Monday, 30 November 2015

12 chocolate bars of Christmas giveaway (c/d 13 December 2015)

It's that time of the year, when I offer a seasonal giveaway. As a self-confessed chocoholic, I decided this year to offer you Twelve chocolate bars of Christmas.
Every day I will offer you a new chocolate bar and a little something too, edible or decorative.
For 12 days I will be revealing a part of an overall prize, and each day there will be a new question.
As stipulated in the T&Cs below, the number of winners will depend on how many questions the first randomly selected winner will answer. If they answered all 12 questions, they get the whole lot. If they choose to answer less questions, they'll get less prizes, and the remaining part of the prize will go to the next randomly selected winner.

Day 1:
I was thrilled to discover that M&S now sells Novi chocolate. I often buy it when we visit my in-laws in Italy. Nocciolato al latte is an excellent extra fine milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts. It's a real treat, and if you haven't tried it yet, now is your chance to do so.
And Elsa from Frozen is another M&S find. If I were a child, I'd totally fall in love with this Christmas tree decoration.

To be in with a chance of winning, please answer the following question(s)
Question 1 (01.12.15): What's your best Christmas memory?

Day 2: 
From the Italian chocolate we now move to the British one. Today's prize includes an M&S Jersey milk chocolate bar as well as Twinings The Full English Breakfast Blend. Tea and chocolate, two of life's simple pleasures.

Question 2 (2.12.15): Christmas jumpers - yay or nay? Will you be buying one for yourself or your family?

Day 3:
The chocolate bar of the day is Willie's Cacao Luscious Orange. It's a delicate orange flavoured chocolate with honey notes. And a little something this time is a paperback A Gingerbread Cafe for Christmas by Rebecca Raisin. I haven't read this book, but it looks like a cozy romantic chick lit story.

Question 3 (03.12.15): What gift do you most anticipate to give for Christmas and who's your lucky recipient?

Day 4:
Cadbury Dairy Milk Winter Edition and two wooden tags from Gisela Graham limited join in the rest of the prize haul today.

Question 4 (04.12.15): If you could choose any destination in the world to spend Christmas in, what would it be, or would you still prefer to spend it at home?

Day 5:
Apologies for the later start. I had a manic week, and needed a bit of lie-in this morning. Today's addition to the prize is Thorntons Fabulous Fudge Milk Chocolate and two mini jars of Rowse honey - English Wildflower and Greek.

Christmas is a time to indulge for many people. I'm partial to a slice or two of panettone, and of course, all the cheese with nuts and dried fruit, and if I am offered a glass of port or sherry, who am I to say No?!

Day 5 question (05.12.15): What is your favourite seasonal treat?

Day 6:
Oi, we are already half-way through. Today's treats are a Special Toffee milk chocolate from Thorntons and a mini-bottle of  Baileys. Treat yourself and add it to your cup of coffee, or use in baking, for example, you might be tempted to make this scrummy Baileys cheesecake found on Madhouse and Family Reviews blog.

Day 6 question (06.12.15): What's your favourite Christmas song?
(I confess I am quite fond of the cheesy Last Christmas, it takes me back to my high school and University days).

Day 7:
Today's part of the prize is rather girlie - there is an M&S Rose & Violet Dark chocolate and a no.7 nail polish in a festive red shade.

Day 7 question (07.12.15): What is your ideal Christmas breakfast?

Day 8:
Montezuma's Dark Chocolate with lime and sea salt and Waitrose Cooks' Cinnamon sticks are added to the growing bundle of goodies.

Question 8 (08.12.15) : What is your favourite Christmas film/animation?

Day 9: 
Today's chocolate bar is one of my favourites - Lindt Excellence Coconut Intense Dark and a small bottle of Stardust. Well, don't we all need a bit of stardust in our life?

Question 9 (09.12.15): Will you be attending a pantomime this year (if yes, which one do you plan to watch)?

Day 10: 
For a festive touch how about a Marzipan Ritter Sport? And a Peace Christmas tree decoration?

Question 10 (10.12.15) : What do you most anticipate watching at Christmas? (Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, Strictly or anything else)

Day 11:
My bad, with no hot water running, dealing with the plumber and going out for dinner I have completely forgot to add the photo and the question. Apologies. In fact I was wondering why there were no comments for day 11, as I was convinced I have added it in the morning as usual.
So, for day 11 you will get a Magnum Signature milk chocolate and a little matchbox puzzle.

Question for day 11 (11.12.15): Do you play board games at Christmas with your family, and which one is your favourite?

Day 12:
The last chocolate bar is Thorntons Mint Crunch. I have also added a little stocking-shaped baking mould.

Question for Day 12 (12.12.15):
From all the chocolate bars in this giveaway which one would you like to try first?

I hope you enjoyed taking part in my chocolate giveaway. I definitely enjoyed reading all your answers.
You have until tomorrow midnight to catch up with all the questions if you've missed any for a chance to win the whole lot. But if you missed a day or two or three and don't have time to answer all the questions, no worries, you are still in the draw, and might win a prize for the days you have taken part.
Good luck!

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
There will be one or more winners, who will receive all the goodies appearing during the twelve days of the giveaway. If the first winner has replied to all twelve questions, they will receive the whole lot.
If the first winner answered less questions, they will receive the prizes from those days only.
The remaining prizes will be allocated to the next winner(s).
I hope I don't have to send twelve different packages though.

The more questions you answer, the bigger your prize will be.
Only one entry per person is allowed.

If you missed a day, you will have a chance to catch up on any other day until the end of the giveaway, as long as it comes in a SEPARATE comment.

Please note, if you answer 12 questions in one comment, it will count as 1 entry.

Once the winner is selected randomly, I will count their replies.
I will contact the winner, who will have 7 days to reply with their address details. Due to the nature of the prize which I hope to dispatch in good time before Christmas, the time limit to get back to me is shorter than usual.
All the prizes are provided by me.
I will be posting the package(s) at my own cost.
If the winner's away when the parcel arrives and is not able to rearrange the redelivery, and if by some chance it is returned to me, please do not expect me to cover the cost of the postage again. If that happens, the prize will be taken to the local food bank (foods) and charity shops (non-perishables).

And that's all, folks.
Good luck!

Now the moment of truth... After writing down all the names on slips of paper, I have asked my 5-year-old to pick up one of the pieces out of the hat. And the name he has picked out of the hat is

... Hannah I.
Please give Hannah a big round of applause...
Hannah, I have found you on Facebook and sent you a message. Hope you'll enjoy all that chocolate.

Merry Christmas, folks! 

Limited Edition range of Midnight Blend Juice Drinks from J2O

What flavours and smells do you associate with Christmas? For me it would be the resinous smell of the Nordman Fir, spices and oranges. The combination of these three aromas always takes me back to my childhood days. An orange studded with cloves would be placed in the dining-room and slowly release its beautiful aroma. New Limited Edition range of Midnight Blend Juice Drinks from J2O made me think of those days with a bit of nostalgia.
There are two new blends - J2O Midnight Forest and J2O Midnight Amber. These juice drinks are festive and seasonal, both in flavour and design.
Think zesty and juicy fruit, warming spices, an indulgent hint of chocolate, mmm...

J2O Midnight Amber is a refreshing blend of orange and lemon juices with an added winter spice flavour.
You can find it exclusively in Marstons, Greene King and Fullers pubs. 
It is great that this drink is available in pubs, so that if you're a designated driver, you don't feel like you're missing on a festive drink anymore. Though I'd like to see it in supermarkets as well, as I'm not really a pub goer. 

J2O Midnight Forest is another juice blend of the season. This drink is a mix of real orange and cherry fruit juices with a hint of chocolate flavour. I love the combination of cherry and chocolate, it's always a winner, if you ask me.  The drink has a lovely dark colour.

This blend should be available in all major supermarkets. Stock up for your Christmas parties. It will be a big hit with all chocoholics. The chocolate flavour is not overpowering, but subtle.

Both bottles look stylish and festive. I was impressed with the new design. The bottles have been jazzed up with seasonal images. There are woodland scenes with a deer and birds as well as the ballet scenes, which is another trip down the memory lane. Every New Year's eve I used to watch the most beautiful animation of The Nutcracker, with its glorious music by Tchaikovsky. Even now, every time I hear The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy or Waltz of the Flowers, I feel like dancing along, just like I did, when I was in primary school.

I haven't tried these blends in cocktails, but J2O has emailed me a couple of inspiring cocktail recipes, which I reproduce here with their kind permission.
If you try these recipes, do let me know what you thought.

Midnight Martini. Image credits: J2O

For something slightly adventurous, why not try making a Midnight Martini for a devious take on a classic cocktail;

Midnight Martini ingredients:
·         ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest
·         50ml Red Vermouth (Martini Rossi)
·         1 orange zest crown
Midnight Martini recipe:
·         Fill a highball glass with ice cubes
·         Pour in ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest
·         Add a 50ml measure of Red Vermouth
·         Stir and garnish with an orange zest crown

Cherry Charm. Image credits: J2O

If you’re looking for something a little more indulging, the Cherry Charm cocktail is a naughty treat on a cold winter night;
Cherry Charm ingredients:
·         ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest
·         100ml hot water
·         3 spoons of hot chocolate powder
·         Double cream or pouring cream
·         Chocolate shavings
Cherry Charm recipe:
·         Mix the chocolate powder with hot water in a tall latte glass
·         Pour in ½ bottle of J2O Midnight Forest and warm in the microwave for 20-30 seconds
·         Serve with a layer of cream to fill the glass to the rim
·         Garnish with chocolate shavings

Disclosure: I received samples of Limited edition J2O drinks for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Filipino-style banana chutney

A couple of days ago as Eddie and I were leaving his school, we noticed a small table laden with free fruit on offer, the leftovers from what the kids didn't choose to eat at their snack time. I picked a small bag of bananas, thinking that I would bake a banana cake or bread. Then once we got home, I decided I'd rather do a banana chutney. Having googled, I came across an intriguing-sounding recipe for Filipino-style banana chutney on The Guardian's Readers' recipe swap.
It has been submitted by Marmaduke Scarlet, a blogger who has lots of delightful recipes on her blog.
I couldn't find this particular recipe on her blog, so I'm pointing you in the direction of The Guardian's page (see the link above).
First of all, I liked the idea that you can make a small batch. If you don't like it, not a big problem, you are not surrounded by dozens of jars of preserves which are not to your liking. You get enough for two small Kilner jars.
Its ingredients include 5 mashed bananas, an onion, chilli, garlic, fresh ginger, turmeric and allspice, sultanas and cider vinegar, rum (I used Malibu), soy sauce, tomato puree and sea salt.
The recipe is very easy follow and doesn't take too long.

I made the chutney yesterday, and tried it today with a ham sandwich. Let me tell you, it's terrific. I am definitely going to make more of this chutney.
It will make a lovely Christmas gift too. It goes well with the ham, and I imagine will be great with any cold meat. Or with a cheese board. It might not be a looker: as you can imagine, mashed banana doesn't look especially attractive, but let not this fact deter you. It has a wonderful taste.
I wonder if I can prettify it slightly by adding chopped stem ginger instead of the grated fresh one.
If you're looking for a more unusual chutney recipe, look no further. This recipe is a keeper.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Photo diary: week 48, 365

Christmas is nearly here, so why are most of the local shop windows display the abysmal black outfits?! It's becoming a joke. I want to see some colour and sparkle, not the dull clothes. Did I miss something? Is it some kind of a fashion statement? I walked in town with my camera, talking one photo of black-dressed mannequins after another. If I am not feeling lazy, I'll put them on my blog.

Giggling Eddie, sleepyhead who refuses to sleep, claiming he's not that tired.

On Tuesday I met with my friend Deb and her lovely little man in a Sainsbury's cafe for a cup of coffee and a good old chin wag. While her son was happily doing the stickers in the magazine I brought with me for him, we discussed school, kids, coming Christmas. And I had my first mince pie of the season.

I'm sure I have a photo from Wednesday on my mobile, but it's run out of battery, so cannot check right now. I have more photos of mannequins on my camera taken on Wednesday, but one photo of them is probably enough for one post.

Thursday was the Thanksgiving day. Our older son was born in the States, and though we don't really celebrate the Thanksgiving, I fancied baking one of the American pies. The pumpkin pie didn't quite appeal to my guys, so I baked a honey pie instead. I loved the filling, but wasn't so keen on the pastry. Next time it will be a Jus-Rol again.

This week I have been making lots of different chutneys, including this festive apple and raisin chutney with spices and grappa.

Today was a bit of a miracle day for us. Since last Christmas Sasha has been purposefully avoiding the company of his younger brother, and it's been very difficult to do anything together as a family. In fact we hardly did anything together recently, apart from our week in Cornwall. I didn't notice how it started this morning, but Eddie was playing with Sasha, and instead of escaping upstairs to the safety of his room, Sasha was smiling and playing along. They kept jumping and running from room to room, and I tried to follow with my camera. The photos I took are pretty wobbly and out of focus, but you can see them together and smiling. That is truly a Christmas miracle.

Scalextric: My First Scalextric

Two weeks ago our Eddie was baptised. After the ceremony we invited his Godparents and guests for lunch. While I was pottering about in the kitchen, my son and his friend set up My First Scalextric to play. Even my older son, who usually ignores his younger brother's games, was very interested and played later when our guests left.

We have already tested this game a few days before, and Eddie loved it. He is quite competitive and wants his car to win all the time.
Image credits: Scalextric

We have heard of Scalextric, but we haven't bought any sets before. My First Scalextric is an introduction to the world of Scalextric racing for kids aged 3+. This set features a simple figure-of-eight racing track, two cars and hand controllers.
The hand controllers are colour-coded so that you know exactly which car you are racing. You can adjust the speed of the racing, depending on the skill level of the player.

This set has been designed for the younger children.
How easy is it to set up? The first time I assembled the track myself, while Eddie helped. Afterwards he did it on his own, as you can see from the photo (he slightly mixed up the track colours, but it still worked).

Eddie and his friend P were very proud that they managed to change the shape of the track.

They were joined by the grown-up "boys" who seemed to be very eager to have a go too. As my husband has later commented, "This game was a huge success". And so it was.

As I was finishing this post, I saw that Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews has posted her review of My First Scalextric, and wanted to see what she has to say about it. Looks like her trio has enjoyed this set as much as we did.
I have also noticed that there is quite a few critical reviews on amazon, but as I'm talking about our experience, I can only say that we didn't have any issues with the set. Yes, the cars occasionally went off the track, but we thought it was part of the fun, and didn't mind it.

My First Scalextric is fully compatible with the full range of Micro Scalextric sets and cars, so that you can extend the track as well as add some new cars. Guess who is going to get more Scalextric for Christmas?!

Disclosure: We received the set for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my family's and mine.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Divine Chocolate Advent Calendars

"Mummy, is it December yet?", asks my younger son every morning. And every morning I tell him that he needs to wait a little bit more. He cannot wait to start opening his advent calendars. This year I've even treated myself to a grown-up beauty advent calendar. And of course, we'll be opening chocolate advent calendars. They have been in the shops for over a month, and the choice is vast. If you still haven't made up your mind which chocolate advent calendar to choose, may I gently push you in the direction of Divine Chocolate Advent Calendars?!

I've been a big fan of Divine chocolate for several years. Not only they have an impressive range of delicious chocolate, their ethical credentials are very inspiring too.
As you know, Divine Chocolate is the farmer-owned chocolate company. Its chocolate is made with the finest quality Fairtrade cocoa beans from Kuapa Kokoo, a co-op of smallholder farmers in Ghana. These are people who take great pride in the company they co-own.
I always enjoy reading the newsletter from Divine, with the most inspiring stories. And if I spend a tad too much on Divine chocolate, I can always say that I'm supporting the cocoa growers, so it's for a good cause.

RSPB's Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar has been created as a result of partnership between Divine Company and the RSPB. This delightful advent calendar presents a scene of a snowy woodland. Open the little doors and discover the cute wildlife characters behind each door.

Eddie and I were sampling two different Divine calendars and sharing with the family and friends. We all enjoy good chocolate, and this calendar was a big hit with everyone. We loved the little chocolate birds and animals. The milk chocolate is creamy, smooth and melt-in-the-mouth.
The woodland scene is so sweet, and reminded me of the animal tales I used to enjoy as a child.
A lovely gift for both wildlife and chocolate lovers alike indeed.

There is another Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar from Divine, which ticks all the boxes. It is festive and brings a Christian message by retelling the Nativity story. Every door you open, tells you a line of the well-known story.

This calendar has been illustrated by Stephen Waterhouse. It depicts not a Biblical scene but a modern school Nativity performance, with the children playing the parts and parents clapping hands in delight. Just look at the adorable donkey and camel, says a Mum of a child whose claim to fame was to be a cow in the Nursery Nativity performance, and this year he's a Diamond (a part without words, as you can imagine).

All chocolate hearts are made of creamy smooth milk chocolate. And I loved that this advent retold the Nativity. You can say, it's not just a tasty gift, but also educational.
Go on, treat your kids or yourself!

Disclosure: I received two chocolate advent calendars for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my family's and mine.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Häagen-Dazs giveaway (c/d 15 December 2015)

A tub of a good ice cream is one of the pleasures of life. Even if you're completely and totally stuffed after a heavy meal, there's always place for a bit of ice cream.
What does ice cream mean to you? Which memories does it bring? As you might know I grew up in Russia. We had snow for almost half of the year, but this didn't stop us enjoying an ice cream. I remember I loved eating an ice cream outdoors, when the temperatures would be below zero. And by below zero I don't mean some measly couple of degrees. I'm sure it was bloody very cold, but I remember eating the ice cream and laughing my socks off with the friends, running outside our block of apartments.
My love affair with the ice cream continues. And Haagen-Dasz is one of our favourite brands.

In the recent years it has been creating fantastic limited edition Christmas cakes. You might have seen a recent competition on Facebook to win this piece of food art. I missed it by the day. Why didn't anyone tag me?

Advent cake. Image credits: Haagen-Dazs

Haagen-Dazs says:
 "In recent years, Häagen-Dazs has been celebrating their tradition of craftsmanship and ice cream expertise by  delighting the world  with  exquisite, limited edition Christmas cakes, each one of which is masterfully crafted by the chef pâtissier in Häagen-Dazs’ Paris flagship store on the Champs-Élysées
Now in its 8th year, Häagen-Dazs is proud to collaborate with one of the greatest interior designers of our time, Paola Navone, to ensure that 2015’s Christmas cake goes down in memory as one of the most stunning examples of gastronomic design ever seen.

Navone, who is originally from Turin, Italy, but now resides in Paris, is famous around the world for her avant-garde style and attention to nuances of colour and texture. It is for this reason that the partnership with Häagen-Dazs, who are known for their deliciously smooth ice cream and quality ingredients, is so well-matched.

When she proposed her design for an edible advent calendar, she and the Häagen-Dazs pâtissiers had to overcome quite the technical challenge: 31 pillars of ice cream to represent the 31 days from 1st December to New Year’s Eve. What’s more, in order to make it something truly special they agreed on a sumptuous white chocolate coating, velvety base and ice cream hidden inside each pillar. The two pillars that are designed to represent Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve stand above the rest and are covered in either edible gold or edible silver leaf.

The Häagen-Dazs Advent Calendar by Paola Navone comes in two flavours: Dark Chocolate & Almond and Macadamia Nut Brittle & Dulce de Leche. Just 35 cakes will be available in the UK, some of which will be available to win via a competition on Häagen-Dazs’ social media channels in December"

Image credits: Haagen-Dazs

Italians are well known for their exquisite fashion style as well as the most gorgeous ice cream, so asking Paola Navone to create a cake for Haagen-Dazs was a brilliant idea.
I don't know how much this cake costs, but imagine it is pretty pricey.
If I won a lottery, I'd treat my family and friends to this stupendous creation.


And while I am not able to offer this masterpiece of ice cream art as a prize to my blog readers, don't go away yet.
Lovely people at Haagen-Dazs have kindly offered a giveaway prize for my blog.

You have a chance to win 5 x £5 vouchers, enough to buy 5 tubs of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. Now that's a lovely treat not just for Christmas. I wonder what flavours will you choose? Vanilla or chocolate, or any other form a wide range of flavours?

To be in with a chance of winning, please fill in the Rafflecopter form.

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 contact them, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.
Please don't forget to leave a comment (What is your favourite ice cream flavour?), as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winner selected by Rafflecopter has complied with T&Cs.
If you login as Anon or Unknown, please leave some clue to your identity, either your name or Twitter handle, so that I know who has commented.
The prize will be posted by the brand directly.
The giveaway will close on 15 December 2015 (at midnight)

Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sudocrem #SaveChristmas competition

This photo of my then 4-months' old Eddie popped earlier this morning as a TimeHop image on Facebook. Eddie's now 5 (going on 13, if you ask me, as he's got opinions on everything). Those cute coat and hat from Next have been passed on to another little boy in Russia, though I do keep the handmade blue blanket which was knitted by my friend Joanne. Time truly flies. It might be a cliched expression but it's spot on. Where did all these years go?!
Thankfully the days of the nappies are over for us, as I was thinking today, looking at the new Facebook #SaveChristmas competition run by Sudocrem (link removed as expired)

The Nappy Rash Gremlins are coming and it is up to Sudocrem fans to
#SaveChristmas, in return for some spectacular prizes!
In a mobile friendly, fun game, users have to tackle the Nappy Rash Gremlins who are
coming to ruin Christmas. Parachuting from the sky, the Gremlins are looking to get
down chimneys and put a stop to the Christmas spirit. Prizes include Amazon Kindle
Fires and Amazon vouchers, plus prizes from Miffy, Milton, Aquabeads and many,
many more.
There are also thousands of exclusive discount vouchers to be won throughout the
game. So what are you waiting for? Break those parachutes to save the day and earn
To find out what’s in the nappy, all entrants have to do is:
1. Find Sudocrem on Facebook ( and “Like” the
2. Click on the ‘Save Christmas’ app
3. Beat the Nappy Rash Gremlins and avoid the presents to earn points
4. If a user scores 40 points in the 60 second time limit, users will have the chance
to win an instant prize
5. Entrants can play every day and earn extra goes too!

Launch: 23rd November 2015
End date: 11.59pm 31st December 2015

Good luck to you all!

Disclosure: I received vouchers as a Thank you for spreading the word about this competition and Infacol competition.