Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 8)

Breakfast with Father Christmas at Wyevale

I can remember the first time we visited Father Christmas with the children, it was Matilda’s 2nd Christmas and we thought it would be one of those perfect parenting moments. She’d be enchanted by all the pretty lights and Christmas activities and then sit with Father Christmas and chat about what she wanted for Christmas. The reality was a child who cried when they saw Father Christmas and refused to go anywhere near him or his grotto so we took our free present and left. Since then things have got a better and I think we’re reaching peak excitement about Father Christmas before she gets a little older and starts to hear rumblings about whether he’s real or not. So when Wyevale invited us to meet Father Christmas over breakfast at our local Wyevale garden centre (he was stopping by to buy some carrot seeds) I jumped at the chance.

As we all know Father Christmas gets around the country and you can meet him in many places these days from the classic school fayre to a restored steam train and who knows what else in between. But I really quite enjoyed meeting him over breakfast; it’s quite a relaxed and civilised environment that doesn’t involve queuing or crowds and with the garden centre not open for business it was lovely and quiet. Plus of course it meant I could eat a cooked breakfast and drink coffee while the children met Father Christmas, perfect!

colouring at wyevale christmas

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Nest learning thermostat review

Every new product released that is electric seems to also need to be smart and connected to the internet, but while I’m not entirely convinced why that applies to my washing machine or fridge having used the Nest learning thermostat for just over a month now I can see why it is called a smart device.

This small, round, shiny thermostat sits quietly in the corner of our kitchen without really being noticed but all the while it’s learning our routine so that it can most effectively control the heating for our house. Now of course we haven’t had our heating on at all in that period, in fact I’m writing this with the patio doors wide open while listening to the pigeons gently coo outside, so we’ve yet to see the full impact of that learning but I’m impressed nonetheless and here’s why:

  1. The design – simple interface where the outside twists to move around the menu and you push the screen to select items. Simple, intuitive, easy.
  2. Quick installation – sure you are most likely going to need an electrician to do this for you, but it took all of 30 minutes from the moment he arrived and should simply be a case of replacing the existing program box you have for your boiler.
  3. Hot water boost – you can program in a schedule for your hot water with as many on/off’s a day as you want and even a different schedule each day. But you can also get a one time boost with a couple of clicks of the thermostat and can choose how long to run the boost for.

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Review – Better Extreme trampoline park Swindon

What do Tigger’s like to do the most? Bouncing! What do kids like to do the most? Bouncing! What do big kids like to do the most? Bouncing! And that’s exactly what we did 2 weeks ago at a special pre launch event at the Better Extreme trampoline park Swindon. I’ve been watching them build the trampoline park over the last couple of months when I go swimming next door so when the invite appeared in my inbox to test it out I leapt at the chance (excuse the pun). I was also pretty sure my crazy little monsters would thoroughly enjoy bouncing around given how much time they spend jumping on and off beds at home.

If you’ve never come across the concept of a trampoline park before let me give you a quick overview. A trampoline park is essentially a large room where most of the floor (and some of the walls) is covered with trampolines of various sizes and shapes with thin sections of mats between them. The park in Swindon has a few different zones to it; there is a large area of smallish trampolines which are great for bouncing between, it then has 2 baskeball ‘courts’ where you can practise your slam dunks using trampolines to help you, there is a dodgeball area surrounded by nets, a raised section with a couple of trampolines that bouncy really high and finally a balance beam and slack line above a foam pit to practise your balancing.

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Aldi Special buys – Cycle crazy

Ok people listen up, if you like cycling and you like a bargain then you need to get down to Aldi pronto. Last Thursday their cycling Special buys launched and it’s well worth a look. I’ve bought one of their cycling jackets in the past and have a bunch of their running clothes, they’re great value and quality. Sure they’re not the latest in Italian styling but when you’re on a budget I don’t think you can go wrong, the range includes jackets, tops, trousers, shorts, shoes and even lights.

Now you need to be quick because once it’s gone it’s gone but Aldi set me a bunch of samples so I thought I’d give you a little taster of what you could be missing out on. I think I have a career in modelling ahead of me right?

Aldi blue cycling top

Winter cycling shirt – £9.99

Aldi hi viz cycling clothing

Ultra bright cycling jacket – £9.99

Aldi hi viz cycling jacket

Hi viz rain jacket – £19.99

 

In the summer time

According to Mungo Jerry in the summer time when the weather is fine you have women on your mind. Well the weather hasn’t been fine and I haven’t had women on my mind I’ve had a little lady on my mind because in a weeks time Matilda will be starting school. Yes that’s right SCHOOL. That feels very odd to write I can tell you, how exactly can this little thing be old enough to go to school?!

New born baby

However she is most definitely ready to go even if I think she’s still a baby; she’s told us on a number of occasions during the holidays that she missed being with her preschool friends and if we have just a slow day at home you can see how bored she is. She needs to be learning new things and challenging her brain everyday otherwise she annoys everyone with her fidgeting and silliness. As an April baby she’ll be towards the young end of her year but I don’t think it’s going to make any difference and she’s desperate to learn all about letters and numbers.

What I’ve discovered about having a child going to school is that the summer holidays are suddenly full of shopping to tick off a long list of items they need for school and figuring out where the best deals are. Plus of course the important decisions of how many skirts, dresses and shirts to buy. There must be a clever maths equation for the optimum amount; not too many that you have loads sitting in the drawer not being worn and they grow out of them but also not too few so you are washing uniform every day of the week.

Matilda in Uniform 1

Fortunately Morrisons sent us some uniform from their Nutmeg clothing range to try out and tick a few more items off our list for us. We’ve become big fans of the Nutmeg range since I started working with them (exactly a year ago today it seems!) and I know you’ll be thinking who wouldn’t when you get sent clothes for free? But it’s the truth, Henry is still wearing the shirt and jumper he received a year ago. In fact both are among his favourites so have probably be worn almost every week and washed the same number of times. Yet both still look great, they haven’t gone hard or frayed at the edges and he definitely puts his clothes to the test.

Matilda in uniform 2

So we have high hopes for the school uniform too, its great value too; £4 for a dress or cardigan and £2 for a pack of polo shirts. If it washes as well as their other clothes then it should last most of the year unless Matilda has a big growth spurt. Just a shame we can’t hand them down to her brothers, although I’m sure Henry would be up for wearing a skirt.

Now all we need to do is buy some shoes and as Matilda has such narrow feet we have the choice of 2 pairs both costing £38. Best start saving for next year when Henry joins her

Long live the beard

Big news people, I am officially not fashionable when it comes to facial hair, something I didn’t realise was possible but it seems that I can add that to the list of areas I’m not fashionable in. According to a survey conducted by Braun 52% of British men now sport some kind of facial hair and 7% of British men claim having facial hair has made them more successful at work. Not entirely sure about that 2nd stat, unless of course all those men are extras in movies about Roman gladiators. The most popular beard is the full beard if you’re interested, clearly a better choice than a Lewis Hamilton chin curtain (even the name sounds ridiculous) or a soul patch whatever that is.

However not having a beard isn’t necessarily a choice for me, you see I am quite incapable of growing one properly. The combination of fair hair and not very thick growth mean that instead of a stylish thick beard I end up with something that from a distance looks like my face is just dirty. That didn’t stop me sporting a beard on my wedding day though, oh no, aged 23 I thought I looked awesome but looking back I realise I really didn’t.

Drinks 34 - A+B by car 5

Which is why I am generally clean shaven these days, not to mention the fact that Henry hates me having ‘prickles’ and refuses to cuddle me when I have stubble. I do quite enjoy going 4 or 5 days without shaving over a long weekend or if we go camping and have that bit of growth but it soon starts to get itchy and annoy me so I have to get rid of it.

I’ve tried out a couple of Braun shavers in the past which you can find here and here, but I’ve been lucky to have had their very latest model the Braun Series 9 (released on 1st July) to use for the past couple of weeks and I’m extremely impressed. The look of it isn’t dramatically different to other models because how different can a shaver really be? But it doesn’t have some cool features like the digital display showing how much battery is left and the button that locks the head in place for when you are trying to cut fiddly bits.

The Braun Series 9 comes with SyncroSonic™ technology which the cynic in me thinks is just nice marketing talk but whether it’s that or the 4 cutting blades this shaver gives a seriously good shave. As close as any wet shave I’ve ever had but with zero irritation, cuts or soreness and best of all you can of course use it in the shower. Which I know sounds incredibly lazy but most of the time I’m shaving in the morning after my 6am run so I love being able to stand in the hot shower a bit longer and have my shave there rather than in front of the sink.Braun Series 9

My one note of caution here is that I’ve found with the other shavers I’ve tested that after a few months of use the cut isn’t quite as good and takes a little more effort to ensure you don’t miss any. I wonder if this in part because I do use it in the shower and we have very hard water here so that could be detrimental to the blades. The Series 9 comes with some oil which it’s recommended that you use every so often if you use the shaver in the shower, so I’m going to try and be fastidious with doing that and see how I get on.

But that doesn’t stop me giving a top rating to the Braun Series 9, it cuts beautifully and you can really see the benefit of having 4 cutting elements. I love that it tells me how much battery is left, such a simple thing but means you have good warning and don’t get stuck mid shave waiting for it to recharge.

You can find more information about the Braun Series 9 and details on where to buy by visiting the Braun website here.

Disclosure – I was clearly sent this item for review, all words and opinions here are my own.

A wood fired pizza oven cooking day

One thing you learn when you have a wood fired pizza oven is that it takes quite a bit of effort to get it fired up and at the right temperature for cooking, so once it’s hot you might as well maximise the use of it. It takes me about 2.5 hours to get mine hot enough to cook a pizza, then less than 30 minutes to cook 8-10 pizzas for a pizza party. Which is probably still worth it as the pizzas are awesome but why not keep the fire going and cook more?

Which is exactly what we did last weekend; we cooked some pizzas for dinner with the kids and then kept the fire going to cook some tapas in the evening for just the adults. It takes a bit of prep work but then if you want instant cooking using a pizza oven probably isn’t for you. We had a friend over for the weekend so once the fire was burning nicely we set to work on the prep, checking on the fire occasionally to add an extra log or 2.

Pizza oven fired up

We mixed up some dough for the pizza and also for some pita breads to go with the tapas. I’ve been wanting to make bread of some kind in the oven for a while and these seemed like a good starting point, I’m also itching to make naan breads which should puff up perfectly. Once the doughs were proving we got the tapas ready, on the menu was; lamb koftas, lemon and chilli scallops and some marinated squid. All cook really quickly so although the prep takes a while the cooking bit is easy and of course you just serve straight from oven to table.

Pita breads cooking

Our cooking weekend also timed nicely with the delivery of a pizza challenge from Morrison’s, they’ve launched a new in store pizza service available until 21st June to celebrate father’s day where children can build their dad’s face on a pizza. My challenge was to make a pizza that looked like me with a little help from Matilda and Henry. Now while the Morrison’s pizzas taste great, I bet none are quite as good as the ones cooked in a real wood fired pizza oven. There was much debate about how to make best use of the vegetables supplied to create a pizza, I’m particularly pleased with our use of the black part of the mushrooms to make eyebrows. The result I’m sure you’ll agree is an uncanny likeness, they do say you are what you eat….

Pizza in the shape of my face

Making a day of the cooking was so much fun, quite tempted to expand it to brunch also, the choices really are endless and while it’s a steep learning curve understanding how to cook in an oven that doesn’t have dials it really is a fab way to spend a day. This tapas cooking could easily be extended to include many more dishes and by cooking one course at a time then eating it make a great evening dinner party with friends.

The combination of the rich lamb with the spicy scallops was perfect and the pita breads were amazing. The dough for them was quite weird but once they were in the oven the just puffed up perfectly. They’d be really good with some slow roast lamb in them and some good homemade coleslaw (I’m salivating a little just at the thought of it!)

pizza oven tapas feast

I would also thoroughly recommend the wood fired oven cookbook, it has some great recipes in it and instructions on how to use you oven, but it also gives you some ideas for menus and cooking days so you can maximise the heat in your oven. This was our first real attempt and I learned a lot about how to maintain the fire and the size of log that was most effective to add to it each time, there’s definitely an art to cooking this way.

Disclosure – Morrisons sent me the ingredients to make pizza, but all words and opinions here are my own.

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