Father's Day 2016 is Sweet at M&S

Father's Day is this Sunday in the UK & Ireland. Smix & I popped along to our local Bloomfields branch in Bangor, to see what's in store to pick up for your Pops this weekend.

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Firstly there's a great offer to pick up a smart polo shirt, shorts and greetings card for £19.50 perhaps best for the older Dad, my own Dad would love this set. It's all mix and match, so you can choose from dozens of colour combinations to make the outfit that's right for your Dad's day in the sun.

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There are other offers you might be interested in, like 30% off men's fragrance, toiletries and toiletry gifts. 

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Or there's the classic mug option! A Father's Day staple in our household for many a year as I was growing up. 

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There are dozens of craft ales, which I'll come to later, but if your dad is teetotal then check out this fancy root beer. I picked up the matching cream soda,  priced at £2 each and would make for a very fancy bbq refreshment at any time this summer.

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Now onto the main Food Hall offerings. I'm a sucker for an M&S cake, and there's a special Dad cake on the shelves for this weekend's celebrations. The £8 cake is a delicious combination of Belgian chocolate, coffee & salted caramel in layers.

The off license section of your local store is stocked with a wealth of apt Father's Day tipple ideas. I couldn't resist this pre-mixed espresso martini, for £12, which we will chill to ice cold & serve on the rocks. 

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And here's the tempting praline cream soda I mentioned, which would make a neat little gift with some of M&S's yummy gingerbread men. The minis are £1.10 and the regular sized are £1.50

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My dad has a sweet tooth and loves nougat, so I chose this huge slab of his favourite for £5, which I will give to him along with a nice bottle of red wine. Many of the Belgian chocolate boxes are half price right now, in celebration of Father's Day, so if your dad loves his sweeties too, check out what your local Food Hall has on offer. 

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Now, onto that bottle of red wine I mentioned! I was lucky to notice there is a  dine in style offer on right now. You pick a main, from a selection of great bbq/summer style dishes, two sides, and a bottle of wine, or two bottles of ale/beer. So it's definitely a dad themed sort of meal deal! You get all that for a tenner, and with bottles of wine usually costing £7.99 at least these days, you can't be bad to that.

I chose these products, and snapped some of the other choices for you. 

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They also have some great hot hot sauces in the Food Hall, the packaging of these caught my eye. 

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These are the ales you can pick from and take two of for the meal deal, or a bottle of wine as usual. 

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Some more of the alcohol gifts I thought would make good presents. These colourful gins were £14 each.

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You could put together a great gift set of ales, beers or ciders for your dad to try out.  If you buy six you save a huge 25% so it's worth your while stocking up for you too! Have a great Father's Day 2016!

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P.S. We cooked the Dine in Meal this evening, shared between 3 adults & Smix, with just an extra chicken kebab and small salad to fill out the meal as it was meant for two people.  We are full! For £10 with a bottle of wine or two ales, it's a steal.

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The Mayo that comes along with the sweet potato fries is to DIE for. I highly recommend it!  

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Snap Before You Sip With Ground Espresso & Win a Holiday to New York!

Your next cup of coffee could be your ticket to the holiday of a lifetime in the city that never sleeps. 

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Northern Ireland's home grown, quickly expanding coffee chain Ground Espresso has launched an initiative that will invite their fans to submit themed stills for inclusion in a beautifully bound coffee table book, which will be sold and all proceeds given to The Ground Honduras Project.

Ground coffees are pretty as a picture

Ground coffees are pretty as a picture

The aim of this campaign is to capture shots that range from favourite Ground drinks, to a precious memory shared at Ground, and even quirky snaps of Ground’s coffees and signature tray bakes out and about at NI’s famous landmarks. The initiative welcomes participants at all levels of photography from smartphone users to professional shutterbugs.

Snap quickly before the Nutella cake disappears!0

Snap quickly before the Nutella cake disappears!0

Ground also provide free tap water in every store- a great help for families

Ground also provide free tap water in every store- a great help for families

The initiative will shortlist 12 runners-ups who will be announced in August 2016.

Each runner up will receive a premium prize package of Ground treats including a £100 Ground gift card, brew-at-home coffeekits, and some bespoke branded products. In addition to this, the overall winner will receive a complimentary weekend break in New York City with flights and accommodation courtesy of Ground Espresso Bars.

All winners will also have their submissions included in Ground’s first coffee table book, which will be available for sale to the public at the end of year.

For further information and to join the campaign visit www.groundcoffee.net.

Spot Ground, top right

Spot Ground, top right

Smix & I finally visited the new Ground Espresso Bar that opened as part of the big, new Next store at Bloomfields in Bangor. It's the town's second branch, with the first cafe along the ring road always a hive of activity, and this concession set to thrive also. 

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Previously the space was a department store, where you could get a light lunch, and Ground is the perfect replacement, with lots of good choices on offer from light bites to bagels, to toasties, to traybakes. 

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The salted caramel brownie is the stuff of legends

The salted caramel brownie is the stuff of legends

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Manager Chris was on hand on a hot Friday afternoon to show us the sparkly new store.  

Just as with the other Bangor branch, the Bloomfield cafe offers the whole  Brew Bar experience, which I covered in this blog post which is a must for coffee connoisseurs.

There's also a fabulous selection of Suki Teas, another local hero product, made in Belfast.

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Because it was so hot I didn't fancy a big mug of steaming hot coffee, so Chris made me a double espresso with a little foamed milk.  

Michael's favourite and what he has religiously every time we go to Ground, is the Nutella cake. It's as heavenly as you'd imagine. 

Coupled with a babycino

Coupled with a babycino

I tried their bacon & cream cheese bagel. I'd had their bacon bap before in their Sprucefield cafe, but the bagel is a total belly buster! So much delicious bacon. I needed a lie down after eating that! But it was worth it! 

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As with the other stores, this Ground also has a range of expert coffee paraphernalia to use at home. 

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Dont forget to sign up for the Ground reward scheme if you are a frequent visitor, and there are also gift vouchers available if you know someone who loves their coffee & would be interested in the brew bar experience they can't get elsewhere. 

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So thanks to Chris & the team, we had a fun first visit to our second local Ground. They sent us off with one of their special fruit & veg smoothies, as I was curious to taste the Kale Kick. It's an authentic superfood drink, icy cold in this hot weather, but a bit too healthy for me. The Oreo flavoured icecream milkshake is more my thing! 

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You can connect with Ground on social networks with the username @GroundEspresso

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Stendhal Music & Art Festival- Bring the Whole Family & Camp Under the Stars

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Set in the picturesque surrounds of Ballymully Cottage Farm on the outskirts of Limavady, Stendhal Festival of Art brings an all encompassing artistic experience to the Roe Valley, home of Danny Boy. Celebrating the creativity of artists from all over Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and further afield, Stendhal Festival of Art is much more than just a music festival.

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90% of all shows are completely family-friendly, anything not is clearly labelled as such. You can visit by the day, or camp on site for that authentic festival experience. 

Stendhal Festival website.

Stendhal Festival Facebook Page.

A Cat Cafe for Belfast? YOU Can Help Make Kittywinkles Cat Lounge Happen!

Caitlin- the woman with the plan

Caitlin- the woman with the plan

Caitlin McClelland emailed me this week with quite possibly the most exciting news of 2016 so far- the prospect of a cat cafe for Belfast. What's that? What does it entail? How can we make Caitlin's dream a furry reality? We had a chat about the best animal in the world, the cat. 

 

What's a cat lounge?

Alizul blog

Alizul blog

Well, it's a comfortable space where friendly, pampered cats live. The cats roam around and do as they please while visitors relax and socialise. There are already 9 cat cafés in the UK but I want Kittywinkles to be something different. It will be a calm, open space.

Your visit is booked so you don't queue or wait, your seats are ready for your arrival and you can spend your time there doing whatever you like. Bring a friend for a chat, bring your laptop and study, bring a cat-lover along for an amazing surprise - it's up to you.

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Why Belfast? 

I feel like we should try to bring new ideas and opportunities to Northern Ireland. Cat cafés already exist in London, Edinburgh, Newcastle, etc. and I think Belfast deserves one too. Belfast is changing and lots of new small businesses are popping up regularly, I think we're ready for Kittywinkles Cat Lounge.

 

What can we expect to see when Kittywinkles opens?

I want Kittywinkles to be something new and different for Belfast. I love the quirky style of interior decorating that is becoming more popular around Belfast these days. Reclaimed furniture, funny and eye-catching artwork, up-cycled oddities… Originally this was my vision for the cat lounge, but during the planning stage I started to feel that maybe that wasn’t new anymore, I could give Kittywinkles a style that doesn’t exist in Belfast.

thinkGeek.com

thinkGeek.com

The cat lounge will be based on Japanese cat cafés - over-sized floor cushions, little tea-tables, squashy beanbag seats and soft throws and pillows. The cat lounge will be tailored to helping our visitors to relax and feel at home, so I want it to be like their second living-room.

global.rakuten.com

global.rakuten.com

The cats will live in this space and their experience will be quite different. I plan on installing walk-ways along the walls and windows and hidey-holes for cats to peek out from. I’ve seen some fantastic furniture for cats such as mini bunk beds, cat-sized rope ladders and little fabric hammocks for cats to laze on. The style I’m aiming for is quirky, comfy and welcoming.

The café area will be separate, of course, to maintain high levels of hygiene when we’re serving drinks and snacks. On the Kittywinkles menu you’ll see lots of varieties of locally-sourced tea and coffee, as well as a few fun additions like bubble-tea and milkshakes. I’d like to serve mainly dessert-style snacks like flapjacks, macarons and cupcakes. Cats can’t taste sugar so you won’t have to share your treats with a kitty!

 

Kittywinkles will bring a new style to Belfast then?

Yes, starting with the branding that you can see in the Kittywinkles logo, it is a style called ‘Kawaii’ which means ‘cute’ in the context of Japanese culture. For instance, brands like Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma and Molang are considered kawaii; they’re adorable, chubby and based on cute animals. Our mascot is an attention-seeking brown cat called Kwinkle.

 

Who do you expect to see visiting the Kittywinkles cats? 

I think that Kittywinkles is a place for all (unless you are allergic to cats!). It might look like a place for kids because of the cute brand but the cat lounge is for anyone who wants to spend time with cats.

Our visitors might not be allowed pets in their home or have never owned a pet before and want to try it out by visiting. I imagine that most people who like animals will want to come and see Kittywinkles Cat Lounge because it’s a new kind of space they haven’t used before. It’s not like a bustling café or a noisy pub and I’d say Kittywinkles won’t be the only cat café in Northern Ireland for long once people experience it for themselves.

Kittywinkles Cat Lounge is currently raising start up funds on Kickstarter. Backers can choose their reward from the project and pledge an amount to bring Kittywinkles to life. The project will run until 24th June.

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Geocaching at a Game of Thrones Location

It's the Bank Holiday & the weather is lovely, so Smix & I tried our hand at geocaching for the first time.  

We downloaded the official app, which uses your phone's GPS to show you how close you are to the hidden log. These can be little containers like those you used to send your camera films away in to be processed, with paper inside to log your find. 

We picked the walk that leads up to Helen's Tower, near Clandeboye Estate, where Game of Thrones films every year. 

Photo from winteriscoming.net

Photo from winteriscoming.net

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Helen's Tower is the pinnacle of this walk. It was a bit far for us today, as my M.E. is playing up right now, but we got past the lake, so that was an achievement. 

The tower was built for the same Helen who the nearby village of Helen's Bay is named after. She was Scottish and her husband built the tower so she could gaze out across the sea at her home.

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So, geocaching. When we parked on the road we found we were right on top of one already. It was located at the entrance to the saw mill and the clue was to do with seeing the light. We looked for a street light, or a source of light, but even after checking the comments from previous finders, we still couldn't work out where it was. 

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As we walked on through our trail there were several other geocaches, but they were more advanced ones, and I didn't want to upgrade to the paid app when we struggled and failed to find an easy one! 

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We did find some really cool freak of nature sights though, like this tree above. I thought it was fungi, but when Smix dared me to touch it it was rock hard. We concluded it must be some sort of sap from the tree. 

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There are lots of old stone walls boardering the farms around. I liked this secret hidey hole- even if it was a cider hidey hole (as not seen in Game of Thrones).

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Smix found 20p on that big tree stump! 

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When we got back to the car we noticed another 'easy' geocache on the road that is opposite the Clandeboye Hotel, the road that leads as a shortcut to the Craigantlet Road.

The clue was that the geocache was inside a container that looked like a hedgehog. We were right on top of it, rummaging in the bushes, shining the phone torch down into the hibernation holes under the tree, but we just couldn't find it. 

So disappointing. There's meant to be a cache up on the dual carriageway bridge close to our house, so we might give it one last go later tonight. Does anyone know of any REALLY easy to find local ones? Let me know on Twitter @rudedoodle

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Have a lovely half term break from Smix and me! 

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Stena Line- Kids Go Free This Summer #WOKSummer2016

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STENA LINE are offering tens of thousands of free child places for travel to Britain by car all summer long on its 4 Irish Sea routes.

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Their Kids Go Free offer means that you can travel any day and on any sailing, but you need to book quickly so you don’t miss out – it really is that simple with no catches or conditions.

You can travel any time until December 18.

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Travelling with Stena Line means that your holiday starts the moment you drive onboard, as the kids have dedicated play areas and even a children’s entertainer on selected school holiday week-ends.  There’s even free Wi-Fi, free movies and great eateries with superb family meal deals, so your holiday spending goes even further.  You also don’t have to worry about baggage restrictions or charges so you can bring all the comforts of home and avoid the airport hassle.

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We tend to go on at least one Stena Line jaunt a year, and we are currently planning where we will go with them this summer.  All the photos in this blog post are from our own trips. There's also a snazzy £10 Glasgow day return you should also check out. 

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For more information or to book click onwww.stenaline.co.uk/kids, call 08447 70 70 70 or visit your local travel agent.

 *Kids Go Free when travelling by car. Subject to availability. Terms and conditions apply.  See online for further details.

Unpaid blog post, but have travelled with Stena Line on complimentary trips previously. 

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Mr Frosty is Back! We Vlog Our Trip Down Memory Lane.

It took several years of nagging Santa, but I eventually did own one of these coveted ice crushing snowmen in the 80s. My memories are of the handle being impossible to turn, and of just driving the syrup from the squeezy penguin.

Well Mr Frosty is back! He's £19.99 from Smyths Toys, and there are some changes to be aware of. The super sugary syrups are no longer included, which means you can be healthier and add your usual dilute or flavouring of your choice to the crushed ice. As well as the classic Mr Frosty machine, you'll also receive lolly moulds to make yoghurt, juice, or lollies of anything in your imagination. There are also two trays of fun ice cube shapes.

You can use dilute juice and freeze that in icecubes so your ice you crush is automatically flavoured, if you choose to. 

So, is the Mr Frosty machine any easier to use? My parents used to hate cranking that handle! Well the tip is to leave the ice out to allow it to soften for ten minutes to make the handle turning easier. I'm a little sceptical here as surely the physics of ice means it is either ice or water, there is no mystical 'soft ice' state. A tip I would offer up is that if you use ice cube plastic bags to make your cubes, if you whack it with a rolling pin to smash the cubes up a little smaller, you'll have more luck than just feeding Mr Frosty regular sized cubes. 

We still found the handle hard to turn, sadly. We did get crushed ice and yes, it is easier than the 80s' version, but Smix is aged 8 and needed help each time he wanted to use it. Another tip we have is don't press down too hard on Mr Frosty's hat. Just apply even pressure. 

If you love creative toys then Flair's club will be right up your street, visit www.coolcreateclub.co.uk

Here's our Vlog!