Our Charcoal Challenge #TheCharcoalChallenge

23:04 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We love a barbecue and have them regularly when the weather allows. We have quite a large garden so our friends and family regularly congregate there enjoy the sunshine and our gas barbecue. When Money Supermarket offered us some pennies to host a barbecue and tell you about it I said yes please and got planning!

We invited round friends and families and purchased sausages, burgers, salads and chicken and veggies to make kebabs with. There is always a lot of preparation for a barbecue but a trip down to the fantastic Bolton Market allowed us to purchase all of the fresh produce we needed for the day. Our first act of barbecue day was to fill the paddling pool. It was a really hot day so we knew that the children coming would love playing in it.

My the time everyone arrived we had food prepared, beer chilling and everything in hand. A remarkable feat of organisation by my usual standards!

All that was left to do was fire up the barbecue and cook the food that we had prepared. The menu included sausages, burgers, chicken, pepper and mushroom kebabs, fish kebabs and pork chops. To cook the latter we invested in a wooden smoking plank which you place onto your grill to give the authentic smoky flavour usually only achieved by baking on a charcoal barbecue. I, foolishly, didn't realise that the plank is for one use only as it, essentially burned away, but the flavour it gave to the meat was really good. I would definitely use one again in the future.

We had a lovely afternoon and sat long into the evening chatting with everyone. It was a thoroughly great afternoon. Thanks, Money Supermarket, for the encouragement!

Disclaimer: We received £50 from Money Supermarket to purchase BBQ supplies.

Out and About - Exploring with the Maxi-Cosi Loola

00:16 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Our second task set by Maxi-Cosi was to get out and about and discover new places with our Loola. Our new stroller is rapidly becoming part of the family and we're enjoying using it on a daily basis. It's been to the shops, to our local museum, and on a few more interesting excursions too.

The first place we explored with the Loola is the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.This is actually a favourite haunt of ours but Little Miss hasn't been before so using the Loola was a perfect way to meet up with friends, get out of the house and entertain Bud. MOSI has everything to entertain a small boy - trains, engines, a fantastic experiment gallery and a soft play area to burn off excess energy. Little Miss adored the museum, watching her big brother and my friend's children run around.

Museum of Science and Industry MOSI Children Playing

So how did the Loola fare in the museum? Little Miss loved sitting in the stroller under the lightshow in the experiment gallery (below, top centre). The museum is a large site and I was confident that she was comfortable and happy as I wheeled her around.. You'll see her clapping below. That big smile is quite a feature of our Loola experience so far. MOSI is situated in city centre Manchester and the Loola dealt brilliantly with the urban environment, I found it easy to take it up and down kerbs and to travel on the bus with. Bud decided he was tired after the museum so he climbed into the pushchair and was asleep in about thirty seconds. My boy rarely travels in a pram these days, and falls asleep in there less frequently! He slept for a while so he must have been comfortable. As he is a large three year old I was surprised by how well he fit into the Loola and how comfortable he was. This stroller will definitely serve Little Miss, who is much daintier than her brother, until she no longer needs a pushchair.

The Maxi-Cosi Loola at MOSI Manchester

On Saturday we decided to take a walk to the Meccano Bridge which has recently been built in our area. The bridge is the brainchild of the group who are attempting to restore the old Bolton-Bury canal. I've been dying to go and have a look at the bridge so it was a good opportunity to get out with the Loola to see it. It's around a 45 minute walk and over some quite rough terrain. I wanted to see what the Loola was like off-road! I'm happy to say that the Maxi-Cosi Loola dealt really well with the rough ground, in fact I even commented to my partner that the ride on the Loola seems to be smoother than any other pushchair we have tried before. The one slight issue is that the Loola is quite heavier. This is great for the quality of how it moves but, if you have to lift it for any reason, as we did on a couple of occasions on this outing, or push it up a very steep hill, it can make this a little more difficult. For me this doesn't detract from how good the stroller is but it might be an issue for some people. Hopefully you can see the various terrains we dealt with on this walk, none of them was too much of a challenge for the Loola.

Walking to the Meccano Bridge Prestolee with the Maxi-Cosi Loola

And here's the bridge in all it's glory!

Meccano Bridge Prestolee Bolton Bury Canal

Our final destination was a trip out with my parents on Sunday, when we decided to chance the weather and go and feed the ducks at a large lake in Leigh called Pennington Flash. The terrain was quite easy to navigate as it was mostly paved paths and roads. Within about five minutes of leaving the car the heavens opened. Torrential rain. I hadn't used the Loola's raincover before this point. I simply hadn't needed to so it was something of an emergency to get the stroller covered and keep my girl dry. Oh my goodness, the Loola's rain cover is terrific! You simply ensure the hood is extended and fit the cover on to the pushchair by hooking it over the hood at the top and fitting it around the footrest at the bottom. Despite it being my first use of it my Mum and I fitted it in about thirty seconds flat. I was pleased to see ventilation holes in the cover which was perfect on a warm but stormy day like this.

I've been so pleased with the Loola in the last week, it has dealt beautifully with everything I have thrown at it and been easy to use and a smooth ride for my girl (and her brother sometimes) throughout. Full marks Loola!

Introducing the Maxi-Cosi Loola - Unboxed

18:26 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Last week I had an extremely exciting email which informed me that Little Miss and I have been chosen as Maxi-Cosi Reporters and will be testing out the newly updated Loola Origami Rose. Our first challenge was to unbox the pushchair and set it up.

Maxi-Cosi Loola Origami Rose Unboxed

I love building new prams when they arrive so imagine my surprise when, after opening the Loola's box and spreading out the contents it very quickly became apparent that there was very little to do! The first thing you will notice is that the wheels are already attached to the frame. I can honestly say that I've never had a new stroller that I haven't had to affix the wheels to, the first big positive for the Loola.

The stroller frame is really easy to set up, once you know how. It was a little strange as, in order to fold and unfold, the handle folds in upon itself, so it collapses inwardly to fold smaller and spreads outwards to assemble it ready for use. I did struggle at first, working out which buttons to press to allow me to unfold the pram. There are a lot of grey buttons on the Loola which control the folding and unfolding and the locking of the pushchair. I have quite a weak grip so I did find it a little awkward to push in the buttons simultaneously at first but now I know how they work they are much easier to use.

Assembled Maxi-Cosi Loola in Origami Rose

Once the pushchair is up you simply push down on the large black carrying handle and this solidifies the frame ready for use. The seat then fixes into the frame, this is slightly unusual as you fix one side in then stretch the other side to make it fit. I think that this is another way of solidifying the frame and making it really rigid. The seat can be used either outward or parent facing, which I love as I enjoy being able to chat to my girl when we're out and about. You then simply add the bumper bar (which also folds) and hood (likewise) and your Loola is ready to roll. It really is that simple!

Features of the Maxi-Cosi Loola Origami Rose

The Loola has a number of features that I really like:

Soft, folding bumper bar - Little Miss loves the Bumper Bar, she always puts her feet up on the bumper bar in our other pram but looks so much more comfortable doing so on the softer, flexible Loola bar. I've tried to stop her doing it but no chance, she's comfortable like that!

Easy to adjust straps - I've often struggled to adjust straps for length but I can honestly say that the Loola's straps are the easiest I have ever had to change. I'd like some way of tucking the ends in because I know Little Miss will chew them when she spots that they are loose!

High quality fabrics - The seat fabric is a gorgeous shade of pink. I must confess that, when I saw photos of the Origami Rose colour scheme I was a little bemused, pink is not a favourite colour of mine. The photos showed a more muted shade of pink than the reality, which is a vibrant hot pink, almost red. I love it. The fabric used is soft but I feel it will be hardwearing. Something I love is that the strap pads can't be removed easily. I almost instantly lose these with prams usually. The Loola's will be much harder to mislay. A beautiful baby nest is included with the Loola but, sadly Little Miss, is too big for it. I'm planning to try my tiny niece out in it when I next see her so I'll be able to comment on that in a later post.

Adjustable Handle - I'm not especially tall but I have long legs for my height so I like a higher pushing position on a stroller. I love being able to adjust it to my preferred height and the Loola has two positions. I'll be using the higher one.

Folding - So many pushchairs that can face inwards or outwards require you to have the seat in a certain position for when you store it. All that the Loola asks is that you return the seat to an upright position (which is a standard requirement), you can fold it whether the seat is parent or forward facing.

Smooth Ride - The Loola's wheels are large and so far the ride seems smooth and comfortable for Little Miss. She sleeps better in this pushchair than she has recently in our others.

Baby girl asleep in the Origami Rose Maxi-Cosi Loola

Hood - The hood is fantastic on the Loola.. It can be unzipped to make it larger which is great if the sun is bright, as it has been lately, or if you forget your raincover (not that I would ever do such a thing, not at all!) It also includes a clear panel so the parent can peek in, or the child out, without anyone being disturbed. I did find it a little fiddly to attach to the seat (you do so by zipping it on then fastening a press stud around the frame) and recommend that you use the zip before the press stud.

Raincover -  The Loola's raincover fits really well and includes ventilation holes to ensure that it doesn't steam up. Great on days like today when it's wet and humid.

Size -  The Loola is really wide,the seat is a great size and Bud fits into it easily. I can't imagine that we will need another pushchair, I think Little Miss will fit in this until she doesn't need a stroller anymore. Similarly though, the pushchair folds down to quite a small size, deceptively small considering the size of the assembled pram.

Our first impressions of the Loola are great. I'm looking forward to trying it out properly and sharing the next challenges with you!

If you'd like the chance to win your very own Loola then head on over to the Maxi-Cosi UK Facebook Page where they are giving away one a week for the next five weeks!
Official Maxi-Cosi Reporter 2013

Giveaway - Win a Family Ticket to Blackpool Tower Ballroom

00:03 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Blackpool Tower has announced some exciting plans for family visits this Summer. Families will be able to meet some of their favourite characters on a series of fun days throughout the Summer including Peppa Pig, Katsuma & Poppet from Moshi Monsters, Ben 10 Aliens’ Shocksquatch & Water Hazard, Bob the Builder and Sid and Scrat from Ice Age. 

Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Each event will include character appearances, dancing, party games and a giant tea party. Ticket prices also include a complimentary entry into a Blackpool Circus performance (valid for 90 days) and entry into a Family Party Night. 

The events will run from 10am until 4pm on each Thursday in August and will include appearances at intervals from a different children’s character each week: 

1st August - Peppa Pig
8th August – Moshi Monsters’ Katsuma & Poppet
15th August – Ben 10 Aliens’ Shocksquatch & Water Hazard
22nd August – Bob the Builder
29th August – Sid & Scrat from Ice Age

Tickets start from £9.95 from and are available from www.theblackpooltower.com

I've teamed up with Blackpool Tower to offer a family ticket to the Moshi Monsters appearance on 8th August. To be in with a chance of winning simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below.

Moshi Monsters

Not in Blackpool on the 8th? Then keep checking back as I will have opportunities to win tickets to later events throughout the Summer!

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Monday 22/7/13 - Sunday 28/7/13 Days 264 - 270 of Project 365

22:46 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Monday 22/7/13 - Sunday 28/7/13 Days 264 - 270 of Project 365

Monday #264 Chocolate - Little Miss tried one of the new Hit Fun Sticks that I received in my Blog On goody bag today. These biscuits are designed so you can hold the biscuit part and avoid getting chocolate-y fingers. No-one told Little Miss this!

Tuesday #265 Fish - There is a small aquarium in our home town and Bud loves it. We visit on an almost weekly basis, as it is free to enter, and we always enjoy it. Today was a rainy day so it was the perfect choice to while away half an hour.

Wednesday #266 Balloon - Today was our biggest nephew's 21st birthday. We went to his birthday party and Little Miss had a lovely time playing with balloons. She loves the rug at her Aunt and Uncle's house and is always happy to sit and play on there. She isn't quite as keen on balloons as her big brother was at her age. His first clear word was balloon!

Thursday #267 Storm - A very welcome thunderstorm on a quiet day at home today. Sadly the weather seems to have changed away from the sunshine now and it is very mixed.

Friday #268 Trains - We went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester today and met up with Bex and her gorgeous children from Clearly Bex. The children had a lovely time playing together and, as our boys were so good, we treated them to a train each in the museum shop. We had a really lovely time and hope to see them again before they move back to the midlands in the Summer.

Saturday #269 Holes - We took the opportunity for an evening walk to the Meccano Bridge after tea tonight. It was lovely to spend some great family time together and tire the children out before bed. The bridge is extremely photogenic and will feature heavily in a future post.

Sunday #270 Frog - We had an afternoon out with my parents today. My Dad spotted a frog and picked it up for Bud to have a closer look at it. I was amazed that my previously cautious child happily, and very gently, touched the frog to see what it felt like.   

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

My Ultimate Summer Driving Playlist

17:42 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I love a good playlist and will often spend time putting together a collection of songs for a particular occasion. Music is definitely a form of therapy for me and compiling songs to reflect a mood or an event is such fun.

Money Supermarket have launched a competition inviting us bloggers to share our ultimate driving playlist and I couldn't help but participate, it's a while since I've shared some of my musical tastes with my blog and the opportunity reminded me of how much I enjoy this type of post.

My favourite Summer songs are those lazy, sultry tracks, like Summertime from Porgy & Bess. That's something of an obvious choice though and probably not the best for driving. With Money Supermarket sharing that 20% of accidents on major roads are related to tiredness or lack of sleep, a driving playlist needs to include songs that will keep a driver wide awake and singing along.

So, which five songs would I choose?

The first is a current favourite of Bud's. He loves this song so much that we're getting a little tired of it. That said, it's one of those songs which, when I hear it in the future will remind me of this Summer and him singing and bopping along to it for many years. I give you 'I Love It' by Icona Pop.

The next song is from one of my favourite bands of recent years. When we still had the car we regularly played this in the car, it takes me to a West Wales beach, watching friends surf with the salt breeze in my hair. I'm sharing a live performance because I've seen them in concert and they were amazing, here's just a taste of that.

My next choice is one from my personal archive. I was always an Elastica fan and I think this is a brilliant driving song. It reminds me of a Summer driving around with my then boyfriend who's car cassette player had their album stuck in it. We listened to this song a lot.

Another song from the same era is by a band I had completely forgotten about until fairly recently, which is off because, back in the day I absolutely loved them. This is another one that reminds me of a particular, special summer, the one where all my friends had passed their driving tests so we spent vast amounts of time driving around in their cars. I loved Lush.

And finally, because you can't have a Summer Driving Playlist without a song that includes Summer in the title. Well, you can but I'm sure there should be some sort of rule against it. So I give you The Undertones, Here Comes the Summer. Simply because I love this song, and Feargal Sharkey's voice (before he found shoulder pads in the 80s). I think the main thing to avoid with this one is driving too fast!

I've linked this up with The Boy and Me's meme. If you want to share your Summer Driving Playlist then follow the link to the Money Supermarket competition - the first 100 entrants will receive £20 for adding their thoughts.

Giveaway - Win with Q Pootle 5, the New cBeebies Show!

14:57 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

You may have seen a new show being advertised on cBeebies this week, Q Pootle 5 launches on Monday 27th July at 8:15am and I know my little boy, for one, is very excited about it.

Q Pootle 5 Group Wave

The new space-themed show tells the story of Q Pootle 5 and his friends - OopsyEddiStellaRayGroobieBud-D and Planet Dave - as they make sense of their lives on the little planet of Okidoki. With friendship at the heart, funny and engaging stories and rich and nuanced stories, Q Pootle 5 makes space a fun place to be.

There's also some cracking voice talent to be heard with Ed Gaughan (Bunnytown, Black Mirror); Joanna Page (Gavin & Stacey, Poppy Cat); Steven Kynman (Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam); Richard Ridings (Peppa Pig); and Ella Kenion (Cuckoo, The Hive, Swashbuckle) all lending their voices to the various characters. You can see a video clip introducing all the characters here.

Q Pootle 5 is based on a story book written and illustrated by the amazing Nick Butterworth and, to celebrate the launch, I have two copies of the book to give away. 

Q Pootle 5 Nick Butterworth Book Cover

To enter, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below.

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Giveaway - Win an Imps & Elfs T-shirt to Celebrate the Arrival of the Royal Baby

13:38 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

To celebrate the safe arrival of the brand new royal baby, Prince George Alexander Louis, Imps & Elfs have supplied me with an 'I am on the Guest List' child's t-shirt to giveaway. Who knows the tee could open doors that the Prince will be able to access automatically!

Imps & Elfs I'm on the guest list t-shirt

Imps & Elfs are a Dutch brand founded in 1997. They aim to produce clothing with modest styling, subtle colour palettes and beautiful prints. Each season sees new and dynamic prints and graphics added. All clothing is made from organic cotton and GOTS certified. 

The tee is available in both white and grey, in sizes 62-92 (3-6m to 2-3 years). The winner will be able to select the colour and style of their choice.

For a chance to win please complete the Rafflecopter widget below.

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I Made This - The Gallery Week 150

01:22 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I'm not craft-y. I can follow a pattern and sew a bit but I don't have the time for big projects because I'm always busy blogging. When I saw the theme for this week's Gallery post I knew I had the perfect photo. It's one I've featured in my 365 but I love it. Not only did I, with more than a little help from Red Rose Daddy, make these amazing tiny people, I also made them smile like this. My life's work is to make them smile every day and, not only do I achieve that most days by some miracle, I also made a little boy and smaller girl who love each other very much. I couldn't be prouder.

I love that you can't even see my girl's face in this photo but I can still tell she is giggling away at her big brother.

I Made This - The Gallery Week 150

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Monday 15/7/13 - Sunday 21/7/13 Days 257 - 263 of Project 365

23:29 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Monday 15/7/13 - Sunday 21/7/13 Days 257 - 263 of Project 365

Monday #257 Balls - A very pretty review item arrived for Little Miss' room, some fairy lights. I'm really looking forward to getting them up, I think they will look really lovely. 

Tuesday #258 Gok - Jen from My Mummy's Pennies and I went up to Media City to watch the transmission of Gok Live. We had a great evening. It was both of our first experience of live television and I really admired the 'real women' showing off their figures. I don't think I would be brave enough to do it though.

Wednesday #259 Last Day - Bud had his last morning at toddlers today. I thought we would make a session after the holiday, before he starts pre-school but, after checking my diary, I realise that we will be at an event instead. There was a party and the children leaving all received beautiful cards. I was very emotional, it feels like the end of an era and the start of a new chapter. I'll miss some of the mums and children who we have got to know and who won't be coming anymore, but I will still be attending with Little Miss. Hard to think that the next time we go we won't have Bud with us.

Thursday #260 Shower - Little Miss is really loving the shower now she can sit in the bath seat and play and be washed. We don't have a bath so both of our children have had to get used to the shower early, at the moment she is much easier to wash in the shower than her big brother who complains about having his hair washed.

Friday #261 Paddling - Today was extremely warm so I refilled the paddling pool and we invited round the cousins who have now finished for the Summer. The children loved playing in the water, I set up a small pool for Little Miss but she did have a little paddle in the big pool with help from her Aunt. She loved being close to Bud and her cousins. 

Saturday #262 Bongos - We were very excited to find out that Mr Bloom and the cBeebies Big Day Out were visiting our home town this weekend and decided we had to visit it. It was really great fun with so many different activities available for the children. This is Bud taking part in the Rastamouse Reggae Workshop. He loved playing the bongos!

Sunday #263 Blog On - Today I attended the first Blog On event at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. This deserves a post all on it's own, and one is on it's way but today's photo had to be from this awesome event. I snapped this waiting for the first session to start.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Giveaway - Win a Eurohike Retro Picnic Set

15:03 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I'd love to take a huge road trip one day. Hire (or buy) a big camper van and set off across Europe to who knows where? It would be amazing to just drive and not look back! Failing that I can quite imagine driving down the South Coast of France in a sports car, perhaps a vintage Jaguar, with the warm wind in my hair but that might have to wait until the children leave home.

What about you? If you could set off on a European road trip what would be your vehicle of choice?

Simply answer the question by posting a comment below, and you could have the chance to win a Eurohike Retro Picnic Set, thanks to Sainsbury's Bank Car Insurance.

Eurohike Retro Picnic Set

To enter simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below and leave your comment. You can also have the chance to win by tweeting about the giveaway through the Rafflecopter widget.

Even if you don't win then your comments on your dream car may feature in a future Sainsbury's Bank Money Matters blog post.

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The Tefal OptiGrill Makes Grilling Easy - A Review

00:26 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Last week I invited to London to see the next range of products that I will be bringing to you as part of my role as a Tefal Innovation Panellist, the first one I have to show you is a very exciting one. The Tefal Optigrill is the brand new counter top grill which offers restaurant quality steak at home. We love steak but I rarely cook it at home as it's so tricky to ensure that it is cooked correctly. No-one likes having to slice into a steak to see if it's cooked and that ruins the presentation of a meal. It's even harder when you are trying to cook steaks for different people. I prefer mine medium-rare while my partner prefers his on the well done side of medium.

Tefal OptiGrill Box

First impressions of the Tefal OptiGrill are great, you open the box to find the grill with a stylish stainless steel design. The OptiGrill is large, and it does take up quite a large amount of space on your work surface, but once you've made room it's easy to plug in and start using.

Some Key Features
  • Six cooking programs - Burgers, poultry, bacon, sausages, red meat and fish
  • Two special modes - Defrost and manual
  • Unique colour changing LED screen on the handle for checking cooking progress
  • Large 600cm2 cooking surface with non-stick coating
  • Power 2000W
  • 7 degree plate inclination for easy fat release
  • Extra large plates and juice tray, dishwasher safe
  • Brushed silver
  • Heavy duty handle

As with all Tefal products I have used so far, the OptiGrill is intuitive and easy to use. I saw a demonstration of it at the event I attended and this was enough to teach me everything I needed to know to use the grill when it arrived in my home.

Tefal OptiGrill Ready to use

Everything you need to operate the OptiGrill is on the control bar and handle for the grill. From left to right you have the power button, defrost setting, six auto settings for burgers, chicken, bacon, sausages, steak and fish, the manual setting, 'OK' which confirms your choices and then a brightly coloured LED display to allow you to monitor cooking.

I had three steak medallions to cook for our dinner. Upon placing them into the grill and switching it on, I chose the steak button and pressed OK. This is where the OptiGrill gets clever. It measure the thickness of the food that you want to cook and electronically calculates the amount of time needed to cook your food. As soon as you press OK the LED display light turns purple. This tells you that the grill is heating up to the correct cooking temperature. As soon as the grill is at the correct temperature it begins cooking and the LED starts to cycle through the different colours. Each time it gets to a new level of cooking (yellow for rare, orange for medium and red for well done) the OptiGrill will beep to tell you. When it reaches well done it beeps and stops cooking but continues to keep the food warm for three minutes after it has finished. It's impossible to burn the food and, as long as you can hear the beeps you can carry on with other tasks while the OptiGrill cooks.

Tefal OptiGrill Features

I cooked my steak medium, while my partner and Bud had well done. On balance I think I should have cooked mine medium-rare as it was slightly more cooked than I usually prefer, that's just personal preference though and I will know next time. I'll also make sure the lid applies a little more pressure to ensure that the sear markings are clearer. The two men in my life were very pleased with their steaks though. I also cooked two large mushrooms in the OptiGrill using the manual setting which worked brilliantly. The recommended maximum depth of food for the grill is 4cm and the mushrooms were close in depth to that prior to cooking, I'm happy to say that it dealt well with them and they were really tasty.

Another feature of the Optigrill I must tell you about is the tray which is used to collect cooking juices from your cooking food. I'm used to other grills where, when you use them, you end up with a drip tray full of water and fat, which can lead to dry meat. This doesn't happen with the Optigrill, it initially sears the food to lock in the flavour and juices but cooks healthily as no oil is needed.

In order to clean the OptiGrill you simply wait for it to cool down then pop a button on either side of the grill to remove the grilling plates.. These can then be washed in the dishwasher if you are lucky enough to have one, or simply in soapy water. If you want to go from cooking steak, to say chicken, you can simply pour water on to the grill trays and this will pour off the grill into the drip tray taking the meat juices and debris with it and leaving it ready to cook again quickly.

Three levels of steak cooked in the Optigrill

I'm so pleased with the OptiGrill so far, the searing marks the food and looks so professional and the food tastes fantastic. I'm looking forward to trying out a variety of different foods - I'm sure it will be great for popping Bud's sausages on straight from the freezer to cook, and I'm also looking forward to some really crispy bacon sandwiches too. I'll definitely be leaving that on until well done! I can even see us using this in addition to our barbecue over the summer as it offers better, more reliable results than that. 

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Tefal Innovation Panel and have received the Tefal OptiGrill for the purpose of this review. All opinions are honest and unbiased..

Eco2Life Eco Friendly Cleaning Products - Review and Giveaway

16:56 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We've recently made the switch to cleaning with Eco2Life high performance, environmentally cleaning products having been supplied with one each of their bath and shower cleaner, multisurface cleaner, floor cleaner and glass cleaner. The products are eco friendly, naturally derived and biodegradable. They are made in the UK too.

When you purchase a starter kit you receive an empty plastic spray bottle and a refill bottle of the cleaner. Simply run your cold water tap until it runs cold, half fill your spray bottle with cold water, add in the contents of your bottle then top up with more water. Fasten the lid again and gently shake to mix the contents and your spray cleaner is ready to go.

We've been using the cleaners for the past month and have found them to be effective products which smell great. Each spray bottle is designed to be refilled ten times and, with the individual cleaner refills costing £2:50 I think that works out as good value for money. After ten uses you can recycle the 500ml bottle but continue to use the spray nozzle up to 10,000 times.

If you'd like to hear a little more about the company and their story then this video explains it much more effectively than I can.

I'm delighted that Eco2Life have offered an Eco2Life Cleaning Box for one of my readers to win. The contents of this includes:
  • One of each 500ml reusable spray bottle of the eco2life multi-surface, bathroom, glass and floor eco friendly high performance cleaning products.
  • Two of each 50ml refills, one to get your started and the other to keep you green cleaning.
  • Four different colour high quality micro-fibre cloths.

To enter, simply complete the rafflecopter widget below.

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Slow Cooking and Measuring with Pyrex

00:43 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

I've been working with Pyrex for a little while now and our most recent delivery included two of their products, one is something of a modern classic - a bright red enamel and cast iron SlowCook round casserole, the other is brand new - a smaller version of the iconic glass measuring jug. This was a really interesting parcel as, on the one hand you have a product that Pyrex is justifiably famous for, compared with the other which is something that they are less well known for. I was interested to see how both products would measure up (no pun intended).

First up, the Slow Cooker. The first thing to notice about this item is that it arrives beautifully boxed, unlike many Pyrex items which are bought 'as they come'. Upon removing the casserole dish from the box I was immediately struck by the red enamel finish. This looks and feels really high quality, the gloss of the enamel gives the dish a really expensive look when coupled with the cream lining. The main dish is one unit with no visible join of the handles through the enamel and the lid sits snugly inside.

Pyrex Red Slow Cooker

As you will see in the photo, the lid has an array of nodules on it, which aims to feed condensation generated in cooking back down into the dish instead of losing it through steam. This creates a continuous self-basting effect which prevents food from drying out as it slowly cooks. The Slow Cooker, like other cast iron products, is very heavy but the handles make it easy to transport from oven to table, the look and design means that most people would be happy to serve directly from the casserole which cuts down on washing up. I really can't fault the Pyrex Slow Cooker apart from the size of it, I'd love it if it was large enough to fit a chicken in for roasting but it simply isn't, that aside you could easily cook a smaller joint in this and there are larger, and differently shaped casseroles in the range. I received the 20cm SlowCook which has a capacity of 2.2 litres. At around £35 it is really competitively priced. I think I will use it a lot in the future, hopefully for a long time in the future as this range features a lifetime guarantee!

When I came across the small measuring jug I wasn't sure if I would use it. I love my large Pyrex measuring jug and decided that the small one would probably languish at the back of the cupboard, however, I've been really proven wrong by this little jug. It looks just like it's bigger brothers - the 500ml and 1l jugs, just shrunk down. With a capacity of just 250ml it is rather dinky but I've found it to be the perfect size for any cooking which requires smaller measurements. 

I've used this jug almost every day since I got it, in fact I've taken to popping it on top of the microwave when it has been washed up so it's always to hand. I've used it for marinades, stir fry sauces, gravy and salad dressing so far. It hasn't replaced my litre measuring jug, I've found I have been using it in different ways to that. I even used it to bash up some spices the other day because I'm confident in the quality of this jug and the ten year guarantee it carries. Normally when recipes start talking about measurements of 50ml I have to start digging around in my utensils drawer to find my measuring spoons, no longer! In fact, the thing it has most replaced is definitely a measuring spoon and a bowl, I just use the jug now.

I wanted to create a recipe to share with you to really showcase these items but life has been so hectic lately that I haven't had time to tinker in the kitchen however, I did have the perfect use for my two new additions, in testing out my other sachet of Schwartz two in one mixes. This time it was the Mediterranean Chicken Pasta with Cheesy Crumb Topping (here's my review of the Garlic & Herb Chicken). I decided to use the Slow Cook to grill the topping and then serve the pasta dish and the little jug came into it's own when I was making up the sauce, especially as all the additions were in multiples of 50ml, I simply added them to the jug and there it was with no measuring spoons required at all!

I'm really pleased with my latest Pyrex products and will definitely be using them to create something great in the kitchen soon. 

Disclaimer: I received these products free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Introducing the AEG UltraCaptic - What's in the Box?

22:59 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We've recently been selected to review the exciting new AEG UltracCaptic CANIMAL bagless Vacuum Cleaner. AEG's new UltraCaptic cleaners promise powerful suction with cleaner, easier emptying. It utilises 'Compact and Go' technology which allows you to compact the dust before you empty it, allowing for controlled disposal of vacuumed dust.

I thought I would share my first impressions of the cleaner with you. This is a cylinder vacuum cleaner so it arrives in a box that's a manageable size. I could easily carry it using the handy carrying holes on the box. The picture on the box isn't actually our model of the UltraCaptic, I assume the box is standardised across the range.

AEG UltraCaptic Box

Upon opening the box you are met with the main cleaner body and various attachments for you to assemble your UltraCaptic. There are ten distinct pieces, including the cleaner itself and the dust canister which fits on top and an instruction booklet and guarantee details.

AEG UltraCaptic Box Contents

It's clear from the outset that the UltraCaptic is a seriously professional piece of kit. There are no less than four different tools for you to attach to your cleaner nozzle, including the innovative AeroPro 3 in 1 tool which allows you to use it as a brush, a fine crevice nozzle or an upholstery nozzle (you can see it in brush form in the photo above). The AEG UltraCaptic includes no less than three floor head tools, one of which is the AeroPro Silent Nozzle which promises powerful cleaning of different surfaces.

The UltraCaptic was easy to assemble.The hose attaches in two spots on the cylinder body then attaches to the handle. This was the one area I struggled with as I couldn't work out how to attach the hose to the handle. It turned out that the collar which attaches it had slipped down the hose, as soon as I retrieved it it fitted perfectly. The telescopic tube is beautifully engineered and extends easily and smoothly with a simple push of the button. The tools then attach simply. The floor head tools feature a ridge which allows them to be slid on to a clasp on the side of the cleaner for easy storage. 

AEG UltraCaptic Design Features

It's instantly clear, even before you switch the UltraCaptic on, that this is a high quality design. The features are beautifully engineered and make for intuitive use, you instantly know which button to press to power on or rewind the cord.

I'll be posting again to tell you what the UltraCaptic is like to use, my partner is enjoying it very much (as am I, of course). Until then I thought I'd show you what the smallest member of our family thinks of the AEG UltraCaptic.

Baby girl and the AEG UltraCaptic

How to Avoid those Decorating Dramas

14:24 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

We've been doing lots of decorating recently. We're really lucky in that we can call on our family for help whenever we start a project, my Dad used to work as a Plasterer and can turn his hand to most things, whereas my partner's Dad is a fantastic wallpaperer and quite enjoys it so he's always on call to help with that job. I don't recommend getting your three year old involved in the decorating, even if it is his room. If you do, give him a paintbrush, some water and a bare wall. He'll think he's 'painting' and stop asking to help! If you're looking for help on a DIY project, would you know where to begin?

Small boy painting the plaster with water

If, like us, you don't know where to start with decorating but aren't lucky enough to have lots of help then there is a wealth of information available online but it can be hard to track down, and understand the lingo. Local Traders have created a brand new ebook to help out with that - 28 Ways to Help You Decorate - the book is packed with step by step advice on everything from hanging shelves to stripping wallpaper. Another great resource is the Wickes website which has a variety of interesting tips and useful how-to videos. You could also take a look at the Pinterest board that I have put together for Bud's Room which shows where we got out Jungle-theme inspiration from.

Brought to you in partnership with Local Trader

La Tasca Trafford Centre Re-Opens it's Doors

00:20 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of being invited to celebrate the re-opening of the Trafford Centre branch of one of my favourite restaurant chains - La Tasca. The Spanish themed restaurants have long been popular for our girls' nights out where we enjoy tucking into tapas and Sangria. I'm very familiar with the Manchester Trafford Centre branch, although I haven't visited for some time, so I was really excited to see the transformation it has been through.

The Entrance to La Tasca Trafford Centre Manchester

Straight away I could see a significant improvement in the surroundings. The restaurant used to be quite dark but they have managed to open it out and brighten it beautifully. The restaurant has a real Spanish feel and I particularly loved the wall of wine barrels which was used as both a feature and a clever way to separate the sections of the restaurant.

I was meeting a group of fellow local bloggers there and we were treated to a complimentary bar and lots of fantastic Spanish food, from Serrano Ham to meatballs, through to Manchego Cheese. The main meal of the night was Paella from the enormous pan which was being cooked in the doorway of the restaurant, apparently this will become a regular feature on Friday nights going forwards. They are also planning regular live music which all adds to the ambience and helps to transport you to Spain. All of the food was hugely enjoyable, really good ingredients with strong flavours. I tried the house Sangria, well, it would have been rude not to, and it was really enjoyable - a really fruity punch with the flavour of red wine too.

Tapas and Paella from La Tasca Trafford Centre Manchester

La Tasca recently closed their branch in my home town which makes me a little sad as we used to go there quite a lot, I discussed this with the manager of the Trafford Centre restaurant and he explained that the chain had reassessed, closing some branches with a view to expanding in to different areas. The Trafford Centre La Tasca is now my local branch and I'm quite happy with that!

Live Music and Paella making at La Tasca Trafford Centre Manchester

I really enjoyed my evening at La Tasca, it was really pleasant with good food, drink and company. Having seen the new look surroundings I don't think it will be too much longer before we return, either as a couple, or as a family to try out the children's menu.

Disclaimer: I attended the event as the guest of La Tasca

Monday 8/7/13 - Sunday 14/7/13 Days 250-256 of Project 365

23:25 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Monday 8/7/13 - Sunday 14/7/13 Days 250-256 of Project 365

Monday #250 Playhouse - We played in the garden after Daddy came home from work today and we realised that the window is the perfect height for Little Miss to pull herself up at. She thought she was very clever and I love her expression in this photo.

Tuesday #251 Cyberman - I'm really scared of the Cybermen from Doctor Who. Honestly. So when I was confronted by one at the Amazon Christmas in July event on a very long day in London today I ran away like a girl. The Cyberman realised I was scared and followed me! It wasn't one of my finest moments as I basically hid from him.

Wednesday #252 Neal's Yard - Neal's Yard Remedies is probably my favourite skincare brand, their values really speak to what I look for in my products and I buy lots from there. I was delighted to attend a blogger's evening at their Manchester store tonight where we were well and truly spoiled. I had a lovely back and shoulder massage and enjoyed the company of some of my favourite local bloggers and it was so much fun.

Thursday #253 Relaxing - Little Miss has been struggling with the heat a little this week, she loved relaxing in the cushion when we called into toddlers this week.

Friday #254 Beans - Our garden has gone insane in the heat and we have veggies growing all over the place, I snapped a few shots of the blooms this evening as the children played. I've called this photo beans but I suspect these are actually pea flowers!

Saturday #255 Slide - We went to the church Summer Fair today and had a lovely time exploring the stalls, at one of them I snapped up four vintage Babycham glasses for the bargain price of £2. I'm very pleased with them. Bud had his first go on an inflatable slide and I was so surprised to see how quickly he scooted to the top ready to throw himself over and slide down.

Sunday #256 BBQ - We had a big family barbecue this afternoon with lots of yummy food and drink. We had the paddling pool out for Bud and his Cousins and they had a fantastic time splashing and playing in the heat, it really was the perfect way for them to cool down. It was a lovely afternoon and evening.

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Our #CookWithPyrex Twitter Party

23:23 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

A few weeks ago I joined with three other bloggers - ET Speaks From Home, In the Playroom and The Brick Castle, to co-host a Twitter party promoting Pyrex Cookware. The party lasted for an hour and was a completely exhilarating experience!

We had a huge number of Tweeters join in with the party and gave away four sets of Summer cookware. I was quite envious of the prizes - the lucky winners received the perfect tools for Summer entertaining.

Pyrex Twitter Party Prize

We heard suggestions for family recipes, including Baked Spanish Risotto (from me, it's one of our favourites). Other recipes suggested included Galina's All-in-one Roast Chicken and Lamb Pilaf, Anthea's Sausage and Salad Pitta Pockets and Vicki's Slow Cooked Pork in Cider and Mustard Sauce.

There were lots of those quick and easy suggestions for yummy pasta dishes, fun children's meals and one-pot wonders. Perfect for using Pyrex cookware which was also discussed at length.

It was testament to the affection with which Pyrex is held that we heard many stories of people growing up with Pyrex, inheriting sets from grandmothers and so many fond memories of using the cookware. Mel even told us that her Pyrex lasted longer than her marriage, but don't worry, she has a lovely new husband now!

The Twitter party used the hashtag #CookWithPyrex which seems to have started to become more widely used now, our little legacy of the party! We trended very quickly and, for most of the hour, trended first in the UK. We certainly got a lot of people talking about Pyrex and sharing their tips and stories.

Pyrex have some fantastic offers on at the moment. If you live within an easy journey of Washington, Tyne and Wear, they are holding a warehouse sale every Friday in July.

If you buy any two products from The Range you will get the chance to win a SMEG Fridge Freezer in the colour of your choice.You can also win cookware in the competition on the Pyrex UK site. In fact, it's a very good idea to like the official Pyrex UK Facebook page or follow @PyrexUKOfficial on Twitter to keep up with all their news, offers and competitions.

We had four lucky winners of our Pyrex Summer cookware, they were @mymummysworld, @meltinkferrari, @ohnoitsbex and @Foodie_Laura. Congratulations ladies, enjoy your prizes!

The Gallery: Sun

01:30 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

It's ages since I last joined in with the Gallery but I always love seeing everyone's take on the weekly theme. I snapped this shot today and, when I saw the theme for this week is sun I knew I had to share it.

Is there anything more lovely than a baby enjoying the garden in a sun dress in the sunshine? Little Miss loved her time in the garden today. I'm keeping her out of the sun a lot but this was first thing, before it got too hot.

Baby girl playing in the sunshine

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Ten Days Until Blog On

00:53 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

Regular readers might have spotted a swanky new badge somewhere over here ----> recently. This little badge signifies that I'm off to a very special event in around ten days time. Blog On is the brainchild of the force of nature who is Laura. You might know her better as Tired Mummy of Two. She has created a network for us Northern bloggers and so far this year we've had some great family meet ups in various family attractions. Blog On, the one day conference for Northern bloggers, will be the icing on the cake. There's an introduce yourself linky over on Blogs Up North at the moment so I thought I would take a minute to introduce me.

So, I'm Pippa. I live in Bolton with the OH and our two little people, Bud is three and Little Miss is ten months old  I do like attending events so I've met quite a few of you other attendees before. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone, whether for the first time or not. I've been blogging here for 20 months, give or take the five month break during my second pregnancy.

I look grumpy because I'm much more comfortable behind the camera instead of in front of it, also, I hate my short hair!

I'm very friendly and approachable and Laura has set me the special task of coaxing you terrified people out of the corners you say you will be hiding in. I have a a bright red necklace with my Twitter handle on it (@RedRoseMummy) which I'll be wearing on the day. Please come and say hello if you're feeling lonely. I'm pretty good with names too so, if you're looking to connect with another blogger - there's always that one blogger you've been chatting to on Twitter and really want to say hello to - I'll try to make that happen.

If you'd like to say hello to a few other attendees then I have a Blog On Attendees Twitter list , feel free to subscribe and see what your fellow attendees are tweeting about in the run up to the event. If you aren't on the list then tweet me and I will add you.

I'm so looking forward to Blog On, it's going to be my very first blogging conference. I'm hoping for a day to make new friends, have some lively discussions and generally celebrate all things blogging. I'll see you there!

Blogs Up North Blog On 2013

Giveaway - Win Two Zoe and Beans Board Books from Macmillan Kids

15:41 Pippa Ainsworth 0 Comments

A few weeks ago we reviewed the Zoe and Beans range of books for Macmillan Kids. We loved both the Zoe and Beans board books and the picture book that we were sent and both are in regular reading rotation in our house at the moment.

I'm delighted to be able to offer one of my lucky readers the chance to win a set of two Zoe and Beans board books - Look at Me! and How Many Pets? to share with their own children.

To enter please click through and read our Zoe and Beans review then enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

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