Monday, 9 June 2014

Swinton Insurance Shadow Skills Challenge

So, I'm really excited to share this mini-challenge with you.

The good people at Swinton Insurance have recently released a new TV ad featuring Britain's Got Talent winners, Attraction. At this point I must confess to not knowing who they were until now since I don't watch the show but having investigated - what they do is really rather lovely.

In conjunction with this, Swinton sent me a shadow puppet theatre kit free of charge which I have been able to keep. My boy and I were so excited to receive the kit and we were absolutely blown away when it arrived. I've never seen anything like this - it's beautiful quality and just such a gorgeous toy to capture the imagination of children. That's exactly what happened.....N was so taken with the mini theatre that he is now putting on daily performances. We always used to make shadow animals on the bedroom wall at night time but this is somewhat more impressive as you can see!

The main kit contains a piece of linen with the theatre scene printed upon it, and a selection on puppets. They are skilfully cut out of thick, black card and mounted on mini dowels to hold and place them. On the back of the clothe there are a couple of slots where you could place a scenery piece and then have your hands free to move the characters around.

I have my lovely husband to thank for these pictures since I was busy behind the scenes with the director.

N chose the set of puppets which came with the fabric and also the 'fairytale' set. Daddy very much enjoyed listening to our story and N really got into the swing of things - he was so excited he spent a lot of time running out front to see the beautiful shadows for himself.

Gorgeous packaging

So neatly put together 
The forest scenes and castle or village on a hill pieces set the scene beautifully and we have the very familiar characters; the witch, the fairy, the dragon, the king, the princess, the donkey and the knight and a funny little man. The other kit was a circus one including ring master, acrobats and performers, and the perfect scenery. The third set is Paris - the Eiffel tower, a jazz musician, the perfect scenery for a delightful Parisian adventure.

Our story saw the princess captured by the mean witch and rescued by the knight at the King's request. The fairy provides a little magical help and even the dragon turns to the good side to help out. Donkey and the Knight save the princess, the witch is forgiven and the little man marries the young couple in front of the castle. 

That is not the end of our story however because the princess decides that she would rather become a vet and help all the animals in the forest because sitting on a throne is a bit boring - so that's exactly what she does while her husband, the knight works as head of security at the castle. Bonus points to my boy for his feminist slant on a fairy story I think!

This was so much fun and I'm not sure where you could buy such a kit but I urge you to investigate since this is one of those toys which gets the whole family on board- a proper, old-fashioned game to enjoy, a different story every time and hours of fun for years to come I would imagine.

Thanks Swinton Insurance!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Summer salads - healthy and tasty

Hello you lovely lot. The sun is shining today and I'm feeling all summery - the floaty maxi skirts are out (not quite ready for totally bare legs yet!!!) and the sandals are on!

If you follow me on Instagram then you will know that we recently purchased a second hand barbecue for a great price and since then my husband has full on barbecue fever!! My little boy, who is doing very well at trying new foods, is now requesting that all his food be barbecued - so much so that his devoted daddy was even barbecuing potato waffles in the rain recently - he's a keeper :)

Now, I love food (as you may have realised) but it has to be said that I'm not the biggest fan of red meat which can often overtake a good barbecue so I've been busy making lots of salads to accompany this and by default I'm managing to get my meat-loving husband to eat some more veggies (this is more difficult than with my four year old!) I thought you might like to see some of the recipes. I promise simple preparation and yummy, quick results - if Alex will eat them then they must be tasty! These are all easy and you can really chuck in whatever veg you have to hand - a great way to use up bits and bobs too.

First up is a classic, Beetroot and Feta salad.

So this is dead easy:

  • Grab some vacuum packed, cooked beetroots (they usually come in a 3 or four pack), chop them into pieces which are roughly the same size - this makes them easier to eat one-handed with a fork when eating al fresco and you run out of chairs! A regular pack of feta cheese usually is about 200g so chop this roughly the same size as your beetroot (there is no exact science here!)
  • Finely chop a handful of flat leaf parsley and add to the dish
  • Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon (watch out for pips)
  • Pour over a good glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil  - (the Waitrose own Sicilian one is yummy!)
  • Pour over a slightly smaller glug of Balsamic Vinegar - make sure its the proper stuff from Modena (this is probably because I'm married to an Italian who is very fussy about these things but it does make a difference - don't worry though - you don't have to spend a fortune to get nice stuff)
  • TA-DA - you have a yummy salad. Give it a mix up but be careful not to break up the feta too much. Whack it in the fridge and it will keep for a couple of days.

Next up is: Squash, spinach and nuts: I love how the nuts give this great texture and I'm in love with the flavour of pumpkin seeds right now. This combination of foods is really good for you too!!

  • Get a medium sized butternut squash, pop it in a roasting tin as is and roast it in a pre-heated oven  (180C)  for about 50 minutes until it's soft inside when you stab it.
  • Once it is cool enough to handle chop it into chunks (a nice forkable size as above) and discard all the seeds and skin (you can eat it but I don't like it personally).
  • Set a non-stick frying pan over a high heat and then toast a handful of pine nuts and a handful of pumpkin seeds in it. Give them a couple of jiggles and keep going until the pine nuts have a slightly darker colour (try not to burn them!)
  • Turn the heat of the pan down and throw in some fresh spinach leaves, heat through until they are wilted but not disappeared and all too limp. 
  • Throw the butternut squash into the same pan and heat everything through together. 
  • Add a glug of that olive oil and season if you like with some black pepper. 
  • Eat warm or cold with a dash of Balsamic vinegar if you like and you can also add some Parmesan shavings as you serve it if you like. 
  • Again if you cover this in the fridge it will keep for a couple of days. 

Lastly, Mackerel layered chick pea salad. Dead easy again and a great way to get some oily fish into your diet plus the chickpeas are super too:

  • Buy some vacuum packed smoked, peppered mackerel fillets. (the peppered ones are much nicer - if you like pepper - if not then just buy the plain). The great thing about this is that it keeps for a while and there are no bones to worry about. 
  • Wash and chop all the salad ingredients to the same size chunks
  • Slice the lettuce leaves of your choice (much easier to eat when they are smallish) and lay at the bottom of your dish. I love Romain or Little Gem lettuce. You can include some fresh basil leaves here if you like or even some fresh spinach leaves too. 
  • Next add a layer of chopped red pepper - lovely sweetness and gorgeous colour. You can put orange and yellow in too - just use up whatever you have
  • Add a layer of chopped cucumber
  • Tinned chick peas are fabulous - super cheap, super tasty and super good for you! Strain them and wash them under the tap and drain again. Pour them into the dish as the next layer. 
  • Add a layer of chopped tomatoes. My favourite are baby plum tomatoes - such a yummy flavour - any will do though. (keeping the tomatoes and cucumbers at the top stops them from getting too squished and leaking all their juicy goodness)
  • Lastly add a layer of flaked mackerel fillet. 
  • I like to cover it and pop it in the fridge like this. Then when you dish it out make sure everyone has a bit from each layer. This looks really pretty served in a glass dish so you can see all the colours. 
  • I let people dress their own plate with olive oil as above and Balsamic to taste. 
Well that's it. I hope you like these simple salads. Like I said, chuck in whatever you have - that's how I came up with these in the first place, this is just the sort of simple, healthy food I love. Make sure to let me know if you try any of these or if you have any yummy salad recipes you'd like to share. Why not check out my Pinterest board filled with yummy summery food ideas. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

March/April 2014 Holidays in photos

Hello to all my lovely Virtual Buddies out there - you know who you are and I love you, there I said it. Now that's out of the way I thought I would share some photos from our little break. We broke up for the Easter holidays and headed to Wales for some fun and frolics by the sea. I'll keep the talking brief today and let the pics do the talking (mostly, this is me after all?!!)

Let me also just let you know that I have Guest Blogged for the lovely Vicki from Ellie Bear Babi for her fabulous feature about Stay at Home Mums - it's up tomorrow so please stop by and check it out xx

Lake beauty

On a tree trail we found and Indian tree :)
Razor shell

Dolgoch falls

Gorgeous cottage, gorgeous setting

He looks like such a city boy here!!
N drew family and friends

He drew a "Happy Octopus" in the sand

Winding roads, rain and solid stone beauty

A stroll on the beach in the water

Love these cottages with the hills and the rain

River walk

Lake reflections

A different lake, dramatic sky

City boy and Action Mummy

Up in the hills

Could have stayed here all day, so peaceful

Yep, I got Papped taking a Selfie!!

Beautiful Redwood we stopped to chat to

Ruined castle up so high we were in the clouds

Going nowhere fast - which is the way it should be on holiday

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Superheroes Assemble!!

Calling all superheroes!!!  
My boy waiting patiently for his party

bunting and balloons
My gorgeous boy is growing up and last week was his fourth birthday. We celebrated by holding a superhero party in his honour - the theme was his choice and a jolly good one I think. I put my thinking cap on and came up with some pretty cool ideas (if I do say so myself!) and the day went off without a hitch  - perfect!

This was the first year where we had a celebration purely for his little friends, in the past we have had family get togethers but this year was full-on kids' party action. So the first thing on the list was of course invitations. Having designed some really cool ones it was of course sods law that our printer decided to break as I tried to print them which also scuppered my plans for some cool decorations. Thankfully there are so many awesome free printables all over the internet now meaning the possibilities are endless.

House decorated
We did manage to print some invitations from this handy site and our boy loved them! Guest list organised, invitations delivered and RSVPs received I set about planning the party games.

Firstly I decided to have on standby the old faithful musical statues only this would be musical superhero statues where everyone has to freeze in a superhero pose. Next I chose another twist on a classic party game with pin the spider on the spiderman...I used a posted from a magazine and drew some different spiders.

Finally I went super old school and bought loads of cans of silly string - FUN!! I bought a special gun attachment since little fingers weren't quite strong enough to press the nozzle on the can. I cut out some pictures of superhero villans from a selection of old editions of superhero comic magazines which my boy had - my nemesis, the broken printer, wouldn't stop me this time! (Maybe I'm getting too into this?!)

The children had sooooo much fun doing this - it was a total hit!

When I asked my boy what kind of cake he would like he asked for an Iron Man cake. Now, me being me, I couldn't just make any old simple Iron Man cake - no, I decided that I would make an Iron Man cake complete with light up Arc Reactor (chest light thing-y). Off to Amazon I went and found a cool, motion activated cupboard light which I though would be perfect for the job. After having a mini-panic (read Major panic!) that I had bitten off more than I could chew I was back on track and made a two-tier cake.

The top tier (mask) was a two layer vanilla sponge filled with buttercream and the base (chest) tier was a two-layer chocolate sponge again filled with buttercream. I hollowed out a section for the light and iced the bottom layer according to the old school Iron Man suit (from the comics and cartoons) then I inserted dowls into the top which would help to support the top tier. I decorated the top tier and positioned onto the base. Then I covered the joins and tidied the whole thing up. I was so happy that this came out as well as I had hoped - especially since, as usual, I was making it up as I go along! The children were thrilled I think the light definitely impressed - PHEW!

For the rest of the food I made Batman ham sandwiches and Thor hammer snacks - aka - cheddar blocks on mini breadsticks. There were also carrot sticks, cucumber sticks and hula hoops. I made cinnamon palmiers and Viennese fingers for the adults as well as meringue kisses as a gluten-free treat for a guest with Coeliac disease. 

Next came the subject of party bag/going home gifts/party favour type things.....again I had what I thought was a great idea - again, I had a mini-panic at the scale of what I was planning but after some soothing words and cups of tea from my lovely husband I was fine and it all worked out perfectly. 

I made each child their very own superhero cape, complete with their initial on the back - I was very happy with how these turned out. I bought some cheap and cheerful dress lining fabric from eBay in a selection of colours and set to work. The fasten at the neck with velcro. The children all looked so cute in them and I think it was a nice touch and something just a bit different. 
So, after lots of games and food, playing both inside and out, upstairs and down - it was time to say goodbye and let the clean up commence - oh yes and the drinking of gin!!!!

But wait, there's just one more thing. This party was held on the Sunday at our house and my boy's actual birthday was the Tuesday after and he was at nursery school that day which meant that he needed to take some treats in for all his other friends.....cue one more moment of mini panic when I remembered this on Monday afternoon and my boy requested a Captain America cake!!! I knew I was catering to up to 30 children and teachers so it seemed logical to go with one big cake and not lots of cupcakes - that way I couldn't get the numbers wrong and no one would miss out. So, here we go again - a double layer chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream cleverly disguised as Captain America's shield. They ate the lot so we can assume they all liked it! 

Thank goodness there's a whole year before his next birthday - oh, and thank goodness for the gin!!!!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Mum Tag

Hello my lovelies- I could be here to tell you that our little boy turns four on Tuesday and that on Sunday we are having a SUPERHERO party at our house and that I'm in crafty/bakey overload in preparation for it - but I'm not. Instead here's what's gong on today:-

I have been tagged by the gorgeous Lucy over at Mrs Bishop's Bakes and Banter for this lovely little set of questions for us mums. Cheers Lucy and thanks for he tag!! Now there are quite a few questions and you know I'm never brief so be prepared and for anyone who gets to the end there's cake in it for you!!!

I tag my lovely friend Julia at Tea, Cake and My Boy and the fabulous Amanda from City Girl Gone Coastal if you would like to give it a go. xxx

1. Are you a stay at home mum?
Yes. I started my little Etsy store recently and also sell my wares at some local haberdasheries but it's very small time at the moment since it's hard to find the hours in the day!!!!!!

2. Would you have it any other way?
No way!!! I absolutely love it. 

3. Do you co-sleep?
Yes. I co-slept from day one - literally - in the hospital on day one. I had a c-section and it really was a pain to lean over and pick up my boy from the plastic crib thingy next to the bed - it just seemed to be at the wrong height/angle. My boy was a big eater too so it was like a million pick ups and put downs. Anyway after a couple of hours I put the side up on my bed, padded it with pillows and popped him in next to me. I could move him to breastfeed easily and wasn't in pain. It just seemed so natural to me. There was one nurse who kept telling me off but all the others seemed fine with it. Trust your instincts - mummy knows best! So when we got home we just carried on and that was for years. Now my boy has a double bed in his room (which acts as guest bed if someone comes to stay) but he still comes in with us halfway through the night and I love it!! It's where he wants to be and it works for us. Also when we do have guests he just sleeps in our bed so it's dead easy. 

4. What is your one must-have item for your baby?
Well, he's nearly 4 so not a baby anymore but when he was a baby I would have to say.....muslins. Such a simple silly thing but when I really think about it that was it. We never used bibs as I don't like the look of them, it's another thing to buy and he pulled them off anyway! Muslins acted as a bib, a burping cloth, a summer blanket, something to lie on in the park, a breastfeeding cover if it was chilly (he didn't like being covered so yes, I fed in public - without a cover - and never encountered a problem I'm happy to say, although it pains me that so many ladies do!) Muslins are so soft they can be a washcloth, help with nappy changes, mop up spills - there is no end to their magic and they are cheap as chips so I still use them for all sorts of things! Ok - I don't have shares in muslin production or anything and it's not a weird cult - I just like them a normal amount. 

5. How many kids do you plan on having? 
Well......if money were no object I would have loads!!! I love children, I loved being pregnant, I love being a mother and grew up as one of four so I love all the hubbub of having lots of people in the house. However, financially we're not in that place so while we would like more it's a bit tricky since we already have one who is healthy and happy and we want to be able to give him the best of everything so it seems hard to make a decision which would mean things changed....ok so as you can see this is not an easy question to answer but suffice to say if I won the lottery the first thing I would do is go about getting pregnant - Alex - go and buy a lottery ticket quick and both our luck might be in ;) 

6. Date night? How many per month?
Date night? What is this 'date night' of which you speak? We have been on precisely 3 dates since our boy was born - he will be four on Tuesday. But we are lucky as we spend so much time together since my lovely husband is self employed and works from home so I don't feel that we miss out. Although of course it's nice to get dressed up and go out, it's also one of my favourite things to curl up together, watch something good and get an early night :)

7. Your child's favourite show? 
Well right now he's into everything super hero related! He also loves Pocoyo and Phineas and Ferb. 

8. Name one thing you bought before you had your baby and never ended up using?
A breast pump and a bouncy chair thingy. I breastfed my boy - direct from me, not expressed for 15 months. It just seemed easier, no sterilising, no bottles, anytime any place - I have naturally sterilised bottles attached to me and was lucky enough that it all worked for us so I couldn't see the point in trying anything else. The bouncy chair thing - I wish it had worked but he hated being put down in anything so we were literally attachment parenting  I used to call him my 'limpet baby' as he clung on to me or his daddy all the time!!!

9. Your child's favourite food?
Cheese on toast, pasta, he's just got into carrot sticks which I'm very happy about. He's a lot less fussy these days and I love to see him trying new things. I think he is the only 3 year old I know who refuses to eat sweets or ice cream! He does love a bit of chocolate though (like mother like son!)

10. How many cars do your family have? 
One, a Toyota Prius. Cheap road tax, we live in London so because driving round town can be so congested we use very little fuel as it's a Hybrid and also- no congestion charge. It's good for the planet too :)

11. Weight before, during and after pregnancy and now? 
I don't weigh myself but I know when I'm bigger than I would like to be so here's how it goes:
Before pregnancy I was ok, a little bit over my ideal then in the first trimester I lost about 3/4 stone since I was so sick all the time!! After c-section I didn't shrink back in the tummy like you do with vaginal delivery since they cut through those muscles but after a few weeks I was doing a hell of a lot of walking so I went back to 'normal' and maybe just little bit less than I was before pregnancy. Now however I am bigger than I would like to be. Since we moved to a more suburban area I find that I walk less and drive more so I have become a bit too sedentary. I have never been sporty and hate dieting so have always luckily relied on eating well and nice exercise like walking and yoga to keep me ok-ish. I tried the 5:2 diet recently and it sucked!!!! I felt like shit and gave up. Healthy eating and moving more for me and I feel much better now. 

12. Dream holiday with your kids?
Wales, countryside, mountains, trains, beaches - FUN FUN FUN. Beautiful and so much to explore. When they are this young they get so much pleasure from the simple things and it's wonderful to see them become so fascinated by cool leaves or sandcastles.

13. Dream holiday without your kids? 
I don't actually want to go on holiday without my kids. When they are older it would be easier to take them on the kind of holidays which I like. I like cultural holidays and discovering the history of a place. I'm no good at sitting on a beach doing nothing. Give me some nice ruins then beautifully fresh local food and I'm happy. 

14. How has your life changed since having babies? 
Um....this is hard - clearly it has changed but apart from the obvious logistical ways I'm not really sure. It's better now though, I know that much!

15. Finish the sentence: 'It makes my heart melt to see....?'
My boy smile. That's it. It makes my heart melt to see my boy happy. 

16. Where do you shop for your kids? 
I like H&M and I like Next. Next have a nice selection for boys. I generally get a bit miffed that the girls clothes are always more exciting than the boys clothes - I don't mean pink tutus I just mean, nicer prints or design features. Anyway, M&S are also doing better recently. 

17. Favourite make up and skin care products? 
Concealer for dark circles!!!!! Cheap mascara and MAC eyeliner. Who has the time for fancy rituals?!

18. Huggies or Pampers? 
Pampers. We were given some Huggies once and tried them but had terrible problems with leaking so never used them again. 

19. Have you always wanted kids? 
Yes. Always.

20. Best part about being a mum? 
Every single minute. I know it sounds cheesy but being a mother is everything. My family are my whole world and even the not-so-good bits like teething or lack of sleep are fine by me because it's all part of being a parent and I definitely think that by embracing that and going with the flow it makes it much easier.

Phew - there you have it!!! Ok, I need some cake myself now. Laters y'all!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

My Mini Kitchen Makeover

Now, I should clarify - it's the makeover that's mini - not the kitchen - although thinking about it the kitchen isn't that big really, but not 'mini'.....I've not actually come to discuss the size of my kitchen have you?!

So, my kitchen is lovely (and more than adequate size-wise) but I absolutely hate the colour scheme we've inherited! The tiles are bright red and the cupboards are weird pale teal sort of colour - I just really don't think it goes together. There's no question of being able to re-do the whole thing - it would be a nightmare, not to mention how much it would cost. So what do you do when you hate your colour scheme but have to live with it?! Well, if you're me - you embrace it - you go with it - you make it work, get crafty and hit the sales!! Now we're talking - shopping and crafting sounds much more fun than grouting and plastering.

Here's the kitchen before - messy, mis-matched and dark!

I decided that my main problem with the colours was that they didn't feel planned, so I needed to make it look more intentional by picking up the colours in other areas to join it together - decorative accessories are the order of the day. At the time (I started this back in the new year) Debenhams were having a homewares sale and they had some gorgeous things and luckily some that were perfect for me!

Starting with storage jars. I don't like things to be too matchy and I loved these - they pick out the red and teal well but hint at other colours too. Phase one complete! I also had decided to chose some fabric to make bunting with but then I found 4 metres of this in the sale for £12 and knew I would spend more making it so I snapped this up and it's the perfect colour combo - lovely stuff.

At this point I have to say sorry for the photos but, we have a lot of stuff and personally I like the 'lived-in' look - it's a fine line between cluttered and lived-in so some of you may feel there's too much junk around but then i suppose that's ok because you don't have to live here! Basically, I don't know the meaning of the word minimalist!!

Next, I found this gorgeous oilcloth online and decided to use it to line the shelves, easy to wipe clean and much more interesting than white paint (which marks far too easily). I cut it to size, and stuck it down using double-sided tape and then scotch tape underneath. This way nothing's permanent so if i change my mind (as I'm prone to do!) it won't have ruined the surface underneath - good thinking huh?!

As you can see I also whipped up a little crocheted flower garland. I like this one a lot (you may even see something similar on my Etsy Shop soon)

Here's the shelf on the other side - again crammed with stuff and complete with a pom pom garland I made (any excuse to play with the pom-pom maker again!)

Spot the Tesco biscuit tin - very cute - great colours

I even covered the window ledge. Rearranged some bits and added some flower fairy lights (fairy lights are always a good choice!)
Finally, we added a few touches....

Washi taped the frame for my cross stitch
I hate this frame - the wrong shape but we're embracing the change

Love this blackboard sticker! Washi tape accents
Bought a big roll from Amazon with free chalk
My two fave aprons and some pics of my boy :)

 So, it's not perfect but I'm so happy with the difference which is remarkable. The whole room has a different vibe and we love it! The colour scheme definitely works now and I don't mind it at all.

The whole thing cost around £45 so I'm certainly happy about that part! Now to get baking in my happy kitchen :) I may finally have worked out my salted caramel cake recipe so watch this space!

That's all folks.

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