Saturday, 30 October 2010

Review: In the Night Garden Tea and Friends Playset

My two little boys adore In the Night Garden so it was with great interest that I opened up the parcel containing the In the Night Garden and Friends Playset.

This set is made by Hasbro and has a recommended retail price of £29.99 and marketed to the age 2+ range.

"Join Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy for a tea party! This set includes everything you need for a fabulous, relaxing afternoon. It comes complete with Soft bodied Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy Igglepiggle's blanket, 2 cups, 2 saucers, 2 spoons, a tea pot, and a tea tray. Also included is a DVD of the famous pair in action"

First things first, and much to the squeals of irritation from my terrible twosome..release poor Upsy Daisy and long suffering chum Igglepiggle from their plastic and cardboard prison complete with instruments of torture..several rather nasty tags and ties with which they were attached!
As always, I question the integrity here of the packaging company and wonder whether it is altogether necessary to tie the various components in so many places!
Actually I always wish I had done this in advance as, being 4 and 2 years ols, my boys do not have a bucket load of patience and usually end up disappearing into another room to play with the packaging which, in some cases could be rather dangerous.

Having removed all the toys from the box I then instigated a role playing game for the boys as I love to lead their games and see where their sparky little imaginations then take them.
I was suitably impressed with the quality of the soft toy, their size making them really fun to play with. The addition of a detachable skirt and hairband for Upsy Daisy was a nice touch and my 4 year old, Leon, had no trouble at all popping the party skirt and hairband onto the pretty doll.
Of course Igglepiggle had the obligatory blanket and I showed the boys how to lay it out as a picnic blanket.
My 2 year old, Reuben, immediately started making "cups of tea" for everyone and using the little teapot to pour them out. I liked the nice neat lid that fitted perfectly onto the pot. This makes a change for childrens teaset toys which I find tend to be badly made and hard to fit together.

The colours could have been brighter on the teaset items and perhaps some mixed colours rather than the standard insipid pink.

I really enjoyed watching my boys invent a really sweet game involving Upsy Daisy trying to drink out of the teapot and Iggle Piggle getting cross because he wanted to cuddle his blanket instead of using it as an improvised floor cloth!
Sibling rivalry causes many a scuffle and often ends in tears but I have to say it was a total joy to see a gentle game unfolding without the slightest squawk!

One real plus point for me was to be able to see my boys enjoying a simple tea party game, soon involving other toys such as a favourite teddy, without the need for expensive batteries!
How I wish there were more toys on the market that did not need batteries. They are the bane of the parents' life!

After about 15 minutes my boys were getting a tad twitchy and it was at this stage that I was glad of the DVD that came with the set.
We all settled down for some typically inane antics from the Night Garden which my two seem to find completely engaging. Those Nigh Garden characters have the same appeal to my boys as Teletubbies. A combination of a nonsensical language and innocent childhood games that seems to intrigue the younger generation!

I would certainly recommend this game to friends and relatives, and, although slightly more than I would usually spend on a toy found it an idea "sharing" present which I think in principle is an excellent idea for children and gets them into the idea of toys being played with together.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Cooking with Green and Black Chocolate

Green and Blacks Taste Test ~ Part 1

Just before Christmas I emailed my details through to put myself forward to taste test some chocolate for Green and Blacks. Lets be honest, you'd be crazy not to!
In the manic mayhem of Christmas, two teenagers, a toddler, baby and husband all with their beaks open waiting to be attended to I completely forgot about the chocolate.
Imagine my complete delight when, in amongst a pile of bills and boring returns from my shop was a large neat but rather weighty jiffy bag.
Inside was an astonishing array of Green and Blacks chocolate, the likes of which I had never seen.
Of course I had tasted Green and Blacks chocolate in the past and indeed sometimes popped a tiny bar in the shopping trolley as an indulgence when the babies weren't looking! Certainly too "rich" for them to taste! Hahaha!!
My first thoughts went to my new cookery book, bought for me by my cousin as she knows how much I love to bake and my passion for good chocolate!
I decided to use my favourite cupcake recipe as follows and use my Green and Black milk cooking chocolate for the icing.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Dusky Butter Icing

Makes about 12 -

100 gms unsalted butter
100 gms self raising flour
90 gms cocoa powder
110 gms caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
3 small eggs or 2 large eggs
1 tsp good quality vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 150C Fan or 160C otherwise.

Ensure that the butter is very soft.
Now simply mix all the ingredients together briskly for 1 minute.
This recipe is wonderful..there's none of this time consuming and usually pointless mixing of eggs, sugar then gradually adding egg and finding it usually curdles anyway!
I must stress that 1 minute is all that is required or the cakes seem to toughen up!
Fill cupcake liners between ½ and ¾ the way up. Fill ½ way up to get an even flat shape, fill ¾ way up to get a nice dome shape.
Bake for 20 minutes in the middle of the oven, but check after 15 by inserting a little cocktail stick.
If there is anything stuck to the stick, then bake for the full 20 minutes.
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for around 5 minutes and then take them out carefully and allow to cool outside the pan.
While they cool get on with the icing:

Dusky Butter Icing (From the Green and Blacks Chocolate Recipe book)

100g green and blacks milk chocolate (I used the organic cooking variety)
175g unsalted butter
175g icing sugar

Melt the chocolate over some simmering water and cool until tepid.
Beat butter until soft then add the sugar and chocolate.

The cupcakes were their usual delicious light buttery selves but were definitely brought to life by the wonderfully smooth rich chocolate icing.
I usually use cocoa powder which can be overpowering.
My 17 year old son Sebastian said:
"The icing on the cakes was creamy and smooth but not too sweet either which made the perfect balance. Often I find icing too sweet and sickly but this hit the spot"
My 15 year old daughter Sasha who is slightly more fussy and critical remarked:
"Well the cake was a bit dry but the icing was lovely"
Poor Sasha, little did she know how hard it was to save that cake for 5 days for her!
No wonder it was a little dry!

The cakes were a complete success and I am now pondering what to make with my remaining bar of Green and Blacks organic cooking chocolate.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Happy Kitchen - Part 1

The kitchen is my favourite domain when I'm not working away in my ridiculously claustrophobic cluttered office.
It is a place where my senses come alive.
Comforting aromas of cinnamon and
gently stewed apple remind me of my Jewish Grandmother.
An amazing cook who had that natural talent of producing really good homecooked food with none of the additives that I have recently discovered make me feel so ill.
Grandma Rose had a repertoire of delicious Jewish recipes that I have been gradually rediscovering over the years through ancient, crumbling butter stained books and of course research on the internet.
I was a lucky child. All the significant women in my life were incredible cooks. Cooks of the old school that knew how to turn a drawer full of slightly bendy vegetables and meat cuts of a frugal nature into the most wholesome and mouth watering meals.
Infact I often call my Mum for advice when I know that a google search would frustrate me.
What is the best recipe for pastry? How many eggs for a bread and butter pudding? Which cut of beef will taste the best roasted (on more lucrative weeks!)
There are family favourites that I have tried to emulate from Mum. For example a fish kedgeree which is one of the few things that EVERYONE in the house enjoys from grumpy baby to fussy teenager.
The only issue I have is this. I use exactly the same ingredients as Mum. Cook in the same manner and garnish in the same way.
So why does it not taste as good? I like to think I have inherited the family gift of culinary skill but this simple dish disapoints me time and time again.
The answer must be the age old riddle "Why does food always taste better cooked by someone else" or more importantly "Someone you love and respect".

The kitchen is also an escape for me. Somewhere I can potter about to the calming tones of Radio 4 and enjoy my own space. Infact it is the only place I can do this until a small person comes in to grab my legs and beg a snip of carrot or a few raisins!

One of the other joys of the kitchen is being able to amuse my 3 year old. Cooking with Mummy is one of his favourite things and recently my heart was warmed by his nursery school teacher telling me that, during a cake making session, Leon had exclaimed "I love to do this with my Mummy at home"

Today we decided to make some gingerbread men. What we were after was that gorgeous soft, bitingly "gentle"man.
I had in mind treacle and brown sugar with plenty of lovely butter, one of my many edible vices!
This is the recipe we used:

1lb2oz plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarb of soda
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
5oz butter
6oz soft light brown sugar
3 tbsp black treacle
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg

Sift all dry ingredients and mix together in a large bowl.
Melt butter, sugar, treacle and syrup together. Cool slightly and whisk in a beaten egg.
Mix wet ingredients into dry and roll out while dough is still warm.
Cut out shapes, we used people and hearts, and place on a lightly greased baking tray.
The eagled eyed amongst you may notice the rogue "boob" cookie at the top of the plate!
Bake for 10 mins at 180.

Your kitchen will fill with the divine aromas of cinnamon and sugary treacle.

My son really loved squidging the soft deep brown dough and using cutters from my huge collection.
When they had cooled sufficiently we made a little royal icing using a paste of icing sugar and water and "glued" on some white chocolate dot eyes and mini marshmallow buttons.

Of course the best part was seeing my children devouring these toothsome cookies after their lunch. They were truly delicious and so gorgeously soft and moreish, quite unlike the filthy hard, brittle substitutes available in supermarkets.

I will be publishing more snippets from my Happy Kitchen and adding favourite recipes as the mood takes me.
Do please comment and it would be wonderful if you could add a favourite recipe for others to try.

Reuben loves to mess about with his brother's little tea set and it *sometimes* distracts him from the wails of "boob" when I'm trying to make the dinner!

Monday, 12 October 2009

There's a NIP in the Air..My First ever Blog

A conversation with my teenage daughter last night got me thinking.
What do we love about the changing seasons?
"I love the sunshine on a really chilly day" she said.
Is it the wonder of nature and the beauty of the season.
Maybe its the opportunity to change our wardrobe and indulge in some retail therapy.

I have always been an Autumn/Winter person and enjoy the freshness of the air, the vibrancy of the patchwork leaves, the brittle feeling of an echoing Winter evening.

I'm afraid the thing is I really hate being cold!
It is the season when a NIP in the air has several meanings according to where you happen to be in your cycle of life.

You might be a young child looking forward to the prospect of a snowy day.A teenager, irritated about a walk to school in the cold and wet.A Mother, late for a school run wrapping everyone up in coats, scarves and woolly hats.Or, a breastfeeding Mum, thinking about suitable warm clothing for nursing on the move.
Personally speaking, I am a mother of four, always on the go, working from home and currently breastfeeding my 18 month old boy.

This brings me rather neatly onto the topic in question, ie, Nursing in Public.
There certainly is a NIP in the air and if I had my way there'd be several *NIPS* in the air!
In the park, supermarket, garage, high street, café, shop floor..
Actually you name it and I have probably fed one of my babies there.

You see...I DONT CARE! What I mean by that is I put the needs of my child first.
If you dont like it, DON'T LOOK has always been my mantra.

Mostly I haven't found too much negativity when out and about nursing my little one but there have been a couple of experiences that have made me so furious, so livid that I actually felt violent!
Unusual for me, I am a pacifist who abhors physical acts of brutality.

The first was when I breastfed my first child outside a cafe on Paddington station.
I had a shawl wrapped around me and embodied the absolute soul of discretion.
A very sharp prod to my shoulder alerted me to a red faced scowling man.
"Can't you go somewhere else to do that?" was his anguished wail.

I was absolutely horrified. This was my first baby. I was inexperienced and had just recovered from a bout of mastitus.
It took me a long while to recover my confidence enough to breastfeed in public and only the very wonderful local Breastfeeding Café got me back in my stride.

Some 15 years later I had my third child and I really believed times MUST have changed.
Sadly not.
Infact in some respects things seem to have taken a downwards spiral.

Having a baby after a 15 year gap was really like starting all over again so on my first shopping trip I was certainly not prepared for my very unpleasant experience.

Leon was just 2 weeks old when Mum, my daughter and I ventured out to buy some new bras in Debenhams, Hemel Hempstead. Yes, named and shamed I'm afraid.
Being a fussy feeder I tried hard to respond quickly to his hungry cries.

As my daughter had nipped into a changing room to try on some bras I decide to take the opportunity and sat down outside the changing room on a little bench.
I easily latched baby on and wrapped a muslin around my shoulder. Nothing at was visible to anyone. Unless of course a zoom lens were being used. (Little did I know?)

A very young shop assistant who I had been chatting to amicably about nursing bras rather gleefully sneered "You cant do that in here..its against company policy"
I was totally horrified. Once unlatched it was virtually impossible to easily get Leon latched back on.
"Can I just finish his feed?" I squeaked.
"'ll have to go and find a mother and baby room somewhere"

Leon screamed the place down in protest and I was absolutely livid.
When I tried to question the girl as to WHY exactly I should stop and who on earth would take offence her answer was a rather strange one.
"The security camera might see you."
WHAT?? So I cant feed my baby because some person behind a security camera might possibly catch a glimpse of something untoward?
WHAT if that same camera might view a bottlefed baby or worse still a woman's breast in a skimpy top?

Luckily I was able to finish the feed in Marks and Spencers cafe (Good old M & S!) but not before considerable embarrassment.

The whole episode left a very bad taste in my mouth and Debenhams has been boycotted ever since!

I am very interested to hear other Mum's experiences of Nursing in Public, both good and bad.
I would also like to compile a little directory of Breastfeeding Friendly Places.
Theses can be cafés, shopping centres or any areas in general that have given you a feel good feeling about nursing in public.

There's nothing worse than being relegated to some filthy toilet or badly kept Mother and Baby room...Absolutely revolting!

Please do comment on my first blog. I'm sure my creative juices will flow more freely in the future but any encouragement would be greatly appreciated!

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