Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Great Oreo Cookie Quest

Oreo cookies are the Marmite of the biscuit world. Some people claim them to be the food of Gods, some cannot quite understand all the devotion (and there are even some heathens who call them the spawn of the devil... Don't believe me?! Search some of the Oreo threads on Mumsnet, and prepare to be amused).
We are very partial to Oreos, and have been for a good number of years, as you might already know, if you frequent my blog.

I have fond memories of little Sash lovingly twisting each Oreo, licking off the white icing inside and then eating the chocolate wafers.
Eddie is also a big fan of these cookies. I often buy a big box of Oreos in Poundland for £2 which has small sealed packets of two - very handy to carry around in a lunchbox.

We are happy to eat them neat (though never dunked, we are not dunkers as a rule) with hot chocolate or tea, or in any cakes and bakes. There's definitely more to Oreos than a "twist-lick-dunk" mantra of the old ads.

This scrumptious biscuit makes a versatile ingredient for many bakes.
We loved Oreo cheesecake i

recipes with Oreos

Oreo brownies are lush too.

recipes with Oreos

Hot chocolate with whipped cream and crushed Oreos is a decadent treat. Especially when coming home semi-frozen from the snow.

recipes with Oreos

... but it's the White chocolate Oreo fudge that gets requested most often in our house. I do prefer dark chocolate, but even I cede my willpower when I cut this fudge into thick chunks. It's sooo good.

recipes with Oreos

You might wonder why am I going all rhapsodical about Oreos.

Have you spotted promotional Oreo packs in supermarkets?

Its biggest promotion for 2018 is called the Great Oreo Cookie Quest. Technically there are separate promotions by Oreo. One is an instant win competition, where you enter a unique code from a promotional pack to try to win a trip to San Francisco or smaller prizes.

The second promotion requires you to download the Oreo Search mobile app and use it to scan real and virtual cookies to earn points in order to win prizes.
If you want to know how exactly to do it, watch an informative fun video by Di at her blog Superlucky.

I don't think we'll be entering this competition, but I would like to wish everyone else Good luck!

Our own Oreo Cookie Quest is the search for the best recipe with Oreos. Do you have a favourite recipe with Oreos you would like to share with us?

This post is an entry for BritMums #OreoCookieQuest, sponsored by Oreo.

Disclosure: Please don't be misled by the word sponsored above. In our case it means we received two packs of promotional Oreos.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Photo diary: Week 11 (Project 365)

Mid-March week. I'm feeling drained and listless, and haven't blogged for almost a week for that very reason.
At the weekend Eddie practises his guitar as on Monday he has a music lesson at school.
You see, an improvement from me, as I thought I cannot post yet another photo from Gregg's.

On Monday I bought the latest issue of Delicious magazine, and liked the sound of chocolate and marshmallow traybake. I have reduced the sugar content quite a bit, and still my husband said it was too sweet. It looked pretty though, decorated with mini eggs.

The sky on Tuesday was of such intense blue, it was amazingly beautiful.

Wednesday was full of sadness. It was the 18th anniversary of my Dad's death.
I also kept thinking of a friend who lost her husband last week, and this was the day of his funeral.

Eddie loves to relax on the sofa, surrounded by one zillion cushions, watching his favourite Youtubers on my ipad.

On Friday I baked a small raisin, walnut and orange cake.

Friday was such a warm day, that Eddie walked from school without a coat. I thought the weather forecast must have gotten it wrong with the promise of snow. Snow did come today though, not much, but in the morning there was enough white in the garden to make me anxious about my flowers. It was all gone before lunch, but the snowflakes keep dancing all day.
It's Sasha's birthday today. He was pleased with his gifts and cards. Eddie has chosen a card with a dog playing on a guitar for his brother.
It's also St Patrick's day today. I often joke that we are half-Irish since both my brother and son were born on this day.

The Teacher's Secret by Suzanne Leal & Raisin, walnut and orange cake

We all make mistakes, and some of our blunders come to haunt us years later.
Terry Pritchard who is affectionately known at Brindle Public school as Mr P, is a warm-hearted teacher who loves his job. He has been teaching several generations of children - some of his current students are children of his former students. He is a well-known and much-loved figure in town.

Then a new principal arrives to school, and school life changes dramatically. Immediately her and Terry's personalities clash, and Ms Matthews takes it upon herself to make Terry comply with her new rules or perish. She is a very unpleasant, uncompromising (in a negative way) character, without redeeming features. She seems to be power-obsessed.

This brought back memories of working in school many years ago. While some of my colleagues were genuinely wonderful and kind people, there were also some colleagues who would be ready to stab you in the back and walk over dead bodies just to achieve their ambitions. Ms Matthews epitomises the abhorrent zeal and schemes of certain teaching professionals. I imagine we've all met "a Ms Matthews" in our lives, whether as a colleague or as a teacher of our children. This is the kind of person you mentally want to strangle.

Mr P is not as faultless as he appears at the beginning of the novel, and once Ms Matthews uncovers his past secret and decides that his behaviour is inappropriate, he is dismissed from the job he loves so passionately. Terry is forced into an early retirement, and the whole school community is shocked and devastated.

A new teacher, Nina, comes to replace him. Obviously, as Terry's replacement, she is not the flavour of the month. And she truly struggles to fit in and find her place. The pupils confront her and resent her for taking Terry's place. You feel sorry for Nina, as anyone in her position would struggle.

There are several smaller personal stories and subplots going on. The story is a bit scattered, and there are too many characters. The feel of a small town is rendered truthfully and authentically.
It is a thought-provoking book which tackles modern day issues.

Thank you to Legend Press for sending me an e-copy of the book for reviewing.


As it often happens, when I read novels, I take notice of what the characters cook and eat.

One of the characters, Joan, is very curious about a new family next door, She decides to bake a cake to welcome them to the neighbourhood. She hesitates, and imagines her late mother talking to her:
"Or, she hears her mother whisper, you could make them a cake, Joanie.
A tray of biscuits she can manage, but baking cakes has never been her forte and Joan shakes her head at the idea.
Come on, Joanie, her mother insists. Nothing fancy, just a little something.
As she washes up the breakfast dishes, she manages to talk herself into it. A sultana cake, she decides, that's what she will make. So she takes out her mother's cookbook and gets started. She measures out the sultanas, whips up the butter and the sugar, adds the eggs and the flour and she's done. Carefully, she pours the mixture into a loaf pan.
To her surprise and delight, when she pulls it out of the oven it looks absolutely beautiful.
Just a little something to welcome you to the street. That's what she'll say".

This short passage just makes your heart melt, doesn't it?! It brings back some lovely memories of the times when we moved to a college house in Williamstown, MA, when our elder son was just a few months old. We had most wonderful neighbours, and still keep in touch. They left a big basket of food (including some baked goodies) for us on the porch with a card, and it was such an unexpected warm gesture.

I love browsing bookshelves in charity shops, and I've recently spotted an old edition of The Australian Women's Weekly Cakes & Slices Cookbook. I just had to buy it. I looked up if there are any sultana cake recipes in the book, and indeed there is a brandied sultana cake recipe. But I was more inspired by Raisin, Walnut and Orange Syrup Cake recipe. It's quite easy, and I think even Joan who's not a confident cake baker would master it.

Australian cake recipes

And here it is, a recipe for Raisin, walnut and orange syrup cake, which I have adapted to suit our tastes. I have reduced the sugar content and have changed some of the steps too.

Raisin, walnut and orange cake
zest of 1 orange
180g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
60g walnuts, finely chopped
180g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
100g chopped raisins
125g butter, melted
50ml orange juice
for topping:
3-4 heaped tbsp icing sugar mixed with orange juice to make thick icing.
sliced orange (optional)

In a big mixing bowl mix caster sugar with orange zest. Beat in the eggs. Add chopped walnuts and most of the flour (minus 1tbsp) and baking powder. Chop raisins, then sprinkle them with 1tbsp of flour to coat them, this will help raisins to be spread inside the cake evenly rather than go to the bottom.
Add melted and cooled butter and orange juice, and mix well.
Spoon the cake dough in a well-oiled loaf tin. Put the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 35+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick.
Once cooked, let the cake cool a bit before taking it out of the tin.
Slice the orange into crescents, and cook for a couple of minutes in a mix of sugar and orange juice.
Decorate the cake first with the icing made from the icing sugar and orange juice, then put the slices of orange on top, and pour the remains of the syrup over.

The cake will keep for up to 3 days.

orange cake recipes

It's a tasty, moist cake, quite dark in colour. It will most likely be lighter in colour, if you swap raisins for sultanas.

Australian cake recipes

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Ravensburger Enchanted Forest game

family board games

In the last couple of weeks we have seen several seasons crammed together: from snowstorms and snowdrifts to incessant rains to a rather sunny day today, when we felt hot in our coats.
When the weather isn't particularly enticing for any outdoors play we like spending our after-school time at home, playing with board games.
Ravensburger Enchanted Forest is the latest addition to our board games' collection, and a new family favourite.

family board games

Enchanted Forest is an excellent memory game, which invites you for some fairy tale search-and-find fun.
Let's have a peek in the box and see the contents. You'll find 1 game board, 13 trees and 13 treasure tokens, 13 treasure tiles, 2 dice, 6 movers and instructions.

family board games

What's the object of the game? Be the first player to find three hidden treasures to win.

Players take turns rolling the dice and moving their movers that number of spaces on board.
If you happen to land in a space next to a tree, lift it and peek at the treasure inserted at the bottom of the cone. If the treasure matches the treasure tile on top of the pile at the castle gates, you take the matching tile as a reward and roll your way towards the castle.

family board games

When a new tile is turned over, you have to memorise it and try to figure out which tree hides the new treasure.
If you are the first player to find the treasures the king seeks, then the kingdom is yours.

family board games

This game is a good tool for improving memory.
It might sound confusing at first or complicated a bit, but actually it is easy to set up, and once you figure out how to play, it's great fun.

It is not suitable for children under 3, due to small parts included in the play set.

With the upcoming Easter holidays, be prepared and get a new family board game for a rainy day, unless you travel to some warmer climes and intend to spend your day by the pool.


If you enjoy playing board games, may I suggest a few other games from Ravensburger:
Bugs in the Kitchen
Disney Eye Found It
and Labyrinth which remains to be one of our most favourite games.

Disclosure: We received the game for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

What IF? photo competition + What If? no.19 jigsaw puzzle giveaway E: 31 March 2018

I love creative competitions and I love Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles. Combine my two favourites, and I'm super excited. Ravensburger has contacted me the other day to help spread the word about their latest competition, and also offer a lovely prize to my blog readers.

What IF? Photo competition
What IF? you were drawn into a Jigsaw Puzzle?
The search is on for Britain's funniest friends and family!

Oxfordshire-based toy company Ravensburger is giving puzzle fans a chance to feature in their bestselling What IF? jigsaw range.
Launching on 5th March, entrants will be asked to tweet their best funny family and friends photo using the hashtag #WhatIfWeAreAPuzzle.
The winning group will be drawn into the next What IF? 1000-piece puzzle, depicted as entrants in a Challenge-Quiz-Show type scenario. Number 21 in the popular What IF? series, the illustrations will be the brainchild and handiwork of much-loved artist, cartoonist and comedy writer Geoff Tristram.
The winners will also win Geoff's original signed artworks, and copies of the finished jigsaw puzzle, which will be on sale to the public from January 2019.

Launched 5 years ago, What IF? is a firm favourite with puzzle fans across the UK. the series reflects life's unexpected twists and turns, and challenges the consumer to imagine "What IF?"??? Because the puzzle image is not shown on the box, consumers need to use the visual and written clues to help them imagine what the finished jigsaw puzzle might look like.
One thing is for certain - expect plenty of smiles along the way!

Cornee Marlow, Marketing Services Co-ordinator commented: "We are excited to launch this unique and exclusive What IF? competition! Our What IF? fans love to collect every design in the series, and we wanted to celebrate the 21st edition by doing something really special and different. Being part of a puzzle design is a once-in-a-lifetime money-can't-buy prize, and we can't wait to see how creative people can be with their entries. Geoff Tristram has created caricatures of many famous faces, so our winners will be part of a very exclusive club. We look forward to working with Geoff and our winners to create a unique, exclusive and funny puzzle design".

Competition opens on Twitter at 10am Monday 5 March and closes at 8pm Friday 23 March 2018. Winners will be announced on Twitter Monday 26 March 2018.
Entry will also be possible via a dedicated email address


What do you think? Such a fabulous idea for a unique prize.
I don't think I will be taking part, as my dear husband is a spoilsport, and wouldn't agree to join in.

As a thank you for helping spread the word about this competition, Ravensburger have offered two What IF? jigsaw puzzles as a giveaway prize on my blog.

best jigsaw puzzles

Two lucky winners will receive one What IF? no.19 "Are we there yet?" jigsaw puzzle each.

To be in with a chance of winning, please enter via Rafflecopter form.

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winners, I will contact them regarding address details, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.

It might be pretty obvious but under new GDPR regulations you must accept that if you win the giveaway, you agree to have your details shared with the brand PR who will dispatch the prize. No other data will be passed or shared. 

Please don't forget to leave a comment, as it is the only mandatory step, I will make sure the winners selected by Rafflecopter have complied with T&Cs.
The prize will be posted by Ravensburger PR.
Giveaway ends on 31 March 2018 (midnight).

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Photo diary: week 10 (project 365)

What a difference a day makes! Last Saturday my husband and younger son were throwing snowballs at each other, and the snow in the garden was quite deep. Then overnight the rain has eaten most of the snow.
We did food shopping, and popped into the local Gregg's for Eddie's weekly treat. Apologies for yet another photo from Gregg's, but it was a very busy day, and I didn't take any other photos.

On Monday all the vestiges of snow were gone. I went out to inspect the flowers in the garden and see how much damage there was. All the snowdrops survived perfectly well, and even hellebore seemed to be doing fine. Crocuses wilted badly.

Yet another of my orchids in the kitchen started to bloom. They are just on the window sill by the kitchen sink, and every time I wash the dishes, I look at my flowers.

On Wednesday Eddie and I had a pizza and movie night. Sasha was staying overnight at the respite house, which he enjoys very much, especially the jacuzzi. Our papa was busy elsewhere, so Eddie and I ordered two pizzas from Domino's. It was the first time I have ordered a takeaway online, and actually it was quite fun. There is an app which shows you exactly what is happening: when it is being cooked, when the delivery guy is on the way.
Apparently the Domino's pizza is the best, said Eddie, who believes everything his favourite Youtubers say like a Gospel. He's been begging me to have a pizza takeaway from Domino's for ages.
Thankfully, we just had a flyer through the door for 2 for 1 pizza, or it would have been too pricey.
Pizza was OK, sorry, Youtubers, you don't know much about a really good pizza.
We watched Matilda. Eddie was in charge of a remote control.

The 8th of March is a national holiday in Russia. My late Dad always bought flowers for Mum and me: tulips, mimosa or any other spring blooms which were available. 18 years ago he was staying in a health resort an hour away from where my parents lived, and he came by coach for a couple of hours to give my Mum a bouquet and wish her a happy Women's day, then got on the bus to go back to the resort. That was the last time my Mum saw him alive. A few days later he died of a heart attack. Every year from then on, when I wish my Mum a happy Women's day, she says: This day was the last time I talked to your Dad.
I bought myself a bunch of pussy willow, as it makes me think of the Russian spring.

On Friday Eddie and his best mate had a blast of a time after school playing Minecraft on XBox, then enjoying a new Gazillion Bubble Pong game and having burgers and ice cream for dinner.
I had a healthy lunch of porridge with spicy apples.

Nothing much is happening today, we have done shopping, and are just taking it easy.
I've been putting papers in the big recycling bin in the garden, when I spotted this pigeon on the neighbours' house.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Gazillion Bubble Pong Game

outdoor bubble games

Friday, yippee! And while for many this is the night to go out and party, we are a relatively quiet folk and just enjoy a lazy afternoon after school, without any homework or prep for the next morning.
My younger son considers it the best day of the week, because his best mate comes over for several hours after school.
He couldn't wait to show his bestie a new bubble game from Gazillion Bubbles, Gazillion Bubble Pong Game (£19.99). The original plan was to play in the garden. But we were too optimistic regarding the weather, it started to rain in the early afternoon and kept raining non-stop. No garden activities then.

bubble game sets

It didn't prevent our boys from playing indoors, though this is definitely a game for outdoors, as the bubbles plus vivacious, enthusiastic people equal a big mess.

This game is the first of its kind, as it is a combination of everyone's favourites - bubbles - and a variety of ping pong game without the small bats. It's a fun, competitive activity for the whole family, where you need to bounce ping pong balls into your opponent's side to score points and blast them with a gazillion of bubbles.

The game comes in a sturdy box and includes 1 game console, 6 ping pong balls, 2 removable trays and 2 removable bumpers, plus an 8oz bottle of Gazillion bubbles.

You need to assemble the game, but it is an easy, quick and straightforward process.

best bubble game sets

You will need 8 AA batteries, so might want to pop into your nearest Poundland for a big stash of them.

best bubble game sets

The game is aimed at children aged 3+.
There are four levels of difficulty. As you can see from the photo below, you turn the switch either to pong or to bubbles.
The winner is the first person who scores 3 times.

When the warmer weather arrives, you might want to get ready for fun ahead with a good supply of bubble liquid, as I remember with the previous bubble machine games that we had, the solution goes pretty fast.
The refills come in two types of bubble solution - Original and Big Bubble (available in 8oz, 2l and 4L bottles in all big retailers, such as Amazon, Argos, Smyths etc).

Both boys had great fun with the game, and would have kept playing if I didn't stop them, as the floor was getting too slippery. If you play in the garden, this won't be an issue.
We can't wait for the warm days to play outdoors.

Disclosure: we received the game for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.