Day Out: Free Half Term Event at Reading Museum {Doodle Tree Trail}

It's half-term! Again! Half-terms have a tricky way of sneaking up on you unexpectedly. You're busy taking the kids to school, picking them up, doing homework, and other school things and then it's half-term and you have to plan all these things! I don't know about your children, but my two are now used to a routine and struggle with not being told what to do next.

That means it's up to me to give them suggestions or to take them out! It can be hard to get out and about without spending a lot of money at the movies or indoor play centres. I went looking online at free stuff for kids to do in Reading over the half term and was directed to the museums site.

Now this event was outside, but I thought rain or shine it's a good way to get out of the house for the afternoon. There is only so much baking, crafting, and watching movies parents and children can do!

The event was called the Doodle Tree Trail: discover some extremely special trees in Reading town Centre. It sounded different and interesting so I signed us up!

We started outside of the museum with a fun activity pack that asked us not only about the trees, but included fun facts of the trees or local history!

Trees we saw: 

Hornbeam (carbines betulus)
Judas Tree (circus siliquastrum)
Mulberry (mores nigra)
Maidenhair Tree (ginkgo biloba)
Weeping Willow (sail babylonica)
London Plane (platens xhispanica)
Indian Bean Tree (catalpa bignonioides)

The crew of people who were running the tour were very friendly, informative, and patient with the children... and adults who had questions! My girls seemed to really enjoy it. At 8 and 6 they might not have taken it all in, but they liked walking around the different parts of town we rarely go too and filling out their activity packs along the way.

This tour won't be happening again, unless they get funding, but they will be leaving the activity packs and a map of the tour at the Reading Museum for anyone interested in checking it out! If anything it takes you around the town centre and shows you a bit more then just shops!

I would recommend checking it out if you happen to be in Reading and looking for something a bit different to do! Plus there is so much more to see and explore at the museum as well as hosting other free half-term events!

Find it here:
Reading Museum
The Town Hall
Blagrave Street

notes: all opinions are my own and in no way associated with the Reading Museum - I really enjoy local events and sharing them with my readers, for more information please see my contact/policy page.

Grow Your Own Cake by Holly Farrell {book review}

"Finally, although there is no scientific way of proving it, the satisfaction of eating something you have grown yourself makes it taste 10 times better." - Holly Farrell Grow Your Own Cake

There might not be any scientific proof, but I believe this is 100% true not only when you've grown your own food, but when you've used that grown food in something tasty like a cake or biscuit or pie!

I should start with stating that I am not much of a gardner myself so, the information in the chapter 'In  the Garden' was very inspiring and makes me want to get out some pots and soil and plant my own garden! Since I have yet to start gardening I'll have to hit up my father-in-law or the local farmers market for my ingredients!

The 'In the Kitchen' chapter was a nice refresher, but stated a lot of baking things I already knew.  It's still worth a read through as it's particular to how our author Holly Farrell bakes and therefore essential to know when you try out her recipes.  If this is the part you have less experience in give it a read though it's very informative.

The rest of the book is broken down into seasons, events, puddings, and savoury bakes. These cakes still have sugar, butter, and flour so can't claim to be healthy, but as they are full of fresh ingredients from a garden I'd say they were better then mass produced cakes. 

When I first saw the title I was like here we go carrot cakes and beetroot brownies and though there are recipes for both of those there is so much more! I like how the recipes are basic, practical, and use fresh ingredients. These recipes are a refreshing change from the other baking books I own. 

Overall, as I already said I found this book different from other baking books out there and if you're looking for something a little different then look no further! It's full of lovely full page coloured pictures of plants and baked goods!

Here are a few of the recipes I can't wait to try - just need to get gardening first! 

Gooseberry & Elderflower Cake
Rhubarb Crumble and Custard Cake
Beetroot Cake (Because there isn't any chocolate!)
Sweet Potato & Marshmallow Cake
Toffee Apple Cupcakes (we have an apple tree)
Strawberry & Basil Cupcakes 
Mint Choc-Chip Cupcakes
Chilli Chocolate Mudcake
Fig Tart (I'd love a fig plant!)
Pumpkin Soda Bread
Spinach & Cheese Muffins 

Oh I forgot to mention that in-between the recipes are tidbits about different ingredients and how to grow them. So, right in front of the Gooseberry & Elderflower Cake recipe is a bit on growing gooseberries. Same for the Spinach & Cheese Muffins just before we learn how to make the muffins we learn all about spinach - the best varieties, planting (the when and where), maintaining the plant, and harvesting it. Which I think is great! If all that information was in the intro we the readers would have been overwhelmed! 

Who I would recommend this book too: those with gardens, allotments, green grocers, those who shop at green grocers/farm shops, and those who want to start gardening or baking!

notes: Grown Your Own Cake by Holly Farrell, photographs by Jason Ingram is available now online, from any good booksellers or from the publishers. A copy was provided for me to review by the said publishers Frances Lincoln Ltd. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own. Please see my contact/policy page above for more information. 

Tropical Muesli Muffins

With the weather changing I thought I'd brighten up my favourite muffins recipe with a tropical twist. I used coconut oil in place of the normal sunflower oil and added some desiccated coconut instead of sultanas. Then smooshed up a banana for extra oomph! And it wasn't just any old muesli it was a tropical muesli. One made by Dorset Cereals Simply Fruity Muesli - it has pineapple, papaya, and sultanas.

Normally I wouldn't mention a brand name. Gone are the days when bloggers can just say they like something without someone thinking that they were paid to mention it. So, normally I wouldn't mention the brand I used and keep it neutral; as I did in the ingredients list. I broke my norm this time because I really do value and enjoy the Dorset Cereals product. They have great flavor combinations that work great in these muffins.

Therefore I should say that they have in no way shape or form endorsed this post. Nor given me the product to "review." In fact they are probably not even aware that I am doing so! Unless one of you tells them.

These muffins are good and will make the whole kitchen smell like a tropical island. That might not be 100% accurate as you won't smell the ocean or other outdoor smells - just tropical fruit smells! Like coconut. Mostly coconut.

I suggest eating these by cutting them in half, while still warm, and gently spread a thin layer of butter on each side. With that I give you the recipe ....

Tropical Muesli Muffins

50g self-raising flour
75g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g, tropical muesli, plus extra to top the muffins with
50g desiccated coconut
75g light muscovado sugar
100ml coconut oil
1 egg
150ml milk
1 small ripe banana, smooshed

Heat the oven to 200C and line the cupcake/muffin tin with 9 paper liners.
Sift both of the flours into a mixing bowl and mix in the baking powder, muesli, coconut, and sugar.
In a jug mix the oil, egg, milk, and smooshed banana.
Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and gently mix until just combined.
Divide into the paper cases and sprinkle with extra muesli.
Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately with butter!

notes: find the original muesli muffin post here! Just to reiterate that Dorset Cereals do not endorse this post - for more information see my contact/policy page or have a read of this post I wrote a while back about advertising and my blog!

Mini Chocolate Egg Cookies

Easter candy here in the UK is boring. I’m not saying this to pick a fight or be rude. It’s just all chocolate. Jelly beans aren’t a thing so no big bags of Brach’s jelly beans or Starburst of Jolly Rancher flavoured jelly beans.

Peeps aren’t a thing, I mean I understand why because Peeps are pretty gross. Unless they are like a couple days old and a bit chewy. Even though they aren’t my favorite they are at least something different! The American in me needs variety!

All the UK has is chocolate. Numerous different variations on a plain hollow chocolate egg. Boring. I lie there are hollow chocolate bunnies too. Don’t even get me started on how over hyped and sickly Cadbury Creme Eggs are.

Now that I got that all out of my system I can confess that my one secret Easter indulgence is the mini egg. A solid chocolate egg covered in a candy shell.

It was when I was browsing the seasonal shelfs at my local grocery store chain that I came across micro chocolate eggs. Of course I bought two bags to put into cookies. If you can’t find micro mini eggs then I’d buy the regular ones and bust them up. Busting them up might help take the edge off of the disappointment in the lack of variety of Easter treats.

With added white chocolate chunks, I thought it would complement the pastel colors of the candy coating on the chocolate eggs.

Mini Chocolate Egg Cookies
150g soft unsalted butter
125g soft light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, fridge cold
1 egg yolk, fridge cold
300g flour
½ tsp bicarb of soda
100g white chocolate chunks
200g mini/micro chocolate eggs

Heat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3 and line a baking sheet. Melt the butter and leave to cool while you weigh out the sugars in a big mixing bowl. Then add the melted butter and beat until combined, followed by the vanilla, egg and egg yolk, beat until light and creamy. Add the bicarb to the flour before gently mix in the flour in 3 or 4 parts until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate chunks and mini/micro eggs.
Using an medium ice cream scoop or 1/4 measuring cup scoop out the cookie batter and place on the baking sheet a few inches apart. (keep the batter in the fridge between batches) Bake for 15-17 minutes depending on how chewy you want them to be! They should be a very light brown on top! Cool for a few minutes before eating!

notes: recipe adapted from Nigella’s Kitchen - I entered these cookies into the monthly blogger challenge Treat Petite hosted by The Baking Explorer and Cakeyboi.

Strawberry Tartlets & book review of Tea with Jane Austen by Pen Vogler

If you've read my blog before you'll already know that I am a fan of Jane Austen's work and when I came across this little book titled Tea with Jane  I couldn't resist! Two of my favourite things tea time and Jane Austen.

When I say it's a little book it physically is a bit smaller then the average cookbook and only has 60 or so pages, perfect size to slip inside a bag! Don't let the size fool you, it's packed full of tea time treats inspired by the world of Jane Austen; her work and her life!

My favourite thing about Tea with Jane Austen is that our author Pen Volger includes an old fashion version of the recipe next to the updated recipe - or how we read/write/cook today!

Emma is probably my favorite Austen novel so I had to make the strawberry tartlets! They were, of course, inspired from Emma and the day that Mr. Knightley invited everyone to Donwell Abbey to pick strawberries!

With a baked strawberry custard set in a sweet short crust pastry these would make a great tea time treat or if careful a perfect picnic treat! I would like to think Mr. & Mrs. Knightley would agree!

Strawberry Tartlets

sweet shortcrust pastry:

225g plain flour
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold water

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in large mixing bowl. Add the cubed butter and using your finger tips combine the flour mixture and cold butter cubes until it looks like bread crumbs. You don't want the butter to melt, so be quick and firm when rubbing in the butter. Mix the egg yolk and water together before adding to the flour/butter mixture. Using a knife stir it all together it should form big clumps. Then using your hands bring the dough together. Add water if you need to little by little. No need to knead. Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

strawberry custard:

200g soft or damaged strawberries, hulled
3 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
40g plain flour
300ml milk

Grease 4 tartlet pans or a 9in/22cm tart tin. Heat the oven to 200C and take out the pastry from the fridge. Roll it out to about 1/4 inch or 5 mm thickened line the greased tartlet pans with the pastry. It's okay to leave some of the pastry having over the edge to help with shrinkage. Prick the pastry with a fork. Cover each tart pan with a sheet of grease proof paper and fill with baking beads and blind bake for 10-12 minutes for the tartlets and 15-18 for the tart tin.
Take them out of the oven and remove the paper and the baking beads and place back in the oven for 5 minutes or so.
While they are blind baking boil the milk and leave aside, cover it to keep it warm. Puree the strawberries and leave aside. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together with a whisk, until sugar has dissolved. Shift the flour in a third at a time beating well after each addition. Gradually pour in the boiled milk, whisking as you go. Return the custard mixture to the pan and heat until it just starts to boil - beat until the custard holds sits shape. Dip a wooden spoon into the mixture and pull it out. Run your finger down the spoon face, it should leave the line.
Take off the heat and beat in the strawberries. Pour into the pastry cases and bake for 10-15 minutes until the custard is set. Cool and serve! With strawberries or cream or meringues.

Suggestion: if you save the 3 egg whites from this recipe whip up some meringues to top your tarts with! Just half the recipe in this post I wrote: Waste Not Want Not!

notes: Tea with Jane Austen by Pen Vogler (check out her other title Dinner with Mr. Darcy!) was sent to me to provide a review - recipe is taken from said book with permission from the publishers, Ryland, Peters & Small. This title was published in February and is available at all good book sellers and online shops! All opinions are my own, no other compensation besides the book was given - please see my contact/policy page for more information!

Rice Krispie Easter Egg Nests

Most children will make or have made cereal nests using shredded wheat or cornflakes mixed with chocolate and topped with chocolate eggs for Easter. So, make something different this time! 

Rice Krispie Easter Egg Nests!

Last month I made them into hearts for Valentine's Day and now I have made them into little nests to hold chocolate eggs and bunnies! You know I don't really like the big hollow chocolate eggs, I much prefer the mini eggs because they are solid! No one wants a hollow egg, trust me!

Any excuse to make Rice Krispie treats and I am on it! Holiday's are the best excuse to make treats and Rice Krispie treats are super versatile and easy to make! They can be made into any shape you want using cookie cutters or moulds so really the possibilities are endless!

Children might have fun helping with these, but do be careful because melted marshmallows is literally hot sugar and hot sugar can burn so please be on guard. It might be easier for them to just add the eggs and bunnies! 

Rice Krispie Easter Egg Nests

55g butter
280g marshmallows
180g puffy rice cereal 
chocolate easter eggs 
mini chocolate bunnies

Melt the butter in a large nonstick pot over a low to medium heat. Add the marshmallows and stir until melted. Take off the heat and add the cereal. Stir to coat. Fill each muffin cup in a muffin tin with a small handful of the mixture press down gently in the middle to make an indentation. Will make 12-24 nests. Leave to rest for about 5-10 minutes before placing the chocolate eggs and bunnies  in the indentions leave to rest for another 10 minutes or so. 

Alternatives: Add peanut butter, cookie butter spread, or cookies to your Rice Krispie Treats or make them into hearts! Or make Chocolate Easter Egg Nests

notes: Inspired from Super-Quick Muffin Tin Meals by Melanie LaDue. I have entered these into this month's Treat Petite hosted by The Baking Explorer and Cakeyboi!

Day Out in Reading, Berkshire! {WOLF, Snog, Urban Decay}

A few posts ago you saw how I went to an Urban Decay event at the Oracle and since the night was a bit rushed Alyssia, a fellow blogger, went back for round 2!

First we went to lunch at a new place in Reading town centre called WOLF: Italian Street Food. It's a bit like Subway. You choose your base: pasta, wrap, bread, salad. Then you choose your meat/veggies followed by sauces and hot toppings and cold toppings.

I picked out an olive bread and had the hot and spicy chicken with peppers and cheese sauce. Topped with more olives, sundries tomatoes, and rocket. It was so good! I couldn't recommend this place more! With only three locations across the UK if you are in Reading it's definitely worth a try!

Then we did a little shopping in the Oracle stopping at a few stores (more of that in a future post) before stopping for a little snog.... at Snog!

I went for the salted caramel frozen yogurt topped with blueberries and dark chocolate chips and covered in caramel sauce! It wasn't my first Snog and it won't be my last, but it was my favourite I've tried so far!

Then we headed upstairs for our Urban Decay makeovers by the same two guys we saw at the event. It was nice to catch up with them and check out a few of the new products!

I went for a day look as I had the school run later, but I did get to try out Gwen Stefani palette which was fun! On my lips we used a lip liner called Liar and the lipstick was Lovelight. We also used the complexion primer, B6 Vitamin-Infused complexion prep spray, liquid makeup foundation #2, Naked flushed palette - bronzer/highlighter, and the chill - cooling & hydrating makeup setting spray. 

We even booked ourselves in for a few weeks time to try out all the new spring products! It should be another good day out! 

Check out Alyssia's post - Girls Day Out!

note: All opinions are my own. We went on our own money and had a great day out! Please see my contact/policy page for more information.  

Hot Cross Bun Pudding (al a mode)

Tired of talking about the weather? Well, look no further as right now the most popular small talk topic is how early Easter is this year. So, need something to relieve tension or start an awkward conversation use this catchy phrase: "Easter is early this year."

I guarantee that it will be responded with something like "Yay, it is isn't it? Weird." It will give one all of 20 seconds worth of conversation, but it will be started!

Sometimes starting something is the hard part. Especially for us procrastinators. Sainsbury's contacted be and asked if I'd be interested in creating something for their Little Twists promotions. Specifically something for Easter I leaned towards hot cross buns. I bought two packages of them in anticipation for twisting them up somehow, but as I procrastinated they went hard and un-interesting.

What do most people do with stale bread? That's right bread pudding!! Why not use hot cross buns they are bread like! I twisted up my bread pudding by using hot cross buns. Or did I twist up the hot cross buns by making them into bread pudding?

Does it really matter when it tastes so good? This would make a better small talk topic! No weather or stating the obvious with this pudding!

Hot Cross Bun Pudding

450g hot cross buns, aprox. 6 buns, torn up
550ml milk
100g chocolate chips
50g sultanas/raisins/mixed peel
1 large egg
100g butter, melted
4 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
100g dark brown sugar
demerara sugar
ice cream to serve

Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease a 20 x 25 or 20 x 32 casserole dish.
Place all the torn up buns in a large bowl and pour over the milk, leave to soak for 20 minutes. In a separate bowl whisk the remaining ingredients, except the demerara sugar and ice cream, together. Then stir this into the soaking buns, it will mush it all together. Spoon into the prepared dish and sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown and puffy. Leave to cool slightly, it won't be as puffy anymore, before serving it with with a scoop of ice cream on top!

notes: As mentioned above Sainsbury's asked me to make a little twist on a seasonal treat! I was compensated for my ingredients and not much more. Please see my contact/policy page for further information. 

Afternoon Tea at Home by Will Torrent {book review}

Afternoon tea is a classic British tradition that everyone should partake in! Of course it's always nice to go out and let someone else do all the work of creating the perfect afternoon tea for you, but there is also something to be said about doing it yourself!

Will Torrent's latest book Afternoon Tea at Home follows two other great titles Patisserie at Home and Chocolate at Home; the former of which I do not own and will need to remedy! Mr. Torrent likes to show us that these decadent and delicious treats can be made in the comfort of our own homes! I would have to say that the skill level varies - there are recipes that look very easy and non-complicated and a few that might take a little extra skill and know how. But nothing in this book is unachievable!

I really like the way the book is organised giving us a brief introduction, a little history on the tradition of afternoon tea, and a few essential recipes for jams and curds. Then he gives us the recipes we need to create a classic afternoon tea. The classic salmon and cream cheese sandwiches - the cream cheese is whipped to make it physically lighter! Along with scones, shortbreads, and of course the Victoria sponge!

The following chapters are divided by seasons. Afternoon tea isn't just for warm summer days, but all year round! He gives us seasonal recipes to create a spring selection, summer sensation, fall delights, and winter celebration afternoon teas each one better then the last. My favourites were the fall and winter selections, but that's not surprising as I have a love of all the warm comforting spices and flavours of those times of year!

The last chapter gives us a selection of recipes for something special. Birthdays, anniversary's, holidays and any day that means something to you and those you'll be enjoying the day with! Then our author leaves us with menu planners - guides to create the perfect afternoon tea for all those occasions referencing all the recipes through out the book! He even includes one for a Thanksgiving tea and because of that I love him. It's just the American in me! One couldn't ask for more!

I have never planned my own afternoon tea, but with the help of this book and a few of my friends I think we will need to plan one! Here is a menu of what I would consider the best afternoon tea using Afternoon Tea at Home as a guide:

Lisa's Ultimate Tea Party

  • Pastrami and Emmental open sandwich with thousand island coleslaw on brown rye (page 91) 
  • Chicken liver parfait with thyme and onion confit and fluted brioche (page 147)
  • Blueberry and buttermilk scones with honeycomb butter (page 41) 
  • PBJ cookie sandwiches (page 99) 
  • Mince pie brownies (page 134) 
  • Apple crumble and custard tartlets (page 155 pictured below) 
  • Coffee and caramel eclairs (page 156) 
  • Marmalade Madeira cakes with macadamias, hazelnuts, and almonds (page 83)

No idea if any of these recipes actually compliment each other, but they all sounded good! I wouldn't say no if they were all sat on a pretty three tiered stand waiting for me to eat! It was hard to choose and I bet if you asked me again in a month or so I'd pick all different things. Main point is that Afternoon tea at home offers a variety of amazing recipes that can help you make a perfect afternoon tea!

notes: I received my copy of Afternoon Tea at Home by Will Torrent from the publishers, Ryland, Peters & Small to review. It was published in February and is available at all good book sellers and online shops! All opinions are my own, no other compensation was given please see my contact/policy page for more information!