A Mothers Ramblings: January 2012

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Pure Love - Wordless Wednesday

This was the first time that Top Ender met Baby Chicken. I think it shows pure love.

Top Ender and Chicken



Youngs Seafood and Fish Balls - Fish Is The Dish

Just before Christmas Youngs Seafood and the lovely people behind Fish Is The Dish arranged to send some frozen fish fillets, fish cakes, fish fingers, fish pie and easy cook fish pieces to fill up my freezer. Normally the only fish that I have in my freezer are a few Salmon fillets, some gluten free fish fingers that Daddy takes to work and some prawns (I don't think I ever buy prawns yet they are always in the freezer, I think my Cats put them there) so this was a new experience for me. If I am making something with fish I will either use the fish that is sent or will buy something from a fishmonger to use, just because I'm not used to having fish you can cook from frozen.

Youngs Fish Pieces

I quickly figured out the fish pieces are great to have in the freezer as they can quickly be turned into something tasty and filling as they don't have to be defrosted. Jo at Mummys Knee suggested that I fry some with sweet chilli sauce they would be perfect for a late night snack and wouldn't you know it but she was right! Big Boy and I have been making fish balls (method a bit further down) for lunch and I've had enough of the fish pieces to make some more Pippa made up fish dishes some of which haven't been as successful as I would have liked but I will keep trying as the fish pieces are £2.99 so affordable on my budget.

Pippa's Tomato Fish Stew made from Youngs Fish Pieces

The fish fillets are good to keep for the nights when Daddy isn't here and we are after a quick last minute dinner, they are also great to use when Top Ender and I have the late night Friday munchies as Daddy just throws them in the oven and they are cooked and ready for Tops and I to share. Daddy of course can't eat them as they aren't gluten free, so it's a nice treat for me and Tops. Big Boy prefers the fish cakes to the fish fillets and only in part because of the Jamie Oliver adverts on TV where Jamie gets frozen into a big lump of ice!

The fish fingers were a favourite of course and were made in to fish finger sandwiches and our much debated over fish finger pizza. The hands down winners though were the fish pies which BB and Tops split between them. I was surprised as I didn't think that the children would eat Pollock as they aren't too keen on it as they think it tastes too strong but apparently not if it has a creamy sauce.

Jamie Oliver Fish Pies

The fish cakes are really lovely. I found them to be quite big and they were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside which is better than fish cakes I have brought in the past and ones that I have made too. I'm going to be adding them to my shopping lists in the future and persuade Daddy to do a few more late nights at work...

Right Fish Balls. So BB and I love fish and potato and we don't always want to eat them separate or with fish as a topping on a jacket potato and so we came up with the idea of combining them, rather like I do with rice (fish in rice balls is great I'll blog about it they are easy to make). Now our potato fish balls are dead simple you take one of the frozen fish chunks and a handful of cold mashed potato which you have stirred some Tomato Ketchup and you wrap the potato in a circle around the fish. BB loves this as he says it is like play-doh. I then roll them in breadcrumbs and gently fry them for just a couple of minutes to give some colour before putting them into the oven to bake. I tend to do them at gas mark 4 for 10-15 minutes, just to make sure that they are cooked.

I guess I will buying more frozen fish to keep in my freezer for last minute fish dishes!

Cod Bobotie - Fish Is The Dish!

One of the first things I said to the team behind Fish is The Dish was that I didn't have the confidence to cook different fish dishes. I knew how to make oven baked fish and I knew how to make fish pie and that was all I made. I didn't have the confidence to buy fresh fish, I didn't have the confidence to buy different types of  fish and I might have filleted a whole Salmon once but it certainly wasn't a skill I was ready to add to my Food CV. Once in Scotland and given a master class in preparing fish, selecting fish, the different types of fish and winning the fish filleting competition between the bloggers at the event I had more confidence but I was still waiting for that break through that meant I had confidence with cooking fish.

This week we had Cod Bobotie. It's an egg based dish and so because of Daddy's recently discovered allergy to eggs it was just for Top Ender, Big Boy and I. I was stuck with what to make for Daddy and was considering making him something non-fish related when suddenly I thought why? I can cook fish, I know how to cook fish I can cook fish for him so that we can all share a meal together. And so after jumping on to the Fish is the dish website for some tips on when the fish would be cooked I served the children and I Cod Bobotie and Daddy got some dry pan fried Cod. I think that was my break through moment.

Cod Bobotie

For some reason the Cod Bobotie that I cooked didn't work out all that well and there was a lot of moisture underneath the solid top part of the dish. I think after having made it again that this moisture the first time was a combination of needing to be cooked longer, the fish being quite moist and my general crapness at cooking something new. When I made it again I drew the moisture out of the fish by placing the fish onto a piece of folded kitchen roll and just baked it a little higher and a little longer. It tasted great but as the children didn't like it and Daddy can't eat it I probably won't be making it again.

The good thing that I got from this is that I can cook fish, that I can comfortably decide to make an alternative fish dish and as the fish comes in individual portions it's not that hard to make something different for everyone... not that I'm planning on doing that too often!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Tell Me About Your Packed Lunch

Hello Everyone!

A conversation over the weekend has my creative lunch idea juices flowing, but I need your help.

Can you please let me know of restrictions that the School your child goes to puts on what goes in your children's lunch boxes?

Are you allowed chocolate biscuits or Crisps?

Do you have to have a portion of fruit or vegetables?

Do they limit the amount of dairy?

Are they not allowed things like peanuts because of other children's allergies?

Sandwich Sushi

I'd also really love to know how long your child gets to eat lunch and what sort of provisions are made for storing packed lunches until lunch time.

Do they have a cold area to store them in or an area they can heat up food?

What kind of lunch box do you use?

Do you use cold packs or Thermos packs?

A Rainbow Lunch

And the last area that I would really love to have some feedback on is you (and other grown ups) and the packed lunch.

How long do you spend making a packed lunch?

Do you make packed lunches the night before or in the morning before School?

Do you make a packed lunch for more than one person and if so who? Eg you or your partner?

Do you make yourself a packed lunch and do you have the same as your children?

Do you pack leftovers for anyone?


Feel free to leave a comment here about anything you think relevant or you can email me or talk to me on Twitter if you wish!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cake Batter Rainbow Rice Krispies Treats

We make a lot of Rice Crispy Treats, sometimes we add chocolate and make them into Nest Cakes, sometimes I melt a load of Marshmallows and sometimes if I have left over bits of biscuits and raisins I will add those in with some chocolate and have our very own version of Tiffin. When on Pinterest I saw Cake Batter Rice Krispies Treats I was really excited because it looked delicious. Only problem being it was in American measurements and so I had to use my special skills to turn it back in to English measurements and of course I couldn't not add my own special touches!

Cake Batter Rainbow Rice Crispy Treats

Pippa's English Measurements Cake Batter Rainbow Rice Krispies Treats Recipe

3 Tablespoons Butter
280g Marshmallows (I used mini ones and medium sized ones as that's what I had)
4oz Sponge Cake Mix
100g Rice Krispies
50g Rainbow Drops (I may have over sprinkled and used closer to 60g)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Cake Sprinkles

Method

Grease a 9inch Square Pan and Mix the Rice Krispies and Rainbow Drops.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat and add the marshmallows. 

Let the marshmallows melt and add in the cake mix a spoonful or two at the time. 

Add the Vanilla Extract and then mix in the Rice Krispies and Rainbow Drops until it is all covered in the melted butter/marshmallow/vanilla mix

Sprinkle in some sprinkles and mix it around before pressing into the baking tray and scattering some more sprinkles on top. I found it was better to leave more for the top than sprinkling in as they seemed to melt. Maybe English Sprinkles aren't as good as American ones?!

Leave the mixture and tray to set for at least thirty minutes. I put mine in the fridge, but I don't think that you have to do that.

Once set cut into squares and store in an air tight container with heavy noisy things on top so that everyone will know you are sneaking a piece because they are really addictive and you might not be able to stop at one.

English Measurements Cake Batter Rainbow Rice Crispy Treats Recipe

The original recipe that I adapted mine from is at Gimme Some Oven.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Baby Shoe Company - Cuteez Shoes

Just a couple of weeks ago my sister and I were online together and talking about Baby Shoes. My sister sometimes rivals The Shoe Blogger for her love of shoes and all of her daughters are developing the same trait and we thought that Chicken (her newest baby) would be no different. Just a couple of days later and I was offered some Baby shoes from The Baby Shoe Company to review and as my Sister loves shoes and I had some plans about ditching the Nappy Cake I thought that some of the Leather Cuteez shoes would be just the thing to welcome the new baby.

This weekend we finally got our chance to go and visit with my Sister and her family and to meet Chicken, who was born last Wednesday evening.

Welcome to the World Chicken!

Chicken is adorable and seeing as she pooped in her nappy when Daddy was holding her, I take it to mean that she likes me best...

Everyone loved the various gifts I had for the family (My sister love her "Wine", her partner loved his "Pint" and the eldest three Cousins loved the personalised mugs I *made* for them) and my sister adored the shoes that had been sent for us to review. They are the smallest size made for Babies between 0 and 6 months and so next to Chicken look enormous but are oh so sweet!

Cuteez Leather Baby Shoes

My sister loved that they were only £8.99 and were made with a Suede sole and leather uppers. Soft Flexible Leather shoes are good for babies feet as whilst keeping them warm they also allow the feet to "breathe". I loved that they come in a lot of different styles so I can help Chicken to have more shoes than Imelda Marcos.

We were send two pairs of Cuteez Baby Shoes from The Baby Shoe Company.

Helping your Children with social and emotional skills

Before Daddy and I made the choice that Big Boy wasn't going to go to a Nursery before he started School we weighed up the pro's and cons of the situation. We knew that one of the hardest things for us to do wasn't helping him develop his reading skills or math skills or his creative skills but it was going to be helping him develop his social and emotional skills to the same level as his peers because he wasn't going to have as much interaction with people his age as he would if he went to a Nursery or playgroup. A lot of what I am talking about in the rest of this post comes from the research I made into the subject when Top Ender was small and Daddy and I wanted to help her to develop into a well rounded little girl... she is pretty well rounded so I think that they work!

I love paper plates for a variety of reasons and paper plates with drawn on emotions are great fun to play with. I sat at work one lunch time and drew as many faces as I could, there was happy, sad, angry, tired. ill, confused, worried, amused, and shy amongst others. The plates could be used as flash cards with the emotion having to be named before we moved on to the next one, they were used so that we too could pull the same face and we used them as springboards to talk about events that made us feel a certain emotion. We have found that these paper plates helped prepare for big events, and when our children have been unable to articulate how they are feeling they have been able to use the faces to show us what they can't say.

Being aware of different emotions is great, as it is part of having self awareness. Knowing that you are an individual, that you have feelings and needs is something which children learn in different stages and it is something which I feel children do need help with. For small babies playing with a mirror where they can see themselves and learn that it isn't another baby is the simplest step, but for toddlers it is harder as they identify themselves as part of a unit (and quite rightly too as they are part of a family). Having some responsibility for themselves (even if it is collecting their shoes) helps them to realise that they are a unit on their own too.

Big Boy doing the dishes

It's very hard to have empathy for others when you are small. You might know that another child is upset or angry because you recognise the emotions but being able to identify with other people and what they are feeling is something which takes great skill. I'm sure we all know some adults who still haven't mastered the skill! The best way I have found is by talking about feelings and sharing them, I tell Top Ender and Big Boy when I am upset and why if it is relevant. They know when I am angry and I explain why and I expect them to to the same too and I am often heard asking them to "use their words" to let me know how they are feeling.

The talking about feelings leads nicely on to managing feelings. I expect it is true of all children that at times they can't contain the frustration or anger they are experiencing and will try to lash out as they feel instinctively that this will help them feel better. I find if the child can voice what they are feeling (or use the paper plates to show what they are feeling) and can explain what has happened to make them feel this that they are a step closer to managing these feelings.

All children love simple motivation, it might be a race to see who can get dressed the quickest or who can put the most toys away in a period of time and these are great as they help the child to understand that there is a "reward" and find that motivation is everywhere. Self motivation however is something that you can't teach and will just have to encourage!

Big Boy with a reward

Social skills come under a lot of headers, for example understanding another person's feelings and trying to comfort them is a social skill as is talking to others, playing with others and just being around other people. Whilst we decided not to take Big Boy to a Nursery or play school, we haven't denied him the chance to socialise and interact with other children around his age taking him to plenty of parks, story sessions and activity groups. Whilst you can't force a child to interact with others, being supportive and keeping taking them to the situations will allow them to feel comfortable and to interact freely.

Every child develops a sense of self-reliance and independence best when the adults in their lives give them the support and encouragement that they need. One to one interaction is key for children to realise that they can do things, it might be that you have several children and you give them each an individual chore and help each child one at a time. A praising word said at this time helps their confidence to sky-rocket and this leads to the independence we know they need in the world.

I have found that one of the best ways to allow my children to develop independence is to allow them to take on responsibility, but none to far ahead of what they are ready for. If this means that Big Boy goes to the fridge to pour a drink himself and then has to find a cloth to clean up a spill then so be it, it is only a little spilt juice not the end of the world. It is the giving of the permission that makes the child realise that you are there to support them, that they are able to take a little more control of their life and that they are growing up that is important.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

This Is My Son

Big Boy has changed so much in the last few weeks I keep having to look at him to check if he is the same child. Suddenly all the baby parts of him seem to have vanished and I have a little boy ready for School standing in front of me. I know of course that he is going to be going to school, I am trying to make the most of our time together with a Starting School To Do list but it just seems that it is coming round so quickly.

Big Boy

Big Boy has a wicked sense of humour and always has. If something in the past tickled him you would know about it with his giggle being heard loud and clear Now his sense of humour has developed to be more sophisticated. Yes, he still tells the same rubbish made up Knock Knock jokes and they still delight him and of course even the remotest suggestion of slapstick has him rolling in the aisle but he has taken to reciting whole passages of films or cartoons that he has enjoyed and will often come out with the most obscure quotes or details. In a few years I think that he might be quite the film trivia buff!

Then there are the video games that are making me feel that Big Boy has morphed into a teenager when I wasn't looking. He likes to play on Top Enders DS, on the Wii, on the Xbox, on the PC or even on my ipod touch. As long as it is a game it doesn't matter to him! There are fights over how long we let him play, when he can play, who will play with him and even over how the game is played. I can't get over how good he is at the games he plays, he knows the key combinations to press and where to find hidden power ups and when his character dies you can often hear him exclaim "Oh Man!"

Big Boy

Big Boy keeps growing, his hair keeps growing. I mean I know that it is supposed to, but it feels like we get his hair cut and then I blink and he is suddenly sporting a hairstyle longer than his sisters! He is huge now, a proper little boy running round getting taller by the second. I love looking at him, he looks so tall and grown up but if I look for too long he stops what he is doing and questions "What are you looking at? Why are you staring at me?"

I love how even though he is getting older and more independent he is still very loving and wants to kiss and cuddle and sit with me or Daddy or Tops. He loves to kiss Top Ender goodbye before she goes to School in the morning and he can't wait to go back to school in the evening to pick her up. As soon as Daddy comes home in the evening Big Boy will jump up to kiss him hello and normally he will start to tell him the most important information of the day, what he had for lunch or how long he played on his computer game. You know all the important stuff.

Big Boy

This is my boy. I love him so much and I can't wait to see what he gets up to next.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Forget Nappy Cakes

With my newest niece being born just a few days ago, I wanted to give my Sister and her partner a gift that and decided on some Baby Clothes. I wanted to do some form of Nappy cake and as I had already checked with my Sister what size clothes they were lacking in (I tend not to buy for the first couple of stages if I can help it as everyone does and you get overwhelmed with clothes that get grown out of so quickly!) and brought the usual assortment of vests, socks, sleep suits and a couple of outfits that I just couldn't resist.

How to make them look attractive as a gift though? A plain standard nappy cake is all well and good but how about something more in sync with the recipients? How about this;

Baby Clothes in shape of Alcoholic Drinks - Forget Nappy Cakes!

A glass of white wine for my sister and a pint of beer for my brother in law. I just used tissue paper to cover the inside of the glasses and slotted a vest inside. With the wine glass there was enough "wine" left over to fold over the top and for the beer glass a frothy head covered the clothes inside.

I think they look great and I'm sure that they will go down well too!

A Gluten Free Cheese and Mustard Loaf

Since discovering that Daddy was a celiac we have pretty much led a Gluten free life here at A Mothers Ramblings. It's not a bad life once you work out that the normal rules of cooking don't apply and that with a bit of adaptation you can make almost anything using gluten free flour... everything apart from a decent loaf of bread that is. You can buy wheat free bread and for the most part they are okay, but you know how bread is when you bite in to it? Light and fluffy and crunchy and delicate and yummy all at the same time? Yeah, Gluten free bread is nothing like that.

As part of the Morphy Richards House Proud Innovators I was sent a Premium Plus Stainless Steel Breadmaker to try and reading through the instruction booklet I found that there was a few Gluten free breads and cakes. As all of the ingredients were things that I normally have in my gluten free pantry I knew I could make something easily but it wasn't until Daddy's birthday that I had the opportunity to get everything together. I decided to make a Cheese and Mustard Loaf and updated my progress on Facebook and Twitter.

Gluten Free dough in the Morphy Richards Premium Plus Stainless Steel Breadmaker

The bread dough smelt amazing the mustard and cheese wasn't over powering but it did permeate the Kitchen and when it was cooling I was trying really hard not to have a test slice... until I was asked by so many people about how it tasted. I sneaked a crust whilst it was still warm and accidentally smothered it in butter. It was lovely. It was light and fluffy and yummy and all at the same time. That isn't something I can say happens often with the Gluten free bread I eat.

The Cheese and Mustard Gluten Free Loaf

The real test of course happened later when Daddy, my SMIL and my FIL all had a piece of the bread (again there was butter involved) all of them agreed that the bread was nice. My FIL said that it was edible which is a step up from all the other gluten free breads he has eaten in the past and my SMIL agreed that it tasted lovely.

Gluten Free Cheese and Mustard

And now for all those who are asking for the recipe, because this is in the Morphy Richards Bread Maker booklet I don't know how it will work with other bread makers or making it by hand. This is the link to the recipe booklet and the recipe is page 23!

The bread maker is easy to use, it produces a nice sized loaf and with it's different levels of crust browning there looks to be a setting that should please everyone. Of course there are a lot more different types of bread and cakes that can be made if you aren't on a restricted gluten free diet and I've set the bread maker to produce a loaf of bread to finish just as I get up today. I'll let you know how it tastes later today!

The bread maker costs £139.99 and so far I think it's great.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

McCain's Frozen Jacket Potatoes - A Review

It's no secret that I love jacket potatoes, I make them in my slow cooker, in the oven, in the microwave and even on the BBQ. I will serve them with casserole or sausages or a salad or even fish and if I am ever feeling down then this is a great comfort food and served with butter and a bit of salt and pepper it cheers me right up. The only problem is for a truly great jacket potato you have to know that you are going to want it at least an hour in advance. Cooking it slowly in the oven or slow cooker or even on a BBQ is the only way to achieve that crispy skin whilst getting the soft fluffy middle.

McCain (yes the McCain of the Daddy or chips fame) asked me last week if they could send me a new product that has just been launched; Frozen Oven Baked Jacket Potatoes which are cooked from frozen and ready in about five minutes. I figured what the heck, I might as well try them!

Big Boy and I decided to have them for lunch. I took the potatoes out of the freezer, placed them on a microwave plate and then cooked them together for eight minutes. After waiting for two minutes I put one on another plate, cut the potato a little deeper, added some butter with a bit of pepper and served.

McCains Jacket Potato

The inside was fluffy and soft and well cooked but the skin was microwaved potato skin, it was soft and not crispy. The potato had the colour of a oven baked jacket potato but I couldn't help feel disappointed, I mean what is the point in looking like a crispy potato if it isn't? I could create this myself by batch baking Jacket Potatoes and freezing them to microwave at a later date and it would probably cost as much for a 5kg bag of potatoes as it did for two McCain ones.

There are instructions for cooking the potatoes in the oven, but it takes around 45minutes and that is how long I do my potatoes after part baking them in the microwave first. I guess if you don't have an oven that these would be an acceptable alternative (My Sister didn't have an oven for over a year and I didn't whilst at University) but I'm sorry McCain I really really wanted to like these but I think that they need some more product development.

I was sent a frozen delivery of the McCain Jacket Potatoes which retail at £1.49 for a pack of two according to the pack I was sent but I believe they are £1.29 really (I got an early pack!) and it's £1.99 for a pack of four.

Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake - Wordless Wednesday

A slice of Gluten Free, Egg Free, Dairy Free Cake
Gluten-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free chocolate cake

375 grams gluten-free self-raising flour
400 grams brown sugar
500 ml cold water
125 ml vegetable oil
65 grams cocoa powder/drinking chocolate
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon xantham gum
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla essence

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well combined and smooth. Pour into greased baking pan(s). Bake 60-65 minutes, or until a skewer in the middle comes out clean. I found it starts as a very runny mixture so bake in the centre of the oven to allow for the longer bake time needed, rather than on the top shelf.

Makes two 7" round cakes. I kept one as a round iced cake, and cut the other one into "brownie" shapes. If you only want one cake, just halve the ingredients.

Chocolate Icing (Egg and Gluten Free, but NOT Dairy Free)

120 grams butter
400 grams icing sugar
50 grams cocoa powder/drinking chocolate
80 mls milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Combine the butter, cocoa powder and icing sugar using an electric mixer. Mix in the milk and the vanilla essence. Allow your cakes to cool fully before spreading the icing on.



Monday, 16 January 2012

Family Fun At The Library

Here in Milton Keynes we are spoilt for Libraries as there are so many that we have access too. I love going to any of the local libraries and taking Top Ender and/or Big Boy as I think that they are a great place to go as a family. I love that we can go and sit and read for free, that we can find books that we think we might like to read and borrow them for free and in our area we can even use PC's to access the internet for free too.

We tend to go every couple of weeks on a Friday evening to what I think of as the "main" library. Daddy and the children head off to the Children's section whilst I return the books and have a quick look at the seasonal books on display and head off to find a few books that I might like to have a read of. I then find my family in the Children's section where they are normally surrounded by a pile of books that Daddy has to read to them and a pile of books that they wish to borrow. I then read some more books to Top Ender and Big Boy (and sometimes other children who decide a story is a story no matter who is reading it) whilst Daddy has a look round.

As a family trip out it doesn't seem all that exciting compared to a trip to a theme park or a walk around a lake but it really is magical when you think about what you can do and get at a library. You can build a love of books and reading without having to buy a single book. You can read about anything that takes your interest, teach yourself a new skill, discover new recipes, learn about the past and that is just for starters!

Our Library cards

Big Boy and I went to the library today and spent a good hour with me reading books to him. We selected a few more and borrowed them on Big Boy's own library card (we ticked that one off on our Things to do before starting school a while ago but forgot to blog about it!) before we got the bus home (I had also got some books out so the bag was really heavy). It was the perfect start to the day and will provide the perfect end as we cuddle up to read a bedtime story together. I don't think most families can ask for a better way to have fun than that.

I am curious though as to what libraries are like in other areas, are the libraries near you good or bad? Do you wish you could change anything about them or are they perfect as they are?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Christmas Equals Snow - Big Boy Giggles

Big Boy was looking at DVD's in WH Smiths with Daddy whilst Top Ender and I were looking at note cards, when Big Boy found a Pingu DVD.

"This is a Christmas DVD Daddy!" said Big Boy who is still sure Christmas comes every month.
"How do you know that?" asked Daddy
"It has snow on the cover!" Big Boy answered looking at Daddy with disbelief

Big Boy making Snow Angels

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Menu For A Dinner Party I Am Never Going To Have

Reading cooking books is great fun and I do it quite a lot. Recently Daddy suggested that when I was clearing out a lot of books from the book shelf I might consider clearing out some of my cooking books. The evil stare I gave him made him realise I was not parting with them for anybody! When I read cookbooks I come up with Menus for dinner parties I am never going to have and it is a bit of fun to work out what the main course is and to work out how I would make the meal, who I would invite and if it was Come Dine With Me what the sarcastic voice over would say about me.

The lovely people at Morphy Richards saw my post on how much I love my slow cooker (and how I had discovered that you can make Jacket Potatoes in a slow cooker a revelation of epic proportions in this house) and so they sent me out The Ultimate Slow Cooker Cookbook. Which was handy as out of all the cook books I own, I don't have a slow cooker cookbook! I took the book to bed with me and read all the different recipes and was starting to come up with some great plans for a dinner party that I would never host when I saw the Beef with Black Peppers in Black Bean Sauce recipe. I love this dish and that I was going to make it.
Beef and Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce
Chinese Beef and Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce done in my Slower Cooker.
I teamed it with rice noodles (we can't eat egg noodles seeing as how Daddy is now allergic to egg as well as being a Coeliac) and some home fried Prawn Crackers and it was delicious. So if anyone wants to come round for an imaginary dinner party now you know what your main course is going to be.

I was sent a cookbook by Morphy Richards, I didn't ask for it and they hoped I would like it. I did.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Fun Family Cakes

Posting about the Cat bread this morning, made me think about the last time we ate something cat shaped as a family. Any time Daddy, Top Ender, Big Boy or I are in London we try to go to the Japan Centre. It is by far my favourite store and I could spend hours standing around having fun looking at the different products that the shop sells, buying bits for the bento lunches I make for Top Ender and Big Boy and trying to work out if I need another bottle of Soy Sauce or packet of noodles and why it is so hard to teach yourself to read Japanese.

The last time we went to the store we brought some character "cakes" for a late afternoon snack. We chose Hello Kitty and Totoro cakes (they are about the size of a large doughnut) and we ate them sitting on the sofa in our pyjamas after a long, but fun, train journey home.

Hello Kitty

Totoro

My plan is to try and make some breads that we can make look like other favourite characters in the future. Perfect for family fun as we try to create the right shapes, eat the disasters and watch lots of cartoons for inspiration!

A Starling In My Window - The Gallery

The other day Top Ender, Big Boy and I took my Mum out to look at buying some new curtains. Before we went to look at the curtains though we had a sneaky fast food lunch and as we sat in the car to eat it (Big Boy was asleep) we had a little visitor who I think wanted to join in with our meal.

A Starling on my Wing Mirror

A Starling on my Wing Mirror

Cat Bread - Wordless Wednesday

When Daddy made his lunch the other morning, he found that his Genius bread was cat shaped...

Cat Shaped Bread

Looks like my creative lunches are rubbing off everyone and everything!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

You Can Thank Me For The Lack Of Snow

It's typical isn't it? Over the last eight years where I live, there has been snow in January (I know it's eight years because I was at home with a two week old baby and everyone was stuck where they were when the snow fell and that baby has just turned Eight). This year I wanted to be prepared and I brought Sledges and a snow shovel before Christmas so that the now traditional weather change wouldn't catch me out. I even have a new flask, thick socks and Snow boots that Hi-Tec sent me (The St. Moritz 200 in beige and cream)

My New Snow boots from Hi-Tec

I've wore them to parents evening (Top Ender's Teacher approved of them). There was no snow.

I've worn them for a walk in the woods with the family. There was no snow.

I wore them on the beach and I was the only one who wasn't cold but still there was no snow.

I have even used them to hold down a huge piece of brown paper so I could draw the snow man that is now living in our Living Room window, but still there is no snow.

So if you haven't had snow this winter you can thank me and my new boots, my new shovel and my new sledges. I think I might buy a new umbrella and Wellies for Spring so it doesn't rain too much and I'm sure if I book a Summer Holiday to get away for some sun there will be a heat wave here in the UK...

Just in case it wasn't clear Hi-Tec sent me some boots, a flask and some socks.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Animal Planet Magazine

Top Ender is becoming a voracious reader. I'm not surprised as I can quite easily read a book in a day given half a chance! It was with great delight that Top Ender received a copy of the Animal Planet magazine to review as it combines two of her favourite things... animals and reading.
Animal Planet Logo

The magazine was interesting, it had a few articles in that Tops was fascinated by and she kept coming to find me to tell me tidbits of information that she had read and thought needed to be shared. There were a few things to do that were crafty but Tops wasn't interested in doing them and even the free gift from the front of the magazine was soon discarded. I think that the magazine was good as it kept Tops amused and she was interested in what she was reading and of course it had the added benefit of her learning something too but it wasn't right for her.

We had been offered a six month subscription if we liked the magazine, but Top Ender has decided to decline the offer as she thinks that she will get bored of the magazine and there isn't anything in the magazine that she couldn't find out on the internet or in books. Of course some children will love the magazine and they will enjoy taking part in the activities in the magazine. You can get a subscription via the Animal Planet Magazine website and it is a good magazine, it just wasn't right for Top Ender.

Just to be totally clear we received the magazine for free and were offered a subscription for six months which we haven't taken up.

What You Missed If You Don't Live With Me

Hello Everyone!

Sorry I've not been around for the last week or so, but since the start of the New Year I have been in a bit of a funk. I think it was brought on by me being me and on top of that being ill, but the good news is it has passed and so the blogging resumes! I have so much that I wanted to talk about or wanted to share and so I thought a little bit of a catch up was in order and so here it is!

In December I was sent a huge parcel of toys. Really it was huge, it took up most of my stairs.
Toys, toys and more toys

In it there was Mission Earth, Wild Science for Girls, Children's World Map Puzzleball, Schleich animal pack, Morbs, Sylvanian Families Family, Fireman Sam Fire engine, Zhu Zhu Princess, RastaMouse, 50th Anniversary Etch a Sketch, Club Penguin Puffles & Penguins and a Mould and Paint Christmas set. I did what every good friend does and gave it all away to people in the School Playground or to Top Ender's class teacher for use in her classroom. I thought that you all wouldn't mind that I didn't run it as a competition as I didn't have enough money to cover the postage to send to the winners. If you want to send me money that is fine however...

Helping your Children with developing Creativity and Imagination skills

When Top Ender was young she had set ways in which she played and explored the world and whilst her verbal skills were very advanced, I wanted to help her to develop her creative and imaginative side so that she could explore the world in other ways. As every parent knows the want to help your children develop their skills as much as possible is deeply rooted, we want to make sure that our children have the same opportunities (and more) that we did. We want to pass on our knowledge and with things such as Reading and Maths Skills but I think that helping our Children with developing Creativity and Imagination skills isn't something that we think of as being able to be taught... but they can be!

I of course don't mean that you can teach your child to be Mozart (well maybe you can, but I think that a lot of talent like that is within a person to start with) but you can help them to develop skills that will help them make the most of their own natural talents and enjoy things of their own making. It's important that we do help these skills develop as in the future when children are learning problem solving they look at the problem using their creative and imaginative side and then can then solve the issue, and maybe even create a new solution in the process. Most of the ways in which you help develop the creative and imaginative side of children are things that everyone can do at home.

Play with blocks and beads. We love blocks because you can build a city, a house, a theme park, a robot, a tree, a castle, a car, a plane, a helicopter, a school, a computer, a bed, a climbing frame... and with beads you can make necklaces, bracelets, pictures basically anything that your heart desires! There are also added benefits of blocks and beads helping teach maths skills (sizes and shapes), helping develop fine motor skills and in the case of my two also help to increase co-operation as they learn to work together to build the scene they are after.

Stringing Beads

Play and make Music together. We are always singing or listening to music here at A Mothers Ramblings, we dance to music, we pretend to be animals to music, we learn to count in French or memorise our times tables. This is great because whilst it is developing the creativity of music and laying down the basics of musical composition it also helps develop other skills and improves the memory!

Books Reading creates a world for your child to be drawn into. It doesn't matter if they are story books, or non fiction both will get your children thinking about things outside of the life they lead. You can look at pictures and create stories from the scenes you can see or even write your own stories as Daddy and Top Ender do together. Even sitting together and telling each other stories is great, the story cubes that I reviewed in the past are perfect for younger family members who might need some help in coming up with plot lines.

Jigsaw puzzles are about using your mind to work out how something goes together, you probably don't even realise that you think about the shapes and how they fit together any more because it is second nature, but watch a child and you will see them turn jigsaw pieces this way and that way to see if they can make something work.

Board games are so plentiful these days, we have a number that require you to act out or create items, or to feel that you are part of another world. This is good for starting imagination as Children can take what they have learnt in the board game and expand upon it.

Word association games or games like Scrabble or Bananagrams are something that we all play a lot. Finding words associated with each other no matter how tenuous the link is great because it helps children to think outside of the box and other word games help develop spelling skills too.

Magnetic Letters

Computer games and TV aren't as bad as people may think in my opinion. Some television shows help to allow the child more situations to develop their own stories from. Big Boy for It might be that they act out a TV show but give it a better ending or that a computer game gives them an idea for a real life game. As with everything moderation is key.

Art is great, not just looking at art and making up stories, or recreating the piece yourself, but making art and going through the process to come up with something which means something to the Artist. I am always amazed at the stories that Big Boy and Top Ender tell me that they have painted. And remember even if what they have created is more modern art in it's approach, as long as it pleases them then they are developing the creative and imaginative skills they will need.

Creative thinking about objects, it's how new inventions are come up with. If you child has an idea then work it out with them make it with them, let them see the process from start to finish. Would something in your home work better with a minor adaptation?

Imagination games such as cloud watching (where you can see if you can find shapes in the clouds that remind you of something like a Rabbit riding a motorcycle) or where you talk to each other in Simmish (or Gibberish and you have to work out what the other is saying from tone, gestures etc) or pretending to be Superheroes or dogs or anything that isn't normal everyday things. It helps a child to play these and to see there aren't limits to their world.

Cloud Watching on a Sunny Day

Just remember that whatever you do you should do it with them. Interact as much as possible, talk to them, tell them stories, sing songs, make sure that they tell you what they see and use descriptive words and feelings and pretty soon you and your children will be enjoying free range creativity and imagination.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Toys, Toys and More Toys!

Over the last few months Top Ender and Big Boy have had a few Toys sent to be reviewed that for one reason or another I haven't got round to blogging about, but mentioned elsewhere. I thought it would be a good idea to blog about them though as others might find our observations useful!

Sing-a-ma-jigs


These were great fun. They are small teddies that when you squeeze their Tummy emit a sound. These can then be squeezed  rhythmically to create a song. The problem is working out what song they are singing and how fast to squeeze the Sing-a-ma-jigs! These provided hours of entertainment and we have brought them as a gift for others because they were so much fun.


The Sing-a-ma-jigs live in BB's bedroom in his Teddy Tub and are frequently heard being squeezed to produce a song. I don't think that any of us are clever enough to start making our own music videos though.

Fijit


When I first got married I had a toy alien that I could ask questions. It was the sort of thing that appealed to me and when we first saw Fijit it reminded us of that Alien. The original Alien had a few problems such as it only like lower toned voices (eg it would answer Daddy but not me) and sometimes it didn't understand what we said. We hoped that Fijit being aimed at children wouldn't have these issues, but it did. Tops very quickly lost interest in the Fijit because whatever she asked she got the wrong answer. Fijit would listen to me, but I didn't want to have to be the one to interact with the toy when it was for Tops.

Fijit

To top it all off, the Fijit was damaged in the post coming to us when the packaging split open and cut the Fijit's "flesh". Every time she moved some of her innards were exposed and with a curious Big Boy in the house this wasn't a good thing. Fijit now sits in the den on the windowsill watching all the other toys get played with.

Lite Sprites


The Lite Sprites arrived and we honestly thought that these were going to be something that only Top Ender would play with. Unsurprisingly though BB loved the colourful little dolls and the magical spinning tree. Tops and BB are often playing with the Lite Wand and collecting colours from different surfaces in the house and creating adventures where Bleak (the bad Sprite) is going to steal all the colours.


Big Boy loves to turn the Lite Sprites all green (his favourite colour) and Daddy and I have often been heard singing the tree's theme tune. These went down great and are a favourite to play with when Tops has friends round.

Skylanders


Big Boy really loved this Wii game and every time he saw it on TV or the characters on the displays in the local supermarkets he asked for us to play again. He is right to want to play the game, it is great fun and easy to play as it is explained as you go along what you have to do, the only downside is that Big Boy isn't able to play it on his own and needs an adults help. This would normally be fine but as soon as we turn the game on Top Ender wants to play and it's a two player game, so someone is disappointed. We love the back story and whilst this isn't the Spyro I remember from my youth it is fantastic for now!


I have been borrowing a friends sons figures so I can play the game when the children are in bed (they get them as rewards for good behaviour) and it is fun, I just wish that I could play it on my own all the time.

All of the toys above were sent to us to review.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Bananagrams Playing Cat?

As has become tradition here in the UK on New Years Eve there were fireworks let off. As has also become tradition, some fool let several fireworks off earlier in the evening before we had a chance to get our three cats back in after their evening constitutional. If I am being kind I like to think that the fool was actually some local family pretending with their children that they had made it to Midnight and were ringing in the new year together, but knowing better I think it was a couple of people who had drunk just a little too much during the early evening and thought now was a good a time as any.

Willow (Top Ender's cat) was in the garden when the first of the evenings pyrotechnics lit up the sky and pretty quickly she shot through the cat flap, down the kitchen and scrambled up the front and over the top of my fridge to hide herself in the small gap behind the fridge. As she scrambled up the fridge she knocked several of my Bananagram tiles off the fridge rendering my New Years Eve themed Bananagrams puzzle incomprehensible and proving herself to be a lot smarter than the average cat... for when Daddy picked up the tiles he found they spelt out this;

CAT V SAD as played out in Bananagrams

The Cat is a genius!

I did say back in 2011 (so long ago now) that I would put up a few Bananagram Challenges for those who are interested as Daddy, Top Ender and I loved playing the challenges together (Did I mention we won overall by the way? I know funky right?!) and we wanted to carry them on. So if you want to join in then this months challenge is "January" and it will close on the 31st of January. Just start with the word Bananagrams and go from there! There are no prizes for this, it's just a bit of fun.

I'll put up a linky if there is any interest, just let me know in the comments!