Colchester Zoo

August 19, 2012



During a stay at Nana and Grumps’s we took a day out to Colchester Zoo.
We went on Friday, but it was still pretty busy, we had a queue to buy our tickets (£17.99 for adults, £11.50 for children over 3 – but tesco club card points are currently offering £5 tesco voucher for £20 entry voucher for the zoo). It is quite a small zoo, in that it’s quite compact, but still has plenty of different animals to see, we forgot to bring a pushchair for Alice, but in the end didn’t need it as it was all accessible even for little legs. (In fact I think a pushchair would have been difficult to manoeuvre in the narrow, often steep sloped pathways and routes through the animal houses, it would be a nightmare for anyone in a wheelchair!)
After getting in, we tried to head to the bottom end of the park, where the elephants and giraffes are, but on the way were distracted by the chimps, spider monkeys, leopards,meerkats and our picnic – I didn’t mind, the rucksack was quite heavy with all the sandwiches. Then we hurried onto the elephants to make feeding time at 12.10.
You are given the opportunity to feed lots of different animals here. The queue for feeding the elephants was massive and so assumed we wouldn’t get a turn, so wandered about looking at the other near by animals (giraffes, rhinos, zebras and ostriches), but on wandering back the elephant queue was gone, but the elephants were still there and the keepers had some cabbage left so we did get a go, although the girls got a bit worried about elephant snot, so me and Nana got to feed them on their behalf. There are convenient sinks to wash your hands after.
Then we took a ride on the ‘lost Madagascar express’ (little train!) and saw the flamingos and the wolves on the little journey, then the train stopped for us to take a walk around insde the lemur enclosure! Or ‘king Julians’ as my girls called them, after Dreamworks ‘Madagascar’ character. Then stopped for icecream. After that we saw the tigers, wolves, komodo dragons, red panda, penguins, sea lions and orangutans and stopped again for a drink. Martha had a play on the enormous play park by the entrance while I took Alice to see a ‘mummy snake’ (anaconda) – Nana wasn’t too keen on this idea! Then a quick stop at the zoo shop and home.
We had a lovely day out, and I would recommend Colchester zoo to anyone with small children as you get to see all the classic zoo animals up close without too much walking. There were plenty of cafe’s, picnic areas and toilets, and the opportunities for feeding and meeting the animals up close are amazing. It might be worth a bit of pre-visit research to find out exactly what you want to do and at what times.

Smooth Gooseberry Jam

July 4, 2012

Papa Peacock’s allotment provided us with a super huge bag of gorgeous big juicy gooseberries at the weekend. So I got out the jam pan (I don’t have a jam pan, I use my stock pot!).
My girls are incredibly picky and refuse any jam with ‘bits’ in it, and as these gooseberries had a few big black seeds in them I decided to go through all the faff of removing them from the mix before getting the jam anywhere near the breakfast table! I have been known to heat up bitsy jam and pop it through a sieve to make it kid friendly!
I prepared 1kg of gooseberries, snipping the top and tail off them with a pair of scissors, then I washed and steamed them in the microwave, (they took 10mins on full power in my 800w). Then I blitzed the fruit with my hand blender, and pushed the pulp through a sieve to get a smooth purée, no skin or seeds. I put this into my stock pot/jam pan and added 1kg of granulated sugar. Brought it all up to a bubbly boil and kept it there for 10 mins. Then when a bit cooler I popped it into sterilised jars.
It’s pretty yummy, and even though the pulp was a snotty green colour, the jam is a lovely peachy, orange colour. And my girls are eating it!


May 15, 2012

Its been a bit shameful that my kids first trip to Legoland Windsor (Resort as it is now)  was last weekend, considering I live 10 mins away and I used to make the models there. This was my first time back in 10 years! and we all had a wonderful time. Sunday was one of our 1st sunny days for months. so we took the opportunity to get out in the sunshine and visit the Park, we made a packed lunch, the girls raided their piggy banks for pocket money and got there early for the 10am opening. Alice is still under 3 so she went for free, Martha has a season ticket (upgraded from her last visit with her Granny and Papa) and Mr Peacock and I shared a 2 for 1 coupon, so effectively we paid for 1 adult ticket which cost £43!! Not bad for a family of 4 but a shocking amount without the vouchers/deals. However with so many vouchers and deals out there at the moment (check out Tesco clubcard points deals and pick up the 2 for 1s on Tesco food packaging), I think paying full price at the gate for a whole family would be a bit like paying full price for a sofa at DFS.

We got on the Hill Train and started at the bottom of the Park at the Dragon coaster, this is exactly the same as I remember it but he magic of seeing it all through the eyes of a 5 year old made it much better. I took Alice onto the smaller ‘Dragon’s Apprentice’ which was the most queuing I did all day, as its only a small coaster with one car it takes an age to wait your turn, but she enjoyed it very much. Then Martha wanted to see Miniland (“the houses you made mummy”) although in honesty I didn’t really work on any newbuild in Miniland while I was here I remember making a few replacement cars and people and small scenes and cleaning it all during the closed season, but that doesn’t sound as good. Then we went into Duploland and had a go on the ‘Chopper Squadron’ it was called whirly birds when I was last here, and ‘Fairy Tale Brook’, ate lunch by the little playground and watched the puppet show. Martha did her driving test at ‘L-Drivers’ in ‘Traffic’ as for the bigger traffic school kids need to be 6 (although the little school was a bit easy for her), and then we went on the ‘Atlantis Submarine Voyage’, which was amazing. The kids loved the sharks and Rays in the tank with lots of Nemo (clown) fish. So much that Alice spent her pocket money on a cuddly fish with ‘sleepy eyes’ at the exit shop. We wandered through Lego City and went on the Orient Expedition train ride, had ice-creams by the lighthouse, did the few fairground rides, now themed ‘Kingdom of the Pharoh’s’ and headed back the The Beginning to see the new Star Wars Miniland exhibit, which was pretty amazing by modelmaking standards, all in miniland scale, a treat for all the nerdy parents but a bit dark and noisy for Alice. Martha took forever in the Big shop looking for something to spend her money on, but we eventually got out and they fell asleep on the way home.

The Park looks fabulous at this time of year, possibly because all the models I made have been removed or are not used anymore, but I know how much work goes into building, repairing, maintaining and cleaning all those Lego models so well done to all my ex-Lego-colleages – good work! The kids both keep asking when we can go back, but I like to keep big days out as one off treats, but I’ll try not to leave it another 10 years!

Christmas Cake Pops

December 23, 2011

A couple of my lovely friends have mastered the art of the cake pop and I have looked upon their creations with envy, so with festive treats in mind I thought I would give them a go. My (limited) understanding of the methods of cake poppery has been gleaned from these friends and I may have completely misunderstood them or completly invented the shortfalls in my experience so I apologise to them and any other cake poppers who come across this post, this is probably not the correct or easiest method, but I am very pleased with the results.

Chrismas this year is a gluten free one as Martha and Alice’s cousins are coeliacs, so these are made with sainsburys free from ginger cake slices. If I was making these for gluten glutons like myself I think I would have liked to use a Mcvities Jamaican Ginger Cake, (I think of ginger and gingerbread as a festive flavor  along with mincemeat, tangerines, cranberry, peppermint and booze). I made a small batch of cream cheese icing, (25g butter, 60g cream cheese and 150g icing sugar) and mixed 3 packs of the ginger cakes in all crumbled up. This makes a kind of dough that you can shape into balls and pop in the fridge to set a bit. I bought the lolly sticks from Hobbycraft and when the balls were quite firm I inserted the sticks, melted some dark chocolate cake covering (unlike real choc you can melt it easily in the microwave as its less likely to burn) and dipped each pop into the chocolate, Learning on the job I realised that you need to have worked out a lolly stick holding device before dipping, I had planned to insert each pop into a hole cut in a small box, but this kept tipping over so in desperation I ended up using a potato cut in half, I also learned it’s easier to re-melt the chocolate then try to work with it as its solidifying – so one of the pops is a bit lumpy looking! After dipping they were returned to the fridge. The planned design for the pops were christmas puddings, so for decoration I melted some more chocolate cake covering this time white chocolate flavor and dribbled this onto the top of the pop to look like brandy custard and with coloured fondant icing left over from Martha’s birthday party cake (I promise to post about this soon!) I made two small green leaves and a couple of red berries to suggest holly, (which Martha helped me with along with sampling the various icings and chocolates). I stuck these onto the cake pops with a small blob of the melted white chocolate. I popped them still on their potatoes back in the fridge to set and have since transfered them into freezer bags to continue keeping them cool without the potatoes or the risk of them developing ‘fridge’ flavor.

I am quite pleased with the results, I have no idea how they taste, we will have to wait for teatime on christmas day to get the verdict from the kiddies, but they look good enough to eat anyway. If I do them again I will make sure I have some recycled polystyrene blocks to hold my pops for me  as the potatoes were a bit off putting, but are, at least, gluten free!

Pumpkin Pie

October 31, 2011

As its halloween today, I baked a pumpkin pie. I have used the receipe before and its pretty easy and makes a nice and yummy use of all the lovely pumpkins in the shops.

I bought frozen shortcrust pasty, just because I am lazy, my sister (whose birthday it is today) always makes her own pasty and it’s especially delicious! I bought a small edible pumpkin, about the same size as Alice’s head (2 year old toddler) or 8″-9″ in diameter.  I cut it in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon, then popped the two halves in a microwaveable bowl and microwaved with an inch of water in the bottom for 15mins on highest setting. (If yours is not cooked by this time pop it back in for a couple of mins at a time until you can smush the flesh easily with a spoon). I left it to cool while I rolled out the defrosted pastry and lined my butter greased pie dish, which is 10.5″ or 27cm wide and 2″ or 5 cm deep. I blind baked the pastry for 15mins at 200 degrees C which in retrospect was probably a bit long as during second baking the edge got a bit too brown, I will probably do 10 mind next time. When the pumpkin was cool enough to handle I scooped the flesh out of the skin with a spoon, and whizzed it up with my hand blender until it was smooth, then added to the pumpkin puree, added a cup of sugar (I used light brown as I prefer it to white in cooking to give a slight caramel flavor), 1.5tsp cinnamon, 1tsp ground allspice, 0.5tsp ground ginger, 0.5tsp salt, 4 large eggs and 1 tin of evaporated milk and applied the handblender to the lot. (The receipe also called for 1tsp of ground cloves but I didn’t have any, I think this is an important flavor for a classic pumpkin pie so will get some in for next year) I poured it into my pie case and it filled it nice and deep. Its a very liquidy filling and a bit of a faff to get into the oven without slopping the filling over the sides but a coating around the edge tends to caramelise the pastry very nicely (think of ‘pasteis de nata’ portugese egg custard tarts). The recipe says bake for 30-40 mins at 170 degrees c, but I did mine a little longer as my oven is rubbish.

It is not really much of a looker, with its orangy brown filling and my slightly over cooked crust! But she tastes pretty good – I ate the slice I photographed above. If you have never had pumpkin pie before it is a  bit like an egg custard with a sweet spicy flavor and the pumpkin puree gives it a lovely texture. Not sure if the kids are too keen, I made them a apple meringue pie at the same time (see previous post which they (and Mr Peacock) chose for pudding yesterday instead of the pumpkin, so all the more for me! Trick or Treat?

Peppa Pig Cake

August 31, 2011

This was the cake I made for Alice’s birthday (almost a month ago!), I wasn’t sure it was a particularly interesting post, but as I have posted about all the other birthday cakes I have made I thought I would write it up in the spirit of consistency.

The cake itself was  a double ‘Betty Croker devils food cake’ mix, one mix for the top layer and one for the bottom with pink buttercream in between. I made the Peppa figure out of coloured packet fondant icing the big pack of the dr oetker stuff. I coloured all the required colours first, pink for her head, arms and legs, red for her dress/body and black for her shoes. The large blob of dark pink I coloured up for the number 2 for the cake at the same time and used it for the detail on her face, her smile and her cheeks. I actually covered the top bit of an icecream cone for her body as this icing is not ideal for modeling it is a bit soft until you pop it in the fridge it has a tendency to slump a bit. Basically I made all the pieces got them nice and cold then assembled them. I coloured some more icing blue and green and covered the cake in the blue (the blue ribbon round the edge hides the pigs ear – see what i did there! – I made of the sides of the cake). I cut a wobbly shape out of the green (in the style of peppa’s logo) then popped her on top, with a few bought icing flowers (sainsbury’s own – in the cake stuff isle) that Martha helped me to stick on with leftover buttercream.

I think it came out ok, if my cake covering had been better it would have almost looked bakery made. Anyway it tasted good and got eaten up by her friends and family at her party with leftovers going to her nursery.

I always seem to have past their best bananas in the house, they seem to be green and crunchy for ages then suddenly as soon as your back is turned they go black! So I am always on the look out for banana recipes to use them up in. I am also getting a bit bored of our breakfast rut, Martha will only eat toast at the moment either with homemade strawberry jam (I made another batch a few weeks ago -see previous post) or peanut butter. Alice is still pretty much happy with anything as long as it happens quickly in the morning, so she usually gets what Martha wants.  I hoped that this reciepe would provide us with a quick breakfast alternative and help to reduce the pile of black bananas currently turning all the fruit in the fruit bowl (yes I know I shouldn’t keep my banana in there!)

The recipe is a tweaked hummingbird bakery one, I use 200g of plain flour and 150g of wholegrain spelt (this is to add some fibre to the breakfast procedings) 3/4 tsp salt, 1and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb, 2 tsp ground cinnamon and 160g caster sugar. Pop all this into a bowl and apply the hand mixer until its all the same colour. Then in a seperate mixing jug measure out 375ml of whole milk and add an egg and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract, whizz this up a bit too then add it to the dry mix. Melt 70g of butter in the microwave (I use the dirty measuring jug for this!) and add to the mixture and then add 400g (roughly 4 medium sizede bananas) mashed up with a fork. whiz it all up till its an even consistency and then fill your muffin cases 3/4 full with the mixture. I usually end up with 18 or 20 muffins but they are not monster huge ones, you could fill them higher and get starbucks sized ones if you like. Mix 2 tsps of sugar with a pinch on cinnamon and sprinke on the top before popping them into a pre-heated over at 170 degrees C. They should cook in 20-30 mins but my antique oven takes more like 45, they are cooked when they spring back when you press on the tops. If in doubt sacrifice one by opening it up and seeing if its still mush in the middle – this is usually my taster one anyway.

They are quite tasty, but unfortunatly have not been the breakfast changer I was hoping for as Martha decided that she didn’t like them on seeing them appear from the oven, so is still sticking with toast! Now if I could only remember to bake a loaf for the morning in the breadmaker…

Ice Lollies

July 5, 2011

We have been making these for a few years now, they are particulary popular in summer but my kids will eat them all year round, I like them as it increases their fruit intake and is a sneaky way to get the BBB (Beyond the Best Before) fruit eaten.

I got the moulds a few years ago from Ikea, I assume they still do them, I like these as the shape makes it pretty easy to release the lollies from the moulds (just warm them in your hand and give the ‘stick’ a wiggle) and are a pretty good size (not too big) also the shape of the ‘stick’ holds the lolly even when good and melty, so no hysterical children crying over a pile of fruit slush on the floor!

I basically make a fruit smoothie to freeze into lollies and use whatever I have to hand but they all have a banana as a base fruit (they make the lollies less ‘ice cube solid’) and apple juice to thin out the mix. Today we used up some strawberries that were past their firmness, but I ususally keep some frozen mango and raspberries in the house and use them from frozen. (I quite like sainsbury’s basics frozen fruit salad for good value.) The girls get involved by putting the lolly moulds in the holder, peeling the banana, tasting the fruit, helping to hold the bender and popping the sticks into the poured mixture.

The banana, soft/frozen fruit and a good glug of apple juice all go in a measuring jug and get blitzed up with the hand blender, with the secret ingredient – a splash of undiluted no added sugar squash. This makes the mixture super sweet and the finished lollies more like the bought ones, (have you ever drunk melted calipo?) but without the sugar.

Hot Cross Buns

April 20, 2011

We are off to my mum’s for Easter Weekend and to contribute to the festivities I thought we could take along some homemade Hot cross Buns. I have made them before but this year I tried a new receipe, its in Nigella’s Feast book. It starts off with melting 150g butter with 150ml milk (I popped this in the microwave for 1 and half mins) with a clove (I used 4) 2 cardamom pods (I didn’t have any) and zest of one orange (I didn’t have any oranges in either so substituted this for a few dried orange peels – my aunt made these and gave them to me ages ago, I usually use them in paella) When this has cooled to blood temp, I popped it in my breadmaker with 400g bread flour a sachet of dried yeast, a tsp cinnamon, some grated nutmeg (probably another tsp), a pinch of ground ginger, 125g sultanas and an egg and set the whole lot off on a dough mix. Nigella mixes hers by hand and leaves it to rise in the fridge overnight.

When it was done, I knocked back the dough and by halfing the mixture again and again made 16 roughly equal balls and laid them on greasproof paper in baking tins. In retrospect they stuck pretty badly to the paper and when I have done these before I have just greased and floured the tins and they came out fine! Then  I cut crosses into the tops of the buns and left them to rise again – they didnt do much. But after 45mins I brushed them with egg yolk and made a paste with plain flour, water and sugar and ‘drizzled’ the paste into the cross shape grooves in the buns.

I baked them at 220 degrees C, then took them out – spending some time prizing them off the paper, then brushed them with a 50/50 mix of vanilla sugar and boiling water, Nigella doesn’t specify vanilla sugar but I popped an empty vanilla pod (after you have scraped out the seeds for another receipe) into a jar of golden sugar, a couple of weeks ago.

I have had a taste and they are pretty good, but a bit dense, I think I preferred the recipe I used last year but I’ll wait another year before making them again and will probably forget. Martha did try and help me with these, her job was rolling the little balls, but she remembered that she doesn’t like Hot Cross Buns and disappeared leaving me to do them on my own.

Happy Easter!

Star Chart

February 9, 2011

In the post-christmas and birthday come down, Martha in particular has had the naughties, I have tried to guide her need for attention onto a more desirable path but that does not seem to be working, so its time for a new star chart. We have used these before to help encourage better behavior so am giving another one a go.

We have always sat down and made our star charts, this way we can discuss the reasons for it, and decide together on visual representations of the good behaviors and what treat she can have after her set number of stars (10 in this case, and she wants go swimming!). Alice is included in this one for the first time, I am quite sure she hasn’t got a clue whats going on, but I don’t want Martha to feel singled out and Alice loves anything to do with stickers.

I use a big piece of lining paper and we draw out a big square with a black wax crayon, then subdivide it into the relevant number of boxes. The things I would like Martha to do at the moment are; trying to be polite, by remembering to say please and thank-you, so this is represented by the words please and thank-you and a smiley face. Listening to mummy, (I find myself repeating the same questions on a loop at the moment), so we drew an ear. Not pulling an angry face and stamping her feet if I say something she doesn’t like (if looks could kill I would be 6 feet under by now), so we drew an angry face and two feet in a circle with a line through it – Martha is slightly obsessed with signs at the moment and tells me the rules for everywhere we go, at the petrol station for example, I am told that I can’t use my phone and children cannot use the petrol pumps. I want her to start doing things quickly when I ask her to do them, like put on her pajamas at bedtime, or her shoes so we can get to nursery, so we drew a clock. And finally we drew two open hands to represent sharing – particularly with her sister. Then we got out the little solid paints and coloured it all in. I don’t worry about the quality of my drawing, she remembers what all the pictures mean anyway, sometimes we decorate around the star chart with pictures to remind her of her chosen treat. The watery solid paints do not cover over the wax crayon. When it was dry we stuck it up on their bedroom door so we can stick star stickers (bought from Ryman’s stationery shop some time ago) in the appropriate boxes at bedtime.

We are three days in already and although she has a few stars for doing things quickly and saying please and thank-you she still needs to work on listening and sharing, but it does look like I’ll be fishing out my swimming costume at the weekend!