far they are from the next prize.

And then there was a turn of Pin the tail on the bear. We used scarves as blindfolds. The poster on the wall showed the bear from the animation. You had to stick a fluffy pom pom tail as close as possible to the bear's bum.




We were supposed to make our own Bear Hunt ears, but by that time our company was in such high spirits and way too giggly to do anything sensible, they were getting sillier and sillier, so the Bear Ears activity sheets went into the goodie bags to take home together with colouring sheets, pencils, toys and other gifts.
You know how it is with kids, sweets and fun games.
I was in need of a cup of tea (or perhaps something stronger) and some peace and quiet.

Our party was a big success, and Eddie can't wait for us to host a new Twitter party.

Disclosure: As mentioned in a pre-party post, we received a big box of party goodies. All opinions are our own.


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Surviving the cold season with TLC, folk remedies and Vicks #VicksTricks

Once children start nursery and school, they will inevitably pick all kinds of germs and viruses. Both of my sons managed to get chicken pox in the nursery. I think Eddie haven't been to the nursery even for a month before he caught it. But while in the nursery the attendance is not an issue, the school is a different matter, there is too much pressure on not missing school at any cost.
Many parents send their sick kids to school, with the attitude "Oh, I gave her Calpol before school, and hope she'll be fine". Then there is always a pressure from school for the attendance stats. I remember when Eddie was in Reception, and was unwell quite often, with a fever or stomach bug, we had a letter from school about our "poor performance" and spoiling the school attendance statistics. I was quite furious. Anyway, his immunity is getting stronger.
He did miss several days of school this academic year, when he had a bad cold with a high temperature, but I would never send a sick child to school, statistics or not.

Whenever he is unwell, he loves me fussing around him. He would stay on the sofa in the sitting room, all tucked in with a warm soft duvet. If he's a bit perkier, he might watch his favourite DVDs or listen to audio books, sometimes nodding off. Resting aplenty is very important.
When he was younger, he loved to hug his favourite soft toys.

I try to entice him to eat something, and drink plenty, as when he is unwell, he is off his food too. Keeping him well hydrated is a priority.
If your children like the taste of ginger, make a ginger tea with with honey to help soothe the sore throat. It lessens the inflammation and helps to clear the sinus area. Sadly, Eddie doesn't like ginger, so this is not his favourite drink.
We enjoy a quiet time together. Eddie loves me to read books to him. Scary stories like Goosebumps are his favourite. He would be sipping his cup of hot milk with honey and listening to the story. Hot milk with honey is our drink of the day, when we have colds or bugs, even my husband asks for a cup of hot milk at bedtime when he's unwell.



Just like my own Mum used to give me hot milk, and tell me a story. She rarely read books to me, but used to tell stories, she's a great story-teller.

The other folk remedy my Mum used to do was to put dry mustard in socks, and make us wear those socks overnight. I think as a remedy it worked, but I disliked sleeping in socks.
When we were little and had a cold, Mum would prepare boiled potatoes, then mash them, cover the cooking pot with a towel, and make us breathe the steam under the towel.
You can also use a steamy hot water with a few drops of essential oil like eucalyptus or tea tree as a decongestant, but it's probably best for older children, as you have to be very careful with the hot water.

My Mum is a source of old remedies, even now when we talk on the phone and I tell her I'm not feeling well thanks to the cold, she'd suggest cutting an onion or garlic and putting it next to my bed. To be honest, I don't follow her advice. I don't think I could sleep with all that smelly food around me. Sorry, Mum.

And of course a homemade chicken soup is a must! It gives you energy and strength when you're feeling weak from cold.

homemade soup


If it's a cold my kids are suffering with, we get a reliable old remedy, Vicks VapoRub, out.
Eddie's very ticklish, and giggles when I smear the VapoRub on his back and chest. It helps him to breathe easier, relieves congestion and helps with a sore throat. It has a pleasant smell, not too strong.

Vicks VapoRub has come up with a series of videos recently, called #VicksTricks, teaching parents how to keep children entertained when they are ailing.
"When children are feeling poorly, every parent needs a few tricks up their sleeve to entertain, distract and make them feel better, especially during the back-to-school season when they need to be back up and on their feet quickly".

Eddie and I enjoyed watching the videos. The drawing trick was our favourite, as it is simple yet impressive.




As a talking point about #VicksTricks, BritMums have sent us a big envelope of goodies including a book for younger children, finger puppets for creative play and Vicks First Defence nasal spray. We haven't had a chance to test the spray yet (knock on the wood), but it is supposed to work at the first signs of cold, by targeting the viruses to help stop the cold in its tracks before the symptoms got worse. I guess it will work similar to the other Vicks nasal sprays, which I use quite often myself.

What are your tips for surviving the cold season?



This post is an entry for the #VicksTricks campaign.

LEGO® NEXO Knights Season One DVD (review + giveaway E: 2 March 2017)

image credits: Warner Bros Pictures

LEGO® NEXO Knights have been part of our lives for a while. Eddie who is 6, loves anything NEXO Knights-related. He's been watching the series on TV, and playing a Merlok 2.0 app on the ipad.
Every morning, when we happen to walk to school with his friend Peter, these two guys discuss all the technical details of the app and give useful tips to each other. Apparently, it is a bottomless topic, they never get tired of discussing it.

LEGO® NEXO Knights are also an extensive range of Lego minifigures and sets. In the past year we spent way too much on LEGO® NEXO Knights, and of course, they come up with new sets, for example, this January has seen a release of the latest figures and sets. Eddie's wish list is forever growing.

This month LEGO® NEXO Knights Season One arrives on DVD - on February 13 - complete with a free NEXO Power and we're giving you the chance to win your very own copy on DVD (scroll down for the giveaway).

image credits: Warner Bros Pictures


Who are NEXO Knights, and what is so exciting about them?
The episodes are a cross between medieval and magic themes. A quintet of knights battle monsters in order to defend their kingdom and citizens.

Synopsis:
"Oh no... the high tech Kingdom of Knighton is in trouble! Join five young knights: Clay, Aaron, Lance, Princess Macy and Axl as they fight to protect the kingdom from Jestro and the Book of Monsters in LEGO® NEXO Knights: Season One.
The King's Jester has gone rogue and stolen the strange talking Book of Monsters. Using its evil magic, he summons an army of dangerous Lava Monsters and attacks.

image credits: Warner Bros Pictures


It is up to the brave but inexperienced NEXO Knights to come to the rescue. In their amazing rolling castle and with the help of holographic Wizard Merlok 2.0, they have technology and NEXO powers, an incredible new digitized magic, on their side.
But the Jester and the Book of Monsters have a sinister plot that may spell doom over the once peaceful kingdom.
Collect your NEXO Powers and join the battle to save Knighton."

Watch all your favourite NEXO Knights characters in 10 action-packed episodes on two DVDs.
Episodes list:
The Book of Monsters, Parts One and Two; The Power of Merlok; The Knights' Code; Fright Knight; The Golden Castle; The Maze of Amazement; The Black Knight; The Book of Total Badness and The Might and the Magic.
The DVD is suitable for ages 6+.
Running time: approx. 221 minutes.

My personal favourite is Macy. She is a princess turned knight, a badass who knows what she wants in life. It's great to have a bit of girl power in an otherwise male-dominated world.

image credits: Warner Bros Pictures


Eddie thinks Aaron is the best, because he can shoot from far away and can fly on hover shield.
The knights are a mixed group of personalities and talents. Sometimes their personalities clash, which creates problems, later solved when they start to work as a team.
The series is jam-packed with action and adventures. There is a lot of humour too, so the series is quite entertaining.

To celebrate the release of LEGO® NEXO Knights Season One on DVD, I have one DVD as a giveaway prize for my blog readers.

Win LEGO® NEXO Knights: Season One on DVD - out on DVD 13 February 2017

image credits: Warner Bros Pictures




To be in with a chance of winning this brilliant prize, simply watch the trailer and answer the question below.

The king's jester has turned evil using which item?
A. An enchanted sword
B. An invisibility cloak
C. A magical talking book

T&Cs:
Closing date: 2 March 2017
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
There is no prize alternative.
Once the winner is picked randomly by Rafflecopter, they will have 28 days to respond with their address details. If they fail to get back to me, another winner will be selected.
Please enter using the Rafflecopter form.
The only mandatory step is answering the question.
All the other Rafflecopter entries are optional.





a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Date and Walnut Truffles: Valentine's Day inspired recipe

Valentine's Day recipe, healthy dessert

Yesterday evening I was fuming on Facebook, saying that the prize of the "romantic" of the century goes to my dear husband who planned to have a high table dinner in his college tonight. He's a typical Oxford don, who doesn't take any notice of the "important" dates.
But thankfully, he managed to cancel so we had our Valentine's meal at home after all.
I didn't bake a cake, but bought profiteroles at M&S, and made some delicious date and walnut truffles.

Heart shaped truffles are a perfect treat for Valentine's day. They are easy and quick to make, and are a healthy alternative to chocolate.

Date Truffles (recipe courtesy of Forest Feast)
Ingredients:
7 Forest Feast Medjool Dates, pitted
65g pecans (any nuts can be used)
85g ground almonds
30g cocoa powder + more for dusting
1/2tsp vanilla
pinch sea salt (add to taste)

Method:
- Soak the dates in hot water for a few minutes to soften. Drain and squeeze out excess water.
- Finely grind pecans (or walnuts), ground almonds and cocoa powder in food processor. Add dates, vanilla and sea salt. Pulse until a sticky ball forms.
- Taste & add more salt if necessary.
- Take small balls & place into silicone mould.



- Pop into the freezer overnight
- Once hard, pop out of the heart-shaped mould and roll in Cocoa powder.

I used walnuts rather than pecans, because I prefer their taste, and also couldn't find any pecans in M&S today, which was the only shop I managed to pop in today after taking my son on a playdate. I also used a little bit more cocoa.
These truffles don't really need an overnight stay in the freezer. I took mine out of the mould after and hour and a half in the freezer, and they were perfectly fine.
Very moreish snacks. I can easily eat the whole lot. My husband loved them too. Kids are not big fans of dates, so didn't fancy trying.

Valentine's day recipes, healthy snacks


In this recipe I used Medjool Dates from Forest Feast. They come in sealed pouches, for freshness. These are aromatic, melt in the mouth dates, plump and sweet.

healthy snacks

Medjool dates are a great healthy snack, and also a fantastic ingredient for baking and cooking. How about a sticky date pudding, with caramel or butterscotch sauce?!

Forest Fruit Smart and Hearty Dates, 100g (RRP £1.99) are a nutritional powerhouse of minerals, energy and fibre, and have been selected as they contain no added sugar, additives or preservatives.
Known for their caramel flavour and plump flesh, Forest Feast Medjool Dates, 180g (RRP £2.85) are a tasty snack or the perfect addition to cooking or baking.

"Now considered a superfood, dates were previously viewed as boring fruit that only featured at Christmas. Today however, dates have once again found the love they deserve.

And here are a few facts about dates:
- Dates are a rich source of amino acids, which are known to increase sexual stamina and libido. Therefore, dates are a popular aphrodisiac, especially in North African countries.
- Dates are also the symbol of the goddess Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, sex and power.
- Indeed, is is believed by some scholars that it was a date and not an apple used by Eve to lure Adam in the Bible's Garden of Eden - the ultimate temptation.
- The word "date" comes from the Greek word daktylos, meaning finger.
- There are hundreds of different varieties of dates but Medjool are the hardest to grow. This, coupled with their soft, sticky, caramel quality make them the most luxurious dates on the market.


healthy snacks

Disclosure: I received three packs of Medjool dates and a silicone mould for the purposes of testing the recipe. All opinions are our own.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Join the We're Going on a Bear Hunt Twitter Party!

animation for children

To celebrate the launch of We're Going on a Bear Hunt DVD, several parenting bloggers and @UKMumsTV are hosting a We're Going On a Bear Hunt DVD Twitter party this Thursday, between 4 and 6pm, and you're cordially invited to join in!
Selected bloggers have received a big party pack with invitations and party goodies, and we can't wait for our party to commence.


As you can see, we received a super duper box of goodies for our guests including colouring sheets, crayons, Schleich toys, snacks and treats including biscuit decorating kits. Eddie is very excited about having his friends over for a Bear hunt treasure trail and watching the film together.

You might wonder how you can get involved? Make sure you're following @UKMumsTV and use the hashtag #BearHunt this Thursday between 4 and 6pm. There will be lots of activities going on and a ton of We're Going on a Bear Hunt prizes will be given away.



Keep an eye on my Twitter account - @maximka25 - on Thursday as well. I will host a flash giveaway for We're going on a bear hunt DVD + book set.
T&Cs:
The giveaway will only run for 24 hours.
This giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
The prize winner will be announced on Twitter, and will have 28 days to get back to me with their address details. The prize will be posted by me to the winner.

If you haven't seen the animation at Christmas, have a look at my blog review of the film - We're going on a Bear hunt (DVD review).



When: 16 February, 4-6pm
Where: Twitter @UKMumsTV and @maximka25
Hashtag: #BearHunt

See you there!


Raspberry ripple parfait with pistachios

Valentine's Day dessert, ice cream dessert, berry parfait

And so Valentine's Day is upon us... We have no plans of going out. I'm not a Valentine's Day grinch, but apart from a festive meal at home, I don't bother with gifts or cards.
According to Olly Smith, "the key to winning the heart of the one you love this Valentine's Day lies in... a carefully chosen bottle of pink fizz". Well, I'm not sure about that. Personally I'd rather have a glass of prosecco or a good old Bellini.
My "Valentine" doesn't care much for pink fizzy drinks either. But he has a sweet tooth, so I will make an effort and cook a lovely dessert for tomorrow.
I haven't decided yet, whether it will be a chocolate cake or some berry ice cream concoction.
A while ago I have tried a delicious raspberry ripple parfait, and though it is a summer recipe, it is a great contender for Valentine's day. It is sweet, it has a red sauce and berries, so ticks off all the boxes.


Valentine's Day dessert, summer pudding, berry ice cream dessert

The original recipe appeared in Delicious magazine (July 2015), and since then it has become available on their website - see Raspberry ripple and pistachio parfait for the full recipe. As I followed the recipe close enough and haven't adapted it, I cannot reproduce it on my blog without permission. Please click on the link above to find the recipe.
I have also skipped the honeycomb crumbs, only because I forgot to add them. I actually made my own honeycomb, but only realised I didn't add it to the dessert after we ate it all. So, honeycomb was eaten separately later.
It is a delicious dessert, refreshing and flavourful. The pistachios add a lovely crunch, and the raspberry sauce gives a necessary tart note to a sweet creamy parfait.

summer pudding, Valentine's Day pudding, berry ice cream dessert

In case you are thinking of cooking a Valentine's Day meal and are looking for ideas, I may suggest a scrumptious Austrian chocolate cake Sacher Torte.
I also have a Valentine's Day menu (non-vegetarian), if you fancy having a look. There is another chocolate cake suggested as a festive dessert, made with Nutella.

Are you cooking a meal for your Valentine? Or do you have other plans?

Valentine's Day dessert, summer pudding, pudding with berries and ice cream

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Lego Batman Movie (review) + Build your own Lego character with The Super SigFig Creator

Lego toys, Lego Batman, Batman minifigures


The Lego Batman Movie is the latest superhero animation, directed by Chris Mckay and written by Seth Grahame-Smith.
Ever since we've seen the trailer months ago, Eddie begged me to take him to see The Lego Batman Movie. I could think of better ways of spending over two hours (ads + film), so went under duress.
I cannot say that the cinema hall was packed full, but it was a respectable 2/3. Usually when we go to the cinema with Eddie, more than two thirds of seats are left empty. Not surprising, as the prices are exorbitant - almost £19 for two of us.
I was one of a few women, as most of the kids were accompanied by Dads who guffawed through the film with great enthusiasm.

As much as I love Lego toys, I am not very keen on Lego films. The Lego Movie left me indifferent. But Eddie loves them all, he is happy to watch Lego Ninjago and Lego Nexo Knights for hours. The original plan was for my husband to take Eddie to see Batman, but he has not been well this weekend (conveniently, I should add), so it was my good luck.

When the film started, my eyes were beginning to glaze over. But it proved to be better than I expected. I even laughed a few times. As for Eddie, he was in Lego paradise.

The Lego Batman Movie is quite funny, though I suspect many jokes were lost on the younger audience. There are a lot of in-jokes, with references to the old Batman movies and TV shows. Add bits of psychoanalysis in regards to Batman's commitment-phobia as well as making fun of "You had me at Hello" scene, and it becomes an animation for grown-ups.
There are lots of villains and monsters, but thankfully, very little gore, since everything is made of Lego bricks.
You can almost feel the glee of Lego company. I would imagine the merchandise and tie-in Lego sets will bring them multi-million profits. Even we succumbed already and bought a Lego joker set, plus almost the whole set of the latest Lego mini-figures.



The Lego Batman Movie is darker than The Lego Movie. There is plenty of destruction and dark forces galore. Of course, they look mostly cute and harmless.

Batman (Will Arnett) is Gotham's superhero, saviour with a husky sexy voice who enjoys all the worship, and wants it to stay that way forever. When Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) succeeds her father as a commissioner, she comes with a power-point presentation suggesting that Batman's ways of dealing with villains are dated, and there is no more place for all the vigilante nonsense. Everything has to be according to law.
Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is offended by Batman's attitude - because Batman refuses to name him as his main enemy. He even doesn't want to say "I hate you". There follow a lot of good one-liners like "I'm fighting a few different people, I like to fight around". Joker hatches a plan to take over Gotham and humiliate Batman, by surrendering himself and his cronies to the new commissioner.
Batman feels slighted, and decides to break into Arkham Asylum to steal the Phantom Zone projector to send the Joker and his mates to the Phantom Zone.
The villains' list covers all the famous baddies - from Joker to Dracula, from Gremlins to Daleks, from Lord Voldemort to New Goblin... You will find Godzilla, Sauron, The Matrix's agent Smith, Venom, Sandman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Clayface, Kind King, Scarecrow, the wicked witch and many more. It was nice to see so many badass female characters.
Will Batman be able to manage on his own? Or does he have to conquer his fears and accept he is better off, working as a team with Robin, Barbara and Alfred the butler?

Kids like my son, would enjoy numerous "butt" jokes, and Robin going out without pants. Grown-ups will relish the jokey references to the old films and shows.
This is a very fast-paced film, visually creative, colourful and amusing, and of course, this is a huge hour and forty minutes-long Lego ad.
If you are a Lego fan, you will love the way the Lego Gotham city is created, as  well as Batman's home Batcave.

To celebrate the release of The Lego Batman Movie, a new fun animation-related content has been created - The Super SigFig Creator. Using the website, you can create your very own Lego character, with its own name, skills and features.






Have fun, trying all the different combinations at creating your own Lego character. Eddie had a blast, building his Lego baddies.



Here is my badass girl.



Friday, 10 February 2017

Coffee, rum and walnut loaf cake

best coffee cake


Thanks goodness, we are now on a midterm break for a week. No more early hectic mornings, when I run around the house, waking everyone up and nagging them to eat their breakfast faster "because we don't have all the time in the world". We don't have any big plans for the week ahead, just relaxing, maybe having some playdates and going out to cafes.
We were walking home after school today, and a few snowflakes were dancing in the air. Eddie and his friend J were trying to catch them. I wonder whether we'd get some snow after all. We haven't been able to build a snowman for several years.
To celebrate a mini-break from school, I baked a coffee cake. This is a twist on a classic coffee walnut cake, with an extra added booze. I have a bottle of Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum, which takes space in the drinks cabinet. I bought it last year for using in a recipe, but only needed a little bit. I imagine this rum will last a loooong time until I manage to use it all. 

best coffee cake


Coffee, rum and walnut cake
Ingredients:
150g muscovado sugar
3 medium eggs
1tsp baking powder
60ml spiced rum
1tsp cinnamon, ground
200g self-raising flour
150g butter, melted and slightly cooled
3tsp instant coffee+ 3tbsp hot water
70g walnuts + more for the decoration
whipped cream frosting (about 3tbsp)

In a deep mixing bowl beat 3 eggs with muscovado sugar. Add the baking powder, rum, cinnamon and flour. Melt the butter, let it cool a bit, then add to the cake mix. In a small cup pour hot water over instant coffee. Add to the cake mix together with chopped walnuts. Mix well.
Spoon the cake dough into a buttered loaf cake tin. Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 50+ minutes. Once the wooden toothpick comes clean, the cake is ready.
Let it cool before decorating with frosting and walnut pieces.

I was planning to make my own buttercream, but realised that I didn't have enough butter for that, so used the remains of the ready-made whipped cream frosting, left over from the cake I baked earlier this week.

Coffee flavours go well with rum and walnuts. It is a perfect cake to go with an afternoon cup of tea or coffee. 

I used Little's vanilla-flavoured instant coffee in this recipe, which was one of the new products in the latest Degustabox. It is a delicious instant coffee with a warm sweet aroma and flavour of vanilla.
But if you don't have this flavoured instant coffee, any other variety will do. 

best coffee cake

Adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky run by Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews.


Thursday, 9 February 2017

We're going on a bear hunt (DVD review)

toy bear, teddy bear


"We're going on a bear hunt... We're going to catch a big one..." Sounds familiar?!

"We're going on a bear hunt" by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury has delighted several generations of children and parents alike since 1989. Some of those babies who discovered this book back then in the late 80s-early 90s, read this catchy narrative to their own babies now.
I remember reading this story hundreds of times, when Sasha was little. I think it's the rhythm, rhyme and repetition that appeal to children. We definitely knew it off by heart.

Children are led on a challenging adventure by their big brother. They have to go through the high grass, a river, a thick oozy mud, dark forest, snowstorm until they reach a bear cave. The bear is startled to see them. Terrified, the kids flee back home, in reverse order, before finally hiding under the duvet in their big bed. They vow never to go on a bear hunt again. The poor bear who was woken up from hibernation in his cave, looks sad and desolate.

On the run to the last Christmas, I have bought a big issue of Radio Times and discovered that there would be a brand new animation based on the original story. How exciting!

animation for children, favourite children's books made into films


We missed the screening of the animation, as we spent Christmas in Italy.
I remember coming home from Italy and reading many reviews of the animation, where people bemoaned the fact that the story was changed, that it has become very sinister and tragic, that this was not a Christmas TV material and so on.
So, it is with trepidation that I have put the DVD on.
Will I find it too unrecognisable from the original book? First of all, it takes maximum 10 minutes to read the book, even with all the sound effects, repetitions and pauses. The animation lasts about half an hour, so obviously there were a lot of things added to the story.

Starring Olivia Colman, Pam Ferris and Mark Williams, this animation is created by the team behind The Snowman and the Snowdog (one of our most favourite animation stories of the last decade). Hand-drawn animation is done in the classic traditions, without the modern high-tech visuals which many children's films use these days.

The story is darker indeed, with children missing their late grandpa. Their adventure is a symbol of "going through it", as in overcoming the grief.
One of the girls befriends the bear, which is also a new touch. She gives the bear her late Granddad's scarf and is reluctant to leave the bear behind.
The animation ends on a sad note, leaving you thinking about the bear, the children and life itself.

Have you seen this animation at Christmas? What did you think of it?

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