Saturday, 28 June 2014

How to make an elephant birthday cake

My youngest, Little W, is 2 tomorrow. So I decided to make him a birthday cake. I'm not a natural domestic goddess. My mother has never cooked and I took German instead of home economics at school. But I've always really wanted to make my children's birthday cakes by myself.

For E's 2nd birthday, my friend helped me make a Makka Pakka cake, but W has barely seen 'In The Night Garden' because his older siblings generally monopolise the TV viewing schedule with football or Tom and Jerry.

I considered making a George Pig or 'Curious George' cake, but I thought simpler might be better. There's nothing more disappointing than over ambition. W's bedroom has a safari theme and on recent trips to the zoo, he has been really excited to see the 'Elants', so I decided on an elephant cake. What could go wrong? Well, for a change, not much really.

I started by baking a 20cm chocolate sponge following a recipe from the BBC Good Food website

Then I got brave and went off piste.

I ignored the bits about icing the cake and just mixed together some butter, icing sugar and cocoa powder, which I used to sandwich together the two pieces of sponge and then to cover the cake as a base for the roll-out icing.

I had a packet of white roll-out icing. I had looked for grey, but hadn't been able to find any, but the lovely Carole, from Carole's Cup Cakes in Teignmouth, gave me a small chunk of black, which I kneaded into most of the white to make grey. I kept some white back to make the tusks and eyes. 

Once I achieved the desired shade of grey, I rolled out the icing and laid it over the cake. I cut off the excess and rolled some into a tube to make the trunk, cut two chunks to make the front legs and finally, I rolled out the remainder to make the ears. 

Next it was time to make the tusks from the white I had set aside - made by simply rolling the icing into a thin sausage shape, which I cut in half.

After that it was time for the finishing touches: eyes, eyebrows and toes as well as a few wrinkles in the trunk.

Artistically, I don't think it would win any Women's Institute (WI) awards,but I'm pretty proud of it.

I just hope it tastes as good as it looks!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Hats off to the meerkats

With the realisation that these are the last few weeks I will spend with little B before the summer holidays and starting school in September, we've been busy making the most of our days.

This week, we've mainly been at the zoo: Paignton Zoo on Monday and Exmoor Zoo on Wednesday. And the biggest boy didn't miss out as he went on a school trip to Shaldon Zoo on Tuesday.

The highlight of all the zoo trips was when B lost her hat in the meerkat enclosure at Paignton Zoo. She was leaning over the wall to get a better look at her favourite animals when her hat fell off. Cue - wailing and tears until I promised her I would find a zookeeper to get it back. While we waited for the friendly and helpful zookeeper, we had lots of fun watching the meerkats explore the invader in their enclosure. They adults nipped at the bright pink hat and the baby meerkat climbed in, rolled onto its back and began wiggling around having great fun.

We were also lucky enough, at Paignton Zoo, to witness a peacock show off his beautiful fan tail right in front of us. Which we all thought was an amazing spectacle.

Baby W, who will be 2 at the weekend also loved the trips. He enjoyed pointing to the different animals and naming them. His vocabulary is really coming on now. "Look, Bebra.", "Elant", "Raffe".


So - how would I rate the zoos? 

Paignton Zoo is fab - it's huge and has a massive variety of animals. We were excited to get a glimpse of the new male lion, although we weren't sure what has happened to the females at the moment. What I love about Paignton is that it really is different every time we go (we have an annual pass). We generally don't have time to see everything in one trip, so we tend to visit different parts each time. Plus, even though the enclosures are pretty big, you usually manage to see the animals. There is also a massive soft play area (which we didn't visit this time) and lots of outdoor play areas.

This week was our first trip to Exmoor Zoo. We travelled up to meet a good friend of mine who was on holiday nearby. It's smaller than Paignton, but the layout means you can easily explore without getting lost. The meerkat enclosure is brilliant with glass cut into the wall and steps up over the wall, with a glass surround to prevent small children losing their hats! But in other parts of the zoo, the enclosures are developed to mimic the animals' habitat and we struggled to see some of the animals who were hiding. We even struggled to see the penguins. One of the brilliant things about Exmoor is that the keepers often go out and visit schools and groups with some of the animals with some very 'hands on' presentations. For the children, the best part, apart from the meerkats, was the playground - it's massive and has plenty of slides and stuff to climb on. Baby W was up and down the cargo netting like a little monkey.

My biggest boy, E, really enjoyed his trip to Shaldon Zoo. He was most excited about being able to feed the meerkats. He also loved completing the worksheet as he went round the exhibits. 

We've been hit by rain now, so next week's excursions will probably be more indoor based.

Monday, 16 June 2014

No more 'mummy milk' when she starts school?

Over the weekend my 3 year old (nearly 4 as she often reminds me) announced that when she starts school she will stop having 'mummy milk'.

The statement came completely out of the blue and threw me a bit. I mean, she can go for a couple of days without nursing, but then some days, she seems to be permanently attached.

I've always said I'd let her self-wean, but I never actually knew what 'self-weaning' would look like or feel like. I always assumed that the nursing sessions would get fewer and farther between and that eventually I'd notice that it had been a month with no nursing and that she'd gently and naturally weaned. I didn't expect her to be consciously thinking about the end of our nursing days.

Part of me wonders if she's picked up on the negativity around older children nursing. Comments made by about 'curing her' and 'she doesn't still need that' and 'you're not a baby are you?' (one of those comments was even made by me in a moment of nursing aversion). Or perhaps she's just picked up on our cultural norms. Or maybe she's being a typical nearly four year old and asserting her independence and responsibility of being a 'big girl' now.

For me, I'm partly relieved that there may be an end in sight. I've been tandem feeding for practically two years now and while it has mostly been rewarding it has, at times, been tough. But there is a big part of me feeling sadness for the impending loss of our nursing relationship - the end of an era.

Who knows what will happen when she starts school. I had anticipated that she would need to nurse more to cope with the transition. Although she has been attending the pre-school two days a week for the past year, and is excited about starting, she still naps during the day and I expect she will be exhausted and will need to reconnect. I thought that the self-weaning process would start after Christmas once she was settled.

No matter when she self-weans, it's been a thrilling journey and I'm looking forward to finding out exactly how this self-weaning lark actually works.

Have you nursed a school age child? I'd love to hear your experiences. I'd also love to hear self-weaning stories of older children.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Father's Day photo gift for under a fiver

My husband doesn't need more cuff links, socks or ties.

For me, the perfect Father's Day gift is personal and ideally home-made with input from the children.

Unfortunately, I'm not particularly blessed with art and craft talent. But when I saw this idea - photos of three children, each holding a handwritten sign saying 'We', 'Love' and 'Daddy' - on Pinterest, it fitted the bill perfectly. Even better, it cost less than £5 to make. If you have more or fewer children, you can adapt the signs to any message you like.

My 6 year old wrote the signs and we took the photographs using my iPhone. The 6 year old and 3 year old posed beautifully for the photos, but the 23 month old was less co-operative. I tried holding him and the sign while the 6 year old took the photo, but the results were a bit blurry, so I ended up sneaking a quick selfie.

We printed the pictures for less than £2 on the self service machine in 'Boots'. We then bought a frame for £2.99 from the local 'Home Direct' shop.

The children and I are really pleased with the results and I'm pretty sure my husband will love it too. 

I'm sure if I was a better photographer, it might look even more like the example I saw on Pinterest. 

What gifts have you made for Father's Day?