Culture and Kids

Today I took my kids to Culture Day in Belfast. I decided to take the bus and my kids get excited at the mere mention of that – I guess we don’t go into town too often so it’s a bit of a novelty. I was surprised by the amount of events on for kids. We spent all day there and my kids loved it.

We arrived early at the City Hall and got to enjoy the morning sun with coffee and very early ice-cream/lollies for my kids 🙂 No one was there yet and we got to sit on the deckchairs and watch martial arts. There was a mini rave that the kids enjoyed because they got to dance and run around on the grass. Not my music of choice, but I’m happy with any distraction I find for my kids.

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After that we went to a bazaar in St Anne’s cathedral and saw some Indian dancers on the way. I had planned to have a no spend day and that didn’t exactly go to plan once I found a vintage clothing stall. We found a lady who did face painting and she did really beautiful designs, so I decided to get mine done too 🙂 I want to get it tattooed on my face now because it’s so pretty! There were so many interesting stalls and if my kids hadn’t had limited patience for looking around I would have spent far too much money, so it was lucky that they were there!

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Afterwards, we went to the library where there was story-telling from different cultures and puppets. It was well put together for kids with free juice and biscuits and donut-type cushions for them to sit on. The stories were really interactive and they enjoyed joining in.

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We followed that with an acoustic picnic in the Oh Yeah music centre. There was kid-friendly live music, crafts and games. We brought a picnic so we didn’t have to buy any lunch or drinks then. My daughters enjoyed playing skittles and making maracas.

There was a free chocolate/sweets factory held in a pub. Kids got to make chocolate “pizzas” topped with their sweets of choice. It was held in an outdoor pub and had a holiday-type of atmosphere.

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Afterwards, we went to a finger painting event in Lush. The kids had to smell a scent and then paint a picture based on the scent. They got to watch bath bombs dissolving and enjoyed making a mess.

There were some street performances. After that, we were all getting tired legs and we went back to the City Hall where they were making junk art with kids and dancing with pom poms and things. My kids described the day as wonderful and I thought it was too 🙂 I had a budget for the day and managed to stick to it. I think some of the things that helped were taking the bus so I didn’t have to pay for parking, bringing lunch, drinks and snacks and picking out mostly free events The only part of the day where we spent money was at the bazaar. I love looking out for free local events that provide artistic activities for my kids and educational things presented in a fun way.

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Cheap Cheesy Biscuits Recipe

This recipe was quickly thrown together and it worked out to be edible so thought I’d share it. It might not be the healthiest snack for kids, but at least there are no unknown ingredients or sugar in it 🙂 It also makes a good activity for kids eager to cookie cut 🙂

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup grated cheddar

1/2 cup chilled, cubed butter

1 egg

Splash of milk

Shake of salt (optional)

Method

Measure flour into a bowl and rub in chilled, cubed butter to make breadcrumb-like consistency. Add grated cheese, egg and milk. (Salt too if you like.) Mix to combine but don’t over-mix.  Shape into a ball and chill in fridge for 1/2 an hour. Roll out the pastry. Your hands might work better than a rolling pin because of the crumbly texture. Cut out cookies and place on baking parchment/ greased tin. Put in preheated oven at 180c for 10 minutes. Enjoy 🙂

Cheap Cosy Days & Comfort Food

There has been a bit of a heatwave this week and I’ve been walking the girls to school every day. I find that starting the day with fresh air and sunlight starts me off in a better mood. I’ve been enjoying the mornings when my kids are in school and nursery and using them as an opportunity to write.
In between this, I’m trying to save money for a short trip at Halloween, so I’m finding ways to treat ourselves without spending money when I can avoid it.

When we aren’t outdoors, I have to come up with ideas to draw my kids away from the lure of the TV. Cooking always seems to work with my younger one. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the house, cook from scratch and avoid unnecessary trips to the shops.

I discovered a health food shop near us that I had never been to before. They sell fruit and veg boxes. For £13.50 you get about a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables. It helps with meal planning, because it gives you something to sketch recipes around. We also tried their sourdough bread. It was the most expensive load of bread I’ve ever bought but it was the nicest I’ve had too. I like supporting local businesses and it stops me spending money as thoughtlessly.

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Here are some alternatives to overspending I’ve used this week:

  • Set up a writing/crafts/colouring station at your kitchen table. Add candles and soft music to make it feel more like a cafe. Make yourself fancy toast and real coffee and enjoy having peace to create something.
    Bake snacks and breakfast options for the week. We made some cheesy biscuits for snacks and pear granola, adapted from a recipe at Surprisingly, my daughter has been requesting granola every morning from breakfast since. I think she finds it more appealing because she helped to make it.

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  • Make warming meals like stew and casserole. It’s a good way to use up root veg and leftover portions of meat you have in the freezer. Billie Holiday has become my cooking music recently, and it almost feels like a form of therapy.

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  • Walk when you can to save on petrol. There is a garden my kids want to stop at every day, filled with flowers and cartoon characters. If you break up the walk with things of interest along the way, kids don’t notice the length of the walk as much. We also stopped one day at a local ice cream shop. Kids in school uniforms can get a £1 scoop on certain days of the weeks.
  • Explore your local area on foot. Bring some change with you so you can buy something from the bakery, get a book from the library or buy a bunch of flowers. It feels like you are treating yourself without putting yourself into debt 🙂

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Best Cottage Pie Recipe

I love this cottage pie but I’d forgotten to make it for a while. I seem to forget about comfort food over the summer (unless chocolate counts as a comfort food, in which case I have plenty of it.) This meal is easy to make and my kids eat it.. well, they eat the mince and mashed potatoes and set the rest on my plate :/ The measurements for this are so rough because I tend to just throw stuff in a pan and hope for the best and with this it worked 🙂

Serves 2 adults, 2 kids or 2 hungry people

Ingredients

For the meat:

250g beef mince
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 small carrots
2 sticks of celery
Beef stock to cover
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Shake of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ketchup
1 tbsp red wine

For the potatoes:

8 potatoes
1 tbsp butter
A splash of milk
A shake of salt

For the topping – grated cheddar cheese

Method
Fry the mince on its own in a pan. Chop an onion, garlic, celery sticks and peel and chop carrots. (Cut the vegetables up small so they cook quicker.) Add to the pan and continue to cook on a medium heat.
When the onions are clear and the veg looks like it is softening, cover the meat with boiling water. I crumble in 1/2 a beef stock cup after doing this and mix it in. Add the wine, Worcester sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper and thyme. Reduce heat and let simmer until carrots and celery are soft. At the end, add in a couple of tbsps of cornflour mixed well with COLD water. (Do this in a cup first.) Stir continuously until sauce has thickened. Turn heat off.

In the meantime, peel potatoes and chop into chunks (so they cook more evenly and quickly.) Put in boiled water with salt and cook on medium heat for about 20 mins. Take potatoes off heat when they are just starting to break apart. Drain and mash with butter and milk. (Sometimes I use an electric mixer to make them extra smooth and creamy.)

Fill an oven dish with the meat mixture. Use a spatula to spread the mashed potatoes on top. Cover generously with grated cheddar. Put in the oven at 180c for 15 minutes to crisp up the cheese. Let it cook until it is browned on top and the sauce is visibly bubbling underneath.

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Homemade Play Doh Recipe

This is such an easy recipe and you can customise it as you please 🙂 My kids seem to play with it for longer than regular play doh. I think it is partly the novelty of getting such a large heap of dough instead of a few little pots.

Ingredients

1 cup of flour
1 cup of water
1 packet of cream of tartar (5g)
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup salt

Method

Combine the dry ingredients and add to a pot. Add the wet ingredients and cook over a low heat, mixing continuously. Keep cooking it until it turns solid. What looks like a slight skin will start forming on it when it’s ready, but it will go away when you knead it. After it has formed one ball in the pot, I usually remove it and knead it for a few minutes to make sure it is the right consistency. If it is too runny add some more flour.

Ideas:

Separate the dough into bowls and add different food colourings to them/and/or glitter, sequins, etc.
Add lavender, cinnamon and nutmeg, oregano and rosemary, rose petals, fresh mint or any other herbs or scented oils you like.
Give your kids a baking tray so they can pretend to make cookies with it.
I save any disposable containers that are easy to clean and work as play cooking receptacles for the dough – eg, if i buy dough balls and they come in a tray with little holes to hold them, we save it as a muffin tin for play doh.
This is so easy to make and you can give it as a gift for kids if you wrap it in cellophane. I usually dispose of it after one use as it quickly goes mouldy since there are no preservatives in it.

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Cheap Weekends with Kids

This post is appearing a little late since I got sidetracked mid-writing, as I often do with kids, but at least it is weekend related 🙂

After the school term starting up again, I decided that this month I’m going to have a fresh start, start a new budget, save for holidays, make use of our existing memberships and enjoy watching the seasonal changes outside. (Basically avoid spending money when I can.) If I don’t spend a weekend being creative or contemplative, I feel like I’ve wasted it. So, I set up some simple activities for my kids and we spent time in pretty settings. I’ve got into the habit of making lots of small purchases over the summer, with nothing to show for my expenditures. So, I’m going to start a holiday fund instead.

We started last weekend, as we always do, with pancakes. One of my daughter’s refuses to eat them which still confounds me. I thought all people loved pancakes. Anyway, afterwards, the girls wanted to play with play doh but I didn’t have any, so I made a simple homemade one, which I will share in my next post. That kept them entertained for the longest I’ve seen them focus on one thing ever! You can add food colouring or something scented, like lavender, herbs etc. I added some rosemary and oregano and we called it “pizza dough.”

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I also found some paper people in the pound shop and I had a box of sparkly confetti I got to decorate the dresses with. We stuck on googly eyes, so at least my obsession with stocking up on craft supplies comes in handy at times. You can also find craft materials for kids in the card making section of the pound shop, as well as the party section (where I found the confetti.)
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The weather brightened up, so I brought the girls their lunch on a tray in the garden. My kids always eat better outside – I might have to start serving dinner there every night to persuade them to eat something other than a snack.
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I always reach my limit with staying in the house, so I took the girls to Castle Espie and they fed the birds. As they are getting older, they are becoming more interested in identifying the different types of birds. Our visit there was well-timed because they had an hourly explorers session for kids. A man led a tour around the badger hides and tracks left by otters etc. He had a lot of animal poo-related stories that kept my kids listening, rapt. They got to make crafts indoors and we brought our own snacks so the trip was free (minus the petrol.) We have membership for about £60 a year so we can use it whenever we like.
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I think getting memberships for child-friendly places is worthwhile, because otherwise, we would be separately spending on every day out at different places. At least if the cost of days out is included in your monthly budget, it’s easier to avoid overspending on activities and you can plan your days out around those places.

I felt like trying to make dinner out of what was left in the house and what we needed to use up, so I made taco rice and for dessert a peach crumble with custard. It was a quick way to use up peaches that were past their best and I used some egg yolks left over from a cake I made with egg whites to make custard.

We had a no spend weekend, but we didn’t miss anything because of it. I think people often conflate having a good time with having to spend money and that isn’t the case. In fact, I find the most enriching activities always come for free.
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Sunshine and Spontaneity

Last weekend, we went to The Fine and Dandy Market. It is a monthly market in Belfast that sells handmade items and quirky things. I always know when I go it’s going to account for most of my unnecessary spending that month. Everything is so cool I’m like a deprived magpie in a jewellery box. I’d been looking for hanging plants for a while. I saw some at a local flower shop, but they were expensive, so I waited to see if I found a cheaper one elsewhere. I found one for £12 that hangs from a rope and a plant in a glass ball that hangs from a metal stand the stall holder had made. I got a bit carried away since they suit the 60’s decor in my living room.
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My kids enjoyed the market too. They like going to the fancy bows stall and appealing to my mum to get them some. They got some unique ones. One was a little dream catcher hair clip – I think about pinching it when she’s not looking.

They have made the fair more kid-friendly now. There was a felting workshop upstairs where the girls learned how to make soap in a coat. You take a bar of soap and wrap it in wool, using water until it clings to the soap and looks decorative, as well as having a practical use. Making them involved lots of bubbles and mess, so my kids loved it and they were proud of their creations they got to bring home.

In the market, there is a lady who makes amazing earrings. I bought another pair. She was simultaneously holding a kids’ workshop where they could use gems, and patterned paper and tape to decorate rings and badges.

I think the key to a good day out with kids is breaking things up into small segments. I manage to go shopping with them sometimes as long as there are food and drink breaks and a chance for them to make something/ run around in an open space.

We shared a pizza outside the market and then decided things were getting a bit fraught, so we decided to go to the Belfast Mela.

I’d never been to it before and it was worth going to. It is an event that celebrates all different cultures and brings everyone together. Tickets were seven pounds for adults and kids go free. It was on for hours and it takes place in Botanic Gardens. There was so much to do – we sat in the sun and listened to the Dublin Gospel choir. The girls were happy to get some lemonade and dinky donuts. Then we found a tent for kids where they could dig in big basins filled with rice/cereal and utensils. That kept them occupied for ages. There was dancing with scarves for them in the tent too. We walked around the whole park to see what was on. There was lots of food being served from different cultures. Each section was labelled with a country. We watched African limbo fire dancing which my daughter said was her favourite. The girls loved sticking their heads through the animal photo boards. It is held once a year and we would definitely go back. I love days where you plan to go to one event and end up at another one, deciding what you do as you go and not over-planning; letting the day unfold how it wants to.

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