Many years ago, before the boys were born, we went on safari to Kenya and Tanzania. When the boys get older we would love to go back again, but in the meantime we can go to Chessington World of Adventure. Not quite as exotic or the sheer number of animals hurtling across the savanna, but it’s a start. And let’s be honest the boys don’t know any different.
Going to a theme park during school term means that the rides are often empty first thing in the morning and the Safari ride was no exception. Getting to the start took about five minutes to walk through the desolate turnstiles that would normally be a full.
As some of the park doesn’t opens until midday in the off season we were able to explore areas in peace and quiet and actually take in our surroundings.
There are a lot of rides at Chessington, some of which are for children older than my two boys, however it’s the animals that they really love.
With the some what changeable weather that we have had in recent weeks, we have not been in the garden as much as we would like. It has been however perfect conditions for the garden to grow, and we harvested and ate our first strawberry today.
We visited Legoland Windsor several times last year and as it is now open again after the Winter we decided to head over again and see what the boys can now ride on.
Once we have taken the train down hill, our first stop is usually the Boat School. In the queue the boys play with the tables of Lego to wile away the time.
With the boys “in control” of steering (as they are too short to be in control of the power) the ride is more like bumper-cars than a gentle float around the park watching the Lego animals.
Lunchtime is usually spent sitting round at the Pirates of Skeleton Bay eating a packedlunch and watching the show. The acrobatic pirates are entertaining enough to keep the boys sat still and to eat their sandwiches. Be warned that there is a lot of water and you will get wet if you sit in the wrong place!
The advantage of Legoland over other theme parks is that it is specifically design for young children of a variety of ages, which means that there are enough rides and activities for both boys to do. There are some height restrictions, but generally the boys are satisfied with what they can do.
Obviously the highlight of the day is seeing the rugby in the Welsh valley in Miniland!
Easter had arrived and my wife took time off work and we planned out a week of activities to keep the boys amused; Bocketts, The Look Out, Warwick Castle, and Legoland, to name but a few. This also coincided with my computer operating system stopping working and forcing me to lose most of my photos of the week and keeping me from adding any new posts.
Anyway, this week we returned to one of the boys favourite places, Bocketts Farm Park.
As it’s spring, and Bocketts is a working farm, it was lambing season in the big barn. This was a bit of an eye opener for me, but the boys didn’t really pay attention to farmer with his arms up the ewe, with blood all over his shirt and sleeve! Lambs aplenty, it was a good day for the boys and their older cousins to visit the farm.
Last time we came we did the Animal Handling with rabbits and hens, but this time we got to touch little chicks and a goat.
One of the reasons we come back to Bocketts Farm, are the play areas that they have. The boys love the large indoor slides as much as the parks outside. Our eldest was tall enough to pedal the ‘racing cars’ that they have built and loved riding around the circuit.
We only live thirty minutes away from Bocketts, but both boys are always asleep by the time we get home, having run around like headless chickens all day long.
Quite a few of our inspiring friends, for some reason, decided to run in the London marathon today. Not that they decided today to do it rather they made the decision several months ago and put in the many miles training that was needed to cross the finish line.
We however just turned up, wandered around the SouthBank, had a spot of early lunch and then joined the crowds on the Embankment to cheer on the runners.
With two young children it is often feels easier to avoid crowded events, especially in London with a pushchair and having to navigate escalators and stairwells, but that potentially means missing out on a great day. Taking the boys to events which inspire and motivate them, be it creative, cultural or sporting, is important, and more often than not has been worth trying. That’s not to say it always goes to plan, but today was that did.
My friend Ben was running his first marathon today and was wearing a GPS tracker so we were able to chart his progress and we waited expectantly for him to run past us at the 24 mile mark, which he duly did and went on to finish in a very good time of around three and a half hours. Not bad for a guy 40 next month!
Once Ben has run passed us we walk towards the finish line along the Thames to Parliament Square and then through to Trafalgar Square to meet up with him and congratulate him on his remarkable achievement.
One of the benefits of being back in the UK and not living in the Middle East, is that without the searing 50°C heat, we are able to grow plants and vegetables. Last summer we grew some tomatoes which the boys enjoyed planting, watering and picking.
Most of the boys interest in gardening come from their Nanny who encouraged the boys from a very early age to “help” her grow potatoes, onions, strawberries, rhubarb, courgettes, carrots and a few other things that they love to eat in her own garden.
Whilst we are currently renting where we live we are not able to dig up the garden and create a vegetable patch, we are able to make use of pots and growing bags to have a very mini allotment.
Last weekend we went to the local garden centre and farm shop and bought some colourful plants to pot, and some herbs, fruit and vegetables to plant.
Whilst a two year gap between the boys is relatively small, our youngest attention span is significantly less than his older brother, and after a few minutes he was off on the trampoline.
Planting a mixture of decorative plants for colour and herbs provides a variety of stimuli for the boys; colour, texture, smell, and taste.
To give some responsibility to the boys for the garden we potted a strawberry plant for each boy to tend and water over the summer, and hopefully once the fruits grow they will be able to pick them and eat them (once washed) straight off the plant.
“Come on and grow. We want some strawberries!”
If we can keep the boys away from the water hose when our backs are turned, the plants may live long enough to grow!
My sons are mad about pasta, and so it’s a regular on our weekly menu. I usually make a very simple tomato sauce to go with some penne or fusilli, but today I wanted to make something a little more flavoursome, so I decided to make a slow-cooked beef ragu. I have loosely used a recipe from Mario Batali (From The Food Network, not to be confused with the ex Man City player), with the main difference being that I have not used wine in my recipe.
Whilst I sometimes like to cook intricate and delicate dishes, making something tasty without too much complexity or mess is often preferable, especially when you have two young boys running around the house. I switched the cooking method for this dish to a one-pot oven roasted dish so that once the preparation is complete, I can set the timer on the oven and do something else.
As with all tomato based sauces the longer that the cooking time the more intense the flavour. This dish is probably ready within the hour, but could cook for three or four hours in the oven! I have a cast-iron Dutch oven which I use for all of my oven recipes, but any pot that can be used on the hob and the oven will work.
large glug of olive oil
1 carrot diced
1 onion diced
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf
100g pancetta diced
750g beef cut into cubes
1/2 tube tomato paste
1 cup of milk
1 carton of passata
Tesco Finest* Paccheri pasta
Parmigiano-Regganio to taste
Heat the oven to about 160 C
On the hob, gently sweat off the onions and carrots so that they are fully cooked, but not browned and then add the pancetta.
When the pancetta has some colour and is starting to turn crispy, add the beef and sear the meat well.
Once the beef is brown add the tomatoes, bay leaf, milk and about 200ml of water and season.
Cover the pan with a lid and transfer to the oven for around two hours.
After around two hours the sauce should be fully cooked so remove from the oven and fork the meat into smaller pieces; to a consistency a little like pulled pork or crispy duck.
When ready to serve cook the paccheri in salty water as per the cooking instruction, with a little olive oil. Drain the pasta and return it to the pan, retaining a small amount of the salty cooking liquor. Add a large spoon of the ragu to the saucepan and stir to fully coat the pasta.
Transfer to a plate and sprinkle a generous amount of Parmigiano-Regganio over the pasta.
The Tesco Finest* Authentic Italian Pasta used in this recipe was provided by Tesco as a complimentary sample. The pasta is made by the Di Martino family in Italy where they have been producing pasta in their factory in Gragnano for 100 years, and are experts at knowing how to make the best possible authentic Italian product.
I especially like the Orzo pasta which I have been using for quite a while to make a lovely rocket, Parmigiano-Regganio and olive oil salad.
One of our usual haunts to get out of the house during the week is Piglets Play Centre. Over the last few months we have spent at least one morning a week at Piglets play centre, as it’s the first place the boys want to go to if I give them a choice!
One of the main attractions to Piglets is that it has both indoor and outdoor activities. Indoors has all the usual soft-play, kitchens, cars and bikes, but it is outside that really sets it apart from other places.
Outdoors at Piglets
Running around and burning off energy as well as stimulating the mind are key targets when getting out of the house which is why we come here as the outdoor area is set in a large enclosed grass field with plenty of space.
With slides, swings, wooden playhouses with ramps, wooden tractors and a sandpit, there is plenty of things for both boys to be amused. When we went last week the weather had been dry for some time and so the sandpit was a perfect place to decamp and dig lots of holes.
As the name would suggest there are pigs, as well as a few other animals and in the drier months they also do pony rides, which as you can imagine during holidays are very popular.
Indoors at Piglets
During the winter we have been consigned to staying indoors, as my boys attract more mud than the pigs! Fortunately there are enough facilities indoors to keep them entertained. My eldest tends to disappear into the soft play, whilst my youngest alternates between the cars and tractors, and the wooden wendy house with the kitchen and cooker.
Throw in the decent coffee and it’s a win-win for all!
March 1st, other than being Saint Davids Day, is also the first day of spring. My boys have just witnessed their first full British winter, which turned out to be the wettest in more than 250 years.
So with an official change in the season we get what seems like an actual change in the seasons. The sun is shinning and the flowers are truly in bloom. As it was the weekend we all went to RHS Wisley for a walk and a play at the park. Whilst the boys ran around and my wife kept a watchful eye on them, I took some pictures of the plants, trees and flowers.
Unfortunately I am not a botanist and so have absolutely no idea what any of the plants are in my pictures. As far as I am aware we have, and in no particular order; crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils, and clematis.
Please feel free to identify and comments on any of the pictures.
My dad was neither Chinese or a particularly good cook, but for Christmas one year he got a wok as a present and made something like the following recipe. I have added a lot more vegetables to his version of the dish and served it with some pea egg fried rice.
The vegetables in the dish can easily be changed for whatever is in the fridge or your preference. The key ingredients really are the cashew nuts and the sauce. Ingredients Chinese chicken with vegetables
1 chicken breast
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of mushrooms
1/2 cup of mini sweetcorn
1/2 cup of mange tout
1/2 cup of broccoli
50g of cashew nuts
150ml of chicken stock
1/2 tablespoon of corn flour
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
Pea egg fried rice
200g rice or 1 pack of ready cooked rice little easier to fry as it tends to hold less water
1/2 cup of frozen peas
1 egg white
1 egg yolk
Cook the rice and set aside to dry
In a hot wok cook the chicken until cooked and set aside.
Toast the cashews for about a minute, being careful not to burn them. Once browned add all of the vegetables and cook until tender.
Add garlic and continue to cook for a minute or so.
In a jug mix the stock, soy and corn flour, and then add to wok. Stir and cook for a further two minutes. Remove from heat and place on a serving dish.
Heat a fresh wok or frying pan until hot and add the rice and peas.
Stir the rice through and once fully heated add the egg whites, continuing to stir.
Once the whites are fully cooked, egg the yolks and continue to stir so that the yolks are evenly mixed through the rice.
When cooked through serve with the chicken, season with a little soy and enjoy!
This week is half term so we jumped in car and went to Welsh Wales to visit Grandma. Other than seeing family my eldest talks of nothing else other than going to the local beach and climbing around rock pools with his fishing nets, which is why we bought him a rock pooling reference book for Christmas so that we could learn a little more about what we were finding.
Since we last visited there had been some major storms to hit the beach, and the whole area was covered in new large boulders and rocks. On the day that we went, the sun was shining, it wasn’t too cold and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.
When we came in December, it was raining and cold and I was not too enthusiastic about the idea of getting my feet wet, and so we didn’t manage to find much. This time I decided to wear wellies, to be able to maximise our time in the pools.
I’m not sure whether it was the recent storms, the time of year, or just bad luck, but I turned over hundreds of large stones in search of some wildlife, such as crabs or fish, with limited luck.
Despite our best efforts we only managed to find one very small crab, the size of a thumbnail, a very ugily red blob, which is some sort of sea anemone, common limpets, and lots of pretty shells, seaweed, and driftwood.
Whilst the boys love looking for wildlife, and then looking in their book to see what they have found, the main thing that they love is being outside, and whilst our search didn’t yield too much, the mission was accomplished.
Most of the nature this Winter seems to have been of the very wet and cold variety. Trying to motivate small children to spend their afternoons on walks requires some planning, bribery or invention.
Throughout the year there is a wealth of interesting things to find along our routes to keep them happy and moving, so we play a game of nature treasure hunt. The boys complete, or work together to find various items that we call out.
As the seasons change so do the colours of the woodlands, commons and gardens that we walk around. There may be less things to find, but that doesn’t mean that they are devoid of wildlife or interest.
On the days when the sun is shining and the skies are blue, the contrast in colours is really exciting.
Our usual nature treasure hunts are a little ad hoc and based on what we can find along the route. This weekend we were invited by a friend to a forest park along with his boys for run around and as we found out, a more organised treasure hunt.
Whilst the kestrels and falcons were some of the more optimistic items on the list (which we did not manage to see on this occasion), it was great to run around the forest searching for various trees, pine cones, wooden forts and obstacle courses.
My friend Paul had been to the forest before and so guided our way around the park. He made his treasure hunt list with a little extra research on the Internet and printed out photographs of the treasure items to make sure we all knew what we were searching for.
The huge wooden structures in the park were stunning and added a little extra colour to the walk around the park.
We took boys varying in ages from two to seven, and so spending time at the pirate park and the obstacle course, ensured that everyone was kept engaged.
Valentines is not the worst of ‘holidays’, although it is incredibly crass at its most commercial level, and it is difficult not to be cynical. For some holidays their origins or purpose are largely irrelevant, but they do however bring attention back to the things that are important in life.
Since we returned back to the UK last year my wife has had to work, as I have not been in a position to do so. This means that she’s out of the house more than twelve hours a day and some days doesn’t get to see the boys at all.
We certainly can’t complain. There are many families where both parents work the same amount of hours or more, or where neither parent is in a position to work, but for us, especially my wife, this time away from the family is hard.
So having made a bit of a hash of the various gifts over the last twelve months (ten year anniversary, birthday, Christmas) that I had given to my wife, I needed to make sure that whatever I did this time was a hit. As I now have the time to do something a little more personal, I pressganged the boys into action and we did some cooking and crafts.
I had tried to amend my cookie recipe to replace chocolate with some dried cranberries, but they came out a big gooey mess, so had to revert back to chocolate!
My wife is a professional graphic designer and so sets the bar high, especially with print and design. I accept the fact that I am technically inept and lack the necessary skills to pull off most if my ideas, but it is testament to persistence, cardboard, parcel tape and paint, what can actual be achieved.
Not to be out-done by dad, the boys made some cards at nursery.
With the weather taking a turn for the worse, we decided to brighten up the day with some coloured stained glass windows made from tissue paper and card.
This is probably the easiest thing to do in the world to brighten up a room and the mood. As my boys are so young I ended up doing most of the work, but they were entertained for the whole time.
I pretty much free-styled the whole way through this, which you’d never guess, but for a more finished product you may want to sketch out a pattern on the card in advance.Select your preferred colour scheme, and stick away. If you have a specific pattern, make sure to turn the stencil over so that it will look right when you put it on the window. I used a Pritt Stick to stick the paper to the card to try and avoid any mess, and have a little bit of control as to where the glue ended up. Being very preoccupied with ensuring the knife was kept out of the hands of the boys, I took my eye off the ball with the glue, and its amazing how much mess a Pritt Stick can actually make!
My boys are at the age where they want to make or do things, but quickly lose interest if it’s not done immediately. When we make something or paint pictures I usually have to get prepared everything in advance so that we are good to go.
We were recently given as a birthday present a set of Magic Maize (ELC), which are multi-coloured Wotsits (Cheetos) – looking cylinders which are used to make pictures by applying a little water and sticking them onto paper or card.
With almost no preparation required, they were an instant hit. For me the best thing, other than being able to make some cool pictures, is that they are virtually mess free.
Step one: add a little colour to the picture using crayons. Step two: moisten the maize.
Step three: lightly press the maize onto the card or paper.
Step four: stand back and appreciate your creation! The pack came with several images to use, but we are going to make some ourselves, which at the request of the boys will be a rainbow, a rocket, and for some reason, an ambulance.
We are very fortunate to have lots of very good parks within a short walk or drive from our house. They each have their own unique feature that brings us back time and time again. During the winter months we need to make the most of any clear weather that we get and head out of the house as quick as possible.
Whilst the boys love the seesaw or the round about, they have to be dragged off the swings every time that we visit any park.
I’ve always thought that these rocking horses/cars/animals are actually quite dangerous, especially for the smaller kids. It took the boys a while for the boys to learn to keep their arms straight, and I was always concerned that they’d head butt the handlebars.
Throughout the Summer and Autumn we went out into the woods and commons several times a week to look at the trees and plants and to get some fresh air. Since December we haven’t managed to get out too much as it seems like it has rained the whole time.
With a nice break in the weather this weekend we headed to a local common for a walk and to soak in some sun. As the ground was really wet we booted up and wrapped up warm. During the recent storms very few of the really big trees were blown down, but with the continuously wet ground many of the birches were not so lucky, which made for fun obstacles.
With all of the rain that we have had has one benefit that the boys like; muddy puddles. Although some of them were a little too deep and they needed a helping hand.
An old tree stump provided some respite from the mud and an excuse to climb something.
For Christmas I was bought the Gordon Ramsay Ultimate Home Cooking book. As I had seen some of the episodes on TV I was really excited to see how they would work at home.
One of my New Year resolutions was to make more basics like bread, so in preparation for the beer bread recipe, I went to my local supermarket and bought some beer. Brains have recently brought out a new range of craft beers, which I hadn’t tried and them being my favourite brewery and me loving craft beers, it was the first item in my trolley. I probably should have checked the cupboard before going to the shop for the other ingredients, but we just about managed with what we had.
This is probably the easiest recipe in the world to make, as it only contained three recipes, one of which was salt!
250g white self-raising flour (original recipe 175g white and 75g of wholemeal)
300ml of Barry Island IPA beer
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C and dust your tins with a little flour.
In the book we are supposed to use small individual bread tins, which I do not own, and so just used a muffin tray instead.
Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together to form a runny batter.
Spoon the mixture evenly into the tin and put in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and brush over a little milk and return to the oven for 5 minutes to brown off.
Ensure that the centre of the bread is fully cooked by inserting a a skewer into the middle of the roll, which if clean from crumbs is cooked.
I would probably use a different tin ,as they were very rustic looking, but as with any food the real test is how they taste.
Having helped with making the bread, my son was eager to be the first to taste the bread, so ripped open the warm roll and covered it in cold butter.