Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Cheat's blackberry pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts)

Blackberry picking in the park

Big, juicy, free blackberries picked from the park. But what's good to use them in apart from pies and crumbles? We've liked them sprinkled with a pinch of sugar and cooked gently until the fruit is just falling apart on fluffy fat pancakes and in smoothies.

Another way is to make these quick (cheats!) tangy custard-filled puff pastry tarts. I don't want to insult any Portuguese readers by saying these are authentic in any way but they are strongly influenced by my favourite tart; pastéis de nata.

Easy blackberry pastéis de nata

Take a pack of ready rolled puff pastry, re-roll it up tightly then cut into 12 equal chunks. Take each piece and squash into a disc shape in the palm of your hand. Then place into a greased muffin tin - use spray oil for ease - and push the the pastry up the sides to create a case shape to hold the custard. Prick the bottoms with a fork and blind bake in a preheated oven at gas mark 6/200 degrees/180 fan for 8-10 minutes or until the pastry has puffed up and has a hint of colour. Remove from the oven and flatten the pastry back down using the back of a spoon.

Add 2 or 3 blackberries to each tart and cover with... (look away now if you're a pastéis de nata purist)... ready made custard. If this horrifies you then feel free to make a traditional custard. Add an optional light sprinkle of cinnamon to the top of each tart.

Put back into the oven until the custard sets and the pastry turns golden brown. Cool for a few minutes before transferring to a rack before eating.

Cheat's berry pastéis de nata custard tarts

In other news we are still unsuccessfully house hunting. Every Saturday is spent at 'open house' viewings where you queue outside before getting to trudge around an over-priced property with several other people. E has started nursery 3 days a week (hence this blog post finally being written!) and I've got to help out on one of K's school trips for the first time. I have so many half-written blog posts so maybe I'll try to finish some of them while I have some rare peace and quiet. Oh and I have a tax return that needs doing so any diversion is good.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Visiting the ArcelorMittal Orbit {review}

It felt like I was destined never to see the London Olympic Park (now known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park). We'd applied for Olympic tickets in 2012 and not got any (rubbed in by the fact that we live relatively close to the park and ended up hosting friends from Yorkshire who did get tickets). And even if we had got tickets it would have meant taking a newborn baby E with us. 

The other missed opportunity was just before the Olympics when Mr and a friend were taking part in a 5 mile run around the park starting at the Orbit and finishing in the stadium. I was 8 months pregnant but looking forward to a spectator's sneak peek of the park but K ended up feeling ill so I stayed home with her.

ArcelorMittal Orbit and Olympic Stadium
 The Orbit and the Olympic Stadium

When I was offered tickets to visit the ArcelorMittal Orbit, which is the UK’s tallest sculpture by Turner-Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to make a day of it and look around the park as well so we headed there early to beat the traffic and find parking (there are good links by public transport too)

The kids enjoyed scooting along the canal and paths into the park. What struck me was how huge and open the space is and how peaceful it was. There's lots of quirky street art and installations around which make even a grey, dreary day seem much more vibrant.

Street art at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

After a stop off at the playground we got to the Orbit but were informed that as the weather wasn't good they'd stopped the lifts and we should check back in half an hour.

We took the opportunity for an early lunch and headed (via a nose in the Aquatics Centre) to nearby Westfield Stratford. I recommend the Gyros from Olive Oil & Oregano, K recommends the fancy toilets that are "the best ever" apparently. We made Lego minifigures of ourselves at the Lego store...

Make Lego minifigures of your family
 ... and then walked back to the Orbit where we were told that everything was up and running. Once through security you exit doors to the base of the structure. There's a buggy park so we could leave the scooters safely.

ArcelorMittal Orbit and fountains at Olympic Park

The staff were knowledgeable and full of facts and figures about the installation and they escorted us up in the lift - it has portholes so you can watch the red bars whizzing by - to the first viewing deck. There you'll find the strangest concave mirrors displaying an upside-down skyline - or person.

Kapoor concave mirror in ArcelorMittal Orbit
 Concave mirror by Anish Kapoor

There's an outside viewing deck with some mesh between you and a 376 foot drop. It seemed fairly quiet when we visited (perhaps because of the weather) and we didn't feel rushed. 
Looking down the red steel structure of ArcelorMittal Orbit
I've always thought that the Orbit looks like a rollercoaster, and from this view down the centre I think it really does.

Down on the lower viewing deck there are interactive screens, a small gift shop and coffee area and toilets.
Interactive screens at ArcelorMittal Orbit viewing deck

The huge floor to ceiling windows give an excellent panorama of the city. We could spot Crystal Palace transmitter up the road from us, and many London landmarks: the Shard, Canary Wharf, the Gherkin and of course you have a birds-eye view of the Olympic Park itself.

View from ArcelorMittal Orbit

Once you're done you have the option to take the lift back down or walk down 455 steps with sound snippets of local places like Colombia Road Flower Market, West Ham FC, and Bow Bells playing through speakers along the journey. Anish Kapoor says on his website that "You need to journey round the object, and through it. Like a Tower of Babel, it requires real participation from the public” So we took the stairs and my legs were like jelly at the bottom and ached for several days afterwards! There is also a third* option for descent... abseil.

Steps down from ArcelorMittal Orbit

Back at the base you are free to wander and take in the sheer size and complexity of the structure. The kids seemed to think it was a huge climbing frame and loved jumping and hanging off it. At least you know it's not like they are going to break it!

Concrete plinths and base structure of ArcelorMittal Orbit

We'll definitely be visiting the park again. Next time we'll pack swim suits for the fountains, the kids were desperate to run through them.

Prices for tickets to the ArcelorMittal Orbit in advance are adults £10, children £5, family £26 (two adults/two children) and concessions £7. Walk up tickets: adults £12, children £6, family £32 and concessions £10. For more detailed ticket information and details on events - there's a kids arts and crafts event this August - visit www.arcelormittalorbit.com or call 0333 800 8099. 

*Since my visit, a fourth way of getting back to ground level has been given the go ahead... a giant slide! Due to open next year, you can read about on the BBC website.

Disclosure: I was given a family ticket for the purpose of this review. All words, opinions and images are my own.

Monday, 8 June 2015

My top ten guest post at A Place of My Own

I haven't blogged here since February even though I proclaimed I would be blogging more. And there are plenty of half-written posts I should really finish. But there's nothing like a deadline to give me a kick up the arse and that kick came from my friend Kelly (metaphorically speaking) and her blog A Place of My Own. She's been blogging for a whopping ten years and asked ten blogging friends to give her their top ten on any subject they liked to celebrate her 10 year blog anniversary.

Free things to do in London with kids - Maritime Museum, Greenwich
 Outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

So if you visit you will find my top ten free things to do in London with kids along with the other guest posters and lots of lovely crafty stuff from Kelly. My top ten is pretty South London-centric as that's what is close to me. And I think every venue has a cafe and some have second-hand shops... it's not all about the kids ;)

Friday, 27 February 2015

Top Cat

K says he's her best friend. I'm not sure he feels the same way but he sleeps on her bed and lets her pick him up without scratching or squirming so there's some reciprocal affection.

Cat on vintage bureau
 Best friends

Or maybe it's because the first thing she asks each morning is if she can go downstairs and feed him. She even attempted to change his litter tray once but we won't speak of that.

Daughter and adopted kitten
Not-quite-so-best friends

Can you believe he was dumped on a doorstep? We adopted him through the Cats Protection League. Mr had been worn down by the kids begging for a kitten and then finding a dead mouse festering in the oven after a holiday was the tipping point (that smell will haunt me for eternity, it was even worse than the holiday where we forgot to put the waste food bin outside and came home to find the kitchen floor teaming with maggots).

After going to a local rehoming day and ooing and ahhing at the cute cats and kittens I signed up for a home visit. A week later the volunteer house-checker arrived and I answered the door looking like something out of 28 Days Later thanks to E sharing conjunctivitis with me. After explaining that I don't usually look like this (and not mentioning that my house is never usually as tidy as this) the paper work was completed and a few days before Christmas we had a call about a kitten they thought would be good with the kids, so we went to visit him at his foster mum's house. The kids loved him and he didn't run away from them as most cats do so we took him home the same day! I was totally unprepared (conjunctivitis had been replaced by flu) and had to borrow a cat basket from a neighbour, use an old tray from the garden as a litter tray and run round to the shop to buy cat litter and food.

We've only had him two months but it feels like he's been here for ages. We don't know how old he is (they guessed three to four months when we got him) or where he came from, but he was found with another, younger black and white kitten who was from a different litter. And we kept the old-man name that his foster-mum had given him, it just stuck and suits him.

Drawing of black & white cat by 5 year old
K's kitten portrait

Cats Protection was such a good experience. The adoption fee we paid covered microchipping, de-fleaing, worming and two sets of vaccinations. One of the conditions of adopting is that you agree to have the cat neutered... ours is booked in for next week.

Their website has a "Find a Cat' section, a kind of Tinder for felines! They also have a surprisingly good online gift shop. I've picked out some of my favourite things. You know in case anyone needs any present ideas for me, what with Mothers day coming up and everything...

Cats Protection gift shop

Clockwise from top left: Sailor cat mug, Bunny paperclip holder, Blue Tit cushion, Tiger beaker

Monday, 19 January 2015

Banned books

Make and Do book by Childcraft

A general rule is: hoarding = bad, but hoarding books = good. A house without books is like a room without windows goes the saying. Unfortunately for me, a house with books is leaving little space for much else so I'm trying to cut down. This isn't a major cull, more like a few here and there, like pulling a plaster off slowly.

I usually get reading books for myself from either the library or the charity shop where they are returned to when I've finished. But I love art and design books and couldn't part with them, and often these books are BIG. My magpie ways also see me rescuing books. I spotted these amazing old kids books left out in someone's recycling box. There were lots more but I ran out of room in the buggy for them (yes, I did contemplate going back but it started raining). I had to take the one called "Make and Do" of course!

Vintage Childcraft books

The illustrations in them are fantastically retro and cover the strangest topics, like this one guaranteed to put kids off ever eating jelly again...

Jelly from skin & bones

And this one that is quite philosophical (and look at that decor)...

Minimalist or hoarder

K and E share a room so there's double the stuff to find space for. There are so many books rammed onto the shelves that it's impossible to flip through to even see what's there. Every time we do a library run I aim to find a couple of books that we've read, and are unlikely to read again, to donate. This is a win-win because it frees up space and you can always borrow the book again if you wanted to. I spotted one of 'our' books on the library shelves looking well thumbed and that made me happy.

Then there's the books that have been pulled apart, torn, chewed, and generally destroyed. When K was tiny and we'd be reading a dog-earred, scribbled on, ripped book from the library, I used to wonder what kind of parent let their kids do this. I've since learned that that parent is one whose back is turned for just a minute. Maybe they dared go to the toilet on their own or something. I'm ashamed to say that I have spent many a minute sellotaping flaps and pages back in after E has loved the books a little too vigorously while I was busy doing something else. And then there was the time K ate half a flap from a book so I couldn't even stick it back in. Sorry Croydon Council. I've been trying out ways to reuse them before they go in the recycle bin. It just feels wrong to throw a book away!

Recycled Mog book into greetings card DIY

K's school puts a book of used books out once in a while to help yourselves to, and again I can't resist a freebie. I took a Mog book home but it had some pages missing and the rest were literally falling out. Before we got rid of this one we went through and cut out our favourite pictures (while explaining to the kids that we don't normally do this to books) and made them into cards, like the one above. The picture was stuck onto card with the greeting stamped onto washi tape cut with pinking shears, and was really quick to do.

This is a nice DIY project; a collage of pages from a falling-apart book and an old canvas. It works really well when the colours are the same like this Cat in the Hat one from Fabulously Flawed...

Cat in the Hat canvas by Fabulously Flawed

Or maybe just use the pages as a background...

Book art by Carambatack on Etsy

There are also books that are such favourites – I want my hat back, I am an artist – that I will stash them in the loft. I've done something I saw recommended on a decluttering site, that said to allocate one large lidded storage box for yourself and each child. This keeps all their stuff in one place and should stop you from holding on to too much.

What do you do with books that are past their best? Or do you have a system for recycling old books?

ANA second-hand book shop, Singapore
Poster from ANA second-hand book shop in Singapore source

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Mini gingerbread bundt cakes

Happy New Year!

It's been a while since I've blogged; I seem to have caught every cold and bug going over the last month and tried every cure going too. Apart from keeping sliced onions in your socks, that is just grim.

I'm hoping to blog a bit more often this year and I've also been taking Instagram for another whirl which means taking more photos... always a good thing. I'm finding Twitter and Instagram easier to keep up to date with because I can do a quick check or update on my phone whereas a Blogger blog post via iPad or phone is pretty much impossible in my experience.

My Instagram account name is - no surprises - makedomum and if you take a peek you'll see some photos of our new family member, more about him to come!

I've also written my first post for someone else; a recipe for Wayfair. I love the patterns and shape of bundt tin moulds so I came up with mini gingerbread bundt cakes. Wayfair sent me the equipment I'd need to bake with and you can find the full recipe looking very polished and professional (!) on their site here.

Mini gingerbread bundt cake with ice cream
Individual black treacle gingerbread bundt cake served with ice cream and honeycomb

The mix would work in a large bundt mould too but I prefer the idea of a whole cake that you don't have to share! And the hole on the middle is perfect for holding ice cream :)

Bundt tins are too pretty to be hidden away. There's some nice ideas here at Brit & Co on how to repurpose cake pans. This cake tin planter is lovely...

Succulents in bundt tins

Beautiful succulents planted in bundt tins from from A Diamond in the Rough via Brit & Co

Monday, 1 December 2014

Best before...

Amongst the junk brought back after clearing some of mum's hoard was a vast array of free toiletry and cosmetic samples. This list on the wikipedia entry for compulsive hoarding pretty much summed up mum's hoarding and the collecting of free samples looks like a common trait...

She was happy for me to take them because at least then they'd be getting used. But on closer inspection some of these samples were VERY old. We're talking pre-website-address on packs, brands that don't exist anymore (remember Organics shampoo?) or exist but under a different name...

From a time long ago when Cif was Ajax, Snickers were Marathons and Olay was Ulay.

I use the same method for checking that toiletries are good to use that I would with food: if it looks ok and smells ok then I will use it. Make-up (especially mascara) and medicines I use a lot more caution with, and anything used by the kids.

Does anyone really take notice of the icon on the back of the pack that says when it should be used by? For ages I wasn't even aware of the significance of the "open pot with a number on it" symbol. I know that there are bottles in the bathroom that pre-date the birth of E (and probably K).

According to the British Skin Foundation, the use by date on cosmetics is from when you open the product. So if it says 18 months on the box, it should last for 18 months from when you open it, provided it's been stored correctly. Many of these samples didn't have that symbol or any indication of when they were manufactured. If it's hermetically sealed in its foil sachet how long will it survive and what happens when it does go off?

So far, one pack was ripped open to reveal contents that had separated and resembled cottage cheese... nice. A couple haven't had the strong perfumed smell I'd expect so perhaps that's worn off over time. I even used the vintage Ulay – out of sheer morbid curiosity – and it was fine; my skin didn't burn/start itching/hair fall out. 

I reckon I have enough here to last me for a few months so I'm setting myself a challenge to not buy any new products until I've used up these first. But I'll be giving the foundation samples a miss. They turn me a worrying shade of orange even before they've gone out of date so I'm not taking any chances.


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