Nature trails, Roadside Treats & Mini Banjos

We have had a quiet, nature-filled few days. This week, I took the girls to Castle Ward for the day. I like the fact that when it’s raining there, you are still sheltered. The trees all make a huge covering, like a giant umbrella and we had our picnic underneath a tree. We walked around the sunken garden and the girls played hide and seek in the rocky area. We found a huge fir tree and discovered that it was a good climbing tree πŸ™‚ I find it very healing being close to greenery and trees. There is something about the scent that envelops you when you’re standing underneath one, particularly when it’s raining. We walked down to the kids’ nature trail and they still had some of it laid out. The girls left mini bouquets for the fictional frog that owns the summer house πŸ™‚ There were dens to hide in and swampy paths to navigate. My daughter took advantage of the fact she was wearing wellies and jumped in the largest puddles she could find πŸ™‚ We came across a giant tic tac toe carved out of wood, as well as some balance beams and a car carved out of a tree trunk.

On our way home, we stopped at a roadside farm shop that served coffee. I got a coffee and traybake and the girls had an ice cream each and I was amazed by how cheap it was. They had wooden seats to sit on outdoors and the scenery was lovely because we were overlooking the green fields and hills πŸ™‚

We tried a couple of crafts this week, some more successful than others! We made miniature jar lid bangos. They were very easy to make and the girls loved “playing them.” We just stuck two lolly sticks together using washi tape to secure/decorate them, then wrapped some elastic bands around the jar lid. We added tape at the back to secure the “strings” and then taped the lolly sticks onto the back of the strings.

We tried to make fireworks in a jar too. It worked on a smaller scale, but I think we were held back by the quality of our food colouring πŸ™‚ I had bought a couple recently that are red and green, but they aren’t very pigmented and didn’t give us the colour we wanted. You just add food colouring to olive oil and mix it, adding it to a jar of water and watch as the colours move like little fireworks shooting. It worked but wasn’t impressive-looking.

We made some bubble wrap prints. You just wrap a piece of it around the end of a toilet roll tub and sellotape it. Then you can put different colours of paints on a plate and make prints in several colours at once. The girls did this activity for a long time and it was so easy to set up.

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Today we went to the farm for the first time this year πŸ™‚ We had missed it and they had organised plenty to do, even though certain parts were closed off. They gave us little packets when we arrived of feed for “furry friends” and “feathered friends.” We fed some goats and sheeps with curled horns πŸ™‚ Then we fed some of the bunnies and a calf started licking my coat πŸ™‚ It was so calming seeing the animals and walking around at a slow pace. I found the fact that the activities were limited easier as the girls weren’t rushing between things, spending five seconds on each activity πŸ™‚ They went on barrel rides and the tractor ride to see the red deer. We held some chicks and fed the hens (and turkey.) I felt like my sanity was restored by the end of it πŸ™‚ We also had some of the ice-cream they make on the farm and it might be my favourite kind πŸ™‚

When we got home, we did some easy baking. I like to buy the boxes of baking mixes for days when the girls want to decorate buns and I don’t feel like baking πŸ™‚ We just had to add a couple of ingredients and made some chocolate cupcakes. The girls loved putting the icing and chocolate swirls on top (and tried to sneak most of them into their mouths when I wasn’t looking.) I’m relieved its summertime now, even if the weather thinks otherwise. It feels like we have been released from the pressure of teaching at home and can just enjoy our days in our own way now πŸ™‚

 

Saving Stones, Perfume Play & Teatime Treats

This week, we spent as much time as we could in the garden, between downpours πŸ™‚ The girls made some nature bracelets, just using masking tape. You just stick it around their wrist and they can collect leaves and flowers to stick to them. My daughter also decided to start a stone collection and has been taking care of them in a pot. It reminds me of a Shirley Hughes children’s book where a little boy adopts a rock and his mum sews a swim suit and some clothes for it. We haven’t gone that far though πŸ™‚

The girls were very attentive to their little greenhouse plants and they seem to be thriving better than mine. We transplanted them to larger pots and I’m hoping they will grow into full-sized plants πŸ™‚

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We visited my parents in their garden and my dad produced a bag of our toys from the nineties πŸ™‚ I hadn’t seen them since then and the girls enjoyed going through them. They found a little sewing machine that used to be mine (but that I don’t remember for some reason) and claimed it and a couple of dolls. The sewing machine has no batteries at the moment and a broken needle but pretending to sew is their new favourite game πŸ™‚ We did a little bit of hand sewing together so they could learn a basic stitch and they both showed a lot of interest in it πŸ™‚ My daughter loves “designing” things on fabric by adding stickers and cutting it into different shapes.

I added some food colouring to water so the girls could make their own perfume (it was a suggestion from my daughter’s preschool.) It started off yellow and I added red to make orange after the girls pointed out it looked like pee πŸ˜€ I gave them some flowers, bowls and spoons, etc to mix and pretend to make different scents.

I’ve been using Jack Monroe’s cookery book a lot at the minute. It’s good for making recipes out of nothing πŸ™‚ We made some lemon curd biscuits and marmalade buns (we called them Paddington buns, but one of my daughters still refused to eat them!)

My daughter suggested we have a tea party when they were ready, so she set the table with our “fancy” plates and teacups. The girls had some berry tea and I had some assam tea that came in a surprise box of teas from my parents πŸ™‚ That and Russian Caravan are my favourites so far.

I drew pictures for my daughter to colour in last night, hoping it would inspire her to colour more. (She doesn’t usually have any patience for it.) But it just turned into another scribbling session πŸ™‚

This morning, I made some homemade play doh and set up a kitchen play station at the table. The girls seem to play with play doh for longer than anything else and they made pretend cakes and treats, using a lid as a tray πŸ™‚ Afterwards, we played some Orchard board games. I don’t know why the girls tend to sit much better for them than more drawn out games like Junior Monopoly! Llamas in Pyjamas is a favourite in our house πŸ™‚

As I was filling the kettle to make a cup of tea, I noticed that one of the plants I grew from seed has flowered. I got far too excited about that and it felt like a real achievement. It’s the first time one has ever made it that far πŸ™‚ My courgettes also seem to be doing well and are ready to be repotted now. I’m still determined to create a kitchen garden against all odds.

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Sometimes I like having a rainy day inside, lighting candles, listening to Tim Buckley’s Happy Sad. (It’s my rainy day album/ seems to dampen the girls’ hyperactivity a little.) It’s nice to have the contrast of a wet, fresh day (as long as there are sunny days ahead too.)

Baked Treats, Snail Homes & Coffee Cravings

Today, we had a major baking day. By major, I mean that I used every dish in the house to bake two things πŸ™‚ I spent a lot of the day washing dishes afterwards, but what’s new πŸ™‚ I’ve been listening to Nina Simone a lot and spending lots of time cooking. Yesterday, I made us some bread, which is already half eaten πŸ˜€ I tried a new recipe today for what were called Fat Rascals. I found them in a magazine and they are similar to scones, filled with dried fruit, lemon and orange zest. The girls helped me to make them, and I’m always happy to having willing volunteers to grease the tray πŸ™‚ I also made some allspice biscuits again since one of my daughters really enjoyed them last time.

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After lunchtime, I took a tray with our baked treats and some tea out to the garden and we had a little tea party. It was grey but humid and it was nice to get a chance to sit outside again. I attempted to read a book, but that quickly turned into me building a den for the girls, amongst other things πŸ™‚

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The girls spotted a snail and decided to temporarily adopt it. We read about what snails like to eat and where they can live and made it it’s own little habitat in an empty chocolates tub πŸ™‚ The girls watched its movements for a long time and tried to encourage it to eat some seeds and a grape (apparently they like these.) It didn’t seem to be bothered by them and spent most of the afternoon travelling in and out of its new house. Sometimes having kids makes me become interested in things I’ve never given any thought before. I think that was the first time I googled “what fruit do snails eat?”We learned that they can’t have pools of water because they can drown and they don’t like to be in direct sunlight. Eventually I removed the tub so it could be left in peace πŸ™‚

 

I’ve been experimenting with making my own lattes with different sweeteners since running out of coffee syrup. I tried maple syrup yesterday, which didn’t seem to work well, as it made it separate. Today, I tried honey and cinnamon on top and it worked surprisingly well πŸ™‚ I’m tempted to order coffee to the door, but when I checked how much it was I had second thoughts πŸ™‚ Lockdown mightn’t have broken my coffee addiction, but at least I’m finding cheaper ways to feed it now πŸ™‚

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For anyone that is interested, The Funky Thrifter book is available on Amazon now. It is a collection of blog posts from this year to give people something peaceful to flip through during these weird times πŸ™‚

Shadow Puppets, Blossom Bouquets & Sunflower Seeds

This week we made some plate-sized wholemeal pancakes and had some fresh fruit (and strong coffee for me. Afterwards, we read together in the living room. The girls had put the recliners up for themselves and spent time poring over art books about colour and craft projects for kids. We went onto the library website to look at their free ebooks and magazines. They have lots of children’s books available online if you sign into your account. You can set one up if you don’t already have one using the long number on your library card.

Afterwards, the girls insisted on wearing similar outfits to me (God help them :)) We went on our morning walk and they requested another trip to the cherry blossom. We have now assigned names to our walks and they always want to do the blossom walk πŸ™‚ They gathered flowers and petals to make mini bouquets and put them in water as table displays for dinner time when we got home. I have a feeling they might be interested in flower arranging in the future πŸ™‚

The girls’ Toucan craft boxes arrived in the post, so we did their shadow puppet theatre projects. They had to make puppets on lolly sticks and paint the stage curtains, adding greaseproof paper as a cover for the puppets to produce shadows on. We set them up in the living room. Since I don’t buy practical items like torches, we improvised with lamps and the girls did a very shortlived puppet show πŸ™‚

My neighbour gave the girls some wildflower beebombs. The girls loved raking the soil and scattering them, and I’m hopeful we’ll keep them alive and that our garden will be filled with beautiful wildflowers soon πŸ™‚

Since it was such a nice evening, I made hotdogs on the barbecue and we ate outside. The girls made sure to put one of their flower displays on the outdoor table πŸ™‚ Eating in the sunshine definitely makes me feel freer at the moment. You could almost imagine you’re on holiday πŸ™‚

I decided to do a bit of a clear-out in our kitchen. I love the fact that when you clear out drawers and cupboards, you discover things you had forgotten you had. The girls found some sticker books and a felt board to play with, and I discovered a stash of wax melts and candles I didn’t know I had! I lit the Causeway Coast wax melt and it is the most relaxing scent I have ever breathed πŸ™‚ I find sorting cupboards out really cathartic. It’s good to get rid of some clutter and feel like everything is somewhat orderly for a few days. (Until I start lazily throwing things into cupboards without looking again :))

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We had a couple of kids’ cupcake kits, so we made some chocolate Aladdin ones and some muddy puddle Peppa ones to keep everyone happy πŸ™‚ I always used to think the cupcake kits were pointless because they contain so little mix and it’s almost as easy to just make them from scratch, but I’ve realised they allow kids to skip ahead to the parts of baking they enjoy, ie the icing, decorating and spoon-licking.

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I rearranged the girls’ room a little and I put some decorative kids’ pegs on jewellery wire to make a little washing line for their artwork. I think my daughter thought it was for their dolls’ clothes πŸ™‚ I also found my crepe spreader that my mum got me from France, so I’ll have to make some crepes soon πŸ™‚

We found a new street with blossom aplenty πŸ™‚ The girls have named it the “dead end” walk, for obvious reasons. But it seems to have the best supply of intact blossom flowers. The girls brought a bag to collect some in and made some more little floral posies. I’ll probably be finding wilted flowers all over the house for ages, but it keeps the girls happy πŸ™‚

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When we got home, my daughter had to practise writing her spellings in flour, so after she had finished, my younger daughter converted it into a beach for her LOL dolls πŸ™‚ It kept her busy while we got some schoolwork done πŸ™‚

My friend kindly left a surprise on our doorstep: a gardening kit for the girls. Today, we planted the sunflowers and butterfly seeds. The girls loved having their own plant projects πŸ™‚ I’ve never grown sunflowers before, but they are my favourite flowers, so I’ll be happy when they appear πŸ™‚

As if we didn’t have enough baked treats in the house already, I made my daughter’s favourite coconut cake today. It’s a recipe I found in Dining on a Dime Cook Book and it never fails. It produces two cakes, and I always think it will be a challenge to use it all up, but it always quickly disappears πŸ™‚

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We made a little bird feeder from the girls’ Toucan boxes. You just had to glue layers of lolly sticks to make a little box, with a stick for the bird to perch on. Pipe cleaners were added as handles and we put it on the hedges outside. I’m hoping it attracts more birds to the garden. Our robin hasn’t visited in a few days as I haven’t put out more of his peanut butter food yet, so I might have to make some tomorrow for him πŸ™‚

 

 

 

 

Gardening, Gloop & Beetle Friends

Yesterday, we went for what has become our usual walk on the Greenway. While we were walking, the girls were talking about the different birdsong and they pointed out some Forget-me-nots and butterflies along the way. They are becoming a lot more perceptive about their environment and noticing the little changes in nature on our walks.

Afterwards, I made them some yellow play doh to β€œbake” with outside. I’m glad I kept all the tools from play doh sets over the years. Even though they add to my cluttered cupboards, the girls have got so much use out of them. They also use dough ball trays from M&S as pretend mini bun trays but you could use kitchen utensils too. I know a garlic press works well with play doh and they enjoy the realistic element of having kitchen equipment too πŸ™‚

The girls made me some bright yellow cupcakes to have with my coffee πŸ™‚ Then they started making desserts and made up their own names for them πŸ™‚ Eventually, it ended up turning into a play doh and soil game and I declared it over πŸ™‚

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Then, we made some real chocolate chip cookies using an easy recipe I found posted online. The girls had asked me to pick up some giant chocolate chips at the shop the day before and it felt like a sign it was time to make choc chip cookies πŸ™‚

The girls helped to roll out the dough and proceeded to lick the bowl and pinch bits of dough to eat while I cut out cookies πŸ™‚ Β We listened to some calming music and I made some coffee to go with the cookies/the girls claimed theirs for snack and TV time πŸ™‚

I had some ripe avocados, so I decided to make guacamole and use a nachos kit we had in the cupboard πŸ™‚ I put some lime in our drinks too and when my daughter came into the kitchen and saw the overloaded plate she said it was β€œlike we’re in a restaurant.” We had a slow dinner at the table and listened to 1920’s jazz. She was right; it did feel like we were in a real restaurant πŸ™‚

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Today, we went for a walk to a nearby shop and the girls got some ice-cream and sweets. The weather was so hot today and going for a morning walk almost felt like being in Spain or Portugal πŸ™‚ I like the fact we go to local shops more now and barely use the car. It feels like we get to experience more together and have longer chats while we walk with nowhere to rush to. The girls picked some dandelion clocks and had fun blowing them on the way home.

Afterwards, my daughter had to do some pets colouring in the style of Dean Russo, so I printed off an extra sheet for my younger daughter. She had her ice-cream while she coloured and my older daughter put a lot of time into drawing patterns. I wish maths homework went that swimmingly. My neighbour kindly gave us some spiced buns she had made and we all loved them. They were like a gingerbread cake πŸ™‚

Afterwards, I made some gloop for the girls to play with. My friend suggested it yesterday and I’d never made it before. It’s so easy to prepare and is such an interesting texture. I couldn’t stop playing with it either, because it keeps changing from solid to liquid and is really weird! The girls played with it for a long time, until they started flinging it around the garden, which is how most messy crafts end!Β 

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I finally tackled the weeding at the front of our house. The girls helped me with raking and binning πŸ™‚ Then they started their own games beside me. I uncovered some Clematis on the wall and I’ve no idea how it got there! It must have just been obscured by all the weeds I never get time to remove πŸ™‚ While we were weeding, my daughter found a beetle and decided to befriend it. I was happy to see her not scream at the sight of a bug πŸ™‚ She was really gentle with it and made it a β€œhouse” in an empty container. She named it β€œDude” but then decided to rename it after my parents’ cat. It eventually moved on and she was momentarily disappointed. (That’s it walking upside down on a twig/its new house it quickly vacated,)

For dinner, we had a barbecue in the garden. I’ve realised having a barbecue with the girls means sitting eating alone while they come up with thousands of reasons to repeatedly leave the table πŸ™‚ But it was nice sitting in the hot sun, feeling like we were on holiday and having the company of the neighbours voices and the birds in the background πŸ™‚

 

 

Quick Chocolate and Candy Cane Fudge

I have had so many fudge setting disasters it feels laughable I have a fudge recipe to share that actually worked out πŸ™‚ But this is so quick and tastes pretty good πŸ™‚ It is quite soft and should be kept in the fridge, or add more chocolate if you want it to be more solid in the centre.

Ingredients

1 can of condensed milk

1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

2 Candy Canes
Method

Grease a baking tray and line with baking parchment. I used quite a small, deep tin. If you’re using a larger one, you might want to double the quantities.
Empty the tin of condensed milk and all the chocolate chips into a microwaveable bowl. Heat for one minute. Stir well and heat for another 20 seconds until melted. Heat in 10-20 second increments if it needs extra time, so it doesn’t burn.
Whip the mixture with a metal spoon. Apparently using a metallic one helps it solidify.. I have no idea why.

Put candy canes in a ziplock bag and bash with a rolling pin. You can keep the pieces chunky or beat into tiny shards. I chose to leave the pieces a bit larger. If I had been in a bad mood, I probably would have opted for the latter.
Pour fudge mixture into tin and sprinkle candle canes on top. Allow to set on counter and when cooled keep in fridge. Cut into squares and serve. Give as presents to other people, or to yourself πŸ™‚

Banana & White Chocolate Mini Muffins

This recipe is really cheap and a good way to use up leftover bananas. It is also a good baking activity for child involvement without compromising adult sanity πŸ™‚ I won’t eat bananas once they have the first sign of a freckle, so I might have gone overboard with the number of bananas in the recipe. They were a hit with my kids; they kept trying to sneak their hands into the tub when I wasn’t looking (even though they’d already had three each.)

Ingredients

3Β BananasΒ (I used 4 but mine taste more like banana than muffin now.)

1/4 cup of milk

1/2 cup of oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 3/4 cups of flour

1 heaped tsp of baking powder

1/2 cup of sugar

A handful of white chocolate chips/chunks of white chocolate

 

Method

Mash bananas in a large bowl with a potato masher. Add all wet ingredients and combine with a wooden spoon. Add dry ingredients,Β mix well, add chocolate and spoon into greased muffin tins/bun cases. Warning: this recipe made 26 mini muffins. That’s a lot of mini muffins, unless you’re me and always have room for snacks. You can improvise with the chocolate. I had no white chocolate so used part of an Easter egg I withheld from my kids and forgot about. They looked a bit annoyed and showed some vague signs of recognition, but they forgave me when I let them lick the bowl.Β Enjoy πŸ™‚

 

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Recipe

My kids asked me to make banana bread this week. I’m convinced they only offer to help so they can lick the bowl and wreck the kitchen with my permission. I decided to sneak some chocolate into the recipe to spare my sanity during the flour explosion clear-up afterwards. My kids keep asking for a second slice of this, so I guess it must be alright.

Ingredients

4 bananas (this might sound excessive but they make it extra-moist)

1/2 cup of sugar

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup veg oil

1tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 3/4 Cups flour

1tsp bicarbonate of soda/baking soda

Handful of milk chocolate chunks (or in my case, halved chocolate buttons)

Method:

Preheat oven to 160 c

Mash bananas with a potato masher.

Whisk in the oil, milk, vanilla, eggs and sugar. I find whisking by hand works best. Don’t be too thorough – leave some banana chunks if you like.

Mix in flour and baking soda. Add chocolate at the end and stir in so it is dispersed evenly. Put mixture in a greased loaf tin.

Bake for about 40 mins in the middle of the oven. Add a layer of foil halfway through cooking so the outside doesn’t become over-crisp.