Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Tuesday Haven

I love Tuesdays and always have done. I'm not sure why, but I think it's because it used to be the only weeknight as a child when I didn't have something on - it was like a haven in the week. Monday orchestra, Tuesday free, Wednesday Guides, Thursday piano lesson (admittedly only half an hour out of the evening) and Friday gymnastics. It was busy but I loved it and loved Tuesdays - I'm sure the fact that it was also Quantum Leap night helped!

I still love Tuesdays - and they're still a bit of a haven. Mondays are always a bit mad, getting back into routine after the weekend, and I have orchestra in the evening so it's pretty much home from work, have tea, put boys to bed, go out. And we have friends over for games on Wednesday so Tuesday is my break - usually Holby City and ironing. And of course as I only work 3 days a week at the moment, Tuesday is also my 'hump' day. That might help a little!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bluebird Mobile

Another project from my Crafty Creatives boxes. This month's theme is 'blue' and the kit is for a bluebird mobile. Here are the ingredients -

and the finished product

and a close up of the birds

I had a bit of a 'cross stitching angel' moment half-way through the making of the birds - for me this is a moment where I realise I've made a mistake and have to decide whether or not I can face the prospect of unpicking work to redo it. In this case I had sewn 2 wings on the wrong side of the birds and it was an easy fix. I'm not sure if I've mentioned the angel case which started all this - if I have then look away now, the blog is finished for you!

If not, then this goes back a long time to when I was first cross stitching. I completed a big project "To Guard you Through the Night" and then wanted to complete its sister "To Guard you Through the Day." I stitched the angel and then began the border, which to be frank was a bit of a nightmare as it had endless French knots in it which I came to particularly loathe! About half-way through the border, I realised that I had miscalculated and there was a very real danger that it would not go over the angel's head. After some swift counting, I realised it would just about fit, but faced the dilemma of whether to unpick a very large amount of what I had already done, or brazen it out. I took the lazy way, and as a result am forever slightly unsatisfied with the project because I know in my heart of hearts I should have unpicked. This haunts me even now and if I'm faced with the same issue, I always unpick!!!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Microwave meringues

I saw this recipe on the Pink Whisk and tried it out while I was waiting for pastry to chill for the banoffi pie cupcakes. Basically you mix an egg white with 300g icing sugar to make a sticky dough, then put a walnut sized ball into a silicone cupcake case, 3 cases on a plate and microwave for a minute and a half.  If you read the recipe on the website, you'll see that timings etc with microwaves can vary a lot so experimenting is best.

My first effort - not as neat as those on the Pink Whisk but I thought they looked okay

The second batch burnt in the microwave!

Hmmmm. But having seen how they still looked almost normal on top - I lifted up the first batch. Oh dear

So I reduced the baking time to 1 minute for the last batch (and also tried the rippled version) and they came out much better. Not amazing taste-wise, but quick and fun and would be great if you're just going to crumble the meringue up for a pudding or cake.

Banoffi Pie Cupcakes

When I was looking for the Currant and Oat biscuits recipe on Time to Cook Online, I came across a recipe for Banoffi Pie Cupcakes. These looked wonderful and I love banoffi pie - the real stuff with real bananas, none of this banana mousse rubbish!

I remember having banoffi pie for the first time at a friend's house and she had made it from scratch (including boiling the tin of condensed milk for 4 hours to make the toffee layer) - it was so delicious, and that's the recipe I use now. Although I have to admit I tend to cheat and use the tinned caramel now rather than boil up a tin myself. This is partly because I am lazy (!) and partly because when I used to make it myself I would always end up letting the pan boil dry and then ruin the pan. I had a 'boiling condensed milk pan' at home for a good while (in a similar way to my Mum who had a 'making playdough' pan - which in a previous life was the 'boiling handkerchiefs pan')!

My other banoffi pie memory is making one for the Gilbert & Sullivan picnic at the end of my third year at university. Each year the society went to Monsal Head in Derbyshire and walked down to Monsal Dale for a picnic and game of rounders. The year I decided to make (and bring in its full flan dish!) a banoffi pie for the picnic it absolutely poured down! Trying to negotiate the walk in the rain trying not to drop the pie was quite an effort. I think there's a picture of me around somewhere sitting with it under an umbrella, but I couldn't find it upstairs last night so I may well have imagined it (just the picture - the whole banoffi pie thing is real!)

Anyway I digress - I have linked the recipe above because it's quite long and complicated. The cakes are great, but aren't something you can whip up in half an hour!

So my comments on the recipe - firstly I cheated on the caramel filling and used a tinned one although I did make the pastry myself so I don't feel too bad! I do think that I left it a bit thick after rolling though and it was not as golden coloured when it came out of the oven as I would have liked. Fortunately it was cooked enough to avoid a soggy bottom - and thus I hope to escape the wrath of Mary Berry! The banana cake was nice and easy to make although I had enough batter left over for another batch of small muffins, so I don't know whether Mary-Anne just has a massive muffin tin or mine is particularly small! Also I think I overfilled a little - say hello to the most inconsistently-sized cupcakes you've ever seen!!!

I used an apple corer and a piping bag to get the caramel in and that worked brilliantly. I managed to overwhip my cream, which wasn't a total disaster, but I wasn't at all sure about the coffee in it. I may have added too much but found it too strong - fortunately I had some cream left and whipped it up in the same bowl I used for the coffee cream and there was just enough flavour to make the new batch slightly coffeey but not too much.

I had a bit of trouble drizzling the extra caramel, and I had to steal banana chips from the granola (because I forgot to buy them!)...but I was happy with the finished product...

I fancy trying them as a slightly more simple cake - not using pastry, and then just having plain cream and possibly chocolate sprinkles on top? But the caramel in the middle stays!!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Wiggle your bottom, shake and grin - it's J J J J J J J J J J J J ......

Another fun day today - caught the tram into Nottingham where we started by buying Zachary some new shoes (see yesterday's post...), then had lunch at Divine coffee shop then over to the ice arena for Justin & Friends. A marvellous show featuring the Pied Piper of children's TV - Mr Justin Fletcher (and other CBeebies favourites). Enjoyed muchly by all four of us - there was lots of shouting, singing and dancing. Bring on next year's show!

Thursday, April 11, 2013


It's the Easter holidays and Leigh and I both have this week off work. We took the boys to the Lego Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre yesterday (which was fab by the way!) and today I had wanted to go to the National Forest Adventure Farm. But, the weather has not been great, a lot of the good stuff looked to be outside, and the farm is fairly expensive. I was worried we would go and not enjoy it because of the weather and then feel it was a waste of time and cash. So after a bit (ahem. A lot) of indecision, we decided to leave the farm until the weather gets better and we went to Conkers instead.

We went to Conkers a few years ago when I was pregnant with Leo, and really enjoyed it. Despite the cool weather it was great this time too. We started off inside and the boys ran amok in the Enchanted Forest play area - oh and Zachary lost a shoe. He claims that an older boy took it off his foot as he was climbing down a rope section, but we could not find it anywhere! Fortunately we keep a pair of wellies for the boys permanently in the car - much relief, but a trip to Clarks tomorrow now!

We also followed the Easter egg trail, walked the Barefoot Walk (which was very interesting but the water sections were far too cold today - will be very much better in the summer!) and got lost in the fairy labyrinth. And there was much more that we didn't do.

Despite the inauspicious start with the shoe, we've bought an annual pass to make us go and appreciate it more over the summer.

You learn something new every day....

We were playing a game called Castle Panic last night and the monster tokens in it look like this

which prompted a discussion as to what that shape might be called. We discussed triangle and trigon, but then it appears that those are the names for 3-sided polygons - which are themselves shapes with straight edges. Not that. But a quick bit of googling revealed that this is a reuleaux triangle - the link explains the fancy maths behind it. Apparently the shape is also an answer to the question of what shape a manhole cover could be made so that it doesn't fall down the hole (other than a circle). There are other reuleaux shapes - the game has made use of these for the mega boss monsters. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Currant and Oat Biscuits

I think these might possibly be our favourite home-made biscuits at the moment - thank you Mary-Ann! They are straightforward to put together and although the quantity of the mix means you have to cook them in 2 batches (and therefore total cooking time is about 40 minutes) they are well worth making as they are totally delicious. Yum yum yum. I thought I had already blogged about these as several batches have been made to date, but couldn't find it so if I'm repeating myself then I apologise.

Currant and Oat biscuits

225g plain flour
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1.5tsp cinnamon
3/4tsp salt
170g unsalted butter – softened
100g soft brown sugar
200g Demerera sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
180g rolled oats (we have used both porridge oats and Quakers whole rolled oats and can't honestly say I noticed any difference)
100g currants
  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Sift the flour, soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  • Cream together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.
  • Add the egg and the vanilla and mix in thoroughly.
  • Gradually stir in the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time.
  • Finally, fold in the oats, followed by the currants. NB: The mixture will be very stiff by the end.
  • Divide the mixture into balls the size of a walnut, about a heaped tablespoon, and roll smooth.
  • Lay the balls of dough onto baking sheets and press down slightly, flattening them. Leave about 5cm between biscuits to allow for spreading. This quantity of mixture will be enough for four baking sheets, so bake them in 2 batches of 2.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, until crisp and golden. Turn the baking sheets around 180 degrees after ten minutes, to ensure even colouring. Don’t over-bake, or the cooled biscuits will be extremely hard.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Store in an airtight container (if they make it that far!)

Possibly the best meeting of minds in the world?

I was in Tesco with the boys last week and saw a DVD I knew I had to buy. The greatest meeting of crime-fighters the world has ever seen. Possibly. Scooby Doo meets Batman - rock on!

(PS Leigh told me he'd seen it and dismissed it several times - I have now forced him to watch it. I think you can guess the quality of the film from the title...)

Cooking with Hugo

About a year ago, a couple of Mums in Long Eaton started up Cooking with Hugo and it is brilliant! It is a cooking session for 2-4 year olds (plus parents!) and if you've seen CBeebies 'I Can Cook,' it essentially follows a similar kind of pattern but in real time. I would highly recommend it and I've been to it several times with both the boys - the only drawback now being that the weekly session is on a day when I am at work. But there was a special Easter session last Friday and I made sure I booked the boys in.

So the format of the session goes something like this - we all meet in the kitchen to find out what we're baking that day. Hugo (the friendly dinosaur) comes in, shows us what he has bought this week for ingredients and we try to guess what we're making. The children then have their own individual work station which has previously been set up with the ingredients and equipment they need for their baking. And then we get baking! Once the mixing etc has been done, the things are baked while the children have a snack and drink (the snack is usually something a bit different made by the ladies who run the class - we've had white chocolate strawberry mice in the past!) and a game if there's time, and then we review what we've done and the children can take their masterpieces home.

It must involve a huge amount of work for Teresa and Louise who run the sessions as it's now incredibly popular, and rightly so. My boys love it - the baking is at just the right level for the children and of course the parents are on hand to lend a hand. The Easter special bake was simnel cakes...

...here's Zachary's (note the double layer of marzipan on the 'chick' cake of which he was very rproud and laid claim to the instant they were made!)

...and Leo's

And the children made their own snack this time too - marshmallow bunnies! The photo of Leo's didn't come out properly, but here's Zachary's bunny

He only just lasted the length of time it took me to take the photo!

Why didn't I come up with this idea????!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Little Moreton Hall

We have been members of the National Trust for a few years now although one place we haven't been to before is Little Moreton Hall in Congleton. A short while ago, one of our uni friends became the Estate Manager there, so we had a look, discovered it was only an hour away up the A50 and visited today with some other friends.

It was a really great visit. You can see most of the house in this photo (there's a bit more round to the right of the photo, including a chapel) and it was very accurately described by our friends' little boy as being 'wibbly wobbly!' It really looks as though one strong gust of wind might be the end of it! There were lots of rooms to explore, games and dressing up in some of them and guided tours. The garden again is not huge but there's a beautiful hedged garden called the Knot Garden there and lots of space for picnicking in the summer.

And being National Trust and a bank holiday, there was lots for children to do as well - Cadburys Easter Trail to earn a chocolate egg (Zachary searching for the bunnies!),

free face painting (and quality face-painting too!), 

and egg and spoon races!

What you can't see from this photo is that shortly after it was taken and the race started, Leo (on the left in the blue jacket) instead of running forwards, for some reason headed directly right across Edward's (brown coat, middle) path! Small collision and loss of eggs, but Edward then nearly went on to win (although I suspect that his egg may have been 'slightly' held on after the first crash!).

And we added our own activity - hill rolling!

And there was the usual tea room, restaurant (small but perfectly formed and excellent service) and gift shop - the boys insisted on having ice lollies on the way home. Really? It was perishing!!! Still, they didn't seem to mind!

What a great day - well worth another visit when the weather's a bit more spring-like and it was great to catch up with our friend - although she was being kept very busy!

(This is the view from the Long Gallery looking over the main yard)