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Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

I just thought I ought to leave a quick message to explain the forthcoming blogging absence... Mama Max (et al) are off on their jolly holidays! My little brother is getting married in Lanzarote (one of Spain's Canary Islands off the Northwest coast of Africa) so we are making the epic trek to join them in celebrating their Big Day. I'm really excited to be having a 'proper' vacation for once, with a villa and pool, and nearby beach... it's just the 10 hour flight to London this evening that is stressing me out slightly! The boys have been a little hyper so far today, and I'm still finishing the packing and cleaning... aaarrgh! I'm going to try to squeeze in a trip to the park this afternoon to try to burn off some excess energy!

The last time we travelled, we used the Gogo Babyz Kidz Travelmate for our twins and it was amazingly helpful... see my review for more information on how we got on! This time we have a new travel aid in the form of the amazing Bubblebum for the Big One! Such a great idea... an inflatable booster car seat!







Pros
  • It's small and compact - at only 13" wide, it fits in between my two larger car seats no problem at all (it has even allowed us to book a 'normal' sized saloon hire car in London as we'll be able to fit all three kids in the back seat!).  Once we return from our holiday it will be perfect to stow in the car for last minute playdates etc...
  • It deflates and folds up into a drawstring bag very easily and can be stowed in a hand luggage bag (it measured approximately 14" x 6" x 4" when folded).
  • It's quick to inflate only requiring a few puffs, and has a clever valve to close off.
  • It's very comfortable and stable - it has a memory foam pad that my son said was comfier than his normal booster.
  • It meets American safety regulations for children between 4 and 11 years old (weighing 40-100lb and up to 57" tall).
  • At $40 it's not that cheap... HOWEVER, we will save that and more by not having to hire a booster with our hire car!!





Cons
  • It only comes in purple (which the Big One was disgusted by)!!!!

The Bubblebum website has very helpful printed and video instructions for use and is very user friendly!


I'll try to update with the odd photo of our travels but will be back to regular blogging in mid-June!!!! Miss you guys!!


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Posted by Mama Max - - 5 comments

Silent Sunday
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Posted by Mama Max - - 4 comments

Today is the birthday of long suffering Him Indoors (... Happy birthday, love!) and so I made a cake yesterday for him to take into the office to share with his colleagues!  When I asked the Big One what cake I should make, he replied with the oh-so-helpful "whatever Dad likes best"!  So, I started to consider ideas... and while hubby-dearest may have appreciated it, there was no way I was going to make a Preston North End FC cake!!!  So, another of his passions came to mind... technology!  I am married to a geek... a fellow Geologist and technophile, he's never happier than when faffing with some new gadget or other!  His iPad is a current favourite and with it's sleek form and iconic status was an obvious choice!  So an iPad cake was the choice for Dad... an iDad Cake, if you like!!!




I thought I would blog about the technique I used for this cake as it's become my favourite way of decorating a cake... I used it recently for the Big One's Peregrine Falcon cake!  I am completely useless at piping frosting and get in a right mess, however, I can wield a paintbrush with reasonable accuracy.  Playing to my strengths, I therefore paint my cakes out of choice!

You will need...

  • A cake... I made a large rectangular-shaped Chocolate Guiness cake (it's a recipe from Nigella Lawson's cookbook, "Feast", and it is simply divine)
  • Enough buttercream (or jam) to cover a thin layer over the cake
  • White ready made fondant icing
    sufficient to cover your cake
  • Powdered icing sugar (to dust your board and rolling pin)
  • Rolling pin
  • Sharp knife
  • Powdered edible color pigments, e.g. Wilton's Color Dust
    or food colors specifically designed for painting/stamping, e.g. Wilton's Dab-N-Color
    (normal food coloring runs and isn't quite so successful)
  • Clear vanilla extract or clear alchohol
  • A paintbrush to be used exclusively for food
  • A plate to use as a palette
First of all, you need to cover your cake with fondant icing.  Make sure the cake surface is as level and smooth as possible to give a good finish.  Roll the fondant icing until a 1/4 inch thick and wide enough to cover the cake entirely with an excess (use a fine dusting of icing sugar on your work surface and rolling pin).  Spread a thin layer of buttercream or jam over the surface of the cake (so the icing sticks) and then gently lift the sheet of icing (using the rolling pin to help) and drape over the cake.

















Smooth the surface of the fondant icing very gently taking care not to stretch or tear it.  Then using a sharp knife, trim the excess icing so that the cake is fully covered.  Take care not to trim too much... you can always trim more, but if you cut too much off first time, it's nearly impossible to fill the gap discreetly!  I used a ribbon around the base of the cake to hide a few rough edges.  Stick the ends of the ribbon to the cake with a dab of paste made from icing sugar and water.









You can then paint directly onto the surface of the 'blank canvas'.  Alternatively, I cut shapes out of extra pieces of fondant icing and painted these... this gave a slightly 3D effect, but also made for neater edges (especially when using a dark color).  I also used some ready-colored fondant icing in black to cut out the outer edge of my iPad shape.







To paint the cake, you simply need to mix small amounts of the powdered pigment with some clear vanilla extract or alcohol to make a liquid (or use the liquid edible color instead).  I used a small egg cup with the clear alcohol in it and used it to dip my brush in (as if painting with watercolors!).  Mix your colors on a plate to get the shades you need.  From red, yellow, blue, white and black you can create the full spectrum of colors you need, for example:
  • Red + yellow = orange
  • Blue + yellow = green
  • Red + blue = purple
  • Red + white = pink
  • Red + black = burgundy
  • Blue + white = pale blue
  • Blue + black = navy blue
  • Yellow + white = cream
  • Yellow + black = mustard
  • Red + yellow + blue + black = brown
  • Red + yellow + blue + white = beige
Then simply, paint the images you like onto the surface of the fondant icing.  Allow to dry for a few hours and then done!  For my iPad I cut extra small pieces of fondant icing and decorated with the paints and an edible ink marker pen ( I use the AmeriColor Gourmet Food Writer  ones... I then stuck these on with a little dab of water on the back.


















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Posted by Mama Max - - 4 comments

Here in Texas we're nearing the end of the school year (yes, really) and all I can say is... "phew, at last!".  I'm sure i'll be eating my words when the summer is dragging on and the boys are driving me crazy, but this semester has dragged on with barely any respite since Christmas.  Unlike the UK, where the kids get a 2 week break for Easter and a mid-term week off either side of that holiday, here in Texas we slog it out from the beginning of January with just Spring Break in February.  We are exhausted.  And I am particularly fed up of the morning chore of getting packed lunches made.  What a faff, and such a drain on my time when I am struggling to get the boys (and myself) up, dressed and breakfasted as it is.  I am also looking forward with a bit of dread to the new school year starting in August, when all 3 of my boys will be attending school every day and will need uniforms ironing and lunches made... bah!  At the moment the twins only go twice a week and don't start until 9.30am giving me time to sort out the Big One and get him safely delivered to school before I even contemplate getting the little ones ready!  So I am going to need to streamline and organise the process.  

With this in mind I bring you the results of a trial I have been undertaking... frozen sandwiches made ahead of time.  The idea was inspired by my younger brother, Gavin, who undertook an mechanical engineering apprenticeship at the tender age of 16.  Being a slothful teenager, he would leave it until the very last minute possible before jumping out of bed and onto his pushbike to get to work.  Living as he was on an apprentice's wage, he couldn't afford to visit the greasy burger van parked outside his workshop daily like his colleagues, so resorted to making his own 'butties' at the weekend and freezing them ready to grab-and-go.  While I admired his thrifty-ness and planning, I always shied away from the idea assuming the 'sarnies' would be soggy or suffering from freezer burnt bread.

I am delighted to report that this is NOT the case, as long as you follow some golden rules!  I've split this post into sections to cover all the requirements of a packed lunch fit for a king (or prince/princess, as required)!




Part 1:  The Sandwich (a.k.a. buttie, sarnie, sub, wrap etc..)


Golden Rule #1...  The key to making this work is to make sure that you choose your fillings wisely.  Not all foods freeze well and a spell in the extreme cold can do strange things to certain sandwich fillings!

Sandwich fillings that CAN and do freeze well include:

  • Meat - cold sliced roast meats (a great way of using up leftovers after a Sunday roast), hams, cooked bacon, deli meats, salami, cooked sausages, meatballs etc...



  • Fish - tinned tuna, salmon, sardines etc... Smoked salmon or mackerel also fabulous.
  • Cheese - grated is best as freezing tends to make cheese crumbly.  All hard cheeses work well, as does Philadelphia cream cheese, Brie, Camembert, Feta and Swiss. Full fat freezes better than low-fat cheese.  (See below for some cheese exceptions!). 



  • Jams & jellies
  • Peanut butter (and other nut butters) 
  • Marmite/vegemite
  • Nutella
  • Honey
  • Pesto
  • Sliced/chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes and capers
  • Pickles, chutneys and mustards
  • Caramelised onions, cooked aubergine (eggplant) and courgette (zucchini) slices


Even the fussiest eater must be able to find some combination of the above that works for them?!



Things that CAN NOT be frozen in a sandwich:
  • Eggs - they go very rubbery.
  • Mayonnaise - this tends to seperate in the freezer.
  • Salad, fruits & raw vegetables - go watery, soggy & limp once frozen.
  • Cottage cheese
Don't assume that because you can't include salad, raw vegetables or mayo in your salad you will have a boring sandwich (see part 2 for more ideas)!



Golden Rule #2... To prevent the bread from going soggy you will need to take preventative steps.  The best method is to use a thin layer of butter or margarine spread all the way to the edges of both slices of bread.  These help make the bread 'waterproof'!  Alternatively you could use peanut butter (or another nut butter).  This rule is especially important with sandwich fillings that are wet, like jam, honey and chutneys.  While mentioning bread it's worth noting that all types of bread work well for frozen sandwiches:
  • Sliced (white, wholemeal, granary, sourdough, rye etc...)
  • Rolls, baps, bagels & croissants
  • Tortillas and wraps










Golden Rule #3... Wrap your sandwiches individually with plastic wrap or a ziploc sandwich bag making sure to squeeze out as much air as possible.  Then store them in a larger airtight container, such as a gallon size ziploc bag, plastic tub or even the bread bag.  Again try to avoid too much air around them as this minimizes any potential freezer burn that can harden the bread.  It is a good idea to label the sandwiches unless you enjoy the idea of a lucky dip lunch!  Frozen sandwiches are good for up to about 1-2 months, but after this you will start to notice a deterioration... I suggest you make a week or 2 ahead of yourself at most (you'd be lucky to fit many more than that in your freezer anyway).








To use the frozen sandwiches, remove from the freezer the night before and place in the fridge overnight to defrost.  Or if you live in Texas like me, where it's flippin' hot most of the time, simply place in the lunchbox in the morning and it will be perfectly defrosted by lunch!  If you have access to a sandwich toaster during your lunch break, some sarnies lend themselves very well to a bit of toasting!


Part 2:  The sandwich 'extras' & alternatives!
A plain ham sandwich is unlikely to float the boat of many adults (although, this may suit many kids).  But fear not ... there are plenty of things you can do to supplement your sarnie that can be prepared in advance and either frozen or refrigerated.


Salad... While freezing your salad is a definite no-no, this doesn't mean that you can't include this in your lunch AND prepare at the weekend for the week ahead.  Simply fill small ziploc bags or plastic pots with ready prepared salad.  Just don't include the dressing and leave 'wet' ingredients like tomatoes whole (baby plum or cherry tomatoes are perfect).  You can prepare a little bag/pot for every day of the week all in advance so that when you are filling your lunchbox, you simply grab the salad from the fridge along with the sandwich from the freezer!  Then at lunchtime, simply pop the salad into the sandwich and hey, presto... a far more interesting sandwich!







Dressing... You may not be able to freeze mayonnaise IN your sandwich, but as with the salad, it doesn't have to be excluded.  You can use small pre-packaged sachets/packets of dressings - either save unwanted ones from when you eat out or get takeaway or you can buy boxes of these.  Warehouse clubs like Costco often do these at good value for money or order online.  Alternatively, 1- or 2-oz baby food storage pots are the perfect size for decanting your own condiments and this is obviously better value.












Alternatives... You'd be surprised what can be frozen in individual portions that make brilliant packed lunches instead of a sandwich:
  • Cooked slices of pizza, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen. They defrost ready for lunch like the sandwiches... and who doesn't like a bit of cold pizza!!!
  • Similarly, quiche or pie portions (my Darth Vader mini sausage rolls would be perfect for this) wrap and freeze well.
  • A portion of cooked pasta and sauce frozen in a plastic pot.  This is great simply defrosted and eaten cold or can be reheated in a microwave if available... just remember the rules of what can & cannot be frozen from the sandwiches (i.e. no mayonnaise!).  This works best when the pasta is slightly al dente, as freezing causes the pasta to soften slightly.
  • Boil a batch of eggs until hard-boiled, cool and then store in the (labelled) box in the fridge. Grab an egg or two to take in your lunch and simply peel when ready to eat!







Part 3:  Healthy bits

In addition to the main sandwich (or alternative) it is often nice to include a few extra bits.  I always try to include some healthy extras and many of these can be prepared ahead of time:
  • Prepared fruit - If you are preparing for the week ahead you can wash and prepare some fruits for use in the early part of the week.  Many fruits start to spoil within a day or two of being washed so plan to use prepared pots/bags of fruit early in the week.  For example a little pot of washed (and dried) berries and/or grapes prepared on the Sunday evening would be great to take for lunch on Monday or Tuesday.  Segmented citrus fruit will last 2-3 days as long as it's stored in a small airtight container (after that it will start to spoil).  Similarly, cut pineapple will stay good for a few days, but will end up with a lot of juice after the first day or so so may need a fork!










  • Fresh fruit - Many fruits are well designed by Mother Nature for easy transportation and can work well for older kids and (obviously) adults.  An apple only needs a quick rinse in the morning before packing in the lunchbox.  Citrus fruits have their own 'jackets' as do bananas.  If you find your bananas bruise and brown too easily, try a banana guard (I blogged about these little wonders before)!




  • Fruit smoothies - Use fresh or frozen fruit, juices and/or yoghurts to make smoothies in advance.  These can be frozen in cups with lids and then defrosted in the fridge/lunchbox for a healthy & tasty slushy! Click here for some more ideas like this from www.meetthedubiens.com


  • smoothies2

  • Dried fruit & nuts- Raisins in boxes (or decanted into small pots/bags) are easy to have lined up for the whole week.   Other dried fruits and/or nuts can be purchased in bulk and divided into easily grabbed portions ready to be popped into a lunch box.
  • Fruit leathers - see my recipe for your own dried fruit leathers or roll-ups... very tasty and nutritious!
  • Yoghurts - You can buy 'tubes' of yoghurt that are perfect for lunchboxes (e.g. Petit Filous Frubes in the UK, and GoGurts or Squeezers in the US) .  They freeze brilliantly and make excellent healthy alternatives to ice lollipops.  Placed in a lunchbox in the morning, they help to keep the lunch cool while slowly defrosting in time for lunch!



  • Crudites & dips - Rather than having your veggies and dressings in your sandwich, have them on the side.  Washed and peeled baby carrots, chopped celery sticks etc... can be prepared at the weekend in small portions ready for the week.  You can buy special snack containers that have built in dip holders and are fab.  Alternatively, simply bag up the veggies and use the mini baby food pots mentioned above to decant the dips.  These can be prepared for the whole week and stored in the fridge ready to grab & go in the morning.







Part 4:  'Unhealthy' treats

A small treat in the lunchbox is often well received and they don't have to be totally 'unhealthy'!  Some ideas for prepare ahead treats are:
  • Muffins or cake - homemade or store-bought mini muffins or portions of cake can be wrapped and frozen individually for an easy to grab portion perfect for a lunchtime treat.
  • Cookies & crackers - buy in individually portioned packages, or buy in bulk and decant into small containers in advance.





On a final note, one of the best bits of advice I can suggest is to get everyone involved... get a production line going and make it a part of your Sunday evening routine... even the younger members of the family can fill a pot with crackers and do their bit!

As this is still an ongoing trial I'd love to hear any other ideas or suggestions... so please leave your comments below!  xxx

http://www.thethriftyhome.com
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