Monday, 30 December 2013

Moseley Bog

Today we went for a walk in Moseley Bog (Birmingham). Tolkien lived nearby, as a child, and acknowledged the site as inspiration for the ancient forests in his books The hobbit and The Lord of the Ring.
The site is tiny with limited facilities; there is some parking, a board walk, lots of mud and no loos!  We walked round the site 3 times - as you can P found a puddle to splash in and a stream to paddle in.  It is certainly not worth a special day out but if you are in the area it really is a place of unexpected tranquillity in the city! 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

On the 24th of December my lovely children decorated the Christmas Tree (and me, I and G went to watch a Christmas Carol)

We don't put up the tree until today so today the girls enjoyed decorating it!  Then the older ones and me went to watch a Christmas Carol at the Rep. The production was fantastic - just the right mix of scary, sad and exciting.  It was fairly true to the original book and the songs were clever and witty; the girls singing them on the bus on the way home. It brought home to the message of poverty of his time and the need to be generous at Christmas time! 

Monday, 23 December 2013

On the 23rd of December my lovely children made stainned glass window biscuits

Today we made stainned glass window biscuits.  You need
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 2 tsp ground giner
  • 100g butter
  • 175g sofr brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • packet wrapped fruit-flavoured boiled sweets in different colours

    1. Preheat the oven to 180C/
    2. For the biscuits, mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and ginger together in a bowl.
    3. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.
    4. In another bowl, beat together the egg and golden syrup, then pour this mixture into the flour mixture and mix to make a smooth dough, kneading lightly with your hands.
    5. Crush the sweets in their wrappers using a rolling pin.
    6. Roll the dough out on a floured work surface to about 0.5cm/¼in thick, then cut into shapes using a selection of Christmas-themed cookie cutters. Transfer the biscuits to baking sheets lined with baking paper.
    7. Cut out shapes in the centre of each biscuit, making sure you leave a good edge all around the biscuit. Completely fill the hole in each biscuit with crushed boiled sweets.
    8.  Bake the biscuits in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until golden-brown.

      Also here is a lovely blog with a give away for toys - wish I had seen this before I did my shopping:

Sunday, 22 December 2013

On the 22nd December my lovely children found Father Christmas

Today we went to hunt Father Christmas at Avoncroft Musuem near Bromsgrove.  You need to prebook and turn up at your allotted time. The pretence was Father Christmas' sleigh had broken down and we had to find him to give him a spare part. We walked around the site and went in to several buildings and met several "friends" of Father Christmas. Finally we found him and he gave the girls small gifts to keep them coming till the big day!  Then we went for mince pies and mulled wine. Everyone had fun - helped by the characters around the site! 

Saturday, 21 December 2013

On the 21st December my lovely children made angels

We bought styrofoam bodies from Hobbycraft, wrapped them in tights and made a dress from a cone of blue card.  We then cut card wings and stuck them on and used tinsel for hair.

Friday, 20 December 2013

On the 20th December my lovely children made some baubles

From Baker Ross we bought some plain plastic baubles and some glass pens and the girls enjoyed decorating baubles to go on the tree.  The pens are like paint and G snowman was a disappointent as the blue scarf bled into the white body - still live and learn!  They also had some snowflake stickers to add,  They all had lots of fun and I can't wait to see them on the tree. 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

On the 19th December my lovely children (and me) made a gingerbread house

Following Mary Berry's recipe for gingerbread which (borrowed from the bbc website which is):
  • 375g unsalted butter
  • 300g dark muscovado sugar
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 900g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
We melted the butter, sugar and syrup together in a pan. Then we put the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger together into a large bowl and made a well in the centre. We poured in the melted butter mixture, stirred it in and, when cool enough to handle, kneaded it into a stiff dough. 

We then put it in our Lakeland silicon mould and baked it for 10-12 minutes at 180oc.

Then we left it cool and made royal icing (we used 1 packed of powered egg white whisked with 3 tablespoons warm water and when mixed in we added another 7 and whisked again). Then we added about 500g sugar (I added until it was stiff) and then I added a squeeze of lemon juice).

We then used it to over a cake board and to join the 4 sides and the roof (I always hate this and find as soon as my back it turned a side has collapsed or a roof half slid off) - we left it to dry over night.

Then it was decorated by the girls. Chocolate buttons for roof tiles, mini marshmallows, smarties and jelly tots to cover joins and the tree and licorice allsorts to be a path.  All stuck on with the icing

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

On the 18th December my lovely children went to the Museum of Cambridge

Today we visited the Museum of Cambridge which is amazingly cheap to visit especially as one child is free with every adult and under 5s are free!  The museum was decorated festively with Christmas trees in each room and information about how Christmas was celebrated through the ages through the ages. They have so much stuff without any of the Christmas things - I need to go back without children. Highlights for the girls were the dressing up in most of the upstairs rooms and Poppy got to carry a case with paper, crayons and other treasures which she loved.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

On the 17th December my lovely children made candles

Much to G disappointment, as she envisioned melting and cooling, the girls made lovely Beewax candles (bought as a kit from here). We simply rolled them up and they look really effective - even P could manage it. We kept some but plan to give some away as presents.  It was really run, easy and the feel of the wax was lovely.

Monday, 16 December 2013

On the 16th day of Christmas my lovely children made Christmas cards

The girls made Christmas cards to post to people today. First we bought blank cards from Sainsburys and then:
P made this one by finger printing different colours - I drew the string.

E made hers by cutting out felt Christmas trees (she had a template and G helped her with some of the trees) and sticking sequins on.

G made hers by using selotape to cover bits of the card (to look like silver birch trees) and then colour washing the card with blue water colour paint. She then sprinkled glitter over the wet paint.

Now to write them ....

On the 15th day of Christmas E had a birthday suprise

Today we went to Snowzone at Milton Keynes as E wanted to go skiing for her birthday (sadly budget didn't stretch to the Alps). She had a lesson and my husband and G went out on the main slope. They all enjoyed skiing on real snow and whilst the slope was not steep it was not too busy and they all had plenty of room on the slope.

Post skiing we went sledging and Tim and G went on the ice slide.  We all fun and left exhusted.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

On the 14th day of Christmas E had a birthday

Today is E's birthday. Her favourite colour is black, her favourite animal is a monkey, her favourite pudding is apple crumble and she is not sure what she wants to be when she is older. We are having fish and chips for tea tonight at her request!

We went to the Corn Exchange to see What the Ladybird Heard for E's birthday treat.   I enjoyed it very much and they had closely followed the illustrations to help make the set. The cast were very talented, all playing musical instruments to add to the backing tracks. The songs were great and the audience joined in in some which of course was great fun. I also liked how they did the ladybird - that was clever.  However, in order to pad out the story they had planted 2 actors in the audience and then pretended to look for actors for their play and this was a bit lost of my 2! However, the girls enjoyed it and came out singing the songs!

Friday, 13 December 2013

On the 13th Day of Christmas my lovely children made St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter)

December 13 is celebrated as St. Lucia day in Scandinavia. St. Lucia is an Italian saint who has been "adopted" by the Swedes and Norwegians. She gave her dowry to the poor causing her fiancee to disown her. She was blinded and burned but the flames didn't touch her so she was stabbed in the heart.  It is said that she appeared during a famine in Sweden in the middle ages carrying food to the farmers across Lake Vännern.)

These saffron buns are called lussekatt. At first they had nothing to do with celebrating Saint Lucia, but were just buns coloured with saffron to scare away the devil, (Lucifer). And they do not look like cats, right? Lucifer often came to bad children in Germany in the shape of a cat… In 1600 the lussekatt came to Sweden but first around 1800 people started celebrating St. Lucia and associated the bun with the celebration. 

To make these buns you need:
1/2 gram saffron threads
8 fluid ounces of milk
500g plain flour
  60g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
 1 tablespoon instant yeast
4 fluid ounces quark or sour cream (room temperature)
 45g soft butter
egg wash
raisins (optional)

Crush the saffron threads with a mortar and pestle. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan just to the simmer and add the saffron. Stir it, turn off the heat and let it cool until it’s just warm (about body temperature).

Meanwhile, stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Pour the milk mixture and the quark or sour cream and stir to combine it a bit. Add the flour steadily and stir until a dough forms. Knead the dough for about 7 minutes until it’s very elastic and comes away from the sides of the bowl. Then add the soft butter about a tablespoon at a time until it’s all incorporated.

Turn the dough out into a large bowl and let it rise about 40 minutes or until about doubled in size. Flour a work surface, and cut the dough into 15 (or so) pieces. Roll them out into snakes about 14 inches long. Flatten the snakes slightly with a pin, then roll the strips inward from each end into an “S” shape. Lay them on parchment lined sheets to prove for about another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, set your oven racks in the lower half of the oven and preheat to 200oC. Paint them with egg wash and dot them with raisins. Bake 8-12 minutes until golden.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

On the 11th day of Christmas my lovely girls made tin foil chrismtas trees

Today the girls made trees by cutting round a cardboard triangle and covering it with tinfoil. They then stuck on squares of tissue paper on and sequins. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

On the 10th day of Christmas my lovely girls made Orange Pomanders

We poked cloves into oranges - they smell fantastically Christmassy.G made a pattern, I wrote Chritmas and P just poked.

Monday, 9 December 2013

On the 9th day of Christmas my lovely girls put up the nativity scene

Today the girls worked together and put up the playmobile nativity scene. It was lovely to hear them discussing who all the parts were and what part of the Christmas story they were in.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Vanillebrezeln (Vanilla pretzels)

  • 170g butter
  • 113g caster sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 Tb vanilla
  • 3 Tb milk
  • 333g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp milk
  •  Pearl Sugar
We creamed the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then, we slowly added the egg yolks, vanilla and milk before adding the remaining dry ingredients and mixed in on low speed until a stiff dough formed. We then chilled for 30 minutes.

Then the dough was made into pretzels: We rolled pieces of the dough into a rope about seven inches long and the width of a thick pencil. The ends were crossed over into a pretzel shape, and laid onto a parchment-covered baking sheet We then brushed with one egg yolk thinned with a teaspoon of milk and sprinkled with pearl sugar.  They were then baked for 12 to 14 minutes at 190C until golden brown.

On the 8th day of Christmas my lovely children went to Ickworth

Today we visited Ickworth for their Christmas Sparkle event. You did have to pay extra (even as NT members) for the children but they did get to make sweets (they made coconut ice, make a mini-chocolate cake look like a Christmas pudding, and turned fondant icing into a snowman). Then we went into the craft room where there was a large choice of paper based activities such making a paper basket (for the sweets), a rocking robin, a Rudolf and a cracker. Then we went to see Father Christmas himself - he was fab. He told a story about a time he lost his glasses, answered questions and gave a gift. It is not a private audience but in a large group my children are less intimidated him.  Then we went for a short walk around the estate itself. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

On the Sixth Day of advent my lovely children went to ROH to see the Nutcracker

Today I took the girls to London to see the Nutcracker at the ROH (which,although not a ballet expert, was much better than last year when we went to see the ENB's version).  It was packed and although I was worried about our seats (as they were relatively cheap we had a great view).  The good thing about booking on the ROH's website is you can see the view from your seats although it is hard to tell how small everything will be! 

Photo: Waiting for the ballet                                                        

And this was the view we had whilst eating our ice-creams (and I found out the ROH does free cups of water during the interval)

Photo: Not a bad place for an ice cream

Thursday, 5 December 2013

On the fifth day of advent my lovely children made: Speculatius

These biscuits are traditional in both Holland and Germany. They are called Speculatius,  due to the Latin, speculator, or bishop, for St. Nikolas.

Tomorrow (the 6th) is St. Nicholas day.  Saint Nicholas is the saint of mariners and also of bankers, pawnbrokers, scholars, and thieves but he is especially the saint of children, and is better as Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Pelznickel.  A legend tells of the saint's kindness to three daughters of a poor nobleman. They were about to be sold into slavery as they had no dowry but Saint Nicholas dropped a bag of gold down the chimney three nights in a row. This is said to explain why Santa Claus drops gifts for children down the chimney.

To make the biscuits you need:
  • 125g butter
  • 125g sugar
  • 75g almonds, finely ground
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 eggs
  • 225g plain flour
We beat the butter and sugar together until just combined, and then we added the almonds and spices. We added the egg. Then the flour was mixed in and the mixture left to chill for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.

Traditionally, Speculatius are made by pressing the dough into a mould (which I bought from Amazon), but you can also roll the dough to 1/2 cm thick and cut them out with cookie cutters. If using a mould, grind an additional 150 g almonds and mix with flour. Dust a small piece of dough with the flour-nut mix and press into the mould.
Bake for about 10 minutes (depending on thickness) until brown at the edges.

On the fourth day of advent my children made jamjar lanterns

 First we painted the surface of the glass jar with PVA glue and then we could layer tissue paper on top.  When the layers were finished, we painted another coat of glue over the top to make it slightly glossy.  We also added sequins.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

on the third day of advent my lovely children made some bird food

We bought a block of suet, melted in the microwave and stirred in some ready mixed bird food (bought on the market), some peanuts and some raisins.  Then we put it empty yoghurt pots with a hole in the bottom and some string.  I left it to set in the fridge and shall hang it up in the garden in the morning.  The best ratio for this recipe is one part fat to two parts dry mixture.

Monday, 2 December 2013

on the second day of advent my lovely children wrote some letters to Father Christmas

I printed out some paper from Activity Village and ...

E wrote:
 G wrote:

 and P wrote (with a little help from G):

Sunday, 1 December 2013

on the first day of advent my lovely children made ....a plateful of Pepperkacker

We used this recipie:

150g butter
100ml. golden syrup
200ml. caster sugar
100ml. whipping  cream
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp cinnamon
Zest of a lemon
1 tsp baking powder
450g plain flour

Melt the butter, syrup and sugar in a pan and cool. Stir in the cream. Sift together the flour and spices and stir into the liquid mixture to form a dough. Chill in the fridge overnight. Roll out to a thickness of 3 mm, cut with a cookie cutter and bake at 175 C for 10 minutes, or until golden.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Winter Lights

Today we went to see the Winter Lights at Anglesey Abbey. It was fab ... the trees and plants were beautifully light up. We ate hot food and drank mulled wine (or hot chocolate) whilst we were entertained by some shadow dancers telling the story of Peter and the Wolf. Then we carried on walking past the beautifully still river with stunning reflections to a bubble machine and Jazz band.  I really enjoyed myself but sadly tickets have all sold out for this year - I can't wait for next year.