Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Chocolate favourites- Christmas party recipes

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CollectiveBias

As Christmas arrives so the supermarket aisles fill with treats, some take me flying back to my childhood Christmases, of family gatherings over the festive period.
And as the list of Christmas parties we will be attending increases, so our grocery shop to Asda over the weekend gave us lots of recipe ideas so the children can go armed with party food for the table.
With lots of inspiration, Seb didn't know where to start:
I decided to try to incorporate the favourite products from Asda's Christmas Aisle with favourite Christmas recipes, which were simple enough for my eager tribe of chefs.

Chocolate Orange Brownies
I have been meaning to try this forever, if nothing beats Brownies as a party dessert, than what could make a better Christmas party dessert than Terry's Chocolate Orange Brownies?
Ingredients
175g unsalted butter, cubed
175g dark chocolate, segmented
Terry's Chocolate Orange, segmented
3 medium eggs
275g light brown sugar
75g plain flour
50g cocoa powder

Method
  1. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees.
  2. Create a bain marie and melt the butter, gradually add the dark chocolate until completely melted.
  3. Add half the Chocolate Orange segments, and melt a piece at a time. 
  4. Remove the chocolate from the bain marie and leave to cool.
  5. Break the eggs into a large bowl, add the sugar, and whisk until fully mixed and smooth.
  6. Fold the chocolate mixture into the large bowl. Continue with the folding technique until all contents are mixed with a consistent dark brown colour.
  7. Add the cocoa powder and flour into the mixture. Again fold into the mixture, gently, until the mixture becomes close to a chocolate fudge.
  8. Line a medium baking tray and transfer the mixture into the tray. Add the remaining chocolate segments across the top at regular intervals.
  9. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. When baked the brownie will look papery on top. Leave to cool and cut.
Next on the list was using Matchmakers, and as the children love making and eating gingerbread I thought I'd adapt this recipe with some new flavours.
Orange Matchmaker Cookies
Ingredients
350g plain flour, plus extra for rolling
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground cinnamon
125g butter, cubed
175g light brown sugar
1 medium egg
4tbsp maple syrup
1tsp orange extract
Half a box of Orange Matchmakers.
Icing sugar for dusting

Method

  1. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Add the butter and blend until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and combine.
  3. Beat the eggs and syrup together, add to the main bowl and mix into the ingredients combine into a dough. Add the extract and combine. Lightly knead. Add the Matchmakers and combine.
  4. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 15mins.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  6. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, cut into shapes and place on the baking tray, ensuring finger space gaps.
  7. Bake for 10-15mins or until lightly golden. Leave on the tray for 5mins and move to a wire tray to fully cool.
  8. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Our final Christmas recipe was inspired by the children's favourite Winter treat:
Hot Chocolate Christmas Bark
Ingredients
100g white chocolate
100g milk chocolate
Handful of marshmallows
Half a packet of Oreos
Edible glitter

Method

  1. Separate the Oreos, and break the biscuits into pieces.
  2. Melt the milk chocolate over a bain marie. Pour into a medium baking tray and spread across the bottom.
  3. Melt the white chocolate over a bain marie. Pour over the milk chocolate, spread across and then use a skewer to create a marble effect.
  4. Add the Oreos, marshmallows and edible glitter with the help of a child.
  5. Put in the fridge for 30mins to an hour.
  6. Tip out and break.
  7. Devour.
And with all our of treats in airtight containers so we are ready for the first of the parties this week, as the school prepares for the Christmas break- lets just keep our fingers crossed the contained stay airtight!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Ugly Duckling - This Christmas at ShermanCymru

There are some things which make Christmas.
To me, a trip to the theatre is one of them.
More importantly a family trip.
And since we moved back to South Wales we have loved ShermanCymru's approach to Christmas.

This Christmas, "The Ugly Duckling" is the Sherman's Christmas performance for 3-6 year olds.
And so perfect for our Johnson babies.
And of course, as have Sherman productions over our years, this year's production really does provide meaningful themes for our little ones to take on board.
And, so through the laughter of the 'honk' came the journey, acceptance, friendship, belonging.
The themes mummy appreciated, which will be absorbed by my children without knowing.
The journey to acceptance, to true laughter, was a magical one.
The actors were absorbing, my children were transfixed, appreciating the humour, feeling the emotion and energy conveyed by their talent.

As always, I love watching my children.
And as I get to know my childrens personalities so I fell in love with Tom a little bit more.
Tom sat and watched, and laughed, and expressed sympathy and happiness, Tom was ready to join in with the song at the end.
I love how much the theatre allows me to understand my children.
I love the seats they take in the audience, how involved they become.
I love how much they take in, how the conversations afterward are wider ranging than I ever expect.

'The Ugly Duckling' has every aspect of theatre which I want my children to appreciate.
From wonderful lighting, scenery and props.
More so, the production had actors with multiple roles, musical actors who allow my children to observe how instruments can add to theatre, and song and physical theatre which makes my children laugh, with words being unnecessary.

Whilst this is theatre designed for children, the beauty does not escape.
The atmosphere created, the wonder of the seasons as they pass, as friendship is established, as friendships are lost, but the sense of self grows.
And a swan is created.
We all loved this production, whether observers or participants, there is much to take away.
There is a festive feel to the play, that whilst there is no reference to Christmas, a magic is created.

The Ugly Duckling is at the Sherman Theatre until 3rd January 2015 with Welsh and English performances. Ideal for ages 3-6 years. Tickets are available at £8. Visit ShermanCymru or contact the Ticket Office on 029 2064 6900.

Disclosure: We received three complimentary tickets for this performance for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Breville Family Blend Active #Review

I am fortunate that my family love to eat and love to drink.
And even more fortunate that my children love fruit and vegetables, and drink plenty of water.
In saying all of that, at this time of year, as germs and bugs fly around more during Winter I am always on the look out for ways to boost immune systems and provide much needed energy.

The Breville Family Blend Active could not have arrived at a better time, we've had almost a month of bugs and infection circulating around our home, getting everyone back to full health- and maintaining health is a priority.
And, fortunately, despite Mr J's usually reservations about gadgets filling the kitchen, has seen fit to give this pride of place on our worktop.
Mr J loves the sports bottles, loves that they can be used whilst he cycles and plays squash, and the children in turn love their 'mini' versions.
The Breville Blend Active is really easy to use which suits me down to the ground.
The bottles come in 600ml and 300ml, the blend gadget fits on in place of the lid, fits into the main station and with 300w of power the blend is simple- and even slushes and ice-cold drinks can be prepared as (with liquid added to protect the blades) the Blend Active will also crush ice.
The bottles are all secured with a superseal leak proof lid, which does cause the children difficulty in opening the bottle, but I'm happy to open their drinks rather than find the random spills around the place.
The bottles themselves are impact and shatter resistant- which gets the big thumbs up from us, everyone is loving the sports look and the ergonomic design means they are definitely people friendly.

What I love about the ease of use is how much the children can get involved in designing and creating their own drinks.
At 5 years old Seren is able to make a smoothie with the assistance of an adult, and because she chooses the ingredients and creates her drink, she then sees its hers to drink, share and finish.

With Seren's smoothies I make sure the fruit we use are peeled or soft skin. Seren's favourite smoothies generally feature strawberries or raspberries, we use about 3 dessert spoons of yoghurt to thicken and top with milk. We've also added a generous squirt of honey, as at this time of year I am grateful of anything which might boost their health.
And, then it really is as easy as throwing it all into the bottle, adding the blender lid, blitzing, and swapping the blender for the drinks bottle lid. And voila:
The boys of the house have a far wider love of fruit, that or they find it hard to decide on favourites!
With green fruit we use squash as a top up rather than dairy.

And, whilst there's no doubt that the Blend Active is a really simple way to increase the fruits consumed by children- adding to those already a mainstay of their diet- it is also a great way to treat children as well, especially as you can engage their imagination!
Seren's school concerts finished this week, and for being a completely amazing cat she was given the choice of what treat she'd like.
So we substituted fruit with a few mini Wispa bits and chocolate milk powder.
And whilst it was a treat for consuming, most of the excitement was in the preparation.
  And the cat definitely got the cream.
We have definitely welcomed the Breville Blend Active into the kitchen and our lifestyle.
It's great for adults and children to increase the fruit in daily life, which is something I definitely need.
At a RRP of £40.00 it is mid-price point for smoothie makers- for me the extra benefit of this model is the efficiency of the drinks bottle, rather than creating extra washing up. And, of course, there are always bargains to be found with Breville currently retailing the blender for £29.99. We would definitely recommend this gadget to your kitchen!

Disclosure: We received the Breville Blend Active Family Blender for the purpose of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Word of the Week #WotW

This week has been spent recouping and looking forward.
Despite worst fears I used my day off to get the decorations sorted and the tree up.
The tree was decorated overnight.
Needless to say Seren decided the fairies did it.
It seems, according to Seren, the fairies also installed video cameras so they could check on the children for good behaviour.
I wasn't disagreeing.
Although it makes me wonder about what goes on in school...

At work things are beginning to offer optimism.
I have spent this year in reactive mode, firefighting.
And I've hated not being allowed the luxury of planning. My comfort.
But now, now things are in place,
And great plans are forming.
For now, performance reviews completed, the line has been drawn under 2014.

So the focus is solely on home.
Presents are wrapped, decorations are up.
We are ready for Christmas.

Sunday night I will pack our bags.
We are escaping for a few days.
In search of Elves.

I have been looking forward to this and now, now I can almost touch it!

The Reading Residence

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Mum Meme

I was kindly tagged in Sarah at Boo, Roo & Tigger Too. The Mum Meme is a set of simple questions about the Mum behind the blog, so without further ado this is my answers…

Who was your first crush?
Oh dear, Jordan Knight. Oh yes, NKOTB were completely my thing.

Fortunately life got better from this point.

What were the last three things you bought?
Does tea count? Thanks to lots of recommendations, I've discovered Waterloo Tea, and ended up spending a couple of hours there on Sunday and Monday. Since trying to give up coffee, I was recommended their Citrus Oolong tea and it really is the perfect drink to mull over.
I've also bought bits and pieces for teacher's gifts, we're going to attempt soap making!
And then I got ahead of myself, and bought Tom and Seb remote control cars for their birthday presents.

What are you secretly hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year?
Now this is so difficult- Mr J and I had a bit of a windfall this week and I couldn't think of one thing to spend it on. I think it's really difficult to spoil yourself, and my desperate plight to lose some pounds means I don't want clothes- I am an optimist.
So, if I could I'd love a GoPro, I'd love to capture a lot more of our children in 2015.

Where would you go on holiday if you could go anywhere in the world?
There are places we've visited which I'd love to go back to because I don't feel we explored everywhere- Cuba, Jamaica and New York would be on this list.
But, the one holiday I know I want to save to go back to first is Disney World, I would love the children to experience Walt Disney magic whilst they are young enough for their imaginations to truly be captured.

What are you reading at the moment?
I've just started reading Dorothy Koomson's 'The Rose Petal Beach'. It's been months since I sat to read a book, something I miss a lot.

What was the last concert you went to?
Does going to see Seren's Christmas Concert count- it was 'The Wizard of Oz'- I was a proud mum!
Whilst probably stretching use of the word 'concert', I did get to see Cerys Matthews 'Hook, Line and Carol Singing' last Christmas which was amazing.

What were you like at school?
I was probably, to use the Australian word a 'dag'. I probably just blended into the background. I think it was moving to college to do my A-levels which turned this around for me, being able to explore who I was and wanted to be, and having the confidence to challenge things to improve understanding.
The friends which see me through now are the ones I made in college, which probably says it all.

The Mum Meme tag…
I now tag – Twin Mummy & Daddy, Keep Up With The Jones Family and Mami2Five.

Monday, 8 December 2014

The best memories- Holidays: BC and AC

Holidays keep us going.
We have always needed the date in the diary.
The date when we'll be escaping it all.

Mr J and I intentionally chose holiday destinations 'before children'.
We chose them on the basis we had no clue in our 'after children' existence when life would allow us the same luxury.
And we have been fortunate.
We have so many memories, from the adventurous- white water rafting in the Dominican Republic, Mr J's rope swinging antics in Jamaica, nearly capsizing our boat as we attempted the locks of Fort Augustus in Scotland and climbing Chichen Itza in Mexico in midday humidity (which was probably just stupid) to the more relaxing, our final holiday 'before children' was a cruise on the Nile for my 30th, in August, I was three months pregnant- some decisions weren't great!
We knew life would change when we decided to have children.
We thought we meant short haul.
Our first two holidays with Seren were to Anglesey- one of my favourite places in the world.
Followed by finally taking her on an aeroplane at 14 months old, our honeymoon to Kos.

And then we arrived home.
And a month later, the news- twins.

Holidays have changed more than we envisaged.
It hasn't stopped the enjoyment.
We continue to create the best memories.
But three little people and two grown ups has not the thought of a happy aeroplane journey made.
But as every trip out of our village involves passing the airport,
So the urgency of the children going on an aeroplane grows.
The Red Arrows flying over our house this summer only fueled their urgency to board a plane.

And as Tom and Seb turn 4 in January so the dream grows into a possible reality.
Holidays have always been about adventure combined with relaxation.
I will never overlook the opportunity to read a good book as part of my break.
But whether it's a fairground, fishing, body boarding, any new experience on holiday is a memory my children fail to forget.

And so, as I collect together a photo album of our favourite holiday snaps... so the dream of becoming a Mark Warner Ambassador grows.

Music Credit: The Boo Radleys "Wake Up Boo"

Disclosure: This post is part of our application to become a Mark Warner Ambassador in 2015.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Toy Story's Action Armour Buzz Lightyear Review

I can't tell you how delighted Tom & Seb were this week when this space ranger turned up to greet them!
After their amazing performance in their school's Nativity performance I got to bring them home to Toy Story's Action Armour Buzz Lightyear. And excited wouldn't begin to touch the surface!
And, of course, mummy confounded the excitement as she insisted photos needed to be taken before Buzz could be revealed!
Their impatience was pacified by the attraction to the 'try me' options, the ability to see a couple of features in advance of the unveiling only fuelled their excitement.
And once Tom and Seb had their hands on their new friend they were quick to discover the features and fun they could have.
The Action Armour Buzz has three modes of play- Space Ranger: with classic phrases and sounds; Flight mode: ready to blast off with pop out wings; and Battle mode: light up mega blasters show off Buzz's upgraded armour.

Flight mode was the definite favourite once the boys figured out the wings expanded and collapsed.
The boys enjoyed playing with Buzz and have been having great adventures with him. Fortunately we have a robot of a similar size so we've been able to have lots of interactive play.

For Tom & Seb they struggle with only having one character either each or between them, so it's been really important for their play that we have associated figures. At 30cm in height Buzz is a formidable addition to the toybox and we have few toys to stand alongside him. So, of course, Woody was quickly sought as an additional item for the Christmas list.
The other struggle we had was Buzz doesn't easily standard on carpet. It's not a big issue as generally he's been held as part of playtime, and he stands on solid surfaces, but it's just one of those elements which frustrated Tom and Seb.

At a RRP of £49.99 Buzz is, in my view, an exceptional purchase, it would constitute one of the children's main presents for either birthday or Christmas.
And, with this mindset, it is worth the price in my opinion. It is afterall Buzz Lightyear, and as a devoted Disney fan, compared to Buzz Lightyear's of the past, the features of this model place it so closely to the film, and with the various features and modes allowing lots of different imaginative play, the toy has a great worth. Additionally, the toy itself is sturdy and of a good quality. Tom and Seb can generally break any toy which crosses the playroom floor. In the case of Buzz Lightyear it's hard to find any element which could give way under their play.
So based on authenticity, diversity and quality, this would definitely be a present worth selecting from a child's wish list.
Disclosure: We received Action Armour Buzz Lightyear for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.
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