So with me being with my wife now for about fourteen years and being married for coming up to six you'd think that by now we would of had our fair share of Valentine's Day surprises for each other, done some amazingly romantic things and lavished some fabulous gestures on each other.

Well, you would be wrong.

To be honest I can't actually remember the last time we spent even a portion of the day together, just the two of us.

In one respect it would be amazing to have a little bit of "us" time to just go to the cinema or nip out for a meal but we have two (very amazing) reasons why we don't...
Charlie who has been with us for eleven Valentine's Days and Willow who has been with us for fifteen months. 

You see me and the wife know how much we love each other, we know that we have each other's backs though anything, we know that if one morning I leave the house for work without giving her our usual "See you later" kiss on the head as I walk past, half asleep, juggling my morning brew, work phone and tablet, trying to remember where I left my van keys are. I'll get the death stare or a text if I make it as far as the van so that I realise and pop back in (regardless of how late I am) to give her that little kiss.

We are more than just love, it's a real best friend kind of friendship.

And like friends, yes we argue and neither of us backs down because we are both similar and are both really stubborn, but with all good relationships, after twenty minutes it's all forgotten and never mentioned again. 

We know that life is too short to let stupid arguments and a lack of spending time as a two not a four get us down - we wouldn't have it any other way - our kids are everything to us and we love spending our time together which is the reason we started our YouTube channel "The Baker Bunch" up.

Now I do apologise if you thought this post was going to be a lovey-dovey post about romantic weekends away or candle lit dinners but that's just not what The Baker Bunch are about.

But then again is anyone really about all of that 24/7?

Anyway,I did have a bit of a laugh around the whole romance thing - although she knows me well enough to know I'm not that kind of a guy, earlier this week when a delivery man walked down our drive with a huge bouquet of flowers in hand, for a split second Simone thought I had gone all out and treated her.


But her excitement was short lived and she remembered who I am when the delivery guy said it wasn't actually for her but was a treat for me -










And then she looked closer and realised that it wasn't just a bouquet of flowers but it was full of cakes too...and not just any cakes either but Mr Kipling's at that - and we all know that they are "exceedingly good"
(sorry I know corny but I couldn't resist) 

But who sent me this bouquet?

Did I have a secret admirer?

Well,yes actually I do and it was Mr Kipling himself.

Not only did he send me the amazing bouquet but I was also given a fair few box's of Valentine's ready cakes-  all classic favourites but with a cheeky, Valentine's edge to them...

Fancy a Kiss?
Love you Cherry much!
You're the one by a Country mile!
In a Whirl over you!


And well, as you can imagine, my wife was furious...but then I said she can share them with me and all was forgiven :)


All of the Valentine's Day themed boxes give the cakes a lovely romantic feel making them the perfect gift for a special person this Valentine's Day, and if you notice the French Fancies are all pink - brilliant - no fighting over them (because they are by far the best!)


I have to say, especially after my wife's reaction to this delivery, I really do think these would go down a real treat for anybody on Valentine's Day.


So how will I be spending this Valentine's Day?

More than likely sat at our kitchen table, cuppa in hand, tucking into a few of these Mr Kipling treats with my wife, my son and my daughter - here's to having another, very special Family Valentine's Day. 

Oh and I know that when Simone tweeted a picture of the bouquet a few people said they where jealous and wanted to share?

Well guess what, it's your lucky day - if you enter the Rafflecopter competition below you could be in with a chance to win your very own Mr Kipling bouquet and cake bundle to hopefully arrive in time for Valentine's Day.

Now wouldn't that be the perfect gift - so be quick - the opportunity won't be around for long.







CARL
Is it just me or did Christmas fly past so fast this year?
It literally seems like my house decorations were up for a day and back down the next (they weren't by they way, they were up for almost all of December actually).

Christmas this year started on a massive high, which I will explain in a minute, but it ended on a massive low with a few emergency calls to the hospital when Willow became quite poorly and at one point I reallyvdid think I'd lost her when she was lying helplessly in my arms, and it has really knocked me for six and is going to take quite a while to get that image out of my head.

I don't want to talk too much about those lows because our Christmas started great and we had a fun-packed family weekend just before Christmas when the lovely people over at Talented Talkers invited us to spend a day and night over in Manchester at the Mercure Hotel.

It's not often the Baker Bunch get to go away for weekends anymore, what with myself working or Charlie playing rugby, but this weekend we had nothing planned so we jumped at the opportunity and to be honest if we had of had something planned we would of cancelled anyway.

Not only did we get to spend the night over at the hotel, we also got a family ticket to the Winter Wonderland being held at the Trafford Centre that weekend too.

So let's start with the hotel, like I said it's in Manchester - smack bang in the centre of Manchester to be exact - which is a great location if you are wanting to spend a bit of time browsing around the vast amount of shops and bars the city has.

In my old job I used to do a lot of work in Manchester so I know the area quite well and knew exactly where the hotel was which was handy because town centre driving can be a big pain in the backside if you are not familiar with the area.

Manchester is booming at the moment and to be honest it's where I get most blog event invites to so trust me when I say it's definitely worth the travel over.

Now the hotel is located next door to the bus station and is only a short walk from the nearest train station with is great, but because we were heading over as a family I decided to drive and made use of the hotels on site parking which costs £15 for an overnight stay - very reasonable for the location.

We arrived at the hotel a little before our book in time but the staff made a few calls and let us into our room early, which was very nice.



I think we had a family room and it had a nice king sized bed, a sofa bed and they also supplied us with a travel cot for Willow.
The room was very spacious and Willow enjoyed whizzing around, exploring on her hands and knees.








The lovely people at the hotel left us a little supprise too and I'm not ashamed to say that we didn't leave a single crumb - us Bakers do love a bit of chocolate.








And we also love the odd glass of Prossecco.

 (Please note Charlie did not help us drink this!)





As a group, we were treated to a guided tour of the hotel by the manager so that he should show us the different things the hotel has to offer and I was shocked by the sheer size of the function rooms.
They were huge!

And with it being Christmas Party season it was the perfect time for us to walk around really, we had the chance to see staff setting up for a huge party for that night and, I may be wrong here, but I'm sure the manager said the main function room holds a massive 600 people.

Now that's one hell of a party.

 






There is also an onsite gym too for guests to use and I could tell you that I got up early and smashed out a big gym session in the morning but that would be a big fat lie.
What I can tell you though is that the gym had plenty of apparatus and was very well looked after.


And so, as I said earlier we had tickets to head over to the Trafford Centre to check out the Winter Wonderland, which is what we did after the tour.
We were all very excited but after spending around an hour there we left quite disappointed really, I wasn't a fan at all - I think Willow was a little too young for everything and Charlie was a little too old - and to make matters worse I dropped my camera whilst we were there and broke my lens - which I still haven't had fixed because Christmas made me skint.




But we couldn't leave with out Charlie sampling one of the amazing smelling crepes they had on offer - one filled with his favourite Nutella of course.


Oh and we also had to take a few selfies to show off my amazing new Christmas jumper




But we soon headed back to the hotel so we could go for some lovely food in the hotel's restaurant, well so we thought anyway.

With it been quite late and far past Willow's bed time we always knew it was going to be a struggle to keep her awake for a late meal, and we were right, she was falling asleep when we were all freshening up in our room

Sadly Simone stayed in the room with her whilst myself and Charlie went and ate food, but because the hotel staff are quite amazing they said they would let Simone order and would take it up to our room for her which I thought was a great gesture.

If you want to know what she ordered you can read her post Here! too.


And this may sound strange but one of the hardest things I find about blogging is writing about food, I just never think I do good food justice, I'd rather just tell you it was good or bad and try let the pictures do the talking.

So that's what I'm doing.


First up we both choose the butternut squash soup with a slice of garlic bread to dip in which is a firm favourite in the Baker household anyway - it's usually a Slimming World special I make and we all love it.

This soup tasted just as good as my own I must admit.


Next up was the easiest pick of the menu for me, it was Betty's Famous Hot Pot. 

If you're a Corrie fan then you will have seen many a person order this in the Rovers Return, and if not, well just think of a Lancashire hotpot made by your Gran!

It was packed full of flavour, the meat was super tender and melted in the mouth, the potatoes were nice and crispy on top but if I had one criticism it would be that there just wasn't enough for me - it was quite a tiny portion - but other than that I couldn't fault it. 


Charlie definitely takes after his dad when it comes to eating and it's very rare that he will order from any children's menu these days, but at the hotel there wasn't anything he fancied on the main menu so he opted for the cheese burger and chips on the kid's menu, which was a great choice actually because it was huge. 


And last but by no means least - pudding.
We both choose Sticky Toffee Pudding and ice cream and yeah, it tasted as good as it looks


We didn't leave a drop and could quite easily licked our bowls clean - but the restaurant looked very posh so there was no doing that.

After food we headed back to our room to see Simone and watch a bit of TV an 10 minutes later I was asleep on the sofa bed and stayed there until Willow woke us in the morning.

We also had breakfast at the hotel that morning but being the blogger who thinks with his belly I totally forgot to take any photos.
I was too busy stuffing my face with Cornflakes, a full English, muffins, fruit, and everything else they had to offer.

I do eat quite a lot of cooked breakfasts I have to say (it goes with the job...kind of...) and this one was up there with the best of them. 


So all in all, myself and the Baker Bunch had a great time at the hotel - it was certainly one of the best parts of our Christmas 2016 experience anyway.

Don't forget to check out what offers the hotels have on at the moment too.

Growing up, no matter how many nights we all ate on our own due to clubs,  parents working late or hobbies, we always, always came together on a Sunday.
We would all sit around the table, talking about the week...well mostly squabbling really...and would enjoy a huge Sunday roast.
We also ate a lot of lovely food too which I'm sure is where my love Sunday dinner come from.

It was brilliant - my favourite time of the week
(I've always loved my food)


And it is probobly why I'm such a big Sunday lunch fan now.

I'm certainly the better chef in my household - my wife openly admits she hates cooking - and I've been known to produce some mammoth sized Yorkshires in the past.

None of these pre-made, frozen ones on my watch thank you very much - it has got to be the real deal.


But I have let the side down lately and haven't cooked a family Sunday lunch for what seems like an eternity now, we are just mega busy all of the time.

Charlie plays rugby all year round and that means the weekends are just full of driving from game to game and when we do arrive home it is way past dinner time and we are all too tired to slave over a hot stove cooking a lovely Sunday lunch and then tidying up all of the mess that I usually create.

I know I said I am a good cook but I am also a very messy one too.

It seems that having a real good Sunday lunch is something in the past in the Baker Bunch Household.


So when we were invited, as a family, to sample the food offerings at Leeds' Blackhouse there was never going to be any other option for me - well for all of us - than to sample their Sunday lunch menu.

The Blackhouse menu was packed full of amazing meals- I was in meat-lovers heaven reading it.

But I think because as a family we hadn't had a Sunday lunch for a while we were naturally drawn to the Sunday lunch.


We arrived at the Blackhouse and we were all taken back on how stunning it looked.

It looked a little too posh for us if I'm honest, but we were put at ease straight away when we were greeted by some lovely staff members who took us to our seats where they had already set out a high chair for Willow



When we first had our invite we thought twice about bringing Willow along because she was at the age where dining out with her is a little tricky - it's quite hard to enjoy a meal and sort her out properly...well it is for Simone...once my food is in front of me nothing disturbs me.

But we changed our mind when Blackhouse actually asked if Willow wanted to pop along too and lets be honest, it was definitely unfair for her to miss out.


And as it turns out Willow loved it.

The staff were super with her and I think because the place had such a relaxed atmosphere, she had a great time and didn't moan once so we could all relax and enjoy the beautiful food that we ordered.

She loved the huge fish tanks too.


And it wasn't just Willow who was having a great time, in fact the whole family loved the place.







Especially when we were treated to some live music whilst we dined too.

It was a really nice touch and added to the calm, warm environment or the restaurant.



Now - the food.

First up, we had the best tasting garlic bread I have ever had.

It was the garlic rub bread with olive oil and sea salt, unlike other garlic bread I have had in the past, this was a little do it yourself job.
First of all you drizzle the amount of olive oil you require onto the toasted bread, then rub the amount of garlic you like by rubbing the halved garlic clove onto the oil.

My mouth is watering thinking about it.


Then, myself and Charlie shared a starter, normally we would get one each but after the garlic bread and the upcoming Sunday lunch we didn't want to over do it.

We opted for the chicken skewers with satay dipping sauce.



The chicken was cooked to perfection, packed full of flavour and really tender, it kind of fell off the skewers when pulled.
The sauce was OK too but had too much of a nutty taste for me and I'm not a lover of nuts so I didn't have to much of it.
To be honest though, the chicken had enough flavour so not dipping them in the sauce didn't really matter.

Now lets get down to the thing we had been craving since we read the menu - the mains.

We each picked a different meat...

I went for the beef, the wife chose the chicken and our son opted for the pork.

Each came complete with a very huge, fabulous homemade Yorkshire too




I mean come on, look at how amazing they are, I don't even need have to write about them too much because they tasted as good as they appear - even better in fact.

All three meals came with a huge amount of different vegetables too - there was loads to go around - but sadly this is where I fail as a blogger because I forgot to take pictures of the dishes, but if you watch our little video at the end pf this post you will see them.

The amount of food we had on our table was awesome, it looked like we had our very own buffet going on.

My beef was lovely, the slices were cut to perfection, not too thin or too thick that you would struggle to chew through it. 

The Yorkshire puddings were almost on par with mine - almost - but nobody's perfect right ;)

But the gravy was a million times better than anthing I could rustle up, and all of those vegetable options were perfect and seasoned well too. 

Everything got a big thumbs up from Charlie and Simone too but they let me finish what they couldn't manage so I knew how everything tasted.

Amazing that's how.

Out of all three meats I think the beef wins it for me though - it won on taste and also the sheer amount of it too.

And I know what you're thinking, after all of that grub there's no way there was room for pudding?

Wrong!


I did only have a little bit though - I pinched some of Charlie's - no matter where we go he can always fit in some sort of chocolaty pudding and this was up there with the best in his list of top puddings.

I mean who doesn't love chocolate and ice-cream.

I can not fault Blackhouse at all and would definitely recommend them to anyone and everyone - they have even inspired me to get back in the kitchen again too.

Please check out our little video from our day out - oh - and please subscribe too



CARL
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I was invited to review, all views and pictures are my own 


One of my highlights of 2016 was starting up our family Youtube channel, BakerBunch

It was started with the idea in mind that in the future we could look back at all the crazy, fun stuff we got up to, and could have loads of memories right there in film form of kids growing up. 

If you have ever watched one of our videos then I'm sure you will notice how close and how easy going we are.
Myself and my wife try to give our kids everything we can and we really do spoil them rotten, but not in the way that our kids are spoilt brats - they aren't - and they don't moan or whinge when we say "No" to something - and when I say "kids" obviously right now I just mean our 11 year old...whilst I should be saying Willow is too young to understand the concept right now, well I can't -  our little diva will certainly kick off if she doesn't get her own way and we're expecting major tantrums because she's already showing signs of doing it already.

Good luck to us then.

I wouldn't say we really have any set rules as a family either - there are some but we don't have a strict bone between us, but because we choose to live like this it makes our little family run like clockwork and it works perfectly for us.

Myself, Simone and Charlie are definitely in sync with each other.

It shows in everything we do really - when it comes to our morning routine I think we could do it all with our eyes closed it runs that well...and to be honest I am that tired sometimes whilst I'm doing my bit I think I actually have done it with my eyes closed, especially on those mornings that begin with Willow standing up in her cot at 4am, shouting (literally shouting too) at us because she wants to go downstairs to play.

So what do we do?
Well lets say that Simone takes Willow down, I follow shortly after once I've had a quick wash put my work uniform on.
I bypass them both in the room, head into the kitchen, fill the kettle up, make Willow's milk and get our coffee on.
I give the kitchen a wipe over and a sweep up, then take the milk to Simone who has changed a nappy and has Willow waiting for her "Di Dee" (it means a lot of different things at different times of the day but at 4am, it means milk).

I feed the cat, pour the brews and take them into the room - Willows usually had enough milk and cuddles by now and is busy playing -  great timing for Mummy because she can now have her brew. 

This little routine is something we have done every day for the last 14 months and even before that we had a slightly different one to get us all to work and school on time.

Our timing is impeccable even if the roles are reversed and we are definitely in sync with each other. 

And then I leave for work and it is time for Mum and son to be in sync with each other, because Mum needs to get herself, Willow and Charlie up, cleaned, fed and dressed in a certain amount of time.

Charlie is amazing with his little sister and she adores him so much, so when Mum needs a little time to chop up the fruit or make the porridge in he steps and withour arguing does an amazing job playing with and looking after Willow. 

He knows when and how long he's needed for and Simone doesn't even have to ask him, he just comes into the room and sits with her and doesn't moan - he loves helping out.

Even little things, like when we popped to a carvery for a Sunday lunch it works like clock work too.
We go in, find our seats, Simone gets a little plate full for Willow and when shes gets back, myself and Charlie will get our food and then I sit with and help Willow whilst Simone grabs hers and then we alternate between eating and helping Willow.

Such little things to most but everything just flows so smoothly and we don't even need to talk it all through, its just happens.

We are definitely a family in sync and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we are so close and spend so much time together.
It's not often that Charlie will sleep out and nobody ever asks to take him out, even just for the day, to spend time with him so he has become really comfortable just being with us.
And Willow, well she's 14 months now and nobody has ever asked to take her out at all - not for the day and certainly not to sleep...no quality time for me and Simone...but to be honest we don't care, we'd rather them both be with us anyway.

Obviously that has made us closer as a unit and we are that in sync with each other I reckon we could give the F1 teams a run for their money - we all know how in sync they have to be with each other, one false move in the pit, once false piece of communication could cause major disaster or injury.

So look out  Mcalrean, RedBull and Mercedes - if you are looking for a new team, one who are 100% in sync with each other then you better give The Baker Bunch a call! 

Check out the video to see the importance of being in sync in Formula 1


CARL
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* sponsored post - all words & thoughts are my own
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