The Ultimate Spell-Caster by Mike Barfield is a fun and funny flip-book full of over 60 million spell-casting combinations. It’s just the kind of book which would inspire young wizards and witches!
Magic spells aren’t just for Halloween! As the daughter of a wizard (ok, a magician) I feel I’m well qualified to review this book AND test out some of the spells in it.
The instructions on the back of the book read “all you have to do is wave your wand and flip the pages”. Once you flip the pages you can create an almost limitless combination of spells. There is no magic wand supplied with the book, so you will need to use your own wand. I use a wand I found in a magic forest, which I then wrapped in wool, because no one wants to use a cold wand.
The book itself is great fun and even had me snorting with laughter as we flipped the pages to create new spells. Has somebody wronged you? Flip the pages and find a spell that’ll teach them a lesson. It might not work, but picturing your nemesis as a self-exploding wasp polisher will make you feel a bit better.
If you’re looking for a spell book which actually works, this is probably not the right book for you. If you’re looking for a spell book which will make you laugh, then this IS the right book for you. It’s just the thing for an aspiring witch or wizard and would be a nice little stocking filler for a Harry Potter fan with a sense of humour. This mudblood gives The Ultimate Spell-Caster the thumbs up, or wands up, whichever.
The Ultimate Spell-Caster by Mike Barfield costs £10.99. It’s published by Laurence King and it is available from a wide range of bookshops including Amazon.
Treacle toffee has long been a favourite of fine. Sticky and sweet, it’s something of a love/hate treat. I’ve always enjoyed it, but not really enjoyed eating the sharp shards of broken toffee. It can be sticky to eat, if only there was some way of eating it without getting sticky fingers. To solve the sticky finger problem, I’ve come up with these Treacle Toffee Pan Pops – all the loveliness of treacle toffee, but neatly presented on a lolly stick. I can confirm they are absolutely delicious too!
To me, Bonfire Night has always been a celebration of cosy autumnal food and flavours. We always have jacket potatoes heaped with hot toppings like chilli. There’s always hot dogs with onions, toffee apples, parkin with custard and treacle toffee. From now on I’m adding my Treacle Toffee Pan Pops to the list!
These treacle treats are set in shallow tin foil cases, the kind you might buy jam tarts in. After a bit of searching I found exactly what I wanted here on Amazon (this is an affiliate link. I might get a couple of pence if you buy them). You will also need some lolly sticks (or popsicle sticks if you’re in America), again you can find them here on Amazon (affiliate link).
I made 10 Treacle Toffee Pan Pops and poured the rest of my treacle toffee into a lined swiss roll tin so I could compare and contrast the two with my family, we all preferred eating the pan pops, they were just easier to manage. This recipe would make around 30 pan pops, give or take. It’s also helpful if you have a cooking thermometer, sugar can be a tricky beast and this will help you know when it’s cooked properly. Here’s one of those Amazon affiliate links to one.
Treacle Toffee Pan Pops
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of water
125g of unsalted butter
450g of soft brown sugar
225g of treacle
Put your vinegar, water and butter in a large saucepan and melt together, make sure you stir with a wooden spoon. When your butter has melted add your sugar and treacle.
Gently heat the mixture, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon so nothing sticks to the sides or the bottom of the pan. Be careful not to splash anything out of the pan, it will burn. You need to boil the mixture to 138°C. It will take about 20 minutes to get to this point, don’t rush it.
When it’s boiled, remove it from the heat and let it sit until it stops bubbling.
I set my foil tins in a cupcake tray because I felt they’d be steadier there. If you have enough trays, do that. Carefully (please do this very carefully) pour about 2 tablespoons of the treacle toffee mixture into each pan, it should be so that it’s near the top, but not pouring over. The liquid toffee is very hot at this point.
Once you’ve filled all of your tin foil pans, take your wooden lolly sticks and place them in each one. Leave them for about ten minutes and then go and turn the sticks over in the toffee, this will help the stick to sink into it better. Leave the pops to cool for as long as you can, at least two hours.
When they’re fully cool, wrap each one in cellophane, I used cellophane bags I’d bought to put treats in. Keep them in an airtight tin until Bonfire Night.
If you want to make a tray of treacle toffee, use the same method but pour the mixture into a greased Swiss roll tin. When the mixture is cooling, mark out squares with a sharp knife and go over those marks every half an hour or so until it’s fully cool. With luck your toffee will snap into neat little squares. Bag those up in cellophane and suck them around the bonfire!
This week is half term and we are filling the week with trips to the park and some crafts and activities at home. One thing we’ve been doing is decorating some t-shirts for a party we are going to next week. We got our hands on a packet of Little Brian Fabric Paint Sticks and we’ve been letting our creativity run wild ever since.
On Halloween this year we are going to a not Halloween party. There will be party games and some spooky stuff, but it’s NOT a Halloween party. Dressing up is encouraged, but the usual zombie/witch/Dracula type costumes are quietly discouraged. It’ll be more fun than it sounds, with apple bobbing, party games and treasure hunts. We will be wearing our decorated t-shirts, and we think they’re pretty cool.
Painting Your Own T-shirts
You will need:
A plain white t-shirt
Large chopping board
A stencil (an image printed on card and cut out with a craft knife)
Little Brian Fabric Paint Sticks
How to paint your own t-shirts:
First make your stencil. I looked on Google for a simple spooky image and chose a cartoon of a ghost against a black background. I found this one on Free Stencil Gallery. Print it out on a piece of card and using a craft knife, cut out all the black bits around the ghost.
I then took my large chopping board and covered it in a plastic bag (so any paint wouldn’t go through). Then I pulled the t-shirt over the chopping board and tucked the excess fabric around the back and laid it on the table. Make sure the fabric is flat and not rippled or baggy.
Using a few pieces of masking tape, tape the stencil onto the front of the t-shirt. This is to keep it in place while you paint.
Take the Little Brian Fabric Paint Sticks and read the instructions. The Little Brian Fabric Paint Sticks are a bit like crayons, so there’s no dripping, spilling or mess. Take each paint stick and colour in the area you want to paint. We decided to have a rainbow background for our ghost, so we coloured in little patches in the stencil.
Once you’re happy with how it looks, iron or blow-dry the paint on, following the instructions in the packet, it will withstand washing up to 40’C. Your t-shirt is now ready to wear and be admired.
The Little Brian Fabric Paint Sticks are really easy to use, there’s no mess and they are great for kids to use too. Each Fabric Stick has vibrant, colourful paint that you literally twist up and down, exactly like a glue stick to paint with!
Little Brian Paint Sticks are available from Hobbycraft, Tesco and directly from their website.
Disclaimer: We were sent a pack of Little Brian Fabric Paint Sticks for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.
Everyone loves a spooky story don’t they? This week we’ve been taking a look at Midnight Monsters by Helen Friel and getting really spooked out. Midnight Monsters is an amazing book. It’s a pop-up shadow search book and it’s perfect for reading after dark.
To enjoy this book, turn the lights off, get your torch out and shine it through the pop-up scenes in the book to learn more about the monsters who lurk in the shadows.
In Midnight Monsters, you travel through a series of pop-up scenes; the wild woods; creepy caves; mysterious mountains; a misty lagoon and a haunted castle. Each page has five creepy creatures to spot. This is best done in a dark room; put the book on a table or flat surface and shine a torch or the light from a mobile phone through. This will cast a shadow on the wall behind, revealing the spooky scene.
Each of the five creatures has a description to help you understand more about them. All of the creatures are rooted in folklore. We spotted a Yeti, a Griffin, a Cyclops and a vampire, in among all the other characters. I can’t help but feel that Midnight Monsters would be the best thing to bring out at a children’s Halloween party. Shine a light through and tell creepy stories about the characters in this book, it’s got such great bedtime ghost story potential.
It’s written and designed by Helen Friel, a freelance paper engineer and illustrator who has also written Midnight Creatures: A Pop-Up Shadow Search, Midnight Monsters is the follow-up to that book.
Midnight Monsters is not actually scary enough to lose sleep over. It’s a great novelty of a book, beautifully designed and almost too good to share with the kids. It takes shadow art up to the next level. It’s superb.
If you’re looking for something a bit different to read, explore and enjoy with the kids this autumn, Midnight Monsters by Helen Friel is almost certainly that book.
Midnight Monsters by Helen Friel costs £16.99. It’s published by Laurence King and it is available from a wide range of bookshops including Amazon.
Pumpkin Pie is one of those things most English people have heard of, but for the most part have never tried. Every year we seem to embrace Halloween traditions a little bit more, and each year more and more pumpkin-spiced things creep onto our menus. I keep trying pumpkin and wondering what all the fuss is about. I’m not a huge fan, but would a slice of homemade pumpkin pie change my mind?
This recipe is really simple. You can make your own pastry or you can buy a ready-made sweet pastry case, or so what I did and buy some ready rolled shortcrust pastry. Sometimes, just sometimes it’s absolutely fine to be lazy!
Honey Spiced Pumpkin Pie
Ingredients (serves 8)
3 eggs, beaten
1 425g tin of pumpkin puree (or make your own)
125g runny honey
80g soft brown sugar
200mls milk (I used semi skimmed)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 shortcrust pastry case (9 inch)
1. Pre-heat your oven to 200°. Prepare your pastry case. if you’re using a ready-made case go to step 2. If you’re making your own or ruing ready rolled pastry then follow these instructions –
Grease your 9 inch pie tin and place on a baking sheet. Roll out your pastry and press into the pie tin evenly. I like to leave my pastry untrimmed around the edges of the pie, then tidy them up once the pie is cooked.
Prick the bottom of your pie, top with a piece of baking paper and over in baking beans. Put in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the baking beans and paper and bake for another 5 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, beat your eggs, then add your pumpkin puree, milk, sugar, honey, spices and salt. Mix very thoroughly. Carefully pour the filling into pastry case. I liked to do this about half way, then put it in the oven and continue filling the pie, this stops it sloshing about when you’re putting your pie in the oven.
3. Bake at 200 C for 45 minutes until it’s cooked though. If you’re not sure, it shouldn’t wobble too much and you can always poke it with a knife to see if it comes out clean.
Do not make the same mistake as me. In my excitement I pulled the pie straight out of the oven to admire its beauty once it was cooked. BIG MISTAKE. What I should have done is turned the oven off and opened the door a tiny bit, then after a bit longer, opened the door some more and let the pie cool in the oven. Pulling it out too quickly shocked it and made it crack. This made me very sad.
Do not make the same mistake as me. Leave your pie to cool in the oven!
If you’ve made the fatal error of taking your pie out of the oven and it cracks like this, do not despair! All you need it a lot of cream. Whip it up and top your pie before serving. No one will ever know the unsightly horrors which lurk beneath!
Has my recipe for Honey Spiced Pumpkin Pie made me fall in love with pumpkin? Not really. It was very nice and the boys absolutely devoured the lot. I just think me and pumpkins just aren’t meant to be.
Pom poms are a pretty easy thing to make and with a little imagination you can turn them into all kinds of different creatures and characters. This month I was tasked by Craft Merrily to create a Halloween craft. I’d been wanting to master my new pom pom maker, so I decided to make some pom pom spiders. They’re easier than you think and an easy craft to do with children.
We’ve all made pom poms before using two rings of cardboard you laboriously wind wool around, then cut, tie and you’re done. I’ve bought a set of pom pom makers on the recommendation of my friend Lucy – an expert pom pom maker. She is right, they really are a pom pom game changer!
Lucy showed me how to use the pom pom maker. You wind your wool around two semi-circles of the maker, then wind it around the other two semi-circles, clip them together, cut them and the tie them around the middle and you’re done. Easy. Not just easy, but quick and easy.
You can make your pom pom spiders as big or as small as you want (if you’re not sure how to make pom poms, there’s a video you can watch here). Use whatever colours you think would work best.
How to make Pom Pom Spiders
You will need –
Pom pom makers (or make your own cardboard rings)
A ball of wool
Bostik Glu Dots
How to make your Pom Pom Spiders –
Wind your wool around your pom pom maker, make sure you are generous with the winding. The more wool you use, the fuller your pom pom will be.
Before you cut and tie your pom pom, cut your spider legs out of the pipecleaners. I used four identical lengths of pipecleaner (which make 8 spiders legs). Twist the pipecleaners together in the middle and put them through the centre of your pom pom.
Cut the wool around your ring and tie you pom pom together tightly with a long length of wool. You should have a pom pom now, it may need trimming up slightly so it is even all over.
Using the Bostik Glu Dots and the googly eyes, stick eyes onto your pom pom spider. Bend its legs to make spiders legs. You pom pom spider is now complete. You can leave the long piece of wool on him or cut it off if you prefer.
Your pom pom spiders are ready for Halloween. Hang them around the house, make a pom pom spider garland out of them or decorate your Halloween party table with them. How would you use your pom pom spiders?
I am a Bostik craft blogger and I was sent the materials to create this craft from Craft Merrily.
It may only be the start of September, but I’m sure Halloween preparations get earlier every year! My boy is already making noises about going trick or treating, it’s too soon for me, but it’s never too soon to get crafting. This month I was tasked by Craft Merrily to create some Monster Crafts. We’ve done two monster crafts this month, one ideal for a playdate or party and the other is just a simple craft you can do with as many children as you want.
Monster Crafts – Shower Puff Creatures
You will need:
One shower puff per person
Bostik Glu Dots
Felt (you can use card if you don’t have any felt)
How to make your shower puff monster:
This is pretty simple. Using your pipe cleaners, twist them into a shape you like and wrap them tightly around the monster’s head. I had them as weird ears, but you could use lots and do crazy hair.
Cut out some circles (or other shapes if you prefer) and stick your googly eyes on to them. I drew lines around the eyes to make my monster look more monstrous. Using the glu dots, stick your monster eyes wherever you think your monster might have eyes.
Cut a mouth shape out of the felt (or cardboard), make a tongue or creepy teeth if you prefer and stick them in the mouth. I used a pen to draw some detail on the mouth and tongue. Once you’re happy with you mouth stick it in place using the glu dots. You are done! Find a nice place to hang your monstrous creation.
Monster Crafts – Create your own monster!
You will need:
Bostik Glu Dots
Felt tips or crayons
Assorted craft things to stick on – feathers, glitter, stickers, eyes etc
I have drawn up some of my own monster templates which you are more than welcome to download here. I printed them out on card. If you don’t want to use my drawings (I’m no artist) then you can draw your own on paper or cardboard.
Colour, stick, create, go wild, let you imagination know no limits and conjure up the monster of your dreams, or nightmares! As you can see the boys had lots of fun creating and decorating their monstrous creatures.
The boys really liked this little crafting session, perfection was not required and they loved using their imaginations. They gave their monsters very cute names too, like Ghosty and Mr Colourful. I really like this one, this is Ghosty and he is multicoloured with green accessories, oh and you can walk him with your fingers too.
This is the kind of craft activity that they can do with fairly minimal supervision and you can use their creations to decorate the house come Halloween too.
Note: I am a Bostik craft blogger and I was sent the materials to create this craft from Craft Merrily.
Every year I carve a pumpkin at Halloween and every year without fail I’ve guiltily tipped the insides of the pumpkin into the compost bin. I tell a lie, one year we did try and make something but it was so inedible we tipped that straight in the bin.
This afternoon as my son and I sat around the kitchen table carving the pumpkin and scooping out the gloopy insides, I felt really bad about tipping the pumpkin innards into the bin, so I decided to try and bake a pumpkin cake of our own.
I consider myself to be a bit of a safe baker, I can do 100 variations of sponge cake but anything more complicated I’ve always shied away from for fear of failure. I sat at the kitchen table and puzzled over what to do, in the end I came up with a slightly experimental recipe for a pumpkin cake and a hope that it would work, it did and it was delicious.
This pumpkin cake recipe does make quite a lot of cake batter and there was enough to make one decent sized cake and 12 yummy cupcakes. We used the flesh, the firm pale bit, not the slimy gloopy bit. We cut our chunks of the flesh and grated them. We found we had 300g or so, though I think if you found yourself with more pumpkin than that, then the recipe is quite forgiving and would accommodate another 100g or so with no problems.
The pumpkin kind of melts into the cake when it’s cooked and you’d never, ever know what the spooky surprise in your cake really is. I suspect if you wanted to make this cake outside of pumpkin carving season a grated butternut squash would work just as well.
Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Icing
If you’ve carved your pumpkin and you don’t know what to do with the leftover flesh, here’s a cracking recipe for a cake which you can decorate as Halloweeny as you want.
For the cake…
300g golden caster sugar
200g butter or margarine
4 eggs, beaten
2 tsp mixed spice, ground
5 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
300g self raising flour
300g pumpkin flesh, grated
splash of orange juice if the latter needs loosening
For the frosting…
80g unsalted butter, soft
100g icing sugar
4 tsp cinnamon, ground
200g cream cheese
Pre-heat your oven to 190.
Cream the golden caster sugar and butter together. Once light and fluffy stir in the beaten eggs, mixed spice and cinnamon. Add to bicarb of soda, salt and sifted flour and fold in until the batter is smooth. If the batter seems a little stiff add a splash of fresh orange juice to loosen it. Stir in the grated pumpkin.
Put a dessert spoon of the batter in 12 cupcake cases and bake for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
With the remainder of the batter, pour into a lined 8 inch cake tin. For ease I used one of the paper cake tin liners you can buy and my tin was quite deep (4 inches). Bake this cake in the oven for 50 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the cake inside for a further 10 minutes, then remove and cool on the rack.
To make the frosting…
Beat the icing sugar and butter together until smooth, add the cinnamon and stir thoroughly. Beat in the cream cheese until the mixture is well combined. Put in the fridge to firm up for 20 minutes.
Once your cakes are cool they can be iced, you can either pipe on the frosting or smooth it on with a knife, decorate however you want, I sprinkled some spooky sprinkles on top of mine.
The result was a surprisingly light pumpkin cake, full of autumnal spice and not at all pumpkiny. I urge you not to tip your pumpkin innards in the bin, but to try this instead. You won’t regret it. I promise!
October is one of my favourite months, I love the autumn colours and Halloween is always a good excuse to get the mixing bowls out to create something spooky to celebrate the occasion. We don’t do trick or treating, but we usually have a party for some of the small boy’s friends, or a little Halloween tea party of our own. I tried my hand at making some spooky Halloween cupcakes for the occasion and I was quite pleased with how they turned out.
The cupcakes were really easy to make (you can read my fail-safe sponge cake recipe here) and take very little time to knock up with a food mixer, though I sometimes mix my cakes by hand if I can’t be bothered washing the mixer afterwards.
Once my little cupcakes had cooled, I made a buttercream. I made quite a lot of buttercream because I had several batches of cakes to decorate for various occasions. To make my buttercream I put 500g of soft unsalted butter in the food mixer and beat it for a minute or two to soften it up properly. I then added 500g of sifted icing sugar and beat them together until they were thoroughly combined. As you can see it’s just equal amounts of each ingredient, so depending on how much buttercream you need you can make more or less.
I then put half of the buttercream in a tub in the fridge to use at a later date, I put a quarter in a piping bag with a piping nozzle (I use a large star) and popped that in the fridge to firm up a little. With the remaining quarter of icing (still in the food mixer) add orange food colouring, just a few drops at a time until you get the Halloweeny orange colour you want. Once you’re happy with the colour, pop it in the fridge to firm up a little – though not so much that you can’t pipe it. I always find freshly made buttercream is too loose to pipe with until it’s had half an hour in the fridge.
I had been sent some spooky decorations by Cake Angels. I really like using Cake Angels decorations, they’re simple to use, are often quite fun and look great. The Halloween decorations are no different.
I made three different kinds of spooky Halloween Cupcakes…
With the orange buttercream and using a palette knife, I smoothed the buttercream on top of the cupcake (choose cupcakes which don’t rise above the edge of the paper case for this). I then took a Cake Angels Halloween cake topper and placed it in the middle of the cupcake, then sprinkled some of the Cake Angels Halloween sprinkles on. The small boy enjoyed helping to decorate the cakes like this, almost as much as he enjoyed eating them.
Using my large star piping nozzle I piped icing onto the Halloween cupcakes and topped them with a cake topper, some I added sprinkles too. I used both the plain white buttercream and the orange buttercream for this.
These Witches Hat Halloween Cupcakes were a bit of an experiment. I’d spotted some ice cream cones in the reduced section in a local shop. I bought some black get food colouring and spent some time the night before carefully painting my ice cream cones black, leaving them to dry overnight.
When it came to icing my witches hat cupcakes, I piped orange icing (for hair) onto the cupcake, then carefully pressed the hat/cone onto the icing. To decorate, I dabbed some buttercream onto the back of one of the Cake Angels decorations and stuck that to the hat. If I’d thought it through a bit more I would have made a buckle and belt for the hat out of royal icing. I will next time.
These spooky Halloween cupcakes were lots of fun to make and would be a great centrepiece for a Halloween party. They were tasty too – too tasty. They didn’t last long before they were spirited away into our bellies!
Cake Angels decorations are available from a wide range of supermarkets (I’ve seen them in Tesco and Co-op) and from specialist shops.
I was sent some Halloween cake decorating goodies by Cake Angels, all images and opinions are our own.
One of my favourite things about Halloween, apart from being given an excuse to dress up, is Halloween crafts. It’s one of those occasions when you and the kids can go all out on the spooky stuff.
Last year me made a few different Halloween crafts, but our favourites were the Spooky Lanterns from Baker Ross which you can find out how to make here. They are still available this year on the Baker Ross website and they do look really effective.
This month we’ve been starting to look at some more easy Halloween Crafts. We were sent a selection of Halloween and autumnal themed crafts to try (we will do the autumnal crafts in a separate blog post).
The Halloween crafts we were sent were –
Day of the Dead colour in mini gift bags
Halloween Dotty Art
Halloween Pom Pom Decoration Kits
Day of the Dead has been very much in fashion for the last few years and is gaining in popularity. Indeed, last year I dressed as a Day of the Dead style zombie bride for Halloween. The little colour in gift bags (there are 6 in a pack) would be a great craft activity for a kid’s Halloween party, then they could fill their bags with sweets and take them home afterwards.
The Halloween Dotty Art kits would also be great for a Halloween Party (we are going to take ours on holiday with us over half term). The pack contains eight different Halloween designs (Monster, Spider, Cat, Ghost, Pumpkin, Owl, Bat & Skull) and packs of coloured stickers. You then stick the stickers on the spooky design and bring your Halloween picture to life. This kind of thing is great for strengthening little fingers and increasing dexterity, as well as being a fun activity you can do together without creating any mess.
I love pom pom crafts, so I was pleased to find these Halloween Pom Pom Decoration Kits in my box of seasonal crafts from Baker Ross. The pom pom kit contains everything you need to make a spider, a bat and a pumpkin.
Like most pom pom crafts they are a little fiddly to make and probably need a grown up to get it started and help tie it off at the end. Making pom poms is lots of fun and once you’ve snipped your threads you can start to see your spooky pom pom creature come to life.
The Baker Ross website has hundreds of easy to do craft kids for children and adults alike. Their kits are almost universally well designed and thought out, and there’s something for all ages, abilities and craft interests, often with minimal mess and fuss. For easy Halloween crafts, have a look at Baker Ross for inspiration.