Friday, 30 August 2013

Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle Cupcakes

Whenever we go grocery shopping, Eddie likes to "help" me. He cannot resist anything with his favourite piggy on, and the other day a Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle Cupcakes baking kit caught his eye and it was impossible to part him from the coveted box. While millions of viewers are glued to the screen, watching the Great British Bake Off, we choose a cheat version to satisfy the cakey crave.

Don't get me wrong, I do prefer to bake my cakes and cupcakes from scratch. But if you are baking with the little people, you can whip up a packet mix and get a very decent result as well.

Muddy Puddle Cup Cakes kit comes with a packet of cake mix and a small bag of powdered icing as well as 12 cup cases and a sheet of edible pictures of Peppa and George.
You just need to add 1 egg and a bit of water to the cake mix (I added milk). Whisk it all together and pour into the cup cases (there are 12 in the kit, but you'll get really tiny flat cupcakes if you manage to divide the mix into 12 cup cases, we opted for 8).
After the cupcakes have been baked for 15 minutes, you leave them to cool completely before decorating.

Now that was a difficult part, as my impatient chef kept asking "Mama, are they ready?" every 30 seconds.
You make your own muddle puddle chocolate icing by mixing the powdered icing with a bit of water. The powdered icing is very pale when dry, and I was rather sceptical about it. It did turn brown after being mixed with water, but I guess it has a very low cocoa content, and you will probably be better off by melting some cooking chocolate to use on top of the cupcakes. Once the puddles are added, decorate the cup cakes with the sugar pictures.

And voilĂ . 

Muddy Puddle cupcakes, as decorated by Eddie.

Of course, we had to taste them as soon as they were ready.
They are child-friendly and easy to make. There are no artificial colours or hydrogenated fats. This kit is produced by Symingtons Ltd.
The sponge itself is fluffy and not bad for the baking kit. I didn't like the icing, it tasted quite cheap and not very chocolatey. But hey, my kid was happy to take part in the baking session and enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

We're going on a treasure hunt: My 99p summer blog challenge

You might snigger snobbishly, but little man and I are often seen in our local 99p shop, looking, as Eddie says, "for treasures and snacks".
Throughout the summer we have been popping in the 99p shop every week, and have spent a small fortune (let's not go into details, in case the paterfamilias discovers this post).
I love a bargain, and finding something really useful for 99p gives me a thrill of a hunter.

A few weeks ago 99p has challenged the bloggers to spend a tenner at their store and blog about it.

My favourite section is the gardening one. I always find something new to buy for our garden.
This summer I set myself a goal to save our red currants from the birds, who are more ruthless than the hordes of Tamerlaine, not only they pick the red currants' berries, they manage to break the branches and leave a trace of destruction.
For the last couple of years I only used the netting, and the birds laughed at me hysterically, they basically had a feast despite the netting over the red and black currants.

Building a walk-in cage is out of question. But I had a cunning plan (like Baldrick from Blackadder), and wrapped a fleece around the netting.

Thus my red currants were safe. That's 99p well spent (actually there are 2 fleeces over the red currant bush, so that would be £1.98). We had a real bounty this year, and I made lots of jars of red currant jelly and also put several boxes of berries in the freezer.

Gardening gloves and wire garden edging - more useful finds for our favourite hobby.

Eddie picked a lovely little bucket to play in his sandpit, and oh boy, didn't he spend hours this summer, digging and playing in the sand?!

Digging and building the sand castles is all fab for a sunny day. But what would you do on a typical English summer day, when it's raining? Well, what about a good old film or two with popcorn for the full monty?

Eddie has picked a couple of DVDs: "The wonderful world of nursery rhymes" starring Lynda Bellingham and "The happy birthday DVD" narrated by the same lovely lady. We would watch it together and sing along to the favourite nursery rhymes. Eddie has been very sympathetic to the hero of "How many days to my birthday?", as he is exactly like Danny. He started asking when his next birthday was as soon as his 3rd birthday was over back in July.

What are the other treats that we found in the shop? Eddie is very partial to Hartley's jelly, and it typically retails at 45p+, while in 99p shop we get 3 little tubs for less than a pound. And occasionally, when we are lucky to find them, we treat ourselves to Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs. And we often stash on Kitkats and Randoms (Sasha's favourites) there too.

And as a tea lover and a collector of tins, I was delighted to find this fab little Twinings tin (with tea inside).

So, what do you think of our haul? Would you have spent a tenner wiser?

Disclosure: I received £10 worth of 99p store vouchers to spend as we like, alas, I might have shown the Russian currency in the local store, they had no idea how to process them, so the vouchers haven't been used for the purposes of this post.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Just Add range of squeezy tubes

I'm a busy Mum, and holidays are always a pretty hectic time for me, when both of my guys are at home and demand my attention. I'm not the biggest fan of takeaways or ready-made meals and prefer to cook most of our meals from scratch. As I don't want to compromise on taste or quality, I appreciate the shortcuts which allow me to spend less time in the kitchen and still prepare decent dishes. Just Add range of squeezy tubes consists of squeezy Ginger, Coriander, Basil, Chilli, Garlic and Sun Dried Tomato and is available from ASDA and OCADO.

I do grow my own herbs and have a chilli plant in the greenhouse. The problem with the chilli I have is it is pretty hot, so even one chilli turns the meals into a fire-eating experience. What do you do? use only half a chilli? The answer might be to use just the right amount of chilli paste from Just Add tube, it allows you to measure exactly as much as you like it to be. Some like it hot. Some, like me, are wimps and prefer a milder flavour.

And if you want to spend more time enjoying the garden or reading to your kids, "Just Add removes the fiddly task of chopping when cooking meaning that you can simply reach for the squeezy tube or one shot sachet to add your desired taste sensation".
The choice of squeezy tubes allows you to cook a wide selection of dishes, from many world cuisines.
Just perfect for a fuss free meal, full of flavours.

Pasta with clams is one of my most favourites types of pasta. Typically I would chop the fresh herbs like parsley or coriander, add the chopped garlic or onion and sometimes a bit of a chilli too (see my previous post Pasta with clams and sea beet). This time I was testing the squeezy tubes, using them instead of the fresh herbs.

Italian pasta recipe

Pasta with clams
spaghetti (75-100g dry pasta per person)
clams (about 250g per person)
2tsp Just Add coriander
1tsp Just Add garlic
1tsp Just Add chilli
a handful of baby tomatoes
salt, pepper
80ml white wine

The other day I bought a bottle of Sicilian wine Inycon Terre Siciliane Fiano 2012. Having treated myself to a set of Montalbano books, I really fancied a bit of a Sicilian wine for dinner (we also had a guest coming). To be honest, I expected more from a bottle priced at £7.79. It was OKish but rather boring and totally forgettable. But it was fine for cooking. If you cook pasta with clams, choose a nice dry white wine.
Anyway, as usual, I digress.
Cook the clams in a deep pan (wash them first and check if they are all broken, if you find any broken shells, discard them.). Add the coriander, chilli and garlic and pour in the white wine. Scatter a few baby tomatoes around. Add the salt. Cook until all the clams are open (to speed up the cooking, you might put the lid on the pan). If any clams remain closed, discard them.
Cook the spaghetti as specified on the pack in the salted boiling water, it should still be al dente. Drain the pasta and mix it well with the clams in their sauce. Serve immediately.
Do not add any parmesan if you want an authentic flavour.

I have been enjoying "The snack thief" by Andrea Camilleri, and laughed aloud reading the scene when Montalbano has lunch with his second-in-command Mimi Augello:
"When the spaghetti arrived, Montalbano had fortunately finished his hake. Fortunately, because Mimi proceeded to sprinkle a generous helping of Parmesan cheese over his plate. Christ! Even a hyena, which, being a hyena, feeds on carrion, would have been sickened to see a dish of pasta with clam sauce covered with Parmesan!" (The Snack Thief, page 33)

I laughed because I think in the past I have committed the same "crime". Mea culpa.

If you have fresh herbs like parsley or coriander, scatter a few torn leaves on top.

Taste-wise, it was really good. Looks-wise, I think I would still like to see the freshly chopped herbs. Just Add squeezy herbs were a good substitute for the fresh herbs and delivered a flavourful meal, and it was completely fuss-free too.
Another recipe that might inspire you to try Just Add squeezy tubes is
Chicken with kohlrabi and fennel

As I mentioned more than once on my blog, I am often having only a vague idea of what I am going to cook for dinner, it rather depends on what I have at my disposal or what catches my eye when I go shopping. I saw this pretty purple kohlrabi in Waitrose on offer, and got it for the chicken dish.

Chicken with kohlrabi and fennel
4 chicken thighs
1 kohlrabi (a turnip could be a good substitute), chopped
1 fennel bulb, sliced
2 medium carrots
1 garlic bulb, divided into cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
2tbsp Just Add basil
1tbsp Just Add coriander
a handful of baby tomatoes
salt, pepper
1tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Chop all the veg. In a big tray place the chicken thighs and all the chopped veg. Scatter the tomatoes and garlic cloves. In a small bowl mix the oil, Just Add herbs, lemon juice and salt with pepper. Pour in the tray over the chicken and veg, mix well, all the pieces should be coated evently.
Place the tray in the oven preheated to 180C and cook for about 45mins-1 hour. Stir all the veg and chicken a couple of times when they are cooking, so that the food is browned evenly. Check that the chicken is cooked through with a wooden skewer.
If you don't have a kohlrabi or fennel, substitute with a turnip and a big onion, or add parsnips as well as baby potatoes. The choice is yours.
Just Add herbs add a lovely flavour to this easy dish.

You could add the squeezy herbs to all sorts of dips and sauces.

Carrot and orange soup
3 medium carrots
2tbsp red lentils
1 orange (juice)
1 small potato
1 vegetable stock cube
2tbsp Greek style yogurt (e.g. Chobani)
1tbsp Just Add Coriander

Roughly chop the carrots and put them in the medium sized pan with the chopped potato and red lentils. Add the stock cube as well, and a bit of salt if you want. Squeeze the juice of 1 orange and add to the soup. Once the carrot is cooked, blitz the soup until it is consistently creamy.
In a small bowl mix the plain yogurt with Just Add coriander (basil would work as well). When you serve the soup, add a generous dollop of the yogurt-coriander mix to the soup.
Very easy, light, low calorie and delightfully satisfying. All the flavours sing together, and the touch of yougurt with coriander adds a lovely sour and herby note to the sweet soup.

To find our more about this range, look at Just Add Facebook page.

Disclosure: I received a selection of Just Add Squeezy Tubes for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions and recipe suggestions are mine.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Debunking myths about parenting children with special needs: #ThisIsMyChild Campaign

I am not a frequent user of Mumsnet, I have registered there a while ago, but hardly ever pop in there (not because I have any personal issues with any of the mumsnetters but because I couldn't find much of an affinity, which is probably my fault as I haven't tried hard enough to socialise). However, their latest campaign #ThisIsMyChild which is debunking the myths about children with special myths is something I feel very passionate about.

As a parent of a special needs child, I have had my share of unpleasantness, mainly the stares and unsolicited advice from people who do not understand my son's condition. Autism is not a visible disability, as my son looks the same as his neuro-typical peers.

We - parents of special needs children - almost take pride in acquiring a tough armour of steel which should withstand the onslaught of malicious comments and evil looks, but this suit of armour is unevenly patched, and is easily pierced through by an unkind word.
It still hurts when people say You're a bad parent or Your child is a spoilt brat, or even with a pseudo-sympathy in their voice It must be so hard for you, why don't you send him to a boarding school?

We are human, and we are vulnerable to negativities.
Please keep that in mind when you see a child having a meltdown, or flapping his arms agitatedly. You don't have to offer any help. A smile of encouragement would be plenty. As long as you don't criticise or move away with a look of disgust as if it is contagious.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

To find out more about the campaign please visit the page Myths about parenting children with special needs.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Sasha's selfies: a glimpse in the silent world of autism

The other day I mentioned the splendid book "The reason I jump" written by a Japanese young man with autism Naoki Higashida and introduced & translated by David Mitchell. This book should be on the must-read list of books for all professionals working with autistic children. I thought I knew enough about autism, having read extensively on the subject and from a personal experience of having a son on the spectrum but in many ways this book was an introduction to a different perception of life.

It is a fascinating account of what it is to live with a challenging condition.

One of the questions Naoki asks himself is "When you look at something, what do you see first?" Reading his answer for me is like reading the mind of my own son, who is non verbal and cannot tell me, but I feel it is very close to how he perceives the world:
"When you see an object, it seems that you see it as an entire thing first, and only afterwards do its details follow on. But for people wit autism, the details jump straight out at us first of all, and then only gradually, detail by detail, does the whole image sort of float up into focus"


"When a colour is vivid or a shape is eye-catching, then that's the detail that claims our attention, and then our hearts kind of drown in it, and we can't concentrate on anything else".
That's exactly how my son Sasha sees the world around him, the details take over and claim his attention.

The whiteness of the ceiling and corners (cottage in Cornwall)

Patterns and shapes at home

"Every single thing has its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it's a kind of blessing given to us". How very true, and how poetic. I do believe it is a blessing and a talent to see the beauty in mundane things. We are so often in a hurry that we don't notice that the most simple things could be interesting enough to stop for a second and look at them.

A fluffy rug in the bathroom is a worthy object of attention (cottage in Cornwall)

Unlike most of the neuro-typical teenagers and pre-teens, Sasha is totally unaware of the celebrity culture and its trends, so I cannot say he has been influenced by the latest craze of selfies created daily by the minor celebs and big-time stars. He simply tries to figure out what and who he is. His ipad is his best friend and a tool of communication. He doesn't share his photos on Instagram, he doesn't even show them to us. It is for us to discover which new images appear on his ipad. It is not the vanity that makes him take the numerous portraits of himself. He is rewriting himself, it is his way of talking to us about what he feels and thinks.

These are all recent selfies taken during our week in Cornwall

Who am I? What am I? Can you understand what's going on inside my mind?

I wasn't aware that Sasha was taking my photos (cottage in Cornwall)

I have written about Sasha's photos and how the discovery of the huge amount of his photos on the ipad allowed me to have a glimpse in his inner world (see my post The fragmented world of Sasha). There are hundreds of photos taken by Sasha, mostly of the everyday objects, an inanimate world. He would take a dozen of images of an object, as if saying: "This is a cup. Look at it! Have you actually looked at it the way I do?"
His images speak to me of an insightful inquisitive mind, a kind soul with an appreciative eye for beauty.
A glimpse in the silent world of autism.

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Friday, 16 August 2013

Turkey cutlets

British turkey is a real superfood and a great choice for your everyday meals. It is a versatile food that could be used in a multitude of tasty dishes, from wraps to stir fry, from pasta to the turkey curry (I must admit the words "turkey curry" always makes me smile and think of Bridget Jones and her Mum's annual turkey buffet, I can just see her saying "Yummy, turkey curry, my favourite!"). To prove that turkey should not be relegated to a once-a-year meal at Christmas time, the British Turkey are challenging the bloggers to come up with everyday turkey recipes.
And here is my recipe for Turkey cutlets (actually it's my Mum's recipe, and is our family favourite).

Turkey cutlets
500g minced turkey (breast)
200g cooked rice
1 egg
1 small onion, finely chopped
salt, pepper
a generous handful of herbs: mint, basil, parsley
a few spring onions
pinch of paprika
2 carrots
a handful of green grapes
3-4 tbsp rapeseed oil

First cook the rice (you will need about 200g of cooked rice) and let it cool.
In a deep bowl mix the minced turkey with the finely chopped onion, egg, ice and herbs, season well, and using your hands, shape the cutlets (they should be bigger than the meatballs and oval-shaped rather than round).

Fry in a deep frying pan until golden on both sides (about 10 minutes) with the rapeseed oil, add the sliced carrots, spring onions and grapes, lower the heat and cook for another 15 minutes.
Serve with the roast baby potatoes.

The cutlets would keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

If you love cooking with British turkey, do you fancy being crowned British Turkey Blogger of the Year 2013 and receive £200 of vouchers to spend at your chosen supermarket? If the answer is yes, hurry to enter the British Turkey Blogger Recipe competition (link removed as expired).
Two non-meat Red Tractor approved ingredients in my dish are carrots and onion (+ rapeseed oil).

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Swimming with the dolphins: one can dream

I have recently read a truly remarkable book "The reason I jump" written by Naoki Higashida who is severly autistic. Naoki gives an insight of what it is to be autisic. One of the chapters in the book answers the question "Why do you like being in the water?" Naoki gives a poetic explanation:
"In the water it's so quiet and I'm so free and happy there. Nobody hassles us in the water, and it's as if we've got all the time in the the water we can really be at one with the pulse of time...
People with autism have no freedom. The reason is that we are a different kind of human, born with primeval senses. We are outside the normal flow of time, we can't express ourselves, and our bodies are hurtling us through life. If only we could go back to that distant watery past - then we'd be able to live as contentedly and as freely as you lot!"
As every chapter is exploring the inside world of an autistic person, I draw parallels with my own son, 11-year-old Sasha who has autsim. He is at his happiest by the sea, and I do believe he feels at home there, he is not scared of the waves, he is enthralled by its vastness.

Sasha worshipping the sea in Cornwall

For many years I have been toying with an idea of taking Sasha to Florida to swim with the dolphins.

I do not believe in miracle cures, and do not imagine my son would suddenly start to speak, having encountered the dolphins. But he loves the sea so much, that I believe swimming with the dolphins would provide him with the unforgettable, one-in-a-lifetime experience. Bonding with a big air-breathing mammal will definitely be an emotional experience. In the past, when we took Sasha to the London Aquarium, he was happy to spend hours watching the fish (while I was yawning with boredom). He seemed to be fascinated by the slow motion and the shapes in the water. This kind of experience is a sensory one for him, he is calm and happy.

BritMums' recent question: "What would you do if you won the lottery (specifically £20,000)?", made me think that if I were lucky to win £20,000, I would book a family trip to Key Largo, Florida and take my guys swimming with the dolphins.
Yes, £20,000 could be probably wiser spent on the house improvements, my kitchen is very dated, and would need at least £10,000 to improve it by getting rid of all the old-fashioned decor and units.

But you cannot put a price on your child's happiness. I would choose to take them to a magical place where they would be free and content.

Eddie in Cornwall

This post is an entry for BritMums #Spend20K Challenge sponsored by The National Lottery, with more ways to win more money on the new Lotto game. Find out more about new Lotto, which starts in October, here –

DMD Digital Ear Thermometer for Baby, Children & Adults

When we go travelling, it's usually my task to pack the suitcases and prepare for any eventuality. It is always a good idea to carry a First Aid Kit with you and the medication you think you might need in case of any emergency. 
We have a digital ear thermometer for kids, but it is not very compact, so just before we left for Cornwall in July I have bought a small size DMD Digital ear thermometer for baby, children and adults. Luckily we didn't have to test it on our holidays. But for the last couple of weeks, with my husband being unwell, the little thermometer was used daily. And of course, my little copycat Eddie expects me to check his temperature too.

What are the product specifications?
- It is quick and easy to use, suitable for babies, children and adults
- accurately takes temperature with no need for tip covers
- keep an accurate record of your temperature
- measures in both Celsius and Farenheit
- comes in a protective storage case

I don't know if we were more patient as children, I remember those thermometers that my Mum used to put under my arm when I was poorly as a child, and we had to wait for 5 minutes to check the temperature. There is no way any of my two tearaways would lie still for 5 minutes to endure it. 

The digital technology allows you to do it in an instant, which is great. It is really very easy and fast.
The thermometer is very compact and is really handy to carry inside your First Aid kit when you travel.
Unlike with many other digital thermometers, you don't need to bother with disposable probe covers between each and every measurement, just clean the tip after each use.
If you need to keep a record of the measurements, the digital thermometer allows you to keep a temperature history up to 10 readings.
The little gadget comes with the batteries included. Apparently it will take over 2000 readings before we'll need a new battery (that I don't know yet, hence my choice of the word "apparently").
What else should I mention?
The thermometer switches the power off automatically after a minute of inactivity to save the power usage. 
It comes in a handy little pouch to keep it secure and clean.

Are you planning to travel with your children? Don't forget  a compact digital ear thermometer.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Liquid gold: Clarks honey

We eat lots of honey here, I don't know if it's thanks to my Russian origins (my husband claims he got addicted to tea with honey when he was in high school in Canada) but my kitchen always has a supply of different honeys. British honeys could easily compete with the honeys from all over the world. Honey is a tasty accompaniment to pancakes, blini, crumpets, it transforms the salad dressings, glaze, sauce, and is perfect for both sweet and savoury dishes. Clarks It! has created a new simple design for its Clear Honey.

Pancakes and honey, a marriage made in heaven

If you are a fan of Clarks maple syrup, you are familiar with their iconic splat design. This idea has been extended to a new design for Clarks honey: a flying bee over a flower. A clean striking design, deceptively simple and clear on the message that it contains British honey.
The brand is actively supporting the British Bee Farmers in its policy of blending the British honey.
Clarks think it is important to use a higher quantity of British honey, using 15% British honey - more than any other brand.
What makes Clarks different?
I was astonished to read that 90% of honey we consume is imported to the UK, most of it comes from Asia (80%). The British honey is pretty expensive. If you visit the farmers' market, you might have sighed at the prices. Saying that, I do want to support the local bee keepers and buy a few jars every time I have a chance to stumble upon the farmers' market.
Most of the honey-producing brands blend cheap Chinese and European honey, but are rather economic with the truth, saying it is a blend of EC and non-EC honeys.
I would love to know more about what I am buying, and welcome Clarks' initiative to include a more expensive British honey in the blend.
I would also love them to be more specific about the origins of the blend (it says on the jar "A blend of EC and non-EC honeys").
According to CEO and founder Bob Clark: "We realised that no one else produces a blended honey that contains British honey and we saw a great opportunity to be first to market. It was crucial that we had a brand and design that would stand out on shelf against the established players and communicate to consumers that they were getting British honey how they like it, clear and runny".

Runny honey changes a simple dish of porridge into a delightful treat.
My guys love their tea with a spoonful of honey. My husband adds it to his muesli or granola every morning. How about drizzling it over a fruit salad? Delicious!

Honey is a versatile ingredient. It adds a touch of sweetness and depth of flavours to a meat or fish dish.
Honey and soy sauce glazed salmon

And if you are feeling under the weather, have you tried a cup of hot milk with a spoonful of honey?

More recipes using honey:
Honey cake with walnuts and mascarpone
Honey cake with prunes and soured cream

For more information visit Clarks Honey UK

Disclosure: I received a breakfast hamper from Clarks (see the top image). All opinions are mine.