afternoon tea · days out · food · reviews · tea

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

Today’s tea review is of Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, located in Lower Goat Lane. Fortunately the locale is more attractive than the name suggests, featuring an array of boutique shops and a distinct lack of udders and goaty genitalia…

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

First impressions…

As we approached Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, the first thing that struck me was the old fashioned, apothecary style display in the big glass windows of the shop. But instead of displaying weird and wonderful pills and potions, it displays jar after jar of exotic teas. So far, so exciting… And as you step through the door, the oldey-worldy impression continues.

There’s not a theme, exactly, but if there was it would be something like Colonial Kitsch; Biddy’s is described on its website as a ‘vintage tearoom’, but you can forget the images of dainty pink lace and bunting that the phrase ‘vintage’ tends to conjure up. If other vintage tearooms tend to be designed with Miss Marple in mind, this is a tearoom for Sherlock Holmes or Phileas Fogg. The sofas are big, shiny brown leather affairs, and the walls and cabinets are stocked with curios and the occasional deer skull (although in fairness, the antlers are decked in fairy lights, presumably as a sop to any Miss Marple types passing through).

The enormous main counter is stacked with a huge variety of cakes, brownies, muffins and more to match the array of teas on offer. It’s hugely appetising and easily enough to lure even non-tea lovers into the shop…

Around the World in 80 Teas (…ish)

Once you’re seated, it’s time to pick your tea… Which is easier said than done, as Biddy’s tea menu includes over fifty different loose leaf teas. Most excitingly of all, they also promote tea “mixology” (i.e. blending different teas together) and while their menu gives a few different ‘house’ blend suggestions, they also let customers create their own blends off the cuff. Pretty cool and a bit of a unique selling point for the shop.

As well as tea, Biddy’s in Norwich offers an impressive variety of coffees, floats, milkshakes and FreakShakes (which I believe are like milkshakes but with more calories). We didn’t try any of them, because it was my birthday and that means TEA.

My husband and I actually were both originally going to go for the same tea, a black cherry tea. As it would clearly be ridiculous to both order the same tea from a menu of over 50 options – and did I mention it was my birthday? – my husband kindly swapped and ordered black almond tea instead. Both were fragrant, delicious and served in enormous metal teapots which ensured neither of us ran out of tea or needed a hot water top up.

A Cake Of Identity

And now: the cakes. As it was my birthday (did I mention it was my birthday?) the plan was always to have a piece of cake with our tea. Biddy’s Tea Room had a good selection of gluten-free cakes, which made my husband very happy; he settled on a gluten free chocolate brownie and I went for carrot cake. They also had a number of vegan cakes, so it felt like they catered well to special dietary requirements.

We realised our error when the cakes arrived, however, because they were straight up enormous. I tried to take pictures to show them to scale, but in fact it just looks like the teapot is small rather than showing how big the cake slices are. You’ll just have to take my word for it… You could easily build a structurally sound cottage for a wicked witch, using Biddy’s cake slices as bricks.

The cakes were delectable, and the buttercream that came with the carrot cake, complete with a salted caramel drizzle, was a particular triumph. I hate wasting food though, and there was just no way I could eat all that cake myself. I would happily have paid the same amount for a smaller slice or been forewarned to share a slice with my husband.

Biddy’s Tea Room Review: Conclusions

In fairness, cake sizing is a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. We spent a very contented hour or so lounging on the comfy sofas in Biddy’s, sipping tea, munching cake, and trying to work out what exactly was going on in some of the stranger Victorian-era artworks on the wall (I’m pretty sure the artist had never seen a hippo, for one thing). The staff were friendly without being overbearing, the atmosphere was relaxed and cosy, and there’s a surprising amount of space inside meaning you actually stand a good chance of getting a table.

If you love great loose leaf tea – or you’re in the habit of eating two slices of cake in one sitting – I can thoroughly recommend you check out Biddy’s next time you’re in Norwich. You can also find them online, with tea and cakes available to order from their website. Or, if you love a themed afternoon tea venue, why not head to my review of the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands & Wizards Exploratorim…?

afternoon tea · food · lifestyle · reviews · tea

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wizard Exploratorium, London Soho

Continuing on with my love of all things tea-related, today’s blog post is a review of the Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea, currently available at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium in Soho, London. I visited this tearoom in June as part of a mini hen party for one of my best friends, Cherry, after we had to rearrange her main hen do to take place after her actual wedding (thanks, coronavirus!). So happy hen, Cherry!

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea

Harry Potter and the Unaffiliated Afternoon Tea

Right, first things first: this is a Wizard’s Afternoon Tea and definitely not a Harry Potter Afternoon Tea. If you’re looking for Harry Potter themed tea and confectionary, you better look elsewhere, friend – the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium is very clear that it is “broadly inspired by fantasy and science-fiction and is a place for fans of magic. It is not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling or otherwise connected with Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. It is also not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Rivers of London, The Magicians, Dune, The Name of the Wind, Star Wars, or otherwise connected with any one specific text or series.” Phew. It seems the folks at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium are understandably keen to avoid being the subject of a Bat-Bogey Hex from J.K. Rowling’s magical team of lawyers.

Our table (just a little bit crowded)

Now, onto the actual review…

A Magical Setting

When you step into the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium, the first thing you’re likely to notice in the downstairs shop area is the full-size unicorn’s head mounted on the wall, which dispenses (vomits?) a colourful punch drink – with a little encouragement from a real magic wand, of course. You’ll be led up a narrow staircase that’s more than a little reminiscent of some of the quirkier shops in Diagon Alley, to a teeny tiny room draped in flowers and buzzing to the sounds of a jaunty selection of folk tunes, where there’s just about enough space for three parties to sit down to tea at separate tables.

Your potion chest

Unfortunately, I do have to note at this point that this currently is definitely not an accessible experience. The tiny, very old-fashioned building in Soho features a steep and winding staircase. There is no wheelchair access and if you struggle with steep stairs or claustrophobia, I wouldn’t recommend it either. They do cater for different dietary requirements and allergies, although as my husband wasn’t with us, I didn’t try any of the gluten-free options (sorry).

Interactive Tea Brewing

Your table is crowned by an enormous multi-tiered cake stand, topped with a glowing dragon’s egg a la Game of Thrones. Your friendly out of work actor waiter wizard will show you how to use a glowing magical wand to unlock a chest full of potion ingredients, and then it’s time to get creative and brew your own tea. This was actually my favourite part of the whole experience, and something that really sets it aside from other quirky afternoon teas on offer around London – the opportunity to pick and mix ingredients, add them to a teabag and brew up your own unique tea blend. The dried ingredients on offer are pretty diverse, including nettle tea, hibiscus, rose petals, camomile, and plenty more – and there are also a set of flavourings that can be added to the finished product, including honey and rose water. When you require hot water – sorry, I mean ‘magical elixir’ – you just wave your wand to summon a helpful waiter (very nearly as convenient as a simple aguamenti spell), and enormous Time Turners (a.k.a. hourglasses) are available so you can measure exactly how long your tea is brewing.

Our first attempt at blending tea

Using a magical QR code (okay, it’s not that magical) you can access a range of suggested blends that can be made with the ingredients. We made three different teas in total from our tea chest – the first one being a total wash out because I added far too much black tea and the result tasted exactly like a completely normal cup of breakfast tea. Oops.

Oddly, probably the best blend was the final one, which we created by adding all the ingredients we hadn’t yet used into a teabag and seeing what happened. The resulting infusion of peppermint, lemon and ginger, nettle and camomile was actually surprisingly good.

Crushing rose petals in a pestle and mortar

As well as creating your own blends with the magical tea chest, there is a second interactive wizarding tea experience on offer as part of the standard Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea; a series of three teas which start out a rather startling blue and then change colour before your eyes as you add the final ingredients – and wave your magic wand, of course. If you’re prepared to pay extra, you can also add a bottle of prosecco or a cocktail to your experience (and yes – we did get the prosecco, of course!).

Getting The Magical Munchies

And so – onto the food. We started with a round of sandwiches (or rather, sand-witches, as they’re referred to in the menu) which were certainly tasty and generously proportioned, but didn’t seem to come with any particularly magical gimmick. I can’t help but think that some slightly more unusual flavours or even shapes for the sandwiches would be a bit more in keeping with the theme – and with the level of effort put in to the rest of the menu.

Our second tea blend ended up unexpectedly blood red

The scones are a nod to elven lembas from Lord of the Rings, and come wrapped and tied neatly in banana leaf. They were perfectly tasty, but again it would have been fun to see the scones shaped and scored to look a little bit more like lembas and less like a scone that’s been randomly plopped into some foliage. Also worth noting: Cherry had to ask for extra clotted cream because the amount provided for three of us was wayyyy too small. This is a common issue with afternoon teas and offending tearooms should be ashamed – seriously, how much additional cost are you really incurring by adding an extra tablespoon of cream to your offering?

The other sweet treats ranged from fairly standard afternoon tea fare (raspberry mousse cake, macarons), to the more interactive (chocolate brownies with syringes of raspberry or chocolate sauce), to the downright quirky (freeze-dried salt water taffy in mystery flavours, freeze-dried skittles). Okay, so the quirky options leaned heavily towards the freeze-dried end of the afternoon tea spectrum, but they were actually surprisingly delicious and definitely felt like the kind of experience you wouldn’t get elsewhere. My only criticism is that the freeze-dried sweets didn’t seem to be available in the gift shop downstairs, which frankly felt like the company is missing a trick – I certainly would have bought some more of the taffy on my way out.

Freeze-dried taffy

Wizard’s Afternoon Tea: Overall Impressions

I would definitely recommend the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea experience. It’s all great fun and certainly much more interactive and engaging than the average afternoon tea where you just sit and slurp your way through pre-prepared drinks – perfect for a small hen party or group of friends, or great fun with kids (and yes, a Little Wizard’s Afternoon Tea is on offer). At £35 each (or £19 for under-11s), it’s not a cheap experience – but equally, afternoon tea at a nice hotel in central can easily set you back that much or far more, while being much less fun. The campy wizarding vibe is just right, the staff are fully committed to the experience, and most importantly – the tea and cake is pretty magical too.

afternoon tea · food · lifestyle · reviews · tea

Review: Peacocks Tea Room, Ely

Any frequent readers of this blog will know that I am a bit of a fanatic for all things tea-based. As well as reviewing actual tea blends, I’ve decided to also start writing the odd review of tea rooms, cafes and afternoon teas. And to that end, I’m starting with this review of Peacocks Tea Room, Ely – a traditional, family-run tearoom that was named as Country Living magazine’s favourite tearoom, and as one of The Times newspaper’s Top 5 Places To Have Tea. But does it live up to the tea-based hype? Read on to find out…

Review: Peacock’s Tea Room, Ely

Commitment to Tea Roomery

Peacocks is seriously committed to the serious business of being a tea room. Sure, there are plenty of tea rooms out there that serve a nice scone and a cuppa – maybe even a selection of herbal teas on the side, for the more adventurous types that have perhaps once been to Asia and do yoga on the weekends. But Peacocks would sneer at those types of tea rooms, and probably make disparaging comments about them on the tea room equivalent of WhatsApp. For it has a menu of over 70 different kinds of tea, from black teas and oolongs to green teas, white teas, and the enigmatically-named ‘world teas’ – in fact, they claim on their website to be the only tearoom in the world which offers tea from every continent (except Antarctica – fair enough, it’s not known for its tea-friendly climate).

I’ve no idea how you would verify such a claim, but it’s safe to say – Peacocks take their tea seriously, and offer four different kinds of afternoon tea to boot (Devonshire Cream Tea; Chocolate Dream Cream Tea; Special Afternoon Tea; and Peacock’s Pink Perfection, in case you were wondering).

If you’re still in any doubt about their commitment to tea, just step into the toilet, which – like the rest of the building – is decorated with tea memorabilia up to and including a full tea set, and where even the soap and hand lotion is tea-themed (white tea and neroli… it smelled great, just don’t ask me what a neroli is). Now that’s what I call a tea room bathroom.

Yes, there really is a tea set in the toilet

Peacocks Tea & Cake: The Verdict

As a lover of all things scone-shaped (mostly scones, some small rocks), of course I had to try one of their homemade scones with clotted Cornish cream and jam (blackcurrant, I felt rebellious that day). And to accompany it? A pot of Peacocks’ Good Plain Tea. Boring? Yes. But if you’re having any other kind of tea with your scones and cream, then frankly – you’re doing it wrong. And I say that as a die-hard fan of all kinds of herbal teas and tisanes (and also of Die Hard the film, incidentally). It’s classic English breakfast tea or bust, and god help anyone I see slurping on Earl Grey while eating a scone. Yes, even Earl Grey.

Anyway.

The tea was fabulous, the scone was delicious – and there was an adequate amount of clotted cream served alongside it, which is not always a guarantee. When my pot of tea ran out, a smiley lady offered to top it up with hot water; always a win in my book.

Channelling my inner Miss Marple

The tea set itself was cute and oldy-worldy enough to almost trick me into thinking I was in a Miss Marple mystery (well, okay – there was no mystery, but I was reading an Agatha Christie at the time and the setting was perfect). The Peacocks tea room building is similarly old-fashioned, draped in beautiful purple wisteria at the time of my visit, with charming antique furniture and decor that transports you to another time – and cries out for an unsolved poisoning or locked-room murder mystery. Unfortunately, when the waitress next appeared at my table, it was not with the news that the police needed assistance in investigating the inexplicable death of the cook, but to check that everything was okay with my tea. Very boring – although I imagine the cook was relieved.

The service was great, chilled and friendly, and they were clearly on top of the coronavirus rules, with well-spaced tables, face masks and a polite reminder to check in at the venue when you arrived. I was perched in a comfortable window seat, with views of what looks like a beautiful garden seating area as well; unfortunately, given the weather, I didn’t get the chance to explore their outdoor area.

Disability Access & Special Requirements

I was pleased to note that the tearoom’s website does include a disability access statement, and notes that the majority of the tearoom’s ground floor is accessible for wheelchair users and mobility scooters, and there is a toilet equipped for wheelchair users, which is always worth noting. However, it’s worth noting that there is no on-site parking, although there is a free car park perhaps a five minute walk away.

I normally include review notes on gluten-free options, thanks to my charming and gluten-intolerant husband but he didn’t accompany me on this visit to Peacocks so – I can’t! I did however note that gluten-free scones and sandwiches were on offer, and the chocolate fudge brownies were also gluten-free. Hopefully we will visit again soon and I can update this review with some more information on the gluten-free options available.

The Flip Side

I visited Peacocks on a random, rainy Friday in May. I had the day off work, Little Man was in nursery and my husband was working, so I decided to treat myself – and I was reasonably confident of getting a table, for once. Because Peacocks tea room is (unsurprisingly) really popular – it’s not uncommon to see queues snaking out of the quaint little gate into their courtyard and out onto the main road.

No queue in sight

So my main critique of the tea room, in fact, is simply this: they don’t take bookings. It seems surprising for such a popular tea room that there’s no ability to book at least some of the tables in advance. It’s the kind of place that I would pick for a birthday celebration – but frankly it’s so popular that, in peak season, unless it’s hammering it down with rain it really doesn’t seem worth travelling to the tea room to see if they might have space. Prior to my Friday treat, I hadn’t been there in almost two years, just because it doesn’t even occur to me to bother making the trip. The ability to book – even if it’s only for one or two tables – would really make a difference, especially for those of us who need to plan ahead if we don’t want to be wrangling a feisty toddler while trying to sip Darjeeling.

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!