Autumn Appreciation & Cosy Crafts

I don’t usually make much of Halloween, but I’m looking for any excuse for celebration this year. I decided my kids need it as much as I do after all the restrictions placed on us all year, so I went to Home Bargains and got some cheap decorations for Halloween displays. There is a house around the corner from ours with some pumpkin fairy lights and a ghost outside the front door, and in a strange way it brings some cheer to the area 🙂

I put up some spiders on a string and some skull lights, a little lantern and ghost display under the stairs, got out my knitted pumpkins I got at a craft fair a couple of years ago and put up some pumpkin bunting. It was the first thing the kids commented on when they got home from school and it felt like a prelude to Christmas.

I’m going to throw a party of three for the kids and myself, so before Halloween arrives, I’ve decided to collect some games and activities to keep the kids’ busy over the holidays, especially since I’m preparing myself for an extended half-term holiday. Usually when we have a “party” in the house, I make some games for free, drawing my own “pin the … on the …” and use one of my scarves as a blindfold. It’s funny how something as simple as that is always a hit. I will probably do a pass the parcel with sweets inside and plastic Halloween ornaments hidden in each layer 🙂

We started with some of our autumnal crafts this weekend. We collected some yellow and red leaves, some pine cones and rocks to create a little table display. I found a cute little squash that looks like a tiny pumpkin and added it too. The girls made some sparkly pine cones, using PVA glue and sprinkling glitter over them. We chose autumn colours, like gold, orange and yellow. Then we painted some rocks with autumn-themed pictures too, like trees shedding leaves and pumpkins. I just gave the girls some of my acrylic paints in seasonal colours and let them paint whatever they wanted. After they had dried, we assembled them in the centre of the table and added a candle for dinner time. I might look out for a dish to put them on too. I like having little projects like that to change around small things in the house – ones that don’t involve DIY at least!

I also used the day to do some cooking for throughout the week. I made vegetable soup, which I’m always surprised to see my kids happily eating, with their aversion to most vegetables! I used up some black bananas by making two-ingredient breakfast cookies. You just add one cup of oats per mashed banana, mix and you can add in any extras you like. Then, you just cook them in the oven for fifteen minutes. I added chocolate chips to ours and the kids did the banana mashing and hovering, waiting for chocolate rewards 🙂

We have been spending our free time at the farm and Rowallane. I baked some brownies and took them with us and both kids loved them. I was surprised since they contained cacao powder instead of chocolate. I might have finally found a treat they will both eat 🙂 We fed the animals, the kids spent ages on the go-carts and we dodged rain showers between barns 🙂 The trees at Rowallane seemed to have changed colour, even since last week. There were beautiful jewel colours everywhere and they had added a Halloween trail for kids. We spent hours exploring the whole estate and ended it with the obligatory ice-cream stop at the cafe. I spotted some purple flowers that stood out to me and wondered what they were called. Funnily enough, I saw the same flowers in a magazine the next day and found out they were called Michaelmas daisies 🙂

I’ve come to really appreciate the month of October. If you stop to look at the seasonal changes around you and enjoy the cosiness of the nights closing in, it feels like a treat in itself and you don’t mourn the loss of Summer 🙂

Treasuring the Tranquility

The last couple of days have been slow and quiet. I’m actually enjoying aspects of them, like the birdsong, the fact I can hear a clock ticking, the fact I don’t feel pulled in as many directions (apart from when my kids are queuing up for constant snacks, obviously.)

Yesterday, we started the day with yoga/dancing/garden time. My aim is to burn off as much of my kids’ energy as possible before we sit down to do schoolwork 🙂 While my older daughter did some work, I gave my younger one glue and craft materials to make a collage. She glued her bookmark onto her picture but I just let her get on with it. I don’t think many of her books need a bookmark since we finish them in one sitting 🙂

B22B878A-E088-4A19-88AF-C03A35B35249

Afterwards, we watched a Maddie Moate video and had some sultana cake/breadsticks/coffee number two for me. One of my daughter’s activities was to make a chick out of card. My younger daughter likes to join in with any craft project, so they made one each. I was impressed by how little I had to help with the concertina folds and cutting the sellotape 🙂 I could almost imagine a time when I’ll be able to sit with idle hands while they do artwork 🙂

I had chocolates left from my Mother’s Day basket and we all had one each. The girls liked choosing their own and the fact they were limited to one seemed to make them view it as more of a treat 🙂

For dinner, I decided to make a mini fry with ingredients we already had in the house. I had made some mashed potatoes the previous night. I mixed them with flour to make potato bread and fried them. I thought I’d made enough to last days, but the girls are all of it 🙂 Here is a picture of our food. I know, I’m weird because I eat ketchup and baked beans on one plate. Clearly my first priority is eating, my second priority is photography 🙂

I hung up the bunting we had made in my daughter’s toucan box to cheer up the kitchen 🙂 It’s going to make opening cupboards difficult for a while, but at least it looks seasonal 🙂

0295279B-BB3C-47CF-859F-D22F4C7A6442

This morning, I gave the girls one of my daughter’s preschool’s suggested activities.They drew on the fence and the ground with chalk and then used spray bottles of water to clean it off. It kept them occupied for a long time and they were reluctant to come inside.

One of my kids did magic painting to practise writing words for school. She wrote the words with white crayon and painted over them with watercolours. If you don’t have a white crayon, you can use a white candle instead. Meanwhile, my other daughter did her own magic Paw Patrol picture. We had some stories and a snack and watched a video about growing vegetables.

D613C480-2F74-4972-BDE9-A23F460E2A42

We went back outside after lunch to identify outdoor sounds in the garden. It’s harder than it appears at first glance with kids involved 🙂 It was a struggle to hear anything over their bikes and their voices 🙂 But we completed the list and then went indoors to do the indoor sounds section.

I’ve made 3pm my designated writing time. At that time, the girls are allowed to watch TV and have a snack while I catch up on some writing. They make many visits throughout with requests for more snacks, so I’ve had to relax my ideal word count for this period 🙂 My act of self-care today was to write, drink a homemade latte and sneak chocolate truffles when no one was looking 🙂

7F9C157B-534D-45E7-9388-118F6A8A9BA6

For dinner, I improvised and made something like chicken korma. I used up some of the flatbreads we had left and they were a good substitute for naan bread 🙂 I like the fact that this phase of life is making everyone more resourceful, and it shows us we can survive on much less than we typically buy 🙂

 

Slow Days and Homemade Lemonade

Today was a slow-moving day, centred around the house. I received a lovely surprise basket of chocolate from “the girls” (my parents) for Mother’s Day. It cheered me up because I’d thought it was a package with a returned dress I had sold in it 😀 I went for a quick walk with the girls early this morning to buy lemons from the fruit shop. My daughter had been requesting my homemade lemonade, so I decided the extra vitamins wouldn’t do them any harm at the moment 🙂 I got a moment of peace to make it, which is rare in our house. But it feels like the girls are slowing the pace they live at (sometimes) to match the world at the minute.

45FB0778-13FA-4F72-B287-9F3A28ACE226

I found a glass bottle I’d got from IKEA to store the lemonade in. I added the juice of 2 1/2 large lemons and the zest to about 700ml of boiled water in a measuring jug. While it was hot, I stirred in a generous amount of honey to taste (it was at least 1/4 of a squeezy tube) and stirred it well. After it had cooled, I transferred it to a bottle and put it in the fridge to chill. In the hours it spent sitting, reaching the right temperature, I was asked tens of times if it was ready yet 🙂

1B23FE0F-ECF7-492E-B6A5-40CA3F5CDC63

We tuned in on Facebook to Wee Bookworms to watch a live video of a reading of Peter Rabbit by a lady who works in the bookshop. They are on every Saturday morning at 11.30am for kids. I also ordered one of their activity packs each for the girls. They’ll be so excited when they see them arriving in the post 🙂 

I changed the beds and aired out the house, which always uplifts me and continued to move the piles of clutter to different positions in my kitchen 🙂

For lunch, I made some hummus to go with the flatbreads I had made last night. It was a simple recipe and tasted really good. My kids didn’t agree, but they devoured the flatbreads anyway 🙂 I’ve been looking out for flour when we’ve been in the shops and haven’t seen any in a while. Luckily, I had some left because I tend to bake bread every week anyway. But I was thinking of options for when we run out and remembered you can blend porridge oats and use them instead of flour – Just a tip I remembered if anyone is in the same boat. You can also use polenta to make American cornbread if you have any. My hummus – it tastes better than it looks 😀

92BAA3BA-5AE9-4DCD-B49C-C202FC0C6511

After lunch, we had some quiet time, playing dominos and I made myself a caramel latte 🙂 I’m not missing my takeaway coffee as much as I thought I would. I tend to get it when I’m writing, but I’ve realised there are cheaper alternatives and the one I made today tasted the same 🙂 

958EAF5A-E072-4921-AAEA-9D206D981CEF

We put on some yoga music and the girls did some kids’ yoga, whilst climbing on me as I attempted to do it! It’s cute actually – my daughter taught me all the poses she uses in nursery, like happy baby, ice skater, tree, happy and sad dog and kitty, etc. I made them an after-yoga snack of fruit and water. Then they headed out to the garden to burn off some excess energy. I hung out the laundry, which has, weirdly, become one of my favourite things to do. They played in the dirt and made food out of soil and water 🙂

We finished the day with some bolognese, stories and playing restaurants. I’m exhausted now, but simultaneously, looking forward to tomorrow. I say that in the spirit of finding the good in a difficult situation, rather than discounting the severity of it.

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 🙂 But this is so quick and tastes pretty good 🙂 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 🙂

No Yeast Easy Pizza

I’m having one of those weeks where I’m stalling when it comes to doing the food shopping. Once everything turns “merry” and the countdown to Christmas starts, the thought of battling my way through crowds, trying to complete a mental shopping list, fills me with dread. So I’ve been trying to survive on what we already have in the cupboards and I came up with this. It’s weird how creative you become through avoidance of shops.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups of flour

1 tsp of salt

2 1/2 tsp of baking powder

1 tbsp of oil

160ml water

1/2 jar of tomato sauce

2 handfuls of grated cheese

 

Method

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Add the oil and water. Form into a ball and gently knead for a couple of minutes. Add more flour if the mixture is too wet/more water if too dry. Flatten it out. I find it’s easier to stretch this pizza base with your hands – that’s why mine looks so misshapen 🙂 Dont forget to grease the tray first so it doesn’t stick! I usually pour some oil on kitchen roll as a quick way to do it/ you can also use the paper cover off a tub of butter. Spread tomato sauce with a spoon and sprinkle cheese on top. I used cheddar because it was all we had but any would work – apart from maybe cream cheese. That would be weird 🙂 Add any toppings you like. Cook at 180c for 10-15 minutes. It is ready when the cheese has browned.

Easy Slow Cooker Chinese Chicken

512A5C49-6923-4D06-BFF4-A1A1CC726BD7This recipe probably isn’t authentic Chinese cooking, or authentic anything. I just made it up on the spur of the moment and it tasted surprisingly good. It’s easy to make and I’ve been making more use of my slow cooker now the Winter nights are announcing their arrival at 4pm. It’s cheap and easy to make and goes well with rice or noodles for an effortless dinner.

Ingredients

Pack of chicken legs/drumsticks/thighs

1/2 cup of soy sauce

1/4 cup of sweet chilli sauce

1 tsp rice vinegar

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup of chicken stock

Scattering of sesame seeds

 

Method

In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, rice vinegar, crushed garlic, chicken stock and sesame seeds. Mix well. Add the raw chicken legs and cover completely with the sauce. Lay in slow cooker and pour remaining sauce from the bowl over the top. Cook on high for 5 hours/low for 8 hours.

 

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.

BDAB6510-0FEB-4261-B38A-16B7F0F3E509

Raspberry, Pineapple and Kale Smoothies

I should preface this by saying, in this smoothie, you can’t taste the kale. I can confirm based on the fact my children will drink it and one of them doesn’t like green vegetables; the other doesn’t like any vegetables. When my kids are asking for ice lollies constantly, it’s a good, healthy replacement. If you use lots of frozen fruit, it makes a slushy type of consistency that they can eat with a spoon. This recipe is more the consistency of juice. You can also freeze it in lolly moulds to make ice lollies.

Ingredients

1 frozen banana
handful of frozen raspberries
small handful of pineapple
handful of kale
apple/pineapple juice to just cover the fruit and veg.

Method

Add a frozen banana broken in two and a handful of frozen raspberries or other berries to the bottom of a blender. Place pineapple and kale on top and fill with juice until it just covers the ingredients. Blend until smooth.

A0EC178A-9770-4924-A999-59E3F54983BD

Courgette Cake/ Zucchini Bread Recipe

Today I was in the mood for some baking and I recently remembered I used to make zucchini bread and how addictive it is. It sounds strange but the courgettes cook down into a treacly consistency, so it just tastes like a sweet, caramel-type cake. I decided to make two loaves since this always goes down well in our house.

(Makes two cakes.)

Ingredients

3 cups of flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsps cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oil
3 tsps. vanilla extract
2 cups of grated courgettes

Method

Sift the flour, salt, cinnamon, backing powder and bicarb of soda together. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugars, oil and vanilla extract. Combine the wet and dry ingredients well. Add the grated courgettes and mix well. Put in two greased loaf tins. Cook at 160c for 45 minutes, covering with tin foil halfway through to stop the top getting too crispy.

Easy Chicken & Coconut Curry with Sticky Rice

I threw this together today and it was surprising good for how easy it is to make. I usually cook a roast chicken and then divide it up into different tubs, freezing some, so it’s ready to use when I need it. Shockingly, my kids admitted to liking this – probably because it is such a mild curry and the coconut milk makes it sweet. The rice is so easy and cheap to make and goes with everything. I just use the value range long grain rice.

(Serves two – or add more chicken and mushrooms/rice to stretch it further.)

Ingredients

Curry

1/2 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
oil
2 heaped tsps curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 can of coconut milk
handful of chopped mushrooms
handful of cooked chicken
handful of chopped cashew nuts
handful of coriander and more to garnish

Rice

1 cup of long grain white rice
salt
boiled water

Method

To make the curry, fry a chopped onion with crushed garlic in oil. When it turns clear, add the curry powder, black pepper and mushrooms. Stir until coated and mushrooms cooked. Add the tin of coconut milk. Bring the heat down to a simmer. Add the chicken and coriander. Cook on a low heat for twenty minutes.

For the rice, add 1/2 a cup of rice per person. Add double the amount of boiled water, add salt and cover with lid. Cook on a very low heat for 20-25 minutes. Don’t stir, but check intermittently to make sure the water hasn’t all been absorbed. It will clump together like sticky rice when cooked this way so you don’t need to drain it. Add some more coriander at the end to make the dish look pretty 🙂