Tuesday, 31 July 2012

This week: healthy-ish blueberry muffins

I like my breakfasts. For me, it really is the most important meal of the day. During the week we tend to have cereal or toast. However,  I get bored by cereal every day and with toast, I find I'm starving by mid-morning. So occasionally I branch out with a bagel and cream cheese or I bake muffins sometimes.

As blueberries are in season at the moment and I had some in the fridge, I decided to make some blueberry muffins for us to have in the morning. As they don't contain sugar and are vegan, I thought I would share the recipe with you in case you fancy trying them out for breakfast one day too. The recipe is adapted from one in the Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook I have.

I should add that these muffins don't look especially pretty when they come out of the oven, they don't rise and fluff up like regular muffins but don't let their appearance deceive you - they taste good! As with most muffin recipes, they are quick to throw together and depending on your morning schedule you could even get the wet and dry ingredients all ready the night before and then combine and add blueberries in the morning to enjoy them freshly baked!
  • 110g spelt flour (obviously you can substitute with regular plain flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 60ml vegetable oil
  • 60ml milk
  • 60ml maple syrup
  • 1 generous tablespoon of runny honey
  • A splash of water
  • 150g blueberries
Makes 6-8 muffins.

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Prepare your muffin tin - lightly grease or use paper cases.
Combine dry ingredients together and in a separate bowl, the wet ingredients. Stir wet and dry together and finally fold in the blueberries. Pour or spoon into your muffin tin (mixture will be quite loose). Bake for 25-30 mins until lightly browned and a skewer comes out clean. Bon appetit!

What is your typical weekday breakfast? What might you make for an occasional change, as I have done with these muffins?
photo credit

Friday, 27 July 2012

Counting fun through active play

We were in a park recently where some children were playing, 'What's the time Mr Wolf?'. My son liked the look of it and asked me if we could play so we did. I hadn't played it since I was a child and as we were playing, I realised it was also a fun way for toddlers to practice counting.

That made me think about other games to play that involve counting so your child gets to practise their numbers without even noticing. Hide and seek is a good one and happens to be one of my three-year old's favourite games to play these days. We usually count to 15 before going to find the person hiding.

Generally incorporating counting during play wherever you can is a great way to encourage them to familiarise themselves with numbers while enjoying active play so it doesn't feel like they are under any pressure! My son was jumping on a trampoline with a friend the other day and they decided to take it in turns having the trampoline to themselves rather than jump on it together. We decided to count to 20 and then they would swap. They loved it and were counting and clapping and having a lot of fun.

What other active games can you think of that involve some counting?
photo credit

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Summer smoothies

We are having a rare hot few days in London, which certainly makes a nice change. Today we had to walk to the shops to get a few bits for a picnic with friends tomorrow and my three-year old was complaining about how hot he was. I suggested we buy something cold at the supermarket to cool us down and he suggested ice-cream.

There are of course always people eating ice-creams or ice-lollies on hot days. Just yesterday my son was transfixed on an older girl who was tucking into a bright blue ice-cream in the park. I don't however think just because it's hot, you should have an ice-cream, I think they should be consumed in moderation as a treat rather than being a given on warm days. I do know a mother who bribes her son with an ice-cream to get him to stay in the park so even on a cold and rainy day he has one....but I digress.

I didn't say no to the ice-cream but I suggested we could get some berries and go home to make a cold smoothie. My son loved that idea, especially as they had made smoothies at nursery school not so long ago, which he had really enjoyed. We got some strawberries, raspberries and a couple of bananas along with our other shopping and headed home to make the smoothie.

My son had a great time, as I let him do most of the making. He chopped up all the fruit, put some spoonfuls of yoghurt into the blender with the fruit and voila! It came out a lovely pink/red colour and was yummy and refreshing - just what we needed on this hot afternoon. There was a glass poured for daddy ready for when he came home from work and I think we are going to make some more for our friends coming over for a picnic tomorrow too!

Super-easy to make, ideal for a toddler to do almost solely, healthy and delicious, smoothies are also a great way to make the most of local, seasonal fruit. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how to make them but for the record, we just threw into the blender the washed berries (big strawberries chopped up), with thickly sliced banana, a couple of tablespoons of natural yoghurt (you can substitute with milk) and a splash of water or a couple of ice cubes.

Our smoothie-making turned out to be a fun summertime activity as well as producing a tasty, cooling drink so I'd recommend you give it a go if this weather holds out. Do let me know in the comments if you have any smoothie recipes you'd like to share!
photo credit

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The joy of down time

We spent last week staying on a farm in rural Devon. Green fields surrounded us, there was no phone reception and no wifi in our cottage (hence all quiet on the Mummy Zen front). After putting the children to bed I would sometimes think I heard one of them crying but on closer listening it was bleating sheep! Peace and quiet, fresh air, the invigoration of being in nature all made for a very relaxing and enjoyable week.

Not having phone or internet connection was particularly restful. My husband and I read loads, something we rarely do in long stints these days at home. We chatted more too. We went to bed earlier and slept soundly.

There was plenty of simple family fun too - walks around the farm, running around in the garden, generally enjoying being outside come rain or shine. Of course a working farm was quite the excitement for our 3-year old son who got to collect eggs from the chicken coop, get up close to a real tractor, see sheep, cows and horses and developed a sweet attachment to the farm dog Rosie.

Back to the big city and feeling refreshed, trying not to slip back into all the bad habits. My regular blog posts will be back but I'll also be making more time for the reading I so enjoyed and hopefully getting into bed earlier more often.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Teachers' Gifts

My son's nursery school finishes for the summer at the end of this week and I've been having a big (probably unnecessary) dilemma about what to give his teachers as an end of term and end of year thank-you.

At Christmas time, one of the mums kindly organised a collection from all the other mums in the class and then got gift vouchers for each of the teachers. She even suggested how much we should donate. It was great, as I had no idea how these things work and she has an older child and was completely au fait with such matters. She has since left the country and this time there has been no discussion amongst the mums of end of term gifts. Some people have gone off on holiday already and so there are less mums around too.

I asked some of my friends for ideas and gift vouchers/cards seem the overiding choice. One friend who herself is a teacher said that vouchers are always nice to receive. A couple of friends had some lovely creative gift suggestions that they had done recently for their child's teachers. One is the apple pictured, wrapped in a clear bag and with a small glass jar containing caramel dipping sauce and walnuts. I've definitely left it too late to do anything like that....

What do you do when it comes to a gift for your child's teacher? Do you tend to give something individually or do you get a collection together with the other mums? What do you typically give?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

This week: The trying threes!

This week, I had a conversation with a mum about our three-year olds and how their behaviour seems suddenly more challenging. We both agreed that the so called 'terrible twos' were a breeze and that it's really now that we are encountering the more difficult side to parenting. Later in the week the same topic came up with some other mums, all experiencing the same.

A common example that was mentioned, was the child telling the parent to stop talking! Generally, the mums were saying that the attitude of their three-year olds seemed comparable to teenagers, with a lot of answering back and asserting themselves!

It is difficult and I find myself despairing some days. I am pleased to say my son has not yet told me to stop talking but he is definitely doing a lot of answering back. I am not used to my son acting this way and so it comes as a bit of a shock and not something I was prepared for. The hardest thing I think is to deal consistently calm with these kinds of situations. Yet, that is probably the most important thing to do, as big reactions will only encourage the behaviour.

I'm sure it's just part of their development, as their use of language gets more sophisticated and their character and personality is defining itself more and more. As parents, we don't want to stifle their individuality but we do want to encourage pleasant interaction. Some things I try to remind myself of to better cope with 'the trying threes' are as follows:
  • He's only three! Still very much a little child who needs nurturing and understanding.
  • Children learn by example. Responding calmly to fractious moments, however difficult, will in turn help the child to deal calmly with situations as they grow older.
  • Remember the high points of each day. The difficult behaviour probably only makes up a very small part of the day, so it's good to get it in perspective and think of all the fun, happy, light moments from each day too.
  • Your child loves you to pieces. Sometimes the words that come out of their mouth sound like a very unreasonable way to be spoken to and it would be in the case of an adult. However, at the end of the day, your child loves you unconditionally!
Sometimes taking a deep breath or maybe even counting to ten before responding to a trying three-year old can really help in handling the moment the best possible way. It's definitely not always easy but it will pass no doubt, as every other developmental stage in a child's life does. There's some consolation in knowing other mums are experiencing the same type of behaviour, as that suggests it is very much a part of these little people growing up.

Have you experienced trying times with your three-year old? Do you have any tips to share on dealing with the kind of behaviour I mentioned?
photo credit

Monday, 2 July 2012

What's your therapy?

I had a friend over for dinner one night last week and took the opportunity to cook a recipe I haven't made in years. I also had a stack of rhubarb that I had in mind for a cake I like to make so I set to and baked it finally so I could give some to the same friend to take home. The cooking had to be done in stages, bits prepared in the morning while my son was at nursery and my daughter napped, the cake rustled up during the post-lunch nap and quiet time and the remainder of the dinner thrown together after they had gone to bed.

It made me realise I hadn't done any baking or more elaborate cooking in ages and I was reminded how much I enjoy it. It's my way to relax and de-stress (not that I'm very stressed in the first place!). I am completely focused on the task in hand, chopping, mixing and whatever else so there are no thoughts of jobs I should be doing or of what is happening that day.

I should add, it's the cooking all by myself that makes it especially therapeutic. I do love to cook with my son but it's a different experience. It's fun but it changes the pace and if I'm honest, he probably gets to do the best bits that I like doing too!

My baking has especially slowed down since my daughter was born. This is partly due to my time becoming even more precious but also my concern over sugar and wanting to consume less after reading articles like this one. Before, if ever someone was coming over to our home for a playdate or coffee, or if a babysitter was coming over one evening, I would without fail bake something. More recently, I have been buying biscuits for such occasions instead.

It's the baking not the eating that's the therapeutic part for me, although tasting the final result is important ;-). With the rhubarb cake I made, I gave a good bit away to my friend and gave my husband some to take into work for his colleagues too. I think that's the way forward......more regular baking for my own enjoyment and then giving away the goods or maybe freezing in some cases for when we have visitors.

What is an activity that you might describe as your therapy - something that helps you switch off from everything else?
photo credit