Blackberry jam recipe

Here’s me ticking number 4 off our Summer bucket list: make blackberry jam. We have loads of brambles climbing over our garden fence and they are heavy laden.

Blackberry jam-3

I also picked a few more blackberries on our weekend walk. They need to be completely black and to come away from the plant easily.

This is basically the laziest way to make blackberry jam. Still, the end result is lovely. It made two jars of jam. I’m sure we’ll make some more.

Blackberry jam-2

What I used:
550g blackberries
225g white granulated sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice (I used the bottled concentrate)

What I did:
Stick it all in a pot, mash it together with a potato masher, bring it to a boil, lower the heat a little bit and test it after 30 minutes by sticking a spoonful in the fridge. Meanwhile, wash up the jars and let them dry in the oven at 160C to sterilise them. Take the jam off the hob and pour into your jars.

Blackberry jam-4

I know, it’s very unscientific without thermometers and pectin but our jam tastes marvelous. I am really pleased with the outcome and looking forward to doing more experimenting.


Win a copy of Shaun the Sheep™ Shear Heat on DVD

Talitha and I have been loving watching Shaun the Sheep™ Shear Heat. It’s a series of ten short episodes of the well-loved British animation from the creators of Wallace and Gromit. It’s only just been released on DVD on July 21st.

Ophelia’s been enjoying watching us, probably curious about her three-year-old sister’s full-throated laughter. Shaun definitely hits a note with Talitha’s sense of humour.

There’s lots for me as an adult to appreciate. The detail that’s gone into this claymation surprises and delights, as usual.

It’s definitely pitched at a young child’s level, though. Common Sense Media rates it at age five, which feels about right. I tend to find that entertainment up to five is a good match for Talitha. She’s very sensitive to any sort of peril.

There were a couple of moments in the series where I needed to talk her through what was happening. Once when it looks like a man is coming after Shaun but he’s actually about to fix the farmer’s tractor then again when a grumpy bull is chasing the mischievous sheep.

Mind, I really don’t think most children would get antsy about these scenes but she gets very concerned about even mild danger so if you have a child who reacts similarly, it’s worth bearing in mind.

This didn’t mar her enjoyment of the DVD at all. In fact, she’s been chatting about it ever since. She wanted to know the names of the characters, so we looked them up online. She kept repeating that the dog was called Bitzer, so she’d remember it. She named the bull Frank – I guess so he’d be less scary.

Hilariously, she’s decided she wants Shaun to be a three-year-old girl sheep and for baby sheep Timmy to be Shaun’s baby sister! That must be the stamp of approval for Shaun the Sheep™ then!

STS Packshot

To win a copy of Shaun the Sheep™ Shear Heat tell me how your kids deal with peril in films and on TV and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Open to UK residents only.

Here’s the company blurb to clearer idea of what you’re in with a chance to win:

“From Aardman, the acclaimed creators of Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep™ Shear Heat follows Shaun and his pals as they get up to yet more mischief! Comprising of ten short episodes, viewers are welcomed back to Mossy Bottom Farm to follow Shaun, Bitzer and the rest of the gang as they embark on a series of fun-filled adventures. Including hilarious episodes such as Shaun the Fugitive, Bull Vs Wool and The Hang Glider, this animated series will keep the kids laughing all summer. As well as a range of exciting behind-the-scenes features, the DVD also includes the teaser trailer for Shaun the Sheep™ The Movie , which is being released on February 6th 2015, and an in-pack colouring sheet. Be sure to join in the fun this summer as Shaun the Sheep – Shear Heat OUT NOW on DVD.”

Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com
Loquax


Guest post: Summer holidays – relaxed tea times mean quick and easy is a must

This is a collaboration post

Day to day, getting dinner on the table has been one of my greatest challenges with two. Sometimes being able to just stick something in the microwave one-handed is a saviour, while I balance a fussy four-month-hold on a hip. With this in mind, I’m welcoming the tips in this guest post:

It’s that time of year again when parents everywhere are preparing to have the kids at home for 6 weeks over the summer.

With the kids off school and long summer evenings keeping us in the sunlight for longer, tea might get served up a little later than usual – so how do you find a quick and nutritious tea that can be cooked in a jiffy?

Nutritious potatoes

Potatoes are available everywhere, from the farm shop to supermarket; buy in bulk or in small packs of new potatoes. They count as one of the five a day, so we can feel fine giving them to toddlers. It’s an easy win isn’t it?

Tired little ones

Perhaps you have a menu planner, but sometimes just when the kids are getting restless and hungry you’re thinking what’s for tea? McCain ready-made jacket potatoes from the microwave can cut the prep time down even further because the cooking is already done for you.

Team the potato with some yummy filings which will stimulate the taste buds and tea’s done and dusted for another night! It keeps us calm and mindful to know that a simple carbohydrate with a tasty filing has hit the spot and you can always serve the jacket spuds as a lunchtime treat too if you and your little ones are growing tired of sandwiches!

Quick fire recipes

If you’re not sure what to serve with your jacket spud then many supermarkets and magazines offer jacket potato filling suggestions to help you on your way. Here are a few common favourites:

Cheesy Beans: a classic combo, all you need is a little grated cheese and a tin of everyone’s favourite baked beans. It might be a little messy but it’ll hit the spot. You can always use spaghetti hoops or alphabet letters instead of beans too

Chives and sour cream: a healthier option, just pop a handful of chives into some soured cream then dollop on top of a McCain ready baked jacket for something filling and tasty.

Holiday hot dog potatoes: a variation on the classic hot dog, this makes a really substantial supper and all you need to do is combine sausages with a sweet honey glaze and a little mayonnaise. You can find the full recipe here and even get your kids involved with the cooking!

Garlic mushroom jacket potatoes: as many families are opting for meat-free meals as a way to stay health-conscious, this subtly flavoured garlic mushroom filing is a perfect sister to a jacket potato. It takes just minutes to pan fry some chestnut mushrooms in butter and add in a little garlic but you can also throw in a handful of chopped lardons for extra flavour if you want.

These are just a few ideas of amazing dishes you can make for kids but why not experiment with others? Little Dish has compiled a list of great recipes too so you can find plenty of inspiration to feed your own cooking exploits!

This is a collaboration post


Much Needed Bank Holiday Rest & Beef Pelau

It’s been really quiet around here lately – not because there’s not much to blog about. In fact, every day life is throwing up any number of things to think about, to chat through with you. Night time is my time to blog, though, and by the time one of the girls has been handed over to Laurence (usually the baby), one is in bed (the older one), one is asleep in the sling (the baby) and dinner is had, I scarcely feel like thinking, let alone writing.

Instead I’ve ended up working through three and a half seasons of Game of Thrones at impressive speed (and ended up annoyed because I’m pretty sure they’re about to kill off my favourite character). Three times I’ve sat down recently and began to blog, then I re-read what I’d written and it just sounded grumpy. Who wants to put something grumpy out into the world?

So the theme of this Bank Holiday weekend was rest. Rest, because without it, the days get loud and frantic. I forget how to be still, to think, to pray, to listen. Rest, because I am not a good mother to my children without rest. Rest, because otherwise I get angry and impatient with Laurence and myself. Rest, because nothing is insurmountable but without rest I can’t figure out where to start with anything.

It was a relief to go spend some of the weekend with my in-laws out in the countryside. Staring at a large body of the water while someone else entertains your children for a while can’t be beaten.

Good food made it complete. Morrisons gave us vouchers to shop for the Bank Holiday weekend. We actually tend to shop there anyway whenever we’re doing an in-person shop because they make a real effort with their layout, have a wide selection of gluten-free and dairy-free products and maintain reasonable prices.

Little Morrisons shopper

Morrisons impressive cheese counter

Though the free from goodies didn’t stop me looking over longingly at the cheese counter!

Morrisons vegetable section.jpg

Their fruit and veg section and meat counter always feel more marketplace, less supermarket which makes for a less stressful shopping experience overall.

morrisons butchers

I also love that it’s pretty easy to find what I need for Caribbean cooking there. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see the plantain.

Morrisons exotic fruit

I had a real craving for pelau this weekend. It’s a rice dish from Trinidad that my mother often cooked on public holidays when I was growing up there. Mine doesn’t even nearly match hers but one day. In the meantime, I can pretend to my British family that it’s the real thing. It’s still pretty good even though it’s not. Let’s call it super easy beef pelau (for about £1.50 per serving from Morrisons).

Beef Pelau

Beef Pelau

I don’t make this using exact quantities. I just go by what feels, looks and tastes right. If you want to make this vegetarian, omit the meet. You could also add pumpkin and/or carrots.

Pack of chopped beef
Bag of brown long grain rice
2 tins borlotti beans
olive oil
1 tsp brown sugar
handful of fresh coriander
1 tsp dried thyme
1 stock cube
2 crushed cloves garlic
1 chopped onion
soy sauce
1 tin coconut milk
1 hot pepper
salt and pepper

Season the meet with coriander, soy sauce, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot (we’re making A LOT of pelau here – some to freeze for later). Brown the sugar using this method. Throw in the seasoned meat, getting all the browning all over it. Cook until no longer pink, stir in a little water and simmer. Add the beans and onion and cook for a few minutes longer. Mix in the rice, coconut milk and stock cube and drop your pepper in whole. Add enough water to cook the rice. Mmhmm.

So, what did you get up to last weekend?


Top Five Alternative Easter Basket Ideas for Children

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably doing the last-minute thing, figuring out what you’ll be giving for Easter. Today I’m welcoming five alternative Easter ideas from ASDA George.

Easter is just around the corner, and while plenty of people, young and old, will be scoffing their body weight in chocolate over the course of the Easter holidays, others will have treated their loved ones in other ways. Chocolate eggs have long been a tradition when it comes to gift-giving at Easter, but they certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all of gift options as an Easter present.

Easter baskets are deeply rooted in the Pagan and religious Easter traditions, while also having their place in the welcoming of springtime. Nowadays, Easter baskets are a way to give gifts to loved ones that are a little more thoughtful than chocolate, with all manner of goodies being bought and added to the baskets for something truly special to open over Easter weekend.

While you could just go wild and pick up a few bits and pieces to create an Easter basket for your loved ones, you could opt for an alternative, unique idea that will be even more special as well as being tailor-made to the recipient. There are plenty of options for you to choose from if this is the route you wish to take:

Healthy
Since when do Easter baskets have to be unhealthy and super sweet? While part of the joy of Easter is the almost justifiable sugar high, it doesn’t mean an Easter basket can’t be healthy if you want it to be. Make it fun as well and your child will barely notice that there’s not a chocolate egg in sight. Choose to fill the basket with non-sugary goodies, such as small toys, raisins, bath toys, great value fancy dress costumes, stickers or packets of nuts, for a fun alternative to mountains of chocolate that they’ll be eating until summer.

Arty
Does your child love to draw, paint or make? Create an Easter basket perfect for those with a creative side and fill it with crayons, paints, paintbrushes, craft activities and colouring books. It’s a great way to stock up their art cupboard, while also providing plenty of things to do on the inevitable rainy days during the Easter holidays.

Alternative Easter gift ideas.jpg

Colour-Themed
Have a little fun putting the Easter basket together and stick to items that are of their favourite colour. Perhaps your child loves red? A red soft toy, some red crayons, red glitter and red beads would be ideal to add to it. You could throw in some Lindor chocolates wrapped in red foil for a sweet touch.

Outdoors
Do they love to be outside? Perhaps some sporty goodies, such as a new ball, some outdoor chalks or some water balloons would suffice. Maybe they’re a little green fingered – packets of seeds, their own gardening tools and a little watering can would be perfect!

Superheroes
What kid doesn’t love superheroes? Theme the basket around their favourite heroes and villains; you could include action figures, a LEGO set, a DVD, stickers and one of the many fancy dress costumes that will enable them to become Superman or Batman whenever they liked, for a super fun Easter gift.

Make their Easter basket extra special this Easter and give them something exciting and fun to open over Easter weekend. A chocolate egg wouldn’t go amiss either, if you’re feeling particularly generous!

In Association with ASDA George


Bumkins – Cloth Nappy Review

For the cloth nappy committed, converted and curious, and for those who just know something pretty when they see it, I present to you Bumkins nappies, which I’ve been putting to the test these past two weeks.

Bumkins nappy review

Born, an ethical retailer of natural, organic and fairtrade baby products, sent us a few Bumkins goodies to review. We’ve got the waterproof Diaper Cover (that green number), the two-pack contour soaker, fitted diapers in size 0 (5-12 lbs) and size 1 (6-22 lbs) and a Snap-in-One diaper (the one with the owl pattern).

Size 0 Fitted Diaper - Bumkins nappy review.jpg
Bumkins review - fitted diaper.jpg

They’re obviously gorgeous but, as anyone who’s looked after a newborn poo machine knows, it’s function not fashion that ultimately counts when it comes to nappies, be they reusable or disposable.

Bumkins review - waterproof diaper cover.jpg
Bumkins Diaper Cover review.jpg

Having used both the soaker and the cover, and the fitted diaper and the cover, I’m impressed with how slim fit both options are. Cloth nappies can be quite bulky but this wasn’t the case with either combination. They also actually fit. There are nappies out there that claim to be birth to potty but blatantly aren’t but the snap design in this cover (there are a lot of poppers) really secures the nappy around tiny thighs.

This is good news because it’s contained what would have been a bonafide poosplosion twice now. So, yeah, it works.

I’ll admit that I’m more into velcro than poppers as I find the latter a bit of a faff. Snaps do look tidier though and I can see where people are coming from when they talk about babies pulling nappies off though I never had that problem with Talitha.

Bumkins Snap in One Diaper review.jpg

The Snap-in-One (7-32 lbs) is a little bulkier but still not very. It’s inside is deliciously soft and surprisingly absorbent. It, too, hasn’t let down on performance at all. All of these nappies wash well and everything (including the diaper cover and the outer of the Snap-in-One but I chose to hang them anyway) can be tumble dried on low. I hung them up overnight too and they were dry in the morning – something I couldn’t say for some of my other nappies.

Bumkins Snap in One review.jpg

Could I be tempted to get more? I really could, actually.

——–
These Bumkins nappies were sent to me by Born for the purpose of this review.


Make a random chalk wall – Paternity Leave Activity #2

Circus Queen’s husband reporting here on what we did at birth plus three days:

On a whim back in the summer I picked up some black paint to make a chalk wall somewhere in our house. I am not really a DIY person, but as a designer I would love the place to be super cool, but I’m just a bit lazy. So this can of paint has been the cupboard since the heat wave.

Anyhoo, on another whim I decided that at birth plus four days Talitha and I would finally paint a wall. Her Majesty took photos, then went upstairs for a sleep.

I got Talitha kitted up, Adele reminded me to put paper down, oh yeah we’re using black paint!

IMG_9872

It’s just black multi-surface emulsion from Homebase. The chalk goes on fine and seems to wipe down okay with a wet rag. I’m sure there is special chalk board paint, but maybe save your money??

IMG_9870

A bit of being careful helps, so I used masking tapes for the skirting boards.

IMG_9873

Talitha cracked on with the brush. I did all the edges, I hadn’t briefed her in advance of this, so we had one splodge around the corner of one wall, but after I explained about staying in the middle and Daddy does the edges, we started working as a team.

IMG_9878

Talitha insisted I wore an apron.

IMG_9883

The nice thing about painting just a small wall, as it only takes about 10 minutes. Which is a great little activity on paternity leave. But Talitha wanted to do another wall – and I had been thinking about going up and over anyway.

IMG_9888

And now we can draw, write notes reminding us about picking up more milk, practice letters…

IMG_9902

… or we can promote the blog.

IMG_9898

Oh and chucked the brushes and the roller away, who has time to clean black paint off brushes on paternity leave?