Friday, November 24, 2017

Kinder and Oreo Chocolate Pancakes

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Restaurant Review: Tasha's Tearoom, Epsom, Surrey

Monday, November 20, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 47

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Easy Chocolate French Toast

Monday, November 13, 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 46

This week I'm not having my usual working from home day on a Tuesday as I'm at an internal comms seminar followed by an awards event at which I am shortlisted for two national awards (ahem - again - I've won them both over the past two years!). They are Best Editor and Best Writer from the Institute of Internal Communications but as I've been in this industry for more than three years now, I'm starting to get to know people and know that there is definitely some stiff competition!

Then at the weekend my parents are coming to visit which I am looking forward to - I think they will be surprised at how big my baby bump has got since they last saw me at the end of September!
So here's the meal plan I will use as a guide at least....

Monday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch  leftover pasta from the weekend
Dinner chicken fricassee based on this recipe with leftover chicken from Sunday

Tuesday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch sandwich as I won't have long before needing to head to the seminar and awards
Dinner home late after the awards - can't remember if it's actually a dinner event or not!

Wednesday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch quick mess-free sandwich as I will be with a supplier all day
Dinner will have to work a bit late as I have a meeting so something quick from the freezer with chips

Thursday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch soup
Dinner spaghetti bolognese

Friday
Breakfast yogurt or cereal
Lunch leftover spaghetti bolognese
Dinner my parents here - something easy from the freezer

Saturday
Lunch out for lunch
Dinner risotto followed by pancakes

Sunday
Lunch egg and cheese/ tuna bagels
Dinner roast gammon

join in the blog hop!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Review: Club Cala Romani, Majorca

 
At the very end of summer I went on holiday with two girl friends to Majorca. We wanted a cheap and cheerful week (or almost week) in the sun, and with three of us wanting to fly from different airports, returning home on different dates, with different budgets and different requirements in mind, it was never going to be easy!

We found Club Cala Romani on lastminute.com and agreed to book it; I'd been quite busy at work at the time and didn't want to hold the others up as there were only a few rooms remaining, so I said go for it - and only read the reviews afterwards.

There were some OK but not great reviews on Trip Advisor, a few from people who loved it who go there every year - and some really, really terrible reviews. I've never gone anywhere with such poor ratings before, and my heart sank. So what I want to say right away was: it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I was expecting!

OK, it wasn't a great hotel -and I don't even mean by comparison with some of the amazing places I've been lucky enough (and I mean really lucky) to stay, like the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach. Even based on much cheaper self-catering holidays I'd had in my 20s to places like Greece and Cyprus, it was somewhere that had its pros and cons, but overall I had a nice holiday, it surpassed my (low) expectations and it's the sort of place I think children would really enjoy.

We were three lone females travelling without children, but going in the school holidays as one of my friends is a teacher, which did put us in a very small minority. This is definitely a family resort and I don't think I remember seeing anyone else without kids!

I will go through some of the pros and cons in turn, also addressing some of the main criticisms I read on Trip Advisor which were really off-putting and not necessarily what I experienced.

area next to the hotel pool
The airport transfer
Booked as part of the package on lastminute.com though provided by a third party called MTS Globe Spain. It was advertised as 90 minutes but I had seen several people on Trip Advisor saying it took three hours. It actually took me 2 hours 35 minutes on the way there - I got a taxi on the way back but that's another story.

It's easy to find the desk at the airport then they tell you which number bus to get on outside. The coach has air con and the journey was fine though Club Cala Romani was the very last stop.

I was flying home a day earlier than my friends and was worried that my transfer pick up time was four hours before my flight - it's not a big airport but I had seen a lot in the news about long queues so wanted to get to the airport two hours beforehand, but as it took more than two and a half hours on the way - and I'd seen one review where someone said it took 4 hours on the way back - I was a bit worried.

I spoke to the hotel reception and they said they could book me a taxi, though I would forfeit the money I had already paid for the transfer. The receptionist told me it was a 75 euro flat fee to the airport and since I hadn't needed to spend much money on holiday I decided to do it for peace of mind. But when it came to leave and my taxi was 20 minutes late, I went back to reception and the receptionist - a different person to the one who booked the taxi the day before - called the company and found that there was no record of my booking. They said they could send another taxi right away but that took another 20 minutes, though I still arrived at the airport in plenty of time. When we arrived the taxi driver charged me 86 euros - when I argued and said I'd been told there was a 75 euro flat fare he said there was no such thing! So if you are going to get a taxi instead of a transfer then I would watch out as it isn't as straightforward as you might think!

The hotel - checking in
I arrived with one of my friends while the third was arriving later. At reception we asked if she was in an adjacent room and they went to look her up - and found they had no record of her booking! We were in a bit of a panic but luckily the hotel wasn't full and by the time she arrived and we met at reception, they had allocated her a room - and we saw her name hand-written onto the bottom of a printed list! I'm not sure how that happened as we all booked through lastminute.com, albeit separately.

The room
I had a double room to myself which was a good size, basic and simply furnished but nothing wrong with it. My room would have overlooked the pool but I was on the first floor so I actually looked onto a flat roof that was the top of the restaurant below, so couldn't see anything at all.

my room
The room was supposed to have air con and there was a temperature gauge on the wall but no sign of an air con unit; instead there was a big fan on the ceiling. The lowest the temperature gauge could be set to was 23C which was a bit worrying as it was the end of August, but strangely the room actually seemed OK with the ceiling fan on. I did speak to some people who were staying in the family apartments on the other side of the hotel and they said there was no air con in their rooms at all, they were having to pay to hire fans and it was still unbearably hot - apparently the hotel is installing air con in those rooms in 2018!

view from my terrace - with a child's rubber ring on the flat roof
Walls are thin though - I could hear people upstairs banging around and at one point hear the conversation the people next door were having.

The pool
There are actually two main pools next to each other - one is supposed to be for adults only and the other for children but nobody seemed to pay attention to that rule. There's also a baby pool a short walk away.

Neither main pool ever seemed that warm - even though it was August, it was cloudy most of the time and even sunbathing we were rarely in direct sunlight, I never felt particularly hot and I never really got a tan - and when there was a breeze I felt quite chilly!

I'd read several reviews on Trip Advisor saying the pool was sometimes closed because a child had pooped in it, which sounded disgusting - though my friend who has a toddler assured me it can happen even if the child is wearing swim pants (like nappies but waterproof). I still thought it was pretty unpleasant and I've never been anywhere on holiday where that has been a problem, so I was half expecting it, but my heart still sank one day when I heard this announcement at 3pm: "The pool is now closed until 5pm. We would like to remind parents that babies should wear Pampers swim nappies in the pool, which are available in the shop." The most annoying thing was it was the larger adult pool that was shut for two hours - where there weren't supposed to have been children in the first place!

I found the sun loungers by the pool really uncomfortable - rigid plastic with no cushioning and most of them couldn't have the head propped up so you had no choice but to lie completely flat. They gave me back ache after about five minutes so I spent most of the time sitting on one of the chairs from the bar by the pool.

The food
The hotel is all inclusive, so all food is included other than anything you want to buy from the on-site shop. It has a main buffet restaurant and a small snack bar that is open between meal times. The snack bar was very disappointing - it looked like a cross between a cheap café and a school canteen. When we arrived in the afternoon, not having had lunch, we went in with high hopes, only to find a coffee machine that had a 'not in use' sign on it, a self-serve machine for juice that tasted very watered down, and a self-serve tap for red wine and white wine (not sure how you stop the kids from helping themselves, even though they have different coloured wristbands!).

buffet station
The food choice in the snack bar was the same every day - bread rolls, butter, ham and cheese - I suppose it's filling but also cheap for the hotel to do, and I couldn't help wondering about the reviews I'd read where people speculated it was the meat and cheese left over from breakfast or even the day before put out again.

The main restaurant isn't bad, I thought it would be a bit school dinner hall but it actually looked ok. There are three long serving stations all with the same food - or so we thought, we realised after a little while that the one at the back of the room was slightly bigger and always had something extra the other counters didn't have, like pizza or a whole joint of roast pork.

roast pork
It's self-serve buffet and children under a certain age aren't supposed to go up unattended; you need to be careful though as people do push in, or pile too much on their plate and spill it - one day I slipped and nearly went flying with my plate after stepping in a pile of spilled spaghetti on the floor.

The dining hall was busy but we never had to queue for a table whatever time we went.

lamb and potatoes
There was a fairly large choice of food with most things changing each day; always a couple of types of pasta, lots of salad stuff, and three mains - e.g. one day was fish (I think mackerel), lamb and lasagne, but only one hot vegetable to go with them  which bizarrely was Brussels sprouts! Then there were two types of potatoes plus chips and pizza cut into squares, so something for everyone - and the lamb which I had was pretty good.

fish in white sauce, croquette potatoes, plain rice

Another day I had pork, fried potatoes and cauliflower, which like a lot of the food I found under-seasoned, though there is salt and pepper on every table and that was probably the worst thing I could say about the food.

One evening none of the choices looked appealing, and just as I was about to give up and have pasta with tomato sauce, I spotted the extra serving station down the far end, where someone was carving roast pork, which I had with roast potatoes, and gravy when I eventually found it. It might have been Majorca in August but a nice bit of roast dinner was lovely!

dessert station

dessert plate
There's a separate buffet station for dessert, where there were three choices every day, all cake-based eg swiss roll or a creamy vanilla cake. The fruit is good - I often had a huge slice of watermelon for dessert. There's also a freezer chest of mini tubs of ice cream but they are generic and only basic flavours -if you want a proper ice cream you have to buy one from the shop. You can help yourself to water, watered-down tasting juice or wine, or get a drink from the bar in the building next door.

breakfast buffet
At breakfast there was a fairly big choice of food, but on the first morning the sausages were mini hot dogs (not to everyone's taste and I couldn't eat them since I was pregnant) and the 'bacon' was the same type of sliced deli ham we'd seen in the snack bar yesterday but fried, and curling at the edges - I did wonder if it was exactly the same ham! There are also croissants, and different types of biscuit or cake things every day, bread, porridge and quite runny looking yogurt and fruit. Another day there were real sausages and bacon and even churros with chocolate sauce.

breakfast selection
There's a pizzeria only open at lunchtimes (the main buffet restaurant is also open at lunch). It serves pizza - always plain cheese and tomato when we were there, cut into small squares - plus hotdogs, burgers and chips, and each day a couple of random things that I assume are what they are serving in the main restaurant, e.g. spaghetti and mixed veg. The pizza was actually quite nice and gooey but the burgers nothing special.
pizzeria lunch
We ate there a couple of times, alternating with the main restaurant at lunchtimes. The food there at lunch was similar to dinner - though not the same thing on the same day. I often didn't fancy meat and potatoes at lunch so had pasta  a few times which was a bit plain but OK.

The drinks
The pool bar has self-service soft drinks and there were wasps circling the taps constantly which wasn't very nice - you have to take your chances to get a coke or lemonade.

There is a two drink limit per person on alcoholic drinks and they come in small plastic cups - I suppose it's one way to make sure guests don't over indulge. If you have wine then the plastic cup isn't a bad size but if you are drinking beer it's tiny. Some people on Trip Advisor were complaining about the two drink rule - I suppose it's a pain if you want to get drinks for yourself and your family at the same time - but you probably can't easily carry more than two of the plastic cups at once and it does reduce wastage - if you are by the pool and having soft drinks you need to drink them quickly because of the wasps which are flying around constantly. I found they left me alone if I ignored them (and put my cup in the bin when I had finished) but my friend did actually get stung by a wasp which wasn't nice.

There are two bars open in the evening, one in the theatre (where the entertainment takes place so it's lively, quite noisy and busy) then a quieter bar near reception. The queues in the theatre bar weren't bad anyway, and both have the same choice of drinks covered on the all inclusive: vodka, rum, gin and one other spirit I can't remember with mixers, plus wine, beer, slushies and a limited list of cocktails, so you can't ask for just anything, though the cocktails seemed to cover most of the well known popular ones. There was even a non-alcoholic cocktail on the list that was great because I'm pregnant, though it was bright pink and a bit sickly sweet! My friend who had the gin said it tasted awful but the other drinks were apparently OK.

The entertainment
The hotel offers activities throughout the day, some for children, others for teenagers and some for the whole family, ranging from Spanish lessons to rifle shooting to aqua-aerobics and face painting.

activities board
There's a theatre with a show every night but not until 10pm (lasting an hour) which is surprisingly late for a family resort, especially when dinner runs from 7-9 and most people with young kids seemed to eat early. There seemed to be some sort of kids club activity in the theatre from 9 (involving getting parents to do embarrassing things on stage, then a kids disco) then the main entertainment varies every night (for two weeks at least then I imagine they repeat).


One evening the entertainment crew (who also run the activities during the day, and seemed popular with the kids) were miming or possibly singing along to different songs while dressed in character, e.g. Barbie Girl, YMCA, the Baywatch theme etc. It was quite cringe-worthy at times but over the course of the week I decided they were fairly good entertainers, we just weren't their target audience at all. Kids loved it, and parents enjoyed it because their children were enjoying it (or because they'd had a few drinks). Childless and sober (due to pregnancy) I wasn't exactly getting into it in the same way - but there was literally nothing else to do in the evenings!


Outside the hotel - the beach
The beach path is well signposted from by the hotel swimming pool and it's about a ten minute walk to some steps down to the beach. If you walk along the parallel path higher up you get to a little town centre which has some other restaurants and bars, souvenir shops and places you can book excursions.
the beach
We went to the beach one day when the pool was shut due to poo-gate; you are supposed to pay 4 euros 20 for a sun lounger and another 4 euros for an umbrella but it was already mid-afternoon and there was nobody around to pay.

There's a snack bar (nothing to do with the hotel so you have to pay) and toilets up at the top of the steps, and you can hire pedaloes. The water was quite warm and really clear; you can see fish even without a snorkel and I could hear people by the rocks (the beach is in a sort of cove leading out to the sea) saying they could see jellyfish.

We also went out for a day trip which I will review separately, to the Cuevas del Drach (dragon caves) and Porto Cristo.

Overall I didn't have a bad holiday at all - the people at the hotel were actually quite friendly and quiet, not the sort of rowdy drunk crowd I had been expecting given this is a pretty cheap all inclusive - probably because most of them were there with children. There are plenty of activities, the food isn't bad at all and offers something for everyone, the accommodation was fine, and while there were some issues like the poo in the pool and the entertainment not being to my taste, it was a lot better than I was expecting. I wouldn't choose to go back, but for the price it wasn't bad at all.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tree and Santa Pattern Christmas Cards


These two cards are mainly made from a mini set that contained a few pieces of patterned paper and one sheet of die cuts. I think they are quite fun but there is also something a bit masculine about them, I think because of the colours and also the geometrical shapes.

On the first card, I covered a square card blank with the patterned paper and mounted a die cut tree with adhesive pads. It's also a little hard to see but there are a few tiny die cuts in the shape of presents and snowflakes also on adhesive pads so they stand out. To finish off, I used a 'noel' shiny red sticker from a different pack.

For the second card I covered the bottom half of the card with patterned paper and used a piece of washi tape across the edge as a border. The two child (elf?) stickers at the top were actually left over from a pack of Christmas address labels that I think came from Ikea a couple of years ago. Finally a 'tis the season' sticker in the top right corner completes the card.

I am sharing this with Crafty Hazelnuts Christmas Challenge and Cardz 4 Guyz where the theme is Christmas trees.