Easter Eggs – #minicreations #creativechallenge

We try not to go too mad with chocolate over Easter, and try to do something a bit different as a gift for grandparents rather than buying a standard egg, particularly because Grandad can’t have chocolate. This year I had a brain wave one day when thinking about what we could make. I’d been meaning to do some papier mache with the boys for a while, and it occurred to me that balloons blown up small would be the shape of eggs. So that’s what we did!

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I blew up 2 balloons, one for each set of grandparents, and ripped up some pieces of paper in various bright colours to give small-ish strips. Then came the really fun part – getting messy! We mixed some white PVA craft glue with some water until it was nice and runny. Andrew very much enjoyed helping me with that part. We made sure we put our protective plastic mat down on the table, and then started dipping strips of paper in the watery glue. As we pulled them out, we stuck them onto the balloon (we did one at at time). I held on to the balloon to keep it in one place, then when we needed to do the bit that was touching the mat, I lifted it up and held it by the tied end, which we left poking out.

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Once both balloons were fully covered in lots of overlapping strips of paper, I tied an elastic band around the poking out bits and we left them hanging to drip dry in the garage (unfortunately it wasn’t a very nice day when we did it otherwise they would have been great drying outside). After a couple of days they were well and truly dried out. Then I got a skewer and popped the balloons inside to leave a nice egg-shaped hollow structure. At the end where the tied with poked out, I got some scissors in and cut around the centre to give two halves.

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To give the inside a different colour and texture, I cut four squares of foil and we had fun pushing them down into each half egg. To finish off the edges we stuck some red tape around each rim. Then all that was left to do was fill the eggs with surprises and give them for Easter! We chose some chocolates from a lovely chocolate shop in Keswick on holiday, and some Cumbrian sheeps milk cheese for Grandad.

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Creative Challenge
Mini Creations

Cross – word of the week

There are quite a few words that I could choose for this week’s word: holiday springs to mind (actually I meant to blog that one last week but I was too busy writing other blog posts of things we were getting up to on holiday whenever I was sitting at my laptop), and also chocolate (having given it up for Lent, it’s been on my mind quite a bit this week as the day that I can eat it again has drawn near). But I’ve gone for….

Cross

Although with 2 young boys to run around after I do often find myself getting cross, that’s not the sense of the word that I’ve been thinking about in the lead up to Easter Sunday. I’ve been thinking about a certain Roman cross, the tool of torture and execution upon which Jesus died. Not a particularly pleasant thing to think about, but I believe (along with other Christians) that it was His death that took the place of all the wrong things that I do. These wrong things (for example, getting cross at my kids, or being jealous of what others have) are what separate me from being close to God. But God loves everyone — yes, even me, even social outcasts, even criminals, even those who believe in other gods — and wants us to know Him, which we can do by believing in Jesus and what He did for us, if we choose (there’s no obligation).

The particularly amazing thing about what we celebrate at Easter is that death isn’t the end of the story. I believe that three days after He was crucified, Jesus rose from the dead. He beat death, he has the ultimate victory over all wrongs. And the key point in this for me is that anyone who believes that Jesus is alive again, can have a personal relationship with Him, with God, and that includes an everlasting life with Him in heaven after our short life on Earth. That’s what I’m celebrating this and every Easter, because I think it’s the greatest day in history in terms of how I live my life.

The greatest day in history,

Death is beaten

You have rescued me

Sing it out Jesus is alive

The empty cross, The empty grave

Life eternal You have won the day

Shout it out Jesus is alive

He’s alive

Oh happy day, happy day

You washed my sin away

Oh happy day, happy day

I’ll never be the same

Forever I am changed

(Tim Hughes)

The Reading Residence

Jars of change for Lent

A few weeks ago in church, we heard about WaterAid jars of change for Lent. The idea is that you give something up for Lent, and every time you would have/do whatever it is you’ve given up, you put some change in the jar roughly equal to what you would have spent on it. You can decorate the jar for fun too. At the end of Lent, the money you’ve raised goes to WaterAid, who will use the money to help provide safe drinking water in countries that desperately need it.

We thought that this sounded like a good idea. I’d been thinking about what to give up for Lent anyway, and it was a good excuse to have some fun decorating a jar with Andrew – we used an empty marmalade jar. Andrew had been given a ‘paint your own mug’ gift for his birthday, so first of all we did that, and then used the paint to start our decoration on the jar.

Mug Collage jpg

I found some stencils in our craft box, and (surprise, surprise) Andrew chose the rocket stencil! Of course he insisted that we use red paint (the colour of Thunderbird 3), and I suggested we add some yellow detail at the bottom for the fire from when it blasts off. He also likes the colour pink, so we painted a pink band around the top. That was enough painting for one span of Andrew’s attention, so another day we finished off the jar by sticking on some small squares of paper with PVA glue in a kind of mosaic style – lots of fun and messy! Again, just about enough for his attention span, and finished off my me. Some red tape around the rim of the lid and ta da – it was finished.

Jar Collage 1 jpg

Jar Collage 2 jpg

Then we had to actually decide what to give up. When I say ‘we’, I mean Tom and I – I don’t think trying to explain to Andrew about giving something up would go down too well, and besides, he’s a bit young yet. But he can start to understand by watching us, as with so many things in a toddler’s life. My abstinence had to be chocolate, as that is something I will really miss and eat quite a lot of as treats to keep me sane on our busy days (which is most days with my boys). Tom decided on bananas, as he eats at least one a day and loves them. I know, bananas are much more healthy than chocolate anyway, but he’s not so fussed about that – if you can believe it.

Tom may be unusual in giving up bananas, but both of us are not unusual in the act of giving something up for Lent. This tradition has been going on for centuries. The 40 days before Easter, which starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after Shrove Tuesday or Pancake day, is a time of reflection for Christians. It’s a time to think about what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross and rising again – to make up for all the bad things we do that keep us distant from God – in the lead up to Easter when we celebrate this. Traditionally Christians used to fast, so give up all kinds of food, in this period, because this was a way to focus their minds on contemplating Jesus. Some do still fast, and others give up just one or two things, whether a food like we’re doing or something else, and spend the time that would otherwise be spent on this activity praying or reading the Bible – in other words, spending time with God.

So that’s what I intend to do this Lent. Whenever I think about eating some chocolate, whether as a bar or in something, instead I will pop some money in our jar of change, and spend some time in quiet reflection of what Jesus means to me. It’s handy that most of the time that I eat chocolate is when the boys are in bed or quietly amusing themselves, so I should have no excuse to not spend that time quietly. It may mean spending less time doing the things I like, like sewing, blogging, social media-ing (don’t think that’s really a word but it sounded good to me), but I know that I will benefit from it, I always do when I spend time with God.

Are you giving up something for Lent? What are your reasons behind it? Maybe you too could think about doing a jar of change? I’d love to hear if you do 🙂

Easter for everyone

Although Andrew is now experiencing his third Easter in life, this is the first year that I have really thought about how to start explaining to him what happened at the very first Easter, because 2 years ago he was just a couple of months old and last year he still wasn’t understanding things we said half as much as he does now. To get some inspiration for how to tell the Easter story in language that a toddler will grasp, I’ve turned to the various children’s Bibles that we have.

Both boys were given some Bibles for their dedications (Joel’s was last week), but despite the number we have, we’ve only ended up with a couple of duplicates between both boys. Some are board books aimed at babies and young toddlers, some have paper pages but lots of pictures and simple text for age 2 years plus, and some have more text aimed at early-school-age children. This is good because as they grow up we have a nice progression of Bibles to read with them.

There is something very refreshing about reading the Bible in a version that is meant for children. It brings me back to basics and reminds me of some of the most important points there are to know about God.That’s not to say that I don’t want to explore the more detailed and challenging points of what we are taught through the Bible using a version meant for adults, but sometimes in studying the more complicated bits, it’s easy to lose sight of the simple truths. So this Easter I have been reminded, through the simplicity of children’s books, of the enormity of what Jesus did for me by dying on the cross and rising again.

The two board book Bibles that Joel was recently given, which are aimed at babies and young toddlers, don’t actually say that Jesus died, but put it more figuratively: ‘Some people did not like Jesus. They took him away….Then Mary saw Jesus. Jesus had come back to life again!’ (The Baby Bible); ‘The people hurt Jesus and then put him on a cross, and soon Jesus was gone. Jesus’ friends took his body down from the cross and carried him to a tomb with a big stone door.’ (Baby’s First Bible).

For about the past year or so, we have been reading a Bible story to Andrew each night before he goes to bed. We’ve been using the two Bibles for toddlers that he was given, and although he doesn’t understand everything, he enjoys looking at the pictures and talking about what’s in them as we read (I say ‘we’, but since Joel’s been born it’s mainly been Daddy reading). As we’ve worked our way through the Bible, we have of course got to the Easter story; he has heard it, but he doesn’t yet understand what it means when they say ‘they left him to die’ (Candle Bible for Toddlers) and ‘Jesus died on the cross’ (The Beginner’s Bible).

However, he does understand that some of the people in the story were very sad about what happened, as he sees the sad faces on the pictures and we explain that they were sad. But the great thing about the Easter story is that although Jesus died, he also rose again, so it’s a happy ending and we can explain to a toddler that the people who were sad became happy again, shown by their expressions in the pictures in the books.

These emotions of sadness and joy are at the heart of how I feel when thinking about what happened to Jesus and why we celebrate Easter. It is so very sad to remember that Jesus died, and in particular that he suffered a horrific death, tortured and killed on a Roman cross, even though he had done nothing wrong – in fact He went through this to make up for all the wrong things that I do which separate me from God. This is such a massive thing to fully appreciate, and it’s quite easy to forget throughout the rest of the year just how hard that must have been for Him, so in the days leading up to Easter Sunday, particularly on Good Friday, I think it’s the least I can do to reflect on this with feelings of sadness and thankfulness.

But in the sadness there is always hope! Death was not the end of Jesus’ life, death did not beat Him. Having been through all that suffering, He rose again back to life from the dead. Now that is definitely a reason to be so very happy. What’s more, Jesus promised that whoever believes in Him and that He died for them to make up for everything they do wrong, they will have everlasting life with Him in heaven after their life in this world. That’s even more reason to be happy, and that’s what I am celebrating today. I have this song in my head and will no doubt be heard humming/singing it several times today 🙂 Happy Easter everyone!

Easter egg crafts – chocolate and card (not together!)

This Easter Andrew is at an age when he has just enough of an attention span to have a go at some simple crafts. Of course if it involves chocolate he’s very keen to help, and his attention span is somewhat increased when it comes to edible molten gooeyness – I wonder why?! But he’s also very into stickers and sticking, so I knew we could also have a go at making some cards that involve sticking.

Chocolate mini (or pinny) eggs

Andrew has been calling mini eggs ‘pinny eggs’ since he first had one a couple of weeks ago when we baked these cupcakes. I’m not quite sure why, given that he can say ‘m’ (as in mummy) and I’ve only ever called them mini eggs, but he’s obviously just got it into his head that they are pinny eggs. The ‘p’ sound is made with the same part of the mouth as the ‘m’ sound – the lips coming together and then opening again – but the ‘m’ also involves air being let out through the nose (it’s a nasal consonant). Anyway, that’s enough of a linguistic digression!IMG_0576

I was given some moulds for making chocolate mini eggs a few years ago. This year we made some white chocolate ones with Green and Black’s lovely vanilla white chocolate, and some dark chocolate ones with Asda Extra Special 75% cocoa dark chocolate with cocoa nibs which give a lovely crunchy texture (we made these as presents but had to sample them of course!) The moulds create half eggs when you pour molten chocolate into them, and then we sandwiched each pair of halves together using some milk chocolate. We left them to set in the fridge overnight between each stage and also before packing them up into presents.IMG_0587

We used cupcake cases to put a few of each type of egg in. Here they are all ready to give to Andrew’s grandparents (who have been told not to read this until tomorrow!)IMG_0589

Egg collage cards

These were really simple to make. First I cut an egg shape out of some yellow card – my tip for getting a nice even and symmetrical shape is to fold a rectangle of card in half lengthways and cut a semi-oval around the opposite side to the folded edge, then unfold it and you have an egg. I then stuck strips of double-sided tape all over the egg and removed the backing to the tape, which left a sticky surface all over the egg. We chose various scraps of paper, tissue paper, felt and mesh from my craft stash, in nice bright and spring-like colours, and I cut them into small squares and rectangles. Andrew then had fun sticking them all over the egg, with a bit of help from me. He found it ‘really funny’ (his words) that his finger tips kept sticking to the egg as he stuck bits on 🙂 When it was all covered, I stuck it onto the front of a pre-folded white A6 card with double-sided tape. It was a simple as that.

He was more bothered about rolling the tape around the table once we'd finished sticking!
He was more bothered about rolling the tape around the table once we’d finished sticking!

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Easter bunny Simnel biscuits

We’ve been busy little bunnies in the baking and crafting departments this week. There have been fewer groups due to the holidays, so I’ve been thinking of ways to keep Andrew amused. I can’t really go wrong with baking, especially biscuits as he loves cutting them out and of course tasting them 🙂 Granny was with us yesterday when we baked these bunny biscuits, and we made them with wheat-free flours so that Grandma can enjoy them too.IMG_0582

There seem to be quite a few Easter cakes in the shops now that are basically slightly different versions of brands that are available all year, usually involving lemon or yellow colouring in some way, for example Mr Kipling lemon tarts or Cadbury’s lemon mini rolls or Jaffa Cakes lemon cake bars. But I rarely see Simnel cakes around these days – a light fruit cake with spices such as cinnamon and ginger and a layer of marzipan in the middle and on top. I love marzipan and I like fruit cakes, so I enjoy Simnel cake. Traditionally it has 11 balls of marzipan on the top, which are said to represent the 11 disciples of Jesus minus Judas who betrayed him.IMG_0585

We didn’t have the time or attention span (in Andrew’s case) to make fruit cake, so we made biscuits based on the idea of Simnel cake. The spices are in the biscuit dough and the fruit is sandwiched between the biscuit and a layer of marzipan on top. We used a bunny shape cutter, although I was convinced I had seen an egg-shaped cutter in Andrew’s bumper pot of cutters when we were doing play-dough the other day, but I couldn’t find it when we came to bake the biscuits, so we had to switch from the egg-shaped biscuits that I had intended to make  originally. bunnies

If you fancy having a go, here’s the recipe, which makes about 20….

Ingredients

  • 60g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 180g flour (I used 60g cornflour and 120g gluten-free flour)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp groung nutmeg
  • about 30g raisins
  • 1/2 pack ready to roll marzipan

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC (fan) and prepare two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Add the flour and spices and mix with a spoon until a dough starts to form; then use your hands to bring it together as it gets too stiff for the spoon.
  4. Roll out the dough to about 1/2cm thick on the greaseproof paper that you put on the baking trays, and cut out the biscuit shapes. That way, when you’ve cut out the shapes, they are already on the place where they will be baked, and you avoid breaking them in transferring to the paper once cut out.
  5. Once you’ve cut out all the dough, press a few raisins onto the top of each bunny.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until lightly golden.
  7. Remove and allow to cool.
  8. Roll out the marzipan on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick.
  9. Cut out the same number of shapes as the biscuits, and place on top of the biscuits, sandwiching the raisins between the biscuit and marzipan layer.
  10. Eat as fresh as possible!

Cupcake of the month (March): vanilla, with little egg nests

cupcakes march 2You may remember that back in February I introduced a new monthly feature on the blog – Cupcake of the month – inspired by a calendar I was given for Christmas with a different cupcake recipe each month. This month the recipe was for vanilla cupcakes, with a slightly more unusual order for combining the ingredients than I had come across before. It’s not exactly the same recipe as appears on the calendar (I always adapt recipes!), mainly in that I halved all the ingredients, used marg instead of butter, missed out the salt, and doubled the amount of vanilla. I bought vanilla ‘flavouring’ instead of ‘essence’ last time I went shopping for it because they didn’t have any essence, and I knew that flavouring wasn’t as strong, so put twice as much in; disappointingly though, they still don’t taste strongly of vanilla, so I won’t be buying that again!march cupcakes

The decoration suggestion on the calendar was a swirl of buttercream icing with mini eggs on top. Although they look very creative, I thought I’d go one step further and combine these relatively plain cakes with another of my favourite things to make and eat at Easter – chocolate egg nests! You can’t beat a bit of shredded what covered in chocolate and honey, shaped into a nest with a couple of mini eggs in it 🙂 Andrew loved helping me make these too, not least because I let him lick the spoon! He was fascinated by the mini eggs and interested to learn about nests and count the eggs into them – he’s very into numbers and counting.right now. We made some small nests (I would make them bigger if we were eating them on their own) that fitted nicely on the top of the cupcakes, held on with a blob of buttercream (that was the ready-made stuff left over from Andrew’s birthday cake).

If you’d like to have a go at these treats for Easter, here’s the recipe……

Ingredients – makes 10

  • 130g self-raising flour
  • 75g sugar
  • 125ml milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 55g margarine
  • 1 egg
  • 150 dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • shredded wheat
  • chocolate mini eggs
  • buttercream icing (I had some ready-made stuff left over – or you could mix 25g butter/marg with 50g icing sugar)
I don't know how much shredded wheat we used - we just crushed til we had the right consistency
I don’t know how much shredded wheat we used – we just crushed until we had the right consistency

Method

  1. Put 10 fairy cake cases in a fairy cake tin and 10 cupcake cases in a muffin tin.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC.
  3. Mix the flour and sugar in a bowl, then add the milk and vanilla and stir until smooth.
  4. Beat in the margarine and egg until well combined and smooth.
  5. Pour the mixture into the cupcake cases until they are about half to two thirds full.
  6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Meanwhile, make the nests…. Melt the chocolate slowly in the microwave or over a pan of boiling water.
  8. Stir in the honey.
  9. Crush shredded wheat in your hands over the bowl and keep doing this, stirring it now and then into the chocolate, until the shredded wheat is nicely covered and the mixture is thick enough to spoon into the fairy cake cases.
  10. Spoon a small amount into the bottom of each case, and press two mini eggs into the centre.
  11. Chill in the fridge until set.
  12. Once the cakes are baked and cooled, and the nests are set, assemble by putting a small blob of icing in the centre of each cake and pressing a nest down on top of it.
  13. Store in an airtight container and eat as fresh as possible.
I'm sure more chocolate went round his mouth than in it!
I’m sure more chocolate went around his mouth than in it!

What’s so good about Good Friday?

It’s a Bank holiday, right? No wait, we get to eat hot cross buns – that must be what the Good refers to. I love a nice hot cross bun, especially indulgent when topped with melting Nutella – yum! I’ve been contemplating whether my bread fast should extend to sweet buns. Technically I guess it should, but it’s Good Friday, and it wouldn’t be the same without them. Tough call. Although I can’t deny the goodness of hot cross buns, I know that they are not of course the real reason why Good Friday is good.

A cross of hot cross buns

The word Good here is used in the sense of ‘Holy’. On Good Friday, Christians like myself remember that Jesus died on a cross (that cross is what inspired the tradition of a cross on a hot bun). In the time leading up to his death, he was living in an area of the Middle East that was at that time under Roman rule. He was brought before the Jewish High Priest in Jerusalem, because he claimed to be the Son of God, which the Jewish priests thought was blasphemous. After that he was sent to the Roman governor, Pilate, but after questioning Jesus he decided there was no reason to sentence him. However, with mounting pressure from an almost riotous crowd of priests and others, demanding that he be crucified for claiming to be God, Pilate ultimately, in fear, handed Jesus over to be put to death. Jesus hung on a cross, tortured for several hours before he died, in between two criminals who had been tried and found guilty of crimes, even though Jesus himself had not actually been found guilty of anything under Roman law.

So why on earth call this day of torture and death, by one of the most excruciating means ever devised by man, Good?! Well, that’s not the end of it! (And remember that Good here is in the sense of ‘Holy’ – Jesus’ death and what happened afterwards were a sign of his ‘Holiness’ or ‘Godliness’). Jesus’ body was taken away, wrapped up in cloths and placed in a tomb, as was the custom at the time. On the third day, what we now celebrate as Easter Sunday (i.e. Friday = 1, Saturday = 2, Sunday = 3), some women who knew Jesus well went to his tomb and found that his body had gone. He then appeared to them, and later to some of his disciples (friends who had followed him closely before his death), showing them that he had risen from the dead and was alive again. These people, who had witnessed his death and then got to meet him in the flesh, alive again, became the first to believe that Jesus Christ really was the Son of God – they were the first Christians, and they went on to spread the Good news of what had happened to others.

You see, Jesus’ death and rising again were exactly what had been foretold (prophesied) in the scriptures, the religious texts, that the Jewish priests would have known inside out – but they just didn’t recognise him when they actually met him during his time on earth. It was written in these scriptures that God would send a ‘Saviour’, who would sacrifice His life and rise again from the dead, in order to make up for all the ways that all of us people fall short of being perfect like God. So we could then draw near to God, be forgiven for our wrongs, and live a new life in Christ, one that lasts beyond our time on Earth. We just have to accept that Jesus died for us, and follow Him, putting Him at the centre of everything we do (which I’ve found you automatically want to do if you’ve accepted the enormity of what He did for us). This message is the Good news that those early Christians went around telling people about, and what ultimately (several centuries later) I got to hear when I was a child, and then later came to understand and accept in my life for real during my early twenties.

So what’s the good bit about Good Friday for you? Do you have a soft spot for hot cross buns like me? Or do you like to take advantage of the Bank holiday and go somewhere different or do something fun? If you’re curious to find out more about the original reason why Good Friday was called that, get in touch and I’d be happy to talk some more about it. For now, have a Happy Easter everyone! 🙂 We’re just about to go on holiday for a week. I’ll leave you with the words of one of my favourite songs (check it out on youtube)….

The greatest day in history, Death is beaten
You have rescued me
Sing it out Jesus is alive
The empty cross, The empty grave
Life eternal You have won the day
Shout it out Jesus is alive
He’s alive
Oh happy day, happy day
You washed my sin away
Oh happy day, happy day
I’ll never be the same
Forever I am changed

(by Tim Hughes)

Chocolate egg nests

OK, I admit it, these classic sweet eats are not exactly what you call rocket science baking (not really baking at all as no oven is involved), but I can’t resist making these at Easter time. One day, in the not too distant future, Andrew will be able to help me with them too – for now he just watched from a safe distance in Daddy’s arms. By combining some sort of cereal with chocolate, you end up (with a little imagination) with something resembling a bird’s nest, which can then be filled with chocolate mini eggs – in my opinion, mini eggs are one of the best things about Easter (after Jesus of course, the reason why we celebrate it in the first place). This year I made a couple of different varieties of nest: white chocolate with cornflakes, and dark chocolate with shredded wheat. Here are the recipes…

Ingredients

White choc cornflake nests

  • 100g white chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 25g margarine
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 35g cornflakes

Dark choc wheat nests

  • 100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 25g margarine
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 50g shredded wheat, crushed

Method

The method was the same for both – start with the white chocolate first, and you can use the same bowl for the dark chocolate (the other way round would risk making your white chocolate come out with a brown tinge!)

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter slowly in the microwave (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water on the hob).
  2. Stir in the honey to the molten mixture.
  3. Stir in the cereals until they are all coated evenly with chocolate.
  4. Spoon dollops of mixture into muffin or fairy cake cases in a muffin tray (so they hold their shape until set).
  5. Press 4 mini eggs into the top of each one, so form a hollow in the mixture, like a nest.
  6. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours.
  7. Once set, remove from paper cases and eat 🙂 (alternatively store in the fridge for a while, but that’s more boring)

Do you like making this sort of cake? What cereals do you think work best? I think the shredded wheat makes it look more like a nest, but I love the crunch you get from cornflakes or bran flakes.