Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Let's Bake: Pigs in Mud Cake

It is without a single doubt that I can say, I am not the world's best baker. Don't get me wrong, we do baking with the kids and I can make the odd cupcake but I wouldn't attempt anything too spectacular.

But, when I saw my friend had posted a photo on her Facebook page of a Pigs in Mud Cake saying she'd love it for her birthday I decided to push the boat out a little bit and give it a go.

I have had a great many compliments on it since then so I thought I would share the 'how to' with you.

As I'm not a regular food blogger, I'm afraid I didn't take photos of each stage but it's mostly straightforward baking so there isn't much that you would need to see anyway!

The Pigs
There are lots of tutorials online for how to make pigs out of fondant icing.  I bought some pink icing at Sainsburys (own brand) rather than colouring my own and simply made it up as I went along!  I looked at the photo I was working from and copied.

The only trouble I had was with the tails.  For these I rolled out as thin a piece of fondant as I  could without it breaking and wrapped it around a piece of spaghetti.  Then I set it to one side for 5 minutes to allow it to set before I stuck it to my pigs bottom.

Some tips for working with fondant icing - roll it between your hands to warm it up before starting to model.  The warmer it is, the more pliable it will be.  To stick the pieces together I used water.  You can buy edible glue but not only have I never seen this in a supermarket, I have also found water works just as well so save yourself some pennies!

The Cake
Underneath the kit kats and ganache is a simple chocolate sandwich cake with buttercream centre.  I used 20cm tins and the recipe below is for one half of the sandwich cake so you would need to do this twice.  I prefer to do it this way rather than doubling everything up as my upper body strength is abysmal and I would seriously struggle to stir the mixture adequately!  Sad, but true.

For the cake :
170g butter
170g caster sugar
115g self raising flour
3 medium eggs
55g cocoa powder

For the buttercream:
110g butter (room temp)
170g icing sugar
55g cocoa powder
1-2tbsp milk

For the ganache:
250ml double cream
200g dark chocolate

Butter two tins (I never bother lining, I usually don't bother using butter either but as it was a special occasion I went all out!).

Beat all the ingredients together adding a drop of milk if the mixture is too thick.  The mixture should drop off a spoon when tapped gently.  Place mixture into tin and level out.  Repeat (as above)

Bake the two tins side by side at 180C/160C fan oven/Gas 4 for 20-25 mins until your sponge springs back when lightly pressed.

Leave to cool.  If you wish to speed the process up you can place the cakes in the fridge for an hour or so.  If your cake is not completely cooled then the buttercream will just melt and seep out.  This happened to me as I was in a rush and hadn't waited but luckily as you can't see the cake underneath the decorations I simply scraped the buttercream off and started again (I did warn you this wasn't going to be anything professional!)

When the cake has cooled, make up the buttercream and spread on top of one on your cakes.  Sandwich the other cake on top.  Use the remaining buttercream and spread around the cake.  Using two finger kit kats (don't break them in half) press them lightly onto the buttercream.  If your mixture is thick enough they will stick to the buttercream like glue.  This is the most important part as if you make your buttercream runny, the kit kats will stick initially but will just gradually slide off the cake.

Make your buttercream.  Mix the ingredients altogether adding the milk at the end if necessary.  Because this buttercream needs to be thick it does take a while for the ingredients to mix but keep going (or use an electric handwhisk if you have one!)

Once you have stuck kit kats all around your cake, tie a ribbon around to hold them in place whilst the buttercream sets. 

Prepare your ganache.

Bring the cream to the boil in a pan and remove from the heat.  Add the chocolate, broken into pieces.  Stir until the chocolate melts.  Removed from the heat the mixture will thicken.  I had to do this again as I burnt my first lot (you may start to see a pattern emerging....) waiting for the mixture to thicken whilst on the heat.

Leave it to cool for around 15-20 minutes before pouring into the top of the cake.  If you panic like me and think it will all seep through the gaps in the kit kats you might want to do a cement job and use some buttercream to fill any slight gaps you may have.  My Other Half assured me that if the ganache is the right consistency it won't leak everywhere but I couldn't help worrying!

Place your pigs into the ganache and leave overnight to set.

Hey presto, pigs swimming in mud!

I hope that was helpful, as I am a 'make it up as you go along' type of baker I find it difficult to put down into words how exactly I bumble along through the process.

Since making the Pigs in Mud I have also made a chocolate drizzled strawberry kit kat cake.  For this, instead of ganache I used buttercream, sliced some strawberries and layered them in circles finishing with a whole strawberry in the centre.  I melted some milk chocolate and white chocolate and drizzled it over the strawberries in a criss cross pattern.

I kept this cake in the fridge overnight to stop the strawberries turning and was worried about how the sponge would taste cold but nobody seemed to notice!!

Not sure what will be next in my line of kit kat cakes...watch this space!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Review: Magic Moves Electronic Wand

The Magic Moves Electronic Wand is an interactive light up activity wand from Learning Resources.  It has 90 physical commands and 26 random tunes.  The idea behind the Magic Moves wand is to encourage creative movement, motor skill development and listening skills.

Both Meg and Eli have enjoyed playing with the Magic Moves Wand although the accent has caused some confusion over what action is required and I've had to interpret for them on occasion.  It has been funny listening to Meg try to copy the voice though - we get all the actions repeated in her attempt at an American accent!  

We've had good fun talking through what the animal is, what it looks like and how it might move.  I really like this as it means we can take the learning further than the toy.  For example, when Meg heard the instruction 'slide like a lizard' she then wanted to know what a lizard looks like, where it lives and how it moves etc.  Which had all been prompted from the wand.  Some of the movements are also quite interesting - climb like a goat being the strangest one!

One of the most important things to me when buying a toy is the longevity of its 'played with' life.  If the kids are excited about it for the five minutes it's fresh out of the packet but then forget about it after that then to me, that is not a good investment of my money.  The electronic wand sits at at the in between stage.  When one of them gets it out then it is played with frantically for a couple of days, then it is returned to its box for a week or so.  I don't mind this as I know if I got it out for them they would enjoy engaging in the actions with me which is what it's all about; getting children to have fun being active and so it's a perfect rainy day toy. 

Meg and Eli can burn off some energy even if we can't go outside for long periods of time and it also challenges them to use their bodies in different ways; they have to make interesting shapes, try new sounds and think about what they are doing.

We also like the random element of 'dance' and 'freeze' intermittently placed within the movement commands.  Eli gets so excited when it's time to freeze that we often repeat this even when there isn't a 'freeze' command!

We have enjoyed playing with this toy and have had it for several months now.  It still holds Meg and Eli's interest and although the recommended age is 3-7, I have found Eli very capable of copying the actions.  He obviously needs guidance in what it is he needs to do but this is also fun as it means that parents have to get involved too.

The Magic Moves Electronic Wand is available from Learning Resources for £17.94

Disclaimer: we were sent the magic moves toy for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Wot So Funee: THE Talk

Wot So Funee?

I was struggling for a post this week as nothing had really lent itself well enough to be written down and repeated. Then on the way home from nursery on Tuesday, Meg decided to start asking about babies.

Not just simple, easy to answer questions about babies but things like 

"where do they come from?"

"why is it just mummies who can have babies, that's not very fair on the daddies." (haha!)

"what happens to the baby when you go in the shower?"

After mumbling my way through a few answers I was subjected to a story of how Meg will have a baby in a few years when she's big enough and make a friend for Eli, because she's kind.  This friend will be a little girl and she will call her Rosie.  Meg isn't going to have any boys you see because boys are a bit smelly.  

And then also Mummy isn't making any more friends for her and Eli so she will do it instead(!!) - I think I will be having a chat with her Daddy later!

I was beginning to worry and started to hope that it was the end of the conversation but then she started down a whole new track of what we can and can't eat whilst we're pregnant.

First, she wanted to know why we can't drink coffee when we're pregnant.  That one is thanks to an episode of Peppa Pig where Mrs Rabbit is pregnant.  So I began to explain that there are foods that are good for us and foods that aren't so good.

Meg nodded knowledgeably and said "but you know Mummy, you can't eat carrots even though they are good for you because it might poke the baby in the eye..."

It was a very good thing she delivered that cracker whilst we were sat at some traffic lights!!

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Day Before D Day...

I have to start this post with a massive EEK!  Tomorrow is the day we find out which school Meg will be going to.  In less than 24 hours we will be able to log on with thousands of other parents and hold our breath as we discover whether we got the school of our choice.

It's terrifying! 

Having not put our catchment school down we know there is a possibility that it could all go very wrong for us and Meg could end up placeless.  From my limited understanding she could then be allocated a place in a school anywhere in the county although I imagine the reality of this is quite rare.

A few months ago if you had asked me about Meg starting school in September I would have pulled a face and said that she was just too young, she was still my baby!  But now...all of a sudden she has shot up, she's lost the rounded look to her face and instead of my toddler a little girl has appeared in her place.  My mum runs an after school club and there is a little girl there who started school last year.  Suddenly she doesn't look so much older than Meg.  Without a doubt she is starting to reach that place where she is totally ready to start school, and she's still got 4 months left to go!

I think finding out which school Meg will be going to will make it more real.  We've talked with her about starting school but haven't been able to offer any specifics.  From tomorrow we'll be able to talk about the name, the colour of the uniform, if anyone else we know has got into the same school etc etc - it makes the whole experience much more tangible.  Which is a good thing...I think!

I don't know what we will do if we don't get our school of choice, that is a conversation for tomorrow morning but for all the other parents out there finding out today and tomorrow where their children will be going to school, especially if it's the first time: good luck!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A Sunday Afternoon Stroll

Last Sunday we managed to persuade my Other Half to pause the football at half time (it might have been Eli's head constantly popping up into view, or Meg saying "I don't like football" non stop or even my loud and continual sighing but either way it worked!) and we headed up to our local woods.

Spending some time outside makes such a difference to the way you feel.  I was starting to get cabin fever by the late afternoon but a couple of hours outdoors made it all good again. Not even the stress of Alfie escaping and almost getting flattened by a car could put a dampener on things!

The kids love the woods and we decided to make it extra fun on Sunday by giving them a bucket and encouraging them to fill it with things we could later use at home.  We did have to try and monitor it somewhat as we ended up with a whole host of pine cones and some mouldy looking twigs, but in the end we got a good variety.

It also gave my Other Half a good opportunity to do some 'teaching', this week we all got to learn what bark is.  I'm not sure Eli was interested but Meg took great delight in telling us all repeatedly as we walked round!

Eli's favourite bit was when we reached the field on the edge of the woods.  It was brilliant watching the kids eyes widen at the sight of so much open space and then they just took off running. 

We spent some time wearing Alfie out and Eli loved throwing a stick for him.  He particularly enjoyed holding onto the stick until Alfie was bouncing around with anticipation and then blowing a raspberry as he threw it.  Oh to be in the mind of a toddler!!

We finished our walk with a little long rest on a fallen log we found.  Meg decided to convert it into a train and insisted we all get on board.  Eli preferred just reclining and observing what was going on.

Later on in the week we rescued what was left in our bucket (who knew that dogs were such fans of pine cones?!?) and Meg had some fun sticking and making a little collage.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Wot So Funee: Back to Nature

Wot So Funee?

This week my usual source of funny things, Meg, is making way for her little brother to have a go at being the family's resident comedian (just don't tell her!!)

On Sunday we went for a walk in the woods close to where we live.  Meg and Eli were collecting various items to bring home to make a collage with and as they were picking things up we were explaining where they came from (which included a fascinating lesson in what bark is from their Daddy!)

On discovering that twigs fell down from trees, Eli became quite concerned and proceeded to try and stick every twig we came across back onto the closest tree.  At one point he must have spent between five and ten minutes standing at the foot of a tree desperately trying to make the twig stay on the trunk and muttering "oh dear stick, oh no" every time it fell back onto the floor.

It really was the cutest thing, although it added about 45 minutes on to our walk with his many attempts.  Perhaps he's going to be an eco-warrior when he grows up!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Meg: Wearing Glasses

On Saturday we picked up Meg's first pair of glasses.  I had taken her the week before to get her eyes tested as I was having mine done anyway.  The optician said that her long distance sight is better than most children of her age but that there was a slight prescription for short sightedness.  This, coupled with the fact that she had tripped over a chair leg as we walked into the room, made him suggest we trial a pair of glasses for 4 months to see if it helps Meg with her clumsiness.

Meg was very excited about getting to choose her new glasses and had been asking all week when we would be able to go and pick them up.  The staff were brilliant at the fitting, they kept telling Meg how pretty she looked with her glasses on, which is nice in a way, because not many children Meg's age wear glasses (I can't really think of anyone that we know in fact) and I can see that they were trying to make her feel special.  Walking back to the car from the opticians we had lots of people stopping us and commenting how cute she looked with her glasses on.  

I did have one slight concern later on that day though when Meg came and asked me if she was beautiful without her glasses on as much as she was beautiful with her glasses on "because of what the lady said."  I understand why the staff were going over the top to make a fuss of her but I don't want it to become a big thing that wearing glasses is different.  I don't think she has that mind-set at the moment because my Other Half wears glasses, and now I do too (yay for me!) so she just sees it as normal but I don't want her to start to wonder why people are commenting all the time.  Glasses are just glasses.  I don't want Meg to start feeling that she stands out because she's wearing them.

We haven't noticed any real change yet with her clumsiness, although she has only fallen over once whilst wearing them as opposed to three or four times a day!  They are still a novelty at the moment so the thing she enjoys most is taking them off and cleaning them and putting them back on again.

She has, however, taken to perching them on the end of her nose and saying things like "what's going on here then?" or my favourite as I was drying my hair yesterday morning; she walked into the room, pulled them down onto the tip of her nose and said "what's your problem?  I'm just trying to teach the boys and girls!" before flouncing out of the room.  I  have no idea where she has got that from, I presume something she's seen on the TV!

She also keeps referring to herself as a "clever clocks" (she means clogs!) now she glasses.  I think this is something to do with Edmund Elephant from Peppa Pig although if memory serves correctly he's just a little know it all and doesn't actually wear specs.  And to be honest she was a "clever clocks" before!

Despite her extra cheekiness when she has her glasses on, I think she looks super cute in them.  And it is very sweet to hear her telling people that she won't fall down and scrape her knees anymore now she has them.  It's very adorable, although I will admit I'm probably more than a little bit biased!!

Review: Red Hot World Buffet

Faced with a rare opportunity to go out for a meal without the kids, my Other Half and I were very excited when we were asked to review the Red Hot World Buffet in Nottingham.

After some trouble finding it (my phone's sat nav is officially sacked!) we arrived.  The restaurant is on three floors with the top floor being a check-in desk (the idea being based around an airport), the middle floor is a bar area for people waiting for a table, although it was empty when we arrived at 5pm and full to the seams when we left at 7.30pm!  The basement floor is the restaurant.

We were taken to our table and I was surprised at how big it was downstairs, impressed actually!  There are a lot of tables but you don't feel as though you are sitting on top of other diners which is great.

The whole concept is that of a buffet with options from all round the world: Indian, Chinese, Italian, American, British, Moroccan etc and you just help yourself to whatever you fancy.
We chose a different country each time and managed 4 visits before we had to call it quits.

The Moroccan grill

I was impressed that the food was all kept hot, it was constantly being replaced by the staff so nothing was left sitting for long and there is such a great variety.  One of the benefits to such a good choice is that it's perfect for families.  If we were to take Meg and Eli out there are only a handful of places we can go where we know they will eat something but having the number of options they do, there definitely is something for everyone with the added benefit of being able to try new things.  My Other Half even braved trying some sushi!  I have to admit that I was a little bit more conservative and stuck to food I know but I can confirm that it was all very tasty.

The waiting staff were very helpful, our waiter Harry was extremely friendly on arrival and kept popping back to make sure we had everything we wanted.  He also offered to take us to the buffet and explain how it all worked which we declined having visited a similar restaurant in the past.

Our visit to the restaurant coincided with a ChocFest they were having and the desserts were to die for!  There was a huge variety and it was a bit of a shame I didn't spot the desserts section before having four plates of mains as I didn't have enough room for much.  I also spotted a pancake station with a very long queue which we didn't manage to try out.  That's a must try for next time.

Now, the only negative comment I have about our experience: when we arrived the lady standing behind the check in desk completely ignored us which was confusing.  We were approached by a man standing in front who asked how many we had in our party.  My Other Half gave him our name and said we had a table booked.  He nodded and told us to go downstairs. 

As this was our first visit when we got to the bar area we were even more confused as there was no one there to direct us downstairs again.  We meandered for a bit before realising where we needed to go.  It had been obvious to us that the first member of staff hadn't registered we had a table booked (we have an usual surname which usually requires us to spell it out and he didn't check any form of bookings diary) so when we got downstairs my Other Half told the next member of staff our name and that we had booked a table.  He nodded distractedly and handed us over to a third member of staff who walked us halfway across the restaurant before walking us back to a different table; we thought that this was because they had finally registered we had a table booked but, no.  When my Other Half checked again he just shook his head and said this was our table.  

In itself, the fact that no one acknowledged we had booked a table isn't a major problem but what is the point of having a booking service if no one takes notice?  Did it mean that there was a table in the restaurant reserved which was never used or did we not get a table in the first place?  

Just one downfall in an otherwise very enjoyable experience.  It certainly wouldn't deter me from visiting again, I just found it strange to offer a booking service that then makes no difference.  When we left at around 7.30pm the bar was completely full and on the top floor they were queuing out of the door so I do hope that when it's busy they take notice of their bookings!

I also thought it was very good value.  All you can eat for £14.99 with children under 10 half price - I would consider that very reasonable.

Red Hot World Buffet have restaurants in several cities.  We visited the Nottingham restaurant.

Disclaimer: We were offered a meal at the Red Hot World Buffet in exchange for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Book Love: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi


Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
A memoir in books

This is one of those reviews where I start with "I didn't know what to expect..." because, I didn't!  This was a book that had been recommended to me and honestly would never have entered onto my reading list had it not been.  I knew nothing about the book before I started reading it, to the point where I didn't realise that it was a true story until a couple of chapters in!

The book is about Azir Nafisi, a former university lecturer who forms a book club with seven of her former students in Iran.  They meet secretly to discuss works of fiction which have been forbidden following the Revolution.  Through the meeting of this book club we learn how the changes affected these women from all different walks of life, and their struggle to be seen as independent, individuals.  I will be honest and say I had no idea of the political ins and outs of Iran and what the country was like before reading this book.  I was quite shocked at how little I knew.

Each chapter focuses on a different work of fiction the group are studying and I really enjoyed the way Nafisi referred to the different works throughout.  I hadn't heard of some of the books before and have certainly added some of them onto my reading list.  I did struggle with some of the comparisons she made between the classical works of fiction and the realities faced by the Iranian people but I didn't think it detracted too much from the book.

I was surprised at the way Nafisi talked about war, shootings and bombs as though they were as normal as visiting the shops.  One of the lines that really stuck with me was "in the midst of gunshots and chants we hugged, and chatted about the almost two decades since we had last seen each other."  It's crazy to me that violence could be such commonplace that you would be able to carry on in that manner!

I was completely absorbed by the stories, I think it's a shame Nafisi wasn't able to go into more detail about where each of the women ended up but sadly we only get snippets of their endings (such as they are)  I also wish she had gone into a bit more detail about the individual girls whilst they were all in Iran.  I like to hear personal anecdotes but I felt that Nafisi relayed stories of torture, imprisonment and other atrocities in quite a flat manner and without sympathy.  Whether that is because after years of suffering similar occurrences she learned to put her emotions aside, I don't know, but for someone reading this for the first time, and being utterly appalled, I would have expected it to be told in a more outraged fashion rather than simply facts upon a page.

However, I am very pleased I decided to read this book and if you enjoy literature, then I would definitely suggest giving this book a go.

Currently reading: The Long Story by Andrea Levy

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Wot So Funee: Tall Tales

Wot So Funee?

I should have known this day would come round eventually given Meg's extreme imagination.  She plays such strange little games at home that it was really only a matter of time before she took them on the road.  I just didn't expect for it to happen at Sunday School.

During snack time in the pre-school group, the children were talking about times that they had been unwell.  Illnesses brought up included the common cold, chickenpox, a poorly chest, poorly ears and then Meg's contribution:

"One time, I needed to go to the hospital when I put my eyeballs in the oven."

Unfortunately I wasn't present at the time otherwise I would have swooped in and pointed out that no, Meg has never put her eyeballs in the oven.  The lady leading the session however passed on this information to me when I came to pick Meg up and actually added onto the end, "she said it with such a straight face but I'm assuming it's not a true story?"

Oh I can well imagine how she said it, the little so and so!!  It was the same way I was tempted to respond with "actually, it's entirely true.  She now has bionic eyes."  

Because really, how the heck could it be anything other than a complete fantasy??

More importantly, why would Meg choose her eyeballs...and why the oven?!? (I just find the whole thing totally gross!)

I'm beginning to worry about Meg and where her imagination might lead us!