Thursday, 2 October 2014

Homemade Thursday - Lots of yums and green cleaning

I hadn't actually realised until the other day, just how long HMT had been offline - well, it's only about 4 weeks but even so, time seems to be running away without me!

Anyway - I have lots to show you  in this weeks round-up of my homemade posts from the past few weeks! And I can't wait to see what you have all been making, so please do link your posts/images up if you have a moment.
September saw me being going all 'eco' and making my own cleaning products. Whilst I am very happy using simple water and an e-cloth, I love cleaning my bathroom with lemon juice as it smells amazing, and bicarbonate of soda is now my best friend. As well as these homemade cleaners working really well, they are also incredibly cost effective, kind to environment and your family....can't ask for more really!

I'll have a post up soon about cleaning your washing machine without chemicals, so keep your eye out for that - I'm really loving green cleaning!

Earlier in September, I had a go at making Mini Pear Pies for the Great Bloggers Bake Off linky, as although they were not perfect, I was rather chuffed that the pastry actually stayed on the pears once baked. They were delicious too; Hubby isn't really a 'dessert person' but he thoroughly enjoyed these and asked me to make them again.

One of my fondest memories from my childhood is my Nan's baking, and her bread pudding was the most amazing sweet treat you could ever taste. I'm yet to find the 'perfect recipe' in order to recreate her edible treasure, but I did have a go at making a lower fat version using olive oil instead of suet. I actually made it using brioche instead of regular bread  and I'm so glad it worked because I tend to always have brioche leftover when I buy it because I'm the only one that likes the plain variety!

Finally, I made some gorgeous spicy caramelised onion sausage rolls including the chutney and this earned me a Star Baker award from the Great Bloggers Bake Off, which I am still flabbergasted  about if I'm honest!They were really tasty though, and I managed to make my own rough puff pastry too! (miracles DO happen!)

I'd love to see your homemade/handmade posts, please do link them up and share your creations.

If you would like to link up anything 'homemade' that you've blogged/pinned/instagrammed then please do so at the bottom of the post! This doesn't have to be food. It can be needlework, crafts, paintings, woodwork.... you name it!

It can be an old post or something new.... it's all about sharing ideas and inspiring each other!

I would love you forever if you would either grab my button (below) or text link back to me.

Homemade Thursday

You can link up anytime between now and 5th October 2014 and then the next Homemade Thursday linky will open on the 8th October.

To read more about Homemade Thursday please look here.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Tree Fu Tom Giveaway : Win a copy of Tom’s Big Spell on DVD!

Enjoy some magical Halloween fun with Tree Fu Tom: Tom’s Big Spell and travel with Tom to Treetopolis for Seven Magical Stories!

Your little ones are in for a spell-binding treat this Halloween with magical stories from preschool super-hero, Tree Fu Tom in his brand new DVD: Tom’s Big Spell out Monday 6th October.

The  hit  CBeebies  show  is  set  in  the  enchanted  world  of  Treetopolis  where  movement creates magic  and  viewers  are  encouraged to  join  in the fun  and  interact  with the  show through physical actions. 

Tom appears to be a normal eight-year-old boy but when he puts on his magic belt and performs a special sequence of movements (known as Tree Fu) he transforms into a tiny but mighty, magical super-hero. Children are all encouraged to join in the Tree Fu magic moves.

In the DVD Tom is off to the castle for an exciting day at Spell School with Treetog. A drop of  Magic  Motion  Potion  brings  some  familiar  objects  to  life  but  Tom  finds  the  new  spell quite  hard  to  master.  A  flying  book,  a  naughty  broomstick  and  Zigzoo’s  wagon  run  riot around Treetopolis when they become enchanted.
Tom needs you to help him perform Big World Magic to restore calm to Treetopolis.

To celebrate the launch of the brand NEW DVD, I have a fantastic giveaway for you all where one of you will WIN a copy of Tree Fu Tom: Tom’s Big Spell for your own family to enjoy!

To be in with a chance of winning, answer the simple question in the COMMENTS and then complete the Rafflecopter widget below. 

QUESTION: What is the name of the enchanted world that hit Cbeebies show Tree Fu Tom, is set in?

Is your children's school uniform a 'health risk?'

So, the kids are *finally* settled back at school and we are fast approaching flu season - deep joy! Between the months' of September and January Little One seems to pick up bug after bug, snotty nose after snotty nose. I used to think this was just bad luck but after reading about a study undertaken by Netmums and Dettol, I have to wonder.

The findings of the report have caused my OCD levels to spike and now home hygiene expert, Dr Lisa Ackerley is urging parents to re-evaluate their laundering process.

The study looked at what lives on children's clothes and other items, before and after washing and it revealed that the spread of playground infections may be happening in the laundry basket.

According to research, 'close to 15 million school days are missed per year due to illness alone', and this is partly down to the phenomenon that scientists and public health officials are dubbing the 'Sick Laundry Cycle'.

Many of us now wash our clothes at lower temperatures; using shorter cycles and gentler laundry detergents, but this has affected the efficacy of the laundering process for reducing bacteria on contaminated clothing.

The nationwide study exposed how 1 in 4 items of children's clothing were contaminated with bacteria even after being washed at 40°C, with school pants and jumpers harbouring the highest contamination levels overall. These findings are the latest addition to a growing bank of scientific research revealing how low-temperature washing and modern laundry trends have created a new breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

Dr Lisa Ackerley explains: "People have this notion that simply putting dirty clothes into a washing machine will kill all bacteria, but that is not the case." Contagious bacteria and viruses such as the flu and E.coli can survive low-temperature washing, increasing the potential risk of infection for your family. "For laundry washed at low temperatures, a disinfectant, such as Dettol Anti-bacterial Laundry Cleanser, an additive proven to kill 99.9% of bacteria in temperatures as low as 15°C, will get it hygienically clean."

The table of items containing the highest levels of bacteria after being washed at 40°C is as follows:
  1. School pants
  2. School jumper
  3. T-Shirt
  4. Shorts
  5. Baby grow
  6. School Trousers
  7. Bib
  8. Socks
  9. Baby Blanket
  10. Soft Toy
Now, I find this information quite frightening, especially as a mum of little ones. School uniform aside, there are other items that I started to wonder if they are really clean, such as bedding and towels.

Baby Girl has a comfort blanket that gets taken EVERYWHERE and we have to sneak it into the washing machine and put it on the quickest (coolest) cycle in order to get it washed without her missing it for too long. Knowing that it probably contains bacteria even after washing really did worry me. 

I've been trialing some Dettol Laundry Cleanser for a couple of weeks and so far, so good. You simply add 2 capfuls to the fabric softener drawer of your washing machine and it will kill 99.9% of bacteria when washed below 60°C.

It has a lovely 'Fresh Cotton' fragrance and I am now confident that my children's clothes, bedding, towels and blankies are all clean and germ-free as Dettol is a brand that my family have trusted for many years.

It might be tough of germs, but it's certainly gentle on clothes and skin. It's dermatologically tested and is safe to use on all children's clothes and bedding. At £4.50 for a litre bottle, it's not especially expensive and I think it's worth it just for that extra peace of mind.


Sunday, 28 September 2014

6 Simple Sand Play Activities

We love our sand pit and it has been played with almost daily during the lovely weather we've had. To be honest, so long as it isn't pouring down or blowing a gale, the sand pit is still a lovely outdoor 'toy' even in the colder months.

Sand activities can involve absolutely anything - for me, it's all about sensory fun. I love how a sand pit or table can become an apparatus for laid-back, relaxed learning. Most of the time, you don't need to plan or buy anything extra, just give the kids some (safe) household items and let them play.

Here are some simple sand activities that we enjoy:

Sand is a great way for children to explore textures. It's rough and dry and easily slips through your fingers (or a sieve) but add a little water and it becomes cold, soft and 'squidgy'. As the children to describe what the sand feels like.

With a boxful of toys; figures, cars, trucks, diggers, trains, animals, etc, a child can create their own scenes using the sand; encouraging role play and developing creativity, language and story-telling. I love watching my daughters as their imaginations take over.

Another lovely idea is to use shells, seaweed and other beach find to create a beach scene or you could create a seasonal sensory box - sticks, crispy leaves and pine cones for Autumn; tinsel, bells and Christmas decorations for the Winter, perhaps.

Sifting, pouring, digging, lifting, carrying - these are all actions that are valuable in developing fine motor skills. Even my toddler loves to sift and pour sand. We use  plastic sieves,  wooden spoons, ladles, cups, bowls, water play beakers (with different sized holes), jelly molds.... etc, etc. The children also learn what these materials can do and how to use them as well as discovering the effects these materials have on the sand.

My children LOVE to dig in the sand, so we often have little treasure hunts. The older children could be given clues or riddles to solve, where as the little ones can just dig, dig, dig!

Treasure hunts are great for building confidence and developing social skills as the children learn to take turns, puzzle solve and  work together to ultimately find the treasure!

You can also use this as maths activity for older children - ask them to count how many items they uncover - how many red blocks? How many animals? If you find 4 more treasures, how many do you have?

Burying - much like digging and building, burying items in the sand is a lot of fun. Burying feet seem to be popular with my children!  This is a great way to encourage simple maths with older children too - use a pot of shells, pebbles or building blocks; if you have 5 red blocks and bury 2, how many do you have left? 

Building sand castles is so much more than you might think. Not only is it a lot of fun and helps to develop motor skills and co-ordination, but it's also confidence-building as children feel an element of achievement. It provides a mini science lesson (physics) and encourages children to work together.

Sand play seems to have a calming effect on children; my grumpy, stressed out 6 year old, will suddenly melt into a giggling, happy little girl. 

Do your children play with sand?

We have this sand pit from Wickey which we absolutely adore. You don't need to have anything quite as big if you don't have the space though, you could even opt for a plastic version like this sand/water shell than can be easily stored away or go for a sand table instead.

Family fun... more organised - Pacapod Samui changing bag review

We have been making the most of the sunshine; determined to enjoy every last second of  the warm weather. A picnic in September? Don't mind if we do! 

Towards the end of the summer, we were kindly set a stunning Pacapod Samui changing bag in jewel print and I love it SO much!

We are already huge fans of Pacapod as their bags allow parents and families to organise 'stuff' that is essential to any outing. No more searching through bags for the wipes, or that pesky soother than likes to hide EVERY. BLOOMING. TIME; everything is organised in handy, removable 'pods' that separate essential items, snacks, or bottles and the baby's nappies, wipes, creams, etc - hygienic and time (sanity) saving.

The beautiful Samui is a super lightweight bag which is from Pacapod's new "Travel Lite" baby bag range. The ultra light weight compliments Pacapod's ingenious 3-in-1 organisation system, making it the ideal choice when out and about with the little one's.

I absolutely love the design; the 'bucket' shape doesn't scream 'baby bag' and the bright Jewel print looks great at any time of the year. You wear the bag on your shoulder, but even when it is absolutely packed full, it isn't uncomfortable.

Always thinking of the busy parent, Pacapod include pram attachment straps so that the bag can be easily attached to your baby's pram or stroller - this is a BIG plus for me, because unless I am babywearing, I always travel with a pushchair. The Samui can be used for either, so this makes me very happy :)

The bag holds A LOT so there is plenty of room for everything you'll need for a day out with baby. We are a large family and it had ample room to carry a light picnic plus a few nappies, wipes, suncream and a change of clothes for Baby Girl.

One of the things I love most about Pacapod bags, is their ability to utilise the space you have. As well as the clever pods, there are inner pockets for mobile phones, chargers, purses and other essential items that you might need to 'grab' quickly. There is a key fob, which I absolutely love in a bag because I detest having to stand on a wet doorstep having to search through an entire bag to find my keys.

It also has a roomy magnetic front pocket which is handy for things like tickets, letters that need posting or I put Baby Girl's medical record book in there if we are seeing the Health Visitor or GP.

Pacapod is unique to any other baby changing bag because of their 3-in-1 organising system - changer pod, feeder pod and changing mat.

The removable pods  keep baby changing items and feeding items hygienically separate whilst also ensuring that milk or food is kept cool. The fact that the pods are removable means that you can leave everything in the car and just take a pod with you and you can easily grab the correct one if you have a nappy emergency or suddenly starving, screaming baby.

Both pods are labeled but for even easier identification, each has a slightly different print - dotty eggs for food, solid eggs for changing items.

It's a fantastic, stylish and practical bag that is perfect for first-time mums or for larger families like mine. I absolutely adore it! It looks great and does exactly what I need it to - perfect!

It's been on picnics, to walks in the woods and park. It's traveled on buses and trains and has helped this frazzled mum of 4 keep her sanity when she heard the cries of " Mum, where is...", "Can I have...?" all while Baby Girl stinks up the train carriage. Thank goodness for the pods - one full of snacks to keep the hungry ones happy and one full of lovely clean nappies! Yay!  The changing mat is very helpful in these situations too - I really don't like laying baby down on 'dirty surfaces', not evening changing mats in public changing areas and  the wipe-clean mat is far better than using a sheet or blanket.

 The Pacapod Samui is £60 and is available in two designs, Jewel and Coal.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Tea-time routines, encouraging children to cook & overcoming fussy eating #AfterSchoolChefs

When the kids went back to school, it took a few days to get back into a tea-time routine; gone were the early alfresco dinners or BBQs with the family. It was back to the old routine of home from school, changed, homework and then tea.

It didn't take the children long to adapt in all honesty; once the back-to-school regime was back in full swing I think they needed a little more structure to their evenings (although I think Grown Boy would argue otherwise.)

The children set the table and pour drinks for themselves whilst we dish up. We all try to sit together but with work, it's not always all 6 of us. I like the conversation and dinner-time; reflecting on the days experiences or talking through any problems we might be having - it's a good time to hear everyone's point of view as we are all together.

There is a no TV rule at dinner-time and definitely no phones at the table. This certainly helps the conversation and encourages the little ones to actually eat the food that's in front of them.

Our dinner-times used to be quite a battle. Grown-Boy used to be what is known as a 'fussy-eater' - now, I actually hate that reference because it was far more than just being a 'fussy bugger' as my friend would call it - he was food phobic. I wrote about this almost four years ago, and I still can't believe how far we've come since he was a toddler. 

It really doesn't happen overnight; in fact it's probably taken us the best part of 11 years to get to point where I don't want to cry after yet another plate of food is pushed away, untouched. As I mentioned in my earlier post, one of the things that really had an effect was encouraging the children to cook, or at least help to prepare what they were eating. My son responded really well to taking control of his meals but also, as he could see exactly what was going into his meal, he could personally ensure that there was nothing 'nasty' or unusual to surprise him or in his mind, 'make him ill.'

The children love to be involved in preparing or cooking their own food; whether it's fairy cakes on a Sunday afternoon, or homemade pizza where they can choose their own toppings and create a pizza-y masterpiece. Apart from the obvious improvement in eating habits, children learn about food, where it comes from, and they learn essential life skills in the preparing and cooking; something I've always been passionate about.

We've recently started growing our own fruit, veg and herbs too and the younger children find it fascinating - it's also a fun 'activity' to do together, whatever the weather. Even if you don't have a garden, you can easily grown herbs, cress and even lettuce on a window sill - give it a go!

Kids cooking doesn't always have to be from scratch either - when the kids come home from school, clubs and from seeing friends, often the last thing any of us feel like doing is cooking for hours - sometimes it's great to just open the freezer and let the kids go crazy with whatever takes their fancy - cheesy beans on Birds Eye Potato Waffles, Fish Fingers, peas and chips or one of their favourites, lamb grills in a bun, served with a huge salad.

I like to keep the freezer well stocked - there's something quite satisfying about it; even if I know I'm making shepherds pie or curry the next day. I am awful at meal planning; I enjoy it when we do it but I am terrible for remembering, so often it's decided daily what we will be eating - it's great for using up anything that starting to look decidedly dodgy in the fridge though, and the kids get to choose at the weekend, especially if they are cooking!

Especially for the Britmums / Birds Eye #AfterSchoolChefs challenge, the kids got a little more creative than the average school day, and created a sea scene using Birds Eye products and 'boat-shaped' Yorkshires (I had these in the freezer already, but you can make your own using an eclair pan.)

The younger children, in particular enjoyed putting this together and every scrap, including the peas were demolished. They used:

The fishes were made using Birds Eye Crispy Fish Bites (which are made with 100% fish fillet), lettuce tails, and raisins for the eyes.

The stars and moon in the night sky are yummy Birds Eye Chicken Space Shapes (made with 100% chicken breast), the boats are Yorkshire puddings filled with Birds Eye frozen Garden Peas and then the sea effect was made using wavy lines of french mustard (mild) and tomato ketchup - YUM!!!

We are HUGE fans of Jamie Oliver in this house, so we used his tartare sauce recipe from his best fish baps  and created another super duper, quick, yummy meal - Birds Eye Cod Fish Fillet Burgers in ciabatta rolls, topped with homemade tartare sauce .... AMAZING!

After dinner, the bigger children clear the table and load the dishwasher, Little One sweeps under the table (that's her 'chore') and then we start winding down for the day - reading and spellings practice, packing bags for the next day, baths, showers and teeth brushing.

Then.....into bed and we can relax until tomorrow (well, after the uniforms and lunches are done, that is!)

This post is an entry for #Afterschoolchefs Challenge, sponsored by Birds Eye. Learn more on the Birds Eye Facebook Page. We were given some vouchers to stock up on Birds Eye products in order for us to create this post.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Great Bloggers Bake Off - Pastry - spicy caramelised onion sausage rolls

 I've had so much going on lately, that I've been struggling to keep up with #GBBO both on the blog and on the telly.

I'm almost embarrassed to confess that I only caught up on the the last two weeks episodes yesterday! I did take some time today to make some yummy sausage rolls, including the pastry - so I'm feeling slightly more absolved.

I usually cheat with pastry as the ready-made shop-bought varieties taste good and prevent me from tearing my hair out when it all goes Pete Tong. I have now successfully made rough puff pastry, which  I'll admit isn't the hardest thing in the world, but I now feel suitably impressed with my (slightly dodgy) domestic godessy skills.

For the pastry - I used this recipe.

For the spicy caramelised onion chutney:


2 large onions, finely chopped
100g dark brown muscovado sugar
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp garlic granules - you can used fresh garlic if you prefer
Pinch of cayenne pepper

  • Heat a little olive oil in a pan. Add the opinions and fry gently until they have softened slightly.
  • Add about a third of the sugar and cook for 5 minutes. 
  • Add the rest of the sugar and all the other ingredients.
  • mix well and cook for another 15-20 minutes until dark and the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Leave to cool.
To make the sausage rolls you need a pack of your favourite sausages. If the have skins, push out the meat into a bowl and then reshape into a large sausage shape. If not, just break them up and squish together. I chill this until required.
  • When you have rolled out your pastry,spread the chutney along one long edge of the pastry and then place the sausage on top. 
  • Roll up and use an egg wash to seal the seam.
  • Prick the top with a fork and brush with the egg wash.
  • Slice into as many sausage rolls as you wish and bake at 200C for 30-40 minutes until golden.

This post is to join in with the Great Bloggers Bake Off.

#GreatBloggersBakeOff2014 hosted by Mummy Mishaps

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