food · gluten free · reviews

Love, Corn Review – New Gluten-Free Snacks

I regularly blog about gluten free baking and share my favourite recipes. But today I’m sharing my review of a yummy new gluten-free snack I was kindly gifted to try out – Love, Corn – and including a code for 20% off your next order. Read on to find out more!

Two bags of Love,Corn gluten free snacks one is sea salt flavour and one is smoked barbecue flavour sitting on a wall with flowers

What is Love, Corn?

It’s a crunchy new savoury snack made from corn kernels – think roasted, un-popped popcorn. Not only are they gluten-free, but they’re also vegan, verified kosher, and non-genetically modified. There are four different Love, Corn flavours – sea salt, smoked barbecue, salt and vinegar, and habanero chilli – and the website says they’re a perfect swap for crisps, pretzels and crackers. But is that true? As a complete crisp addict, I was initially sceptical – and while I waited for my Love, Corn to arrive, I decided to find out more about the history of these new corn kernel snacks…

What’s the history of corn kernel snacks?

Roasted corn kernels are also sometimes known as corn nuts in the United States, as cancha in Peru or kikos in Spain. Although I’ve not come across this before as a snack in the UK, the corn kernel or corn nut apparently has a long and interesting history. Native Americans used to create a snack called ‘parched corn‘, by drying and roasting corn kernels. This created a lightweight but nutritionally dense food that could easily be stored or carried, and either eaten whole or ground into flour. Parched corn was such a great foodstuff that European settlers who arrived in the Americas quickly started making it too.

Years later, in 1936, an enterprising California resident named Albert Holloway started rehydrating the corn kernels before roasting them, to make them bigger and more delicious. He then discovered a giant type of corn from Peru called cusco gigante, and once he’d managed to start importing it, the business really took off. Holloway had originally (and somewhat inexplicably) named his product ‘Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn’ but later (presumably after learning a little more about marketing) changed it to the much snappier Corn Nuts. And corn nuts have been a popular snack in the USA ever since.

Love, Corn: The Review

Having tried all four flavours, I can confirm they’re pretty awesome – much lighter and crunchier than you might expect. I think my favourite Love, Corn flavour is the barbecue, while my husband loved the spicy habanero chilli – but honestly they’re all delicious, and I was particularly impressed how they managed to get a real vinegary tang in the salt and vinegar corn. Much like popcorn, these corn nuts are really more-ish – once you start munching a few, you just keep going! Obviously the fact that they’re gluten-free is also a real bonus for us as a family.

Apparently Holloway originally created corn nuts to sell to tavern owners as a great snack to pair with beer, and that’s definitely also still true! We’ve been enjoying munching on our Love, Corn corn nuts with a cheeky beer in the evenings, while watching the last of this season’s football (just as well really, because Arsenal’s performances have not really given us much to enjoy in and of themselves…)

Something else I really like is that unlike crisps, Love, Corn doesn’t get crushed to pieces if you squash the bag… When we’re travelling, space is usually at a premium thanks to all the bits and pieces you have to cart around when you have a toddler, so it’s nice to have a delicious snack that you can just shove in a bag and not worry about it being ruined in transit.

Where to get your Love, Corn

Well, first off, if you haven’t tried corn nuts before, you can get a free sample pack of all four Love, Corn flavours and all you have to pay is £1.99 shipping. Just head to this link: www.lovecorn.com/sample and follow the instructions. Alternatively, you can get 20% off your entire order if you follow this link to the website and enter the code ‘CRUNCH20’.

Four bags of Love, Corn gluten free snacks in smoked bbq, sea salt, habanero chilli and salt and vinegar flavour with corn nuts spilling out of one packet
food · recipes · reviews · tea

Review: Making Matcha At Home With The Zen Tea Co.

So, it’s no secret that I love tea! My kitchen shelves are stocked with all kinds of tea from all over the world. But up to now, Japanese matcha tea hasn’t been something I’ve tried making at home. Until UK-based company The Zen Tea Co. came along, that is… Here’s my review of their organic ceremonial grade emerald matcha.

Making matcha at home with the zen tea co organic ceremonial grade matcha.

Making Matcha At Home With The Zen Tea Co.

What is matcha?

Okay, first things first: what actually is matcha? It’s become more popular in the UK in the past few years, but it’s still definitely a bit of a niche drink…

Matcha is a powdered green tea. It actually originates from medieval China, where tea leaves were steamed and formed into bricks as a way to make them easier to store and trade… in fact, tea bricks were even sometimes used as a form of currency! During the Song dynasty, it became popular to make a drink by powdering the tea bricks and whipping the powder into hot water.

These days, though, matcha is associated with Japan and particularly the Japanese tea ceremony. In the 12th century, a Japanese Buddhist monk called Myoan Eisai visited China, got hooked on that sweet sweet green stuff, and brought it back to Japan with him. Eisai and other monks believed that drinking matcha helped their meditation sessions, by producing a state of “calm alertness”. It was the Zen Buddhist equivalent of your morning coffee en route to the office.

Two cups of ceremonial grade organic matcha made at home with the zen tea company

Why drink matcha?

Well, obviously, as with any beverage, the first draw is the flavour! Matcha has a very rich, earthy, bitter flavour which can be a bit of an acquired taste – in the same way that coffee can. In Japan, to balance out the natural bitter flavours, it’s often served with little sweets, or used to flavour treats like cakes and mochi. It’s also got a lovely texture; as the powdered tea is whipped into the hot water, it has a much fuller, creamier texture than other teas.

As well as the flavour, though, matcha is high in antioxidants and a compound called L theanine which can help to reduce stress. Yum!

Making matcha at home

As my husband has a lot of family in Japan, I’ve drunk matcha over there in some beautiful traditional tea gardens in Tokyo and Kyoto. It’s very much always been something I’ve enjoyed as an unusual treat on holiday, and up to now it hadn’t occurred to me to try making my own matcha at home in the UK.

Matcha and sweets in Kyoto, Japan
Matcha and sweets in Japan

But then The Zen Tea Co. kindly offered to gift me a box of their organic ceremonial grade matcha tea. Sourced from Uji, Japan, their organic tea is cultivated on a family-owned farm and processed locally to ensure a top quality final product. So I couldn’t wait to try making matcha at home!

The Zen Tea Co. also sent me a copy of their downloadable guide, which comes with lots of useful information about matcha and, most importantly, a tonne of different recipes to try – from traditional matcha to matcha lemonade, lattes and smoothies. Obviously I had to give a couple of their recipes a go…

Traditional ceremonial matcha

To make traditional ceremonial matcha, you sift two teaspoons of matcha powder into a bowl or cup, add about 60ml hot water, and whisk vigorously until the powder is dissolved. Then you add another 60ml (or so – it doesn’t have to be exact!) and keep whisking, until you have a lovely frothy, foamy green drink. See the pictures below for how mine turned out!

Traditionally, you would do this with a bamboo whisk and matcha bowl, but I made mine in a measuring jug with a small metal balloon whisk, and I can attest that it still tasted fantastic and incredibly authentic. Even before I had actually tasted the tea, just the smell of the matcha in our kitchen was enough to take me back to holidays in Japan. And my husband in the living room said the same thing.

organic premium uji matcha tea and teacups

Iced matcha latte

The Zen Tea Co. recipe for iced matcha lattes really intrigued me. You whisk three teaspoons of matcha powder into about 50ml hot water, until it’s lovely and frothy. Then you mix in a teaspoon of condensed milk, 200ml milk and pour over ice cubes.

I loved the end result! I’ve had condensed milk in coffee before and thought it was a great combination, and it really works well with matcha too – again it’s that bittersweet flavour that’s just delicious. I would definitely recommend iced matcha lattes as a really summery drink that feels like a proper treat for tea lovers. I’d think it’s also a great starting point if you’re new to matcha and want to try it out for the first time.

green iced matcha lattes made with the zen tea company's organic ceremonial grade matcha tea
Iced matcha lattes

A Matcha Made In Heaven

Whether you already love matcha, or you’re interested in trying it – if a holiday to Japan isn’t on the cards any time soon, then I definitely recommend trying The Zen Tea Co. Their matcha is fantastic quality and I love their recipe ideas as well – I’m looking forward to trying some more of them!

If you’re based in the UK and you love Japanese food, I can also recommend Ai No Mochi, a London-based mochi delivery company. Yum!

children's books · Just for fun · parenting · reviews

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Moon Dance by Christian Riese Lassen

Continuing my series of Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews, today I will be reviewing the board book Moon Dance. No, sadly Van Morrison has not branched out into the magical world of kids books (as far as I know) – this is written by Christian Riese Lassen, famous primarily for painting pictures of dolphins.

We inherited the book from some lovely friends once their daughter outgrew it (thanks guys!), and it has proved very popular with Little Man. Moon Dance refers to itself as ‘A Sparkle Book’, as if sparkle books were a thing we have all heard of. A quick search of Amazon Books identifies other children’s books by Riese Lassen which also include curious classifications: Sea Treasures (‘A Mystery Envelope Book’), and Sea Creatures (‘A Read And Play Carry Puzzle Book’). Sounds complicated. But anyway! On with the review…

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Moon Dance by Christian Riese Lassen

A Sparkle Book

In fairness to Moon Dance, it very much does what it says on the tin. The illustrations of underwater life are beautiful and engaging, and there can be no doubt that this is, indeed, a Sparkle Book. Every full-page illustration, including the front cover, features colourful sparkly cut-outs that will bewitch even the least magpie-like babies and toddlers.

No Time To Rhyme

Moon Dance is essentially a poem, all about dolphins having a lovely underwater dance. This is where the problems start to creep in. The book contains seven verses of four lines each, with an ABCB rhyme scheme, i.e. there are 7 opportunities to rhyme in this book. Of those verses, three rhyme on the same word: ‘light’. That’s nearly half the book turning on the same rhyme. I know it’s a kid’s book, but it’s hardly a rousing introduction to the magical world of poetry, and it sounds very clunky. Rhymezone.com reliably informs me that there are 589 possible rhymes for ‘light’ in the English language. We know you’re really a painter, Christian Riese Lassen, but next time maybe try a little harder with the words…

Sparkly but dumb

Unnatural History

Now we come to the next issue: one for all fans of David Attenborough documentaries (and if you’re not a fan of David Attenborough documentaries then, quite frankly, you need to sit down and take a long, hard look at yourself). The natural history depicted in this book is questionable at best. Am I being petty? Yes. Is it reasonable to expect 100% accuracy in the depictions of underwater life in a children’s book whose primary selling point is the fact that it has sparkly pages? Who knows. But is this series called Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews? You’re damn right it is. So let’s continue.

All is pretty much well for the first four pages, assuming you can get on board with the basic concept that dolphins like to spend the whole night dancing, instead of sleeping like everyone else (in fact dolphins are often active late at night, but do also sleep for a few hours here and there, so in a way everyone’s right).

Then we hit a problem: page 5 opens with the couplet “Down on the seabed / Where colours are bold”. This strikes me as off for two reasons:

  • Water absorbs light rapidly, with some wavelengths (i.e. colours) absorbed faster than others. The colour red completely disappears by the time you reach a depth of c. 20 feet, orange by c. 50 feet, and so on. Unless this is an incredibly shallow seabed, it’s not likely that the colours there would be especially bold.
  • More importantly, the entire premise of the book is that IT’S NIGHTTIME. Colours are not bold at night!

So, we take a deep breath and move on. Hey, it’s just one line, right?

All Thriller, No Killer

At first glance, the verse on the next page is nice, about how the whales join in the dance alongside the dolphins. But wait. What’s that in the corresponding illustration? Those are killer whales. This is significant because (a) killer whales are not really whales, they’re just giant monochrome dolphins, but more importantly (b) killer whales notoriously eat dolphins, meaning they’re not especially likely to be caught prancing around in the moonlight together – unless the killer whales are trying to catch a dolphin dinner. I don’t know about you, but that seems a bit dark for a kids book for me. As my husband points out: “They’ve got the word ‘killer’ in their fucking name, guys”.

Not the best of buddies

Little Man’s Review

In all fairness, despite its flaws, Little Man loves Moon Dance, as it is very shiny and reflective. The pages are a bit large for tiny hands, so he struggles to look at the book on his own, but if mama or dada holds the book he enjoys turning the pages. And, for extra enjoyment, mama and dada gently shake the pages to make them sparkle to the absolute max, which proves very popular.

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews: The Verdict

And so, in conclusion we come at last to the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Drumroll please, it’s the Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review Star Rating System, and the results are in for Moon Dance by Christian Riese Lassen:

  • Plot: *** (3/5)
  • Illustrations: ***** (5/5)
  • Interactive features: *** (3/5)
  • Educational Value: ** (2/5)
  • Little Man: **** (4/5)

Aggregate Score: (17/25)

children's books · Just for fun · parenting · reviews

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Zoo Sounds (Usborne Sound Books)

Since having a baby, my husband and I have often discussed some of the vagaries of the children’s books that we read to Little Man. No matter how much he loves them, to the adult eye, a number of these books have some pretty major issues. And so I thought I’d start a new series on this blog, called Brutally Honest Children’s Book Reviews. I’m going to review Little Man’s favourite books. And I’m going to be brutally honest about it! Read on for the first instalment: a review of Zoo Sounds by Sam Taplin, and illustrated by Federica Iossa, from the Usbourne Sound Books range…

brutally honest children's book review zoo sounds usbourne sound books sam taplin the sickly mama

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: Zoo Sounds

Judging A Book By Its Cover:

With a title that sounds more like the name of a disk in the BBC’s famous Sound Effects Library, on first sight Zoo Sounds did not inspire me with confidence that a roaringly good yarn was in store.

How wrong I was. In fact, if you press the small button in the middle of the book’s cover, you will quite literally hear the (slightly tinny) sound of a lion’s roar.

The cover includes pictures of some of the animals whose sounds feature in the book, along with the word denoting their accompanying nose: a lion (“roar”), a monkey (“ooh-haa”), an alligator (“splash” – hmm, okay), a bird (“squawk”), and a couple of meerkats. What sounds do meerkats make? Other than “simples!” – as my mother rightly pointed out – I have no clue. I’m looking forward to finally hearing the cry of the meerkat, courtesy of Zoo Sounds

False Promises Of The Meerkat Kind

But brace yourself, my friends. For Zoo Sounds – despite prominently featuring not one, but TWO meerkats on its front cover – not only does not feature any meerkat sound effects, but actually doesn’t feature any bloody meerkats at all, in any capacity. Pretty sure they could be done for false marketing… Or at least, false meerkat-ing! (Dad joke alert!)

The Plot Thickens (Or Not)

Speaking of false promises, I have to admit that I didn’t have high expectations of Zoo Sounds in terms of plot. I wasn’t anticipating a Game Of Thrones-esque struggle for power between the lions and the monkeys, mediated from the sidelines by their semi-mythical meerkat overlords (although if anyone wants to write that children’s book, I will gladly review the heck out of it).

But I did expect some plot, even a simple one. Like perhaps a family on a walk through the zoo, or a zookeeper doing their job and seeing the animals along the way. But no. Zoo Sounds has dispensed with the frankly conventional notion that a story book should have, you know… a story. It’s literally just several pages of random animals making noise, and then it ends, abruptly, after an alligator hops into a pond (spoiler alert).

I’m not the only person to have this criticism of the book either. One Amazon reviewer closed their (3 star) review with this zinger: “This one reminds me of the scene in Elf when Buddy’s Dad demands to ship the book even though it hasn’t been finished.” Ouch.

What Does The Penguin Say

One of the things that I try to do when evaluating a kids book is to consider its educational value. And, to be fair, there’s a fair amount of educational value in Zoo Sounds. Lots of animals to discuss, including their accompanying sound effects, and most of them are doing something you might reasonably expect said animal to do (the monkeys are eating fruit, the seals are eating fish, you get the idea).

However I’ve had to downgrade the educational value score for this one because I just straight-up do not believe that any penguin on earth sounds like the corresponding ‘penguin’ sound effect in this book. I freely admit, I’m not a penguin expert, and perhaps someone who is will prove me wrong. Maybe there is a sad, demented species of penguin, somewhere in remote Antarctica, that sounds like the man from the Go Compare advert being subjected to cruel and unusual torture. But until I get some cold hard proof of that, I will continue to describe the penguin sound effect as ‘wildly unrealistic’.

Little Man’s Book Review

Obviously this wouldn’t be a very good children’s book review if I didn’t take into account the views of an actual child. And Little Man absolutely loves this book. I asked him to write a review, but sadly it was so full of expletives and foul language that I felt unable to publish it. So instead, we’ll have to infer the review from his behaviour: a huge smile whenever we sit down to read together, and regularly selecting the book to be his chew toy du jour.

If I had to suggest what Little Man’s favourite features about Zoo Sounds are, I would say that: a) he loves sticking his finger through the cut-out hole on the front cover (but not, for some reason, the cut-out holes on any of the other pages), particularly if I grab his finger and pretend something is nibbling on it; and b) he likes turning the book over when he hears the sound effects, and trying to work out where the noise is coming from. It’s good stuff.

Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review: The Verdict…

And so, in conclusion we come at last to the moment you’ve all been waiting for… Drumroll please, it’s the Brutally Honest Children’s Book Review Star Rating System:

  • Plot: * (1/5)
  • Illustrations: *** (3/5)
  • Interactive features: ***** (5/5)
  • Educational Value: *** (3/5)
  • Little Man: ***** (5/5)

Aggregate Score: (3.5/5)

brutally honest children's book review zoo sounds usbourne sound books sam taplin the sickly mama
food · gluten free · recipes · reviews

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream With Sweet Cocoa Collagen Recipe

I was kindly gifted this sweet cocoa collagen by Wellness Lab Ltd. You can use their collagen powder in drinks, smoothies and baked goods, so they asked if I could come up with a new ice cream recipe using it. And after a little experimenting, I’ve created this recipe for delicious malted chocolate ice cream with sweet cocoa collagen!

It’s high in protein, and comparatively low in sugar – with about 1/3rd of the sugar content you’d usually get in an ice cream, if you leave out the Malteasers. (But why would you leave out the Malteasers? They’re delicious!)

What the hell is collagen and why would I want it in my ice cream?

Collagen is a protein that is found throughout your entire body, in connective tissue like cartilage, bone, skin, ligaments and tendons. Your body naturally produces collagen, but as you age your body produces less of it. It’s been suggested that taking collagen supplements can help improve skin elasticity, and reduce joint aim and wrinkles, by helping your body to produce this important protein. Although it’s still early days in terms of the science, there are some indications that collagen supplementation may help with joint health in osteoarthritis.

Collagen supplements are really popular right now – not only because of their possible health benefits, but also because they’re high in protein and can easily be added to other foodstuffs.

What does collagen taste like?

I had never tried collagen supplements before, so I was interested to see what the flavour was like! In the sweet cocoa collagen powder, the collagen seems to give it a slightly malty flavour, which is what inspired this recipe. If you enjoy Horlicks or other malted chocolate drinks, you’d probably really like the powder just as a hot drink (you can just add hot water and stir!). I’m personally not such a fan of malty hot drinks, I prefer the flavour in baked goods and puddings… And especially in ice cream!

Where can I get hold of powdered collagen to try?

If you’d like to try the Wellness Lab powdered collagen (which comes in sweet cocoa, vanilla, or unflavoured varieties) click here and use code SICKLYMAMA for 10% off (Full disclosure: if you do make a purchase I will receive a small commission!).

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream With Sweet Cocoa Collagen Recipe

The Ingredients:

For this recipe, first you’ll need to gather the following ingredients:

– 300ml whole milk

– 300ml double cream

– 6 egg yolks

– 100g milk chocolate

– 5tsp of sweet cocoa collagen from Wellness Labs (use code SICKLYMAMA for 10% off!)

– 1tsp vanilla essence

– 2 handfuls Malteasers (optional, but delicious)

The Equipment:

Ideally, for this malted chocolate ice cream recipe you’ll need an ice cream maker. If you don’t have one though, don’t worry – I’ll explain how to make the recipe without one as well.

Here’s the list of equipment you’ll ideally want to gather, in addition to your ingredients:

  • Ice cream maker
  • Saucepan
  • Mixing bowl
  • Heatproof bowl
  • Mug
  • Wooden spoon
  • Spatula
  • Balloon whisk
  • Teaspoon
  • Container to freeze your finished collagen ice cream in (an old ice cream tub is perfect!)

Malted Chocolate Ice Cream With Sweet Cocoa Collagen: The Method

As with all ice cream recipes, there are two stages to this: first you make your custard base, then you turn it into ice cream. You can do both stages in one day if you have the time, or split them out over two days. Each stage itself doesn’t take that long – but leaving the custard to cool and the ice cream to churn is what takes the time!

Stage 1: Make Your Custard

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk your egg yolks with the vanilla essence. In a saucepan, gently heat the cream and milk together until just boiling. Keep back three tablespoons of milk for later.

2. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Slowly pour the hot milk and cream over the egg yolks, while whisking the yolks constantly.

3. Once combined, return the mix to the saucepan and heat over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mix is the consistency of thin custard.

4. Remove from the heat and cool. You can do this quickly by placing the custard in a bowl over a larger bowl of ice water, or leave to cool more slowly. Ideally, you want your custard chilled by the time it goes in the ice cream maker – so make sure it gets some time in the fridge. You can even leave it overnight in the fridge if you want.

Stage Two: Make Your Ice Cream

5. Set up your ice cream maker to churn, and add the custard.

6. Meanwhile, set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Add three tablespoons of milk. Wait until the milk is warm, then add the chocolate, broken into pieces. Stir until the chocolate is totally melted into the milk. Remove from the saucepan and set aside to cool.

7. Take your sweet cocoa collagen and place it in the mug. Add 2 – 4 tablespoons of hot water, stirring to mix until you have a chocolatey sauce. Set aside to cool.

8. Once the ice cream has churned for 25 – 30 minutes and has thickened to the texture of soft serve/Mr Whippy ice cream, add the cooled chocolate and the cooled cocoa collagen mix. Allow to churn for a further 5 – 10 minutes.

9. Meanwhile, crush your Malteasers and place them in your ice cream container. Add the finished ice cream into your container and stir until the Malteasers are well mixed in.

10. Freeze your malted chocolate collagen ice cream for at least 2 hours, and serve when you’re ready.

Your collagen recipes:

Have you tried cooking or making ice cream with collagen? Share your recipes in the comments!

food · gluten free · reviews

Review: Awfully Posh Lomo Crisps

I was kindly gifted a box of new Lomo Crisps by Awfully Posh to try out! No idea what a lomo crisp is? I didn’t know either…

What are lomo crisps?

The word “Lomo” is Spanish for tenderloin, a cut of pork that is often served cured and air dried – think of the kind of cured meats you might expect to be served at a tapas restaurant.

These Awfully Posh lomo crisps are made from Spanish pork loin which has been cured with garlic and paprika. It’s then sliced super thin and air dried until it’s all crispy and crunchy – like a potato crisp, but made of 100% pork!

Because they’re made of pork, they’re also gluten free and high protein – we’re always on the look out for gluten free snacks in this house so I was keen to try them out, as was my gluten-intolerant husband!

box of awfully posh lomo crisps air dried spanish pork loin chips review the sickly mama blog
Om nom nom

What do they taste like?

First impression: they really are super crunchy! Even though I knew they are marketed as crisps, I think in my head I was expecting these lomo crisps to be more chewy – after all, they look like slices of pork, so I think I subconsciously expected a texture more like jerky or dried meat. But no! They have the proper crunch that you expect from a regular crisp.

The flavour is really nice, very rich and savory – it took me a while to work out what it most reminded me of, but I realised eventually that it’s the crispy bacon that you get on top of the turkey at Christmas. That’s a pretty great association! I’d say that if you’re a fan of bacon, you’ll love these crisps.

How would you serve Lomo crisps?

The crisps come in packets that are the right size for an afternoon snack for one, and the flavour makes them perfect to enjoy with a beer (kind of like pork scratchings, I suppose) or a glass of wine. If it weren’t for all the current restrictions, I can imagine they’d be a big hit in pubs! Lomo crisps would also be a great addition to a charcuterie platter or tapas selection, if you fancy introducing something a bit different into the mix.

I can also imagine using them as a cooking ingredient as well, perhaps for a crispy bacon-esque topping on a dish or even a baking ingredient.

Where can I buy Lomo crisps?

You can buy these lomo crisps online at www.britishsnackco.com and try them out for yourself!

review of awfully posh lomo crisps by the sickly mama blog made with spanish pork loin

Still hungry…?

Why not check out my review of Ai No Mochi, London’s mochi delivery service? Don’t know what a mochi is? Read on to find out…

Just for fun · lifestyle · reviews · Seasonal · tea

Top Teas For Autumn

Well, we’re well and truly into autumn now, and if you’re anything like me you’re spending your evenings bundled up in cosy jumpers and slippers (and sometimes a snuggly woollen blanket as well!), and enjoying some tasty autumnal treats. But what tea should accompany them? As you know, I’m a total tea fiend – so I’ve pulled together my recommendations for the best teas which reflect the flavours of the season – warming, cosy, spiced teas with hints of delicious autumn fruits. So if you’re looking for your next tea purchase, read on!

my top teas for autumn article the sickly mama blog - warming cosy spiced teas with autumn fruits

My Top Teas For Autumn

Apple Spiced Fruit Tea – Jenifer Teas

When the summer starts fading into autumn, one of the things I’m always excited about for this season is making spiced apple crumbles and pies, so for me this apple spiced fruit tea from Jenifer Teas really encapsulates the spirit of autumn. This tea is made with real dried apple pieces, along with classic seasonal spices – cinnamon, clove, cardamom and pepper. Unusually, it’s available as a loose leaf tea or as pyramid teabags, so you can make tea your preferred way.

apple spiced fruit tea jenier world of teas review the sickly mama blog top teas for autumn

Liquorice Mint Toffee Tea – Very Craftea

This unusual loose-leaf blend by Very Craftea is made with peppermint leaves, vanilla extract and liquorice root. The first taste of this tea is a beautiful fresh peppermint, which fades away into the liquorice flavour, with a very light hint of vanilla. It’s nowhere near as sweet as you might expect from the name, and I’d say it’s just about perfect for curling up with a book on chilly autumn evenings…

very craftea liquorice mint toffee tea - the sickly mama blog

Pumpkin Spice Tea – Arthur Dove Tea Company

It doesn’t get much more autumnal than pumpkin spice, so this loose leaf tea by Arthur Dove Tea Co. is a perfect choice for the season. It’s a sweet, spiced tea not dissimilar to a chai, with a lovely hit of sweet ginger and a gentle, peppery aftertaste. I’d say it’s an ideal after-dinner drink.

It’s recommended to drink this pumpkin spice tea with milk, but I think it’s great with or without depending on your preference – with milk it mellows down into a perfect drink for snuggling up on the sofa on a rainy afternoon.

pumpkin spice tea arthur dove tea company review the sickly mama blog

Cherry and Cinammon Tea – Twinings

This tea bag offering from Twinings is another lovely warning tea that’s great for the autumn season. It has a really bright, fresh cherry flavour that hits you straightaway, then gently melts into the comforting taste of cinnamon. It’s a tea for crisp autumn mornings and warning up after a walk out in the frost. Plus, it’s a fabulous colour – check out the picture below!

cherry and cinnamon tea twinings teabag review the sickly mama blog autumn

Those are my top picks for autumn teas this year! Do you have any favourite teas that always make a reappearance at this time of year? Let me know in the comments!

food · reviews

Review: Ai No Mochi

So recently I ordered us a set of mochi from the London-based Ai No Mochi, who supply freshly-made Japanese mochi across the UK. My husband and I love eating fresh mochi when we’re visiting family in Japan, and their flavours looked so exciting, I just had to order! So I’ve written a review of Ai No Mochi and their UK mochi delivery service.

What are mochi?

Mochi are traditional Japanese treats. They consist of a soft and chewy outer layer of rice flour, around a sweet filling (savoury options are also available). They’re typically formed into little ball shapes – although in Kyoto, they go for the frankly lazy option of just folding them into triangles instead.

Mochi are a super common and popular snack in Japan that you can find in any convenience store, although they’re particularly associated with New Year festivities. In fact, they actually come with a health warning, because the glutinous rice flour used can be difficult to chew for elderly people or the very young. Every year people are taken to hospital after choking on mochi. One woman saved her elderly father’s life when he choked on mochi, by literally hoovering it out of his throat. So… You have been warned!

Ai no mochi review of Japanese mochi rice cake delivery in London
Some of our mochi

Ai No Mochi Flavours

Ai No Mochi are based in London, and they offer an extensive list of flavours, from the more traditional Japanese (adzuki bean, toasted sesame) to the more modern and, indeed, Western (cookies and cream cheesecake, Nutella and Biscoff biscuit). You can select four flavours for your box, so I went for a mix of traditional and new:

  • Raspberry and Coconut – both my husband and I agreed this was the best flavour. Tastes like summer in a mochi.
  • Matcha (Green Tea) and White Chocolate – the matcha used tastes like it’s good quality, and the white chocolate lifts it nicely, as traditional matcha mochi can be rather heavy and cloying.
  • Toasted Sesame – I love sesame flavour so the texture of the sesame seed coating, along with the sweet adzuki bean filling, is very pleasing.
  • Salted Caramel – a yummy chocolatey and caramel-y flavour, but could have done with more salt (perhaps in the rice flour wrapper) to enhance the flavour.

The filling of the mochi is mostly very light and creamy, compared to the heavier fillings you tend to get in Japan. If you like Japanese mochi, you’ll like these – and if you’ve never tried them, they’re probably a good introduction to mochi for a more Western palette.

Ai no mochi box of Japanese mochi for delivery in the UK
Our mochi when they arrived

Ordering from Ai No Mochi

Ordering was super easy, I ordered on the website and was emailed with a projected delivery date, which was then confirmed by the courier. The mochi were delivered overnight from London, so they were super fresh and still cool when they arrived. We also got two free mochi on top of what we ordered, as a taster of their new summer flavours (yuzu cheesecake, and mango) which was a lovely bonus. I’m not a cheesecake fan personally, but my husband said the yuzu cheesecake really did taste just like cheesecake!

The packaging was very nicely presented, and each mochi was individually wrapped in cling film to keep it fresh. They survived the delivery from London completely unscathed! Although it looked beautiful, like an expensive box of chocolates, it did feel like a lot of single-use plastic was involved (in fairness, this is pretty consistent with what you tend to see in Japan). It would be nice to see some more eco-friendly packaging being used, even if the overall effect isn’t quite as attractive.

In Summary… My Review Of Ai No Mochi

We really enjoyed our mochi, and it was fun to have a taste of Japan in the UK. I would definitely recommend Ai No Mochi to any other UK mochi lovers out there, or as a fun gift to surprise a friend with something new. I can confidently say that they’re the best mochi I’ve had in London, and it’s exciting to finally have fresh mochi delivery in the UK!

days out · Just for fun · lifestyle · parenting · reviews

Review : Lavender Picnic at Castle Farm Kent

Queen Victoria allegedly loved lavender, even eating lavender jelly with her roast mutton, rather than the more traditional mint. When my mother plans a picnic, it’s typically on a similarly extravagant scale, and to be honest you’re guaranteed a grand feast even if you end up eating it in a car park. So when we set off for a ‘lavender picnic’ at Castle Farm, the UK’s largest lavender farm, we knew we had the ‘picnic’ part covered. It was up to Castle Farm, Kent to provide the lavender.

Booking Your Lavender Picnic

I had booked our picnic at the last minute, thinking it would be something fun and a bit different to do after months spent in lockdown, while remaining safely outdoors and socially distanced. Tickets were £10.25 per adult, which to be honest is pretty darn steep for the privilege of spending two hours in a field. In fairness, the price does include access to a porta-potty. I’m charitably assuming that Castle Farm need to make a bit of extra cash after the impact of coronavirus.

Our Evening At Castle Farm Kent

But if the ticket price matched the rather steep gradient of the lavender fields themselves, we were far from the only ones prepared to pay up. Although the event was definitely busy, the field we were in was so large that there was more than enough space for everyone to set up their picnic rugs at a safe distance from each other, but right up close to the rows of lavender plants. This was no mean feat when some of the picnics were as lavish as ours (for context, the meat selection alone included roast beef, corned beef, salami, ham, chicken drumsticks and scotch eggs).

lavender fields at castle farm kent during sunset

Of course, it’s possible that we actually had no need to worry about coronavirus transmission, as the ancient Greek surgeon Dioscorides noted lavender’s protective effect against the plague, and centuries later during the Black Death, plague doctors stuffed their masks with lavender to try to prevent themselves from catching the disease. Castle Farm make no such claims about their lavender. Perhaps their gift shop is missing a trick, given the new requirement for face masks to be worn in shops.

Instead Castle Farm, Kent emphasize the relaxing properties of lavender, even marketing their own range of natural sleep products. Relaxation was certainly in the air as we sat and enjoyed our picnic in the gently cooling breeze. Little Man had a very cosy nap in my arms, meaning I had to ask Martin to cut my food up for me so that I could eat it with one hand. Before we knew it, an hour and a half had slipped by and we had barely stepped beyond the first two metres of lavender.

mum and baby in the lavender fields at castle farm kent

So, with a newly-awake Little Man, we set off up into the heart of the fields. If the scent of lavender on the breeze was beautiful at the site of our picnic, it was incredible when you were right in the middle of the field. Along the rows of purple flowers, there were hundreds of bumblebees and honey bees hard at work; when you stood still, you could hear a gentle buzzing in the air. Little Man was fascinated by the flowers and the bees, and he enjoyed smelling the lavender as well. Older children from other parties were having a wonderful time running up and down the neat rows of plants.

baby close up in the lavender fields at castle farm kent

The views across the purple hillsides were stunning with the sun just starting to set, and the bullocks in a field nearby were in a playful mood, treating us to the sight of them gallivanting about and going for a swim in the river. It seemed only fair that they enjoy life before achieving their ultimate destiny as Castle Farm Beef. I haven’t tried the beef myself, but I can attest that it does indeed seem to come from happy cows.

Picnicking on a slightly overcast evening, amongst cascades of British lavender, felt like an experience that was at once very English (the weather), very French (a la Provence’s purple fields of lavender*), and somewhat Japanese (a la hanami, the celebration of the transient beauty of flowers).

Overall, it was a wonderful, memorable experience that was more than just the opportunity to get some instagramable photos. I’d be interested in the future to try one of the Castle Farm lavender walks, and learn a little more about the farm and how they produce their lavender and essential oils.

enjoying a family picnic in the lavender fields at castle farm kent review

Accessibility at Castle Farm, Kent

The car park was nice and close to the field, so if you have reduced mobility, it would still be possible to access the site – although the ground is uneven and flinty, which may be a challenge for wheelchairs or anyone very unsteady on their feet. There are no designated car park spaces for disabled vehicles although you could park away from other cars if you needed the space. We put Little Man in his carrier rather than test the pram’s off-roading capabilities.

Toilets and baby change facilities were provided, albeit as temporary portaloos with steps up to the door, which again could prove challenging if you have mobility issues.

* Actually the “lavender” in Provence is lavandin, which is distinct from British lavender. Both are grown at Castle Farm, so let’s not quibble too much…

More ideas for days out in Kent

Check out this list of other family days out in Kent for inspiration for your next day trip!