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Posts from the ‘Bookish Bites’ Category

Bookish Bites : Jubilee and birthday jelly!

Well, well… what have you all been up to recently? We’re all recovering from a stinker of a summer cold so things have been a little quiet of late. We’ve also had a rather fabulous holiday to Norway which was wonderful. We left shortly after the Jubilee celebrations in London and while there’s always the energy  for a little flag waving and jubulant Jubilee celebrations, amidst the sneezing and packing there wasn’t quite enough time to post this homage to the wobbly jubilee jelly we made.

Milo and I needed a book with some Royalty in to help inspire us around the Jubilee celebrations and we chose The Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble by Angela Mitchell and illustrated by Sarah Horne (Maverick Books).

“‘I won’t wobble, I won’t wobble and that’s my final word!’ screamed the jelly.” 

As many of you know I work with Maverick on their social media. They are a small, independent children’s picture book publisher and the quality of their publishing keeps on getting better. The four books they’ve published this year are testament to that. The Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble by Angela Mitchell and illustrated by Sarah Horne is a really fun book to read aloud with your child.

It’s Princess Lolly’s 89th birthday and she’s demanding her rather marvellous, bright red jelly that she has every year. Unfortunately, this particularly grumpy jelly refuses to wobble. No amount of poking it with a walking stick, melting it and shouting can get this very stubborn jelly to wobble. Luckily, the youngest guest at the party has a bright idea ready to save the day.

Milo has really enjoyed reading this. As I said earlier, it’s a great read aloud book with plenty of opportunities to do some daft voices. It worked well for our Jubilee celebrations introducing him to the idea of Princesses and Royalty – something we don’t discuss much in this house (divided opinions) and as he doesn’t watch TV yet he’s not experienced any Disney Kings, Queens and the like! The story itself is great at giving subtle power to the child with the littlest guest calmly and quietly solving the problem while all the grown-ups around him panic and make things worse. Sarah Horne’s illustrations are brilliant too. Bright, colourful, witty and silly – ideal for a three year old boy! You can read Sarah’s blog here and check out her site and other work here.

So, on with the make. We’re vegetarian so can’t use your normal gelatin based products to make jelly with so we opted for vege gel. I’ve used this before but with very little success so I decided to keep things very, very simple.

We chose to make a pint of orange jelly to pour into little moulds. Now, vege gel recommend that if you’re using an acidic liquid you should use two sachets of powder to form your jelly, so this is what we did:

3/4 pint of orange juice
1/4 pint of water
Two tablespoons of white caster sugar (you may want to use more)
Two sachets of vege-gel

It’s pretty easy from there. Simply add caster sugar to the orange juice and water mix then sprinkle two sachets of vege-gel over the mix and stir very well. Milo enjoyed the vigorous stirring a lot!

Then pour your liquid into a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Once the mix is ready pour into your moulds and pop straight into the fridge to cool quickly. We left ours in the fridge for an hour or two before turning out.

I popped some little sugarpaste Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble eyes onto the jelly which seemed to please the little person (though they did slide off pretty quickly!).

But, and most importantly, did the jelly wobble? Well, we poked and prodded it and added some ice-cream (quickly eaten) to make it shiver and no, it didn’t wobble. Well, not really. Not in the way normal gelatin based jelly does. The whole thing wobbled as an entirety but not a shiver wobble which is the kind Princess Lolly was after too.

Milo’s verdict (in a haughty voice): “This jelly doesn’t wobble!” He ate it despite its lack of wobbliness.

It was father’s day and my dad’s birthday a short while ago and while we were still in Norway so we couldn’t celebrate either events at home until last weekend, but the jelly  got me thinking. My dad has always loved fruit jellies, jelly babies and the like and well, being a bit difficult to buy for, I thought it would be fun to make him something daft for father’s day. And so, presenting, our “celebration of the fruit jelly, jelly.”

I used the same quantities as described above but made one large mould… this made for much more successful wobbling of the jelly. Here are the fruit jelly connoisseurs discussing their favourite colours and flavours.

And, where there’s jelly, there’s trifle. bottom layer – vanilla sponge, then jelly, then custard, then jam, then whipped cream and a fruit jelly on the top. Milo didn’t make it past the whipped cream. He’d spotted Graddad’s birthday victoria sponge and wanted a slice of that instead. He didn’t make it all the way through that either. Too much for one little boy!

Cake!

And so, The Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble inspired two jelly outings. Hurrah!

As I work for Maverick which is rather lovely as they’re a very nice publishing company, I was sent my copy of The Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble gratis for review. But, as always, all views are mine and Milo’s. You can keep up to date with The Royal Scoop over on the Maverick Books blog. And if you fancy getting yourself a signed copy of The Jelly That Wouldn’t Wobble you could always pop along to one of Angela’s many readings and events over summer. 

Bookish Bites : Fairyland toadstool cakes

Well, what with all the chitter chatter in my post yesterday about fairies, elves and the like, it would have been wrong to let this week’s Bookish Bites go past without a Fairyland extravaganza. A small word of warning, there is sugarpaste and food colouring a plenty in this post. We try and keep the sugar stuff to a bare minimum in this household but sometimes, just sometimes, a cake begs to be as bright, bold and well, kitsch as it can possibly be.

So here’s a little glimpse of part of the finished cake.

No recipes for you this time. Not necessary as it’s all very basic stuff… just a simple guide to constructing it and a few cute photos. I’ve always , always wanted to make a toadstool cake similar to the toadstool houses and other “little people” houses found in my childhood books. Making one house though felt a bit of a big task to then eat just between the three of us and family and a bit too much like a birthday cake, so I opted for making some smaller toadstools. A little village of them!

You will need a basic sponge or madeira mix with whatever flavouring you prefer. We went with a vanilla madeira sponge as it’s a bit more pliable than a normal sponge. To bake the cakes you will need either some small pyrex bowls or some small bun tins like I’ve used or a muffin tin filled close to the top. Milo helped make the madeira sponge by sieving the flour, adding the sugar and slicing the butter ready for the mixer. We then baked our tins for approximately 40-45 minutes.

Milo helped get the cakes out the tin.

Next, I simply cut the tops off of the cakes and turned the bottom half upside down to form a more toadstool shape.

Whip up some buttercream and slather it on the whole of the top half of the toadstool, and around the edges and top of the base. Smooth the buttercream off with a knife that’s been resting in warm water.

Then onto your sugarpaste covering. Cover all the bases with white sugarpaste. I tend to roll this quite thinly but it’s best to do it fairly thick if you want a really smooth covering. I tuck the sugarpaste under the bottom but a neater finish would probably be to cut around the bottom edge.

Then, cover the top of the toadstools in red sugarpaste and be sure to tuck the paste under the bottom of the toadstool top. You can build up the middle of the toadstool top to make it higher with a little extra sugarpaste as I’ve done below.

With a little reserved white icing, cut out some round shapes and stick with edible glue or apricot glaze to the top of your toadstool.

At somepoint, cover a large cake board with green sugarpaste. It’s best done a day before you put anything on it so the paste has time to harden but I totally forgot so it was a bit rushed!

With Milo’s dad out on Saturday night I spent an evening in front of the TV watching some cheesy movie cutting out all sorts to decorate the houses. No templates I’m afraid for the doors and windows as I just cut these out of chocolate icing free hand and I wanted them all to be a bit different to each other. I cut out little flowers, hearts and leaves, made some little toadstools, a picnic area and small bench for one of the houses. I then decorated the main toadstools sticking everything on with edible glue.

I needed Milo to help finish off the cake so in the morning on Sunday he set about making the grass. This is a simple and fun task to set a toddler. Simply pour a big heap of dessicated coconut into a bowl, add copious amounts of green food colouring and mix very well.

Sprinkle all over the green base, add a few more flowers into the grass for decoration.

Then stand back and admire your finished fairyland cake.

What was rather lovely was that Milo, despite having taken part and watched the process of the cakes being baked in the oven, covered in sugarpaste and finally decorated, asked what was behind the doors in the little houses! If only there had been some little fairies or elves sat at a small table eating some cake themselves. Alas, it was just sponge and icing. Tasted good though!


Milo’s verdict: “Is this a real toadstool mummy? Is it a real fairy house? It tastes nice, can I have some more? I want a door.”

These little toadstools would also make a really lovely present for someone, wrapped up in a doily. We gave this one to Milo’s Nana and Granddad.

Next week’s Bookish Bites will also be a fairy and elf inspired creation so be sure to pop back then!

Bookish Bites : Apples, apples, apples, apple crumble

Milo started Kindergarten a few weeks ago and, after a few initial wobbles, he seems to be settling in nicely. He’s also starting to enjoy the food which is good. Even to the point of declaring that Kindergarten’s porridge is better than mine. Rude. But, when he came home saying he’d had apple crumble but hadn’t eaten any of it because apple crumble is yuck (seriously, I am loathing the word “yuck” at the moment) I was enormously confused.

Fair enough I suppose, we don’t eat crumble very often at home. When we do I tend to make a pan fried apple crumble for Milo’s dad and I as it’s quick and is enough for just us.  The recipe below is the same as the one we use, but rejigged slightly to increase the quantity and to bake in the oven.

So, to encourage Milo that apple crumble can only be a good thing, we snuggled down with two of our favourite “apple” books. Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins (Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins) and Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett (MacMillan Children’s Books).

Orange Pear Apple Bear is such a fabulously simple and brilliantly playful book. Emily Gravett rearranges the four words from the title to accompany her witty illustrations. Milo still finds this book hilarious. Ten Red Apples is another favourite. Possibly slightly selfishly because I adore Pat Hutchins delightful illustrations, but after a read of Ten Red Apples Milo loves to say “Fiddle-dee-fee” as often and as loudly as he can! After a snuggly read with daddy, Milo and I set about making apple crumble together.

For the crumble:
100g butter (chilled)
175g plain flour
75g light brown sugar
75g chopped almonds (or other nuts… we’ve used a mix in the past of walnuts, pecans and almonds to use up what we have in the cupboard, but Milo’s not a fan of walnuts or pecans so we stuck with almonds)
One teaspoon of cinnamon

For the apple mix:
2.5lbs Granny Smith apples
Approximately 30g butter
Grated zest of lemon
50g fine brown sugar
About half a teaspoon of cinnamon

Start with the crumble topping. Warm your oven to 200 degrees. Using your fingertips, or your toddler, mix the butter and flour together until you have a breadcrumb consistency.

Then add the sugar, cinnamon and chopped nuts.

Mix together thoroughly again with your fingertips then sprinkle your mixture into a baking tray and pop in the oven for about 15-20 minutes.

While your crumble topping is baking, crack on with the apple mixture. Peel and core your apples, then chop into chunky pieces.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. When it’s fully melted and bubbling, add your apples. Cook until they’re beginning to soften, then add your sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon. Cook for approximately 20 minutes or until you have a puree surrounding the apple mix.

Once the apples are cooked pop them into a baking dish, sprinkle your now baked crumble topping on the top and pop into the oven for about 20 minutes or until the apple juice is bubbling and your crumble is brown.

Be sure to serve with custard. Lots and lots of custard.

He looks happy doesn’t he! Milo loves to eat apples. He love almonds. He loves crumble topping. He’s oddly obsessive about cinnamon. He adores custard. What’s not to like eh?

Apple crumble it would seem.

Milo’s verdict: “I’m only eating the custard okay? Not this apple in here and not this crumble. Apple crumble is yuck.”

This recipe makes enough for about six people. Or two people if you want it for pudding three nights in a row! It really is very tasty despite what Milo has to say about it.

Bookish Bites : Maisy Makes Lemonade, lemonade

An easy peasy lemon squeezy Bookish Bites for you this week. We’ve been busy. And we’ve eaten a lot of cake and sweet treats recently so we needed a bit of a rest. Also we really want Spring and Summer to arrive, with sunshine preferably and well, nothing says Spring like fresh, home-made lemonade. Shame about the rain.

We have several Maisy books including a few from this paperback series; Maisy Makes Lemonade, Maisy Makes Gingerbread (a future Bookish Bites I’m sure) and Maisy goes to the Library. I used to work at Walker Books and Maisy was one of the key brands I worked on and while there I grew quite attached to that little mouse. Milo has always enjoyed Lucy Cousins’ bright, bold illustrations and likes to see what Maisy gets up to with her friends. In Maisy Makes Lemonade it’s a hot summer’s day and Maisy’s friends are thirsty so with lemons from the garden, a little sugar and water Maisy sets about making a large jug of lemonade for everyone. Alas, we did not have the hot summer’s day. It was grey, windy and rainy. But, the rather fabulous thing about three year olds is that they just don’t care what the weather’s doing so we were absolutely able to pretend.

Milo’s dad and Milo begun with a reading of Maisy Makes Lemonade.

And then we all set about making some lemonade to accompany our diner. Here’s the recipe we used.

1/2 cup sugar (we used caster but granulated is just fine)
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of lemon juice
About 2-3 cups of water to dilute

It comes up a little sweet so I would add some extra lemon should you want too or just reduce the sugar syrup. Taste it and see. We normally add a little mint to our lemonade but unfortunately we don’t have enough mint in the garden at the moment to do this, but I would highly recommend.

Make the sugar syrup with the 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water by heating them up together in a small pan. Once all the sugar is dissolved set the syrup to one side to cool.

Then get on with a little lemon squeezing. Milo enjoyed this immensely.

Sieve your lemons to get rid of the pulp and pips.

Next pour both the sugar syrup and lemon juice into a pitcher. Add a little lemon rind for decoration and serve in the prettiest glasses you own. Ours are from Lovely Lovely and I truly love them.

This makes enough for about three big glasses of lemonade.

Milo’s first taste of lemonade and his verdict was: “I like lemonade and we made it just like Maisy. Can I have some more please?”

Bookish Bites : Bloomin’ Doodles

If you are familiar with Socks by Nick Sharratt and Elizabeth Lindsay (Random House) you will also be familiar with the term “Bloomin’ Doodles!” If you are familiar with Milo, you will also know that this is also one of Milo’s favourite sayings at the moment. He says it a LOT. Especially when he drops things or knocks things or breaks things. It’s pretty funny! It took Milo’s dad and I a good while to work out where he’d got the phrase from and we were baffled with his use of it until a re-reading of Socks reminded us!

I should mention here that you could be in with a chance of getting your hands on an original illustration by Nick Sharratt so keep reading to the end of this post if you’d like this on your wall.

You do, don’t you. So do I.

We like this book in this house very, very much. It’s choc full of silliness, rhyme and language play. Like Octopus Soctopus and Elephant Wellyphant (another firm favourite in this house), this is so much fun to read aloud and Nick Sharratt’s trademark, gorgeously bright illustrations just bring the daftness to life. The world in this book is created by socks. You have Goldisocks, socksophones, a hipposockomus, socktown and numerous other delights. Silly fun that cracks Milo up every read, and we love picking out our favourite socks from the endpages. Endpages people, they really are such a great opportunity to extend the book.

I love the inscription in the front of the book too:

“The refrain in this book was inspired by the wonderfully named Choccywoccydoodah, a chocolaterie in Brighton”

I’ve never been there but I seriously want to having taken a look at their website and seeing their little TV show for the first time last night. It’s pretty impressive what these guys can do with chocolate.

Onto our bake. I asked Milo what he’d like to bake for this Bookish Bites, sock cookies or cake. He went with cake. Good choice. We had Milo’s Auntie Claire coming round for a visit so we wanted to make something socktacular for her. Because we had a busy Saturday morning planned, I got a little prepared by baking the giant victoria sponge traybake in advance.

And I mean giant. We wanted to get at last four pairs of socks out of our cake so eight eggs, 400g self raising flour, 400g butter,  400g caster sugar and several drops of vanilla extract later we had our starting point.

Of course you don’t need to make such a big traybake. You could get a couple of pairs of socks out of a 9x9inch square cake tin. Once the sponge was made I cut out our sock shapes in different shapes and sizes.

I also prepared early by making a few decorations for our finished cakes. This is always a good way to spend an hour with feet up on a Friday night (while your other half cleans the bathroom!)

Milo’s dad and Milo read Socks together before we got cracking with the icing and decorating. In case you didn’t know this about Nick Sharratt, he is a big fan of socks, all kinds, especially brightly coloured ones. Did you watch The Biggest Show on Earth for World Book Day? If you didn’t, it’s still available to watch over on the World Book Day site and approximately an hour and a bit (well, 1.16 mins to be exact) into the primary event, Nick discusses his love of socks with Jacqueline Wilson. When they first met in Jacqueline’s publisher’s office 21 years ago (can you believe that!) Nick was wearing bright canary yellow socks. Fabulous! On the World Book Day live stream Nick also draws some fantastic pictures from Socks (the book!). Well worth taking a look at.

In honour of Nick Sharratt’s own love of socks we all decided to celebrate our fun day by wearing our favourite pairs of socks! Milo likes these ones because they are blue and red stripes and have blue bits on. Milo’s dad likes his socks because they are orange and black striped and orange is his favourite colour. These are my favourites because they are Milo’s dad’s socks and for some reason that makes them more comfortable.

Milo likes to pull his socks right up to his knees just like his granddad does. It keeps your shins warm. Like this see.

Onto the icing. Milo and I made fondant icing in three different colours, lilac, pink and blue. I let Milo pour the icing over the cakes. Or just dunk the socks into the icing (his preferred method).

I’m pretty sure that most of the icing ran down the sides of the cake onto the baking parchment under our wire rack. It was a bit gloopy!

Next we moved onto decorating and readied the edible glitter. We each took a pair of socks to decorate and then went to town. Milo wanted to share his pair with Auntie Claire later so he sprinkled lots of green glitter over hers as its her favourite colour and put on lots of green leaves.

And then they were finished. Brilliant!

A short while later, Auntie Claire came round and showed us her favourite pair of socks. Her weekend socks (because she has to wear boring black ones at work throughout the week). They are her favourites because they have penguins on and were a pressie from her sister (Milo’s Auntie Gina!).

Milo gobbling his sock. His verdict: “I like to eat the socks and I will have all the decorations won’t I? I will, won’t I?”

So, earlier, somewhere around the top of this post, I mentioned that you yourself could grab your very own original Socks illustration drawn and signed by Nick Sharratt as part of Book Aid International’s Silent Scribble. All you have to do is email the lovely Emily at events@bookaid.org or give her a ring on 020 7733 3577 to place your bid. The highest bid will win the “scribble”. Here it is:

I feel slightly loathed in giving you all this information as I’ve already bid on this particular lot and I really want it. BUT Book Aid International are fantastic, they do fantastic work and so I will not be disappointed in the slightest (well, maybe a touch), if one of you lot outbids me. Go on, go for it. Deadline for bids in April 30th.

What socks are you wearing today? Either way, I hope you have a socktastic, sockywockydoodah day!

Bookish Bites : Last day cupcakes

Not a Bookish Bites exactly, and not made with Milo, but for him. It’s Milo’s last day at his nursery today before starting at the kindergarten in his new school next week. I wanted him to have some cupcakes to share with his friends before leaving and took my inspiration from some of the Spring reads we’ve been sharing recently (more about those in a future post).

Milo’s been at his nursery for two years and will miss his friends a lot. And the pink car apparently. And the garden. And his carers. And…. well, you get the picture. He’s feeling excited, sad, nervous and a whole bundle of emotions as are we to be honest. It’s going to be a big (good) change for all of us.

There are a fair few children in Milo’s nursery class so I made a quadruple batch of vanilla cupcake mix using the recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. I like this recipe but I find that the final result can be a bit sticky and it often comes up a touch short when using cupcake cases, hence the quadruple batch to ensure there were enough for kids and staff.

Milo’s extremely excited about Spring and Summer time at the moment and we’ve been reading, talking about the change of seasons a lot recently (although today is much more akin to Winter – sigh!) so he asked that I cover the cakes in flowers. I spent an evening with my feet up in front of the television cutting out little sugarpaste flowers.

Once the cakes were baked I set about making a quadruple quantity of buttercream icing (oh, how his friend’s parents are going to love me for their child’s sugar high tonight!). I divided the icing up and coloured the buttercream in Milo’s favourite colours; lilac, lemon, white and pink and piped onto the cakes.

Onto the decorating. Yay! Favourite bit of course. Vermicelli, sugarpaste flowers and butterflies, a few sugar roses bought from the local supermarket, some little sugarpaste hearts, sunflowers (we’re growing them in the garden just like in Monkey and Robot… Milo’s very excited!), silver dragees and of course edible glitter.

Our kitchen floor now sparkles with the glitter which I rather like but should probably clean.

And finished.

I really, really hope that Milo’s having a fantastic last day. He has a surprise this evening as his dad’s coming home early from work to collect him with me and we’ll be having a high tea before bath time as opposed to the usual hurried snack. Things will probably be a little quiet on this little blog over the next couple of weeks as we adjust to new routines and schedules but bear with us. I have some great ideas for future posts – just need a little time to do them!

Hope you’re all having a happy day.

We’ve eaten too much…

… hence the lack of Bookish Bites today. We had a great Easter; far too much chocolate, a birthday party, splashing in puddles, visiting with Nana and Granddad, Easter baking, spending time in Milo’s club (password is “sausages” by the way) and generally just relaxing. Shame about the weather, a spot of gardening would have been nice.

Hope that you and yours had a fantastic Easter.

Bookish Bites : Easter chocolate special

Okay, so if last week’s Bookish Bites Six Little Chicks chicken coop didn’t satisfy your chocolate cravings, don’t panic. This week’s is a chocolate extravaganza. Or maybe an eggstravanganza!

I’m so sorry.

There is no particular book attached to this week’s Bookish Bites but it would work well with any children’s book related to Easter that has chickens, eggs or nests in and I’ve provided a bit of a list at the end of this post should you be inspired to do some Easter reading with your children.

This was though inspired by the extremely lovely author of Martha and the Bunny Brothers, Clara Vulliamy and her very generous nature when it comes to sharing little fluffy chicks over the internet and in real life. I spotted a delicious cake on Twitter that Clara made for her daughter with the most delightfully coloured Easter chicks on them. You know the kind… the little fluffy yellow ones that are widely available this time of year, but these weren’t just yellow but light blue, lilac, orange, green and pink! How much more fun is that! Anyway, a lovely Twitter chat ensued and Clara very kindly sent me some chicks that she had left over.

And here they are shortly after arriving on my desk, with Milo’s dad’s Sigmund Freud action figure who also sits on my desk. Yes, that’s how we roll in this family.

And so onto our Bookish Bites for this week. An absolutely enormous chocolate easter nest, filled to the brim with chocolate eggs and happy chickens. This is so quick, simple and easy to do you can pretty much leave your toddler to do most of it. Great!

You will need:

  • 400g cooking chocolate (we used milk chocolate but dark would be rather tasty too)
  • Approximately 170 g of shredded wheat depending on how you like your chocolate to cereal ratio
  • Two bowls, one slightly smaller than the other
  • Some tin foil
  • Chocolate mini eggs
  • Delightfully colourful Easter chicks (or the bog standard yellow ones!)

Start by breaking up your chocolate and melting in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Obviously you’ll need to be careful doing this with your child.

While the chocolate was melting Milo put all the shredded wheat into a big bowl and set about crushing it up. Plenty of experience of doing that from making the nest in last week’s Bookish Bites.

I meanwhile covered the inside of the big bowl with tin foil, and the outside of the smaller bowl.

Once your chocolate has melted add the shredded wheat to the bowl and stir really, really well coating every last bit of your cereal with the chocolate.

Then pour the chocolate mix into the larger bowl. Spread the chocolate mix out to the edges so that it takes the shape of the bowl.

Then place the smaller bowl inside pushing down to maintain the nest like shape. Pop both bowls into the fridge for approximately two hours or until the chocolate/shredded wheat mix has set.

Be sure to lick the spoon and the bowl.

Get everything ready for decorating fun. We had a bowl of yellow chicks, a bowl of colourful ones and a big bowl of mini eggs.

Once your nest has set you’ll need to turn it out. Simply tip it up so that the smaller bowl in on the bottom. Remove the big bowl and peel back the foil. Tip back the right way and place on your cake stand.

And onto the decorating. Milo poured all the chocolate eggs into the nest and decorated the cake stand with our gorgeous chicks. The pretty, colourful, Clara ones all round the edge and our normal, yellow ones in the middle. Wonderful.

And finished.

Yes, that’s Clara’s gorgeous new book right there in the background (perfect timing for us as Milo is starting a new school very soon).

Now, I don’t normally give any kind of instruction on how you should go about serving up your Bookish Bites should you choose to make one, but in this case these are the things you need to know:

  • Use a serrated bread knife to saw through the nest. Maybe hold the nest while wearing an oven mit as it’s a bit poky.
  • For goodness sake, don’t do as we did and serve the daddy in the family a gigantic, enormous piece in comparison to the toddler and the mummy. The toddler will not appreciate it and will, having finished his normal sized piece, question the fact that the daddy is gleefully still chomping his way through his. The toddler will break down in tears and through snot filled gasps you will hear… “Why? Why? Daddy has more… Give me Daddy’s… I need Daddy’s… it’s my nest… I am feeling very upset. No, no, noooooo!”
  • Do definitely measure out equal amounts of easter nest when eating together and then sneak back to the fridge for more when your toddler is in bed.

the offending wedge of Easter nest

Before having a meltdown, when eating it’s always best to make ridiculous faces at your mum and dad.

To read a review of Martha and The Bunny Brothers I *heart* School, pop on over to Library Mice. For a fabulous interview with Clara, do dash to The Book Sniffer – some really great questions here and a fascinating insight into Clara’s work. And Clara herself? She has a fabulous blog right here on the internet.

If you’re looking for some Easter reading, try these:

Six Little Chicks by Jez Alborough
Tales from Moominvalley : Tove Jansson. Not exactly Easter but the moomins are always wonderful reading for transitions between seasons. I would also recommend Moomin and the Winter Snow – while about Winter, snow and hibernating, it is also about looking forward to Spring time and the return of good friends and the promise that the season brings. Oh, how I love the moomins.
Easter Things to Make and Do (Usborne) : I rather like the look of this… Easter really is one of those times of year where it just gives itself to crafting. I would also recommend Maggy’s blog RedTedArt. We made cards last year inspired by her fabulous posts.
Peter Rabbit : of course! rabbits, Spring time, Easter!
Chick : Ed Vere
The Great Easter Egg Scramble : Timothy Knapman – this looks fun, does it not?

We’ll be taking a break from Bookish Bites next week as there is a lot of family Easter baking planned and we’ll probably need a rest from eating for a while! We shall return the week after that though. Marvelous.

Bookish Bites : Six Little Chicks [an Easter special!]

Okay, I absolutely promise that this is the last time (at least for a little while), that I construct another building out of food. It’s just really good fun and when Random House sent us Six Little Chicks by Jez Alborough for review. Well, what’s a person to do!

This Bookish Bites would make a fabulous Easter treat if you’re having a get together with kids involved. It’s also a great alternative to the usual Easter cakes and chocolate goodies that are normally doing the rounds this time of year (unless you want to add chocolate eggs that is, which we did to be fair! And next week’s Bookish Bites is a chocolate extravaganza!).

We started with the book.

Like I mentioned above, this was sent to us by Random House for review and I was delighted to see it arrive. We don’t own any books by Jez Alborough but I am very familiar with his work having worked at Walker Books who publish several of his titles including Hug and also because whenever we go to the library, Milo hurtles straight in the direction of where Duck in a Truck is kept. One day it won’t be there and I’ll have a very depressed toddler on my hands.

This is a great read. It has the feel of a traditional cautionary tale but with a happy ending where the five chicks protect themselves and, with the help of the other farmyard animals, overcome the hairy, scary bad fox who is trying to eat them. They do all of this just in time to see the sixth chick hatch out of his egg. What fascinates me when reading it to Milo is that he is both scared and enthralled by it. There is one particular page in this book that gets him, when the fox is first revealed.

Milo always looks away before I turn the page and I asked “Why are you looking away Milo?” and with a big grin on his face “Because of the foxes green eyes, they scare me. I don’t want to look, but I do look and they are green. Keep reading though mummy.” “Okay, are you sure?” “Yes, get on with it!” Such a polite child. But it does go to show that a little fear doesn’t necessarily put a child off reading something but can actually enhance the reading experience (perhaps also see my post on The Fearsome Beastie!). We just snuggle closer, keep reading and Milo always looks back at the page.

Anyway, onto this week’s Bookish Bites. I’ve always wanted to keep chickens but, alas, our garden is a little small and so we can’t really at the moment. So instead, Milo and I decided it would be fun to make a chicken coop with six little chicks to keep inside, just like the one in the book (well, sort of!)

And here’s our baked version.

So let’s get started. A basic step-by-step for how we did this:

1. Cover your cake board
2. Make your biscuit dough and put in the fridge for approximately an hour
3. Using templates, cut out your dough into the shapes for the chicken coop structure
4. Put the cut out shapes back into the fridge for another half hour
5. Bake your biscuit templates
6. While they are baking, make up two piping bags of royal icing (one with a number 2 nozzle and another that’s a bit bigger)
7.  Stick the pieces of your coop together, leaving good time for the icing to set and the structure to harden
8. At anytime, start making your little chicks from marzipan
9. Create the corregated sugarpaste roof for the top of the chicken coop and let it harden
10. Once your structure is stable, decorate with sugarpaste flowers and add the sugarpaste corregated roof to the roof portion of your baked coop
11. Scrunch up Shredded Wheat to create a nest inside the coop.
12. Add your chicks to the coop.
13. Play!
14. EAT!

Begin by covering your cake board. We covered ours in white sugarpaste. It would have been better to colour it brown first, we just didn’t have any brown food colouring in the house. Simply roll out your icing, then roll it up onto your rolling pin, drape over your board and trim the edges.

Next we made the dough. We needed a bit of a change from gingerbread (!) and it also doesn’t feel particularly like Easter in flavour so we went for an orange biscuit using a recipe from Peggy Porschen. I’ve made this recipe many times before and it’s really buttery, fresh and moreish. What I would suggest though is that you make the full recipe and then half again to ensure that you can roll out your panels quite thickly. We used just the full recipe and ended up with a couple of thin panels which makes it a touch harder to “glue” them together when constructing your coop (we also had to make some motorcycles and a star too!).

Don’t forget to feed your bus with a little orange once you’ve grated the rind into the dough. When you’ve left your dough in the fridge for an hour, you can then roll it out to make the panels.

This was a little more complex than the Monkey and Robot tool shed as you will need a raised floor for the chickens to sit on and the ladder to rest on. I achieved this by making the side panels an inch longer than the front, back and floor panels. The roof also had to be a touch larger to ensure that it didn’t fall into the coop! Here are the PDF templates should you wish to make your own chicken coop.

Chicken coop template for the roof, front, floor and back panels and the ladder

Chicken coop template for the side panel

Pop your cut out panels and pop them in the fridge for another half hour or longer. This helps the dough not to spread too much in baking. Then bake in batches. In the meantime, make up your piping bags of royal icing ready for sticking everything together.

Place one of the sides flat down on your kitchen surface. Pipe three lines of royal icing, one at the bottom (this will be for the back panel), one line across the bottom but about half an inch above the bottom edge (this will be your floor) and then your final line across the top edge (this will stick your front door panel). Once you’ve held these panels in place until they feel secure, then add your final side. Wait until the royal icing is set before turning your coop upright. I rolled a little green icing for grass to put under the front.  You can place the roof panel on but don’t stick it down.

To make the ladder simply pipe (with your number 2 nozel) thin lines of icing onto the ladder strips and then stick down into their places on your ladder strip. Keep one aside and once the icing is set turn the ladder over and stick this final strip at the top (as you can see in the middle picture above). This is so you can “hook” your ladder to the inside of the door.

At any point during the make you can get on with the corregated roof and the chicks. To make the corregated roof roll out a square of blue sugarpaste just a little bigger than the roof panel. Create the rise and fall with whatever you feel fits. I used muji pens and a pencil, my knitting needle was too thin and I only had one spare and you’ll need to leave these in until the sugarpaste hardens. Once it has, glue your corregated iron to the roof panel with either icing or warmed apricot jam.

The chicks were made out of marzipan. I made five of them sat in front of a movie the night before leaving one for Milo and his dad to make while I was constructing the coop.

They made three chicks in the end. One, sadly, did not make it. Not eaten by a fox but by a Milo.

I wanted to achieve the slightly startled look in Jez’s illustrations but I think they look a bit more Pingu than I was aiming for!

I added a few flowers to cover up some blobby icing on the front of the coop, then Milo crumpled up some shredded wheat for the nest. We also added a few Mini eggs in there too.

And then it was finished.

We played and then we ate it!

And oh, the fun it was to make!

Bookish Bites : Six Little Chicks from Natasha Worswick on Vimeo.

Milo’s verdict: “I like eating chicken coops. Can I have another chicken please. They’re all mine aren’t they? Where’s Mother Hen?” I did not make a Mother Hen. Good grief.

Bookish Bites : Monkey and Robot in the Garden (part 2)

Welcome back! Here we go with part 2 – decorating and constructing the Monkey and Robot cake. Milo and I chatted a lot before making the cake and so there are some, ahem, artistic extensions of the book in our cake. Namely the flower garden (not in the book) and the tool shed (also not in the book!). “Where do monkey and robot keep their trowel and all their tools? Do they have a green shed like us?” Let’s hope not, ours is knackered and old but happily covered with a recovered honeysuckle plant to make up for it. But yes, a tool shed. Okay then, let’s do that!

I was going to make a bird table as there is in the book but was a little concerned about space. Milo also wanted Monkey and Robot to have a garage for their Mercedes (?!) and a road, but again space issues.

I drew templates for the tool shed, monkey, robot, props to use to stand them up, garden spade and fork, little plot signs, several trowels (they didn’t make it into the final cake – Milo ate several and the rest looked like arrows), a couple of trees (they also didn’t make it though looked really cool but we couldn’t get them to stand up) and the “very smelly manure” sack that you can see at the front of the finished cake.

I’ve made a Read more

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