31 January 2011

Book review: Frank and Teddy make friends

My heart sank when this book arrived from the nice people at Random House. Yet another saccharine tale of how two cuddly toys learn the basics of friendship, I thought.

How wrong could I be? Yes, the title (Frank and Teddy make friends), although descriptive, isn't inspiring. But this is a wonderfully illustrated book, with non-nauseating text.

Professor Frank Mouse is a marvellous inventor - creating bicycles out of pencils and string, a fabulous set of wings, and in a moment of Dr Frankenstein-ness, Teddy. Teddy attempts to help him in his work...but makes a complete mess, and gets sent outside in disgrace. But when Professor Mouse sees Teddy helping others, and them in turn helping him, he realises the value of friendship and working together.

The language is simple and effective (M, who's five, and starting to read for herself was able to read some of it), and the story is set off beautifully by Louise Yates' lovely illustrations. We particularly liked Professor Mouse's experiments, diagrams and doodles set out as if on graph paper, complete with some simple sums.

The verdict: go and buy or borrow from the library. You'll enjoy it. On the strength of this one, we're going on a mission to the library this week to track down one of Louise's previous books, Dog Loves Books, which also looks excellent.

27 January 2011

A trip into town

I walked into Newcastle from home earlier on in the week, which is not something I often have time for (it takes about 40 minutes). I'd forgotten just how magnificent the High Level Bridge over the Tyne is...

26 January 2011

Ready, steady, go!

Those of you who follow me on twitter might remember that I got rather excited a couple of weeks ago when a cool bag of food arrived from Little Dish for M to try out.

I'm really not one for ready meals, it has to be said. I prefer making my family's food from scratch, day in, day out - that way I know *exactly* what's going in to them. We make our own bread, cakes, biscuits, yoghurt - yeah, I know, muesli-knitting stereotype here we come...

But there are occasions when you just don't have access to your own kitchen - when you're camping, for instance - so I thought it would be interesting to try a ready meal on M, especially as she's never really eaten them. So we tested the Little Dish Beef and Spinach cannelloni (£2.29).

Firstly, the pros: she ate the lot (we had to fight her for a couple of mouthfuls to taste) and said that it tasted pretty good (we also liked the fact that it didn't shy away from using spices like cinnamon). There's no added salt or sugar - and the ingredients are pretty much what you'd use at home. It was quick-ish to heat up (if you use the microwave, much longer in the oven), and more than enough for a 5-6 year-old, with a little bit of salad on the side.

The cons: the plastic film on the packet is very awkward to tear off - I can imagine it being supremely annoying if you don't have scissors or a very sharp knife handy. But I think the main con for us is that we all eat together - so I'd be unlikely to buy a single, child-sized portion of anything (especially at £2.29). Maybe Little Dish should branch out into family-sized meals?

The verdict: as an emergency food to stash in the freezer, or to take away on a camping trip, pretty good. But I don't think I've been converted to ready meals on a regular basis...

19 January 2011

Lady Marmalade

I may have got a bit carried away with the marmalade making yesterday. 3kg of Seville oranges is rather a lot to chop up - here's what they looked like after simmering for a couple of hours.

The pan is a rather fabulous Le Creuset jam pot which is on loan from my mum. It weighs an absolute ton (especially when it's got 3kg of oranges in it) but is marvellous. The cat certainly thinks so - she's desperate to sit in it most of the time, so it has to be defended with a cardboard lid on top.

Anyway, several hours later, I am now the proud owner of 12 (count 'em) pots of marmalade. At the current rate of scoffage, that should last us for the rest of the year, just about.

12 January 2011

Fridge art

This is M's latest creation that we've just added to IKEA's fridge art page on Flickr, called Your Fridge Door.

I'd not really thought about it before, but a virtual fridge door is a great idea. Ours is completely cluttered up with pictures, which have to be culled on a regular basis. I should really start photographing more of them - it would be a great way to document some of the more transient artworks that could then be gently transported to the recycling!

Anyway, the benefit of uploading to the IKEA page is that you get entered into a competition to win lots of art materials. Given the amount we get through, here's hoping we win...

11 January 2011


M has a lovely book called Sushi for Kids by Kaoru Ono, which is designed to introduce kids to sushi by following the story of Atsushi and his cat. It's full of beautiful illustrations, and has some really easy recipes at the end.

So at the weekend, we had a go at making nigirizushi and norimaki, which were great fun. We

  • cooked some sushi rice, making sure it was on the al dente side
  • made a vinegar dressing to sprinkle over the top (with rice vinegar, sugar and salt)
  • sliced up some smoked salmon and cucumber
Here's the results. First of all, the nigirizushi. These were dead easy to make - although the rice does have a tendency to stick to your hands.

Then we had a go at the norimaki - sushi wrapped in a seaweed roll. We found the seaweed wrappers in Sainsbury's (I suspect they will be cheaper in some of the supermarkets in Chinatown in Newcastle).

M enjoyed layering up the rice and fillings. We don't have a rolling mat, but found that greaseproof paper works just as well. Here's the finished product:

M took the leftovers to school yesterday for her packed lunch, which flummoxed the dinner ladies somewhat...

10 January 2011

Maker Faire here we come

We had a fabulous time at the Maker Faire event at the Centre for Life last year - constructing drawing robots, baking lollipop pies, and generally playing around with all sorts of technology.

This year, we're taking part in the pinhole sunrise camera project. We have to put the camera (handily disguised as a beer can) outside for three months to capture the path of the sun across the sky as spring arrives, and then develop it at the event in March. Can you spot it below?

We'll post the results when we develop them!