Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Mini-beast safari at Wandlebury

Today, in the rain, the girls and I cycled to Wandlebury for one of their summer holiday ranger led sessions (pre-bookable and cost £6.50 per child). They enjoyed pond-dipping, where tadpoles, a newt, snails, whirly-gig beetles and black fly lava where amongst the finds; woodland hunting where we looked under logs and amongst leaf litter to find various beetles, spiders, centipedes etc; ending with a quick swoop amongst the grassland (although it was a bit cold and damp to find much!)

The girls had a good time, although E was little bored at the end!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A walk round Byron's Pool

Today we walked around Bryon's Pool. It is a small pleasant circular walk through woodland and next to the River Cam. It really isn’t far - the girls walked all the way round without complaining! There is plenty of car park spaces and picnic tables next to the car park (although if you walk to the furthest point there is a bench there which would be a far nicer spot). We cycled from out house and there are cycle racks there too!

Byron's Pool is named after the poet who is reputed to have swum there. His homesick poem of 1912 evokes the river:
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
—"The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", Collected Poems (1916)

The girls enjoyed walking next to the river where there are little jetties (presumably used for fishing) and looking for evidence of river life! It would be great to go back and pond dip there!  There are also lots of benches to sit down as you walk around and a bridge for pooh sticks! Obviously care has to be taken - there were lots of nettles, open water and a weir!

 I love these little treasure troves in Cambridge - it felt like we were miles from anywhere (although there was some traffic noise from the M11).

Monday, 29 July 2013

Homemade modeling clay

WE made this dough today and used it to make models from Alice in Wonderland. It is a very soft and nice to work with.


2 cups bicarb of soda
(you can order large boxes from Amazon)
1 cup corn flour
1 1/2 cups cold water


Put 2 cups of bicarb of soda, 1 cup of cornflour and 1 1/2 cups of cold water in a pan. Stir the ingredients until you have a smooth consistency.

Place the pan over the hob over a medium heat. Stir the mixture until it boils.

Continue stirring to remove any lumps and cook until it has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Keep a close watch on the pan and stir every few minutes to avoid burning the mixture.

Allow it to cool.
Then sprinkle a little cornflour on a clean kitchen surface and knead the mixture until pliable, then use as desired.

 Knead in more corn starch, a little at a time, as needed if the dough is too "wet".  Keeping a damp kitchen towel over the extra dough, it will keep for some time.  It could be coloured with food colouring at the cooking stage too!

We have left it on the window to dry and then we will paint our models! 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

M&M Cookie Bars

G made these for I to take on her guide camp. There were really yummy! Soft, thick, squidgy and gooey in the middle!

265g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
170g,butter  melted and cooled slightly
200g brown sugar
110g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsps vanilla extract
1 large bag M&M's, divided

Preheat the oven to 160oc.

 Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with foil.

2. Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside. Whisk the melted butter and sugars in a large bowl until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in half of the M&M's and turn the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with the spatula. Sprinkle remaining M&M's on top and press in slightly.

3. Bake until the top of the bars is light golden brown, slightly firm to the touch, and edges start pulling away from sides of pan, 24-28 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Cut into squares and serve.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Alice in the rain

This evening we went to Wimpole Hall to watch an outdoor production of Alice - An Extraordinary Adventure - it combined both her adventures in wonderland and through the looking glass and was performed by "Heartbreak Productions" a touring outdoor theatre company.   We got there about an hour before the start (you have to get there early to be able to get a good place to put your rug), during which the 4 actors in character as Alice and her family entertained the children in the audience, playing tennis and telling jokes etc. 
I loved the play! The actors delivered their lines with enthusiasm, there was humour aimed at both children and adults and the story was well delivered. The White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee and a baby that turns into a Peppa pig were all intertwined fabulously!  It rained for the second half and the cast were drenched but kept going with vigour and even got some rain-fueled jokes in!   

Well worth trying to catch if they are touring near to you! 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Wonka Fun - Ice-cream sundaes - science and eating!

Charlie wanted Willy Wonka  to invent a way of making chocolate ice cream so that it stays cold for hours and hours without being in the refrigerator ... sadly we couldn't do that but we did have fun watching it melt and then making sundaes.

We put equal scoops of ice-cream (talking about fair test) in the garden in bright sunlight and the shade, on the kitchen worktop and in the fridge and watched which was the quickest to melt. P enjoyed feeling the melted ice-cream and I and G enjoyed checking which was the fastest. We also talked about why it melted.

Then after this the girls enjoyed using a variety of toppings and make yummy sundaes in the style of Willy Wonka with sprinkles, marshmallows, chocolate sauce, wafers, squirty cream, glace cherries and strawberries.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Wonka fun - playdough and popcakes

Today we started off making sweets with Playdough - we made custard, cocoa, mint and Ribena smelling dough. An idea blatantly plagiarised from the imagination tree. The girls enjoyed rolling, squashing and smelling!  They found sequins, buttons, lollypop sticks and cupcases to play with. P enjoyed practising her knife skills to cut her rolls into sweets and G enjoyed coming up with names for them.

Then we made cake pops - i am sure Mr Wonka would be a fan!  First G made a chocolate Victoria Sponge. In the Kitchen Aid we mixed together 175b unsalted butter until it was soft. then we added 175g caster sugar and mixed that up. Then we added 3 eggs followed by 150g self-raising flour and 25g cocoa. This was baked in a square tin for about 25 minutes at 180oC

 Then the girls enjoyed breaking up the cooled cake into a bowl and combining it with frosting (about 60g butter and 160g icing sugar and 30g cocoa powder)
 Then we rolled them into balls (very messy) and added lollypop sticks dipped in white chocolate and pushed them in about half way. They were left in the freezer for an hour
 Then we melted 200g white chocolate with a tablespoon of oil and dipped the balls in. Remember to tap off the excess chocolate. The girls added sprinkled.

Wipple museum and Romeo and Juliette

Yesterday I took the girls to the Wipple museum which is a fascinating
collection of scientific instruments and models, dating from the Middle Ages to the present. I thought the girls might find it boring but they loved going round trying to work out what things were for. It covers all aspects of science from medical instruments, to astrolabes, to compasses and pocket watches. On the second floor is a recreation of a Victorian Parlour with reproduction toys of that era which the girls loved playing with and dressing up.  Sadly it is open Monday to Friday 12.30-4.30 but it is well worth a visit.

Then I, G and myself went to watch Romeo and Juliette as part of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. They are held outdoors in college gardens which adds to the grandeur of the event. It was brilliant - we laughed and G had a tear in her eye at the end!  Well worth going to.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Hunting for the golden ticket

As you know in order to visit Wonka's factory you need to find a golden ticket and as my girls love a treasure hunt I thought I would combine the two!

I wrapped chocolate bars in golden tissue paper with a print out of a theatre tickets and hid them in the garden!

Wonka sweet making - marshmallows

Today we made marshmallows.

You need:
2 sachets of gelatine powder dissolved in 125ml hot water
2 egg whites
500g caster sugar
pink food colouring

(1) First we whisked up the egg whites until they were stiff and firm
(2) Put the sugar in a saucepan with 250 ml water. Boil and then using a sugar thermometer heat until it reaches hard ball stage (122oc). Turn off the heat
(Have a pot of hot water to put the thermometer in when you have finished with it)
(3) Pour the gelatine and food colouring into the syrup. (It boils up a little bit)
(4) Switch the food mixer on low and add the syrup/gelatine mixture to the egg whites. Leave the mixture on for about 20 minutes until the mixture goes thick and bulky (you can see a ribbon of marshmallows when you lift the beaters up)
(5) Oil a small square tin and then dust with a mixture of 1 tablespoon each of icing sugar and corn flour.
(6) Pour in the marshmallow mixture and leave to set for a couple of hours (not in the fridge though)

We also added sugar to the top!

You could also add different flavourings if you like to the mixture.

The girls like it but it is denser than shop-bought marshmallows - more like the inside of meringue I guess!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Chocolate River

.. well not quite but as this week we are off to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory we decided to recreate the chocolate river in the form of a fondue which the girls thought was fab!

We followed this recipe:

  • 110g sugar
  • 110ml water
  • 400g plain chocolate, broken in pieces
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • selection of fruits cut in bite-sized pieces such as apple, pineapple and strawberries and some marshmallows
  1. Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan until the sugar melts and the mixture resembles a syrup.
  2. Melt the chocolate in the microwave
  3. Stir in the golden syrup and enough sugar syrup to form a smooth sauce. (Caution: the chocolate mixture will be very hot, allow to cool a little before serving.)

    Then the children, armed with fondue forks dipped and generally made a mess and had fun!

Botanical Gardens

Today the sun was shinning but it wasn't as hot as it was forecast so we went to the Botanical Gardens.  The girls took their sketch books and enjoyed sketching flowers. Then spontaneously (complexly child-led) they made Boats to sail on the lake (they didn't sail far as it was still and the lake has no current) - all because G found a a piece of bark which she decided was boat shaped. They were fab - we can continue this with making junk model boats at home to sail down a man-made stream.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Zoo Animals with Fimo

We bought some Fimo and the girls made some zoo animals with it based on our trip to London Zoo.  They made a Lion, a monkey and an elephant (not seen at London zoo but it is a zoo animal).

Fimo is quite hard to work with as each lump you get is quite small - so each model ends up being small. Great for fine motor skills but you can also reuse it until you actually get round to cooking it in the oven. It is great because although G enjoys playing with P and her playdough she saw the Fimo as more 'grown-up'.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

London Zoo

Today, myself, G, E and P went to the zoo. We took the train from Cambridge and then walked along the canal to the zoo (it felt long and it was hot) but nice to be outside (it probably took us about 45 minutes). We had fast-track tickets for the zoo and so waked straight in through a special entrance. The zoo was busy with school parties but they moved quickly from exhibit to exhibit so there was room for the girls (and me) to get close to the enclosures.

London Zoo seems to have a programme of regeneration so every time we go there are new things. This time they have redone the tigers and the children's zoo!  They are really thinking about animal enrichment.

We spent about 5 hours at  the zoo - just when P was lagging and was fed up with animals we found the play area and a man-made play stream in the children's zoo and this revived her.

Highlights for the girls was the tiger, the Meerkats , the monkeys and the penguins.

Monday, 8 July 2013

zoo animals from nature

G made some quite amazing zoo animals from bits of plants she found in the garden. She started off by independently making the girl and then, as we are planning a zoo outing later on, I suggested she made some zoo animals.

They are quite amazing! We then looked at some work by Goldsworthy who is a British artist and sculptor who creates huge pieces of land art in the environment, using all natural objects such as pebbles, twigs, branches, pine cones, mud, leaves and petals.
We could extend this by copying some of his work to make some more abstract art.