Thursday, 30 May 2013

Secret garden - Girls party

If you are looking for inspiration for a summer birthday party, a secret garden theme is magical!
It helps if you have or can borrow a large garden that you can have different areas for play, eating etc

Start with handwritten invitations on vintage paper & attach an old key (to the gate of the secret garden!)

Decorate your garden with paper pom poms.

Add a petal walk way

Have a special dining table or picnic blankets hidden in a corner of the garden. A gazebo may be needed for unpredictable weather.

Serve hampers with home made lemonade served in jam jars, 
dainty  sandwiches, macaroons & mini cupcakes decorated with 
seed packets & vegetables.
Decorate dining area with jars of wild flowers, peonies & roses.

Create areas for creative play.

Entertain the children with a scavenger hunt or hide paper butterflies for them to find. Provide skipping ropes & hula hoops. Pinatas are also fantastic hung from a tree.

Gift bags could be plant pots with gardening tools & seeds or personalised butterfly wings.

The possibilities are endless depending on budget.

Photos courtesy of pinterest`

Anna x

Friday, 24 May 2013


I love photo booths, but really who doesn't. I will say that I am only a fan of the older ones with the black and white film that come out looking grainy and sometimes a little over or under exposed. 
If you are hiring one for a party think about what props will work with the guests you have invited. Photobooths work well with all ages.

Buy photo props here and here.

For a bit of online fun, try La photocabine a cute website with an old school, french photo booth generator. 

Update: Saw this blog post about creating your own photo booth.

Anna x

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Instant pops

After we have finally had some sunny days, my boys have started to ask for my homemade ice pops.
I use a Zoko pop maker to make them within 7 minutes.

You just keep the maker in the freezer and just take it out when you want to make pops. 
You can layer smoothies, fruit juice and yoghurts to make some tasty combinations.
I use up leftover homemade yoghurt and add fruit coulis. Healthy and delicious!

Anna x

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Quiet boxes

When I have jobs to do, the weathers bad or just have whiny kids, I bring out a quiet box I have made to entertain the boys. I keep them on a shelf in the garage, out of the way so they don't get used all the time!
I save shoe boxes & in each create an activity which is age appropriate & doesn't require to much parental assistance.

Each box needs to have everything required for the activity including paper, scissors, glue etc. 
Its an idea to pop in picture instructions for little ones.
I then label the boxes & put them away until needed. 
I pick up cheap craft items & stationary supplies from cheap high street stores. 
Budget around £2 to £3 per box. Much cheaper than a kids magazine!
We currently have boxes containing card making, origami, paper cutting, lego (with pictures of what to make) & finger painting with stamps.

Some activities are fun & some promote learning & dexterity.
The key is to make it obvious what they need to create or do in each box.
Enjoy your quiet time..

Anna x

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Making yoghurt

When I was little my mum used to make the most amazing homemade yoghurt. I started making it myself about 18 months ago when I was going through a frugal phase. I use a yoghurt maker that I bought in a sale. You do not need one but I personally prefer it as the jars are a perfect size.

For the raw ingredients I use a whole or jersey milk & a live or bio yoghurt. 
My preferred brand is Longley farm but thats probably because I can see the dairy farm out of my kitchen window. 
Hows that for supporting local farmers!

Before starting make sure everything is scrupulously clean.
You will need 1 litre of milk & a small tub of active natural yoghurt.
Put the milk in a heavy bottomed pan & heat to 85°c. I use a jam thermometer. Let it cool to 43°c (you can stir the milk over an ice bath to speed this up) & whisk in the yoghurt. If milk is too hot when yoghurt is added it will kill the much needed cultures.
At this stage you can stir in 2 tbsp of milk powder if you prefer a thicker consistency.

I then pour the mixture into jars, put machine lid on & leave for at least 10 hours. I tend to leave mine between 12 & 14 hours. 
When ready pop the jar lids on & refrigerate for a couple of hours before eating.

If you haven't got a yoghurt maker here is an alternative method.

Heat oven to 200°c, then turn off. 
Fill jars with mixture, seal & let sit in a oven for 8 hours.
You will want to heat the oven to 200°c again after 4 hours & then turn off.

Do not disturb the yoghurt

After 8 hours, remove from oven & put in refrigerator until completely cool.

I usually start the process in the morning, put jars in fridge overnight & enjoy fresh home made yoghurt for breakfast.

I always make plain yoghurt & add flavourings before serving.

Our favourites are stewed strawberries, blueberries, honey & granola


Anna x

Monday, 13 May 2013


Some instagram photos from our recent glamping trip
We stayed at Wyresdale park
We had an amazing if not very cold trip.

It was a real boys adventure..

Anna x

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Cupcakes in a jar

Recipe for cupcake jar mentioned here

  • 240g plain flour
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 80g unsalted butter, at room temperature

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt & butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) & beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency & everything is combined.
Pop in a kilner jar & decorate with a ribbon, wooden spoon & some cupcake cases.

Instructions for baking:- preheat oven to 190c,375f or gas mark 5. Whisk together 240ml whole milk & 2 eggs. 
Add to cupcake mixture & stir. 
Fill cupcake cases & bake for 25 minutes. 
You could also include a recipe for buttercream frosting.

For best results use within 5 days.

Different flavours:- Add to the jar one of the following
  • 30g cocoa
  • 50g freeze dried strawberries or raspberries
  • 30g chocolate chips
  • Half a vanila pod
NB:Will make this soon & add some photos

Woodland walk

Today was wet, windy but warm. The not so perfect weather for an afternoon nature walk through the woods.
We took a flask of hot ribena & some biscuits to share as a reward for getting to the stream.
We got to visit the lambs on the way back too.

They were as wet as we were!

Anna x

A new start

I thought I would share with you my sons recent 5th birthday party as my first blog post.
 He is an avid fan of Ben 10 but as we wanted to invite the whole reception class I wanted to make the theme more appealing to the girls. 

A "create your own alien theme" was chosen.


 : created simple invitations using finger paints & letter stamps that B could help with 
(we made a few a night for a week)

: cooked trays of lasagne & macaroni cheese for the kids & dip platters for the adults

: used shot glasses to provide individual mini salads
(example above)

 : constructed table decorations out of green water beads, submersible tea lights & jam jars

:designed a table consisting of black tablecloths, lime green tableware & black napkins with personalised paper napkin rings

:blew up light up balloons and drew on alien faces with a sharpie                                 
(see notes for a cheaper version)

:built space ships for party bags (see tutorial)

:was left with one ecstatic little boy

 As there were over 30 children plus parents I hired a specialist entertainment company,
 the party hosts were the REAL Ben 10 & Gwen
(well not really but don't tell B that..)
It left me time to enjoy the party (and a glass of wine).
All the children arrived in their "create their own alien" costume & enjoyed 1.5 hours entertainment, party food, alien cupcakes, finishing with an hour of dancing (running around!)to their favourite music.

Tutorial:- UFO party bags

Let kids decorate silver  plastic bowls with  washi tape. Before taping them together, fill with treats. Be sure to add the little commander of the ship. I topped it with a domed lid 

Notes:- Alien light up balloons

Light up balloons are expensive and I have since thought of a cheaper way to do this project. Buy alien balloons and pop a glow stick inside before you blow it up.

Hope you enjoyed reading xx

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Gift ideas

Over the last few years I have been looking for presents for my sons friends that are suitable for a small budget but don't end up in the bin after a week. I truly believe that a little time spent on a present means much more than picking the first thing you see at the right price.
(we have all done that!!!!!)
I always think that approximately £10 is a suitable amount to spend on a classmate for their birthday.

  • DIY camp kit - a few old sheets, pegs, clamps, torch, essential food rations & a box or trunk to pack it all in. These items are better second hand as they are going to get roughed up! Make a label explaining whats in the box with a few instructions.. not too many as this pressie is all about their imagination.
  • Butterfly / Stick insect kit - kits with a pre paid coupon to send off for the caterpillars or eggs so they can watch them grow. get the kit here or here
  • Make you own cookie / cupcake kit - grab a Kilner jar, add dry ingredients for cookies or cupcakes with instructions on what to add (liquid ingredients) & how to bake, then tie a wooden spoon to the lid. If you want to be really extravagant add some cupcake cases & some sugar craft or rice paper toppers. Don't forget to add an expiry date (usually 2 weeks without butter, 5 days with - recipe tomorrow!)
  • Origami book with paper_ maybe decorate wrapping with your child's origami. This book is tried and tested in our house.
  • Art basket - buy seperate but cheap art items to make an awesome box of fun. Think what your child likes when it comes to put this together. There are plenty of shops that offer craft items from 50p. Pop the items in a plain cardboard box & get your kids to decorate it.. much better than wrapping paper.
  • Seed box - provide everything for a child to grow their own flowers or food. Include seeds, compost, seed trays, plant markers & advice or instructions on how to grow.
  • Stamps - putting together a stamp kit takes a bit of looking around. Kits are unreasonably expensive but shop around for individual stamps & ink pads. (better to follow a theme!)It  is much cheaper & much more personal for the child. Craft shops have so many cheap themed stamps that it feels a shame to buy a kit with generic stamps. Think outside the box! Look at facial expressions that can be tied in with finger painting,(those ink pads have all sorts of uses..) as well as interest of the child.
  • Playdough - I am not talking about shop bought, but home made with different cutters & tools to suit the child. This is a great recipe for playdough.
  • Lego set - Not the packaged I am going to make a motorbike set. I am talking about a box of bricks from which anything can be made. Second hand is cool if it is super cleaned before giving (nobody wants dribble germs). Add a base plate and all sorts can be made.
Will add to this list in the future but now going to leave you with a picture of my last minute tent kit from bank holiday weekend. My boys ate their breakfast of pancakes & hot chocolate in the den!(instagram photo)

Anna x

Hot versus cold

I have always gone to kids parties that have served sandwiches, cocktail sausages, biscuits, weak cordial (play gym party anyone?) for the birthday tea & always brought my boys home in various levels of sugar induced hyper activity.
I now believe that a mainly sugar free party is the way forward to stop tears & tantrums at the end of the party. 

 Individual packed lunches are quite a cool idea. Disposable bento boxes are compartmentalised so you can provide different items without separate dishes.

Ideas for cold food boxes

*Chicken satay skewers                 

*Pea & Ham rice                      
*Noodle salad                               
*Samosa / Falafel / Spring roll
*Tuna & sweetcorn pasta             

*Smoked salmon blinis              
*Dips & crudites                        
*Cheese & crackers                      

*Fruit Kebabs                           
*Mini doughnuts
*Home made Jelly oranges        
*Dried fruit

More ideas in this book.


Tray baked food can be pre cooked & frozen weeks in advance, defrosted & heated just before the party. Easy accompaniments are corn on the cob (pre cook & cover with hot water to reheat), crusty bread & jacket potatoes (wrapped in foil to keep them warm till needed).

Ideas for Hot food 

*Pasta bake                                     

*Shepherds pie                      
*Pulled pork
*Chicken wings / fried chicken        
*Home made soup                  
*Nachos / Quesadillas
*Estofado (see recipe)                      
*Chicken milanese                  
*Arancini (risotto balls)
*Cheese chilli wedges              
*Meatballs / burgers                         
*Homemade pizzas                  
*Pie / Quiche

Recipe for Estofado (Spanish beef stew topped with crispy potatoes)
Serves 4

  • 6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 500g stewing beef
  • 250g carrots peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 3 tomatoes skinned and chopped
  • 1 small tin of peas or a handful of fresh peas
  • 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of flour
  • 500g of potatoes peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 wineglass of white wine
  • 250ml of beef stock
  • 150ml of water
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • saffron 

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large, flameproof cooking pot. Put the meat in the hot oil & brown.
In a small frying pan heat another 2 tbsp oil, add the onion & garlic, fry for about 5 minutes. Add the flour & paprika, fry for 5 minutes being careful not to burn this mix.
Add the onion mix to the meat pot, add the white wine, stock & water & bring to the boil. Cook this for about an hour & a half.
Add the carrots, chopped tomatoes & a little saffron.

When stew is ready keep on a low heat while you cook the potatoes.
Cook potatoes in boiling salted water for 3 minutes, then drain.
Using the rest of the oil fry the chunks of potato until crispy, keep stiring the pan to prevent burning.
To serve:- put the crispy potatoes on top of the thickened stew & serve with yoghurt.