Aquabeads Not Just For Girls!

Michael, like most kids his age, has been Loom Band crazy the past few months and loves anything creative. We received the Aquabeads Jewel Starter Set a couple of days ago and he's already made dozens of little creations. The packaging is very girl-orientated, but boys and girls alike should love the ease of making little models.

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I was pretty pleased with the mess-free element of the beads too. You don't need an iron, or heat, the beads stick together with a small spray of water. After drying for an hour you can lift the beads off and they'll stay stuck together. 

Michael loves them and already has requested I buy him more beads! 

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You can connect with Aquabeads on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share your child's creations.

Marks & Spencer's Super Summer of Flavour

Have you been in Marks & Spencer lately? As usual they are pushing the boundaries of unusual culinary delights to be found on a supermarket shelf, with their Summer of Flavour. 

They've put coconut, pineapple, watermelon, chipotle or wasabi on EVERYTHING, and this is the BEST THING EVER. It's like a range invented by me, with all meats pulled, everything fruity & tangy and beautiful.  

You know where I do my big shop, but I'm no stranger to M&S either. Their food can be a little more pricey, but it's actually WORTH IT, so you don't mind. We aren't talking stupid prices either, and their Meal for Two for £10 is still one of the best value meals from any supermarket. 

We visited the Sprucefield Marks & Spencer, Lisburn, just outside Belfast. It's gigantic. It must have everything from the website and more. Stationary, clothing, food hall, then another massive shop of M&S Home.

 

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Here's what I think must have gone down in the M&S kitchen when they invented this product.

"Okay, chocolate covered... we've had coconut before... pineapple? ....watermelon? too messy I suppose... what other flavours have we included in our Summer of Flavour, Jim?" 

"WASABI. WASABI PEAS." 

"Oh, Jim. I don't think so" 

"MAKE IT SO." 

(I'll let you know on Instagram later in the week what I think of them).

They may sound weird, but products like this is exactly why I love M&S. 

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So what did we pick up to try through out this week?

I'm giving coconut water a second chance. I've tried it plain and thought it tasted too much like sweat. But this carton has a whole juiced watermelon in there too, so it's bound to taste nice. Plus I picked it up on the 3 for £5 offer, so it's a bargain. 

If you look closely at the yellow carton you can see the pineapple juice has hints of lemongrass and jalepeno chilli in it! Another curious creation.

The fruit snacks are very summery, the Tropical Paradise tray includes little, yellow, coconut & pineapple flavour jelly shells. Tropical Triumph has mango sauce and a shaker of coconut flakes included. 

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There's my Wasabi Peas again, and a bound-to-be beautiful, £3 coconut and pineapple cake. If you've never tried M&S's £3 round cakes, you are missing out. They are the moistest, most delicious cakes you can buy from a supermarket. Try the toffee one and it'll change your cake buying habits for life.

If you're a macaron fan there is a special summer version of their mini desserts for £5.50. 

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The Summer of Flavour range has tonnes of picnic food to choose from, and buy four items and you get a free bottle of wine, or if you're teetotal like me, a non-alcoholic alternative. Rather than use these for a picnic, I chose them for some night when I want to make a 'lazy tea'. A little platter of tasty bits and pieces to share, and with 3 packs for £6 it's a good deal.

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The Summer of Flavour has reached the takeaway sandwich aisle too. Marks & Spencer have caught onto the trend of all meat being 'pulled'. It's strange, meat didn't seem to be pulled before 2013, now it's like you can't buy pork without it being yanked first. It's like paninis. Before 2005 they didn't exist in the UK, now they are everywhere. See also pizza pre-1985.

Back to the point though, these soft baps are made from a sweet, brioche type recipe and I love them. The sweet, soft baps are available from the bread & bakery section, called Posh Dog Baps they'll impress the neighbours at your next BBQ.

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More from the picnic range, these Firebreads are only £3 each, which seems like a great price to me. These do need cooked before you eat them, so bear that in mind if you are dropping into M&S for something to take to a park to eat 'now'. We are going to try these tonight, so again if you want to know what I think & how they look cooked, see my Instagram later.

We Smyths love a wee multi-pack of dips, and I'm looking forward to testing out this smokey selection. 

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Another item I've tried before, but simply had to include because it's out of this world, their Wasabi Potato Salad. It's part of their 2 for £3 salad pots which includes a great Crunchy Mango Salad pot and a lovely version of Waldorf Salad.

Another wasabi fuelled Summer of Flavour item I've noticed in the past few weeks included wasabi popcorn. Annoyingly it slipped my mind to look for it when I was there today. 

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The Grill collection is the BBQ type section of the a Summer Flavour menu, and there's lots to choose from. I went for three items from the 3 for £10 range. These sweet potato wedges would make a gorgeous BBQ accompaniment. Also good for making your own at home, pretend Nandos.

The coconut, lemongrass  & lime chicken should be amazing, and again the night we do cook and eat these I'll give my opinion on Instagram.

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Finally, way-hey it's the pulled pork! My mouth is watering just looking at the picture on the front of the box. Apple BBQ sauce sounds like the thing dreams are made of.

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This shop came in at around £45 and you can really make some good savings by reading up on the offers in store.

Oh, and I tried these cashews earlier in the week, coconut & chilli ones. Don't laugh, but the taste reminded me of sugared Shredded Wheat (descriptions like that is probably why I'm not a full time foodie blogger). They are totally yummy.

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Check out the M&S website for recipes using their current ranges.

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This post was sponsored by M&S supplying the food for review. Thanks, guys! 

 

The Chill Factor Jelly Maker- Does It Work?

Remember when we were young, if you wanted jelly you'd have to plan to ask your mum like a week in advance. By the time you bought the jelly, found time to make it, waited for it to set, it was hardly worthwhile. Now there's quick set jelly powders, and even better, ready made jelly pots.

If however you want to make your own jelly, you might want to invest in the £12.99 Chill Factor Jelly Maker this summer. 

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We've reviewed the Chill Factor Ice Cream Maker previously, which I was intensely skeptical about, but which works a treat. Yet I was still suspicious of the jelly maker's claims of "jelly in minutes, not hours" as I recalled my own childhood asking, "is it set yet?" every five minutes of my frazzled mum.

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We set about making our jelly, following the instructions carefully. You freeze the lower part of the device overnight. It says the freezer is where it 'lives' which makes sense, so it's always ready for making instant jelly. Otherwise the time you wait for it to freeze would be the same as waiting for normal jelly to set!

You make the jelly as the packet instructs and pour into the Chill Factor and start squeezing. The jelly mixture starts to thicken up over 3 - 5 mins. The process definitely needs an adult present, as you'll need the normal boiling water at the beginning. After the squeezing you put the stopper on the top and flip the Chill Factor over. 

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You leave the mixture another minute to harden, and unscrew the top, leaving the jelly ready to eat in the lid which doubles as a bowl. 

The process didn't quite work for us, but I think we could have been more enthusiastic with our squeezing, and could have done with continuing for longer than the 3 and a half minutes. We were too eager to see the results.

  

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Instead we put the bowl into the fridge for five minutes and when we came back to look, it had completely set. So if you can't get your jelly firm as you'd like, just pop the bowl into your fridge briefly. It's still a lot quicker than leaving it for five hours to set regularly. 

The Chill Factor Jelly Maker comes in several colours and is £12.99

Katy Perry's Royal Revolution- the Revolution Will Be Smellivised

 

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This week I've spied fellow Northern Irish bloggers receive super snazzy personalised note books along with the new Royal Revolution scent from Katy Perry. I contacted he lovely Fiona, the friendliest PR in all of Ireland, but sadly I was too late for my own book.

Fiona being wonderful though, poster me the perfume and some fresh, new shades of nail polish from NYC Cosmetics. 

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I love the Katy Perry crest. Cats! The perfume itself is very light, young and fresh. It's girly and reminds me of a perfume or smell from my teenage years. I'm going to wear it over the summer, as it's a really nice 'fit' for the season.

It's available from Gordon's Chemist in NI, and all other good perfume stores in the UK. 

Now... which colour for my nails first? 

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Our Anniversary Getaway at The Causeway Hotel, Bushmills.

Last weekend we celebrated seven years being married, and spent a wonderful night away staying at The Causeway Hotel, Bushmills.

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Owned in part by The National Trust, this pleasant hotel has the prime location on the North Coast, settled right on the cliff tops, literally a stone's throw from the Giant's Causeway. From the free car park you have views of the world famous landmark, and if you look at the far right of the photo below, you'll see the entrance to the visitor attraction. You really can't stay closer, and as a guest of the hotel you and your family have free entry to the Causeway and centre automatically.

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The rooms are airy, spacious, clean and tailored to take advantage of the jaw dropping views. Our room welcomed us with fruit and bubbly, as they knew we were celebrating, a lovely touch. 

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You may guess for such a prime location you'd pay top dollar. Well I've just checked room prices for this weekend coming and you can stay in a double as a couple for as little as £99 a night

The best part about the room is that the doors open out onto your very own little outdoor terrace, where you can sit for the evening and chat.

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Last summer we attempted a visit to The Giant's Causeway as part of the blogging trip I wrote up for Tesco Living. As soon as we jumped off the little bus the heavens had opened, so we had to scramble back onto the bus and just take in the new visitors' centre instead.

This year we couldn't have planned any better weather. We got the bus down to the stones from the centre, explored them then climbed the 160-something cliff steps to walk back to the hotel along the cliff tops. 

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Again, this is how close The Causeway Hotel is to the visitor centre. It's in the background, I'm standing on the roof of the centre.

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After all that trekking we were pretty hungry, so we drove the ten minute journey to Portstewart and had burgers and ice cream in Morellis. There was also a new doughnut shop along the front.

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The day was so beautiful we decided to stock up on snacks and just spend the evening at the hotel. Just beyond the visitor centre is a quaint little country pub called The Nook. We dandered over and had pub chips sitting at one of their outside picnic tables overlooking Port Ballintrae & Portrush beyond. It was so relaxing.

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Of course I can't finish a hotel blog without sharing with you their Ulster Fry breakfast! My husband had that and I had pancakes and bacon.

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It was definitely the most 'get away from it all' hotel stay I've ever had, and I'm pencilling in a stay for our 8th anniversary next year. It could become a lovely little tradition. Thanks for having us, Causeway Hotel.

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Summer at The MAC, Belfast

Al Fresco dining, Chilean wine tasting, afternoon tea with strawberries and cream and a tapas menu that the Spanish themselves would be proud of.

Set the MAC, Belfast’s award-winning  arts venue in the heart of Saint Anne’s Square in the Cathedral Quarter, Canteen at the MAC offers  Belfast’s premiere, must-visit café culture experience. 

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The popular outdoor areas, which spill onto Saint Anne’s Square, will once again invite diners and drinkers to enjoy the sights and sounds of summer time in Belfast.

Sharon Wright, director of Canteen at the MAC said: “We are very excited about the months ahead and are gearing up for a real café-culture vibe in our outdoor dining areas. 

“Not only has the MAC got a brilliant summer line-up scheduled, including the rock and dance summer schools for little ones, there’s also live World Cup  streaming which sees key matches shown in the new indoor garden on large plasma screens, but St Anne’s Square is also playing host to some very exciting outdoor events, including the Taste of Summer Food Festival which will include street food, arts and craft stalls, Canteen’s wine tasting and our famous coffee masterclass.  

“In addition, we have developed a bespoke Canteen Tapas menu and a fantastic range of drinks promotions which will complement the sporting schedule perfectly.  

“We have our limited edition Bud beer buckets, as well as our Lanson Champagne offer where customers will receive a free Wimbledon Neoprene with each purchase, and our special Bella View Rocks cocktails – perfect for those wanting soak up the buzz of Belfast.

“Whether it’s a special occasion such as graduation celebrations or simply a leisurely afternoon or evening out, we look forward to welcoming visitors new and old to our new outdoor areas and are ever hopeful that the weather will remain kind to us.”

For further information on Canteen at the MAC, including menus and photo gallery please visit themaclive.com or call 028 9023 5053 to make a booking or enquiry.

United Tastes of America at Lidl Week Inspires Me to Serve Everything on Skewers!

It's been American Week at Lidl, with lots of treats in store.

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Of course I had to stock up. I don't know if anyone else felt inspired by this Buzzfeed post about skewer food last week, but as a mother of a picky eating six year old, I was keen to try some of the ideas out.

I picked up all the ingredients in my Bangor Lidl store. For savoury skewers for the adults I bought the outstandingly delicious sirloin steaks, a red pepper and baby potatoes.

I simply boiled the potatoes then tossed them in butter. I fried off the red pepper in olive oil, so they still had a little bit of crunch and wouldn't fall apart when I added them to the skewer. The sirloin I chopped into pieces and fried in the super hot pan, adding a dollop of honey thirty seconds before the end to give it a lovely taste. They were SO GOOD.

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For my son's savoury skewer I added Belgian waffle quartered, cherry tomatoes in coloured varieties and hotdog sausage chopped up. What do you know, instead of fighting over eating, the novelty of the presentation had this meal demolished in minutes.

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The easiest and yummiest looking dessert idea was this brownie one.

 

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I had run out of clean skewers at this point, but for soft foods you can use drinking straws. Also a safer plan if you want to avoid giving six inch metal or wooden spikes to kids! Again these were a success. I might make dozens of these come birthday party time in October.

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If you're into your healthy snacks then you can pick up a popcorn maker which uses hot air, not oil, for just £8.99.

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For bakers, there are cake pop makers and doughnut makers, £11.99 each. Plus ready made doughnut batter in store.

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I also spotted, but didn't pick up, these 'Nutella' filled cookies. If anyone tries them let me know are they worth trying on Twitter, I'm @rudedoodle.

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A couple more products caught my eye, some very Ikea-a-like meatballs, and almond tarts. Also fancied this big pork fillet to make pulled pork, it was £4.99.

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Another taste-a-like, a bag of Starbucks' type hard waffles for less than the price of one waffle bought in their chain! These are a spot on taste match.

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Lastly, you may wonder how I'm even finding time to blog, what with school holidays and no moment of my own anymore, well, Lidl to the rescue once again. For the past hour Michael has been busy colouring in this cardboard playhouse we picked up with our Lidl shop for £7.99!

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Don't forget you can check out the Lidl NI website to see what themed offers are coming up in the next few weeks, influding some fab duvets and jammies boys and girls in July.

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