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Sunday, 13 April 2014

April 2014 Draw With Me: Family and Miss T at Two!

All 3 of the kids got involved in this months Draw With Me with their pictures on the theme of Family.

I absolutely love 8 year old D's picture of 'mum and dad'. He often notices when we argue and he really doesn't like that, so it was really special to see him draw a picture of us two with hearts on it. It means that either he knows that mummy and daddy do truly love each other, or it is wishful thinking that we would argue less and show that we love each other more!

Nine year old J did a picture with all 5 of us in:

And Miss T who has just turned 2 did this specifically telling us who was who which daddy promptly wrote on:

Apart from Miss T's birthday cake posts here and here, and a birthday post over on our Nectar savvy blog here (please do pop by and say hi to us there!), I haven't written my usual monthly update on Miss T. So I'm going to sneak in a few things here to remember her milestones this month that she turned two:

  • She got very excited about her birthday and whenever we asked who's birthday it was she replied with 'cake!'
  • She really has so many words now that it is impossible to keep track of new ones. We love it when she comes to find us around the house calling out 'whe-ah-yoo' (where are you).
  • She had a habit of pinching the boys' toys and says 'Tinty's' and tries to keep them for herself!
  • She gets excited at the strangest things like an outing to the bank - she started saying 'bank' 'bank' and dancing around excitedly. 
  • She also does dancing and then suddenly stops when we say 'freeze'
  • She tells us to 'top it' (stop it) whenever we sing or dance.
  • She loves Poppet from Moshi Monsters and often asks to wear her Poppet dress.
  • She adores eating oat 'crackers' (Nairns and Rude health crackers are her favourites) 
  • She is generally mega adorable and cute and her brothers adore her more than ever!!!

Linking up with Draw with me:

This Mummy Loves...

Kids in the Kitchen - Iced buns AND Berry Banana Split

Miss T mixing the 'real' dough
We have been so busy with our blogging over at our Nectar Savvy blog (please do pop by and say hi to us there!) that I nearly didn't get around to joining in with my favourite linky, Raisie Bay's Kids in the Kitchen.

This week I wanted to bake something we've never baked before, Iced Buns. I used the recipe I found on the Delicious magazine website for Tear 'n' Share sticky iced buns. So there's no point replicating the recipe here as it has brilliant instructions there for making them. I'll just let you know how we got on. We used a mixer with a dough hook for the initial mixing of the dough.

Firstly, I have a confession to make. I used a little trick that I used to use when the boys were little if I needed them to be involved in the cooking but couldn't risk things going wrong. I gave Miss T some flour and water to combine into her own dough so whilst I was kneading the iced bun dough, she was kneading the separate dough which would then be discreetly disposed of.
Miss T kneading 'her' dough

I tell the boys about it now and they totally understand why I would sometimes do that and they don't hold any grudges about it - so I figured Miss T won't mind either. And her hands got just as messy as mine!

Hopefully by now, you'll know how I feel about how important it is to get kids involved in cookery and how they often get the opportunity to do 'proper' cooking, so I hope you'll forgive me for this little cheat. You see, I had to stay extra focused on the iced buns - Even then I nearly forgot about the second proving - but thankfully remembered just in time.

It is a pretty straightforward recipe and iced buns seem to have a lot less butter and sugar in than ordinary cakes, but then you need loads of icing sugar to make the icing - so perhaps not so healthy after all.

A good stage for kids to help out with would be the icing stage. You could always do it Paul Hollywood style where you dunk the top of the buns in a large bowl of icing and then smooth over with a finger. I tried to do this, but my icing was a bit runny so they've ended up a bit messy.

And just as I was feeling guilty that it was mainly me rather than the kids cooking in the kitchen this week, I found the photos of what the boys got up to just after me and Miss T made the iced buns.

They found one of D's weekend boxes which had a Banana split recipe and without even checking if we had the right ingredients, they just got started on it themselves. So they ended up having to improvise a little using a petit filous fromage frais instead of plain yogurt and using frozen berries instead of fresh, but they seemed to like the creation that they ended up with. Thankfully we did have bananas otherwise that would have been interesting - Banana split without bananas - hmm?

D makes the berry 'jus' 

'Improvising' with some ingredients

Happy with the end result! 
Linking up with:
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Saturday, 12 April 2014

How to make your own Princess Birthday Cake

It was Miss T's birthday yesterday. As someone who is rubbish at baking, I'm always on the lookout for easy birthday cakes to make. Last year we spotted the pigs in mud cake doing the rounds on facebook, so I made one for D's birthday. This year he wanted a minion so I used 2 microwave cakes made in Christmas pudding bowls for that. And here's another simple idea using a bowl shaped microwave cake; A Princess cake.

I've made this before in blue for J's third birthday when he was really into dolls and dolls houses and also made it in pink for my sister. But as I had some yellow icing left over from last months Minion cake, I thought it would also look good in yellow.

It really is a simple cake to make - I promise! It can cost around £50 to buy a cake that is similar so it is great to be able to make your own. I've re-used the same doll over the past 7 years so the only additional cost is the cake ingredients and icing.

Here it is step by step:

1. Start by making a simple 4 minute microwave cake. Full recipe for that can be found here.

2. Once the cake is completely cool you can begin to decorate it. You can always make the cake the day before. You could even make it several days before and pop it in the freezer, defrosting it ready to decorate. Place your cake onto a cake base. I re-used a circular cake base. If you need to make your own budget version just cover some thick card with foil.

3. Prepare your doll ready for the cake. I use a doll with legs removed so that I don't need to make a cake with a huge amount of height. However, you can actually buy or hire full sized cake tins if you do want to use a full height doll. Or you could stack a bowl cake on top of a regular round cake to get the height which is what I did before for the blue and pink princess cakes.
Optional: You can stack cakes if you want to get more height
To prepare the doll, you need to wrap a little clingfilm from the waist down. Then wrap some ribbon of the colour of your choice around the top half of the doll. I use a ribbon that is the same as the colour of icing for the skirt.

I also added a thin yellow ribbon to her hair. I cut out the huge clothes loops that you tend to find in ladies clothes these days and re-use them for things like this or for crafts.

4. Cover your microwave cake with jam. We used 'no-bits' strawberry jam but you could use any flavour jam you like. You could also add a layer of buttercream if you wish to (we didn't on this occasion).

5. Next colour your 'ready to roll' icing in the right colour. I found these Dr Oetker gel food colours recently that seem to work well. I used 'sunshine yellow' for this but mixed in with the white icing it comes out a lovely pastel yellow.

6. Dust your surface and a rolling pin with icing sugar to prevent the icing from sticking. Then roll out your (now coloured) ready to roll icing. Remember it is better to make it bigger than you need it as you can always cut off any excess. I used around 750g of icing for a cake this size.

7. Carefully lift the rolled out icing and place over your cake. You can use your rolling pin to help lift it over the cake. The great thing about this cake is that you don't need to be mega-neat as the dress could do with having a couple of folds in anyway.

8. Trim off any excess from around the bottom of the dress with a knife, and cut a small hole in the top of the cake ready for the doll.

9.Push your doll into the top of the cake until the clingfilmed part of the doll is pushed into the cake.

10. Now re-roll the icing that you trimmed off the dress, and using a medicine spoon cut some shapes you can use to decorate around the dolls waist to tidy the gap where the doll goes into the cake.

11. Finally, decorate the dress with either small flowers or hearts using a small icing cutter. We made little white flowers for the dress.

If you wish to, you could also pipe some white icing around the bottom of the dress. (I had run out of white icing in an icing tube so we missed out that stage this time).

You should now have a pretty princess party cake made at budget price with minimum effort. Seeing the cake in yellow made me think it would also make a nice cake for Easter too!
A pretty princess cake
Remember that during April and May 2014, we're also blogging over at Nectar Savvy family with our top budgeting tips - please do pop by and say hello over there! 


linking up with Vevivos' #PoCoLo:
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and also Savouring The Season as I reckon this cake would make a lovely Easter cake in pastel spring colours:


Book review: The Killing, by David Hewson

Reviewed by Richard Beesley.

When I was lucky enough to win the Movember Food Fight with Pan Macmillan, the lovely people at Pan Macmillan saw how much the whole family love books and sent some over to us to review. Here's the first, which I have read and reviewed.
Based on the screenplay of the same name by Søren Sveistrup, this is a re-imagining of the crime thriller based in Copenhagen. Detective Sarah Lund is entering her last days as a detective in Copenhagen before leaving the country for a new life with her partner in Sweden. But as the book opens with the horrific murder of 19 year old student Nanna Birk Larsen, Sarah Lund's plans change as she becomes engrossed, obsessed even, with the case and determined to solve the crime.

Set against a backdrop of elections for The Lord Mayor of the city, political pressure helps steer the investigation both towards and away from key players. As Lund's own life changes, we see the different facets of each character emerge, and find out about the hidden worlds they each inhabit, at times longing for one or two the darkest characters to be the guilty party but then disappointed when they were released without charge. 

This is a gritty novel, and although the descriptions of the crime itself are deliberately not graphic, there is more than enough information to fill your mind and create every scene of the book in your head. Having had the pleasure of visiting Copenhagen last year, I really enjoyed spotting the places we visited, albeit in very different circumstances.

Brilliantly paced, and expertly written, this is a gripping read. With twists, turns and revelations throughout, there is no shortage of leads for Lund and her colleagues to follow. As is typical of good detective tales, I genuinely didn't know who was guilty and, when I thought I'd got it all figured out, I was proven wrong again! The final twist was completely unexpected but, I felt, necessary. 

I haven't seen the screenplay that this book is based upon, but it did not matter. This is a standalone novel, and well worth reading.

The Killing, by David Hewson is published by Pan Macmillan and available to purchase from their website.

Disclosure: Pan Macmillan sent me this book to keep for the purposes of review. All opinions are our own.
Remember that during April and May 2014, we're also blogging over at Nectar Savvy family with our top budgeting tips - please do pop by and say hello over there! 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

4 minute microwave cake

Barbie Cake

Today I finished decorating Miss T's birthday cake for her 2nd birthday tomorrow. As I was fed up of having to search for my scrap of paper with the microwave cake recipe each time I want to bake a cake, I thought I would type it up here so I could find it easily in future!

Before I had kids I had NEVER baked a cake and the thought of baking one terrified me. For J's first birthday I discovered that everyone else seemed to know how to make cakes and there seemed to be this expectation that you should bake a cake for your child's birthday. I felt a failure.

For his second birthday, I still couldn't bake a cake but I did decorate a pre-iced cake with a teddy bears picnic design spending hours each evening modelling bears, mini cakes, and sandwiches out of icing. It did actually look impressive but alas I still hadn't baked the actual cake.

Then I came across a microwave cake recipe and so long as I could come up with a design that was bowl shaped I could make a cake and decorate it myself. So I managed to make elephants, bears, tomliboo bushes, octopus, turtle and barbie cakes using my microwave cake (I will one day try to dig out photos from some of these to share but don't have a clue where they are right now).

The huge advantage of a microwave cake is that it is mega quick to cook. This one cooks in 4 minutes. The other advantage is that you can use any microwaveable bowl to cook it in. Silicone cake 'tins' also seem to work well. Just remember to NEVER use metal in the microwave!

125g butter or margarine (we often use Stork)
125g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp baking powder

1. Grease the microwaveable bowl or dish you are using.

2. Beat together the butter/marg and sugar. You can do this by hand or use a mixer. Then add the eggs and vanilla essence and a little of the flour.

3. Fold in the rest of the self-raising flour and baking powder. Again you can do this by hand or on the slow setting of the mixer.

4. Pour into the dish/bowl and microwave for 4 minutes on full power. Leave it to cool (for at least 10 minutes) before turning out. Just like with a regular cake, you can always use a skewer to check if it is cooked through. If the skewer comes out clean, it is cooked. If it comes out with cake mixture on it, you'll need to cook for a little bit longer (I would say in 30 second bursts and then check so that you don't burn the cake).

They don't look like the most impressive of cakes but once decorated, you can get them to look good!

A useful tip a friend told me related to baking cakes is that an egg is around 2ozs. So generally you need equal amounts of flour, butter, sugar and egg so if you can increase / decrease the amount you make once you know an egg is equivalent to 2oz. The 125g used in this recipe is the equivalent of 4oz, hence 2 eggs required.

Britmums Book Club Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

My copy of quiet with dozens of bookmarks tucked in
This book has been my favourite of the books that I've read so far as part of the Britmums BookClub and yet bizarrely it has taken me the longest to read. I have wanted to fully absorb everything in it as it is packed full of truths that will resonate with introverts everywhere.

I started to add little pieces of paper as bookmarks to each page I found particularly relevant or interesting and before long the whole book was packed full of my little bookmarks. So then I made a load of notes on the book of things I wanted to remember myself and was going to type those up as my review but then I found it had so much from the book written up that it would give too much away and this is such an amazing book that you really do need to read it yourself.

So here is my attempt to summarise some of the lessons I learnt from the book. Cain starts by explaining the rise of the extrovert and how extrovert qualities have been seen as superior and desired qualities in our culture right through from school, university and into the workplace. Even churches aren't immune to the desire for charismatic extroverted leadership as Cain looks at Rick Warren's 22,000 strong Saddleback church as a case study.

The book carries warnings about how placing too much importance on listening to extroverts without giving due attention to introverts who are often deeper thinkers and more likely to consider the risks involved, can lead to disaster in the workplace. It also explains how greater levels of creativity and productivity can come from working alone. I wonder if the future will take heed of this warning and re-organise office spaces and schools away from 'open-plan-group-work-style' to formats more suitable for working individually.

Interestingly despite the evidence presented for individual working as a catalyst for innovation, Cain also looks at how online brainstorming could be an exception to this rule if it is carried out anonymously and free from the fear of social judgement.

The nature versus nurture debate is explored thoroughly with an explanation of high-sensitivity and low-sensitivity in relation to the introversion / extroversion debate. This also resonated strongly with me as I was a child who had always been described as 'conscientious' and so I found the connections between introversion, conscience, and sensitivity fascinating.

The chapter entitled 'Soft Power' looks at cultural differences and shows that 'in a gentle way, you can shake the world' (Mahatma Gandhi quoted by Cain, p.181).

A whole wealth of further aspects are discussed - one of which really helped me. Cain gives us permission to have the freedom to be ourselves without the guilt of saying no to attending that big party or busy coffee morning. It has helped me to accept myself more with less guilt and to recognise the downtime I need when I do spend a lot of time in highly social situations.

Towards the end of the book, Cain gives strategies for helping introverted children reach their full potential whilst valuing who they truly are. The words 'He's recoiling from novelty or overstimulation, not from human contact' (p.248) really resonated with me. This sentence could have been written for our son with Aspergers.

So often children on the autistic spectrum are described as not wanting social contact. What we've found is that J likes social contact as much as anyone else does - he loves to play with friends and he loves to be around other people. What he struggles with is the social cues of getting that contact right and the overstimulation and sensory overload that being around others can present.

When done at his pace at a level that's right for him, things work out brilliantly. He has even coped remarkably well with birthday parties but sadly due to people's assumptions about how he will be, party invites are few and far between.

That brings me to another observation I made when reading the book. Many of the traits described in the book as introversion are pretty close to traits described for those with ASD / Aspergers. I've also heard it described that because ASD is a spectrum condition that it can be hard to know where to draw the line between a diagnosis of Aspergers and simply being 'quirky' or 'eccentric'. I would add 'Introversion' to that too.

Whilst the book already covers vast amounts of research and fascinating insights, I would love to find out more about the relationship between Aspergers and introversion. As I mentioned, many of the traits already seem to overlap and I found myself wondering whether where I had assumed I had aspie traits myself, whether they are more likely to be introversion.

I suppose in some ways it doesn't matter because the important thing is to accept and embrace that we are all different whatever the reason behind that difference is. Crucially Cain recognises that there is a need for both introverts and extroverts in the world. It is simply that the extrovert ideal has become considered as the 'best' way for so long in our society and culture that it is time to redress that imbalance.

See the Britmums Book Club linky for Quiet to read everyone else's reviews.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the book for the purposes of review. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Respect The Pasta Challenge Two: Doing it Right

As I'm sure you will remember ASK Italian have asked us to take part in a series of challenges as part of their campaign to remind people that pasta is not just a back-up ingredient stuck in our store cupboards. Instead it can be an exciting idea for a meal if you #RespectThePasta.

For our first challenge, we got to 'Respect The Cook' by having a fantastic Mothers Day meal out at our local ASK Italian restaurant. This time we are 'Doing it Right' by learning to cook pasta properly using top tips from chef Theo Randall.
Miss T loves pasta!
Theo Randall has worked closely with ASK Italian on their menu and, having a passion for Italian food, has come up with some important Do's and Don't's to remember when cooking pasta:
We put these rules into practice when we cooked a 'Meatloaf and Spaghetti' meal for dinner. We love spaghetti but I wanted to try something other than Spaghetti bolognaise. A friend had cooked this dish recently and it tasted great so I wanted to have a go at cooking it myself.
Meatloaf and spaghetti
I've used the recipe she told me, which I think is a Jamie Oliver one as it uses Feta in it like this one, but its not exactly the same so I will list the ingredients we used.

I made two meatloafs so that I could keep one for dinner the next day and just cook another batch of pasta to go with it. So these quantities are enough to make two meatloafs.

Ingredients -
for the meatloaf:
500g pork mince
400g beef mince
2 tablespoons dried oregano
3-4 slices bread
60g feta
2 eggs

for the sauce:
2 onions
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
2 packs of 500g passata
a little olive oil

you will also need:
60g grated cheddar
6-7 small carrots (cut into quarters)
Spaghetti - enough for how many people there are.
Salad to serve

I followed the method described on the Jamie Oliver recipe but added the beef in as well as the pork mince. So in summary; I started the carrots cooking in a preheated oven (200C).

Then made the meatloaf by mixing together all the meatloaf ingredients and shaping it. I had a helper for this part!

The meatloaf then goes into the oven in the same tray as the carrots to cook. As I was making two meatloafs I increased the cooking time to 40-45 minutes for this stage.

The sauce is made by frying the chopped onion, chopped garlic and dried oregano in a little olive oil, then adding the passata. Once the meatloaf has had its initial 40 minutes cooking time, add the sauce around it, top with the cheddar and pop back in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes.

'don't use a colander - instead take the pasta out the water' 
Whilst it is having its final 10 minutes, cook the spaghetti, making sure you remember the #RespectThePasta Rules! So plenty of salted boiling water and cooking it for 2 minutes less than the pack instructions so for our spaghetti that meant 8 minutes cooking time.

Doing it right! #RespectThePasta
I lifted the spaghetti out of the cooking water using a spoon and fork (rather than draining it in a colander) and I saved a little of the pasta cooking water to add to the sauce, which I stirred into the sauce just before serving.
'Coat the pasta in sauce - don't drown it'

I was really pleased with how this recipe turned out as it was the first time I had ever cooked meatloaf. Spaghetti made the perfect accompaniment to it and tasted all the better for 'doing it right'.

Stay tuned for more challenges in the coming weeks!

Disclosure: We have been asked by ASK Italian to take part in a series of #RespectThePasta challenges. No payment has been received for this post and all opinions are our own. 

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