Glass Stained Christmas Biscuits

Probably the prettiest biscuits I have ever seen or made! I loved making these, as did the children! It was one of their Advent activities – inspired by an Annie Rigg article I read.

Great as a gift, a treat, a fun activity….also very easy! The most difficult part was bashing the sugar boiled sweets! Thought the children could do it but they actually found it too hard.

Probably worth while to mention that the sugar boiled sweets return hard once they cool – I somehow managed to make myself believe they would be soft and gooey….NO! Rock hard. If you prefer a soft, jammy centre, make the biscuits as per recipe but instead of sugar boiled sweets layer two biscuits on top  of one another – one with shapes cut out – and fill the cut out bit with jam! Will not be stain glass effect…but very tasty! 🙂

Glass Stained Christmas Biscuits (basic dough recipe the same as Cookie Christmas Tree)

 
450g plain flour
225g butter – softened
225g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
Sugar boiled sweets – different colours
 
  • Put flour and butter in a bowl and chop into it until the mixture resembles big breadcrumbs
  • Add caster sugar and continue combining
  • Add vanilla essence and crack the egg into the bowl and keep bringing the dough together – I usually crack it into a cup first…just in case it is a bad one!
  • Keep bringing together until you have a smooth dough ball. Wrap this in cling film and place it in the fridge for about an hour
  • Put the boiled sweets in freezer bags and bash with something hard!!! Keep colours separate as this gives a prettier end result

They sort of resemble little semi-precious stones…I think so anyway!

  • Once the dough has chilled pre-heat oven to 200C
  • Line baking trays with baking paper
  • Roll the dough out quite thinly – it rises a tiny bit in the oven but not much – and cut your shapes! Snowflakes are really pretty as are hearts and stars. If you have a Christmas Tree shape this would be sweet with little holes for glass stained effect baubles…
  • Lay them on the baking parchment trays and fill the holes you have cut in them with the crushed sweets – the children enjoyed this almost more than eating the dough every time I turned my back to them!!!
  • Once the biscuits are filled put them in the pre-heated oven for 10ish minutes – maybe slightly less depending on your oven. It is fun to watch the sweets melt…
  • Once cooked let them cool completely on the tray before moving! Tthey will come off ever so easily when cold and can be hung, stored or given away as gifts at Christmas Parties!

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Christmas Bird Feeders

Those regularly reading will know that I made our children an activity based advent calendar this year. So far it has been great fun and yesterday’s activity was to make Christmas Bird Feeders. Before you read on I must stress that it was absolutely amazing to make this activity – the execution of it was, however, slightly disastrous!

First the positives – apart from being quick and simple, it is a lovely way to involve the children in a bit of nature and to have a chance to talk to them about the outdoors and also for them to be able to see the instant benefits of something they do.

As for ingredients, I figured lard and seeds would do the trick…well….hrhm….partly true is all I can say. Here is what we did – the children absolutely loved this by the way with my eldest claiming it is the best activity yet. That comment,  for it being a non-edible activity, is quite a statement!!

  • Melt a square or two of lard in a saucepan (one will make about 6 large-ish shapes)

  • In a bowl, add bird seeds (buy in any large supermarket or pet shop) and pour lard over the top. Let the children stir. It is fine for it to be a little wet as it quickly sets when it cools.

  • Lay a piece of baking parchment on the table and pick a cookie cutter shape (Christmas shapes of course! Stars, Santa, Candy Cane, Reindeer) to lay on top of the parchment
  • Fill the shape half way with seed/lard mixture. Lay string into the mix and fill over the top – this to have something to hang the feeder with

  • Leave cold to set – I left ours outside, covered, over night
  • When set, press out and hang from a tree in your garden (or sit them on branches as I did with some of the heavier ones)!

  • Enjoy watching the birds flock in!

PS – it was the pressing out bit that completely did not work for me! Some of our shapes had quite intricate designs  – snowflake – and the smaller bits simply broke and dissolved! The lard was too soft on its own – maybe it should have been a mix of peanut butter and lard…Do not have the answer I am afraid! I recommend using big shapes – stars for example – as they yield lovely results!

We had a fantastic time making them, and every age group could complete it on their own! The feeders are hanging and attracting birds which is also great! So not a complete disaster…simply not as straight forward as I thought!! 🙂

I had seen a blog on this – and I wanted to credit the blogger – but I have searched all morning for the post and simply cannot find it! So if you have seen one, then that is probably where I was inspired! 🙂

Bat Biscuits

These biscuits can be used at any time of the year to be honest! Simply shape and decorate according to season. Easy and sweet….what more could you want!?

100g sugar
100 butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
225g flour
  • Pre heat oven to 190C
  • Mix butter and sugar together until creamy
  • Add egg and vanilla essence and stir well
  • When smooth, add the flour slowly until a soft dough is formed
  • Leave to harden slightly  in fridge for 20-30 minutes
  • Dust work surface and roll dough out to about 5mm thickness
  • Cut the dough into the shapes you want – bats, ghosts….(Christmas Tree, Star, Easter Bunny)
  • Place on baking parchment on a tray and into the oven
  • Bake for about 10 minutes – will depend on your oven – keep an eye on them! When finished they will be slightly brown around the edges.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before decorating with icing

Chocolate Brownie Cake

This recipe is fantastic if you want a quick cooking activity to do with the children. Makes a delicious pudding too and it is a good one to bring along to a friend’s house! Fool proof and easy, the children could almost make it without you!

50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa content or more)
100g soft butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
225g sugar
2 eggs
50g flour
½ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
  • Preheat oven to 180C – grease a 20cm tin with a bit of butter and dust with sugar – or any other shape to be honest –
  • In a small saucepan, place the chocolate (broken into pieces), the butter and vanilla essence. Gently let it melt – LOW heat!
  • Transfer the melted mixture to a bowl and throw in the sugar – let your little ones beat this with a wooden spoon.
  • When the mixture is smooth add the eggs and stir!
  • Combine flour, baking powder and pinch of salt in a bowl and add to the chocolate mixture.
  • Keep beating with the wooden spoon until smooth and well combined.
  • Pour the batter into your pre-greased tin and ensure you spread it out to all corners.
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes – you want the edges to be firm but the middle to be nice and springy.
  • Let it cool for about 15 minutes, then cut the cake into squares and let cool on a wire rack.
  • If you want to present it whole, simply turn onto wire rack and let cool. Decorate to taste.
  • You can cut into brownie shapes too.
  • If you like walnuts in your brownie add about 50g of these with the flour.

American Style Pancakes

These have become our regular Sunday breakfast! The children know and race to the table…Easy and delicious and, if covered in fruit, not too unhealthy!

125g flour
2 tbsp sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp baking powder
240ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg
  • In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients
  • In a separate bowl, combine milk, vanilla, oil and egg and stir
  • Slowly add the liquid ingredients to the dry until just combined – do not over stir
  • Heat your pan and grease lightly – very little is needed as there is oil in the batter
  • Once pan very hot – pour batter on in small circles. In a 26″ pan you should be able to fit three

There are many ways to serve these:

  • Syrup and butter
  • Syrup and pieces of fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and banana are fab
  • Nutella
  • Sugar and lemon
  • Honey
  • Jam
  • Peanut Butter
  • Yogurt and honey
  • Plain

Running Tips

Following on from my blog on Exercise – a bit more concentration on one of my big passions in life! Running is easy, cheap, makes you happy and helps you lose weight! What are you waiting for?

Why run?

  • Creates positivity – for me, the main benefit of running is the feeling I get when the endorphins kick into play; everything seems possible and easier.
  • Lose weight – running burns calories, fast, and has a tendency to reduce your appetite. As long as you stick to your normal diet and do not start adding carbohydrates, you will see a healthy, slow weight gain as you run.
  • Engage brain – running is a great mental work out. While you are out there, there are many things to look out for, people you pass, roots to run over, roads to cross. It keeps your brain really active and young.
  • Easy – running is incredibly easy to get into as you can go any time, any place. As you get fitter and stronger, adding goals to your running will keep you motivated. If you are a social runner, joining a jog squad can give you a new network and a way to improve your skills and technique.

So, here are a few tips to get you started and improving:

  • Shoes – the only gear you should invest in is a good pair of fitted running shoes.  Each foot is different and to prevent injuries and blister it is a good idea to get an expert to analyse your foot type and running style. Most good sports shops will be able to help you with this and you will be amazed at the difference it makes.
  • Clothes – in terms of clothes the main thing to bear in mind is that you want to be comfortable. Light and loose will do (for women a sports bra is a good idea) – and maybe some gloves and head band that will cover your ears if you are going to head out in the winter.
  • Start – if you have never run before, the most important thing to remember is to take it slow. Start by walking, and when you can comfortably walk for 30 minutes, add in a few minutes of running. Over a period of 4-5 weeks increase the amount of time you run so that you are running for the full half an hour by the end. If you feel tired at any time, do not feel bad about stopping and walking for a bit in the middle – you are building up your stamina and this will take time – just don’t stop completely. Make it your goal to be able to run continuously for 30 minutes within 10 weeks of starting – this will focus your mind.
  • Breathing – breathing correctly will seriously improve and ease your pace. It is critical to get as much air into your lungs as possible to aid your working muscles – and you must breathe deeply (into your belly!). In through your mouth or nose? Makes no difference and everyone will have their own preference. I use both techniques depending on where and how I am running. On a normal calm run I prefer breathing through my nose as this controls my pace really well. In a race and going uphill, I will often take a few deep breaths through my mouth to assist my lungs!
  • Posture – keep your head up, imagine you are being held by a puppeteer, and shoulders relaxed. Lift and relax them a few times if they keep creeping up! Your arms should swing loosely from front to back with elbows at right angles, not in front of your body. This wastes energy. Keep your hands cupped loosely to avoid building tension in your arms and neck.
  • Stride – feel and think light when you are out there – your shoes should not slap onto the ground when you run. Don’t lift your knees high and let your feet strike the ground naturally. Most people will land on the middle of their foot and roll quickly forward. Ensure your feet point forward – that is where you are going!

Air Dry Clay

This is similar to play dough but silky smooth and wonderful to work with! It dries pearly white with a shimmer and can then be painted. A really lovely way to spend an afternoon with your children. Therapeutic!

 
1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup water
  • Stir the soda and cornstarch together in a saucepan then add water and mix well.
  • Cook over low heat, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes then cook another 2-5 minutes while stirring constantly until it looks like mashed potatoes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat, set aside and let cool before kneading.
  • When cool, put onto your work surface and knead it, adding more cornstarch if needed until you have a smooth workable clay. Silky to touch and pure white!
  • We usually leave it white and create our masterpieces that way. If you prefer it coloured, knead in a few drops of food colouring.
Using cookie cutter or just your hands – create your bits – our favourite things include hearts, stars, dice, a racing car and beads. If you like, press small beads into the clay when it is still wet. This has a lovely effect once dry.
When you are done, leave them on baking parchment and let dry. Depending on what you have created, the drying process will vary. For thin, small items, overnight will do. For larger items, several days. You can tell by the colour when it is dry – it will have a shimmer to it and be very white rather than slightly off white.

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