2017 | Modern Mummy

Monday, 16 October 2017

GOOD FOOD // Trying out the New Kids Menu at Bill's, Guildford

At the weekend there's nothing the kids and I like more than heading out for a spot of brunch, and Bill's is one of our favourite places to go. Last Saturday we were invited to our local restaurant in Guildford to try out their new children's menu, so after working up an appetite partaking in a wee bit of shopping, we made our way down the cobbled Angel Gate for a well deserved pit stop!

The main reason I'm such a big fan of Bill's is because I think of it as a proper "grown up" restaurant that just so happens to be incredibly kid friendly. There are some chain restaurants that I wouldn't dream of visiting without the children - but this most definitely isn't one of them. As well as taking the kids there, I regularly visit for leisurely Bloody Mary fuelled brunches with my girlfriends and I even celebrated one of my birthdays at Bill's a couple of years ago, so it really is a great place to visit at any time of the day or night, and with friends and family, both young and old.

Another thing I love at Bill's is the decor; it's really quirky with lots of worn wood, old beaten up leather, warm brick work and industrial fittings. There are flashes of colour everywhere and an eclectic mix of art work and photographs on the walls as well as shelf after shelf of Bill's goodies for sale.

But of course the best thing about Bill's is the menu. There's just the right amount of choice and the chefs have perfected every single item on it. The staff are always so bubbly and accommodating and I've never had a bad meal or a bad experience in any of my many visits.

So over to our review meal! We kick started our brunch with fresh juices and coffee. The kids had orange and apple juices, while I had a Super Greens smoothie and a flat white.

Then we moved on to peruse the food menu!

We had a good look at the lunch/dinner menu but we already knew before we got there that we'd be having brunch. We are creatures of habit I'm afraid, but I genuinely believe that if it ain't broke, why fix it. And on that note the girls went for their usual two course brunch (and being gluttonous is totally affordable when you're a kid at Bill's, with prices starting at just £1.95 for yoghurt and fruit, and moving up to £4.95 for a full English). On this occasion they started off with bacon and sausage sandwiches, while I went for the eggs and avocado on toast with a side of streaky bacon.

Daisy's Sausage Sandwich Selfie

Evie about to tuck into her bacon sandwich

If you watched our IG stories on the day, you'll have heard Evie declare how much she loves the bacon at Bill's!

Me enjoying my super virtuous smoothie and avo on toast

Then it was time for round two! I was completely full up, so I just had another coffee but the girls went for pancakes, which is the reason why they love Bill's so much. I'm told they are the SECOND BEST PANCAKES IN THE WORLD (and second only to mine...... I've trained these kids well). They come served with syrup and fruit and I think both girls would eat a third portion between them if I let them.

As always, we had a wonderful meal. We were in and out pretty quickly, without feeling rushed, and with lovely full bellies - ready to take on the rest of the day!

Bill's serves breakfast until midday (or 1pm at weekends) then switches to its lunch and dinner menus later on. Kids' breakfast prices start at just £1.95, or they can dine on three courses - and have a drink - for just £6.95 after 11:45am, which officially makes it the most reasonably priced kids' menu out of every restaurant we've ever visited. It's definitely the tastiest too!

Thank you so much to Bill's for having us - and special thanks to Roo, the manager at Guildford, for looking after us so well!

We were given a complimentary meal in exchange for our honest views on Bills and their new kids menu. All words are true and all photographs are copyright.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

THE HEN DIARIES // The Omlet Eglu Cube: A Review

We have now been proud ex-battery hen keepers for over a week and our ladies are settling into their new home nicely.

They've established their pecking order (Sandie is most definitely in charge) and have all mastered the art of using the ladder to get in and out of their coop. They know to put themselves to bed at dusk and are laying only in the nesting box (we're averaging three eggs a day). They have also been dust bathing and flapping their wings a lot which I love to see, seeing as it's unlikely they've been able to do either before. Three out of the six are already super inquisitive and friendly, happily coming over to us when we approach the run and even eating corn out of our hands!

Four of them are still very bald but I can see new feathers already forming on them, and all of their combs are getting redder by the day! All in all, I like to think they're very happy in their new home and with their new keepers. And with a home like theirs, why wouldn't they be!

After keeping hens in a wooden coop previously, I always knew I wanted an Eglu for my eagerly awaited ex-batts. On recommendation, I went for the Eglu Cube and run, which is the perfect size for six Rhode Island Red crosses. And I couldn't be happier with it!

Special Features of the Omlet Eglu Cube
1. Door to nesting box // 2.Cosy nesting box // 3. Sliding door to enable you to close off access to nesting box at night // 4. Door with external handle // 5. Removable and easy to clean roosting bars // 6. Slide out dropping tray

So what exactly is so special about the Omlet Eglu Cube, I hear you ask. Where do I begin!

The cube is brilliantly designed, with a cosy separate nesting box that's accessible from three sides. There's the direct 'eggport' on the side which can be used to collect eggs, the rear panel door that gives access to the entire cube and a sliding door in-between the nesting box and the roosting bars that can be closed at night.

The roosting bars are removable and easy to wipe clean, and sit over a slide out dropping tray that can be emptied straight onto your compost heap and hosed down.

The door to the coop is opened and closed by a lift and twist handle, and there is a non-slip ladder for your hens to get in and out.

The cube is also on wheels, which means you can easily move it (as well as the run) to fresh patches of lawn whenever you want, plus it comes with absolutely everything you need - including food and water containers, a rain cover - and even some cute little boxes for those all important eggs!

As well as being easy to move and easy to clean, the coop and run are both super sturdy, and fox proof to boot. There's a stable door to the run, which means you can half open it to replenish your hens' food and water, or fully open it to let them out / let yourself in!

As someone who has previously kept chickens in a wooden coop, I can confirm that the Eglu is SO much easier to keep clean, and SO much more hygienic.

I'm not going to lie - putting the run together was pretty tricky (the cube was totally fine). I'm not going to pretend that I did it myself either..... my Dad did it (I made him lots of cups of tea and held the odd bit in place when my services were required though, so I did help). The instructions said 3hrs to build the coop and run completely but it took a little longer than that. The end result was well worth it though!

Overall? There's no denying Omlet products are expensive but in my opinion they're worth every penny. While researching them it became clear that they last a very long time and also retain their value when being sold second (or even third!) hand. They're extremely low maintenance, are 100% recyclable and look great.

I contemplated making a video of the Eglu myself but there's no beating this one made by Omlet - press play to see all the brilliant functions in use. If you want to see footage of my ladies in their Eglu, take a look at my stories over on Instagram where they feature every day and are very entertaining to watch!

Omlet | Discover the New Eglu Cube - Chicken Coop from Omlet on Vimeo.

Prices for the Omlet Eglu start at £549 for the basic coop. Our model, which includes the stand and wheels as well as a 3m run, costs £849.

DISCLAIMER: The lovely people at Omlet sent my incredibly lucky ladies their Eglu Cube and run for the purpose of this review and to enable them to live out their retirement in luxury after a pretty rough start in life. We are very grateful!

Monday, 9 October 2017

DAYS OUT IN LONDON // Wicked the Musical: A Review

On Saturday the girls and I jumped on a train to London to see a musical that's been on my wish list for a long time: Wicked.

Now in its twelfth year, and seen by more than 8 million people, Wicked has won over a hundred major awards - so there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be absolutely brilliant. What I wasn't expecting was for it to be SO brilliant that it knocked Les Miserables off my top spot (where it's been since 1993) to become my most favourite musical of all time!

As a family, we love going to the theatre and musicals are our favourite. We saw an am-dram version of The Wizard of Oz at our local theatre earlier this year; the girls immediately fell in love with the characters and have watched the original film and Return to Oz dozens of times since. I knew they'd love Wicked, and I was right.

Well what can I say? It's clever, witty, emotional, jam packed full of amazing songs and has THE BEST set design and lighting I have ever seen.

The story is an uplifting one with a great moral - that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. It encourages you to look at the other side of the story and to question things.... in this case, was the Wicked Witch of the West really wicked?

It tells the untold story of the friendship between Glinda and Elphaba, two girls who first meet as sorcery students at university. Their adventures in Oz see them fulfil their destinies as Glinda The Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West but until now we haven't heard the whole story about the Land of Oz!

Glinda (played by Sophie Evans) and Elphaba (Alice Fearn) were amazing, as were the rest of the cast. And I definitely wasn't distracted by Fiyero (Bradley Jaden)'s arm muscles ;)

The musical may be aimed at children aged 7+ but both girls absolutely loved it - especially Evie, and she turns five next month. The flying monkeys were a bit creepy and the mask on the Wizard of Oz's door made us all jump the first time it spoke but we were all in agreement that they were some of our favourite bits in the end! We also all agreed that Defying Gravity was our favourite song. I have a feeling the soundtrack is going to be on repeat in our car for a long time!

The show runs six nights a week, with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays - plus there's an extra matinee performance on Thursday 26th October if you're interested in booking tickets for half term. prices start at just £21.75 when you book online here.

We were given complimentary tickets in exchange for this honest review.


Friday, 6 October 2017

GOOD FOOD // Celebrating National Coffee Day with Bottle Shot Brew

Ah coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee. My most favourite thing in the whole wide world. With two terrible sleepers for children it really is the only thing that gets me through the day sometimes - and that's why I made sure I showed my gratitude for this magical stuff by downing plenty of it on National Coffee Day last weekend!

But when it comes to my coffee I have to admit I'm a bit of a snob. I like it fresh, I like it strong and ideally I like someone else to make it for me. But for those early mornings when I need a kick start before I leave the house I've discovered a brilliant new concept; Bottle Shot Brew.

Bottle Shot Brew is a coffee subscription service (you can also buy one off bottles) based in South West London. For just £10 a week, Bottle Shot Brew will deliver a bottle of freshly cold brewed Arabica coffee straight to your door.* You can also buy a one off bottle for £12.50 if you want to try it first (although I guarantee you will LOVE it). The beans are soaked for sixteen hours for a deliciously smooth taste and, being cold brewed, means there's less acidity than regular coffee so it's healthier for you. Another plus of the cold brewing process is that the caffeine stays in tact so it provides you with energy that lasts longer! Each bottle contains 7 servings, which works out at less than £1.45 a cup; a total bargain if you regularly spend £3-£4 on a cup of takeaway coffee like me.

* London Zones 1 and 2 only - there's a small charge for delivering further out.

It's such a treat to have a great cup of coffee first thing every morning - and all you have to do is add a splash of hot water and some hot milk if you fancy it. Strong, sweet, barista brewed coffee - and you don't even have to get out of your pyjamas!

And as if you need another reason to give Bottle Shot Brew a go, it's also amazing for cocktail making! Just add one part vodka, two parts coffee brew and a dash of kahlua to a cocktail shaker (with ice)... SHAKE! POUR! et voila, THE most perfect espresso martini! Enjoy x

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a bottle of Bottle Shot Brew to try and was under no obligation to write this post but I wanted to! If you're a coffee addict like me, this is something you have to try!


Thursday, 5 October 2017

GOOD FOOD // Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This content has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplication for Collective Bias and its advertiser.

I know, I know. All these recipe posts recently! I have no idea whats happening either. I do want to set one thing straight though..... I honestly can't cook. As I've been sharing more foodie posts over the last couple of months, lots of you have commented on how I must be able to - but I really can't! I'm learning, yes, and I actually enjoying cooking these days, but I guarantee that every recipe you'll ever find on here is suitable for complete and utter novices (like me).

Now I've got that out of the way, I would like to share a ridiculously easy and insanely delicious recipe for spicy butternut squash soup with you today!

I spent yesterday at one of my all time favourite food shops - Cowdray Park Farm Shop in Midhurst. If you live nearby or fancy a little road trip out to Sussex I would definitely recommend paying Cowdray a visit - you can easily make a day of it while you're there. First up, there are the ruins of Cowdray House to explore - with a lovely walk to them from the car park, past the Polo Club, with a hella lot of blackberries to be picked along the way. Then there's the Cafe, which sells the most amazing ice cream (yes, even in this weather) and fresh juices, as well as sandwiches and hot meals. And THEN, there's my favourite bit of all - the farm shop itself.

Selling all manner of local produce, every shelf is bursting with colour and, I don't know about you, but that makes me want to buy EVERYTHING!

On this occasion I was here to stock up on vegetables to make my soup, although you won't be surprised to hear that some Montezumas chocolate and a bottle of Blackdown Gin fell into my shopping basket too.

I absolutely love soup at this time of year (along with woolly hats and PUMPKIN SPICE EVERYTHING!) and often have it as a comforting evening meal, served with a wedge of crusty bread. Now that the girls are both at school and eating a large meal at lunchtime I've been trying to add some light, healthy suppers like soup to my repertoire. The best bit about soup is that it's SO easy to make, can be pretty darn healthy if you pack it full of veggies - and it's also a great way to use up any veg in the fridge!

1x large butternut squash
1x red onion
6x cloves of garlic
Chilli flakes
Olive oil
750ml vegetable stock
Creme fraiche
Pumpkin seeds

What to do.
Preheat the oven to 200degrees.
Chop the butternut squash and onion into cubes of roughly 1cm.
Place on a baking tray along with 6 unpeeled/chopped cloves of garlic, a small sprinkling of chilli flakes and a glug of olive oil. Shake to coat.
Roast for 45 minutes, shaking the tray half way. I find that roasting makes the squash taste so much sweeter than when it's boiled or baked!
Once the veggies have softened, leave to cool for five minutes, remove four or five of the garlic cloves (dependent on your tastes!) before transferring to a blender.
Add the stock and a small bunch of coriander. I also added a few pumpkin seeds as I'm obsessed with them at the moment!
Pour into a bowl.
Stir in a dollop of creme fraiche* and garnish with fresh coriander, a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and a pinch of chilli flakes.
Serve with fresh crusty bread and salty butter* and enjoy!

*Optional - leave these out to make this soup entirely dairy free.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

LOVE FOOD HATE WASTE // Are you Storing your Food Correctly?

Recycling is a topic I'm rather passionate about; I've written lots of posts about reducing and recycling your food waste over the past couple of years. Since making the commitment to recycle as much as I can, I'm proud to say I now recycle pretty much everything - the only thing that goes into my black bin is unrecyclable food packaging like cling film, although I'm now working on reducing that too.

Another thing I'm looking at reducing is my food waste. It's all well and (very) good to compost any spoiled food that you have but it would be even better to have none at all! So here are a few tips and tricks for storing some popular food stuffs correctly and making sure they're stored safely, and in order to make them last longer and taste better!

Storage for safety

Top shelf: This is where you should store your ready to eat food, such as dairy products including yoghurt and cream, as well as any jars and condiments you have.

Second shelf: On this shelf, store more ready to eat food such as cooked meats, leftover meals and packaged food, and any jars and condiments that are too tall for your top shelf.

Third shelf: This is where to store raw meat, poultry and fish. If you’re storing uncooked meat, fish and poultry here, make sure the shelf is designed in such a way that it won’t allow the raw food to drip onto the salad box below by ensuring there’s a lip on the edge like on these stylish built in fridges.

Bottom shelf: This is where to store your salad, fruit and vegetables. Keep your fruit and vegetables in separate drawers if possible as many fruits emit a gas that accelerates rotting in vegetables.

Storage for flavour & longevity

Now that we’ve covered off how to store your fridge food safely, here's how to store particular ingredients to ensure you’re getting maximum flavour and shelf-life from them.

Avocados:  If your avocados aren’t ripe when you bring them home from the supermarket, store them at room temperature on the worktop. If you need to hurry this process along, try placing them in a brown paper bag alongside an apple. Once they’re perfectly ripe, store them in the fridge. 

Bananas:  Your bananas should be kept on your worktop to ripen, and storing them beside other fruits such as tomatoes and apples will help to speed this process up. Some people then transfer their bananas to the fridge to slow down the ripening process, turning the skins black. However, the flesh of the banana will still be fine to eat if you don’t mind a brown skin.

Cakes:  Plain sponge cakes can be stored at room temperature on the worktop (out of direct sunlight) so long as they’re kept in an airtight container or are tightly wrapped in cling film. Cakes containing buttercream, ganache, custard, cream, cream cheese or fresh fruit should be kept in the fridge and stored for one or two days max.

Coffee beans: If you like to grind your own coffee beans, make sure you’re storing them properly. You’ll need to counter the effects of air, moisture, heat and light, so store your coffee beans in an airtight container at room temperature. However, just make sure the container is opaque so that light can’t get in. Keep the container away from areas of heat in your kitchen (such as the oven), and if you can’t get use them quick enough, consider freezing them so that they retain their rounded, roasted flavour. Just be sure to use a truly airtight container to prevent moisture from getting in.

Eggs: Don’t store your eggs in the door of your fridge. I have no idea why they often put egg holders in this part of the fridge as it is often the warmest, and it’s also the most susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Keep them in their boxes and store them on your worktop, but if you’d rather keep them in the fridge, just keep them on your top or second shelf where the temperature is nice and consistent.

Fresh herbs: Hardy herbs will last the longest if you arrange them on a single layer of slightly damp paper towel. Then roll it up and transfer this bundle into a plastic bag and store it in the salad compartment of your fridge. Tender herbs will last the longest if you snip the base off them from the stem. Then pop them in a jar with an inch of cool water in the bottom, just as you would with flowers. Store these in the fridge if you have space, or keep them on the worktop.

Garlic: Most people make the mistake of storing their garlic in the fridge. But you’ll actually get the best flavour if you store it at room temperature in a dark, well ventilated area (such as in a wire basket where the air can get to it). I have a special ceramic garlic pot with holes in it, that I picked up at a flea market in Italy.

Onions & Potatoes: Store onions and potatoes in a dark, well-ventilated place, making sure the room isn’t too warm. (Anywhere above 10° will make them spoil faster). Keep them in the mesh bag they came in, or at last remove them from a plastic bag if that’s how you bought them so that air can circulate freely. Just keep them separate so the gases don’t spoil either ingredient.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

THE HEN DIARIES // Resucing Hens with the BHWT

At the weekend I fulfilled a dream that I've had ever since moving to the country five years ago. The girls and I adopted six ex-battery hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust.

Back in London, when Daisy was a toddler and Evie was but a twinkle in her father's eye, I had a brood of Rhode Island Reds. I got them as week old chicks (they had been hatched at a local primary school) and watched them grow into lovely fluffy hens that each laid us an egg, every single day, for as long as we had them. They really were absolutely lovely pets and I always knew we'd get more one day.

This time round I was determined to give some ex-battery hens new, happy lives. I'd watched a documentary about their treatment and was completely horrified, especially after having kept backyard hens myself and knowing how lovely and clever and personable they are.

At roughly a year old, after a short miserable life, never seeing daylight and being in such close proximity to each other that they peck each others feathers out and are unable to do all the normal things free range hens do - like dust bathing, perching or making nests - battery hens are no longer considered commercially viable and sent off to slaughter.

UK laws may have changed since then, but the new, apparently improved, "enriched"* cages are only a third bigger than their earlier counterparts, the poor hens still never see daylight and they are still slaughtered very young (a hen's average life span is 8-10 years!) just because their egg laying slows down by one or two a week. I honestly have no idea how anyone can knowingly buy cheap, poor welfare eggs and, despite there being many attempts to educate the nation over recent years, I think a lot of people tend to turn a blind eye to their treatment which is very sad.

So let me lighten the mood a little bit and introduce you to the new additions to our family!

From left to right we have Marianne Faithfull, Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw, Twiggy, Cilla Black and Pattie Boyd, all named after sixties style icons because, lets face it, they are totally going to be style icons of their own once they grow their feathers back and get a bit of meat on those bones!

They're all Rhode Island Red crosses, bred for their docility and, if these ladies are anything like our old gang, they'll be gentle and friendly, and up to all sorts of mischief, in no time at all.

Collecting them from the rescue farm in Sussex was quite an experience. The BHWT do some seriously amazing work and have already saved 600,000 hens from slaughter over the last ten years. They arrange the collection of the hens from their "enriched"* battery farms, bring them to the collection centre and then send them off to their new homes in a very short space of time to avoid any unnecessary stress. They do a very good job of it but I can still imagine it's quite an ordeal for them.

I think poor Twiggy is our baldest babe!
Seeing all these scraggy, bald chickens blinking like mad in the sunlight broke my heart. Without meaning to sound horrible, they are quite distressing to look at. Some have more feathers than others (in my brood, Marianne and Cilla aren't too bad, but the other four are pretty much naked). I had done my research before adopting them but still wasn't quite prepared for the sight of them and am not ashamed to admit I had a little cry. It's unbelievable that, in this day and age, animals are allowed to be treated so atrociously. And thats why I want to publicly show my support for such an amazing, yet completely overlooked, charity.

My sixties style icons are already settling into their new home; yesterday we had a full house - six eggs! What hard little workers! More updates from the coop soon.

PS Following on from this weekend's rescue, seventy hens still remain unadopted in the south of England. If you're close to Devon and able to look after some in their retirement, please get in touch with the BHWT - you can do so via their Facebook page here.

PPS Huge thanks to Omlet for sending my girls such a beautiful new home - what lucky things! Review coming soon.

*I have to keep putting enriched in inverted commas because PLEASE! It makes them sound luxurious, which could not be further from the truth.


Monday, 2 October 2017

GOOD FOOD // #StressLess with the new HelloFresh Family Boxes

By now I'm pretty confident in saying I CAN COOK (so long as you give me all the ingredients already measured out and douchebag proof step-by-step instructions). I've been buying HelloFresh boxes for almost an entire year now, and I honestly can't imagine life without them. I realise they're expensive; they're an utter luxury for me and my budget - but I'm more than happy to sacrifice other things to be able to pay for them because:

(1) the ingredients are always super fresh and amazing quality, which is very important to me
(2) I love not having to stress about what to cook for dinner every night
(3) I love getting to try new recipes every week - this is extra brilliant for the kids as they get to try new cuisines and learn about seasonal produce
(4) HelloFresh genuinely have taught me how to cook - and I actually enjoy doing it now whereas before it was a chore that would, more often than not, seriously stress me out!

And that's exactly the point of their new campaign.

HelloFresh have updated and improved their family recipe boxes to help you #StressLess - by reducing the amount of time you need to spend planning, prepping and cooking your family meals. An average meal takes just half an hour to make in total - plus each portion always contains at LEAST one or two of your five a day - some have all five! (making sure the kids get enough vegetables is something else I'm always stressing about). All the recipes have also been developed, tested and approved by a panel of both parents and kids who all gave them a huge, unanimous thumbs up. And WE DO TOO!

The picture above is of the sausage stew, with a goat's cheese topping and toasted ciabatta, which has knocked the honey and mustard glazed pork and lentil recipe off the top spot to be crowned our new favourite HelloFresh family dish. It's absolutely perfect for this time of year, when the evenings are starting to get chilly and you fancy something hearty and warming for dinner - take a look at the recipe here if you're looking for autumnal cooking inspiration that the whole family will love. And if you're interested in giving HelloFresh a trial you can do so with a £25 off your first box by signing up here.*

*Affiliate link - I also get £25 off one of my boxes.

This post was written in collaboration with HelloFresh who very kindly gave me a couple of complimentary boxes to be able to do so. However as you all know I am a MASSIVE HelloFresh fan and usually pay for it with my own hard earned cash. I would happily recommend the service to anyone and everyone!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Good Food // Breakfast with Ready Brek #Ad

I'm a firm believer that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it also just happens to be my favourite. It's usually only the weekends that I get to slow down and enjoy a leisurely breakfast myself, but I always make the effort for the kids during the week so that I can send them off to school knowing that their bellies are full and they're all set until lunchtime.

The original Ready Brek is one of our favourite breakfast cereals - and what a great way to kick start the day! Made from wholegrain rolled oats, rich in calcium and vitamin D, and with no added salt or sugar, it's both healthy and nutritious - and with unlimited combinations of toppings it never gets boring either. The girls love to top theirs with banana and honey, or jam and chopped nuts, and on Friday mornings it's tradition to have it with a dollop of chocolate hazelnut spread (and a side of fresh fruit too).

From a mum's point of view, I love that it's so quick to make - you just need to heat up a pan of milk on the hob or put it in the microwave - but it's still a really hearty and warming breakfast, full of slow release energy, that's perfect before the walk to school on a chilly autumn morning.

I never have time to sit down for breakfast during the week but I still like to make sure I eat well. A current favourite is to whizz up a Ready Brek fuelled smoothie in the NutriBullet, which I can then drink on the go. The Ready Brek really fills you up, and as the oats are rolled so finely they are super smooth and easy-to-drink!

Here's my recipe for Banana + Honey Ready Brek Smoothies with Chia, Sunflower + Pumpkin Seeds which a few of you asked for after I featured it on my Instagram Stories earlier this week.

Ready Brek
Milk* - can be regular or dairy / lactose free alternatives
Chia seeds
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds

What to do.
Add all the ingredients to a blender. I tend to use around three tablespoons of Ready Brek and then top it up with around a third of a pint of milk* but you can experiment to come up with your perfect consistency.
Chop up the banana and add it, along with a spoonful of honey and a sprinkling of each of the seeds.
Blend and serve!

*Can also be made with hot milk on an extra chilly day!

Written in association with Ready Brek

Sun Worshipping in Marbella with UKSwimwear.com

First I got my bosoms out for Natalie Lee's Warrior Woman Project, now I'm prancing around by a pool in Marbella being photographed in my swimwear! Whatever next?

But this isn't any old swimwear, oh no. Here I'm wearing the striped bandeau swimsuit from Gottex, which the lovely people at UKSwimwear.com very kindly sent me when they heard about my trip to Spain last weekend.

In the past, fancy swimwear has never really been on my radar. First of all I can't actually swim so you'll never catch me heading to the local pool to do a few lengths after I've dropped the kids at school. Similarly we very rarely go on foreign beach/pool holidays in the summer. I'm ashamed to admit that I've had the same swimsuit for quite a few years and I got it in an end-of-season supermarket sale. Needless to say it's not the prettiest but it does the trick if I decide to take the kids to the leisure centre on a Saturday morning, plus I have a few bikinis which I wear for optimum tanning when the good old British sunshine does decide to make an appearance.

I decided to go for a Gottex swimsuit from UKSwimwear.com after a friend recommended the brand and, more specifically, had commented on how supportive their swimwear is. The striped bandeau one I chose has tummy control and it's no secret that my tummy is the part of my body I'm most self conscious about. The fabric is incredible quality and really thick, so straight away I noticed - and loved - the support it offered plus, with its black, white and gold stripes of varying thicknesses and two sheer panels I felt that it was in a different league to your standard block black or navy support swimsuit. It also has removable gold straps (which I chose not to wear) and soft built in cups which provide some additional support for your boobs if you want or need it. Overall I thought this was a really glamorous looking control swimsuit and it turned out to be super comfy too.

I honestly didn't realise what a difference a good quality swimsuit would make to my confidence - I ended up spending four whole days sun worshipping next to the pool at our Marbella apartment and I even went for a dip in it every day!

The price tag may be a bit on the hefty side (£148.95) but honestly I think it's worth every penny. The thought, details, materials and workmanship that have gone into making this swimsuit are very apparent, even before you put it on.

Thanks so much to UKSwimwear for gifting me this swimsuit. All thoughts are honest and my own.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

My Top Tips for a Stress Free Dinner Party

Dinner parties are officially my new favourite thing. As a single mum I struggle with child care at the best of times; evenings are the hardest time to find someone to look after my little'uns, firstly because the cost of paying someone more often than not doubles the price of my night out and, secondly, because I have a feeling my offspring would run rings round someone else attempting to put them to bed and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

Getting my friends round for a bit of a dinner party means I can put the kids to bed myself as well as having a pretty inexpensive night 'out' - and as soon as they're asleep (ok, maybe before) I can crack open the vino and wait for my friends to arrive.

Of course being the hostess with the hostess is extra fun because you get to show off your flair in the kitchen (ha!) - plus it also gives you the excuse you need to give your house a proper deep clean. But if you're like me and cooking (and time keeping) isn't your forte it's easy to end up getting stressed. To help you out, here are some top tips for a dinner party that is as stress-free as possible.

Ask for allergies and dietary requirements 
Remember to check with everyone who is coming to find out whether anyone has any allergies or dietary requirements. You might be surprised that people you have known for a long time have food allergies that mean they can’t eat certain dishes – more than 170 foods have been shown to cause allergic reactions. You might also find that someone in the group is vegetarian or have some other specific dietary need and knowing ahead of time gives you the chance to cook food to suit everyone.

Learn the art of cocktail making 
Cocktails are ALWAYS a great idea. They get everyone in a good mood, and alcohol can even help to improve the flavour of food (not that I'm saying your food needs it..... mine probably does!). If your experience in cocktail creation doesn’t extend much beyond mixing Jack Daniels with Coke, it could be worth taking lessons to learn how to craft something to impress your guests. Experience day provider Into the Blue offer a range of fun cocktail mixing classes where you can discover the secrets of creating delicious drinks.

Cook what you’re comfortable with
When you come to choose what you’re going to cook, it’s tempting to get creative and go for something outlandish and impressive. But I think it's a better idea to stick to what you know and choose dishes that you have cooked plenty of times before. A quiet midweek dinner is the time to experiment, not tonight; you’ll impress your guests far more with a well cooked meal than with a failed attempt at something unusual.

Balance the dishes 
Sometimes when we plan menus, we think about the most delicious dishes we know how to cook. The problem is when you choose too many heavy and rich dishes for the meal. If you’re going to have a heavy main course, try to choose a nice and light starter so that your guests won’t get weighed down with too much stodge. Pick dishes that complement each other for the best possible results – it’s a good idea to stick to just one cuisine throughout.

Get as much done beforehand as you can 
One of the real keys to a dinner party that is as free from stress as possible is to get as much prep done as you can beforehand. Choose recipes that will allow you to do a lot of the hard work earlier in the day – you want to be entertaining your guests when they arrive, not slaving away in the kitchen. Some things are simple, such as getting all of your ingredients chopped and ready to go, while desserts can be created a day before, ready to be popped in the oven when dinner is out of the way.

Clean as you work 
This! ALWAYS THIS! When you’re doing the cooking, take the time to clean everything up as you go – it can be a bit of a pain, but you’ll thank yourself in the end. If you just leave everything out you’ll realise quickly that you’ve run out of space to get everything plated up. Plus you’ll have an enormous pile to washing up to return to when the evening is over.

Remember to have fun 
This might be your dinner party and you might feel the need to be a great host – but make sure you have fun too! Don’t plan your evening around trying to please everyone else; they're there to spend time with you. Ensure that you leave enough of the evening away from the kitchen so that you can enjoy the company of the people you have invited round.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Celebrating Elephant Appreciation Day with Blackberry Gin Fizz Cocktails + 31Dover.com

As if I ever need an excuse to make cocktails, tomorrow is Elephant Appreciation Day and my good friends at 31Dover.com very kindly sent me a bottle of Elephant Gin in order to celebrate.

Elephant Gin is an independent London Dry Gin inspired by Africa, and 15% of all profits go to two African elephant foundations to support their preservation and that of African wildlife in general. It's distilled in Germany using fourteen botanicals, including some rare African ingredients which really give it a really distinctive spicy taste.

Each bottle is custom made and priced at £29.95. Elephant also make a sloe gin which is utterly delicious and really warms the cockles (especially at this time of year when the weather's getting a bit chilly!).

ALSO perfect at this time of year is a Blackberry Gin Fizz, and that's exactly what I made using my bottle of Elephant Gin.

Elephant Gin
Prosecco (I used Martini prosecco, available from 31Dover.com for £9.95)
Blackberries (frozen ones work just as well as fresh)
Lime juice
Crushed ice

What to do.
Use a fork to crush four or five blackberries in a bowl. Remove the cores if they're especially big.
Add to the bottom of a hi ball glass and add a small shot of gin. I used 15ml but you can add more if you want to ;)
Fill glass with crushed ice.
Top up with prosecco.
Add a squeeze of lime.
Garnish with a slice of lime and a couple of blackberries.

Enjoy x


Divorce or Break Up: Who Gets the Dog?

A separation or divorce from your long term partner can be traumatic, and all the more stressful if there are disputes over shared belongings. Add a beloved family pet to the equation and the emotional anguish of who should get the cat or dog can be as heart breaking as if there were children involved.

Pet custody battles are becoming more common during separation and divorce proceedings. According to research carried out by the Cooperative Pet Insurance, about 1 in 5 separating couples take legal advice and fight for the custody of their pet when the relationship breaks down. What’s more, 1 in 10 people felt that losing their pet was actually worse than splitting up with their partner!

If think you may have to give up the family pet as a result of a relationship ending, an experienced firm of divorce and family law solicitors should be your first port of call for specialist advice on how to deal with this difficult issue.

How are pets treated under English law? 
While you may view your pet as a family member rather than a possession, pets are viewed as ‘chattels’ under English law. Just like any other personal property, or the contents of the former matrimonial home, they can be fought over by both parties in divorce proceedings.

Courts are often reluctant to get involved in pet disputes. In the same way as you might argue over who should keep the TV or the car when you get divorced, the Court will always prefer you to settle these kinds of issues between yourselves. If this is not possible, the Court can break the impasse by ordering a transfer of ownership or pedigree papers to one party.

The Court may also make a provision for the cost of the pet’s upkeep as part of calculating the income needs of the party keeping the pet. Kennel space, vet bills or land for horses, for instance, will then form part of the overall financial divorce settlement. While English law makes no provision for how a Court will arrive at such a decision, the main carer for the animal will in all likelihood stand the best chances of being awarded ‘custody’. In a divorce case in 2011, the judge rejected an application for the transfer of the family dog to the wife because the pet had mostly been looked after by the husband.

What if you’re not married? 
In the case of unmarried couples, the Court is most likely to make the decision based on a strict interpretation of the law: ownership of the pet is determined by who paid for it and who is the registered owner. Evidence can take the form of receipts and invoices or Kennel Club registration papers.

Of course, it is not uncommon for often lengthy and costly legal proceeding to ensue regardless in an attempt not to be separated from the family pet.

Could the law be changing? 
Earlier this year, Alaska enacted a law that will treat family pets more like children. Courts there will now have to take the animal’s wellbeing into account when deciding which party the pet should go to, with joint custody being the default option.

English divorce law is a long way from this approach, despite the fact that animals do actually have significant rights in the UK. However, granting pets enhanced rights would raise new questions. Should a pet dog have the same rights as, say, a guinea pig? How would you assess the best interests of a goldfish? In reality, it would seem that grappling with intricate legal stipulations such as these is not high on the government’s list of priorities.

Pets and prenups 
Pre-empting the problem of who gets custody of the family pet if the relationship fails can be done via a prenuptial agreement (for married couples) or a cohabitation agreement (for unmarried couples). This agreement can include provisions for care of the family dog or cat, including ownership, custody and even visitation rights in case of a breakdown in the relationship.

Without an agreement like this in place, it is up to the separating couple and their respective lawyers to deal with the issue of pets and any disputes surrounding custody with the utmost sensitivity.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Mindfulness for Children // The Calm Buddha at Bedtime

Mindfulness is a bandwagon that I've happily jumped on recently. Its very trendy to practice meditation and mindfulness right now, but it is in fact something that has been practiced for thousands of years and I don't think it should be a passing phase for anyone.

In short, mindfulness is a really simple type of meditation, that involves relaxation, breathing, focusing on any negative thoughts you may have and learning to deal with them before they have a more serious effect on you. Its a way of controlling your feelings and, ultimately your life, and in doing so leaning to be compassionate - to yourself as well as to others.

Today's world is incredibly fast paced, which I think can sometimes have a negative effect on us all if we're not careful, children included. Daytimes are packed full of activities and technology, so it's important to me that the girls and I all take some time out to relax at some point. Our evenings have always been the time to reflect on the day and to wind down before bedtime. We have a no tech rule after dinner (that includes TV) and, even though the girls are getting older now, we still follow the traditional bedtime routine of dinner, bath, pyjamas, story and then sleep!

Evie has now joined Daisy at school, which means lots of changes for her. Making new friends, learning new routines and new things in general, even just being away from home for six hours a day can all take its toll on someone so little. I hate to think of any child feeling stressed about changes in their lives, so I'm making an extra special effort to spend time with her, one to one, at bedtime. To talk about how school is going and to make sure she is happy and relaxed. I've started to stagger bedtimes so that Daisy also gets a bit of time with me once Evie is all tucked up and I have to say it's working really well.

A new addition to the kids' bookshelf is The Calm Buddha at Bedtime by Dharmachari Nagaraja, a practising Buddhist for over twenty years and previously head of the Covent Garden Meditation Centre and a regular presenter on BBC Radio 2. He has put together a collection of eighteen ancient Buddhist tales that teach children about friendship, honesty and compassion. These particular stories have been chosen to reassure children about any worries they might have, to teach them valuable life lessons, to boost their self-confidence and to promote relaxation and prepare them for a good night's sleep. Of course they are also really lovely stories, with beautiful illustrations, engaging characters and good morals, all of which makes them perfect bedtime reading!

We have been reading a story a night since the beginning of term and Evie loves getting 'the bedtime book' out and finding the right page to start the next instalment! Each story has a message and we like to take time to talk about them and relate them to every day scenarios once we have finished reading them. There's also a collection of mindfulness meditations at the end of the book that can be used at any time of day to help bring calm and contentment, and a bit more information on learning to mediate, which is great for first timers both young and old.

I very rarely review books on the blog but this one (which we were very kindly sent by the publisher - thank you!) has turned out to be really special and I'd recommend it to any parent looking for something simple and meaningful to read with their children, particularly at this quite stressful time of year.

Its available on Amazon here for £12.99.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Good Food // Lunch at ROAST, Borough Market

I'm lucky enough to get to review restaurants quite regularly, although most of the time I'm specifically asked to bring the children with me for their point of view too. Last week, however, I was invited to have lunch at Roast in Borough Market, and I deliberately arranged to go on a week day while the kids were at school so that I could take my friend Emma along instead (sorry kids!). After the school holidays we both definitely deserved a long, leisurely, boozy, child free lunch.

Borough Market is one of my favourite places in London. I love the colour, and the smells, and the noise. It's just so vibrant and alive. It's all undercover so makes a brilliant day out, whatever the weather; in fact I particularly love it in the lead up to Christmas - the New Forest Cider stall is amazing all year round but starts to sell the most delicious mulled cider when the weather turns cold. There are also hundreds of stalls to pick up special bits and pieces for festive meals, or Christmas presents for foodie friends. It was a treat in itself to jump on the train into London and have a little wander around the market, but getting to have a fancy lunch in a beautiful restaurant made the day extra special.

Roast is upstairs in the Floral Hall at Borough Market and, if you get the right seat, has some seriously spectacular views across London and of the market itself.

Restauranteur Iqbal Wahhab OBE (of Cinnamon Club fame) opened Roast in 2005. Together with Head Chef Stuart Cauldwell, they source the finest quality, seasonal produce from British farmers, fishermen and wine makers (a lot of their ingredients come from the stalls of Borough Market!) and the amazing menu is a tribute to them all. It literally took us half an hour to choose what to eat for each course, and that was even after pouring over the menu online at home!

In the end we opted for the seared scallops with fennel, blueberries, lavender and smoked almonds and the Dorset crab and avocado with cucumber to start, washed down with expertly paired glasses of Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Hungarian dry Tokaji respectively.

For our mains Emma chose the braised ox cheeks with creamed onion and smoked Isle of Wight garlic with a (huge!) side of mashed potato, washed down with a glass of Saint-Joseph cuvee Ro-Ree syrah.

I went for the Hereford sirloin steak (cooked to PERFECTION!) which had been recommended by our server. It came with chimichurri and chips, and I had a baby gem heart salad with preserved lemon and caper dressing on the side. I also had a large glass of Roast's very own, and exceptionally delicious, Malbec.

The highlight of the meal for me had to be the dessert! We had the Cambridge burnt cream (which was a plate for two) and it was honestly the most delicious creme brûlée I have ever eaten. A final glass of Moscato d'Asti Nivola finished off the meal perfectly.

Our meal at Roast was utter perfection; each course was heaven, and our servers were lovely and extremely knowledgeable about the menu and its ingredients. They made excellent recommendations based on our tastes, and were attentive but not over bearing. Special thanks to our sommelier, Marco Antonio Silva, who was absolutely incredible and picked out some wonderful wines to compliment our food.

You can find Roast at The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, London SE1 1TL // Tel: 0203 00 66 111

Our food and drinks were complimentary in exchange for this honest review. All words and photographs are my own.
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