Saturday, 26 November 2011


Photobucket Photobucket There's nothing quite like the smell of mincemeat to get Christmas going. We always used to make our Christmas cake and mincemeat in the autumn half term, but that seems to have passed us by... Anyway, this is one for all the family: simple chopping and mixing. Traditionally, everyone in the family must have a stir. This is a non-suet based recipe and the fried bananas give it a lovely sweetness.

You will need:
  • 500g currants
  • 400g sultanas
  • 120g glace cherries, chopped
  • 60g almonds, chopped
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 allspice
  • 120g butter
  • 3 bananas
  • 3 cooking apples
  • Rind of 1 lemon
  • 180g soft brown sugar
  • Brandy

  • Get your child to chop up the bananas into discs with a table knife. Melt the butter in a frying pan (a low heat) and fry the bananas slowly until they have broken down. With close supervision, your child can carefully turn them over in the butter.
  • Peel, core and quarter the cooking apples and get your child to chop into small pieces.
  • Mix all the ingredients together in a very large bowl, leaving the bananas and the brandy until the end. Give your child the opportunity to pour, measure and mix with their hands.
  • Add the fried bananas and stir well with a wooden spoon.
  • Add enough brandy to make the mixture really moist.
  • Make sure everyone in the family has a stir.
  • Cover with cling film or baking parchment and leave for two days.
  • Sterilise jars by washing and rinsing, then putting on a tray in the oven. Turn on the heat to 150C and leave them in until the oven has heated up.
  • Take out the jars and put in the mincemeat while they are still warm.
  • Mince pies to follow...


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Spaghetti and Marshmallow construction

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A brilliant rainy day activity that will amuse kids and adults alike (and makes a change from Lego). Build towers and bridges, make strange creatures and challenge each other to build the tallest/most well-supported tower you can. The first time you play this, you might be able to get through the activity without your child discovering that marshmallows are actually puffed up sugar sponges, but after that strict rules must apply! You could use play-dough instead but it's not as fun and the great thing about the marshmallows is that they roll so you can make wheels.

You will need:
  • Dried spaghetti
  • A packet of Marshmallows

  • It's always good to put things out in front of children and see what they come up with. Of course, watch out the eating factor, but pretty soon they should get the idea of using the marshmallows to stick the spaghetti together.


  • Once this has been established, talk about what shapes you could make. Start with simple 2-D shapes such as squares and triangles and then see if you can make them into 3-D shapes. So a square becomes a cube or a cuboid, a triangle a pyramid or prism. It really doesn't have to be very adult- guided, however - you can take it in whatever way they want.
  • Tip: To make 3-D shapes it is best to snap the spaghetti in half and use short pieces instead of long ones. This way, you can also make diagonals when making cubes to further steady the shapes.
  • Once they get the hang of building shapes, see how high you can build a tower to support an object like a car. Our activity was a bit more experimental - we just made shapes and strange creatures. Older children would enjoy more challenges.

Or you could:
  • Make it into a game by making cards with things to make that you deal out e.g. A car that moves, a structure that will support a £1 coin without involving anything except spaghetti and marshmallows, a balanced bridge etc etc.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

An Autumn Tile

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Another good way of using up collections of Autumn treasures, these make good presents for grandparents etc and if you manage to finish with varnish, they can last for ages.

 You will need:
  • Autumn treasures: conkers, leaves, pieces of bark, acorns, beech nuts, seed-pods, small pine cones
  • Plaster-of-Paris
  • Cling film
  • A mould (the lid of a tin works very well) in any shape
  • Clear wood varnish
  • Paint-brush

  • In a park/street/countryside collect your Autumn treasures together, stopping and looking carefully for the best specimens you can find.
  • At home, spread them out have them close by the tray you are using for a mould.


  • Line the mould with cling-film.
  • Make up the plaster-of-Paris according to the instructions on the packet (NB be careful not to make it too watery or it will not set properly).
  • Pour into the mould and leave it to half-set.
  • Get your child to carefully lay some of the bits they have collected into the nearly set plaster. Encourage them not to put everything in the middle, but to lay each thing out leaving a bit of space although let them really make this their own, so hands off as much as possible!


  •  When they are happy with the tile, carefully wipe the plaster off the objects with a damp cloth.
  • Leave to set completely.
  • When the tile is completely dry, put a film of clear varnish over the whole thing and leave to dry again.
Or you could...
  • Use the same moulds to display things for any season. 
  • Use glitter, sequins etc to liven up the picture.
  • Make the plaster of paris tile and paint with acrylics.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


Photobucket Photobucket Nothing quite like fireworks so trying to replicate their spleandour isn't something I would normally try, but we had the glitter out so it seemed the right thing to do... Using old pictures to add to new is really effective and these two seemed to go so well together. Felt, PVA, glitter... what more could you need?

You will need:
  • Large pieces of felt (or paper)
  • Glitter, sequins, shiny paper - anything that sparkles
  • PVA glue
  • Ribbon or string if you are making a wall hanging

We did this in two sessions, the first with paint and printers, the second with just glue and lots of glitter.
  • On large, dark pieces of felt or paper, use paintbrushes, sponge printers, kitchen implements (whisks, egg cups, pastry cutters etc etc) to put on the paint. Leave to dry and then come back to with glitter.
  • It is sometimes hard for children to understand how to put the glue on first and glitter on top. Encourage them by demonstrating what happens when you don't put the glue on (i.e. the glitter will come off) and then get them to only sprinkle glitter where they can see glue. Really little children won't get it, but it's always worth a shot...
  • Let them have lots of fun with all the shiny things. The pictures are of course so much better the more you use.
  • Leave to dry overnight. 

  • Choose which picture is going to be your base and then cut out sections of the other where you can see firework shapes emerging. Cut out star shapes, rockets, comet shapes etc. Do the same for lettering if you want to put it on.
  • With your child, go back to the original picture and stick on your new shapes with PVA glue again.
  • Leave to dry.
  • If you are making a wall hanging, turn over the top of the picture and sew along the back so that you have a place to put your ribbon or string. You will need to put some sort of stick through (I used a wooden skewer) to reinforce it.
  • Hang up and admire.