Planet Posters, Seasonal Cooking & Fungi Fieldtrips

I’ve been busy working on other projects recently and have neglected my blog a bit. But it feels like a new season has started and I felt the desire to share what we’d been doing this morning πŸ™‚

With the school rush a part of our routine again, I’m enjoying the slow development of weekend days. When the weather is favourable, we’ve been going for long nature walks. The girls have told me their favourite place to visit at the moment is Rowallane Gardens. I love the fact that it is so easy to get to but it feels like pure escapism. The trees are beautiful autumnal colours at the moment and I find it helps to reset my mind just being around them. There is definitely something to the Japanese practice of tree bathing. I find watching the kids climbing trees, or just being surrounded by them really healing.

I love walking around the lake and seeing the weeping willows. My kids attempt to play Pooh sticks every time we go but seem surprised each time they discover there is no current to carry their sticks away πŸ™‚ Still, sitting on a bridge prodding at things in the water does them good. I don’t think there is enough down-time for kids nowadays and I like them to experience it when they can. They have found a tree that they call the “Sliding Tree” because it bows in the shape of a slide. I’m surprised they haven’t destroyed their leggings on it yet, but it keeps them happy πŸ™‚ I brought some sausages in a flask and we had hotdogs beside the bandstand. It reminded me of when I was little and we used to have a school barbecue in that spot πŸ™‚

I like walking around the Old Wood part of Rowallane at the minute. There is something spooky about it, so it makes sense they put their Halloween hunt there. They have started to put together some of the tree sculptures. The girls said that they were “scary” but seemed to still want to pose for photos with them πŸ™‚ They have put up little signs about fungi-spotting. There are lots of different kinds if you look around for them. I find it calms my kids looking for things like that – doing anything that resembles a treasure hunt. They became really interested in finding as many different kinds as they could and liked the ones that looked like frills πŸ™‚

They have made a little fairy town out of some tree stumps and the girls were pretending to walk their fingers up the stairs into the little house πŸ™‚ I love finding unexpected things that people have made along the way πŸ™‚ Afterwards, we played Hide and Seek in the walled garden and had some snacks at the cafe. I love the outdoor terrace. It always seems to get the sun when nowhere else does, and it feels like we have left Northern Ireland while we’re there πŸ™‚ Every time we go, I get a scone and my daughter devours most of it, but she still declares that they aren’t as good as “Nannie’s scones.”

I have been experimenting with some new recipes over the last week. I got a book called “Feed your Family for Β£20 a Week” and it has lots of good recipes in it πŸ™‚ I made a sausage casserole yesterday that the kids actually ate, and enough lentil soup to feed a whole town πŸ™‚ There is a recipe for granola too and it turned out better than any I have got from the shops. I also found a recipe for a three ingredient Christmas cake and wanted to experiment with it. It turned out surprisingly well for something with so few ingredients. I added some Baileys to it and I might make a version of it for Christmas time with an attempt at icing/marzipan on it πŸ™‚

It felt Wintery to me yesterday, so we had a pyjamas day in the house. I love finding old movies I loved as a kid and watching them with the girls. We watched Dennis the Menace. It was one of the few non-cartoon films that they have found hilarious. I keep those packets of microwave popcorn in the house so I have them on hand for a cinema day. You can get four of them for a pound in Home Bargains πŸ™‚

We made some gingerbread men. I’m not quite sure why I’m doing so much Christmas-style baking in October, but it just felt like appropriate weather for it. Gingerbread men are the one kind of biscuit both my kids will eat πŸ™‚ They love icing them and adding sprinkles too. The girls just wanted to use all the cookie cutters we own so we have a bit of a mixture of seasons biscuits-wise πŸ™‚

We hadn’t got around to completing the girls’ Toucan boxes, so we made the planets poster. You had to dye coffee filters, using felt tips and a water pipette. Then, you had to add bright tissue paper to add another layer of dye. The effect was interesting and they did come out with a mottled, planet-type surface πŸ™‚ When they had dried, the girls glued them over the holes in the poster and added stickers. To finish it off, they added some glow in the dark stars πŸ™‚

We also made a dreamcatcher. The girls had to paint the wooden hoop with watercolours first. While we waited for it to dry, we had an autumn painting session together and we all painted pumpkins πŸ™‚ We talked about adding more than one colour running through an object and my daughter seems very interested in that now πŸ™‚ When the hoop was dry, we threaded cord through it with a plastic needle πŸ™‚ It’s good practice for kids to get the hang of sewing without the finger-pricking part πŸ™‚ We decorated it with hanging beads and feathers and my daughter put it up in their bedroom to ward off bad dreams πŸ™‚

It felt like a gentle kind of day and it was a welcome break from running around, picking up and dropping everyone off πŸ™‚ I felt much more ready to face the week this morning and my mind felt rested for once. I think my version of lying down binge-watching a boxset is making things with my hands, and my kids might be the same way πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

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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