Thursday, 3 November 2011

A foodie tip for Australia

A couple of years ago I had a fabulous holiday to Australia. I spent 3 glorious weeks travelling around, from Perth to Sydney, Brisbane, The Great Barrier Reef, Melbourne and then back to Perth.

Obviously when I think about that holiday the first things that come to mind are the sun, the long journeys between cities and the fantastic, friendly people I met.

But the other big thing that I loved in Australia and really wish I could import to the UK was a chain of shops called MYO.

MYO stands for Make Your Own and the chain was developed to allow customers to walk in off the street and build their own lunch.

No sitting around waiting for counter staff to build you a sandwich - oh no! Get in there and do it yourself!

The shops offered healthy breakfasts and lunches, with toast, bread for sandwiches, salads, juices, smoothies, fact anything you would want for a healthy breakfast or lunch.

If, like me, you are veggie, or you just don't like some of the usual items included in salads, this is the type of shop for you. Just select from a variety of sizes of container - and fill it up with the things you want.

All the meat eaters out there are also catered for. The stores are not strictly veggie and they do offer sliced meats too.

I used the MYO stores in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth - but strangely not in Sydney. For some reason the shops haven't reached that major city yet!

The pictures above don't show the MYO stores they are just a good excuse to share some of my holiday photos of (from the top down)  Melbourne, Perth & Brisbane. Fantastic places that I would love to go back to at the first possible opportunity.

The MYO stores are just beginning to creep into the UK. There are two franchises in Glasgow, and I personally can't wait for them to find their way into England!

I think the MYO stores are one of the best kept foodie secrets in Australia. So my tip for anyone travelling there is to check out the MYO website, find out whether there is one near you, then get in there and Make Your Own!

If, like me, you love to travel and to share your travel tips you might like to check out the fantastic competition currently being hosted on

Oliver at travelizer is looking for your favourite locations, unmissable places, off the beaten track discoveries, unique moments, strange encounters or must try local dishes.

Share your travel tips and you could win a fabulous weekend to any European city.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A Yummy Tuscan snack

Once again I've been inspired to get creative by a competition. Aren't competitions great? Not only do we have the opportunity to dream about a glorious win but the theme of the competition often gets us trying things that would otherwise be out of our normal scope.

This time the inspiration came from a competition being run by and requires creation of a meal including tomatoes.

I do love Italian food but sadly since being diagnosed coeliac a little while ago my favourite pasta and pizza recipes have become a rare occurence on the family dinner table.

So the opportunity to do something Tuscan was too good to miss.

As ever, my recipe began life as a regular recipe purloined from elsewhere, but because I'm notoriously fickle about using certain ingredients, it soon developed a life of it's own. Let's start with the ingredients.


Tomatoes - for a true Tuscan Bruschetta these should be plum, but this is my first adjustment. I'm not particularly keen on plum tomatoes so here they have been replaced by vine ones.

Olive oil - I know the purists amongst you will be disappointed that this is not extra, extra, super duper, special virgin - or some such....but again, it's the oil I like.

Parmesan cheese - smelly and hard to grate I know but there really isn't any better cheese for Bruschetta!

Salt & black pepper

Fresh Basil

Spring onions - another replacement. These should really be garlic but I wasn't in a garlicky mood today. Plus, my garden has a sudden glut of spring onions at the moment and I'm all for making the most of what's available!

Gluten Free bread rolls - obviously the gluten free bit is essential for me because of my Coeliac Disease. Clearly in a true bruschetta these would be replaced with a long baguette or something similar.


This recipe was so simple that I spent most of the time I was making it convinced that I'd forgotten something! The first step was obviously to chop the onions, tomatoes & basil. Put these into a bowl with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a couple of pinches of salt and a little black pepper.

Slice the bread and place it on a baking tray. Sprinkle with a little more olive oil and pop it into the oven for 5 minutes to toast.

Now I know it's hard and I know it's smelly but the next step is to grate the parmesan.

Simple so far? Well, that really is it!

Once the bread is toasted, remove from the oven and pop onto the serving plate. Top with the tomato, basil and onion mix and cover with parmesan.

Next and most important step is ENJOY!! (I did!)

So, a big thank you from me to the organisers of this competition. I do realise that my recipe isn't particularly difficult or unique but entering this competition has reminded me how much I enjoy this type of food. This recipe will definitely be making a return appearance on my menu sometime soon!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Pipers Cup Cakes

Piper loves to help out in the kitchen and Grandma's birthday recently gave her the opportunity to help make some delicious cup cakes.

Grandma has to follow a Gluten Free diet so cupcakes are made with special gluten free flour, we usually use a mixture of various flours to give a nice light consistency.

For the cupcakes
  • 125g (4oz) butter, melted
  • 125g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 125g (4oz) Gluten free flour (we use 1/2 gluten-free self-raising flour and 1/2 rice flour)
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 3tbsp milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
For the icing
  • 150g (5oz) caster sugar
  • 100g (3½oz) butter, softened
  • Few drops of vanilla essence
  1. Set the oven to gas mark 5 or 190°C.
  2. To make the cupcakes: Pour the melted butter into a bowl and add sugar, flour, eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Beat the mixture with an electric hand whisk, to give a smooth batter. Spoon mixture into the paper cases in the tray.
  3. Bake cakes in the centre of oven for 18-20 mins, or until they rise and are light golden brown. Remove tray from the oven and leave cakes to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. To make the buttercream: Using the electric whisk, mix together the sugar, butter and vanilla essence until this forms a creamy, fluffy mixture.
  5. Fill a piping tube with the buttercream and pipe a swirl on top of each cupcake. 
The lack of gluten in the cakes means they can go dry quicker than 'normal' cakes so I'd recommend eating them within 1 day of making them. This is no real hardship because they look so pretty with their swirl of icing.

The hardest part of making these cakes is convincing Piper to put the cake mix in the cases to bake it. She would happily eat the uncooked cake mix!

She also particularly likes cleaning out the icing bowl!

 Happy Birthday Grandma, if you need any help eating the cakes just let us know!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Camping Le Ch'ti

I was recently lucky enough to win a competition with 365 Camping & Caravanning so last week saw me jetting off to the Southern Ardeche region of France for a stay at Camping Le Ch'ti Franoi.

The site is in an absolutely beautiful setting at Planzolles in the Cevennes Mountains. It is surrounded by a pine forest and vineyards and is unbelievably quiet! I'm so used to the traffic noise from my home city that the peacefulness of this place took a little getting used to! In fact for a few days I kept stopping suddenly and just listening to the silence. What absolute bliss!

My week was spent in this mobile home towards the rear of the site.

The owners, Audrey & Steve, try to put customers in the best location available on arrival. This mobile home was in a great position overlooking vineyards and mountains.

The September weather in France is thankfully not quite as hot as mid summer so this mobile home was brilliant because the sun hit the patio for a few hours in early afternoon and again in the evening and there was plenty of shade from the surrounding pine trees for when the temperature soared in mid afternoon.

In mid summer, apparently, the mobile homes at the side of the site are much in demand because it is so hot that people are begging for shade!

We certainly couldn't complain about the weather while we were there. Temperatures hit the mid twenties each day even at the campsite's height of 500m. When we ventured into the local towns the temperatures on chemist shop displays were showing over 30 degrees so we were pleased to get back to the site!

In mid September the campsite was very quiet. There were only a few families staying in the mobile homes and just a couple of the pitches for tents were in use. I was impressed by the pitches, which are separated from each other by hedges so each tent has a clearly defined space.

Facilities on the site are good for families. There is a large swimming pool, a mini golf area and plenty of sports equipment and cycles available to hire and during high summer there is entertainment around the bar /restaurant area. Steve told me that at one point during the summer there were over 200 people on the terrace enjoying the disco! It was hard to imagine so many people on site when we could wander around all day and not bump into anyone else!

Although we didn't need the washing facilities because the mobile homes have private showers & toilet facilities, I naturally went to have a look, just to be nosy :-) The washing facilities and toilet block were clean and well maintained. If I had been camping I would have been happy to use these.

A walk just along the road brought us to a picnic area with a display showing the local wildlife. We had a very brief encounter (thankfully) with a wild boar on our last night! We had walked down to the bins after dark and met a wild boar! Well, I say we 'met' it....the boar obviously heard us coming and took off like greased lightening towards the road just a few yards in front of us. I don't know who was more scared, us or the boar!

We spent a few days checking out the local area. The towns nearby are very pretty and typically French. I couldn't help humming the theme from 'Allo 'Allo as we walked around Les Vans. The TV show could almost have been set int his little town.

Following Steve's recommendation we headed into Les Vans on Saturday to the market. It was brilliant, with hundreds of craft, food and clothing stalls. An accordion was being played which just added to the French atmosphere and put us in the mood for lots of souvenir shopping!

Back at the campsite we experienced some of the prettiest sunsets I've ever seen. As the sun went down over the mountains I sat on the balcony sampling a little of the local 'grape juice' (ahem) and thought, 'yes, this is definitely the life for me!'.

Once darkness fell the stars were spectacular. I have honestly never seen so many stars. The light pollution in British cities obviously masks so much. I spent ages outside just bending over backwards and looking up at the sky trying to spot any constellations I recognised! Fantastic!

Overall we had a brilliant, relaxing week and I loved every minute of it. A huge thank you to 365 Camping & Carivanning for hosting the competition, and the same huge thank you to Steve & Audrey who welcomed us and gave us a week to remember for a long, long time!

For more information about the site check out their website:

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Life In A Break Down: August Giveaway - A Pink Handbag.

Life In A Break Down: August Giveaway - A Pink Handbag.: In need of a new handbag? Have no fear I'm here to help. I saw this beauty on my wandering round the world wide web in July and thought I wo...

Monday, 15 August 2011

Budget v Boutique Hotels in London

Last weekend (yes, in the middle of all the riots) saw us heading for London for a couple of days.

I do have to add that we were luckily not involved in any of the riots and a great time was had by all, but during our visit we stayed in two completely different hotels that have inspired another blog post.

The first evening we were paying for accomodation, hence our stay in a budget hotel very close to Euston Station! We spent the night at the Travel Lodge in Grafton Place.

The first thing to say about this hotel is that it really is in a fantastic position for anyone travelling into Euston station. It is approximately 100 metres across the road.

We arrived in an unbelievable rainstorm. Sadly none of us could run at Usain Bolt type speeds for 100 metres so we arrived in reception in an extremely bedraggled state!

Reception is clean and was staffed with a pleasant, helpful receptionist who provided all necessary information about our room, wi-fi options and availability of the restaurant / bar area.

I had booked this hotel room approximately a month ago and it cost a grand total of £35.75! For a night in a double room in London I thought this was an excellent rate. The room was as expected for a very budget price. It was clean but had none of the extra's often found in other hotel chains that push the prices up.

My only complaints about this room related to the maintenance of it. There were small niggles such as the batteries in the TV remote being dead resulting in much hilarity as we climbed on the bed each time we wanted to change channel or turn down the volume!

The biggest irritation was that the window catch was broken. There was no risk to security as we were a few floors off the ground and the window was screened outside which would prevent anyone gaining access to the room. Unfortunately though, this was the first night of the riots in London. The inability to close and lock the window meant we heard every siren throughout the night, plus we were treated to lots of Manchester United and Manchester City fans enjoying themselves in the pub below!

We were not particularly disappointed to move on the following day to our second hotel of the weekend.

This time we were not paying, and the hotel was much more upmarket! We stayed at the fabulous Mont Calm Hotel at the top of Park Lane and Marble Arch. From budget to boutique in one easy step.

What a difference a day (or should that be night) makes. This time we were so cocooned in our room that we couldn't have heard a pin drop in the hall outside, let alone any riot vans heading into action!

This hotel had a truly impressive reception. Once again, lovely staff but this time in addition to the usual (where to eat, what facilities were available, etc) they also delivered our bags to the room. I came away from this hotel with chandelier envy because their lighting in reception was amazing...but possibly might overshadow my entrance hall at home!

This time the room had all the luxuries expected of a hotel costing anything from £155 per night upwards. There were wonderful toiletries in the bathroom and there were so many pillows we could have built a bed just from these and forgotten about the mattress.

Of course the room also came equipped with robes, slippers, hair dryer, free wifi, chocolates delivered at 'turn down,' etc.

So you might think there is no contest when deciding which hotel was 'best'. But actually, just like the budget hotel there were things that could be criticised with this one.

The bathroom was beautiful, all black and silver tiles, but it was so dark it was almost impossible to see anything!

The bedroom was gorgeous, with plush curtains and bedcovers, but there wasn't a single full length mirror anywhere in the room.

Obviously residents at this hotel don't worry about going out in the evening, They have no need to primp in the bathroom or check their clothing before leaving the room. They probably just stay put and lounge around in slippers and robes enjoying their free wifi and a TV with a remote control that works :-)

So in the battle of budget v boutique who wins? Well for me, neither. I really enjoyed our whole weekend in London and both hotels added to the experience.

I couldn't have afforded to stay at the Mont Calm if I had been paying, but the luxury was amazing and if you have the ability to stay in places like this then this hotel is completely brilliant and I thoroughly recommend it.

On the other hand, if (like me) you're a bit with what you are prepared to spend on a hotel room, then the Travel Lodge was fine too. I knew there would be no luxuries and was prepared with my own toiletries and hair dryer.

I guess the thing is, there is room for both types of hotels and clearly there are guests who choose to stay in both budget and boutique. I wouldn't say no to another night in either of them - but preferably without the riots going on outside!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Lollibop Childrens Festival

Friday 5th August was a glorious sunny day. The sort of day that happens very rarely during an English summer.Blue skies, soaring temperatures and no clouds threatening to spoil the fun.

What an excellent day to take Daisy and Piper to Lollibop, the childrens festival held in Regents Park London between 5th and 8th August.

In fact, it was an even better day when you consider that on the 8th the heavens opened and the road outside Euston Railway station was flooded within minutes!

On a glorious day like this the temptation is to make the most of every moment, and that's exactly what Daisy, Piper, Mummy & Daddy did on their visit to Lollibop.

This first photo shows Mummy and Daisy trying to find some much needed shelter from the raging sun. It always seems a shame to have sunny skies and then need to take shelter, but with a 7 month old you can't take risks. Daisy was covered in the highest possible factor suncream but a friend of ours recently covered her little boy in suncream before he set off to spend a day with his Dad and when he came back his protection hadn't been topped up all day and the poor little soul was burnt and had to visit outpatients because of his severe sunburn!So Mummy and Daisy took no risks with the sun.

Grumpsie always takes Daisy and Piper into his garden and shows them the leaves on various plants. He encourages them to grab the leaves and shake the trees....hence why Daisy was reaching for the branches of this bit of very welcome shade!

One of the first characters the girls bumped into was 'Bob the Builder'. They both gazed at him in complete awe! One of the brilliant things about Lollibop is that the 'characters' were available to pose for photos. We now have some fantastic pictures of Piper and Daisy posing happily with Ben and Holly, Peppa Pig and of course Bob.

Although meeting the characters was a highlight for Mummy and Daddy, the girls were equally happy with the other pursuits on offer at Lollibop.
Piper was particularly thrilled to visit the facepainting area. In went Piper and out came a beautiful butterfly.

The day was so hot that by evening the butterfly had been rubbed all over Piper's face, but she still couldn't wait to get home and show Grandma, Grumpsie and Auntie Linds how gorgeous she looked!
Although Piper, along with everyone else was wilting under the heat of the sun, she found time to bounce on the huge bouncing area. Isn't it funny how there can be so many new experiences for children to try yet they will always want to do the simple things like bouncing?

If anyone has an opportunity to go along to the Lollibop festival next year I would definitely encourage you to do it. At the 2011 event, without doubt, a fantastic time was had by everyone!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

It's been a long day

The weather in the Midlands has been perfect for the past few days.We have had beautiful blue sky with the occasional fluffy white cloud to shade the sun and cool us down.

We have to make the most of the summer while we can so the recent burst of sunshine means we are spending as much time as possible outdoors.

I've mentioned before that Daisy likes nothing better than to bounce, bounce, bounce. Here's evidence of her love of the trampoline!

The trampoline was obviously intended to give 'the girls' somewhere safe to play, but initially Mummy has had to join in too. Apparently exercise is good for you.

It certainly makes legs ache which probably means it is having a positive effect!

Here's Piper showing how high she can jump!

But after a very long and tiring day, sometimes it all becomes too much and Daisy just can't hold her head up any longer.....

I hope everyone else is also having fun in the sun. I'd love to hear from anyone who has tips on fun things to do outdoors.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Jelly Belly Lip Balm competition

I'm a sucker for a great giveaway so this blog offering a competition to win a Jelly Belly Lip Balm Trio caught my eye.

Head over the the 'Life in a breakdown' blog and check it out!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

More craftiness based on the Magic Mirror

Wow! My first outing into the bloggosphere has already had some lovely comments. Thank you so much to those who replied!

This second blog is linked to the first as it also relates to crafty goings on based around the Magic Mirror story from the Fly Thomas Cook Kids Club website.

Piper was so excited to see her castle on the blog that when her Auntie Linds visited last night Piper told her all about the story and together they made some cards based on the Turkish man and the beautiful princess.

The orange one is the Turkish man (or possibly a Tango man) and the one that Piper is holding is the beautiful princess.

Many thanks to Red Ted Art's blog and to Thomas Cook for the inspiration!
So, the crafting (and blogging) continues....


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Inspired to get crafty and get blogging!

Hello everyone, this is history in the making (well for me anyway) as this is my first ever blog post on my newly created blog.  Over the past 12 months or so I've contributed  odd comments to other bloggers but never done anything of my own. So to anyone who finds this and bothers to read on, WELCOME and I hope you enjoy it!

I've been inspired to begin blogging by a post on Red Ted Art's blog which mentioned getting crafty and creating something based on stories from the Fly Thomas Cook Kids Club

Piper and I took up the challenge and decided that we would base our crafty skills around creating something from the Magic Mirror story on the Kids Club site. We downloaded and read both stories but decided on this one because in the story the magic mirror shows a beautiful castle. Piper & I often refer to Daisy as 'Princess Daisy' so we decided it would be perfect to build her a castle. The pictures show our efforts.

(Please be kind, it was made from things we happened to have around the house)

We began with a large cardboard box and taped some lovely popping bubble wrap around it. We then cut some 'crenellations' (a big word for the shaping on top of a castle) out of spare cardboard and also covered these in bubble wrap.

Having constructed the basic castle we used masking tape to mark windows and a door and we put some more bubble wrap inside the castle to make a popping floor for Princess Daisy to bounce on. (Bouncing is just about her favourite thing to do at the moment. She is 7 months old and has found out how to pull herself to her feet and bounce!)

 If you would like to get crafty and possibly win some superb prizes, there are more details in the original blog on Red Ted Art's Blog. You can find the details here

Well, thank you so much for reading my first effort. Any feedback is very welcome so if you managed to read to the end without falling asleep please leave me a message and let me know that this has reached the wide world outside Princess Daisy's castle.

By the way, in case you wonder why Piper is not in the pictures after all her hard work, the answer is, she was shattered and went for a bit of a sleep :-)

I'm sure my next blog post will feature both of the lovely girlies.