Wednesday 29 August 2012

Why use a slow cooker

I am not alone in my love of slow cooking, and having converted a few peoples over on twitter, thought I'd jot down some notes, as I am often being asked about it!

Prep for Chilli

Chilli with Tortillas, cheese and peppers
As I work from home, with children, I could be in danger of catering all day long, and then after the children have gone have to start afresh for our own dinner.  Slow cooking means I can prepare our evening meal around lunchtime, and not have to worry about it until later in the evening when I just need to dish up.

It is also cost effective, using the same amount of energy as a lightbulb, and though I would never leave the house with the oven or hob on, I have no qualms about leaving the slow cooker plugged in.
Chicken Jalfrezi
It is also fantastic if you have a dinner party, when I have been known to have 2 or 3 going at a time!  It means when guests arrive I am more or less done, and I can get myself ready without running around doing *stuff* at the last minute.

I personally have a 3.3l and a 6l.   The 3.3l is perfect for a family of 3 or 4, unless you are doing something like lamb shanks when you might need something larger.
Lamb Tagine
I regularly do curries, various cuts of mean, even a "roast chicken" recently, you can check out some of my other ideas here!

They retail at around £20/25, so it's not too big an investment if you don't take to it, and if you don't I bet you'd find someone who would!

@mediocre_mum hosts a #scsunday (slowcooker sunday) over on her blog, which is a great place for ideas and inspiration, and I have bought several books from Amazon starting at around £3.

What's not to love?  Would love some feedback :)

Annie x

Sunday 26 August 2012

Stabilo - A Back to School Review

You may or may not know that back in the day I actually worked in National Sales for a well-known pen manufacturer.  I was therefore very happy reviewing some of the products Stabilo had in line for Back To School - an important time of year!

I have an 8yo boy due to go into Year 4.  Jasper is somewhat a typical boy, in that he's not really that interested in writing, as this takes him away from running and shouting and climbing, what 8yo boys do best. (I know there will always exceptions).

Also interesting is that until this year the children have been writing in pencil.   In Year 4 they are awarded their "pen license", something - told by the mother of an 8yo girl, "they really look forward to"!

Then we have soon to be 5yo Scarlett.  Due to go into Reception in September, and is very, very excited!  Scarlett colours, draws, and writes at most given opportunities!

Personally I loved all the shapes and colours, they are very attractive to the eye, and very nice to hold.  There has been some careful thought and design behind them, and who will be using them!  Younger hands find it easier to hold the bigger pens, then go for the smaller more traditional pen as dexterity increases!  Unless you are left handed like me, where I still prefer the bigger pens - or the Stabilo Easy designed for left handers (was bought as a gift many years ago)!

On that point, we were sent the Stabilo Easy for Right handers, which both my children are.

It has been designed to teach children where they fingers should be positioned, and comes with refillables.  Scarlett loved it, particularly as it could be personalised - she very much took ownership of it (it was also in pink, though it does come in blue as mine is)!

I did however let Jasper have a turn - having dragged him away from a fire engine game.  Jasper said it felt a bit weird, but he did a good job writing with it.  This may be something I have to revisit with him once he has said license!

Next we looked at the Woody 3 in 1, it's perfect for the creative doodlers who just don't sit still.  This chunky tool is a colour pencil, watercolour and wax crayon all in one.  Ideal for both big and little hands, at only £8 for a pack of 6, the price will keep parents happy too.

We also looked at the Cappi Pens.  All the caps are strung together on a clever ring, to help keep them together and therefore - which drives me dolally - stop them getting lost!   It's also perfect to fit round the loop of a car or aeroplane seat - just genius!  They are £6.50 for a pack of 12 - bargain!!

Shall be packing these for Germany in October!

All the products are available at Amazon, Cult Pens and good stationers nationwide :)

For more information please contact: 
Laura Shroff at Primal PR on 01628 594429 or
Hannah Stewart at Primal PR on 01628 594419 or

We have now had to invest in pencil case for Scarlett, which is already been packed into her bookpack ready for Back To School *sobs at where has my little girl gone* :)

Annie x

Friday 24 August 2012

A letter to my 16 year old self........

I first heard this being done on Absolute Radio, and found it awesome, its taken some time but here goes.  Apologies for crap pics but most are at my mothers!

For the record I turned 16 on the 18th January 1983!

Dear Anne – yes are still Anne at the moment but soon Captain McVaign will re-christen you Annie, in a few years time when working for Cunard – there’s a joke there but I won’t labour it!

 You did great in school, despite all the teacher’s expectations (mainly based on the fact that you smoke)!  9 O’Levels, and you got your City & Guilds in Engineering.   I’m afraid the latter won’t work out directly for you, but it will stand you in good stead for the future.   Unless you start practicing lifting bus tyres for future interviews, but I shouldn’t bother!  Do as your mum says and go back to school for a year!

Oh and by the way, you always wanted to beat Gary’s tally of 6 O’Levels, well in about 20 years time he’ll confess that he only ever got 3 – once a git, but you know that – and actually hold that thought, he currently owns a pub J

You are very close to Gary Yearwood at the moment, through Cardinal Newmans’s and in fact he helped you a lot at Acton Tech too!  I suggest you give him a hug at every given opportunity.  He really needs it, though he won’t tell anyone, and I hate to say he won’t be around for long.........

Also, and I hate to shatter your illusions, but Gary O’Donnell is not the one.   I think you should have taken the hint when he called you fat with greasy hair, but you’re a thick skinned trier I’ll give you that!   And ignore Michelle, you will get many of those types in the coming years and you already know how to deal with them!

Drinking in the Vic most weekends probably not the best idea – but you know what, you’re having a ball so actually, go for it – it won’t hurt anyone, just maybe steer clear of the bunny park afterwards, you know what I mean ;)

If I told you you’d end up married with 2 kids you’d probably die laughing, well it’s true and you don’t do half a bad job of it.   The first marriage won’t work out, but hey what doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger – and you will look “thin” in your wedding dress in Vegas!

On that point, where to start, stop starving yourself and get your mum to hide the scales, you need to address this as soon as!  Coffins come in all shapes and sizes, seriously!!!!  No-one else cares too much what you look like!  (I may have to come back to you on this point, privately)!

Oh, and possibly my best advice (?) keep your ear to the ground regarding a new social networking site called Twitter!  Through that you’re gonna make some of the bestest friends for life, embrace it and enjoy!

Regarding football, it’s gonna get a whole lot worse but it will get a whole lot better – I’d say stick with it but then you have no choice!

Take it easy out there, forgive your father and remember negativity and anger rots you from the inside, it aint worth it!

All my love (God I’m actually crying)
Annie xxx

p.s.  When you go skiing, don’t wear any clothing that says No Fear, when you fall of the chair lift and cry like a girl, you’re going to look like a muppet!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Competition to win a trio of #anywayupcup

Competition Alert!

When Jasper was a baby - he's now 8 - I had one of the iconic, no spill, anywayup "Moo" Cups, as we called it.  I ended up getting several as I was mightily upset when the inlaw's let it be carelessly tossed from the pram - anyone find one in Rothamstead Park and it's mine by the way!  OK I was a new mama and am now over it but at the time *spitting*

So I was really interested in other products they had developed.  The little boy I look after is 19 months old (I have parental permissions for the pic), and he's been using the no spill cup, designed to help train children to begin to use any cup.  It's a great invention, but I would say if they hurl it with enough force they can still spill some *water, but not enough to get stressed about :)

* I only ever give water to the children, sounds mean, but I only serve liquid I don't want my carpet to wear!

And now we have the brand new Bird Cups, and I am running a competition for someone to win a Trio of them!   They are set to launch during September, so to get your hands on a shiny brand new set, just fill in the rafflecopter below, couldn't be simpler.   We'll pick a winner at random after the closing date!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway Good luck!
p.s. I am loving reading all your comments, unfortunately I can't answer all at the moment otherwise I would be in danger of winning them myself, and that would never do *sighs*

Slowcooker Lamb Rogan Josh and Pilau Rice

Last night we had this with *cheats* pilau rice, was delicious :)

Lamb neck fillet, I used 2, around 6/700g
a little butter
2 onions chopped
2cm ginger - I used the cheat version from the fridge
3 garlic cloves chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbs plain flour
1 tsp dried red chillies
400g can chopped tomatoes
300ml lamb stock
2 cinnamon sticks
4 tbs double cream and a handful of coriander leaf torn, to finish/garnish
Preheat the slow cooker to low before you start.
Melt the butter in a pan, brown the lamb, removed with a slotted spoon and put lamb in the slowcooker.
Put the onions and garlic into the same pan, and fry for a few minutes until onions soften.
Stir in the ginger, spices and chillies and cook for a minute.
Add the flour and mix.
Add the stock and tomatoes, stir until boiling.
Pour the tomato mixture over the lamb, add the cinnamon sticks, put lid on and leave for 7-9 hours.
When ready to serve, stir in the cream and garnish with the coriander leaves.

We served it with *cheats* pilau rice ----> stir a teaspoon per serving into normal rice before cooking!
Its delicious :)

Enjoy x

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Slow Cooker "Roast" Chicken - Perfect :)

This was absolutely delicious, flavoursome and tender, and to go out for the day, then home to the aromas is gorgeous!  If you did want to crisp it up (as per the pic), you could always put it into a pre-heated oven to 230 for 45 minutes (the time it takes to roast the spuds)!

1 free range chicken - size to suit
Olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dry thyme
Salt and pepper

Brush chicken with olive oil
Combine the rest of the ingredients and sprinkle over chicken
Put the chicken in the slowcooker and turn to auto - this starts the slowcooking on high then reduces to low, I let it cook for around 7 hours - was perfect!

I also took the juices, of which there was a lot, and made it into a gravy, and have frozen it for use another time - these Pour and Store freezer bags designed for liquids are just genius!

You can also do the same with Roast Pork I discovered!

Enjoy x

Monday 20 August 2012


I  was officially Christened/baptised (always forget which one) Elizabeth Anne, but my parents only every called me Anne, and when I worked for the lovely Captain McVain at Cunard, he called me Annie.  So basically I stuck an i in my name - fraud like, but hey!

I am old and whithered, but sometimes forget that bit!  I'm self-employed and love the freedom it gives me having my own business.  I have 2 wonderful children, Jasper and Scarlett, and like most parents am scared by the rate of knots that life seems to be whizzing by!

I've done stuff, had a gazillion different career changes, danced a bit in films and on TV and am currently a pushy mother with childen at StageSchool, it beats chimneys I reckon!

No idea what else to say, so I may have to come back to this, or go look at a few other blogs and nick some ideas :)

If you know me, feel free to add a comment :)

Children's TV - City of Friends on Milkshake Channel 5

I don't let my children watch television all day, but it can be useful at times, like in the morning when I am trying to get them organised to get out the door - its easier for me to run around them whilst they are sat contained!

I was alerted to a children's TV programme called City of Friends.  It is on Channel 5 at 6.20am, which is a little early for us 7am risers, but it's also on an hour later at Channel 5+1!
Max, Elphie and Ted, the main characters :)
Its a lovely programme created by Carl Christian, who worked for the Norway State Police, and was also recruited into the Special Forces (S.W.A.T.) team, handling serious cases of crime!   It was whilst working here he realised how much all the rescue services worked together and over time they "built friendships and realised that this special teamwork made their jobs and lives more rewarding, and we began to appreciate the work each other was doing."

Wanting to pass on important life lessons to his son, he began creating stories, and his son devoured them, then his nursery school asked if Carl would go in and read the stories to the other children.   Realising how popular the characters were becoming, and having watched a children's TV programme, Carl's dream was to get his stories broadcast, and through private sector funding his dream was realised in 2007, with the first programmes broadcast in 2008.

Four years on and City of Friends is now broadcast in over 150 countries, and I can see why it is so popular.   It is aimed at the pre-school age group, Scarlett 4 loves it, but my 8yo Jasper also enjoyed it, but then he's also pretty obsessed by rescue vehicles!

City of Friends airs weekdays on Channel Five’s Milkshake! at 6.20am every day (and an hour later at Channel 5+!). To see the rest of the characters and some clips head over to the City of Friends website and the Facebook page to find out more information.

Enjoy x

Sunday 19 August 2012

QPR V SWANSEA guest Review By Emily x

I love my QPR, yes I hated *that* result, but hey, a much more composed lady has written a post about the game, and I for one love her!  See it here!

There was a fitting tribute to our Macca before the game though, and on 5 minutes!  RIP Alan Macdonald :(
Thanks Emily x

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

I am finally part of a book club, hoorah!  The lovely @mummybarrow over on twitter invited me to join and I jumped at the chance.   I used to be an avid reader, so it was great to have the incentive to get back into it. If you want to get involved then get involved here :)

The first book chosen was The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - an intriguing title in itself.  In fact the author says he thought of the title before he thought of the plot, because he very much wanted to read a book with such a name.

Before reading it I did wonder what could possibly be so interesting about an old man climbing out of the window, but the story of what happened in the next few days was quite simply both hilarious and unbelievably believable!

These chapters are then interspersed with the story of the man's life leading up to that point.  I found myself hurrying between the current days happenings to the past history, as was the want for further knowledge of both!

My history is a little shaky, so I was a little lost on some of the salient points, but it didn't detract from the book as a whole!

To try and sum up, this is a man who enjoys a vodka, and although not interested in politics or religion found himself travelling round the world drinking (or not drinking vodka) with most of the key political leaders through the ages - again an unbelievably believable story!  A man who does not like to second guess anything, but certainly has nine lives when it comes to survival!

Of course I won't reveal the ending, but if you were on the Ryanair flight back from Crete last Friday, I was the one laughing loudly in row 20 - sorry!

Despite the one typo I found, on page 364 *fickle* I have recommended Chris read it next so will let you know his take on it too!

Thank you T, can't wait for the next offering :)

Annie x

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Our Fab Family Siblu Holiday in the Vendee

We were lucky enough to be offered a holiday at Siblu.   We are Chris, myself, Jasper 8 and Scarlett 4!  We have neighbours from the Vendee, and having heard many tales, we were very keen to sample it for ourselves!   They worked the Vendee Globe one year, sounded great fun!

Finally the day was here!  Siblu operate on a Saturday to Saturday basis, so we travelled by Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Caen on the 21st July, and arrived late afternoon.

We finally arrived at Le Bois Dormant Parc around 8.30pm.  (For a review of the ferry trip click here)
I was concerned that Reception was closed, but they cleverly have a late arrivals box, which contained our keys, a map to the site, our code for entry through the secure barriers, also some general information as to what is on offer.

We were very impressed with the mobile home we were given, but to be honest we were so hungry, we wanted to check out the bar and grab some hot food - we had some food with us, but the allure of take away for the first night was too appealing!   Pizza and Croque Monsieur later and we were all in better humour!

I did try to purchase wifi from the bar area, but it didn't work out.  However the next morning, the ever so helpful Amy on Reception sorted it out immediately!

On the Sunday we headed to the local Supermarket.  There are two very close, the Super U and the Intermarche, we chose the Super U!   It was very, very busy (we managed to lose J, but that's for another day), mainly as all the new arrivals arrive on Saturday, and also the Supermarket closes early on a Sunday - as a tip I would say its worth bringing enough food to last you until Monday, or rely on the well stocked shop on the site, and you can do a major shop on Monday at your leisure!   We used the local shop daily for fresh baguettes, pain aux choc and croissants - normally fetched by the children armed with the right money and a whole heap of trust <-------says the ex helicopter parent ;)

After the shop we could contain the kids no longer, so headed for the pool!   I was so impressed with what was on offer! A large pool at the far side, another pool but with a cordoned off shallow pool in the middle, then a kiddies pool with little slides and stuff at the end.   In front of that were some wavy and twisty slides that opened at set times, and looked like great fun - both kids went up and down all afternoon!
A view of the kiddies pool and wavy slides
After dragging the children back to the home, we cooked a lovely BBQ - well Chris did of course, and feasted well outside, at the large table under the awning!   We were struck by how light it was until very late, which helped us all to slow down and chill out, unlike at home where night comes and we panic the kids aren't asleep ;).   After a full day here we were very happy and confident this was going to be a fun week :)
On the Monday morning we were due to meet Catherine Renaud from Siblu and Fabienne Couton-Laine from Vendee Tourisme.   We met at Le Bois Masson, which is the sister site to Le Bois Dormant.  You are allowed use of the facilities at both parcs!  Apart from Puy Du Fou, we had no plans for the week, so it was very helpful to be given some ideas of what was around the local area.

It is clear that for a family there is enough to occupy 2 weeks let alone 1, so we had to be choosy!  Having said that, there is enough as a couple too, but we had our mummy and daddy heads on!

The following summarises what we did each day, but if you want more information about any of the places we went, then click on the links which will take you to a more detailed post about each place!

After hearing about the cycle paths around, we went straight from the meeting to hire some bikes from  Le Bois Masson, and off we cycled, through beautiful pine forest, to the gorgeous, fine, sandy beach of St Jean De Monts.

We had a lovely day out and headed wearily back to the parc.   The kids had got a feel of the freedom of the parc, and obviously felt safe and secure, as they wanted to head off on their own to meet some friends they had already made.  I'll be honest, it killed me to start with, but Chris tried to reassure me it would be fine, and I managed to only check up on them about four times!  Another BBQ and we were done in - that heat and sea air will do it every time!

On Tuesday morning we headed to La Perle des Dieux to hear about the history of sardine fishing in the Vendee, and then given the opportunity to purchase some, which we did.  Some of the tins, once eaten, will also be adorning my kitchen walls, as they are designed by local artist Delphine Cossais and are fantastic!

For the rest of the day we headed to the Atlantic Toboggan Water Park - over six hours playing in the park, in the full on sunshine, absolute bliss!  I even got to chill out whilst Jasper pedalled me around on the swan pedallo's, bless!

After having another BBQ at the home, we headed to the bar area, where we relaxed and had a drink, whilst the kids had fun with their friends, we also made some friends and had a really good evening, suffice to say these people became friends for the week and addresses and emails exchanged :)

Wednesday morning, we headed to Noirmoutier Island, we could have headed to Oceanile water park, but although it looked fun, we thought we'd take it a bit easy.  (There is a market in town Wednesday and Saturdays, but I was overruled).

We headed there via the bridge, but on the way back went via the Passage Du Gois, the causeway, only accessible at certain times of the day!  What we discovered was the locals digging the seabed for clams (a quick google later), so we duly joined in!   What absolute fun, we took our foraged clams home and cooked them on the BBQ!   The locals call it the "Ballet of the Bottoms Up" - just fantastic :)  There's a video on the link if you want to see more?

Earlier in the week we had booked tickets for Puy Du Fou via the reception.  It was the one big day out we'd  planned from the UK.  It is kind of a theme park but has more to see and no rides, its difficult to explain, but worth looking into!  You can book online for discount, but Siblu reception could offer us the same discount.   So on Thursday we headed there for the day.  We arrived at 10am for the opening and literally spent over 8 hours there.  The shows they put on are spectacular, and even though in French the children were still captivated.   In between the shows there are lots of other things to see and do, so if you are in the Vendee it is an absolute must!

On Thursday evening we dined at Le Bois Masson, which was lovely, a bit of karaoke with our new found friends, well Chris did (but then he can sing), and then home for a good nights sleep!

So Friday loomed, our last day, but I cannot tell you how excited we were!  We were going to spend the morning at the pool, and then go back for some clam foraging!   However, it started to drizzle, so after a short swim we decided to head out to Port Du Bec for lunch, and what a good decision that was!   The port itself is known as the Chinese Port, as the little boats are moored to rickety old wooden pontoons, but we found the best little restaurant there, and ate the most devine seafood!
Then, drumroll please, off to forage for more clams, armed with the right kit, Team Robb were on the case!  Even in the drizzle I cannot tell you how much fun this was, Jasper kind of just made patterns in the seabed whilst Chris, Scarlett and I foraged, and what a bounty we got too!  I think the picture above says it all!

On the way back we stopped to buy some salt, which is also a feature of the region, and I love that there was a bride and groom having their pictures taken next to it, you may just make it out to the right, was trying to be discreet, bit different to our chimney sweep pics! (Not me but a British thing)!

Another delicious clam meal later - just add butter, white wine and garlic sauce, and we were off out to the bar to say goodbye to our friends.  It coincided with the opening of the 2012 Olympic games, which was a lot of fun, and was very relaxed knowing the kids were with their friends having fun and creating their own memories.   What a fantastic end to a fantastic holiday........Saturday morning we headed back to the boat for home..........

To summarise, we had a fabulous week and only wish we were there for longer.  There was so much more we could have done, Zoo des Sables, Planet Sauvage and the Aquarium to name but a few. ....  You can never be struck for ideas around the Vendee either, as at most of the places we went they had display cases with little cards describing the many things to do and see around the region.

Siblu itself was fabulous.  This is not the sort of holiday we would normally go to, but as a kid we used to go to holiday camps in England, and I can certainly see the appeal.  Even though we didn't make use of the children's clubs, the fact that the kids could take themselves off to the well equipped park, was more than enough for us.    The park itself had a football pitch, cycle path, swings, two playgrounds, and areas to play boules etc, as well as the 3 pools and slides, it was plenty big enough, but also secure enough, for me not to worry!

The mobile home was well equipped and plenty big enough for the four of us.  The children's bedroom had a mosquito blind as well as a blackout blind, genius given how light it stays into the evening.  The odd evening we knew we had an early start, it worked a treat to get them to sleep - not that that was difficult after the full days in the hot sun that we had.  The homes were also set amongst pine trees which acted as further shade, and it was lovely to sit at the table in the evening, BBQing or just relaxing.
We loved it, and now that I no longer fear the ferry ride, this will certainly be on our radar to go back to!

Annie x

Disclosure: the holiday was courtesy of Siblu holidays and Brittany Ferries