After the #margaritaparty I had a reasonable amount of Chicken Salad left over. It really is quite delicious and I wanted to find a way to use it. So I grabbed pastry and eggs and made a Chicken and Egg pie, a twist on the traditional bacon and egg pie, which I call the Which Came First Pie.
To make it, I used the ring moulds I have from my catering days but you could make them in a dish if you wanted. I cut out pastry circles using a saucer and used them to line the greased rings. It takes a few minutes to make sure that the pastry doesn’t get stretched and broken by the contents of the pie during cooking. Once you are happy with the case, then spoon in the chicken mixture.
Once this is sorted, I recommend making a dent in the middle of the chicken so that the egg yolk settles in the middle of your pie. Crack the aforementioned egg onto the filling, then cover with your pastry lid- cut using one of the spare rings. Press down gently round the edge of the egg- this will cause the white to spread, which moistens the underside of the pastry lid and helps seal it to the case.
Press the edges of the case and lid together, pulling them up to create a ‘crown’ effect. Carefully put a couple of holes in the lid of the pastry to let the air escape whilst cooking: the egg expands after all. Brush with egg wash, then bake at 160C until golden. It’s utterly delicious. And perfect for summer picnics.
As we head into half-term I have been thinking about the Teacher’s Gifts needed for the end of term. Handy then that Maggy at Red Ted Art put down a Coffee Stirrer/Lollipop Stick craft challenge this week, which gave me the idea for my contribution to our Craft Hangout.
I made plant markers from the coffee stirrers I have. They are some of the simplest things you can make with lollipop sticks. All you need is either a picture of what you are growing- from a magazine or drawn by your children- or the seed packet. Cut out the picture, and stick it to a piece of cardboard, with a lollipop stick in the middel. It’s a great way of marking your seeds whilst you are propagating them in home or greenhouse and is a great gift for green-fingered relatives that children can make by themselves.
If you are giving a plant as a gift, you can use shapes cut from paper, as I did with my Shamrock Plant markers. But for the hangout, I used a plant gift marker that I made from a cupcake case rosette that I used to make quite a lot of.
You need a handful of cupcake cases in varying sizes, some glue, cardboard and a couple of lollipop sticks.
Flatten out your cupcake cases and stick one on top of the other. Here I stuck a white mini-case to a blue spotted muffin case. I ripped the fluted edge of a third case off and used the middle section to create a centre for the rosette by scrunching it up. With the leftover fluted edge, I made a kind of ribbon- ripping an inverted V in each end of the two pieces. I then glued the whole together. Once happy, I glued it onto cardboard baking, sandwiching the coffee stirrers/lollipop sticks in the middle, then trimmed the card.
Just add a gift message to the back of the cardboard and you are ready.
If you are of my generation you will remember the scene in Karate Kid II where a Chinese Drum is used to great effect in the climax of the story. Actually I’ve just checked Wikipedia and seen that the one in the movie is a Den-Den Daiko, which is Japanese, but pellet drums exist across vast swathes of Eastern culture, so I’m guessing I can call this a Chinese Drum.
Anyway, the Karate Kid inspired my father to make my brothers and I some pellet drums from a few La Vache Qui Rit boxes when we were children and I have carried that memory for a very long time. When Red Ted Art recently set a musical instrument challenge, I knew that this was what I wanted to make.
You can use any round cheese box with two halves. I ended up using two lids from plastic containers. You need them to fit well together leaving a hollow gap between the two for acoustic purposes if you do. It’s why cheese boxes work so well.
One you have your ‘drum ‘ you need a handle: mine is an old paintbrush, but a wooden spoon or dowel would also work. Make sure it is smooth and comfortable as you roll this between your palms to make the sound.
You need a length of ribbon or string which is about double the width of the cheese box, and you need to tie buttons or beads to each end.
These are the three primary components.
First off you will need to cut a small hole in the side of your box- a semi-circle in both halves- that will accommodate the handle. Once you have done this, then lay one side of the box face down on the table. Place the handle in place through the hole: if it’s long enough it should stretch all the way to the upper edge of the inside of the box for support, but this is not essential. Next, lay the string or ribbon across the box at right angle to the handle with an even amount of string hanging over each edge.
This is how you need to seal the box up. Glue the handle in place, then the two edges of the string or ribbon, then finally glue the other section of the drum on top, flat edge facing you, with the string and handle sealed inside. Leave to dry.
This, essentially is your drum, which you play by rolling the handle between your two palms, ‘drum’ sticking up like a giant lollipop. As the ‘drum’ carcass rotates, the two ends of string will spin from side to side and the beads/buttons on their exposed ends will strike each drum face creating the noise..
To make mine more robust I ended up using papier mache to cover the drum which I painted when dry. You should then seal the colour with a varnish/PVA topcoat as the paint will flake if the drum gets a lot of use.
I had every intention of making things ahead of time for my Vitamix #margaritaparty, but my day went a little like this:
7am wake up late. Rush to get Girls ready for school. Remember car is at garage so call friend to take us to school.
7.55am leave house. Remember Tesco delivery on the way to school. Realise phone is where I left it next to my rapidly cooling cup of coffee.
8.35am get back to house post school run to find a note from Tesco’s. Call the number to find that there are no available slots for redelivery today and I should rebook online.
9am leave house to pick up car at garage. Pay £800 for new tyres. Plug destination in satnav. Drive off the lot and 100m down the road when the ‘puncture’ light that is the reason for the tyre change comes on. Go back.
1015am. Finally get to my destination late. Not a good start when you are looking around a prospective school. Get a strong disapproving air from the head. Walk around giant campus in the pouring rain knowing the umbrella you bought is still in your car- left behind in the rush to get to the appointment on time. Once again feel the warm glare of disapproval.
1115am still fifteen minutes late leave the premises with a determination to make up time. Hit every red light, reversing vehicle and tractor en route to house viewing, phone ringing relentlessly in the boot with the umbrella.
12 noon. House viewing done, make a pitstop at garage for petrol and lunch. Arrive at next house viewing needing the loo. Owners are home and it feels awkward so decide against asking to use facilities. Leave a nd head to next house viewing with full bladder.
1pm. Having hit every slow-moving vehicle on the journey to house number three, arrive at destination wishing that I still had the potty bag in the boot, but alas it went to a new home only last week. Use loo. Decide against house on the basis of the facilities but humour estate agent by walking round.
1.30pm leave to make journey back to school on time.
2.45pm pull up outside school, desperate for a) a drink and b) the loo. Reconsider moving when someone asks if I am ‘in the family way’
3.15pm. Screech into Waitrose carpark and play supermarket sweep replenishing things that Tesco were supposed to deliver. Without shopping list. Plus two tired children.
4pm. Get home, bung kids in front of tv with pizza. Get to work.
It will hopefully impress you- it impressed me- if I tell you that by the time my guests arrived four hours later I had made a squillion canapes, sweet and savoury, had both girls bathed and in bed asleep and was the picture of calm.
Here’s what I made:
- Smoked salmon and guacamole blinis- obviously the salmon and blinis came ready to go but the guacamole took seconds to whizz up in the Vitamix.
- Mini sausages with three-tomato salsa. Based on the Vitamix Californian salsa, this recipe was so easy, tasty and will be published soon!
- Mini tartlets with a) feta and onion chutney and b) Chicken Alfresco. I made a version similar to the Vitamix chicken recipe, again in a post following soon.
- There were also plenty of mini poppadoms to dip in the yummy salsa and guacamole.
For dessert canapes, I made mini Rolo tartlets using sweet pastry, and some raspberry custard tartlets using Fuss Free Helen’s fabulous Vitamix custard recipe.
Not that the food was important since my friends were round for cocktails and board games. As busy parents, we love the idea of going out after a full day ferrying the children round yet don’t have the energy for getting all dressed up and actually going out. So I provided an alternative: cocktails at home, come-as-you-are, laughter and board games. It was relaxed and easy and so very quick with the Vitamix doing all the hard work.
We drank, thanks to the amazing Hoss and his cocktail wizardry: Strawberry Daiquiris, Cookies and Cream, Strawberry Cheesecake, King’s Peach, Raspberry Lime Cooler and a whole bunch of other stuff that got made up as we went along. We were all wearing shades on the school run the next morning.
*disclosure: I was sent a Vitamix for the purposes of hosting my #margaritaparty. It is a very special piece of kit and there will be more cocktails in my future.
When LBG was smaller we spent a long time one day making her a progress chart or reward chart as a tool to encourage her to sleep in her bed rather than on the floor. It was a big success and we have subsequently introduced reward charts for good behaviour and so on for both girls as we have needed them. But they get tatty quite quickly from daily use so I have been looking for a better option.
Wouldn’t you know that Kiddy Charts got in touch to ask if we would review their online reward and progress charts? It was serendipity. They do have charts that you can order and print off which so many people praise on the site. But I am very taken with the online charts which have the added bonus of being able to introduce my children to using the laptop and being online in a very limited, controlled way.
We have been using the progress chart this week as we count down to out holiday in Italy over half-term, which is not an intended purpose of the progress chart but which helps them to visualise how many days we have until something happens. This is essential for LBG who likes to know when things are happening so that she can be prepared.
The site is so easy to use and you can pick and choose lots of options to get a chart that works for your specific needs: I mixed text and pictorials to cover LBG who can read and her sister, who cannot. We also chose some of the designs together so that they had a vested interested in the resulting chart. Obviously we were given credit online for using the system so that we could write this post but I really think that the charts are good value because you can tailor them to your specific needs rather than using a generic one. Kiddy Charts have an excellent online presence too if you have any difficulties orr concerns so there is always someone who can help you which I likewise find reassuring.
I’ll definitely be using them again. And again and again. Every age presents a new challenge after all. And perhaps they will take my ‘countdown’ idea and use it for a new category of chart.
*disclosure: we were given online credit to use kiddycharts.com so that we could write this post. All opinions are our own.
This month’s Tots 100 Center Parcs Challenge is all about picnics. We had family visiting from New Zealand over the Bank Holiday weekend, so took advantage of a break in the clouds to get out for a picnic at our local park. The thing about picnics is that they can be as simple or as complicated as you want: my Girls often have a carpet picnic for tea during the week- just sandwiches, crisps and fruit, for example, which takes little effort and which they really enjoy.
Or you could take picnics to a whole new level of creativity- which I am far more likely to do if they are on a school trip- and follow the example of Jill at Meet the DuBiens, who has a wealth of Bento-related archives for you to drool over. Or use as inspiration. Likewise Pippa from a Mother’s Ramblings does an amazing job varying the contents of her children’s lunchboxes. There is a host of recipes on the Lunchbox World website, which also sells some fabulous lunchboxes if you are looking.
We kept it simple: DH bought mini-rolls at Waitrose, which we filled with Marmite- both Kiwi and English. Grown-ups got full-sized beef and horseradish, ham and avocado and chicken and chutney rolls. All delicious. There were packets of crisps, slices of melon and pineapple, and mini-cakes and tarts, again courtesy of Waitrose. I am a fan of mini-things where children are concerned. The small size appeals to them. Needless to say that, in the shade of a large tree, it all got eaten pretty swiftly, so that we could get back to the important business of a family game of football.
That’s the thing about picnics- they are a super group activity. We have had so many over the years in all the countries my parents lived in whilst I was growing up and two things are essential: food and ball sports. Actually that should be four things: food, good weather, ball sports and beer. The life of an expat always seems to involve beer at any group activity!
After we had eaten and played and were in need of a new challenge, I unveiled ‘secret spies’. I have been wanting to try Geo-cache for ages, but the final push were a couple of my Facebook friends who posted pictures of their families having so much fun. So I downloaded the app- at £6.99 it isn’t cheap but after only one session I have no doubt that we will get value from it. We used this app to navigate around the park, finding the caches of varying sizes, with some success. Only once was there anything other than a log book in the container though, which saddened me: I can’t help thinking that British people are the worst for just helping themselves to the contents of boxes….
We were by no means stealthy: 4 adults, 4 children, a dog and a pushchair would still look obvious even if we were in camouflage. But we had a super fun time: the children loved searching for the boxes and following the compass on the app on my phone. We loved that they walked miles without complaint as we played ‘secret spies’. And I have to say that we are hooked. Especially when there is an ice-cream van just waiting for us as we finish.
For a chance to become the newest Center Parcs Family Blogger and to win a family break to a Center Parcs village of your choice, simply share pictures of your fun-filled family picnic on your blog and tweet @tots100 a link to it. Be sure to include the Center Parcs and Tots 100 handles in your tweet, as well as the #CPFamilyBreak hashtag before the challenge closes on May 31st.
A long time ago I was selected to be a Center Parcs Blogger. If you follow the blog you will see that we have been taking part in monthly various challenges since last year, from designing a Water Ride to planting some sunflower seeds. As part of the package, I got to take the DG family to Center Parcs Longleat to give the Center Parcs experience our full and considered opinion.
We set off on a beautiful day: the sun shone almost all the way to Wiltshire, although with Stonehenge in sight, we were beset with ‘adverse’ weather. This was the story of our weekend weather-wise: colder than usual for the time of year and a little bit dramatically wet at times. But we are, above all, British, so we just got on with it whilst complaining bitterly about the weather.
Check in- all in-car- was extremely efficient and we were able to drive to our villa to unload. The villa- a 3-bedroom- was well-appointed. Clean, tidy and very well-laid out, what the rooms lacked in space they made up for in thoughtfully-designed storage, and still fitted everything that you would need. Frankly we have stayed in many hotels that are far less well-kitted-out. There were hairdryers in each room- portentious as it turned out. There was a TV in the Master Bed. There was natural light- courtesy of a light-well- in the bathroom. There was a neat little kitchen with cupboard space for the bits we brought with us. There was a fireplace that we could use, and a generous L-shaped sofa to sprawl on whilst we watched DVDs. It was fantastic to have a ‘guest’ loo and good sized boot room in which to store wellies, shoes, bike helmets, scooters and pushchairs. My favourite feature was the giant blackboard, which bore a welcome message, and which got a lot of use during our stay.
Almost immediately I bailed on DH and the children to spend time in the Spa. He likewise abandoned the children to their Godmother- and fellow blogger- Lisa, whose family were with us in a nearby villa as part of the Center Parcs Blogger package, so he could park the car in the vast car-park and collect our reserved bikes. Subsequently mine turned out to be too large, so we returned the following day to the largest store of bikes I have ever seen in my life and mine was exchanged within minutes and without any fuss, for a better size. Both bikes had trailers for The Girls and they saw plenty of mileage across the site over the weekend. Although I had read about the large Center Parcs sites online, it’s only when you actually get there that you realise how long it takes to get from A to B. This cannot be underestimated if you are booking activities in advance on the site- I would strongly advise that you don’t book things back-to-back unless you are certain that it is in the same location. Of course at Longleat there is a wonderful Land Train which takes the strain from your legs but still takes time to get around the circuit.
After the Spa, we headed to Huck’s for a family meal at The Plaza- home to most of the restaurants and the pool complex. The food was great- particularly the kids’ all-you-can-eat buffet, which allowed them to eat pasta with chips if they wanted and then dash off and play in the kids area whilst we explored the cocktail menu.
We spent a very comfortable night in soft warm beds, waking to bird song and an unnatural quiet- surrounded by woodland trees, there’s very little noise which is disconcerting to us city folk. We pedaled down to The Plaza with great excitement. As did half the site. The pool was very busy very quickly.And if I am honest, it was a bit of a mix: we loved the outdoor pool, some of the slides and the circular pool that swept us along like fish. I was very disappointed in the design of the children’s pool, some of which we only discovered on day two. It just didn’t seem that it had been properly thought through, and we ended up heading home with several injuries as a result.
That afternoon we had a blast at family bowling: the children managed to outscore the adults in most cases, but we all had such a great time. Even I got over my Bowling PTSD to get involved- the jug of Pina Colada and One Direction on the juke box undoubtedly helped. Then we cycled up to the Pancake House for a magic show and buffet, which totally blew the children away. In fact one of them went up on stage during the magic act, which made it even more unforgettable. It all proved a bit too much for Dimples so she and I bailed early, back to the space and quiet of our villa. The perfect retreat.
On Sunday morning, after a walk during which I realised how vast the site was and how, in all likelihood, there would remain huge portions of the place that I would not get to see on this visit, DH headed off to do some Field Archery. I watched The Girls run riot over one of the outdoor adventure areas- designed for much older children- and took hundreds of pictures. We met DH for lunch at Cafe Rouge before heading back to the pool- the main draw for us as a family, particularly as the children are currently learning to swim. We fitted in some Animal Magic with Lisa and her family. And then DH took the bikes to drop off whilst The Girls and I rode the Land Train back up the hill and home.
Supper and a DVD was perfect for our last evening in the Parc: the Girls were exhausted and we were driving back to Bromley in the morning. In the event our departure was very straightforward. DH took the last bike down to the Bike Centre and picked up our car, parking outside our villa as instructed, so that we could pack our belongings. A quick stop at the exit gates to drop off our keys and we were on the road, and home in 2 and a half hours.
*disclosure: as a Center Parcs Blogger, I received our Friday-to-Monday break for two families, together with welcome pack, meal at Hucks and activities free of charge, for the purposes of this review. For more information about Center Parcs, you can visit their website: www.centerparcs.co.uk*