Thursday, 29 November 2012

Beautiful, Magical, Amazing BALLET

If you have a little one besotted by ballet and everything about it, then this is one for them.   Beautiful, Magical, Amazing BALLET by Mary Lee is one of three stories in this range about a little girl called Mia and her adventures, and is available in paperback or in a Kindle version.

The story follows Mia as she attends her first ballet lesson.  She can't wait to get there - she already knows everything there is to know about ballerinas and is sure she will be good at it.  But when she sees the girls already in the class practising their moves she feels a little self conscious and an attempt to impress them goes wrong.  The girls rally round Mia making her feel included and by the end of the lesson, Mia cannot wait to go back again next week.

I really love the illustrations in this book - the colours are very appealing - and DD loved them too.  This is a lovely little story to share while snuggled up together on the sofa during these cold afternoons.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Jumbo Jacks

I found this recipe on a scrap of paper torn from a magazine when I was looking through my recipe file for something easy to make with DD earlier today.  Its a good one for kids as it only involves stirring - no creaming required! - although you obviously need to do the part of melting the butter & syrup.  They turned out really tasty - DD and I enjoyed them warm from the oven while we watched The Gruffalo for the 78th time, and DS got them for his after school snack and gave his seal of approval too.

175g self-raising flour
175g granulated sugar
75g porridge oats
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
175g butter
2 tbsp golden syrup

Mix the flour, sugar, oats, bicarb and baking powder together in a bowl.

Put the butter and golden syrup into a small saucepan and heat until melted.  Stir into the flour mix until combined.  You might need to use your hands to bring the mixture together a little.

Take small balls of mixture, roll and press down onto a greased baking tray.  Bake for 180 (160 fan) for 12-15 minutes.

Warning: These spread massively so keep your balls small - see how DD's ones turned out!

Friday, 23 November 2012

German Style Gnocchi

I have no idea whether this is German style or not (I doubt it very much!) but when we visited our friends in Hamburg recently, we were served this for supper one night and it was delicious.  I sneaked into the kitchen afterwards to check out the recipe book and was delighted to find it was easy enough for me to remember and recreate in my kitchen back home the next week!

Half packet of small tomatoes (cherry, vine, any kind will do)
1 courgette
Packet of fresh gnocchi
Tub of creme fraiche
Handful of Ritz crackers (4/5)
Half block of feta cheese 

Halve the tomatoes.  Slice the courgette however you like - I did mine in ribbons but you could equally chop it up.  

Put the tub of creme fraiche into a jug and crumble in the feta cheese.  Crush the Ritz crackers in too then blitz with a hand-held blender for just a minute, and stir well.  (If you don't have a blender, this would work fine just crushing & crumbling - would perhaps be a little more crunchy, that's all).

Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the gnocchi - you don't need to boil it first.  Cook, ensuring you keep stirring, until it starts to brown.  

Add the tomatoes and courgette at this stage, and cook for around 5 mins until everything is brown / cooked through.

Stir through the creme fraiche mix and serve immediately.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Little Red Bus Craft

Those of you who have read my previous posts will know that I am hopeless at all things child-craft related but this sinks to new lows.  I was in two minds as to whether to post it but I figured you could all do with a laugh!

To be fair, the kids had fun making it and that's all that matters...right?!

You will need:

Empty box (tea bag box size)
Red paint
White stickers
Bottle tops

First you need to paint your tea bag box with red paint.  Despite 3 coats, the box still showed through on ours but I think that was due to the cheap paint!  You need to leave this to dry thoroughly so you may decide to do this part yourself if you have impatient little people.

Next you need the "people" to go in the windows of the bus.  I printed off shrunken down photos of our friends & family (hence the pixellation!) but you could equally use magazine cuttings of the right size - obviously they need to be pretty small.  

Stick your white labels (white cut paper would work equally well) on to the box to make the windows.  Then get the kids to glue on their people - this part was quite interesting to watch, as DS chose all his friends and family members but DD only wanted to stick on photos of herself!  

Once the people are stuck on, you need to stick on your wheels.  Glue didn't seem to hold ours (but again, could just be the cheap brand I bought!) so we ended up putting tape on to stick them.  

DS asked if he could make a hole in his and attach string so he could pull it along but I was pretty sure it wouldn't survive so talked him out of it!  Nevertheless, we now have two red buses sitting on our table awaiting daddy's inspection when he gets home.

Christmas Table

Have you started thinking about Christmas yet?  Last night, I attempted the Christmas card photos - DS dressed up as an Elf and DD as a fairy.  I gave up after about 20 photos of ridiculously cheesy grins, none of which were great so I'm going to have to see if I can photoshop some together!

There will be 11 (possibly 12!) of us around my table this year so I'm trying to organise in advance.  I've been buying one Christmas item each time I visit the supermarket, not only to try and spread the expense but also so I don't have a huge load all in one go!  My utility room is fast filling up with mince pies, paper plates and crackers ;)

I'm planning to give the kids a few things at the lunch table to keep them occupied, either while waiting for the food to be served or when they are finished eating but the adults are still going.  In Sainsburys this morning, I found some wonderful Stacking Crayons for £1.99 a packet - way cheaper than Amazon - which I'm going to pair with some Christmas colouring pages.

My presents are very nearly all purchased, and I can't wait to get our tree fact, this year, I'm really looking forward to Christmas!  Not quite at the counting-down-the-days stage but still...

Monday, 19 November 2012

My Big Shouting Day

DD is having lots of protests right now about a variety of things so when I saw this book, I knew I had to buy it for her.   

The story is great - it goes through the day as Bella lists all the things she gets cross about, and her reaction to them.  At bedtime, she finally calms down and says sorry to her mum for shouting all day and her mum tells her that it's OK, we all have days like that sometimes but perhaps she will be more cheerful tomorrow.

DD absolutely loves reading it, and asks for it constantly.  When the melt downs are coming, like this morning in the supermarket, I keep reminding her that she doesn't want to behave like Bella and it seems to be working - fingers crossed!

This is a great book with a lovely perspective - if you have a two year old, or thereabouts, I would thoroughly recommend this.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Lollystick Puzzles

I have seen these on Blogs lots of times before but when a post I read featured them last week, it reminded me to give them a go.  They are great for keeping in your handbag - take up no room, and easy to whip out when you need to keep fingers busy for 5 minutes! 

Here is what you'll need:

Lolly sticks
Sticky tape
Although you can use regular size lolly sticks, these jumbo lolly sticks are easier to work with and as they are quite handy for other crafts, I thought I could afford to splash out at less than £2.50 a pack!

First lay the sticks side by side and tape them together.

Next, spread glue on the reverse of your picture.  Make sure it is evenly spread - use a brush if necessary.  Flip the lolly sticks over and stick the picture on the opposite side to the tape.

Now you need to leave it to dry.  I placed mine under a large heavy cook book to help it flatten out whilst it dried.  When it is dry, remove the tape from the back.

Next you need to cut the picture along the lolly sticks.  Obviously this would work better with a craft knife but I found a sharp kitchen knife wasn't too bad.  It was a little easier to cut if I bent the lolly stick towards me first, then scored it along the line before cutting it.

There you have it!  An easy puzzle, adapted to whatever picture you like.

Although this was quick and easy, I'm not sure I would use this for ordinary picture puzzles (especially when you can get puzzles so cheaply) but I do think it would be great for family photographs - I plan to make DD a set with family members to reinforce her family in her mind.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had to bake a contribution for the school Christmas fair this week and as I remembered that last year there was an abundance of cakes, I decided to make biscuits instead.  DD loved helping me to make these, and enjoyed eating them even more!

125g butter (at room temp)
125g light soft brown sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg
225g self-raising flour
100g chocolate chips (I used a mix of white & milk but you could adjust to your taste)

Cream together the butter & sugar...if your butter is too hard to work with because you forgot to get it out of the fridge early enough (ahem...), pop it in the microwave for just a few seconds.  

Next, beat in the golden syrup & egg, and then stir in the flour.

Take teaspoons of the mixture and roll it between your hands into walnut size balls.  Squash each ball gently down on a baking tray and pop the chocolate chips on top - pressed lightly into the ball so they stick but not far enough so they are buried.

Cook for 10-15 mins at 180.

All ready to sell at the PTA Christmas Fair!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Chicken & Potato Balls

I usually make these on a Monday after we've had a roast chicken for Sunday lunch to use up the leftover meat.  You don't need to be precise with your measurements - just use roughly the same amounts of chicken, potatoes and parsnips.  The kids love these little balls of goodness, and I usually serve them with a side of veg.

Cooked chicken breast or any left over chicken meat off the bone (around 125g)
2 potatoes, peeled & chopped
1 small parsnip, peeled & chopped
Knob of butter
1 carrot, peeled & grated
1 small onion, peeled & chopped

Boil the potato and parsnip for around 10 mins until soft, then mash well with the butter.  Set aside to cool.

Heat a little oil in a pan and add the onion and carrot, cooking for around 5 mins without colouring.  Allow to cool for 5 mins then add it to a food processor along with the cooked chicken and blitz until finely chopped.  

Add this mixture to the mashed potato & parsnip and combine thoroughly.  Take spoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls the size of walnuts.  Toss them in a little flour until they are covered.

Heat some more oil in a frying pan and add the balls.  Cook for around 5 - 10 mins until browned and serve immediately.

NB. If you want to freeze these, do so before you coat in flour then you can defrost and continue the recipe when you need them.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


A few weeks ago, I got hold of a leaflet for a new playgroup in Haslemere and Grayswood called Hasletots so DD and I headed along to the Georgian House Hotel on Monday to check it out.  Despite being nearly 15 minutes early, we were greeted enthusiastically by Emi who has set up the venture after moving to the area from London a few years ago.  

There was plenty to capture DD's attention when we entered - the area is large and spacious with a bouncy castle, climbing apparatus and a mini trampoline to name a few things for the toddlers as well as lots for babies too including a ball pit and age appropriate toys.  

There are tables around the edge of the room where mums can sit and have a coffee and a chat, or read a magazine, and if the little ones want to join you there is colouring, play dough and books at the table for them. 

The entrance fee (dependant on the child's age) included a juice and a biscuit which DD enjoyed while I had a coffee. 

It's a perfect place for a wet and windy day, as it was on Monday, and they also run the group on a Saturday morning so you can enjoy breakfast while the kids play.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Spaghetti Bolognese

Everybody loves spaghetti bolognese, right?  It is a staple in our house, and one I can always be sure the kids will eat without complaint.  I use the chance to slip some extra veggies... usually carrot but courgette sometimes too - use the smallest section on your grater if you can.  I prefer to use the extra lean steak mince as I can't bear to see the fat floating on the top of the sauce as it simmers but that's just a personal preference ;)

Need to work on my photography...but trust me, it tastes better than it looks!

500g lean minced beef
1 onion, peeled & chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled & chopped
Large carrot, peeled & grated
Courgette, peeled & grated
Tin tomatoes
100ml milk
Pinch dried thyme
Bay leaf

Heat some oil to a pan and add the onion, garlic, carrot & courgette.  Cook for a few mins then add the beef mince and stir well, until cooked through (i.e. no more pink bits can be seen).  

If you have a handheld blender, blitz the tomatoes before adding them to the pan as it gives the sauce a smoother consistency.  Add the tomatoes along with the milk, bay leaf and thyme and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil your spaghetti then drain and mix with a dollop of butter, and grate some Parmesan ready to sprinkle over the top of your assembled dish.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Travel Activities

We spent last week driving through some of Europe - we were headed to Hamburg in Germany to visit some friends and decided to stop at a few places on the way.  When DH and I talked about the visit initially, I assumed we would be flying so when he suggested we drive, I was quite reluctant.  Although the kids are pretty good in the car generally, I didn't know how they would fare for long stretches at a time.  Eventually, DH convinced me so I set about making up a travel pack for them each.  Some things worked better than others but here are my ideas.

DS is obsessed with maps at the moment (must be a boy thing!) and is always asking to look at the map in the car so I thought I would make him his own one, customised to our journey.  I plotted our journey using Google maps, with the overnight stops we were making marked on it, and printed it off.  I folded it like a real map, concertina style, to add to the authenticity!  He loved getting it out periodically and telling DH where to go next.

Lacing Cards 
I got DS lacing cards but thought these may be a little tricky for DD so I got her a Wooden Threading Mouse & Cheese instead.  I hoped this would keep them busy for a while at least and it had the added bonus of helping to improve their motor skills.  The cards were one of the biggest hits, with both of the kids!  Long periods of time went by in relative peace while they were busy working on these in the back - DS loved "sewing" like he's seen me do, and DD managed to thread some of them too.  The cheese wedge was more of a fun distraction for them both but still good.

Travel Bingo
I Googled images of generic things I thought we would see on the way (road signs, coloured cars, state vehicles, etc.), not forgetting a clipboard & pencil so they could tick off things as they go!  Remember to save some sheets for the return journey if you are making one.

Colouring Sheets
I printed out a stack of free colouring sheets I found on the web, each tailored to their current obsession - Spiderman for DS and Peppa Pig for DD!  I also made up a small pack of crayons & pencils for each of them too.  Another use for those clipboards!

Felt Travel Mr & Mrs Potato Head
I'm quite proud of this I made it myself (separate post on how to make it coming soon!)  This didn't work in the car like I anticipated but it was a good distraction at restaurants when we were waiting for our meal.

Funny Faces Sticker Book
I liked the fact that this was reusable so my idea was that they could take turns with this one.  After buying one on-line, a few days before our departure I found them for half price in a local toy shop so they ended up with one each...good job seeing as how DD stuck all the features onto one face and they ended up sticking to each other so they weren't reusable!

Magnetic Drawing Board
Although I did pack colouring pencils and paper for them, I put these in as a quick & easy scribbler for them...again tailored to their current obsession!  I picked them up in a local £ store & toy store.

Toy train & track
This was more for them to play with in the hotel rooms but it was still a goodie!  If you have a small / packable thing they love that won't work in a moving car, take it anyway and buy yourself 10 minutes of peace while you are unpacking.

50 things to do in a plane
I bought this earlier in the year for our plane ride to Spain but didn't end up using it.  I packed it in my bag for this journey rather than theirs, mainly due to the fact that it has a reusable marker that I could imagine would be used to draw all over the car!  Most of the cards were too old for DS at 4 years but there were a few that kept him busy with supervision during our crossing on the Euro tunnel.

I also included some "pocket money" toys that I found in ELC and The Entertainer stores.  These were some of the biggest hits with the kids - small robots with positionable arms & legs, erasers in the shape of snacks, and a tiny tea set inside a teapot the size of a walnut!  


And of course not forgetting our passports!   

We drove 1,494 miles in total from England to France, Belgium, through Holland and into Germany and I am surprised to hear myself now telling people it was painless but it really was!  Each night, DH gathered up the contents of their bags from the car floor and I tidied and repacked them all so they had a fresh bag to start the next journey with.  Before our longest stretch on the way home, I added some additional items (a magazine each, new colouring sheets, etc) so there was something new to hold their interest.

I would love to hear of any ideas you have to keep your kids entertained during long journeys!