Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas Craft #4 - "Pebernødder", or Danish Christmas cookies

As promised, here is the translated recipe for Husband's incredible Danish Christmas cookies. Literally meaning, "pepper nuts", these beauties are teeny-tiny, so can be squeezed into even the fullest stomach post festive feast. They're also incredibly cheap, easy to make and look gorgeous in a Kilner jar, tied up with a ribbon so if you manage not to scoff the lot, they make fantastic gifts.

And as ever, they're great for little hands to join in with.

You need:

125 g salted butter

125 g sugger
1 egg
1 teaspoon bicarb
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon cardamon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
275 g white flour

Blend the sugar and butter, slowly adding the egg.
Add the flour and spices
Roll the dough into a sausage and cut off sections
Roll the sausage sections into balls
Put on a baking sheet on grease-proof paper
Bake at 200 degrees for 10 - 12 min or until they reach a 'good colour'

Friday, 12 December 2014

Christmas Craft #3 - Cornflour-dough decorations

Last year, we made some pretty cool cornflour-dough Christmas tree decorations. I didn't blog about them at the time because a. I was too busy eating insane quantities of Danish Christmas cookies which Husband made, and b. I wanted to see how long the unbaked decorations would last in storage.

...But mostly I was just eating the cookies.

Anyhow... (and don't worry, I will post the 'pebernødder' recipe in due course) it transpires that these lovely little decorations last really well, and are actually far more sturdy than I gave them any credit for being. They not only survived a house move and the three year old attacking the Christmas tree with them, but one or two have also made it past the cat. And that's no mean feat.

Pinterest is full of recipes for this dough - it's cheap, gluten-free and if left to air dry rather than being baked, has a lovely, almost-porcelain quality. This is the recipe that we used, and I can highly recommend it.

My only note would be for UK readers: cornstarch=cornflour & baking soda=bicarb. US references to cornflour are actually talking about something akin to oatmeal in texture as far as I've discovered.

We used some Christmas ribbon that I found at the market last year to add a bit of colour, and a rolling-pin intended for play-dough to get the swirls. Good ol' cookie-cutters dictated which shapes we could have and then Daughter set to it.

The mixture - when rolled out - actually makes thousands of these little decorations. Having swathed the tree in the things, I dug out some card blanks (which I think were originally wedding invites?) and used a little glue dot to attach a decoration to each. They made really nice cards, but that still wasn't enough to work through them. Cue the Sharpie - we ended up getting rid of most as gift tags. I have to say, they did make a fairly nice addition to my stingy brown paper and shiny gold ribbon.

Would I make them again? Yes, next year. I think it'll be a biannual thing, simply because of the ornaments' unexpected longevity.

And I promise that next time we do give them a go, I'll take some better photos!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Christmas Craft #2 - Bird feeders

It's cold outside - no denying that. And though I like to think of myself as the rugged, outdoorsy type, I'm definitely more of a snuggle-by-the-fire-with-hot-tea-and-knitting sort when winter rolls around. Which isn't especially conducive when you're trying to instil a love of nature in small people.

Cue bird watching. Something that can be done from the comfort of your own windowsill with a pair of binoculars and a Dorling Kindersley birds sticker book. Hooray!

But how do you get the birds into the garden, I hear you ask? I mean, we've got three cats, so they'd have to be fairly daft birds...

Food! Food is the answer!*

Last year we made this colossal-sized bird feeder from a 500g yoghurt pot as it was the only disposable container we had. As you can see from the picture, it took the birds longer to eat it than it did for the seeds contained within to begin sprouting...

This year, I decided to try something a little different. Instead of cutting the mould away as countless Blue Peter kids have done before me, I used foldable, silicone moulds (the kind usually reserved for cupcakes). The results were pretty good and the birds haven't seemed to notice the difference.

If you've not made bird-feeders before, they're really easy. You need a mould, some bird-seed and some fat. We use lard because it's cheap and you can pour it at low temperatures - ideal for small people - but any solid fat is fine if you're a vegetarian/vegan household.

Basically, all you need to do is fill your moulds with seeds, then pour the fat over the top and leave to set. Place these on old tree stumps, stab a hole through the 'cake' and attach a string to hang on a brand or pop on a bird table and wait... inside. Where it's warm.

Mmmm... tea.


*For the record, two of the cats are too fat and old to catch anything and the one which does hunt broke her tail so she can't actually get any sort of height/balance thing going on in her little catty life (the highest she's ever jumped is the sofa - about 30cm from the ground). I'd also like to make it clear that I'm totally not advocating luring unsuspecting wildlife into a garden full of predators...

Monday, 8 December 2014

Christmas Craft #1 - Book Advent Calender and morning board

You might have guessed it already, but we're big on books.

I forget where I first saw the idea of the 'book a day' advent calendar, but it's been niggling away at me for an entire year and finally, I get to do it!

It's exactly as it sounds - I went round the house in the summer (when the books wouldn't be missed) and collected all the Christmas/Winter titles that I came across. I think I managed 20 in total, then bought the rest from the local charity shop for 50p a tome, making the total cost of the calendar £2. Since I'm going to do this for a good few years, I think that's an acceptable price - especially as I plan to put the books away again after the festivities are over and reuse those which are still age-appropriate next year. I think - all being well - I should only have to replace one this time around.

In any case, last year when we tried the chocolatey variety of advent calendar, Daughter really took umbrage to the fact that advent ended on the 24th. She wanted to go on getting a present a day... as you would. So, forewarned is forearmed and this time, I decided to introduce a morning-board as well. It made a funny sort of sense to me that since we were starting to count days anyway, we might as well introduce other calendar elements too. This way, come the 25th, she'll still have at least part of her little morning ritual.

I started off by crocheting some simple weather symbols, using a free online pattern and some yarn oddments. Then I got the very talented Blissful Baby Gifts to machine embroider the words and numbers for the board on some felt. These are absolutely gorgeous - the colours are so pretty and the stitching is perfect. Daughter's face - as you can see above - when she opened the little package was a picture. All I did then was attack the pieces with some super-glue and some cheap, ebay magnets... the rest is just a case of arranging things on any metallic surface.

So far, the novelty of coming downstairs to change the date in a morning hasn't worn off and Daughter's beginning to learn the days of the week. Good job all round, then.

And from a purely selfish point of view, I'm having a lot of fun reliving my favourite childhood books from this festive time of year.

Anyone else remember the Summer Snowman? No? Just me then...

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A day of distraction

Sometimes, the last thing anyone wants to do is actively entertain a pre-schooler. They're loud, demanding and the word, 'why' punctuates every sentence in the places that grown-up people would take the time to breathe.

I'm told that television is the way to go in these situations, but to be honest it sounds like too much hard work to go to the trouble of buying a set, installing an aerial and paying licence fees, just because I'm a little bit incredibly pregnant. In my day, we had cardboard boxes and that suited us down to the ground, thank you.

Which got me to thinking - I might hate junk modelling now, but I didn't always. In fact, growing up, it was a high point in my little world. And it just so happens that I got a giant cardboard box in the post yesterday. Hooray for happy accidents.

This little house was really easy to construct - I cut the long flaps from the top of the box and taped them together to form the apex of the roof, then taped that to the box's understand. Voilla. Basic house shape. Then I cut out a bunch of square-shaped windows and doors, leaving the card attached along one edge so that Daughter could better post things, and so there'd be something interesting to open and close.

Then I gave her some pens and left her to it. Having always been discouraged from writing on her toys/clothes/walls it took a little while to talk her into attacking this with the pens, but when she finally did, she did so with gusto.

It was really interesting to see what she drew - I presumed she'd concentrate on the exterior but she flipped the thing over and began scrawling furniture all over the inside of it. Her décor came complete with cats, self portraits and eggs. For some reason, she drew a lot of eggs. When she'd had enough, she fetched her little wooden dolls from the fort we've been playing with them in and started acting out some very telling scenes*.

Yes, it did require a little more work than flipping on a switch, but not much, and hopefully Daughter will be interested in playing with the house again tomorrow. I left the side flaps of the box on so that I can send her out into the garden to collect leaves. She can then stick these down on the remaining flaps for the house exterior, so that should give me another day of sitting on my bum without having to think too much... Wish me luck!


*i.e. "Daddy, Mummy says that you have to cook dinner now or it'll be too late and we'll all be hungry."
"Mummy, if you don't stop tickling me, I will be furious."

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Fun ways to teach 'Sight Words'

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm not a teacher. I have absolutely zero educator's training and this whole world of trying to impart knowledge on small people is one I know next-to-nothing of. At the moment, I feel like I'm stumbling in the dark a bit, trying to follow Daughter's lead.

And she's heading full-pelt towards reading. I mean, I thought I had at least another year until I had to sit and listen to stilted attempts at, "See him run. Run, Ben, run," but we're there now and as ever, I'm left fumbling through Pinterest and Google at night, trying to find some way of turning this all into a game.*

Since we started playing Teach Your Monster to Read, Daughter has come on leaps and bounds. She completed section one of the game very easily and moved onto section two. We're now about half way through it and she's beginning to struggle - particularly with the 'Tricky' words. I had no idea that these were 'a thing' and spent last night googling them.

Mainstream education refers to them as 'Sight Words' - words which don't make phonetic sense and which the reader must learn to recognise on sight alone. The examples we've come across in the game so far are:

  • To
  • The
  • No
  • Go
  • I
  • We
  • She
  • He
  • Me 
  • Be 

Whilst the phonetically regular words she encounters are absolutely no problem, these words are causing furrowed brows and tantrums. Pinterest to the rescue then... 

Except we have a very, very limited budget. I mean, it stretches to paper, pens and occasionally kitchen ingredients. And sticks, of course. We have a lot of sticks. 

In any case, this is what I came up with - I drew the words out on A5 paper and asked daughter to run, hop, crawl or scoot-on-her-bum between them. This really helped her start to recognise the words and totally unbidden, she began giving me examples of sentences which used the word she was standing on. Epic.

To try and make doubly sure she'd got it, and it wasn't just her remembering where the words were on the floor, we shuffled up the cards and poured some salt into a quiche dish (I will use this salt later on in salt dough - no wastage here!) then had her trace the shapes with her fingers. I liked how tactile this was for her and she seemed to really enjoy doing it (see the pic at the top of the page). Of course, copying the words only lasted about ten minutes, but drawing faces in the salt kept those tiny hands amused for a good while longer.


*To be fair, the rate at which she's hoovering information suggests that she would happily listen and parrot anything I have to say, but I don't want her in a 'school-room' yet. I want her running around outdoors, wrecking her clothes in muddy puddles and drawing on the walls. Life's got enough sitting at desks in it already.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Fridge magnet letters

This is a really easy activity for occupying small people when you're in the kitchen. Because let's face it, sometimes you just want to cook in peace - without little folk sticking their fingers in the butter and asking why that's a pepper.

All I did was grab a sheet of magnetic paper and a marker pen and write out the alphabet in lower case. Our letter magnets are capitals so you can adjust depending on what you have - I think most fridge alphabets these days are lower case so scribbling capitals is probably the way to go for most people. Also if you've got no magnetic paper, there's nothing to stop you taping paper-paper to the fridge door. I just figured this'd be easier to take in the car with us on long drives but again, tape some regular paper to a baking sheet and you can play anywhere.

And that was basically it. The girl knows her lower case letters/phonetic sounds from Teach Your Monster To Read and we've been reading Edward Lear's Alphabet Rhymes for Children since Daughter was born (my Dad brought me a beautiful copy back from the US, illustrated by Carol Pike, so it's always been a firm childhood favourite in our house).

When we read from alphabet books which show both capitals and lower case letters, we tend to say, "A says ah" - pointing first to the former and then the later - "B says buh, C says cuh," and so on. To begin with, I did it because Daughter was learning animal sounds and wanted to know what everything said (can openers, gate posts... you name it), and it was an easy way to answer, but it seems to have stood us in good stead for this activity. With the exception of getting E and F mixed up, and V and Y, she got them all right on the first try. To keep her busy a little longer, I got her to read the letters aloud using their proper names, and their phonetic sounds. Then she sang the alphabet which really made her day - she's never been able to remember all the letters before and seeing them listed meant that she could do it without any help from me.

Overall, this was a huge success - she kept going back to do it again and again. I not only managed to chuck everything in the slow cooker for tonight while she was occupied, but also write this blog post! Hooray for magnetic letters!

Do you have any other ideas for using these handy little things? :)