Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy new year!

That's my little brother and me, aged about 2 and 5, looking very solemn. I'm dressed as a Snowflake, a rather typical New Year's eve costume for children's parties at those times in the Soviet Union.
Most of my early childhood photos are black and white. I remember when my older niece was a little girl, she looked at her Mum's childhood photos and was sad, because she thought that everything was black and white then. She was also offering to colour in the photos.

New Year's eve was a big celebration in the Soviet Union, much bigger than Christmas which then was a very religious holiday. Sometimes I wish I could turn back the time and just have a peek at our jolly company, with my parents still young and us as kids, trying to stay awake until midnight. The winters were white (well, they still are in Russia), and the magic was just round the corner.

Wishing you all a very happy new year!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

My Top ten most popular recipe posts of 2016

Looking back at 2016, it was an eventful year for us as a family, with lots of ups and downs.
At the beginning of the year I was seriously considering whether to stop blogging altogether, but I plodded along, and here I am, still cooking and posting recipes and snippets of our family life.
I'm always amazed that someone is reading my ramblings, and I'm eternally grateful to all my blog readers for coming back.
At the end of the year I usually look at the stats for my posts written through the year, to see which posts have received the most pageviews. My food and drink, book and toy reviews do quite well, with Grossery Gang Yucky Mart post taking the laurels of the most read non-recipe post.
Being a foodie blog, I'm curious to find out which of my recipe posts got the most interest.
And so here are my top ten most popular recipe posts of 2016:

No.10 Fruit & nut chocolate shards with popping candy
chocolate desserts are usually popular with readers (and with me too. I'm a chocoholic through and through)

dessert, chocolate bark

Haggis sausage rolls were cooked to celebrate Burns Night, and proved to be well-received by my audience.

Burns Night, recipes with haggis, sausage rolls

Strawberries with Pimm's - it wasn't much of a recipe, more of a recipe suggestion. It's one of my personal favourite food photos of 2016, as it reminds me of summer.

strawberry salad, summer salad

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Borlotti Beans Hummus was a quick and easy hummus recipe.

homemade hummus recipe

Slow dough: Real Bread by Chris Young and Earl Grey tea loaf appeared quite recently, but managed to reach no.6 position. It was a delicious loaf, and I must bake it again soon.

Marmalade cookies - who doesn't like cookies?! Easy to bake, always welcome with a cup of tea or coffee.

Reuben sandwich made it to no.4. You can't beat a good old classic sandwich.

Italian recipes are often in demand, judging by the stats of my blog through the years.
Aubergine parmigiana is another classic recipe which has loads of fans.

Italian cooking, Italian recipes, aubergine recipes

Crabbie's Raspberry delight  cocktail recipe proved to be popular on the run to Christmas, and propelled it to no.2.

festive cocktail recipes

And Ta Da... no.1 was a total surprise for me, as it's quite a recent post, having appeared just over a month ago:
Plaice in tomato saffron sauce recipe achieved the highest score of the year, and I'm not quite sure why. It was a tasty meal, but if I had to pick my most favourite recipe of the year, it would have probably been some dessert.

I'm wishing you all a very happy new year! And thank you again for reading my blog!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Her by Harriet Lane

We're back from Italy, where we spend Christmas with my in-laws. Apart from daily trips to our favourite cafe Leon d'Oro for a dose of caffeine with extra calories and overstuffing ourselves with tasty Italian food, I managed to read a couple of paperbacks which I picked to take with me on a trip.

Her by Harriet Lane was one of the books I won over a year ago, as part of a big pile of thrillers. The blurb on the back looked promising, with the full title reading as "You don't remember HER but she remembers you..."

psychological thriller

Here is Emma, a knackered mother, who is one of those unfortunate people who always compare their lives to the others and find their own lives lacking all the excitement and joy. I know how tiring motherhood can be, or how ungrateful the daily routines are, but have no much sympathy for self-loathing Emma. Whining and not appreciating what you have is a road to nowhere.
No wonder that when she encounters outwardly polished Nina, who "rescues" her twice in a row, she laps up everything without questioning. She doesn't find any faults with Nina, and is happy to have a sympathetic ear to confide her petty woes.
Emma is pathetic, she truly is. But what does Nina want from her?
One is a psycopath, another is a victim, both are pretty unpleasant.

Two women tell the same story... which drags on and on. Imagine each episode being retold twice, from two different points of view. A very dated literary device bordering on tedious.

I wonder, sincerely, why this book had good reviews.
For example, an endorsement from Observer on the cover of the paperback says: As seductive as it is chilling.
Seductive? I only plodded along, as I was stuck with it as I took only two paperbacks with me to Italy. There is a whole library at home there as well, but I wasn't in the right mood for any classics.

Describing Nina and Emma's husband's book discussions, the author could have been talking about her own book:
"I don't say that I've read and enjoyed it, though I found the final plot twist unsatisfying, as plot twists often are..."
Then there was another remark: "I don't think I like these characters, he's saying: an annoying remark, one with which I can't be bothered to engage". Well, I can engage with this remark, because I disliked both main characters.
Emma, who's whining about the loss of identity. I wanted to tell her: If you found motherhood so challenging, looking after a toddler, why the heck did you think it was a good idea to have another child?
Nina is a self-absorbed, egotistic, controlling psychopath, but supposedly a good artist.
The basis of the revenge is so unconvincing and ridiculous.

I tried to think, why did I find this book so annoying? Is it a very bourgeois setting? All these middle class mini-problems? Will the guests notice the effort, if I iron the cloth napkins? Will my child eat hummus? Which smellies should I put in the bathroom to appease the judges? Oh, and that villa in the south of France is so immaculate, so posh, with sprigs of lavender put on the pillows...

Just wake up to the real world! To hell with your petty grievances!

Did you read anything over Christmas which annoyed you? Or did you enjoy your book?

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Time for remembering friends

Christmas, time for joy, but also time for grief and sadness. Sadness for those who are no longer with us. It's at times of jollity and happiness when you feel the pain the most.
Trudy was more than a friend to me, she and her husband David were my family. They sort of adopted me, when I arrived to Britain all those years ago. I met Trudy when she visited my hometown on the University exchange programme, and we corresponded with each other for a couple years before I came to England to study. How I loved those beautiful letters and cherished them. She also wrote to me when we later moved to the States, her homeland.
I'm a hoarder, and I never throw letters or cards, they are my history, the story of my life.

Many moons ago Trudy gave me a wonderful gift - a pendant with a portrait of Beatrice d'Este. I still keep the little box and a card it came with.
When I see that neat handwriting and read that note, I can almost hear Trudy's gentle voice:
"Dear One-
You must have this! I got it in Rome when we took our first trip to Europe in 1973. It was made in a lovely shop near the Vatican. The lady is Beatrice d'Este. I have always left the label on the back.
Since you now have an Italian husband and because your little girl (when you have one someday) will be half Italian, I want this to be one of your family heirlooms.
Bless you always-

I never had that little girl, instead I have two boys, who are my alpha and omega. My nieces will have this pendant one day. I think Trudy would approve.

She died earlier this year. I was dreading that call from her daughter, but I knew it was inevitable. After David, Trudy's husband, died a couple of years earlier, she lost the will to live. She was getting thinner and having more and more health problems. I willed her to live, but it was a selfish desire. She was ready to go.
I hope that wherever she is now, she is reunited with her beloved David.

This will be the first Christmas without Trudy... I know your blessings are still with me, my dear friend, but I am missing you so much.

P.S. As I was editing this post, I asked my husband "What would be a better title than "Time for remembering friends"? Our son Eddie listened to our conversation and said: "Oh, I know, I know... How about "I wish you weren't dead; I wish you were alive, So you could eat and have lots of fun, And live a long life". Perhaps not really a title but a heartfelt homage, and it sums up my thoughts. I think Trudy would have liked it.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Festive season and pets

The world of mass media is full of cute images of pets dressed up in Christmas suits, wearing reindeer antlers or Elf ears. We all Ooh and Aah, yet this is the time when many pets are exposed to more danger from all the Christmas decorations and all those tempting treats around the house.
Just like with young children, we have to "baby-proof" our homes, especially during the festive season.

When I was growing up, we always had cats, and I hope one day to have another moggie.
 I remember when our much loved cat Kuzya discovered the appeal of the sparkly glitter garlands from the Christmas tree. I know we giggled when his poo showed specks of glitter, but got very worried when Mum explained to us that it was dangerous for our cat. He was unwell for a couple of days. All the sparkly Christmas ribbons had to go high up on the tree, and to be removed from the lower branches. Thankfully, our cat lived a long life, but that accident gave us a big scare.

I am sharing this lovely video to raise awareness of the dangers that our beloved pets can face during the festive period. Vets Now has created an emergency pet plan which owners can download for FREE to ensure heaven stays a place on Earth fir their furry friends.

Wishing you and your pets a very happy and safe Christmas!

M&S Beauty Advent Calendar (2016)

Festive season is not just for kids. My sons got their chocolate advent calendars to open, plus I bought a Lego Star Wars Advent calendar for Eddie.
I don't want to enter into the polemic against the commercialism of the advents, and what connection the modern advent calendars might have to the real meaning of the religious season leading to Christmas.
Obviously the Star Wars, Pirate-themed or beauty calendars have nothing to do with the religious side, they are just fun. And fun is not necessarily a thing of criticism.
There is a big market for grown-up advent calendars these days. It seems they have entered an era of boom. Many major brands are jumping on the bandwagon.
Last year I have treated myself to a Boots no.7 Advent calendar, which was mostly very decent, that is apart from the nail polish and eyelash curler which are of no use for me at all. I did ask around if anyone fancied an eyelash curler, there were no takers. This year Boots no.7 has the same useless beauty gift again in its advent calendar.
Overall, it was a lovely treat with lots of products, some in a pretty good size, and no.7 is one of my favourite brands.

advent calendars for grown-ups

I didn't buy an M&S advent calendar last year, but this year have succumbed. I blame it on the much agitated discussions on the merits of advents for grown-ups on Mumsnet.
Unlike no.7 calendar, the M&S version was the compilation of different brands rather than their own products.
The calendar itself was priced at £35, but you had to spend £35 in beauty, clothing or home departments. Since I was planning to buy my guys pyjamas for Christmas anyway, that wasn't difficult.
M&S claimed that the contents of the calendar were worth £250, which after opening all the doors and discovering all the products, I still question.
There are 25 items in total, with a good variety of beauty products from different brands, many of which I am not familiar with. I am yet to try all of the goodies.

beauty advent calendars, advent calendars for grown-ups

What were the surprise products?
- Neal's Yard Beelovely handcream (50ml)
- Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm (vitamin E & peppermint, full sized)
- Rituals The Rituals of Sakura magic touch body cream (70ml)
- Rodial Super Acids x-treme acid rush peel (20ml)
- EH Moringa cleansing balm (15ml)
- Aphah Liquid Gold with glycolic acid (50ml)
- Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse multi-purpose dry oil (30ml)
- Ren Evercalm Global Protection day cream (15ml)
- Skyn Iceland Icelandic Relief eye cream (5ml)
- Leighton Denny Crystal Nail File
- Look Good Mini powder brush
- Rosie for Autograph lip glossy
- Nailsinc Gel one coat with cranberry nail polish
- Autograph Cranberry nail polish with argan oil and vitamin E
- Philip Kingsley Elasticizer pre-shampoo treatment (40ml)
- Eyeko Skinny liquid eyeliner black (1.2g)
- Shay & Blue Atropa Belladonna natural spray fragrance
- Studio 10 miracle effect priming serum (5ml)
- Pur correcting primer (10ml)
- Percy & Reed Perfectly Perfecting Wonder balm (30ml)
- Josh Wood Radiant Shine hair treatment oil (28ml)
- Ultrasun Face anti-ageing sun protection for very sensitive skin (25ml)
- M&S Beauty Formula Absolute Ultimate Sleep Cream (15ml)
- Pixie by Petra Brow Tamer clear brow gel
- Filorga Time-Filler (15ml)

As you can see from the list, most of the products were the sample sizes, which often come free with magazines or in promotions like SoPost.
Some were slightly disappointing. Neal's Yard hand cream was a good sized product, but it's been added as a freebie to so many magazines throughout the year, that I have at least three tubes. The same with Burt's Bees lip balm - and it's not even in my favourite flavour. And again, I have about five Burt's bees lip balms as it is. They seem to last forever.
Some of the products have no appeal to me personally, like nail polishes, or an Brow tamer eyebrow gel which is a very niche product. I don't think I know anyone in real life who would use it.
The fragrance was not something I would choose myself, if I had to buy it separately. I might try to wear it, but it's rather boring.
I'm not sure the hair products would be much use to me either.

The products I'm most excited about trying are Pur correcting primer, Studio 10 firming serum, Skyn Iceland eye cream, Moringa cleansing balm and Alphah liquid gold.

It might be a great value, if we are to believe the contents are truly worth £250, but only if you are going to use most of them.

Did you buy the M&S advent calendar? Did you like its contents? Which one is your favourite product of the whole lot?
Update for the products I have tested (just notes for myself to remind me next year what I liked and what I didn't find useful):

- Eyeko Skinny liquid eyeliner black (1.2g) gives a good eye definition, with a precise thin brush tip. It is easy to apply, but it is not smudge-proof as some beauty bloggers claim. I did find that in a few hours, I get a "shadow" on the lower eyelid.
It is also a real pain to remove. I have three different eye cleansers, and none of them work on Eyeko. A few times that I applied Eyeko, I had to use several different cleanser products to make the skin around eyes look clean. Maybe you need to buy a special Eyeko eye cleanser to go with it?!
For that reason alone I wouldn't buy this product again.

- Skyn Iceland Icelandic Relief eye cream (5ml) contains Biospheric complex of pure Icelandic glacial waters, arctic berries and pure oxygen. While the first ingredient sounds pretty bombastic for saying plain water, I'd like to know more about berries. It doesn't smell like berries, not gives any impression that berries have been used.
I was so looking forward to trying this product, but I was slightly disappointed by its texture. It reminds me of a homemade glue for children's projects, which congeals after a while, and gets a slightly sticky consistency. Or a cold semolina pudding. The surface sort of wrinkles when you touch it with a finger.
It is supposed to reduce puffiness and lighten dark under-eyes. Perhaps it is so, if you use it for a long time. But I haven't noticed any difference. I didn't like the texture or consistency. That's another product I wouldn't buy in the future.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Bundt Cake with Mickey Finn Salted Butterscotch

bundt cake, pound cakes, cakes baked with alcohol

On top of all the usual seasonal planning, shopping and other kind of festive preparations for the big day, December is one of the busiest times for compers. So many competitions to enter.
Every year I start enthusiastically, and by the end of the first week my mojo is fading. At the moment my enthusiasm is truly below zero. I haven't won anything at all this month. I haven't necessarily given up completely, as quite a lot of these comps will be picking winners by the end of the month, or even later in winter.
I remember a couple of years ago, one of my advent wins arrived in May, without any announcement.

At the end of October I was lucky to win a bottle of Mickey Finn Salted Butterscotch alcoholic drink on Twitter. This alcoholic drink is "a bodacious blend of rich butterscotch with a hint of sultry sea salt, infused with alcohol". A great tipple for those who enjoy sweet liqueurs.
Alc.15% vol.

Bundt cake with Mickey Finn Butterscotch
4 medium eggs
200g caster sugar
125ml Mickey Finn Salted Butterscotch
230g self-raising flour
60g cornflour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla bean paste
180g butter, melted

In a big mixing bowl beat together the eggs with caster sugar. Add the alcoholic drink, sift in the flour, cornflour, baking powder. Add the vanilla bean paste as well as the melted (but not hot) butter, mix well. Pour the cake batter into the well oiled bundt cake tin. Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about an hour or slightly less. Check if it's ready with a wooden toothpick.
Remove the tin from the oven, and let it cool for 10 minutes before turning the cake out of the tin.
As it has quite a rich buttery taste, it doesn't need any frosting. Just sift some icing sugar over it.
Serve warm or cold. This cake will keep well in a tin for a few days.

baking with alcohol, boozy cakes

I love baking with alcohol as it gives an extra special oomph to a plain pound-style cake.. If you liked this recipe, you might also like
Advocaat cake
Apple Cider Pound Cake
Pink Velvet Malibu Rum Cake

boozy cakes

Monday, 19 December 2016

Non-alcoholic Mocktail with Eisberg Rosé

Christmas non-alcoholic cocktail

There are plenty of reasons as to why you can't or won't drink anything alcoholic - you might be a designated driver, pregnant or a teetotal. Personally I'm not a big drinker, though I do enjoy a glass of good wine, champagne or a cocktail. I am also partial to a dash of alcohol in coffee.
It's absolutely fine to drink a bottle of coke or have a fizzy juice drink as an alternative to alcohol, but sometimes you feel like having something different. When most of the party goers are having fun, you might slightly resent having to drink a glass of lemonade.
If it's a glass of wine you are craving, having a non-alcoholic wine could be just the thing.
Eisberg non-alcoholic wine is produced in such a way that the alcohol content is completely removed from the wine, using the latest advanced techniques. The character and flavour of Eisberg wines are kept intact, but the alcohol is being removed.
Eisberg offers a selection of non-alcoholic wine like Chardonnay, Riesling, Rose and Cabernet Sauvingnon.
It is also perfect for those who are counting the calories. 100ml of rose, for example, contains just 26kcal.

non-alcoholic wine

We have recently tested an Eisberg Rosé. It is a fresh and fruity wine, with hints of strawberry and raspberry. It's big on flavour, and low on calories. It is lovely on its own, straight from the fridge, chilled.
It also serves as a lovely base for a cocktail.

Rose mocktail:
for two cocktails:
10 fresh blackberries
1tsp caster sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 red grapefruit
non-alcoholic rose

Mash the blackberries with a fork, add a teaspoon of sugar. Add freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 red/pink grapefruit. Strain the liquid. Divide the blackberry lemon-grapefruit juice between two tall wine glasses. Add a couple of ice cubes to each glass, and top up with rose.

If you like the sound of this mocktail, I could direct you to the page of recipes of Cocktails Mocktails, using Eisberg wine (link removed as expired).

Disclosure: I received a bottle of Eisberg rose for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

festive non-alcoholic cocktails, mocktails

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Baxters Hearty range of soup

December is always a hectic month. What, with all the shopping and planning festive meals, school fayres, Nativity and Christingle, helping with end of term homework, I am feeling on the verge of collapse. Thanks goodness, the school is over for a while.
When you need a meal in a hurry, a soup is often the answer, especially when "the weather outside is frightful".
I'm a decent cook, and often make soup from scratch. But at lunchtime, when my guys are at school and work, I sometimes opt for a ready-made soup. Thankfully, in the last month I had help from Baxters.
Baxters Hearty range of soup offers a selection of recipes from around the world.

Hearty Tuscan Style Bean, Bacon & Pecorino if full of Meditteranean flavours.
This wholesome soup contains 3 of your 5 a day, no artificial colours or flavours
The blurb on the back of the tin says: "Inspired by my Italian travels, I created this taste of the Mediterranean by combining double smoked bacon with a medley of borlotti, cannellini and pinto beans. The distinctive, sharp and salty flavour of the Pecorino cheese adds another dimension to this recipe"
Ingredients include mixed beans, tomatoes, onions, tomato paste, courgette, red pepper, smoked bacon, green peppers, Pecorino cheese etc.
It could be included in a 5:2 diet or any low cal diet, as this is a low fat meal with 244kcal per can. It could do with lowering the amount of sugar as well, as it has 12.4g of sugar in a tin.
I love chunky Italian-style soups, and this soup follows the classic recipe.

Hearty Chicken & Sweetcorn Chowder is another classic recipe. Sweetcorn chowder is the ultimate comfort food, creamy and packed with flavour.
Soup stats: 1 of your five a day; 296kcal per can.
"This recipe cheers up even the dullest day! A rich and creamy soup made with a delicious blend of succulent chicken, potatoes, sweetcorn and a generous splash of double cream. A sprinkling of thyme is the finishing touch which compliments the chicken beautifully!"

Hearty Smoked Red Lentil & Smoked Bacon soup contains 2 of your 5 a day. I love red lentils-based soups, and often add them to whichever soup I'm cooking, they bulk up any soup nicely.
"The double smoked bacon in this delightful recipe combines perfectly with pureed red lentils & vegetables to create this wholesome & warming soup. The final touches are a warming blend of spices - coriander, turmeric, ginger & chilli to name but a few".
I do love spices in soup, but this was quite hot for my personal taste. A bit too heavy on the chilli. Perhaps a good spoonful of Greek style yogurt or soured cream would make reduce the heat.
Calorie-wise it counts 272kcal per can.

Hearty Beef, Bean & Vegetable soup is a traditional combination of flavours.
At 2 of your 5 a day and 188kcal per can, it will make a lovely lunch. Many people go on a diet in January or start counting the calories, and this chunky tasty soup could be just the thing.

"This recipe is big on fill and flavour. Tender pieces of beef are combined with chunky vegetables & cannellini beans to create this wholesome, hearty soup. A cheeky splash of red wine to enhance the flavour just finishes it off nicely".
I enjoyed this soup, but I have to say, it could do with more beef, it was more of a beef-flavoured soup as the chunks of beef were but a few and very small.

winter soup

Hearty Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, Chilli & Lime soup was my top favourite from the range. I love sweet potato and butternut squash, and lime adds a lovely zing to the sweet and earthy soup.
Stats: 3 of your 5 a day+ 232kcal
"For me this soup is a real treat! Butternut squash & sweet potato are such versatile ingredients. Blended with a selection of warming spices and finished off with some red chilli and a squeeze of lime, this recipe is truly delicious!"

I haven't yet tried the sixth flavour - Country vegetable, but expect it to be as hearty and flavourful as all the soups in the range.

Have you tried the Hearty range? Which flavour is your favourite?

Disclosure: I received a selection of Baxters Hearty soup for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Cadbury Cadvent Christmas Knitwear Collection

chocolate gifts for Christmas

"Best chocolate ever" (Eddie after eating a Cadbury Dairy Milk Snow Ball)

A family of chocoholics, we can't imagine a festive season without chocolate treats and gifts. Cadbury chocolate is one of our family favourites. A tub of Roses doesn't last very long here, a chocolate bar disappears faster than you can say "a chocolate bar".

There is a wide selection of Cadbury festive treats - from Dairy Milk buttons to Winter edition bar, from Snow Bites to Snow Balls etc - so there is something for everyone's taste.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Snow Balls are chocolate shells filled with creamy and smooth vanilla mousse. Eddie has been rhapsodical about it since he tried it first a while ago. I believe there was an Easter equivalent of snow balls. When we travelled to Italy at Easter, I took a couple of packs with us as gifts for extended family.
My older son is very partial to Cadbury Dairy Milk Winter Edition bar - which is a combination of milk and white chocolate, interwoven into a pretty pattern of Christmas trees.

If you're a fan of Cadbury or are looking for a Christmas gift for a chocoholic in your life, you might be excited to discover that Cadbury has launched a new range of Cadvent Knitwear Collection.
The range includes a Cadbury Festive Scarf, a Cadbury Festive Jumper and a Cadbury Festive Hat.
And these are not simple jumper, hat and scarf, they have pockets and brims where you can hide your favourite chocolate treats. How cool is that?!

Imagine yourself skating on the ice rink, and nibbling on a favourite chocolate?!
Many years ago, when I was 10-11, I used to go skating with a friend. The temperature would have been well below zero. We carried chocolate truffles with us, and when we took them out of pockets to eat on the rink, the chocolate was as hard as rock in the cold. Still, those were the best times. And priceless memories.

The knitwear looks cosy and soft, with a familiar logo and snowflakes pattern. You can make a gift hamper with hot chocolate, chocolates and knitwear. I'm sure any Cadbury fan would be pleased to receive such a gift for Christmas.

Christmas gifts for chocoholics
Cadvent Christmas Knitwear Collection/Image credits - Cadbury

Christmas gifts for chocoholics
Cadvent Christmas Knitwear Collection/Image credits - Cadbury

Disclosure: We received a selection of Cadbury chocolate as a Thank you for mentioning the new knitwear range on the blog. All opinions are ours.

Christmas chocolate gifts

Friday, 16 December 2016

Christmas jumper, party props and all things nice

Our son Eddie loves everything about Christmas - it's as if the festive season was invented for him. Eddie goes to the faith school, and loves going to the church (mainly, I believe, for the social aspect and the biscuits after the service), so he is well familiar with the story of Nativity.
He has always enjoyed taking part in the Nativity, though he's never been blessed with big parts. He's always either a cute little cow admiring baby Jesus, or a sparkly dancing diamond or one of 30,000 narrators with two lines to say...
Never mind, this doesn't dampen his spirit. This old video made 3 years ago still makes me smile.

Eddie also adores all the paraphernalia of the season - festive music, all the glitter and decorations in the streets, Christmas trees, Christmas jumpers, all the novelty gifts. He's a true party animal.
This year he's got not one but two Christmas jumpers.

His school held a Christmas Jumper Day yesterday. They did it a day earlier than the official Christmas Jumper Day, because today they had a Christingle service in the church, which was beautiful.
On the way home yesterday he confessed to me  that he was told off by the teacher. Why? Apparently the boy who was sitting next to him kept pushing the red nose of the reindeer to make it play music. Oh yes, of course, it was another boy.
Because we're basically angelic... We even have an Angel Halo.

This cute fluffy Angel Halo was one of the Christmas goodies we received recently from CircusCircus. If you're after Christmas hanging decorations, balloons, banners, cutouts, table and door decorations, scene setters and accessories, you can turn your home into a festive retreat.
As they say on their website: "No matter the size of your home, our range is ideal for any Christmas Party and celebration".

Image credits: CircusCircus
What did we get in our parcel? Let's have a peek!

Christmas party,

The Photo Props proved to be a big success here. "Mummy, when you are wearing glasses, you have to look serious" - "Is that so, OK then, do a serious look" And then he kept bursting into laughter every time I tried to take a photo.

Even Mummy has reluctantly agreed to be snapped.

We had sparkly reindeer antlers and a snowman's carrot nose. Don't think they're supposed to be used together, but here is our snowman-reindeer hybrid.

The crackers included party hats, wine glass charms and jokes, which were actually quite amusing.
Eddie's favourite was:
"How do you make an octopus laugh?
- With ten-tickles!"

We haven't tried Snow Magic Make Your Own Snow kits yet. The forecast for Christmas is mild and definitely not white, so we'll be making our own snow after our Christmas lunch. You just need to add water and watch it grow 100 times. Sounds great fun!

As you can see, we're ready to party! What about you?

Disclosure: We received a selection of Christmas goodies from CircusCircus for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Kidscast app + Vtech Flipsies Sandy's House and Yacht giveaway (c/d 24 December 2016)

If you happened to be on Twitter yesterday afternoon, between 1 and 3pm, you might have seen a lot of tweets with a hashtag #kidscast. So, what was all the excitement about? Twitter Frenzy coincided with a forthcoming launch of a new activity website and app for kids called Kidscast.

Kidscast is an entertainment platform for children from 3 to 12. It will be jam-packed with shows, games, activities, unboxing videos and more.
As a parent, I welcome a new platform which will be a safe, fun environment. It is accredited by UK, CCIS and also CoppaKidSafe.
This app will be available on Apple iOS and Android for a very sensible fee of £3.99 per month. If you think about it, many single apps for kids cost more.
I like the idea that Kidscast will work both on and offline, meaning that no data will be used. It also means that you can easily use it during a car trip or on a flight which will make the journey go faster.

Which shows will be available to start with?

Little Monsters is a British animated children's TV show which ran from 1998-99 on BBC1. This children's animated series follows little monsters in their amusing and fascinating adventures.

Microscopic Milton: Children's animated shorts featuring a tiny character who loves in a clock in Mrs Witherspoon's house. Only his friend Douglas, a shaggy dog, knows that he is there. A lovely and charming series that children will fall in love with.

Image credits: Kidscast

Om Nom Stories: Featuring the energetic character Om Nom on the latest adventures, the cute little green monster from Cut thr Rope.

Image credits: Kidscast
Cockleshell Bay: Charming British animated series about two children, Robin and Rosie, who have moved with their family to the seaside town of the title in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Beautiful series that is a pleasure to watch and share with the family.

Image credits: Kidscast

Alias the Jester: The show follows the adventures of a time traveller by the name of Alias and his dog-like companion Boswell. Alias the Jester - A "time traveller bold" as said in the title track. After crashing in the Middle Ages he gets a job as a jester for King Arthur. He also fights crime as the Red Knight, who the wizard Meredith believes he summoned. Boswell - Alias' dog-like alien companion, apparently possessing a fairly high intellect as he is able to understand Alias and take orders. Very entertaining series that kids will love.

Image credits: Kidscast
Creepy Crawlies was a stop motion animation series following the characters on their latest adventures.

Image credits: Kidscast
Victor & Hugo: The misadventures of two bumbling burglar brothers, tall and  and thin leader Victor, who's vain and selfish, and short and chubby Hugo, who's silly and fun-loving. Plenty of fun to be had watching the entertaining series.

Image credits: Kidscast
Sooty is a loveable and innocent British born children's television series. These retro episodes pull on the heart strings of parents across the UK and provide the opportunity to share those special memories with their children too. With Sooty, Sweep and Sue around there is always fun to be had!

Image credits: Kidscast
Rainbow ran on ITV for 20 years, mostly at lunchtimes. It became one of the highest rating children shows of all times and one of the most popular. After over 1500 shows, Rainbow came to an end in 1992, but the show remains a massive success with people of all ages. Originally it was intended to develop language and number skills for pre-school children and feature the iconic characters Bungle, George and Zippy.

The Wind in the Willows is a TV series that was originally broadcast between 1984 and 1987, based on characters from Kenneth Grahame's classic story The Wind in the Willows. Follow Mr Toad and friends on their magical and charming adventures.

Image credits: Kidscast

As you can see, there is quite an assortment of vintage children's TV on offer. I'm very curious to know how my younger son would appreciate a different style of videos. I bet he will love the unboxing videos too (one of his hobbies is to watch unboxing videos on Youtube).


To celebrate the launch of Kidscast, lovely people behind the new project have offered a giveaway prize for my blog readers. One lucky blog reader will win a Vtech Flipsies Sandy's House and Yacht (£34.99).

Image credits: VTech

Toy description:
"Sandy dreams of becoming a marine biologist. Flipsies Sandy's House and Yacht is a 2-in-1 playset that transforms from a beautiful house where she can spend time with her friends to a flashy yacht that she can use to explore the ocean life. Press the charm on Sandy's necklace to see it light up and to experience her friendly personality. Place Sandy on the eight Magic Point locations on her playset or other Magic Point locations on Flipsies playsets (each sold separately), and she'll respond with playful phrases unique to her own personality. Collect Sandy's friends (each sold separately), and they can switch clothes, wigs and accessories for more fun styles.When Sandy and one of her friends are on the Magic Point locations at the dining table, they will chat with each other."

To be in with a chance of winning this prize, please enter, using the Rafflecopter form

The prize will be organised and fulfilled by Evolution PR, and will arrive within 28 days of receiving the winner's details. No alternative prize will be offered.
Chez Maximka (blog) accepts no responsibility for the sending of the prize.
Please note that the colour of the prize might slightly vary from the image.

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 ends on 24 December 2016 (midnight).

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway