Heroes of the City – review & giveaway

In stereotypical boy form, Andrew is very into vehicles of any sort (though he does like the colour pink). From passenger ones like cars and buses, to construction ones like diggers and cranes, to emergency ones like police cars and fire engines, to countryside ones like tractors and harvesters, and of course to airborne ones like planes and rockets, he can’t get enough of them. So when we were given the opportunity to review some goodies from the TV cartoon series Heroes of the City, I knew he’d love to put them to the test.

Heroes of the City is about rescue vehicles in a small town where everyone can be a hero. Each episode involves an exciting adventure, where characters such as Paulie Police Car and Fiona Fire Engine help the people of the town find thieves, put out fires, and solve the many mysteries that happen in the otherwise quiet town. The characters emphasise friendship, warmth, and what can be accomplished by helping each other. The cartoon is primarily targeted at children age 3-7, and is created by Swedish company Ruta Ett DVD AB. So Andrew well and truly fits in their target audience category.

Hotc eng copy

We were sent a goody bag that included 3 exciting items – toys, book and DVD – each of which I’ll review in turn below. Andrew’s first impression of these goodies was this:

“Wow I love these toys, they’re my favourite!” (though I don’t think he’s quite understood the concept of favourite, he says that about a lot of things, but still, this means it’s positive), “can I watch the DVD please?”

Toys

IMG 1382

We received two die cast toy vehicles – Paulie Police Car and Troy Tractor. These are very cute, and just the right size for Andrew to enjoy playing with now that he’s old enough to have something that bit smaller than the chunky vehicle toys that Joel still plays with. They look well made, and being metal (rather than plastic), they look like they will last for a long time of being well loved. I love how they are cartoon-y in shape – not like a standard Matchbox-style toy car – and reflect really well the characters that you see on screen. They have already been played with a lot, including the snippet of fun in this video in which they went to the car wash (or tractor wash)…

Book

We were sent the Hot Air Balloon story, and there are others too. It has hard front and back covers with glossy full colour pages inside. The pages are filled with full scenes from the episodes, with chunks of text in boxes overlaid to tell the story. I think there is just the right amount of text for Andrew, and he can easily follow the story. He loves the big, bright pictures that fill the pages, and he’s had fun pointing out what he can see as well as reading the story with me and recognising letters and a few words. I think the font is easy to read and about the right size for Andrew at this stage. On the front and back inside covers, there’s even a spot the Calamity Crow scene, which is a fun searching game.

IMG 1444

My one slight reservation is that it sounds slightly American to me – for example in this book, the word soccer is used instead of football, and I had to explain to him what this was, because he knows what football is but he hasn’t heard of soccer. I don’t have a problem with American culture, it’s nothing personal, I just like to stick with British English when reading to Andrew. In time he will no doubt get used to American English too. It won’t stop us reading this book, I just have to do more explaining on a couple of things.

DVD

We were sent Volume 1 which has 5 episodes on. Andrew likes watching it, and straight away picked up on the fact that it’s the same characters and city as the ‘games on Mummy’s phone’. I like the animation, and the faces on the vehicles cleverly show all sorts of emotions using lights for eyes, bumpers for mouths, grills for noses etc. I can see how the aim to ’emphasise friendship, warmth, and what can be accomplished by helping each other’ comes across through watching it myself with the boys, I think it achieves this well and in a way that appeals to preschoolers, particularly if they like vehicles.

The theme tune is catchy, and I found myself humming it to the boys randomly – this happens with various kids programs I find, and this too has made it into my subconscious playlist 😉

Again I should say that the English is American, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but just something to watch out with in terms of vocab differences that crop up. It doesn’t seem to stop Andrew understanding it, though he’s used to watching DVDs and youtube in various languages that he doesn’t understand much of!

App

We were also asked to review the Heroes of the City Movie app, which is free to download from the App Store and Google Play. It is aimed at 2-6 year olds, so again Andrew fits well into this target audience. Included in the app are films and games, based on the Heroes of the City TV series. You get one full episode, one music video and 3 games for free, and then extra ‘fun-packs’ cost £2.49 each, with more films and games.

Web

I downloaded the Apple version of the app on my iPhone (we were sent the full app for free). I first gave it to Andrew one morning whilst I got Joel ready and did some jobs around the house; I wanted to see how much he could figure out on his own. Before I knew it he had played most of the nine games, so I asked him to show me what to do so I could play too. He’s used to the finger actions needed to play games on his grandparents’ iPads, onto which we also downloaded the Heroes of the City app too.

He loves doing jigsaw puzzles, so the game on the app where you have to slot pieces into a puzzle to reveal a character was particularly popular, and he was very good at it. The pieces were trickier to move on the phone than on the tablet-sized screen, but he still managed it. He also liked the game where you have to touch a car that’s racing along to make him jump and catch stars with points attached. This was mainly because the car makes a ‘waps’ sound whenever he jumps, and Andrew thought this was hilarious – this game is now called the ‘waps’ game to him.

HotC_app_01As you play more games, you earn trophies depending on how well you perform, and then you can look at all your trophies in another section of the app. Andrew asked me what this was as he was flicking through, so I explained to him about the gold, silver and bronze trophies – I’m not sure he understood fully what the different colours mean, but he now knows he’s winning and collecting trophies as he goes along. I’ve also heard it on the grapevine that there is a special secret surprise in store which you unlock when you’ve collected enough trophies….!

As well as the games, there are some film clips – more than 6 hours in total (if you buy the extras). Andrew has watched a few of these, but so far it’s been mainly games that he’s played. I can imagine though, that the film clips would be a great way of entertaining him for 5-10 minutes or so if we are out and about and he’s bored waiting for something – it’s like watching a DVD but handily on the phone, already downloaded so no issues with internet connectivity when out and about. If you’re at home and have Apple devices, there is an Air Play function for your Apple TV.

I generally don’t spend money on games apps because there are some good free ones out there, but I would consider paying for 1 or 2 extra Heroes of the City fun packs because they are great games and just right for Andrew’s skills and interests at the moment, plus there are levels that increase in difficulty as he grows and develops.

Overall

We have been impressed with the pack that we were sent: Andrew has enjoyed the games, TV episodes and book, and I have generally found them just right for his age and development, with room to ‘grow’. I also like the fact that this is a collection of various media all based around the same characters and stories. Many of our books, DVDs and games are like this, and I’ve noticed that these are ones which Andrew generally comes back to again and again – maybe he likes the fact that he recognises characters across the various activities he’s doing, whether that’s reading, watching a DVD or youtube, or playing a game on the phone/iPad.

If you’d like any more info on the series, you can find out all about it on the website, Facebook page or on Twitter.

Competition time!

If you like the look of all this fun we’ve had, here’s your chance to win your very own set of toys, book and DVD. All you need to do is fill in the Rafflecopter below to be in with a chance of winning, by 22nd March (please see full T&Cs below).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: we were sent the pack and full app to review free of charge, but all opinions expressed are honest and our own, based on our experience of using the items.

Family day out to find Brum (and some penguins!) – #CountryKids

Hands up – who’s heard of Brum? The little yellow car that is, not the nickname for Birmingham, though that is the point – the play on words that this car is called Brum and he has big adventures in the Big Town which is actually Birmingham. You may not have heard of him, or watched the programme when you were little. I just about remember it, but I think we had more interest in it than most families in the country as we lived near Birmingham and recognised the places it was filmed; it was on CBBC back in the 90s.

We found Brum!
We found Brum!

Thanks to Grandad, who was born and bred in Brum, Andrew has become a big fan of Brum the car. It’s his favourite DVD and he could sit for hours and watch it if I let him. For Christmas, Granny gave Andrew and Grandad the present of a day out to find the real Brum in person! We decided to wait until the weather was better and Joel was older before we did this, so we took advantage of the bank holiday three-day weekend last week and went on our family day out.

At the beginning of each episode we see Brum leaving his home in a garage full of old cars in a quiet Cotswold village and driving all the way to Birmingham to have an adventure and save the day in some big farcical mishap (often involving ‘naughty men’ or ‘baddies’ in Andrew’s words). It is at this Cotswold home that he now resides full time since he no longer films TV programmes. It is actually the Cotswold Motoring Musuem and Toy Collection run by the CSMA club in Bourton on the Water. As well as housing Brum, there is an amazing collection of old cars and other memorabilia from various decades of the last century. Now I’m not in any way a car enthusiast (as long as mine gets me from A to B I couldn’t care less what it looks like!) but I have to say I found the museum fascinating, I think precisely because it wasn’t just old cars, but old cars placed in context with other items of everyday living from their era.

Lots for toddlers to do around the museum
Lots for toddlers to do around the museum

When we spotted Brum hiding between two bigger cars, just as he does in the opening scene, Andrew was surprised to see him, but after the initial shock he seemed happy enough to have his photo taken (a few times!) next to him, of course with Grandad too! Once we’d hung around and talked to him for a bit, we made our way through the rest of the museum, which I would highly recommend for children of any age from toddlers to teenagers. There were toys to play with along the way that related to the era of each room, for example a toy work bench with tools in the old car workshop and bright coloured star block things in the swinging sixties room with multi-coloured windows! Andrew loved it, and so did we 🙂

Perhaps the best bit for a Brum-obsessed toddler (and his grandad) was the play room at the end – not only were there real old toys including cars to look at but also some new toys to play with and a ride-on Brum! What more could he ask for?! The paintings on the wall of famous portraits, such as the Mona Lisa and The Scream, repainted with Brum characters were particularly entertaining.

After the excitement of finding Brum, we took a wander through the village and then found a lovely cafe for lunch. We weren’t sure if the weather was going to be good enough for a picnic, so didn’t risk it, and even if we had have taken one, we would have been fighting the world and his wife for a spot by the river in this idyllic Cotswold village that gets rather busy (read: rammed) on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

Brum 3

As it had turned out so nice and sunny after a cloudy start, we decided to make the most of being out and go to Birdland in the village. I remember going there a few times as a child, so it was lovely to go back with my own kids and se how it has changed and also how it’s still the same place. As we arrived we were just in time to see the penguin feeding session. There’s a bit of a penguin theme in our family, as Tom has been into collecting all things penguin since he was little, and the boys seem to have been given quite a lot of stuff to carry on the tradition. So we were all impressed with seeing some real live penguins enjoying their fishy snack!

Penguins

Once feeding time was over we headed off around the park to see lots of other birds. There was everything from small canaries to owls to storks to large ostriches. Andrew was very good but was clearly starting to get tired, so after a wander we sat outside at the cafe and had a nice cool drink, until he spotted a play park nearby and insisted on having a go, the Duracell bunny that he is! So Grandad (was) volunteered to go with him. Meanwhile, Joel was very contented to spend most of the day being worn in the sling, either asleep or having a good old look around at all the new sights, and also getting out and feeding/eating with us when we sat down.

Flamingoes and an ostrich
Flamingoes and an ostrich

A quick dash back to the cars when we remembered that the time on the ticket was running out and we were on our way home again. A thoroughly enjoyed day to remember for years to come and some worn out boys were what we were left with.

Linking up with Country Kids at Coombe Mill blog again today 🙂

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Plum and almond upside-down cake (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 1)

A slice of freshly baked plum and almond upside-down cake 🙂 Tom asked me if he needed to eat it whilst standing upside down.... I guess if you like cream with your cake, this would be a good choice, especially whilst still warm (I'm not a big fan of cream with cakes).

Our decision to no longer have a TV originated in the fact that after Andrew was born, we found that we were never watching live TV. We were never able to sit down at exactly the time when programmes were on, so would download them on iPlayer and watch them when we had chance. This also meant we could stop them mid-way through and carry on watching at a later time if we didn’t have a whole hour to watch a programme of that length. What has this got to do with cake though? Well, the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the few programmes that I’ve ever set to series download on iPlayer (the only other ones I can think of have been Outnumbered and Have I Got News For You). I did it last year, and would sit and watch the episodes whilst feeding Andrew, as he would generally feed and sleep on and off pretty much most of the afternoon back then. This year, series 3 of GBBO has just started with episode 1 broadcast in the week just gone. We watched half of it it a day later, and the other half 2 days later, on iPlayer. I’m thinking that each week I may need to avoid twitter until I’ve watched the episode from that week, because there are bound to be spoilers with the number of people hash-tagging #GBBO!

Anyway, this first episode was all about cake. Contestants had to follow Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Rum Baba (which always makes me think of a family joke: ‘Rum Baba what ain’t got no rum’ …. a select few readers will know what on earth I’m going on about there. If you’re not one of them, don’t worry, it’s not really worth the effort of explaining – you had to be there apparently), and they also had to bake a cake with a hidden design when it was cut into. This last bake was amazing – they all came up with some ingenious ideas. If I had more time and energy, I’d have a go at something like that myself, but for now I thought I’d take some inspiration from the first thing they had to bake, which was an upside-down cake. The concept is as follows: you place fruit at the bottom of a cake tin, pour over a sponge mixture, bake, and when it’s cool, turn it over so that the fruit comes out on the top.

Upside-down cakes always make me think back to Home Economics (isn’t it called Food Tech these days?!) lessons, because one of the earliest memories of them that I have is baking a pineapple upside-down cake. It was pretty easy really – I’d already had quite a lot of baking experience by the time I was 11. Since then I don’t think it’s ever crossed my mind to bake one again, I guess because I thought they were a bit old-fashioned, not particularly the ‘in’ thing these days to bake. But seeing what the contestants came up with, I realised that it didn’t have to be the classic pineapple rings from a tin, with glace cherries in the middle of the rings, and a simple plain sponge. The contestants baked all sorts of variations on this theme, with various fruits, flavours of sponge and finishing touches. This inspired me to think beyond the Home Ec. memory, and use a flavour combination that I love.

And that’s how we get to ‘plum and almond upside-down cake’. I think this fruit and flavour of sponge work really well together, and I love them both on their own too. Plums are just coming into season now as well, so they have great flavour and are nicely priced in the shops. The sponge is a basic three-egg plain sponge, with half the flour (self-raising) replaced by ground almonds and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, plus almond essence instead of vanilla essence. The almonds make it denser than an ordinary light and airy sponge, but I really like this texture, more like a Bakewell tart than a Victoria sponge. I’m not sure whether Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would approve of the denser texture, but the main thing is I like it and my other tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) do too! That’s the thing I don’t get about baking or general food competitions like GBBO – flavours and textures are very subjective things, so how can they be judged by just 2 people?

As well as the fruit and sponge, an upside-down cake traditionally has a caramel topping that you line the tin with before putting the fruit in. I distinctly remember from my Home Ec. lesson that the recipe we had to follow had golden syrup instead – I remember because I’m sure that was the first time I learnt that heating your spoon in a cup of boiling water before putting it the syrup tin meant that it ran off the spoon better. For the plum and almond take on the theme, I decided to use honey instead, because it’s as easy as golden syrup (i.e. I didn’t have to make a separate caramel sauce) but I love the taste and think it goes well with the other flavours in the cake, plus I’m not a massive fan of golden syrup and often tend to replace it with honey in recipes.

If you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe. It’s a pretty easy one, and is a bit more unusual than a classic sponge cake. Have you ever made an upside-down cake? I’d love to hear of other flavour combinations and variations on this theme.

Close up - nice golden, crispy edge, squidgy plums just inside, then smooth and moist sponge in the middle - great combination.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • about 5 medium plums, halved and stones removed
  • 170g margarine
  • 170g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 85g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare the tin: line a medium-sized springform cake tin with greaseproof paper, and place on a baking sheet (this will catch any honey that leaks out).

    Tin lined with greaseproof paper, ready to be filled! Just need to put it on a baking tray (forgot to take a picture of that!)
  2. Spread the honey over the base of the tin.
  3. Place the half plums flat side down around the edge of the tin.

    Honey and plums - when I turned the baked cake over and took the greaseproof paper off, I was glad that I'd put the plums around the outside only, because they became very squidgy with the baking and lost their structure, but it worked out well around the edge as opposed to if I'd have put them in the middle, which I suspect would have caused the cake to collapse a bit!
  4. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the eggs until smooth.
  6. Mix in the ground almonds, flour, almond essence and baking powder until well combined.
  7. Pour the mixture into the tin, spreading it over the plums until they are all covered and the surface of the mixture is flat and even.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and springy to touch. Insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to check it’s baked through: if it comes out clean, it’s ready, if not, put it back in for a few minutes at a time until it passes this skewer test!

    Just out of the oven, cooling, before I turned it over
  9. Leave to cool fully.
  10. Release the spring on the tin and carefully pull the paper away from the sides of the tin. Place a plate over the top of the tin, and quickly turn it over, making sure you hold onto the tin and plate at the same time, until the cake comes away from the tin and ends up on the plate – the plums now facing upwards on the top.
  11. Store in an airtight container, or it would freeze well too, if it’s not eaten too soon 😉

    Upside down (but actually this is how it's supposed to be)

Pregnancy diary: week 27 – “We’re having a baby”

Erm, yes, I know that, I hear you say. Isn’t that the point of these pregnancy diary posts? Yes indeed it is, and it’s through writing these that my blog was found by a TV production company, Firecracker Films, who are producing a documentary for BBC3 called “We’re having a baby”. The idea is that instead of having a film crew come and live with us, we will do the filming ourselves, using a home video camera – a handy flip cam the size of a smartphone, which, thanks to recent advances in everyday filming technology, makes pretty decent quality footage. We’ll send this to Firecracker Films, and they will edit it, along with all the other participants’ footage, into a 90-minute documentary. You can read more about why the BBC is getting into such user-generated documentaries here.

The description that I’ve been given of “We’re having a baby” (or WHAB for short) is as follows…

Young couples between roughly 16-30 years old, from across the UK, at various stages of pregnancy, will film their own remarkable journey. This will be their story, in their own words. Whilst we see a lot of pregnant young people on television, they’re all too often portrayed in a negative way, or condemned as victims of a hopeless predicament. Through this documentary, we want to challenge those stereotypes and show that even though young people may face challenges, they can also have real spirit, strength and determination. We hope this film will help increase understanding about what being a young parent really is and help raise awareness of the challenges and rewards.

Notice how often the word ‘young’ occurs there! I like it! Even at age 29 (just), and Tom at 28, we’re still classed as ‘young’ parents these days 🙂 I guess that’s true, given the stats that I talked about last week (I promised no more graphs this week, so I won’t go on about it!) It’s not just because of this flattery that we agreed to take part in the documentary. Since writing these pregnancy diary posts, I’ve come to really like the idea of documenting our pregnancy journey. It’s something I never thought about doing the first time, mainly because I didn’t blog then. I’m not sure how many others in the documentary are first-time or non-first-time parents, but I hope we can show that our pregnancy journey is positive for the four of us involved, as is the intention of the producers. Of course our journey will be different from first-time parents, because we already have some experience of what will happen, though I’m aware that two pregnancies, births, babies and toddlers are in no way guaranteed to be similar!

Bumpy in black! Feels like baby is getting bigger, and he/she is definitely active, so I get some quite interesting ripples across my tummy when he/she moves in certain ways! 🙂

So far it’s been fun recording little snippets of life on the flipcam (that we were loaned by Firecracker). It’s just a few minutes here and there, mainly filming everyday activities that we would normally do, describing what’s going on with us as a family as we prepare to welcome a fourth person into our lives. For example, we’ve filmed the three of us playing at the park, me breastfeeding Andrew, where baby will sleep (i.e with us for a few months before he/she is ready to go into a cot in the room where Andrew currently sleeps), and a weekly bump shot with me describing how I feel each week. We get guidance and suggestions from Firecracker about things that we might like to shoot, but ultimately it’s down to us to capture what we think best shows who we are and what we’re doing in this pregnancy.

They are interested to learn about our parenting ‘style’, which I see as something unique from family to family. Although there are several things that I do as a mum which might label me as doing a particular type of parenting (e.g. Attachment Parenting), I’m not a massive fan of such broad labels, precisely because I think parenting is a very personal thing which manifests itself slightly differently in every family. It’s interesting that by doing something like this filming, it’s made me think more about who we are and how we come across to others as parents and as a family. I’ve actually learned a lot about myself and how this comes across in my parenting since Andrew has been in our lives. I had some ideas about how I would mother him before he came along, but it’s only since being his mum that I’ve really figured out what kind of a mum I am and why I like it that way. For example, I never thought about extended breastfeeding in pregnancy – I thought I’d give it a go, get to six months if possible, and that was when you were supposed to wean the baby; but over time it just seemed like a carrying on was the most natural thing to do, being as we both get a lot out of it, and I learned from others that you don’t have to wean baby yourself at 6 months.

It’s great that we get to keep all the footage, so we’ll get this as a diary, as well as the finished programme with everyone else’s story in. I’m looking forward to doing more filming over the coming weeks, as well as writing these posts, to document our pregnancy journey. If I get round to it, I’ll post a few video snippets on here where relevant, so you get some idea of what I’ve been filming. Quite a short post (for me!) this week, but I’ll be back with more news next week 🙂