Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Food of Life - Birds Eye

We all know and love Birds Eye frozen food.  It's been my savior many a tea time when I'm forgotten to organise dinner, been too busy or am just too tired to stand and cook a big family meal.

Fishfinger sandwiches are as popular in our house as they are becoming in gastro pubs, and a handful of frozen peas has contributed to our five-a-day on many occasions.

However, Birds Eye are launching a new marketing campaign aimed at changing our perceptions from it being a 'fall back' food, to it becoming a 'first choice'.

The new campaign focuses on real families as they have their dinner.  Featuring conversations that unfold as the meal is cooked, shared and eaten.  In our house as in many, this is often the only time of the day when we can all be together and discuss what's been happening.

We were lucky enough to receive a special 'birthday hamper' for Ruby containing all manner of goodies and party treats.  Unfortunately due to delays with postage it arrived a month too late, and as she'd already managed to wangle 3 birthday dinners/cakes out of me, we had a small celebration with her cousin while he was over - eating of course their favourite - fishfingers and peas!

I'm looking forward to trying out some of their newer ranges such as the Baked to Perfection Fish to see if I will view Birds Eye as a 'first choice' food rather than an emergency dinner saver!

Thank you Birds Eye for the lovely hamper.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Magpie Monday - Like a, b, c

Apologies for my absence last week - I've been having too much fun over the holidays.  I hope you've all enjoyed the break too.

Just a quickie from me this week as we're off to grab what's left of the Bank Holiday weekend.

One thing I've missed about Ruby not being at school, is playing about making her lunches - although we did fit in a fun picnic.

I spotted these in a charity shop, a whole bag full of letter cutters for only £1.

I've looked at buying these before from my local cook shop, but really couldn't justify the price given my already extensively obsessive cookie cutter collection, but for £1 I couldn't really pass them up!

Just think of the Bento lunchbox possibilities!

What second-hand gems have you found lately?  I'd love you to grab the badge and link up.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Gruffalo Trail at Salcey Forest

We were so excited for the Gruffalo Trail to come to our local Forestry Commission wood, so we took full advantage of the Bank Holiday sunshine and headed off to Salcey in Northamptonshire.  The self-led activity trails are in many Forestry Commission sites now until Autumn, and from June many will also be hosting 'life-size' carved Gruffalo sculptures - you can read all about it here and sign up for your free birthday party pack to help The Gruffalo celebrate his 15th Birthday in June here.

As with any self-led activity, you get out as little or as much as you put into it, so we went along full of excitement.  We took our well loved copy of the book to read in the car and all shouted out the words as we wound our way through the countryside.  We took our soft toys too - a mini Gruffalo and fox, we thought they'd like to come along for the ride.

As well as Ruby, we were joined by two of her cousins, so we had an age range from 2 to 7.  The trail start was well signposted and soon we were off!

There's an activity sheet you can purchase from the cafe for £2 but it's not necessary to complete the trail. We followed the signs, with the kids racing each other to see who could find them first.

On each one there's an activity - some involve collecting natural materials from the ground and making things, others encourage the children to think about the woodland, it's uses and the creatures who live there.

They had great fun moving like the different creatures from the book - slithering like a snake; tiptoeing like a mouse; swooping like and owl; scurrying like a fox and stomping like a Gruffalo!

I was very impressed with my nephew who knew all about alliteration, and they came up with descriptive words for the characters.

They hurtled off to find sticks to write with on the ground, and had a go at writing the character names for themselves.

There were loads of marker signs around the trail so it was easy to follow.  We spent up to 20 minutes at some - those that involved collecting and making, and just a few minutes at others, but each one had something to offer.  It was great to hear the whole age range discussing and chatting.

We made a logpile house for snake.

Some nature art too.  Here's my nephew's brilliant mouse with his nut.

And Ruby and her cousin made this other mouse on the floor.

We spent a good hour doing the trail, and when little legs were getting tired there was the motivation of the Gruffalo themed picnic I'd packed to spur them on.  More on that another time.

After our Gruffalo feast, energy restored there was time for a little mini den building before heading off to the tree top walk.

There was plenty of monkeying around when we were back nearer to the ground, and time for some balancing and climbing practice.

We had a fabulous day at Salcey.  Parking for the whole day is just £3 and we spent well over 4 hours there.  It was really busy on Good Friday and it was brilliant to see so many families enjoying the forests.  What better way to end our Gruffalo day than with owl ice cream?

Linking up with Country Kids.

Disclosure: I am an official blogger for the Forestry Commission and receive an annual Discovery Pass.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Reduce and recycle your Easter egg packaging with Sainsbury's

My biggest complaint every Easter is the excessive packaging.  Of the Sainsbury's own brand eggs we tried, I have to say that the boxes weren't oversized, there wasn't the usual copious amount of plastic packaging, but what pleases me also is Sainsbury's announcement that they are introducing an Easter Egg Packaging Recycling scheme - much in the same way they recycle Christmas cards.

Paul Crewe, Sainsbury’s head of sustainability, engineering, energy & environment, said the supermarket was the first to offer Easter egg packaging recycling.
“Recycling is an important part of Sainsbury’s environmental commitment which we’re taking further than ever – sending zero operational waste to landfill and putting our minds to new and engaging schemes to help even more customers and colleagues recycle.”
The recycling facilities can be used to recycle all elements of Easter egg packaging – including plastic, film, card, foil and ribbon.
If like me you're still not organised for Easter, fear not because your local Sainsbury's has plenty of treats in store.

From Easter egg for the kids, right through to decadent luxury ones you won't want to share, you'll be spoilt for choice.

These milk chocolate eggs with either jelly beans;chocolate jazzies or strawberry belts are currently only £3 for 3.
Disclosure: we were sent a selection of Easter products from Sainsbury's to try.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Springtime fun at Mead Open Farm

We've been visiting Mead Open Farm in Bedfordshire ever since Ruby was a baby. She's always enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the animals, and when she was younger would happily spend hours in the soft play area or in the playground.

Now she's reached the ripe old age of 6 I did wonder if the farm would still hold such appeal for her.  I needn't have worried, we had a fabulous day there in the spring sunshine.

She remembered bottle feeding the lambs on previous years and was keen to try again.  She was much braver and more determined to keep hold of the bottle from their super sucky grasp this time.

Feeding the lambs at Mead Open Farm

Sheep and Mead Open Farm

Sheep and Mead Open Farm

Lamb at Mead Open Farm

She giggled at the goats who were locking horns and ramming each other and the funny little kid who hadn't quite got the hang of what the feeding bowl was for.  But we did find one who was very lovable and just wanted some strokes.

Kid Goat at Mead Open Farm

Goat at Mead Open Farm

Goat at Mead Open Farm

Feed the animals at Mead Open Farm

She also remembered petting the rabbits so anxiously watched the clock until it was time for them to come out.  I know she'd love a rabbit at home - but I'm not sure what our dog would make of it!

Petting Rabbits at Mead Open Farm

She was more confident feeding the sheep and the goats this time too, bravely holding her hand out still and flat while they nibbled the pellets from her palm.

Feed the goats at Mead Open Farm

We popped into the special Easter area and completed the egg hunt puzzle - fingers crossed we'll win annual membership!

Easter Bunny Egg Hunt at Mead Open Farm

The new adventure playground has just opened and it was a real hit.  Topsy Turvey Towers is cleverly planned out.  Really impressed with the wooden safety crossing barriers behind and in front of the swings - how many times have you seen a toddler run in front of a swing?!  Why don't all parks do that?

It's a great quality wooden beast of a playground, full of rope bridges, tunnel slides, climbing areas and high viewing platforms.  Quirky details like grass covered tunnel tubes and of course the upside down trees which give the area it's name.  Everything was a bit topsy turvey here.

Topsy Turvey Towers at Mead Open Farm New Adventure Playground

Topsy Turvey Towers at Mead Open Farm New Adventure Playground

Topsy Turvey Towers at Mead Open Farm New Adventure Playground

When you're bored of that, head over to Diggerland, a large enclosed sand area with JCB style vehicles to climb on, pretend drive, as well as mechanical diggers you can practise your co-ordination on scooping up sand.  There's tonnes of buckets and spades provided for castle building too.

Also new this year is the Sky Trail.  A high rope course which looked like great fun.  Sadly even the thought of a safety harness wouldn't persuade Ruby to have a go - I guess she's got her Mum's head for heights!

There's plenty to do to keep the whole family entertained all day and the entrance fee of £10.75 for adults and £9.75 for children (you can get cheaper rates if you pre-book online) was reasonable considering everything's included - there's no extra charges for any of the activities.

There's cafes on site offering a range of hot and cold food or you are welcome to take your own and use the picnic benches.  There's also loads of hand washing stations all around the farm, toilets and baby changing facilities.  It was very busy on the day we went and certainly could have been cleaner - I think the staff had a job keeping up with clearing the tables, replenishing the washrooms and emptying the bins.  But that was the only negative of what was otherwise a really fun day.

Rope Bridges at Mead Open Farm

Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill.

Paws Outdoors - Walkies in the Woods

It's no secret that me and my family love visiting the forest. Another important member of our family is our four-legged friend, and she loves nothing more that a trip to the wood too.

Scurrying around in fallen; finding ridiculously long sticks (ok more like branches) to drag along; sniffing out animal scents; padding about on the soft springy moss; wading though wet mud; leaping over logs; chasing the odd get the picture, it's basically doggie heaven.

She likes nothing more than a new adventure, a break from her usual round-the-block routine. The chance to be off the lead and run free.  It stimulates her senses, reduces her boredom and exercises her mind as well as her body.

Just like us, she loves to let off steam in the forest; see new sights; experience new places; run til her heart pounds then come home and put her feet up.

Forests are a favourite location for many dog walkers, with over 20 million visits to Forestry Commission sites by dog walkers each year. The new Paws Outdoors campaign in association with the Kennel Club aims to build on this popularity and will include a number of on-site activities throughout the year. Many Forestry Commission woods and forests have dog agility trails, events and hundreds of way-marked trails that offer physical challenges for dogs and owners.

Simon Hodgson, Forestry Commission chief executive, says:

“Our new Paws Outdoors campaign will help to make our sites even more appealing for dogs and their owners. The Ruff Guide to the Forest, which includes information specific to over 35 Forestry Commission locations, is packed with hints and tips for how to make the most of your local forest and surrounding area, and even includes an introduction by the local rangers’ dogs who have sniffed out every corner of our sites!"

The Forestry Commission are also looking for a new canine face for the campaign, so if you think your wonder hound has what it takes, why not enter them?  Check out the Facebook page for more details.

Disclosure: I am an official Forestry Commission blogger and receive an annual Discovery Pass for my local site.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Super Simple Easter Nest Cake Pops - No Bake!

How to make simple Easter chocolate krispie nest egg cake pops

This is my take on the classic Easter treat which I'm sure we all made as kids and still do with our kids. Bringing it right up-to-date as a 'cake pop', I've experimented with different methods and think I've cracked the simplest way to get beautiful results.  So easy even the littlies can make them.  Ruby adored making these with me - and not just because she got to lick the bowl!

How to make simple Easter chocolate krispie nest egg cake pops

The secret to getting the lolly sticks in without too much faffing and waiting, it turns out is simple...

Make them upside down!


100g good quality dark chocolate
100g All Bran cereal
Large pack of Mini Eggs (I found it was cheaper to buy them from the pick and mix section at the supermarket)

You will also need a mini muffin tin, mini/petit four cake cases and cake pop/lolly sticks (I happily found sets of sticks with wrappers and ties in the party section of my local pound store).

How to make simple Easter nest egg cake pops

Begin by placing one or two Mini Eggs at the bottom of your cake case.

Melt your chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water.  Once melted reserve a tablespoon or so in a separate bowl or cup.

Stir in your bran cereal until it's completely coated in chocolate.  I sometimes like to add a spoonful of crunchy peanut butter which gives a delicious nutty taste, but be careful of allergies if you're serving these at parties.

Spoon on top of your eggs inside the mini cake cases.  Firm down as you go.

Now coat the tip of a lolly stick generously with the reserved chocolate and ease into the centre of the 'nest'. You may need to push some of the chocolatey bran up around the stick to hold it in place.  It's a simple operation, just be gentle not to knock the sticks over until the chocolate has hardened.

How to make simple Easter nest egg cake pops

Leave to set (ideally pop the cake tray in the fridge).  As the chocolate sets it will hold the stick firm.

Once cooled and set, gently lift each case out of the tin, peel off the case and hey presto, you have a beautiful chocolate nest with eggs - on a stick! Wrap in cellophane wrappers with a pretty pastel ribbon to give instead of Easter eggs. Or if serving at home, display in a painted jam jar filled with more Mini Eggs.

How to make simple Easter nest egg cake pops

Center Parcs Chief Creative Chef has lots of tips on how to make nest treats, and this one inspired me:

"Mix some cereal, such as bran or broken up wheat, together with some melted chocolate and form the mixture in to nest-like shapes, leaving to cool for a finished nest."

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 April challenge. If I’m chosen, I would like to visit Sherwood.

Linking up with Fun Food Friday.