Monday, 30 July 2012

Cup Cake & Cookie Decorating Parties

On the way to the park this morning, I grabbed a coffee from Stepping Stones Cookie Bar and saw they are now offering parties for kids.  Either 45 or 90 minutes long, they provide everything you need and cater for between 6-12 children per party, aged 5 years upwards.  

The party includes cup cakes & mini cookies to decorate, which can be taken home in a box, plus a soft drink and selection of sandwiches & snacks.  The 45 minute party costs £80 and the 90 minute one is £110, based on 6 children, and additional kids are £6.50 each.

There are no details on their website as yet but they have Info / Booking sheets on the counter in the shop.  Could be a fun idea!

Sunday, 29 July 2012


I've had a desire to make my own play dough for a while but a part of me wondered if it was worth it...after all, shop bought isn't that expensive and I had visions of a sticky, gooey mess that the kids were unable to play with.  I was WRONG!  

This is so easy to make, costs hardly anything and is so much more lovely to handle - the kids played with it for ages longer than they usually do, mainly because it is so tactile I think.  Plus you can make it whatever colour and fragrance you want to. 

Here's will need:

2 cups of plain flour
1 cup salt 
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp cream of tartar
1.5 cups hot water (recently boiled)

Food colouring
Herb / spice 

Add the flour, salt and cream of tartar into a bowl and mix well.  Add the vegetable oil plus any extra ingredients (I added red glitter and ground mixed spice).  Add food colouring into the hot water if using (I used blue) and add the water to the dry mix.  Combine well and hey presto - start playing!

DD couldn't wait to get her hands on it, as you can see above!

Nurture Store, where I got this recipe from, also suggest adding herbs such as lavender or rosemary to make scrummy smelling dough - looking forward to trying that!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

TV Scheduler

It's all too easy to switch on the TV to keep the kids quiet while you try to get something done and I knew that with the summer holiday now upon us, I needed to come up with a plan to limit TV time in our house.  Inspired by a post on Playing With Words 365, I came up with my own version of their TV time chart.

I Googled a picture of our TV (so the kids could recognise it) then found images of the shows they like to watch regularly.  I stuck all of these onto card and cut them out individually.  

Next I put a piece of sticky velcro on to the back of each cut out picture, and the corresponding long piece of velcro below the TV picture.

I put all the "shows" into a bowl and each morning you can get them to pick, say, 3 shows they can watch that day and stick them onto the long velcro strip.  

It lets them feel in control of what they are watching, and also helps them to know the TV gets switched off after the end of their show.  

It's working well for us so far!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Water Play

After being stuck inside for what feels like weeks of rain, I am trying to make the most of this gorgeous sunshine we are currently enjoying!  

On Saturday morning, I set up some water play in the garden - two old  washing up bowls filled with water and various toys - pots and jugs to fill and pour, toy figures to "wash" with body scrubbers and even an empty pump-action body wash bottle filled with water (which was a big hit).

So simple but it kept them occupied for quite a while!  Plus it had an added bonus of me being able to sit in the sun and enjoy a cup of coffee ;)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Slow-cooked Chicken Cacciatore

Perversely, I plan on using my slow cooker a lot more during this heat wave as it saves me standing at the cooker getting hot!  This is super simple and quite tasty.

Ingredients (serves 2)
2 chicken breasts
Plain flour to coat
125g mushrooms, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
125ml white wine
Generous pinch of oregano & thyme
Handful of fresh Basil

Coat the chicken breasts in a little flour and brown them on both sides in a pan for a few minutes.  Put the chicken into the slow cooker.

Next, fry the mushrooms for 5 mins then put them on top of the chicken, adding the pepper & onion to the slow cooker.  Mix the tinned tomatoes, white wine and seasoning in a jug and pour over.  Cook on LOW for 5-6 hours (or HIGH for 3.5 hours if you are in a hurry).

Stir in the fresh basil and serve with tagliatelle or rice.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Making Faces

If you've got a stack of old magazines lying around, and an hour to spare one evening to prep (ha!), then this is a fun activity for the kids. 

You will need:
  • Old magazines
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Paper with various oval shapes drawn on
The night before, I cut out lots of different eyes, noses, mouths and hair from magazine pages - the larger full page photos work best but we had a variety of sizes. 

Next I printed ovals of differing sizes (Word Autoshapes to the rescue again!) on A4 paper or you could easily draw them.

I separated the facial features into bowls so the kids could easily take which piece they wanted. 

Using the glue stick, they stuck on eyes, nose, mouth and hair to each oval shape, making a face. 

They loved doing this, and thought the results were very funny (although I thought they were slightly creepy LOL!)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Olympic Medals

With the Olympic Torch passing through our area on Friday, I thought we would do some Olympic themed activities this week.  

Yesterday, we made our own Olympic medals which couldn't have been any easy in fact, I'm not even sure I need to post the instructions but in case any of you dear readers are as inept at arts & crafts as I am, you may appreciate them.

You will need:
  • Printed shapes (I used Word's Autoshapes and chose 4 that looked vaguely medal like)
  • Old card - we used the packaging from a yoghurt multipack and a cereal box
  • Number stickers (that I found in the £1 shop!)
  • Hole punch
  • Glue
  • Ribbon
  • Colouring pens

I let the kids choose which shape they wanted to use and had them glue it onto the card, then cut it out (of course DD chose the 16 point star so I had to cut it out for her!).  

Next I got them to decorate the medals with the colouring pens - this didn't last very long, as they were eager to move on but if your kids have more patience you could use glitter too.  They chose their number stickers and stuck them on.  

The next part was the best for them - they rifled through my ribbon collection that I have for sewing and spent ages choosing a ribbon. Then we punched holes in the top of the medals and threaded the ribbon through.  I  tied a knot in the top and hey presto, we had medals to wear!

Easy-peasy craft - the type I like best - and DS asked immediately if he could make another one.   I couldn't find the two medals that DS made to add them to the photograph this morning but here is DD's attempt at 23 months, modelled by Mr Strong.

If the rain holds off long enough today, we may have some races in the garden and an award ceremony!

Sunday, 15 July 2012


I learnt one very important lesson should not attempt to take a buggy to a festival, no matter how tired you think your child might get.  Three days of revellers at Guilfest had taken it's toll on the ground, and I had never seen so much mud in my life.

I have a confession - I've never actually been to a "real" festival.  Pictures of Glastonbury horrify me.  Not for me the camping out covered in oozy dirt having to queue for a wee.  The closest I have been to one is the posh West London version, House Festival which, although I did attend at 8.5 months pregnant, is set in lovely grounds and as I recall had a lobster and champagne tent (which I couldn't partake of, dammit!)  Plus the sun was shining in 2008, which makes a big difference.

But I'd heard lots of good reports of Guilfest, and with the inclusion of a Kidszone, I thought we would give it a go.  DH had a friend visiting so the plan was that we all go during the day, with me peeling off when the kids got tired and DH + 1 would stay and enjoy the evening.  As it turned out, we peaked far too early arriving at 11.30 although it did mean we found a prime parking spot and didn't suffer the fate of many cars we saw with their wheels spinning in the mud while they were going nowhere fast. 

The kids were overjoyed by the sheer volume of mud and spent the best part of 2 hours stomping, splashing and trampling through the sea of mud.  We had a surprisingly tasty albeit expensive lunch from the food stalls (of which there are plenty) and they did have a boogie to some of the music too but to be honest the mud was more alluring.

I left DD pogoing between DH and +1 while I took DS for a wander round.  We stopped in at the discotheque tent, at his insistence, where we sat on a makeshift table eating our ice-creams and listening to the music whilst I explained just what those "big black CDs" hanging from the ceiling were, and suggested he ask Daddy to show him his record collection one day.  I had to drag him away from the Zorbing area after finding out they were charging an extortionate £5 for 5 minutes, telling a white lie that you had to be 5 before you could go in one.

Around 4pm and with two now caked-in-mud children, I decided to call it a day and get them home for a bath.  We waded back to the car and stripped them off to their underwear before putting them in the car seats - no way was I getting the interior of the car as muddy as we currently were!  When we got home, I hosed down the buggy and all the welly boots - I only just stopped myself from doing the kids too - and piled all our clothes into the washing machine.

As I finish typing this, DH just called to let me know how good the evening acts were (and so I could listen to a bit of Bryan Ferry down the phone :p).  Next year, I think we'll head there later in the day and hopefully stay for some of the evening acts if the kids make it through...and we'll take some chairs ;o)

Friday, 13 July 2012

Hampshire Water Festival

With pond dipping, face painting, circus workshops and angler's taster sessions this should keep the kids busy if you're looking for something to do this Sunday.  

The Hampshire Water Festival is being held within Staunton Park Gardens, and you can get 1/2 price entry to the gardens (the festival itself has free entry) so you can make a whole day of it.  We took out membership to Staunton last year, as the kids loved it so much - there is a little farm, a great playground and a lovely cafe on site plus the huge park itself.

Best of all, Sunday is currently predicted as RAIN FREE!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Sparkle Biscuits

DS & I made these as thank you gifts for his nursery teachers this week, and they turned out pretty good!

125g butter (room temp)
110g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tsp of caster sugar
Food colouring paste

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together until creamy.  Beat in the egg, and add the flour and baking powder.  (Add a little water if the mixture is not sticking but only a drop at a time - I added too much and the dough became sticky).  Knead on a floured surface then wrap in clingfilm and chill for around 30 minutes.

Roll the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper (this saves a hugely messy floured surface again!) and cut your shapes from the dough.  

 To make the coloured sugar, I just mixed a little food colouring paste with some caster sugar - so that it didn't clump, I squished and stirred each pot for around 5 mins which got rid of the all the lumps. 

Sprinkle the biscuits with the coloured sugar and bake at 180 degrees for 10-15 mins.

We made dogs & cats for ourselves while we were at it! ;o)

Fishers Farm Park

After a busy few weeks, I was looking forward to taking DD to Fishers Farm Park last week.  I vaguely recall going there a few years back with DS but I couldn't recognise any of it because, it turns out, they have updated it all.  First impressions were good!  We made our way through the initial reception with a large, or rather 3 separate, soft play areas for varying ages complete with seating for mums close by.  Through the doors and outside to make our way to the animal barn where DD was fascinated to see horses, goats, sheep, rabbits and guinea pigs.
Then it was time to hop on the Big Red Tractor Ride, which DD and her 3 friends loved.  It gives you a good overview of the site telling you the history on the way, and brings you back to the start.  At only 10 minutes or so long, it is short enough so that toddlers don't get fidgety!
We let the girls choose what they wanted to go on next, and it was the Toddlers Race Track!  They had great fun racing cards, tractors and fire engines round a little circuit.

After that, we jumped on giant air pillows (yes, me as well!), went on the zip wire (which has a toddler seat!), climbed on the frames, slid down the slides and bounced on the trampolines. Unfortunately we didn't have time to experience the Alpine Adventure but I've a feeling we'll be back over the summer to try it out! 

We chose to eat in the Saddle Room restaurant where DD enjoyed chicken bites, chips and peas but you can also eat in Cafe Moo Moo or at the Alpine Adventure area.

We finished off with a visit to the Barn Theatre, where a 30 minute show is put on parading various animals on stage and giving children in the audience a chance to pet and feed them.  By the time that finished at 2.30, DD was fading due to all the day's excitement and we were barely out of the car park before she'd fallen asleep in her seat!  

Under two's go free and if you make a whole day of it, I think it is worth the money. 

Pasta & Rice Muffin Tray

DD loves this - its my "go to" if I need 15 minutes peace while I make dinner.  I keep meaning to make it a little better by dying the rice but never seem to find the time - she seems quite happy with this version anyway!

Just fill a muffin tin with different types of rice and pasta - I just use whatever I have in the cupboard at the time - leaving 2/3 spaces empty (she had already started moving things around by the time I took this shot!).  I give DD a couple of spoons and she happily scoops, pours and mixes until her heart is content. 

It's a little messy - the rice usually ends up on the floor - but easy to hoover up. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Slow-cooked Chilli-con-Carne

This is a firm family favourite in our house, and I love to put this on before we head out for the day and come back to delicious smells filling the kitchen in the late afternoon.  It also freezes well so is a great make-ahead dish.

1 onion. chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
450g minced beef
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp hot chilli powder
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can kidney beans (drained)
1 tbsp tomato puree
6 tbsp water
1 tsp caster sugar

Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the onion, garlic and mince.  Fry until the meat is no longer pink and starts to separate.

Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil.  Transfer to a the slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Serve with rice and grated cheddar on top.

NB: I prefer to blend my can of tomatoes before adding them as it makes the sauce a bit nicer but its not essential.  If the kids are going to be eating this, I use mild chilli powder and add some hot chilli for us grown-ups afterwards.