Friday, 27 February 2015

Revision of the Miners' Strike

As the 30th anniversary of the end of the Miners' Strike is on 5th March, we will be revising our project from last year which marked the 30 years since the beginning of the Miners' Strike of 1984.  I posted there the great resources we found to study the topic.

The new guardianwitness page of photographs and personal stories will be an interesting read; there should be things there I can share with the children.
A great starting point for kids to gain background in this topic is the brilliantly child-friendly interactive page online at

Monday, 23 February 2015

Simple Crochet Off-the-shoulder Cardigan...Party Time!

For children who inspire concern regarding socialisation, our children seem to get invited to an awful lot of parties.

Three weekends in a row for the same two kids... that's more than I ever got.

Anyway, we realised that they had run out of party clothes that fit.  My 5 year old girl chose this grey and orange short sleeved dress (£5 in Asda.)  I felt it was still too cold to be going around in a short-sleeved  jersey-style dress. So I got to work with leftover grey yarn from Christmas gifts...

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Engaging with Literature

I have often heard the idea that some kids are born readers, some are not.

Other parents have asked me how I got so lucky, having kids who all like to read.  How did that happen?  Some of it is luck, perhaps...


 the ways we have found encourage our kids are:
  • Start off the right way, as young as possible.
  • Get the right balance between not pushing too hard, but not assuming that something is beyond them... young babies love looking at and touching board books, and exploring libraries at story or rhymetimes. 
  • Having books in the home.  Seeing parents reading, and reading as a natural pastime, is a major encouragement.  If high literature isn't your thing, fine.  Humour books, books about your favourite TV show, cookery books and hobby books... anything.  Check out charity shops and libraries for book sales (one near us does 5 books for £1!)

So now they can read, enjoy picture books or short stories... but how do I get them to enjoy literary classics?  Just foisting a copy of Tom Sawyer or Oliver Twist on an 8-year-old is not going to foster a love of the book, the language, the story... it will seem a chore or even impossible.

I have just asked my 8 year old and 5 year old to list their favourite novels:
8 yr old:  Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Peter Pan by James M Barrie, Harry Potter novels by JK Rowling and The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
5 yr old: Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

What?  Have I a brood of Matilda Wormwoods?!

Surely, we are pushing too hard expecting a 4-5 year old to enjoy or understand some of those novels?

How do we introduce these and keep the kids' interest? (Especially if yours wanes when it comes to literature...)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Red Velvet Cake (with natural colouring and no saturated fat)

The final, and delicious, outcome

I posted a few days ago that I was making a Red Velvet Cake based on the recipe and science on (I wanted to make it as a sheet cake like Pioneer Woman's recipe, as it would take less frosting i.e. healthier, be easier to eat i.e. hand to mouth, and hers looks so pretty.)

Some of the comments claimed that their cake was not red enough.  The author states that the acid in the lemon juice deepens the redness; I also omitted the alkaline bicarbonate of soda, leaving in the baking powder as this contains both acid and alkali which I hoped would balance itself out. There were pointers in the comments regarding the cocoa creating a browner cake and that original red velvet took less cocoa; I reduced this also, augmenting the flour to make up the solids ratio.  These experiments make a great lesson for kids without realising they are learning scientific concepts!

Oil instead of butter and eggs is not only cheaper and has less saturated fat, it always seems to help a cake keep and often improve up to a week.   The texture is usually lighter and fluffier with a moist moreish crumb.  However, when making this recipe up, I realised that without the eggs the batter was too liquid despite replacing a little of the plain flour with cornflour.

It turned out a deep red brownie-like cake, which was not unpleasant still very warm with vanilla ice cream.  Unfortunately, as it cooled, it acquired a set jelly texture and strong beetroot flavour which was not so pleasant...

So, I mashed up the science and my own recipe which gave us the gorgeous cake pictured above.

The recipe we used

Monday, 16 February 2015

A Quiet Sunday Afternoon

The tot working hard at crochet

While Daddy took the eldest crowd out yesterday afternoon, I stayed home to work on a crochet waistcoat from a pattern online. Laptop open on the correct page, I got stuck in with my hook and yarn.

The tot took up next to me with some scrap yarn and crochet hook.  Moments later, out came our junior laptop. It was opened up on the sofa and work on the yarn and hook continued...

Where did the yarn go?

Do your little ones like to imitate you when you are working?  Does it help keep them occupied so you can get on with the job, or does it end up making the task a bit more difficult? 
Crochet yesterday... definitely easier; tot holding onto the same vacuum cleaner I am trying to clean up with... not so much!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Gingerbread Shapes

I posted about my Valentine's gift for my husband; I was going to get some cufflinks to pop into the heart I made in crochet.

Unfortunately, all of our nearby charity shops, which usually have cufflinks in, had none in at all!

The kids and I had made these gingerbread shapes on Tuesday afternoon. 

They went down very well.  We ran out of oven space and time, so I wrapped the last quarter of dough up and stashed it.  So I figured I would use the remainder to create some heart shaped gingerbread to wrap in cellophane and ribbon, and then pop that into the crochet heart instead.  Actually, I'd bet a little gingerbread man with a red piped heart would have looked nice if I had any red colouring in.

I am also going to pop out for some vac-packed beetroot to try out a version of Red Velvet Cake, the idea of which and science behind I found here.

My main gift though, is that I have arranged a monthly sitter so I can meet my husband from work and we can have quiet coffee together; regular dates, remember those?!

This is the recipe we used

Almost Free Kitchen Makeover

I found this old article from two years ago!  Fresh from the excitement of having our relatively spacious extension, I had forgotten how much the pre-extension space was spruced up from the kitchen we moved into and how pleased I was with it at the time.

I wanted to post it as it could be useful to others and it is inspiring me to sort out the bathroom for a spruce up!

Our Almost Free Kitchen Makeover

Our kitchen was grotty.  It was pretty grotty when we moved in three years ago.  The units are fine and were fairly new when we moved in, even if there isn’t nearly enough storage space.  The kitchen is so teeny tiny you couldn’t swing a theoretical cat around in it.  The wallpaper is a thick textured “tile” design with twee brown flowers on it, and a manky cream colour; the actual off-white tiles are fine and pretty nice so they did not need painting over.  An area under one of the drawers where I keep my pans and oven dishes is open and looks so untidy.

Here was the solution:

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Social History of Crafting and The Home

I find social history so interesting. I am always sure to get raised eyebrow and an elongated "okaaaay" from the seller or fellow shopper I get into conversation with at the library book sale, second hand book shop or market.  Interest in this topic is not rare of course, but those who are not interested cannot seem to fathom why someone would pay a couple of pounds for a tatty old Marguerite Patten budget cookbook from the 70s with advice on hayboxes and turning leftovers into hors d'oeuvres to produce really simple and truly budget humble meals; why would anyone want The Complete Homemaker above, first published in 1972 and a true compendium of furnishing patterns, intensely orange and yellow photographs of laughing young couples in knitted tank-tops and huge stiff collars, and a chapter on the legalities of getting married?


And I am sure quite a few of you all too!

And anyway... who could resist such highlights from The Complete Homemaker as...

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Walnut and Lincolnshire Sausage Loaf, and a Butternut Squash Pie or Victoriana Squash Pie

This loaf is a great alternative to meatloaf, and a great deal more economical.  You can use regular sausage-meat, but we use Asda’s Lincolnshire sausage mix which is only £1 per pack (to compare, Asda's equivalent size of 400g sausage meat is twice the cost at £2.)
We served it with a vegetable casserole of green beans, peas and spinach.  If you put frozen vegetables in the dish with the spinach, the ice melts to make just enough liquid to stop it from drying out.  Gravy sets it off nicely... we like to use the traditional red Bisto or homemade gravy.
The pie is similar to pumpkin pie but we prefer the more muted, less turnipy flavour and the smoother texture of butternut.  I like to add English nursery flavours rather than the more traditional American vanilla and clove-heavy mixed spice of pumpkin pie (lovely as that is.)  The more calming spices and almond hint seem to fit the texture and smoothness of the squash pie better.  I like to call it a “Victoriana Squash Pie” because it just sounds so lovely like that and I like the image of a white-dressed pristine Victorian nursery with ringletted children having a tea party with smooth comforting desserts flavoured with nutmeg and almond. I am sorry to say, the name is not catching on in our house.  The pie itself is, though; I made it this Sunday at the request of my eldest.
I would love to know what you all flavour your squash pies with; either pumpkin or butternut?  I know a lot of you who drop in to visit Acorn Towers are from the U.S. .... would you try English nursery flavours in a traditional American dessert? Or do you have a favourite go-to spice mix?
How I make them:

Monday, 9 February 2015

9 Home Crafted and "Less Expensive" Valentine Gifts

I do not get flowers usually.  Not a sad thing... anyone who knows me has learned that I always forget about the poor things and I end up with a dried flower display.  But every Valentine's Day my husband has a bunch of red roses delivered after he has gone to work and I try my hardest to keep them alive for as long as possible... that is my gift to him, i.e. making the most of the money he spent on them! 

No, I am only (half!) joking.

Saying "less expensive" Valentine gifts is a long winded way of saying "cheap."  Somehow "cheap" and "Valentine" seemed wrong together.  As if I am trying to skimp on my love.  That is not the case.  Sometimes, whether it is spending on your most loved or a way to show your love, if there is no more than a fiver in the pocket.... there is no more than a fiver to spend, full stop.  In which case, that fiver is enough when the gift is found or created and given with love.

A nice way to send a card to the one you love, especially when they are at work, is to send an ecard.  These are especially good for those (of whom I know one!) who would not appreciate the attention of their colleagues if a surprise arrived in the post!  You can let them know that you are thinking of them without making a song and dance about it.  Care2 often have nice free photo or interactive cards for various occasions and have not-for-profit charity cards.

I like to browse the really good charity shops near where we live.  They often have nice cufflinks and jewellery or niche gifts.  Some interesting finds could be old football (soccer) cigarette cards or framed posters of local favourite beauty spots.  Earlier in the year, I found a gorgeous faux velvet bound book of love poetry that barely looked touched in a 5-books-for-a-£1 deal (this actually went to a newly engaged couple for a Christmas gift, but shows even looking through everyday things like the book section, rather than a "Valentine" range,can turn up a great gift.)

7 Home Made Gift Ideas

See below for link to this pattern from Bunny Mummy's blog (my colour themes)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Online Art Lessons

A great online course on Youtube has been posted by art teacher user Dandanart.  They are engaging for the kids and really teach them artistic skills in a logical order.  They are a decent length to keep the kids interested and can be paused for them to catch up.  We tend to watch a lesson straight through then go back and work through it.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Cheats' Toad in the Hole, Pear Mash and Butternut Casserole with Homemade Gravy; Winter Trifle

Another oven Sunday dinner to post here.  We love a Cheat's Toad in the Hole here.  We roll out ready-made puff pastry instead of mixing up a risky batter.  The layers of pastry give the light crispness and softer squidge where the underside of the sausage has melded with the rich dough... everything you want from a traditional Toad in the Hole, but so much easier and quicker than letting batter stand and making sure it is lump-free and that the fat is preheated long enough.... bleugh. If it makes you feel better, you could call it Sausage Tart as it really does hold its own as a dish in its own right. A few slices of onion and thin wedges of apple or pear can be tossed over the tart before baking for a change. 

The unadulterated sausage tart, however, is really perked up with this pear mash and the lemon and black pepper spiked vegetable casserole.   Two of the kids chose the vegetables to go into the casserole with the butternut and the greens here worked very well indeed.  I find if the kids get involved, they are more likely to eat it and it encourages their confidence to see others enjoy the outcome of their input.  I am quite lucky and haven't had any weird suggestions like putting marmite in the custard or anything, so that helps!