Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Happy moments of the day


Every week I do a voluntary work at Eddie's school, either taking children to the library to issue new books or do a crafting session, like today, when we played with paints, creating handprint flowers.
As I am in school during the play time, I watch children playing.
There is one little boy, let's call him Jamie (not his real name). He is two years older than Eddie. He is often sitting in the corner of the courtyard, all alone. Sometimes he's hiding his face and sitting all curled up in a ball, as if trying to escape all the noise and commotion around. He rarely plays with the other children (I obviously don't see him every day and can only describe what happens on my "shift"). There are times when I see him crying, being consoled by a teacher.

In some ways he reminds me of my older son Sasha who has autism. He is also suffering often from the noise and sensory overload.
And it's a wild world out there. Screaming, shouting, rough play, pushing and pulling, throwing wooden bricks at each other, they seem to enjoy all of that, while this little boy sits quietly in the corner, arms over his head, trying to block all the scary world.

Today as I was walking around the play area, I saw that my son Eddie has been playing hide and seek with Jamie. Shy Jamie would close his face with his hands and count to ten, then would go looking for Eddie (who actually giggles too much to hide well), then they take turns. Eddie counts, and Jamie is happily hiding.
I couldn't believe my eyes. It was so heart-warming.

Then the inevitable bell announced the end of the break. While kids were getting in line to return to their respective classrooms, I was standing nearby. Jamie came up to me with a cheeky grin.
I couldn't resist hugging him. He giggled and said "Crush me more!" I was happy to oblige. "And more! And more!"
This made my day.
A truly happy moment to see this lovely little boy enjoying his playtime and then letting his playmate's Mum give him a squeeze.

And this is my own ninja turtle. I wonder if he understood that there is a similarity between his older brother and Jamie.

Post Comment Love

Monday, 27 April 2015

InstaNatural Serums

I have been using different brands of serums for several years, on and off. I haven't heard of InstaNatural before, so this was my first experience of the brand.

I first tried InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum For Face.
I liked the design of the bottle, which reminded me of the vintage apothecary glassware.
The smell is citrussy, not like a fresh citrus, more of a dried orange pomander for Christmas minus the cloves. It is a pleasant smell, which doesn't linger long once you apply it to skin.
It has a vibrant deep yellow colour.

The bottle comes with a pipette dispenser.
The serum applies easily and absorbs very quickly without a greasy residue. You need a small amount, literally a big drop, on your fingertips to smooth it over your face. The skin instantly feels and looks smooth and moisturised.
Quite a lot of serums I have tried leave you skin sticky and you often need to make a pause before applying anything else over it, but Vitamin C Serum doesn't have that effect. I can apply make-up immediately after the serum.
I love products with natural ingredients, and this product doesn't disappoint. It includes Organic Rosehip oil, Sea Buckthorn oil, Organic Argan oil, plant stem cells, carrot seed oil, pomegranate as well as 20% Vitamin C, Vitamin E and ore. These ingredients are supposed to boost the skin tone and look and fight the signs of aging.
The skin stays smooth for the duration of the day. I have used this serum for just over a week, and noticed that it did give me a smoother complexion and more even tone.
I don't have problems with discolouration or pigmentation issues, so cannot vouch for that.

In the second week of testing I used a different serum from InstaNatural.

InstaNatural Premium Hydration Hyaluronic acid serum is an anti-aging serum made with such ingredients as Vitamin C, Green tea, Jojoba oil and other antioxidants which aim to rejuvenate your skin. I love the idea of natural ingredients, and rose and green tea are my favourite aromas.
Love the aroma: first rose, then green tea.
The serum itself is colourless and translucent.

Face feels refreshed immediately after application, my skin is soothed and smooth. The serum is light on skin and non-greasy. I use it early in the morning, under make-up, and it primes my skin well for the application of the tinted foundation cream.
The bottle comes with a convenient dropper dispenser which allows you to use just the small amount as needed. The serum absorbs quickly and leaves the skin refreshed and supple. After a week of application I can say my skin tone is even. Really pleased with this serum. It's great for my mature skin.

Does my skin look more youthful? if by youthful one means smoother and more supple then yes. I don't believe the claims of many anti-aging beauty products that the wrinkles will disappear. They won't, unless you do something terribly unnatural to your skin, like a facelift or Botox, and are then left with a face which looks more like a mask. I'd rather have all my wrinkles and be able to smile, than have a stiff mask instead of a face. Yet if there is a little help with keeping my face skin well moisturised and less tired, then I am all in favour.

What's your experience of serums?

Disclosure: I received these serums for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Photo diary: week 17, 365

Last week it was all about our garden. The weeds had a growth spurt, and it is a never-ending battle. When Eddie and I walk, we enjoy looking at the clouds and imagining what they look like.
Last Sunday we had a bit of a creative argument with Eddie. I said the cloud looked like a bighorn sheep, while my little man insisted it was a Mummy whale with two babies in the deep blue sea. What do you see?

20.04: I have spotted this gorgeous European Peacock (Aglais io) in our garden. It kept fluttering its wings, and I took 40+ photos, just clicking non-stop before I managed to catch a perfect moment. Love this photo, and feel mighty proud of it. In Russia this butterfly is known as "pavlinii glaz", literally a peacock's eye.

21.04: Eddie still gets pretty tired after school, and often falls asleep around 5 or 6pm. I was chatting with him, he was playing with his toys one moment, then I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. A couple of minutes later I found him fast asleep, semi-standing, with his face down. This photo is surely deserving to be counted among the family classics. One to show his future girlfriend perhaps?

22.04: We have two juneberry plants in the garden. I love their berries, so sweet and juicy. They grow in abundance in my home town, that's why I planted them in our garden, to recreate a piece of homeland. Their blossom is white and fragile, pretty and mildly fragrant.

Juneberry blossom
23.04: Meet our new pets - a whole tub of tadpoles. Hopefully we'll have some baby frogs soon.

24.04: This pretty green Euphorbia characias wulfenii has been growing in our garden for years, just outside our kitchen windows.

Euphorbia characias wulfenii

25.04: The plum blossom has already almost all gone, and the apple trees only just started to show the bright pink buds, which soon will go paler and paler as they unravel and grow bigger.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 24 April 2015

SPAM-tastic peppers + SPAM BBQ giveaway (c/d 23 May 2015)

Peppers stuffed with Spam and rice

SPAM is definitely a cultural icon. It arrived to Britain in 1941, when the country was plunged into austerity and the cooks had to employ their ingenuity to cook meals from the limited range of foods. In her fascinating book "A history of English food" Clarissa Dickson Wright wrote "Tinned Spam was perhaps the ultimate triumph of meat packaging - a pork luncheon meat crammed into tins". But even after the wartime restrictions and rationing ended, Spam stayed. It has been in and out of fashion, and many a family have nostalgic memories about their meals with Spam.

Personally I haven't tried it until I came to the UK over 20 years ago, and I believe it was my buddies-students who introduced me to this convenient ingredient, which is quick and easy to prepare.
It is made from more than 90% prime shoulder pork and leg ham. You can slice it, chop, grill, fry and even mince, depending on the meal you are preparing.
If you enjoy eating alfresco or plan a picnic or a BBQ, I have a lovely recipe suggestion, using SPAM.

Peppers stuffed with Spam and rice

You will need a pack of mini-peppers (about 300g). Chop off the tops and remove the seeds. Mix 100g of finely chopped Spam and 50g of cooked basmati rice + a teaspoon of dried mixed herbs. Stuff the peppers and cook on a grill until pepper is cooked on both sides.
Serve hot, with a chunk of nice bread and a selection of pickles - gherkins, olives and cocktail onions.

Peppers stuffed with Spam and rice

Now that I hopefully have wetted your appetite, I also have a SPAM-tastic giveaway for the coming summer. Lovely people from SPAM have offered a SPAM BBQ hamper worth £50 for one of my blog readers. The hamper is packed with such goodies as a charcoal bucket BBQ, an apron, a spatula, a recipe booklet and some SPAM.

Image credit: SPAM 

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter via a Rafflecopter gadget.

Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances).
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if the winner has done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, 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 23 May 2015 (at midnight)

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Lucy's Slim Dressings

Lucy's Dressings

When days are getting longer and evenings are warmer, who wants any heavy casseroles or stews? It's lighter meals we crave. This is the season of salads. It is so easy to fix your own dressing of course, but I do tend to prepare the same-ish ones, mostly either mustard and honey-based or Italian-style, with my favourite balsamic vinegar. If you fancy expanding your repertoire of dressings, there's a lovely selection at Lucy's Dressings, an award-winning sauces and condiments company. And what's more, they have launched a new "Slim" range of natural food dressings.
The Slim dressings are lower-calorie versions of their best-sellers - Slim Light Asian and Slim Light French plus a brand new addition - Light Raspberry.

Slim Light Asian dressing is made with rice wine vinegar, fresh lime juice, root ginger chilli, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, soy sauce, garlic puree and more. It is 41kcal per serving (15ml).
Bursting with freshness, zingy, with a little kick of chilli, it is a great sauce for Asian-style or fusion salads, noodles, chicken or prawn dishes.

light salad
Salad with flaked salmon

One of the recipes in which I used Slim Light Asian was an easy salad with salmon. I used a pack of salmon flakes with chilli (I think, it was from M&S), scattered over the red endive leaves, with sliced & steamed carrot and parsnip sticks, cooked fennel and cubed cheese. The dressing complemented the salmon nicely and gave an extra oomph to an overall dish.

Salad with flaked salmon

Slim Light French is made with extra virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, cracked black pepper, sunflower oil, egg yolk powder (free-range) and more. Light and mildly peppery, it makes a great partner for green salads, green beans and avocado as well as rice and quinoa. There are 49kcal per serving. This is a light version of a classic dressing, pale creamy in colour, with specks of black pepper. Nice mild mustardy taste.

Smoked salmon salad

I love salads with fish, so apologies for another salmon salad recipes, this time I prepared a salad with smoked salmon and Slim Light French dressing. You will also need halved hard-boiled quail eggs, spring greens, tomatoes and cucumber. Arrange on a plate and pour the dressing over. The mustard-based French dressing is excellent with smoked salmon.

Smoked salmon salad

Slim Light Raspberry is made with extra virgin rapeseed oil, raspberry red wine vinegar, cracked black pepper, raspberry juice concentrate and more. This dressing has the highest count of calories from the range - 51kcal per serving. It is rusty red in colour, not as sweet as I expected, with a lovely tart flavour.

Goat's cheese & fruit salad

I just love goat's cheese, and in combination with sliced fruit like figs and pears it makes a meal fit for a Queen. Arrange a sliced pear, fig and rocket leaves on a plate, add sliced goat's cheese, scatter some pine nuts and pumpkin seeds over, add a generous dash of Light Raspberry dressing and enjoy.

Goat's cheese, pear and fig salad

If salads are not your thing, you can use Slim dressings to give an extra zing to roasted or baked food, like roasted duck legs. I have mixed 1 heaped tsbp of marmalade with Raspberry dressing and poured it over the duck legs, roasted with the potatoes, carrots and sliced pear.
As you know, the duck benefits from fruit and berry-based sauces, and the raspberry dressing adds a lovely sweet & tart note to this dish.

Serve with some green salad drizzled with more of a tasty Raspberry dressing.

Roasted duck leg with a raspberry dressing-marmalade marinade

All Slim dressings are low fat, gluten free and vegetarian. There are no artificial colourings or flavourings.

For the full range and recipe ideas visit Lucy's Dressings.

Disclosure: I received 3 bottles of Slim dressings for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Gourmet Spirulina

I have seen some foodie bloggers mention Spirulina and also read some glowing reviews online. I read with great interest that a brand new range of Gourmet Spirulina has been launched recently. This has elevated the status of Spirulina from a dietary supplement to a tasty superfood.

What exactly is Spirulina?
It used to be a traditional food of the Aztecs and the Kanem. The Conquistadors kept records of the foods eaten by the Aztecs and mentioned an exotic food called Tecuitlatl. They described the blue-green algae which the locals collected and dried in the sun, shaping it as cakes. For hundreds of years, spirulina has been the main source of protein for the Aztecs. They also mixed it with cocoa.
These days Spirulina is known as a dietary supplement.
I'm always happy to try and test new foods, and was very curious to discover this nutrient rich superfood for myself. I received three samples of Gourmet Spirulina for testing.

The Gourmet Spirulina range comes in 3 varieties: Crunchies, Nibs and Petals. All of them are equally rich in vitamins, iron and antioxidants. The difference between the three is in taste and texture, which depends on the drying method as well as the region where they are grown.

The first variety I have tried was Spirulina Crunchies. I followed the suggestion from an enclosed information leaflet and added it to some homemade guacamole.

Gourmet Spirulina Crunchies
Like the name suggests, spirulina crunchies are exactly that, crunchy and crisp. I mixed a teaspoon into a guacamole made from one ripe avocado, lemon juice, avocado oil, salt, a dash of Tabasco and a clove of garlic. It was a nice range of textures from smooth guacamole to crispy spirulina pieces.

A few days later I tried Spirulina Petals in a beet dip. This variety of spirulina is more delicate. It resembles crushed green flower petals.

Gourmet Spirulina Petals
For a beet dip, either roast a couple of beets in foil or cook in a steamer. Once cooked and cool, cut into chunks and blitz with a hand blender with 2tbsp of Greek style yogurt, sea salt and pepper, 1tbsp of lemon juice, 1tbsp of Tahnini paste and a crushed clove of garlic. Mix in 1tsp of spirulina or scatter over the top.

The third variety - Spirulina Nibs - was used in a kefir smoothie. This is the mildest tasting spirulina with a slightly nutty flavour. They reminded me of the dried pine needles.

Gourmet Spirulina Nibs
Whizz together half a banana, a handful of blueberries, 1/2tsp of spirulina nibs and 2/3 of a standard sized glass of kefir.

As you can see, since there are three varieties, you might want to try them all to find out which one suits you better texture- and flavour-wise.
I cannot say that its taste is very exciting on its own, but mixed into the other foods, it just adds a subtle flavour. I think my favourite way was to have it in a smoothie.

Gourmet Spirulina Nibs, Petals and Crunchies all retail at £13 for 90g and are available online from Pulpastore and health food stores.

You might add it to almost any food you want - porridge, salad, granola, even on toast.
I don't have an iron deficiency so cannot say for sure if it made a big difference.
My only problem was that the Spirulina did make my tummy rumble quite a bit, so perhaps don't take it on a day when you have to be in a genteel society, as that might be awkward.

Have you tried Spirulina? What is your favourite way of eating it?

Disclosure: I received three samples of Spirulina for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Sudocrem Spring/Summer goodie bag giveaway (c/d 14 May 2015)

April has been a pleasant month so far. We had a great weather at Easter, and there were a few hot days when we were wearing light tops and t-shirts already. Though today it was back to coats and jackets for us. I haven't been entering many competitions lately, what with the Easter school break and the garden which is now demanding everyday care, but I do keep an eye on giveaways and competitions.
I wanted to alert you all with little ones to a new giveaway run by Sudocrem - you might have seen the game "What's In The Nappy?" on Facebook. There are hundreds of great prizes including Family Merlin passes, Kindles and Mothercare vouchers.

Sudocrem informs:
"In a mobile friendly, fun game, users have to open the nappy, tackle the naughty nappy rash gremlin and apply the correct Sudocrem product to enter a prize draw for Family Merlin Passes, Amazon Kindles, Wahanda vouchers, goody bags and more.
There are also thousands of exclusive discount vouchers to be won throughout the game. So what are you waiting for? Find out what’s in the nappy today for the chance to win!
To find out what’s in the nappy, all you have to do is:
1. Find Sudocrem on Facebook and “Like” the page
2. Click on the ‘What’s In The Nappy?’ app
3. Open the nappy to find out what’s inside
4. Apply the correct product to either the nappy rash gremlin or the empty nappy
5. Correctly pick the Sudocrem correct product to enter the instant prize draw
6. Entrants can play every day and earn extra goes too!"


As a thank you for spreading the word, lovely people from Sudocrem have offered 3 Sudocrem Spring/Summer goodie bags for my blog readers.

What's inside the goodie bags?
Sudocrem Care & Protect
Sudocrem Skin Care Cream
Sudocrem pen
Sudocrem car bumper sticker
Sudocrem t-shirt (for infants)
Sudocrem legionnaire's cap (for infants)
A pair of Sudocrem sunglasses

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter via a Rafflecopter gadget.

Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances).
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winners, I will check if the winners have done what was requested. I will contact the winners, if they do not reply within 28 days, 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 14 May 2015 (at midnight)

Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I will receive a Sudocrem goodie bag to pass on to a friend of mine.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Photo diary: week 16, 365

Back to school after two weeks of holidays, and getting up earlier is not welcomed kindly by my guys. That is unless it is a weekend, then by Sod's Murphy's law they get up at an ungodly hour, and I can wave good bye to a much coveted lie in.

12.04: I love watching our garden changing its colours and aromas, at the moment we have these tiny violets all over the place.

13.04: I got a KitchenAid Nespresso machine on loan for testing a new flavour - Malabar coffee. It is nice and strong, smokey-flavoured with a hint of salt. I might describe it as a masculine type of coffee as opposed to the fruity milder coffees I favour. It was good with milk though.

14.04: This busy blackbird was collecting dried soft grass near our pondette, I suspect for its nest.

15.04: I love the plum blossom, so delicate and beautiful, and now the petals started floating down like snowflakes.

16.04: It was such a sunny morning that Eddie was wearing his Spiderman sun glasses. He thinks they are very cool, bless him.

17.04: Eddie is fed up with me taking so many photos of him, so often when he sees me with the camera, he hides. I have been waiting to do a quick snap of him, while he was emerging from out of his hiding space.

18.04: As my Blehneim Palace annual pass arrived in the post, I had this cunning plan (picture Baldrick!) to go to the Blenheim park with my guys. We used to live in Woodstock when Sasha was little, and the park was literally our backyard. We went there every day for long walks. I was hoping Sasha will enjoy visiting his old haunts, and Eddie will have fun exploring the park.
I took one zillion photos and this is one of my favourite - a photo of the outdoors art installation, one of blue ceramic balls with a reflection of the Blenheim palace and a fluffy little cloud.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Open sandwiches for tea

sandwiches for tea
Cucumber sandwiches

Warmer weather just invites us to have tea outdoors. We're lucky to have an enclosed garden. It is so quiet and peaceful in our garden, pretty amazing if you think that the front of the house is facing a busy road. The old trees and greenery make our garden a perfect spot for a leisurely tea. Tea and cakes go well, but so do sandwiches. When I was asked to create freestyle sandwiches with Lurpak, my first thought was those quaint classic cucumber sandwiches.
Of course, there are cucumber sandwiches and there are cucumber sandwiches. They could be soggy little horrors, which are sometimes served at parties. But if you prepare them the right way, they are truly one of the simplest yet elegant and tasty British classic dishes. A national institution. And they're perfect for an afternoon tea, delicate and delicious yet not too filling so you have some space left for dinner later. They might quaint and Victorian, but don't discard them as an old-fashioned trend.

Choose a good sliced bread. My guys prefer Warburtons sliced bread for sandwiches. Sasha with his autism won't eat any other bread, which makes it tricky when we have to travel. Imagine how odd it might look to the airport check-in people, if they decide to open my suitcase. Probably nobody else takes sliced bread to Italy. Italians make all sorts of wonderful tasty breads, but their sliced bread is really not good at all. But going back to our cucumber sandwiches.

First prepare the cucumber. Peel it or leave the skin on. I actually prefer the skin on, especially with young cucumbers. Slice the cucumber thinly. It's up to you, whether you prefer it sliced in circles or thin ribbons. Or even cut into flower shapes with a cookie cutter, I have seen these sandwiches on Pinterest, they look cute, but of course, you waste some of the food by cutting it into fancy shapes.

I used an OXO Good Grips simple mandoline slicer (which I reviewed back in February, see my blog post Valentine's day menu) to slice the cucumber into thin strips. Arrange the slices on a big plate and sprinkle with salt. Leave it for 15 minutes, then pat dry the ribbons with a paper kitchen towel on both sides. The mandoline makes a fiddly job of even slicing very easy and quick.
Take the bread slices and remove the crusts. Butter each slice well.
We have tried many brands of butter spreads, and it's Lurpak that we go back to again and again. I believe it's one of the tastiest butter spreads.
Arrange the cucumber ribbons over the buttered bread, then cut the sandwiches into neat triangles.
If you have access to fresh flowers like primroses and violets, you might like to prettify your sandwiches with a few flowers. I have plenty of them in the garden, all organic and untreated by any chemicals, so they are safe to eat.

For a more substantial sandwich spread, go Scandi and prepare a platter of sandwiches with a herring butter. You will need some pickled herring either from the deli or get a variety in a jar. I like Elsinore Herrings in sweet & spicy marinade (found in Waitrose, but might be available in the other supermarkets or delis).

Rye bread & herring butter sandwiches
You will need rye bread for this simple Scandi-Russian fusion sandwiches. Both Russian and Scandinavian cuisine favour salted & pickled herring, and of course, a good rye bread is a must.
Finely chop the pickled herring and mix with soft butter spread and chopped fresh dill. Spread the herring butter over the sliced rye bread and decorate with more dill or lemon slices.
Tuck in at once!

In both recipes I used Lurpak spreadable Lighter slightly salted. It is a blend of Lurpak butter and vegetable oil. It is easily spreadable even straight from the fridge; contains no palm oil, hydrogenated fats, artificial colourings or preservatives.

What are your favourite open sandwiches?

Disclosure: I received a £5 supermarket voucher to cover the cost of products. All opinions are mine.