Help to motivate your kids to read with this handy rainbow reading log. Just colour in a cute little rainbow for every book they read, or for every 20 minutes they read for and reward them with a little treat for completing the sheet!
If you’re the parent of a primary school aged child you will probably be tasked with listening to them read each night. I love listening to my son read and I love reading to him too. I think of it as a special quiet time where we sit together and get transported to another world.
It’s not all sitting on a magic carpet happily listening to a child read. Sometimes it’s a bit harder to get him to read, especially if he’s not interested in the books he’s been sent home with. In those situations I usually promise him that I will read a favourite book once the less exciting school reading has been finished. That way we get the best of both worlds.
My son is very motivated by rewards, it doesn’t have to be big; a sticker or 20p for his jar is very well received. If he reads for 20 minutes he gets to colour a cartoon rainbow in. Or if he finishes a book within those 20 minutes he colours one in too.Once he’s completed a sheet he gets a treat. Again it’s nothing huge, he might get to choose a Netflix film for us to watch with some popcorn; or he might get a trip out to his favourite local museum.
One of my favourite (and incredibly easy) things to make is an indulgent chocolate tart. Made with dark chocolate it is a delicious and pretty adult dessert. If dark chocolate isn’t your thing, you can swap it out for milk chocolate and enjoy a more family friendly pudding. I’ve jazzed up my usual chocolate tart for Easter and, well it was so popular that is disappeared within the hour!
Easter is undoubtedly a time for chocolate. If you can’t indulge your sweet tooth now, then when can you? This chocolate tart is really very simple to make, especially if you cheat and buy ready made pastry, and would be fun for kids to join in with too.
Easy Easter Chocolate Tart
For the pastry –
4oz plain flour
2oz butter, cubed
A pinch of salt
2-3 tablespoons of cold water
-or- a packet of ready rolled shortcrust pastry
For the filling –
150g single cream
2 tablespoons of sugar
150g good quality dark chocolate, or milk chocolate if you prefer
2 bags of mini eggs to decorate, 3 if you’re a nibbler!
Tip the flour, salt and butter in a large mixing bowl. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Use a knife and stir in just enough cold water to bind the dough together. Do this gradually as you don’t want your pastry to be too wet. Once you’ve made the dough, cover the bowl and chill it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so before rolling out.
Or if you’re using shop bought, ready rolled pastry, take it out of the fridge about half an hour before you want to use it.
Pre-heat your oven to gas mark 5 or 190°
Take your pastry and roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin. You can either roll it out on a floured surface, or between two pieces of baking parchment. I find the baking parchment method quicker and a lot less messy.
Grease a 20cm tart tin and carefully put the pastry in the tin, pressing it against the sides. Let the pastry hang over the sides of the tin, you can trim it later. Prick the base all over with a fork. Top the pastry with a sheet of baking parchment and cover with baking beans, bake in your pre-heated oven for 10 minutes.
Remove the baking beans and parchment and pop back in the oven for another 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Once cool, carefully with a sharp knife trim the pastry so it is flush with the top of the tin.
While your pastry is cooling, warm up your cream and sugar in a saucepan. Finely chop the chocolate and once the cream is simmering, turn off the heat and add the chocolate to the pan. Leave for a minute and stir until the mixture is smooth, like really thick hot chocolate.
Carefully fill the tart case with the melted chocolate mix, level it off and make an artistic swirl or ripple on the top if you want. Decorate with your mini eggs however you want. Put your tart in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, or overnight if you wish.
This chocolate tart is very, very rich, so a little goes a long way. It also makes an excellent pudding for Easter!
AD/Gifted. After a drab and dreary start to the year, this week, our first week in coronavirus isolation was full of blue skies and sunshine. It seemed a bit of a shame to spend all day indoors, slaving over worksheets from school, but as a reward for hard work, we spent our afternoon in the garden enjoying the good weather and playing with some Gazillion Bubbles we’d been kindly sent by Tesco.
If you’ve not heard of Gazillion Bubbles before, they’re a range of bubble making toys. We were sent the following products from the range; Gazillion Bubbles Tornado Machine; Gazillion Incredibubble Wand; the Gazillion Megabubble Blaster and the Gazillion Giant Bubble Solution 2L.
All of the Gazillion Bubbles products were heaps of fun. We started off by setting up the Gazillion Bubbles Tornado Machine (usually £12, currently half price), which needed 4AA batteries (not supplied). It comes with a small bottle of bubble solution and once it’s switched on, it blows out about a gazillion bubbles. This was so much fun and would be really great for parties and get togethers. We cheerfully aimed the bubbles over the fence towards our young neighbours and they enjoyed them too.
The boy was super keen to get his hands on the Gazillion Megabubble Blaster (usually £10, currently half price); a bubble blowing gun. This needs 3AA batteries (not supplied) and is lovely fun and great for angling over fences to delight other young children. He loved chasing us around and firing bubbles at us and the dog!
My personal favourite was the Gazillion Incredibubble Wand (usually £8, but currently £6). If you’ve ever watched people blow those huge bubbles and wanted to try this for yourself; this is the kit you need. It’s really simple. It’s just a circular reservoir for the bubble solution and a large hoop which you dip in, then waft through the air. It produces the biggest and most beautiful bubbles and we were all fighting to get our hands on it to try it out for ourselves.
Each of the sets comes with a bottle of bubble solution to get you started. If you’re serious about bubbles; then I suggest you also get the 2 litre bottle of Gazillion Giant Bubble Solution (currently 2 for £10 at Tesco). The Giant Bubble Solution is a giant version of the little bubble pots. It comes with a big wand for you to blow bigger bubbles with. It’s also ideal for topping up the little bottles in your other Gazillion Bubbles sets.
We had so much lovely fun with Gazillion Bubbles. It was lovely to get outside in the sunshine; run about a bit, laugh a lot, be silly and forget our worries. We really like the Gazillion Bubbles sets, and we’re looking forward to more bubble filled sunny days this summer!
AD/Complimentary ingredients. Aubergine is probably one of my favourite vegetables. Admittedly it took me a while to warm to it, if it’s not cooked properly it can be pretty disgusting. These days I am probably cooking with aubergine once a week. My recipe for imam bayildi is a firm family favourite, as well as the delicious dip, ikra, but I’ve also added Aubergine Parmigiana to my repertoire.
If I’m cooking a casual lunch for friends, I like to make a few simple things to go with a big salad. One of my favourite things to make are these tasty aubergine bruschetta. They’re packed full of vegetables, they’re pretty healthy and they always go down a storm.
This week I ordered a Local Box from Creamline Diaries. With the Creamline Best of Local Box scheme, you can get brilliant locally produced food from independent producers delivered to your door. The meat is from my local butchers, the bread is from a fantastic local baker and fresh fish from the fishmongers. The fruit and veg are fresh from the market each day and you can even stock up your store cupboard.
My Creamline box was brilliant and contained pretty much everything I needed to make this delicious aubergine bruschetta. It’s just the thing if you want to shop local, but don’t really have the time to visit all your local shops, or if you just can’t carry all your shopping home.
1 large aubergine
1 medium onion, finely diced (I prefer red, but a white onion works too)
2 cloves of garlic
1 pepper, finely diced. It’s traditional to use green, but I used red for colour
12 ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
Big handful of chopped parsley
Tomato purée, if you think it needs it
1 teaspoon of sugar
Salt & pepper
A ball of mozzarella cheese.
I find it best to chop all the veg before I start cooking, so finely dice your onion and pepper, quarter your cherry tomatoes and put to one side while you prep the aubergine. Cut the aubergine in half lengthways and finely dice one half. With the other half, slice lengthways it in thick, 1cm slices.
Add a generous glug of olive oil to a deep sided frying pan, add the onions, pepper and aubergine and begin to soften the veg. This should take around half an hour on a low heat, stir occasionally. Add a splash of water to help the veg soften. After you’ve been cooking this for around 15 mins, add your tomatoes, garlic and a generous amount of salt and pepper. It’s cooked when all the veg are soft and the aubergine is melty and isn’t woolly. Once cooked, throw in a handful of chopped parsley and stir.
As ever, taste the aubergine and add more seasoning if you think it needs it. I sometimes add a little bit of chilli sauce to add a bit of spice, but that’s up to you.
Meanwhile, take your aubergine slices and put them on a baking tray, add a very generous amount of olive oil and cook in a 200c oven, loosely covered in foil until they are soft and floppy, this will take about half an hour, turn them over about half way through.
To assemble your aubergine bruschetta, toast or griddle thick slices of ciabatta brushed with olive oil, top with your aubergine and veg mix, then artfully decorate with your slices of aubergine, some torn mozzarella and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. You can eat this hot or cold, though I like them still warm, but not piping hot.
When school finished on Friday, my son was sent home with a pack of work to keep him busy while the schools are closed. The pack was full of maths and English worksheets, instructions for projects and lots of serious academic stuff. He’s in Year 4 and the emphasis right now is getting them up to speed for a big times tables test. In amongst the serious stuff was a copy of the curriculum for the rest of the year, tucked away in a dark corner were the words “bread making” so I’ve decided to break up the hardcore academic stuff with a series of bread making sessions, starting with these herby flatbreads.
I think that learning to bake bread is a pretty essential life skill. Where I live I’ve been struggling to find bread in the shops, so we’ve been mostly going without. I reckon being able to knock up some simple bread at home will tide us over. Bread making isn’t just about feeding ourselves, you can learn other lessons too, like maths (measuring out) and science (how yeast makes bread rise, etc).
Lunchtime was nearly upon us, so bellies rumbling we put together these really simple herby flatbreads. You can make them without the dried herbs if you prefer, but they were so much nicer with them. We ate them with hummus and carrot sticks, but they’d be brilliant with a curry or stew. They’re more snappable than bendy, almost like an Armenian lavash bread than a tortilla. Delicious.
Quick Herby Flatbreads
200g plain flour
¼ teaspoon of salt
100ml warm water
2 tablespoons of oil, I used vegetable, but olive or sunflower would work too, plus extra for cooking
1 teaspoon of dried mixed herbs
Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, make a well in the middle and trickle in the warm water, mixing as you go. We used a metal knife to mix with, but if you don’t mind getting messy, you can use your (very clean) hands.
Once the flour, salt and water are all mixed together, add the oil, the dried herbs and some black pepper and knead the dough with your hands. If the dough is too sticky, add a some more flour, if it is too dry add a drop more water.
Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough for five minutes. Try stretching the doings and folding it back on itself, my son loved punching the dough. You knead the dough to develop the gluten in it, this is what makes the bread springy and nice to eat.
Divide the dough into six balls, and on a clean, floured surface roll out each ball of dough using a rolling pin. Try and roll them into circles, but don’t worry if they aren’t perfect. They need to be as thin as you can make them; that way they will cook all the way through and be crispy and delicious.
Heat a frying pan, if you have a pastry brush, brush some oil over the pan; if not, dribble a tiny bit of oil in the pan and swirl it around. Once your pan has heated up a little, put your first herby flatbread in the pan. Cook each flatbread for about two minutes on each side, flip it over with a spatula. Ben said it looked like a bit like a pancake.
Once each side was cooked, we gobbled them up with some hummus. Ben said they tasted like the kind of bread we had with curry. If you wanted, you could try making your own butter to go with your herby flatbreads, it’s easy and lots of fun too!
These quick herby flatbreads are really easy to make with children. They’re quick, tasty and are a good introduction to bread making. We have plans for soda bread, focaccia, a crusty loaf and maybe some brioche. He will be a bread making genius by the time he goes back to school!
With the prospect of the schools potentially closing for any number of weeks, and the thought of trying to keep my lively son entertained for the duration weighing heavily on my mind, I thought it was a good idea to get a list together of ideas to keep him busy, things which are screen-free and reasonably wholesome.
As tempting as it is to arrange a heap of play-dates and days out to local attractions, that defeats the object. If the schools have closed to help slow the spread of the virus, then it makes sense for us to stay at home for much of that period. My healthy, strapping son would likely be hardly touched by the effects of the virus, but older family members which complex heath needs could be hit very hard.
I’m not wild about him spending hours watching the TV or playing computer games all the time. I won’t ban them completely, but limiting his time in front of a screen is a good thing for us. With the prospect of so many days at home to fill, I’ve made a list of 30 screen-free ways I can fill his days.
Courgettes are one of my favourite vegetables. They might not be very exciting, but they’re great with pasta and vegetable bakes and as I discovered this week, they’re very good in cakes too. Vegetable cakes are nothing new, but this was the first time I’ve baked a courgette cake and it won’t be the last. My courgette cake was light, moist and delicious; delicately spiced and devoured almost immediately by my greedy family.
Despite what you may think, the cake really doesn’t taste like it’s packed with courgettes, it just tastes like good cake. With the frosting it looks really pretty too, and for my money is a great way to sneak a nutrient rich vegetable into an unsuspecting child.
Courgette Cake with Cinnamon Frosting
150ml vegetable oil
200g soft brown sugar
3 medium eggs
1 lemon, finely grated and zested
200g coarsely grated courgette
1 heaped teaspoon of ground cinnamon
250g self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
For the frosting
50g unsalted butter, softened
85g icing sugar, sifted
pinch ground cinnamon
180g soft cheese
Preheat oven to 180°c or gas mark 4. Grease and line a large loaf tin, I use loaf tin liners which are so much easier. In a large mixing bowl, beat the oil, soft brown sugar, and eggs until smooth. I used my hand mixer, but a wooden spoon works just as well.
Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and the grated courgette. Tip in the sifted flour and bicarbonate of soda and fold in gently until it’s all mixed together well. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin and bake for around one hour until risen and golden. If you’re not sure, insert a skewer into the centre of the cake and if it comes out clean, then it’s cooked.
Leave the cake to cool fully on a wire rack for a few hours. The cake has to be fully cool before you pile the frosting on top, or it’ll melt.
With an electric whisk beat together the unsalted butter, cinnamon and icing sugar until it comes together and is smooth. This will take a little while, so persist with it. It will look unpromising and like breadcrumbs for a while. Once it is smooth, add the cream cheese and beat quickly until it’s soft and smooth. Do not over-beat the frosting, or the cream cheese may split and become runny. Spread over the top of the cake with a palette knife or an offset spatula, it might be mice to sprinkle chopped nuts over the top, or more lemon zest if you like. I just made some decorative ripples, then popped the cake in the fridge for the frosting to firm up.
The courgette cake without frosting would happily keep in a tin for a few days, with the frosting it’ll need to be kept in the fridge, or the cream cheese frosting might go off.
If you love carrot cake, or chocolate beetroot cake, try this easy and delicious courgette cake recipe, you’d never know what was in it!
Over half term, the boy and I hot footed it up to York to check out the Jorvik Viking Festival. We went last year and had a tremendous time, but we’d missed a few things and needed to remedy that. Top of our list was a visit to Jorvik DIG. DIG is a hands-on archaeological adventure which gives kids the chance to try their hand at archaeology and discover some of the most exciting artefacts from over 2000 years of York’s history.
Jorvik DIG is located in St Saviour’s Church, a former Church of England church which was declared redundant in 1954 and later taken over and transformed into DIG by the York Archaeological Trust. DIG is part of a group of historical attractions in York which include the Jorvik Viking Centre and Barley Hall.
During the Jorvik Viking Festival, there’s such a lot going on in York, and local attractions put on extra events. DIG is no different, during the half term there were extra sessions, including the chance to make your own Viking poo (out of clay; but adding seeds, fish bones, worms and all kinds of grim things).
DIG advise that during weekends and school holidays, it’s best to book ahead. We didn’t do this, but we struck lucky and managed to get a slot later that afternoon; so we retired to a local café for lunch, which suited us just fine.
After lunch we went back to DIG and had a look around the upstairs, which was where the poo making workshop was. There was also a small play area for younger children. Downstairs there’s a hands on museum area where you can learn more about archaeology, how they date artefacts and you can look at some of the things which have been found in and around York. There’s also a replica Viking longboat, which is well worth a look at.
The big attraction was the tour, which is hourly. We were led into a room where a very knowledgeable guide talked to us about archaeology and about the kinds of things archaeologists do and look for. The children were then all given a trowel and we were introduced to the DIG Excavation Pits, which they were invited to excavate.
There are four pits; Roman York, Viking York, Medieval York and Victorian York. Each pit is based on excavations that have carried out over the past 30 years in York. Scraping back the sand and soil, you can unearth the remains of walls, pottery, shells and much more. The children get a good amount of time to dig away and see what they can find, and it’s all good fun.
Next we were led to a large table with boxes of artefacts; each family was asked to sort a box into categories; bones, shells, antlers, rocks, metal etc. We did fairly well at this, and all the while the guide was talking us through the things to look out for. We were also given a box of bones and asked to try and identify the animal they came from.
The highlight for my boy was poo. The guide passed around small fragments of fossilised Viking poo for us to hold and examine. She also held up a replica of the largest piece of fossilised Viking poo they had found during the excavations. It was impressive, if you’re into that kind of thing.
We were at Jorvik DIG for a good couple of hours. I was glad of it as it was an indoor attraction in the middle of a stormy February day. The boy had a great time and despite being sometimes reticent about joining in with things, he had a good go at everything put in front of him.
If you’re visiting York and taking in the historical sights with children; a visit to DIG is well worth the money. It does lack a café, but it’s only a couple of minutes away from several very good ones. The tickets are priced at £6.50-£7 per person, family tickets are available and your ticket is valid for a year; meaning you can return as often as you want.
Each year, during Lent many Christians choose to give things up for 40 days. Lent is traditionally a time of abstinence and many people give up chocolate, or wine, or bread even. Some people choose to take up something, such as doing an act of kindness, or giving a small amount to charity each day.
Over the years, following a feast of pancakes, I have variously given up chocolate, crisps and alcohol. I have done acts of kindness each day. This year I’ve been a bit stumped about what to do. I’m peri-menopausal now so the thought of giving up wine or chocolate for 6 weeks is a step too far for me.
My life feels too stressful right now to give up anything, or commit to doing something for six whole weeks, but last night I had an idea. Why don’t I just give up something or take up something each week during lent, committing to not eating chocolate for one week is doable, giving to charity daily for one week is affordable. The idea of doing six weeks’ worth of one week mini-Lenten promises is very manageable indeed.
I’ve not fully hammered out my plan for Lent. I’m finicky at the best of times, so I thought if I put a list together of suggestions for myself, then I can pick and choose what I fancy doing from one week to the next. Here are 40 ideas for things to do for Lent.
40 things to do for Lent
1. Give up chocolate
2. Give up crisps
3. Give up alcohol
4. Give to charity each day
5. Give up TV/Netflix
6. Have a digital detox
7. Pray each day
8. Meditate each day
9. Do an act of kindness everyday
10. Phone a friend or family member each day
11. No shopping/buying new things
13. Read more
15. Do a beach clean, or street clean, or a litter pick in a park
16. Find ways to reduce your plastic consumption
17. Use public transport instead of driving
18. Stop buying coffee on the go
19. Donate to your local food bank
20. Give up meat
21. Compliment other people
22. Walk every day
23. Give up swearing
24. Give up takeaways
25. Eat a family dinner at the table each night
26. Give up cake
27. Give up fizzy drinks
28. Give up sugar
29. Give up binge watching
30. Give up negativity
31. Turn lights and appliances off when not in use
32. Give up shopping online
33. Give yourself time for yourself
34. Make a point of doing self-care every day, whatever that looks like
35. Read the Bible, or a spiritual text of your choosing
36. Give up guilt – you’re doing the best you can do
37. Take up contentment – be happy, or happier with what you’ve got already in your life
38. Give up gossip
39. Give up smoking or vaping
40. Give up taking selfies/pictures of your dinner
What are you giving up or taking up for Lent? Please comment below and let me know!
On Sunday, the boy and I had a pair of tickets to go and see Young Explorers – Pictures at an Exhibition at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) in Manchester. Storm Ciara was doing her worst, but we braved the tempests and we were very glad we did.
RNCM Young Explorers is a series of concerts designed to introduce young people to music. They’re generally relaxed performances and no one minds if babies cry or children giggle. It’s a great, unstuffy way to get the kids into classical music. We’ve been to similar things before and my boy has always enjoyed them, so I had a feeling he would like this too.
Pictures at an Exhibition is a piece of music by Russian 19th Century composer, Modest Mussorgsky. He wrote it in honour of his friend, the artist Vikto Hartman. The music is written so you can imagine you are walking around an art gallery, looking at all of the beautiful painting in it.
Pictures at an Exhibition was a little bit extra special because not only did it feature the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, but artist and author James Mayhew was painting scenes from the music live on stage.
We arrived early, had our RNCM Young Explorers Passport stamped (you get a free family ticket when you have 6 stamps) and took our seats. We had a great view of the stage and the easel where James would be painting. There was also a big screen which had the painting projected onto it, so you could watch every brushstroke in huge detail.
Conductor, Tom Newall introduced the orchestra and got a few children in the audience on stage to help him conduct. It set the tone for the afternoon very nicely; friendly, hands on, lots of fun and with a few giggles. Tom introduced the orchestra and then welcomed James on stage.
The performance began and James deftly threw some paint on a board and created the most incredible, beautiful paintings. Half way through the first painting, my 9 year old son turned to me and whispered “this is really incredible”. I knew then when we got home I’d be needing to get the paints out for him.
The music was beautiful and provided the perfect backdrop to the painting. The whole audience was entranced by James and during the hour long performance he produced 10 beautiful paintings. It was over all too soon; but in keeping with the hands-on vibe of the day, the orchestra invited the audience to come and have a closer look at the instruments and learn a bit more.
James was thronged with people, we had brought along one of his books to sign so we hung back a little. James very kindly gave us one of his practice paintings and chatted with my boy a bit. He was thrilled and that night went to bed clutching his signed book.
The RNCM Young Explorers series is aimed at children aged 3+. but younger ones are welcome too. My 9 year old was transfixed by the whole thing and I would absolutely take him back to another performance. I think it’s fed his imagination and sparked a few creative thoughts in his (currently Minecraft obsessed) head. I loved it and will be keeping my eyes peeled for similar performances in the future.