Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Easter Activities

There are plenty of egg and rabbit related activities out there; the craft kits abound in shops cheaply at this time of year.  This is a good opportunity to introduce children to the beliefs of ancient peoples, such as the Saxon goddess Eostre, and the fertility of springtime being the basis behind these rabbit/egg associations at this time of year.
We also like to concentrate on Easter as the Christian Holy Week.  I find it helps the children to understand it by looking at the Jewish Passover too; after all, it plays a large part in Christ's story.
Some ideas to get stuck into:

Berry Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake
Also, top right: plain biscuits with fondant icing rabbits and choc drop/raisin eyes

Simnel cake was originally made for Mothering Sunday when workers were allowed to return home to their "mother church".  It eventually came to be made for Easter with the marzipan marking the twelve apostles around the edge of the cake as you can see in the photo above.  I have made it almost every year for Easter Sunday tea since I first read Cattern Cakes and Lace, but I have seen it mentioned more in magazines and on TV over the past decade, being pushed as traditional Easter fare.

We all love to help making simnel cake at Acorn Towers!  The kids love rolling the marzipan balls and helping to decorate it.  It is such a simple cake mix that they can get in on adding ingredients and mixing too.

The citrusiness of this recipe is perfect for Easter, light and fresh, and the berries look like jewels when you cut it. In the past, I have added a tablespoon of Amaretto, or 1 tsp almond extract; this compliments the marzipan nicely for some people, but I now feel it is too much almond.

The nature of this cake is more of a madeira than a traditional fruit cake; I love the breadcrumb coating for a lovely texture and making it a perfect match to a cup of tea. It is best kept for a few days to settle before cutting; the flavour is best that way too.

You can, if you prefer, cook the batter in two sandwich tins for less time, then sandwich by brushing cooled cakes with warmed marmalade and a layer of marzipan or a marmalade flavoured butter icing; I would not want to lose the gorgeous decadent squidginess of the cooked marzipan though. A 500g pack of marzipan should be enough, but I always give in to worry and end up with a 1kg pack just in case!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Computer Science Course and Computer Science Unplugged - The Show

I had a conversation with a colleague when it was first news that schools were introducing young children to computer science.  She could not see the benefit; she felt that children are familiar enough with technology as they are able to use iphones/ipads/ereaders easily and confidently.  I tried to point out that being able to navigate technology for everyday use is not the same as learning how it works.  Sort of the difference between being able to go for a walk and knowing how the leg works.  I am not certain she was convinced, possibly due to my inability to argue a point, but I told her that we introduced computer science to our kids before it came into schools.

(And as a side note... we will have none of that Barbie the Computer Engineer rubbish at Acorn Towers, thank you very much. )

Kids are such curious creatures!  They love taking stuff apart and seeing how it works!  Especially if it is a big important thing like a hard drive!  (This only with an adult to show them, of course!)  One of the courses we use below, however, gets them away from the computer itself and thinking about concepts - a fantastic way to compliment their learning in mathematics.

Some of the great resources we have found are:

Dandelion and Spinach Pesto

This is our regular go-to pesto.  Basil is something I have never been able to keep alive, sadly.  I have kept soft herbs in the freezer in the past but have never got into the habit.  Anyway, this is a more economical and exotic version that the whole household loves.  Oh, and dandelion is packed with iron and calcium so you are getting more health benefits for less cost too.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Pizza for the Freezer; Tricolor and Barbecue Feast

Tricolour Pizza with Four Cheeses
I was inspired by Little House Living's make ahead Ranch Chicken Calzones for the freezer.  We were beginning to rely on our favourite frozen pizzas far too often!  They are so handy for teatimes between everyone's commitments, and minimise dishwashing (one of the chores I am least fond of.)
The original calzones look and sound gorgeous! But, being frugal,  I decided to use what we had in for our toppings... the combinations we ended up with were so successful that I would repeat them even if we had to buy new packs of everything!   I am not sure which is the household's favourite as some of them could not decide, but mine is the Tricolor for sure - all that lovely gooeyness and fresh greenery.
I made up four so that we could have two fresh and two to pop in the freezer once cooked with layers of greaseproof baking paper.  Merissa from Little House Living says I should cook through from frozen until done; I found these pizzas took about 20 minutes at 180C, just the same as from fresh.

Two cooked and two uncooked
Pack in the freezer once cooked to keep
Makes 4 pizzas

Marmalade Shortbread, or Paddington's Marmalade Sandwich Biscuits

World Book Day 2015 was the inspiration behind my making these shortbread treats. While I do not pretend they are healthy, they are not as high in sugar as they could be as the marmalade allows for a sugar reduction in the biscuit. Just do not eat them all at once!  A big family is great for the health; living alone and baking was a disaster, but husband, children and parents all wanting a slice of the action means you only get your reasonably portioned fair share.
These treats definitely have a tea party feel about them!  They are great for making with the kids as they are so simple - they love having a go at the rubbing in stage.  These biscuits would also lend themselves to being parcelled up for your librarians.
The recipe should make about 30 pieces, but fewer if you are more generous with the portions. Finger biscuits, which would be more sensible than the massive wedges above, will give you a few more.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

World Book Day 2015 and Competition

The 5th March is a big day in 2015.

I have already posted about the anniversary of the end of the '84/'85 Miners' Strike and the resources we have used over the year.

This year, it is also World Book Day 2015This is a big day in schools - kids come in character and share stories. 

So what can we home ed parents do to get in on the action?

I already posted about how we engage our kids with literature.  On World Book Day, we let the fun roll (as in, more than usual). It is picture books and illustrations and outings and dressing up.  A literary Halloween, if you will.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Cheatballs and Spaghetti

This is a really cheap and delicious version of meatballs with spaghetti.  It is also super easy... hence 'cheat' balls!  You can make them without the soy sauce and vinegar, but this makes them as tender and rich as the best meatballs I ever had. 

Serves 6