Days Out: 5 Things to do in Keswick

Last month we spent a weekend glamping in Keswick. It was utterly beautiful and we had a very lovely and very busy weekend. The weather was fine and I think we spent our time well, seeing some of the sights and appreciating the beautiful Lake District landscape. If you’re planning a visit to Keswick or the Lake District, here’s our round-up of five things to do in Keswick.

Keswick Launch Boat Trip around Derwentwater

A trip to the Lake District isn’t complete without a boat trip. Be it hiring a rowing boat and doing it yourself, or climbing aboard one of the beautiful steamers, it’s a great way to explore the lakes. We went on a trip around Derwentwater in one of the beautiful Keswick Launch boats. You can hop on and off the boat at various points around the lake, which makes it great for exploring the area.

Days Out: 5 Things to do in Keswick

Derwentwater is excessively beautiful. On the day we took our boat trip, the sun was shining but the sky was full of dramatic clouds. It’s well worth taking some time out for a boat trip.

An adult round trip day pass £10.75; Children (5-15 years) £5.65; Children under 5 go free; special group rates for over 10 persons.

Days Out: 5 Things to do in Keswick

The Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick

The Derwent Pencil Museum is located in Keswick town centre and is much more interesting than you might think. There’s the World’s Largest Pencil, a large collection of novelty pencil sharpeners; The Queen’s diamond Jubilee pencil and some amazing miniature pencil sculptures.

Days Out: The Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick

There are also some audio-visual exhibits and the fascinating story of how the Derwent Pencil Factory developed the technology to hide tiny maps and a compass inside a pencil for our agents to use in WW2. Plus a lovely area where you can sit and draw for as long as you want.

The Derwent Pencil Museum has a good shop, a great cafe and it’s a cracking way to spend an afternoon in Keswick. You can read our full review here.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

High above the town sits Castlerigg Stone Circle, which overlooks the Thirlmere Valley with the mountains of High Seat and Helvellyn as a backdrop. The stone circle is thought to have been constructed around 3000 BC, and is potentially one of the earliest stone circles in the country.

Days Out: 5 Things to do in Keswick

It’s worth the short drive up to Castlerigg for the panoramic views alone, but I loved the atmosphere up there. It felt like a very special place, which it is. It’s free to visit, there are a couple of information boards and usually an ice cream van. What more do you need?

Keswick Market

If you’re visiting Keswick on a weekend, it would be almost rude not to visit the market. Keswick Market takes place every Saturday and has everything you could want; from fruit and veg, meat, scotch eggs, pasties, toys, crafts, pet beds, jam and chutney,  and brilliant bakers. We filled our boots (well, our car boot) with lovely things, made a start on our Christmas shopping and just spent a couple of hours browsing, buying and generally enjoying the lovely market.

Days Out: 5 Things to do in Keswick

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery is located a short drive out of Keswick. I really wanted to do the tour, but we arrived too late, so we had a meal in their fabulous on-site bistro instead. It’s worth going for the food alone, but the distillery tour looked really interesting.

They have a few different tours as well as tastings, plus a meet the alpacas tour, which my 7 year old would have really enjoyed. We will just have to go back again and do all the cool things we missed out on. We did manage a quick look at the public areas and bought some nice things to take home from the shop.

To find out more about the Lakes Distillery, visit their website.

Days Out: 5 Things to do in Keswick

Have you visited Keswick recently? Have I missed anything? Where would you visit if you were in the area?

Days Out: 5 Things to do in Keswick

Fakeaway Recipe: McDonald’s Style Apple Pies

At this time of the year friends and neighbours are very generously sharing their grow your own results with us. My sister-in-law has a beautiful apple tree and she gave us a big basket of cooking apples. They’re huge and juicy and almost sweet enough to eat raw, but I had plans for my basket of apples. Apple pie plans.

A trip to McDonald’s is a rare treat for us, and one thing we always order is their apple pies. There’s something a bit special about a McDonald’s Apple Pie; they’re crispy and sweet, filled with cinnamon spiced apple and almost always lava hot. Over the years I’ve come to prefer them to most normal apple pies. I’ve always wanted to try to make my own, I’ve tried on and off to recreate them at home but never really got near. But this week I managed it.

Fakeaway Recipe: McDonald's Style Apple Pies

I always cook up a huge pan of apples with sugar and cinnamon, then I divide it into portions and freeze them for when I need them. I started off this recipe with over a kilogram of apples and only used a fairly small amount in the apple pies, so if you have any stewed apple left over then do freeze it, or just serve it on another day with yoghurt, ice cream or custard.

McDonald’s style apple pies

200g Cooking apple, sliced
30g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon of apple pie seasoning, or cinnamon if prefer
1 packet of ready rolled shortcrust pastry
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
1 tablespoon of water
Cinnamon sugar

How to make McDonald’s Style Apple Pies:
Put your apple, caster sugar and apple pie seasoning in a saucepan and cook gently until most of the apple is soft. In a separate saucepan mix 2 tablespoons of caster sugar and 1 tablespoon of water and cook gently until it makes a sugar syrup, you will need this towards the end of the process.

Pre-heat your oven to 200°. Unroll your pastry sheet and using a ruler and a sharp knife divide it up into 8 equal sized rectangles.

Take one pastry rectangle and dollop two teaspoons of stewed apple in the middle. Take another rectangle and place it on top. With the back of a fork press around the edges of the apple pie then put on a baking sheet. Repeat until you have four sealed pies.

Fakeaway Recipe: McDonald's Style Apple Pies

Slit a small hole in the top of each pie to allow the steam to come out and then brush each one liberally with your sugar syrup. The thicker the syrup is the better. Sprinkle each one over with cinnamon sugar and put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.

You may be tempted to gobble them down straight away, but like the McDonald’s originals, they will be lava hot. If you can, do let them sit for ten minutes or so before tucking in.

The boys went a bit bananas for these apple pies. I’ve made them a couple of times since and the difference between a good pie and a really good pie is the thickness of the sugar syrup. The thicker it is, the more is gives that crunchy sweet glaze a McDonald’s pie has.

All you need now is a super-thick vanilla milkshake to go with it!

If you enjoyed this recipe, you might also like these Homemade Spiced Apple Pie Cookies.

Fakeaway Recipe: McDonald's Style Apple Pies

Recycled Crafts: Robot Junk Modelling

My son is always coming home from school or from Beavers with things he’s created out of junk. They have a big box of little boxes, cardboard tubes, bottles, egg boxes and other junk which they can use to create all kinds of things. I fancied getting in on the action. So I gathered a some junk and a selection of crafty bits and bobs and we had an afternoon of robot junk modelling.

I had the idea of taking one of those small cereal boxes and covering it in tin foil, then letting our imaginations go wild. It was pretty simple to cover them in tin foil. I just cut a piece to size, covered it in glue and wrapped it up like a present.

Recycled Crafts: Robot Junk Modelling

Robot Junk Modelling

You will need:
A small cereal box
Tin foil
Bostik White Glu
Empty toilet roll
Sticky tape
Various crafty bits like pipe-cleaners, sticky foam pieces, googly eyes

Recycled Crafts: Robot Junk Modelling

How to get started with Robot Junk Modelling:
Take your cereal box and with some sticky tape, seal up the box. Take a piece of tin foil and cover it in a thin layer of the Bostik White Glu. Carefully wrap the foil around the box, folding the ends in like you would when you wrapped a present.

Grab whatever crafty bits you have. I found some pipe-cleaners, some self adhesive foam shapes, some googly eyes, little pom poms and some beads. Have a think about how you might use your craft pieces to create a robot face, just use your imagination. Use the glue to stick anything which isn’t self adhesive on.

Recycled Crafts: Robot Junk Modelling

I cut down some toilet rolls, covered them in foil and attached them to the sides of the robot head. I also twirled some pipe-cleaners for antennae and embellished them with some beads.

As you can see, both me and the boy had the same pile of crafty bits in front of us, but our robots are completely different. I think his is pretty cool, mine is pretty conventional. What will your robot look like?

Recycled Crafts: Robot Junk Modelling

Check out my other craft tutorials here!

I am a Bostik Craft Blogger and I was sent the materials to create this craft from Craft Merrily. I have not been compensated for this post. 

Recycled Crafts: Robot Junk Modelling

Giveaway & Review: I Am Not A… Craft Activity Books

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but each Wednesday I try to publish some kind of book review or round-up and each Thursday I do some kind of craft. Imagine my delight when I opened up a package containing all four of the I Am Not A… craft activity books. Crafts and books… two of my favourite things!

The series of I Am Not A… craft activity books is written by Sara Stanford and contains the following titles –

  • I Am Not A Cereal Box
  • I Am Not A Toilet Roll
  • I Am Not An Old Sock
  • I Am Not An Eggbox

Review: I Am Not A... Craft Activity Books

They are ideal books for those of us who look in our recycling bins and wish we could turn some of our trash into treasure. This series encourages you to recycle your cereal boxes, old socks, toilet rolls or eggboxes.

Each book shows you how to create ten craft projects in an easy to follow, step-by-step way. The books are just the thing for children to follow by themselves, or with a little extra help from a grown-up. I’m sure teachers and playgroups will also find a lot of craft inspiration in these books.

I Am Not A Cereal Box shows you how to make a robot, an aquarium, a car, a dinosaur, a castle, an elephant, a rock star guitar, a building, a marble run and a puppet theatre. In I Am Not A Toilet Roll you can make a shark, a bat, an elephant, a rocket, a pirate, a unicorn, a ninja, a gingerbread man, a castle and a mermaid. The other books in the series have a similarly dazzling selection of craft ideas to make. 

The books are well illustrated and simply written, so children will find the instructions easy to follow. Each page also includes some fun facts and other ideas for similar crafts to make. At the start of each book is a handy list of the craft materials you might need throughout the book.

Review: I Am Not A... Craft Activity Books

If you have crafty children, or you want to encourage them to craft a little more, these easy to follow books are a great place to start. I know my son always loves junk modelling and creating things out of things that might otherwise have been thrown in the bin. I know my son is already drawing up a things to make list and I’m collecting all the toilet rolls I can get my hands on. Always a good sign!

Each book in the series costs £6.99 and they are available to pre-order now online or in good bookshops.

Win the I Am Not A… Craft Activity Books Collection

To be in with a chance to win the I Am Not A… Craft Activity Books Collection worth £27.96, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

Check out our other giveaways over on our competitions page.

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Terms & Conditions:
1. The competition is open to residents of the UK only aged (18) and over.
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3. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter widget above, complete any mandatory entries and any optional entries you would like.
4. The winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
5. The winner will be sent a the I Am Not A… Craft Activity Books Collection consisting of four books worth a total of £27.96.
6. The closing date for entries is 11.59pm GMT on 31st October 2018.
7. The winner will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date.
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12. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this giveaway.

We were sent these books for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

My almost 8 year old absolutely adores science and we are very keen to encourage this at home. We are firm believers in learning through play, if you have fun learning then whatever you’re learning usually sticks. This week we’ve been putting the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot through its paces. This clever little robot can help with all kinds of things, from spacial awareness, maths, reasoning and geometry. It’s a clever piece of kit and no mistake.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

The Clementoni Mind Designer Robot costs £49.99 and in the box you will find:

  • MIND – Educational Digital Robot
  • A double-sided “board”
  • Transparent disc (to position the pens)
  • Three felt tip pens
  • 10 sheets of A3 paper
  • List of voice commands
  • Instruction manual

MIND is pretty simple to set up. You will need 4 AA batteries and one of those little screwdrivers to open the battery compartment. You will also need a tablet, we have an iPad which worked well. There’s a free app to download which you can use to operate MIND.

MIND has a control keypad in his back, a mode selector and microphone. You can programme him to move and draw shapes and he can memorise a sequence of up to 40 commands.

When we were first getting to grips with MIND we were mostly using the app mode and the voice commands to get it to draw geometric shapes. This is a good way to get used to how it works (and as a parent I can’t tell you how good it is to tell someone to do something and it actually gets done).

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

We moved on to the educational mode. For this you need the double-sided board, which isn’t actually a board, but a huge A1 glossy piece of paper. The yellow board features the Number Challenge. You choose your level; easy, medium or difficult. We chose the easy level. In this game, MIND needs to be programmed with the directions it needs to move in to get to the correct square on the board. There will be simple sums to complete along the way.

On the blue board you need to find you way around a maze, collecting objects MIND says you need along the way. This is a great exercise in logic, reasoning, strategy and spacial awareness.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

It’s a remarkably simple piece of kit. Once you have read the instructions and got the hang of it, it’s great fun and really, really educational. I know for my son playing with MIND will really cement some maths and give it a practical application. For me it’s the thinking ahead and in steps which I think will make a big difference to him. He tends to rush at things and this may help him to take a step back and approach things in a slower, more methodical way.

When I told my husband that the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot cost £49.99 he was impressed; he thought it would cost nearly double that. We really, really liked it and I hope that my son will play with it a lot.

Toy Review: Clementoni Mind Designer Robot

Things to remember about the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot:
  • You DO need a tablet to use alongside this
  • You DO need 4 AA batteries
  • If you are giving this as a gift, it’s probably worth carefully taking it out of the box and playing with it, downloading the app and figuring out how it works before you wrap it up. If you know what you’re doing beforehand, you can save an hour of setting up and instruction manual reading on Christmas morning. Trust me on this one.

It’s a big present to buy for someone, but it does have a lot of different functions. It’s enjoyable to play with, even on the basic drawing geometrical shapes mode and I really like that there’s lots of learning to be had with this. The best thing is that it doesn’t feel like learning and gives a child a practical application for their maths etc.

The Clementoni Mind Designer Robot costs £49.99, is suitable for ages 7+ and is available from a wide range of retailers including Smyths Toys.

We were sent the Clementoni Mind Designer Robot for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

Review: Treetop Adventure Golf, Manchester

Last week Treetop Adventure Golf opened at The Printworks in Manchester. Being keen adventure golfers, we went along to check it out.

The Printworks is an entertainment centre in Manchester, near Victoria Train Station. We go to The Printworks quite a lot, there’s a cinema there and lots of bars and restaurants. The addition of the Treetop Adventure Golf is the icing on the cake for us; an afternoon playing adventure golf is an afternoon well spent as far as we are concerned.

Review: Treetop Adventure Golf, Manchester

The new Treetop Adventure Golf is located on the second floor of The Printworks and whilst it is tucked away around the back, it’s well signposted. There are two adventure golf courses to play and it costs £9.50 per person to play a round, or £31.50 for a family of four. Some discounts and reductions are available, but you can check the current prices here.

Treetop Adventure Golf is aimed at all kinds of people, from families, friends and students. During the day when we went there were mostly families playing; but late at night I suspect it attracts a different crowd.

Review: Treetop Adventure Golf, Manchester

There are two courses to choose from – Tropical Trail or Ancient Explorer. In the interests of thoroughness (and because we were having a really good time) we played both courses.

We began with the Tropical Trail, it’s a lush 18 hole adventure golf course which takes around 30-40 minutes to complete. Each hole is well thought out, with bunkers and obstacles to contend with. There are also interesting things, like talking toucans and trees which comment on the quality of your golfing. It’s compact but well done. The boys absolutely loved it, especially when they got a hole in one; someone comes round with stickers so you can show off your golfing prowess.

Once we’d finished the first course, you can play the “19th hole”. If you hit the ball at the target you get a free round of golf, though that’s only for the successful player. My son won another round, so we decided to try the Ancient Explorer course while we were there.

Review: Treetop Adventure Golf, Manchester

Although we all really enjoyed the Tropical Trail course, the Ancient Explorer was our favourite of the two. The obstacles were a bit more challenging and it felt a bit like Indiana Jones golf, and who wouldn’t enjoy that?

The new Treetop Adventure Golf at The Printworks is brilliant fun. It’s well thought out, there’s a good bar where you can get drinks, snacks and small meals and it’s really family friendly. The boys absolutely loved it and they’re very keen to go back. I liked that it was indoors and warm, which makes a big difference at this time of year. If I could change anything, I’d add a par for each hole so you know how well, or not so well you’re doing.

Review: Treetop Adventure Golf, Manchester

It’s exactly the kind of thing I’d do with the boys on a weekend, or with friends or work colleagues on a night out. I think it’s a great addition to The Printworks.

For more information about Treetop Adventure Golf at The Printworks, Manchester, visit their website.

We were invited to play a round of golf in exchange for this blog post. All images and opinions are our own.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

Last weekend we went to Birmingham for an adventure or two. On our to do list was a visit to the brand new Bear Grylls Adventure centre which is at Birmingham NEC. My husband is no stranger to adventure and extreme sports, so as a special treat I’d booked him in to experience the Base Camp and to go snorkeling with sharks.

We drove from Birmingham and parked a 15 minute walk away in the designated car park. There might be closer parking, but if not, take a coat, the walk around the lake to the centre is very blowy. The Bear Grylls Adventure centre is easy to find and you can see if from quite far away as you approach. We got ourselves booked in; husband had the Base Camp + Snorkeling ticket and the boy and I had spectator tickets, he was too young to take part and someone needed to take care of him.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

My husband (who henceforth will be referred to as Matt, because that is his name) signed a waiver. He then went through to the lockers and joined his group. People go through the Bear Grylls Adventure in groups, so this would be a really great thing to do with a group of friends or through work maybe.

He was soon ushered off to complete the first Base Camp activity. There are four Base Camp activities which your group works their way through; Survival Maze, Escape Room, Assault Course and Target Archery. Included in the Base Camp package are digital photos, so you get a little book all about your adventure, which is a nice touch. Tickets to do the Base Camp only are £20.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

There are other “Hero” activities which you can add on. There are High Ropes, Climbing Wall, Snorkeling, iFly (indoor skydiving) and Scuba Diving. We went for the Snorkeling, which including the Base Camp cost £45 per ticket.

Matt went through all the Base Camp activities; this should have taken a little under two hours, but there was a problem with a group ahead of them and they ran out of time so didn’t get the chance to try the archery. The groups were led around Base Camp by a pair of guides. The guides helped everyone through, so if you struggle, there is someone there to help. Matt especially liked the Assault Course, he’s done similar things like that before and he’s a keen runner so it was really up his street.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

After he’d finished the Base Camp portion of the afternoon he met up with the Snorkeling group. There they were given instructions and a safety talk, he changed into a wet suit and he was plunged into a cage in the shark tank.

From our point of view, the angle and positioning of the cage made it really hard to see him. In fact from the outside you wouldn’t know there was anyone in the cage and he couldn’t see us either. The shark tank contains 14 black tipped reef sharks, stingrays and a whole shoal of colourful fish. It’s very beautiful to look at and is rightly the visual centrepiece of the Bear Grylls Adventure centre.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

Although he really enjoyed the snorkeling activity, he’s since said that he would have preferred to do the scuba dive. We watched a group scuba dive in the tank and it was much more interactive. But the snorkeling is probably about the right level if you’re a beginner or a bit nervous.

The inside of Bear Grylls Adventure is really well done; the floor looks like a rutted, muddy track and there are expedition trucks, crashed planes and replica crocodiles to admire. There’s also a Bear Grylls figure clinging to a rock which you can go and pose near for photographs.

From a spectators perspective, there’s not a great deal to do to fill the hours. There’s a cafe area and you can hang around in the main area waiting for your friend or in my case, husband to briefly appear before moving onto the next challenge. We did get a bit bored after a while, so if you’re just going to support someone, take a book.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

The Bear Grylls Adventure centre is very well put together. The activities are well organised and everything feels safe. I think the prices for the activities are very reasonable; it would be a great way to spend an afternoon bonding with friends or work mates.

If like us you have a Merlin Annual pass, then you get 25% off the cost of your adventure. I do recommend that before booking you read the FAQ section on their website and have a good think about what “Hero” activities you would like to do.

Husband left with a big smile on his face. He didn’t quite know what to expect when we arrived; but he’d scrambled through a survival maze, eaten dried insects, escaped the escape room, scrambled over the assault course and snorkeled with sharks. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Birmingham!

Find out more about the Bear Grylls Adventure Centre in Birmingham by visiting their website

Disclosure: We are Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors this year. All images and opinions are our own.

Recipe: Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese

Now that the leaves have started falling from the trees, my slow cooker (or crockpot if you’re reading this in America) is really earning its keep. I love a slow cooker recipe, being able to throw something together in the morning  and come home to something hearty and warming in the evening is an autumn/winter life saver! This week I made a Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese using a ham hock I’d bought for just £3.50. I cooked it in the slow cooker, stirred it through some macaroni cheese, baked it in the oven and made my family very happy indeed.

Recipe: Recipe: Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese

A ham hock comes into its own when you cook it for hours. You know its done when it falls off the bone. It’s insanely cheap and it often used to make ham and pea soup with. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just needs long, slow cooking. I’m a bit obsessed with ham hocks these days, they seem like such good value and the boys seem to really like anything I make with them, like this Sticky Rosé Braised Ham Hock.

This Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese is the kind of thing you’d find being sold for £15 a portion in a hipster dive bar in a fashionably shabby part of town. It’s the kind of made ahead meal you could make for friends and family for a weekend feast. It’s hearty, it’s warming and it’s delicious. My family adored me when I put this in front of them.

Recipe: Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese

Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese

This recipe makes enough for four people.

Coke or diet coke, about a litre
Ham hock, uncooked
200g dried macaroni pasta
50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
Approx one pint of milk, maybe more, maybe less
100g mature cheddar cheese
50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Salt and pepper
30g breadcrumbs

How to make Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese:
Put your ham hock in your slow cooker and pour over your coke or diet coke until it’s just about covered. Turn the slow cooker on high and cook for at least 5 hours, until the meat is falling off the bone.

Once your ham hock is cooked, take the meat and cap of fat off it and shred the meat with two forks. Discard the bones and fat, or give them to your grateful dog.

You will have probably enough meat to eke out two portions of this dish, but if you’re feeling generous like I was, then use all the meat in the one dish. If you want to be less generous (and the next time I make this, I’m going to be less generous), set aside half of the ham hock, dribble over a little bit of the cooking juices and freeze, ready to be defrosted next time you want to make this.

To make the macaroni cheese, melt the butter in a saucepan, once melted, tip in the flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. Mix until it’s a paste and then cook the flour out for a minute. Add a splash of milk and stir until it turns into a paste again. Keep adding milk in splashes and mixing until it starts to turn into a silky sauce. The amount of milk will vary, but I’d say you need at least a pint of milk.

Leave your sauce to bubble gently on the hob while you add 200g to another saucepan of boiling water. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.

While your pasta cooks, grate your cheese and add it to your sauce. Set aside 20g of the Parmesan to top your bake with. Stir, stir, stir your sauce and season with salt and pepper. I also like to add ground chilli flakes for a bit of a gentle kick, but you can leave that out if you prefer. Taste the sauce to check the seasoning; if it’s not cheesy enough for you, now is a good time to add more cheese. Now would be a good time to pre-heat your oven to 220°.

Once your pasta is cooked, drain it really well and tip it into your cheese sauce; stir that through and add your shredded chunks of ham hock. Stir that through and pour into a baking dish. Level the top with the back of a spoon.

Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and the remaining Parmesan cheese; pop it into the oven for 25 minutes, or until it’s brown and bubbly on top. Take it out of the oven and put to one side for five minutes. Serve with a big salad and crusty bread.

Recipe: Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese

If you want to feed your friends and family something that’s like a big plate of hugs, this ham hock macaroni cheese is the dish for you. It’s a delicious, economical, hearty hug of a meal.

Recipe: Ham Hock Macaroni Cheese

Crafts: Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies

It’s autumn and in the UK that means that Strictly Come Dancing twirls back onto our TV screens. Strictly is a firm family favourite – what’s not to love? Sparkles, dancing, great music and the chance to become an armchair dancing judge. We’ve made some Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies so we can play along at home.

Crafts: Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies

Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies

You will need:
Popsicle sticks
Bostik Glu Dots
Cupcake cases
Tin foil
Sequins, sparkles, glitter, whatever you have
Black ball point pen
Felt tips

Crafts: Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies

How to make your Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies:
These Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies are really easy to make. Take your wooden popsicle stick and using a ball point pen draw a face, hair and feet on it. Colour in whatever bits you want to with your felt tip. You can add colour for the eyes and mouth if you want.

If you’re using it, wrap a piece of tin foil or coloured paper around the stick, under the face, this can represent the top of the dress. Stick it in place with your glu dots.

Crafts: Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies

Take your cupcake case (or small doily or whatever you’ve got) and fold it in two. Stick this onto the stick with the glu dots. I folded the dress of my doily dancer a few times so that it would flair out.

Cut your pipecleaner into equal sized thirds and wrap one around the body, bend it into place to look like the arms of your dancer. Add any embellishments you want to make your dancer sparkle and shine.

If you felt like it, you could also make a popsicle stick panel of judges, complete with number score paddles. Bring the magic of Strictly Come Dancing alive in the comfort of your own home!

If you enjoyed this, you might like some of my other craft ideas too!

Crafts: Strictly Come Dancing Popsicle Stick Ladies

Book Review: A Year in Nature by Hazel Maskell

The changing of the seasons is something we all look forward to and dread in equal measure. I’m not wildly mad about winter, but I can’t resist a nice crisp autumn day. The seasons are something we talk about a lot with our son and I imagine we are not alone in that. On walks to school and to the park we chat about the changes in the trees, the wildlife we see and the signs of the changing seasons.

We were sent a copy of A Year in Nature by Hazel Maskell. It’s a carousel book of the seasons, I didn’t really know what that meant until I opened it up. It’s a kind of pop up book where you open it up so the front and back cover are touching each other (you can tie the covers together with the attached ribbon), and you stand the book up and it shows the four seasons in glorious pop up detail.

Book Review: A Year in Nature by Hazel Maskell

Written by Helen Maskell and illustrated by Eleanor Taylor, A Year in Nature is a truly beautiful introduction to the seasons; follow a family of foxes through the year, watching the cubs grow and thrive as the seasons change around them.

Each page is heaving with detail, with counting and spotting activities and bite-size facts “caterpillars hatch from butterfly eggs. Each makes a hard case, or chrysalis. Inside it turns into a butterfly.” A Year in Nature allows you to explore the woodland scenes, discovering animals, trees, plants and flowers as you go.

This would make a very special gift for a child, or maybe as a really great talking point for a group of children, perhaps at school. It’s the kind of book you can dip in and out of as the year goes by. Take time to examine each page, to see the changing colours and how the wildlife evolves. It’s a really beautiful book. So beautiful that it’s an actual work of art.

Book Review: A Year in Nature by Hazel Maskell

A Year in Nature by Hazel Maskell is a very special book, rich in detail and a real visual feast for children. It’s suitable for ages 6+ and is more robust than you may think. My 7 year old absolutely adores reading this book and doing the counting and spotting activities in it. It’s a real keepsake and would make a wonderful Christmas present for any nature loving child.

A Year in Nature by Hazel Maskell costs £16.99. It’s published by Laurence King and it is available from a wide range of bookshops including Amazon.

For details of more children’s books published by Laurence King, visit their website.

Disclosure: We were sent a copy of A Year in Nature for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.