The Church Farm Ardeley, Hertfordshire

On the weekend we headed to Church Farm in Ardeley, Hertfordshire for their new Teddy Bear Surprise trail.

A brief overview of The Church Farm is that they are a not-for-profit farm, food, care and education enterprise. They offer a fully functional farm with several different farm animals, such as pigs, cows, geese, goats, sheep, chickens and rabbits.

The farm is open daily to the public and they grow and produce fruit, vegetable and meats that they also sell. This is sold through the onsite café, the Jolly Waggnoer Pub (right by the farm) and the food box delivery service which they also offer.

Detailed Map of The Church Farm

We purchased tickets for entrance to the farm, the Teddy’s Big Surprise and a bag of animal feed, which we thought was a good price.

We arrived on time for our Teddy’s Surprise slot and were greeted by a member of staff that gave us all the information about the day ahead, what we could expect and the best way to navigate around the huge area. So we headed straight to the Teddy area, which was situated in a beautiful apple blossom orchard. Ita was so excited as we passed several of the farm animals such as the geese, goats, sheep and Ita’s favourite for the day, the pigs and piglets.

Ita feeding the piggies

As we headed through to the apple orchard, we were met with the first Teddy Bear, they gave a workbook and some information about the experience ahead. There were Teddy Bears everywhere, we spotted bears playing and having their picnics, playing chess, hanging from trees so there are untold amounts of photo opportunities.

We were met with a number of teddy’s that needed our help with counting bears in trees, nursery rhymes and helping the bears go to sleep. I must say, the bears were so good at entertaining us and Ita and made the experience so much more enjoyable. Once all the tasks were complete, we headed to the final gazebo were Ita could pick and choose her choice of toy.

Helping the bears solve a riddle!

The Teddy Big Surprise is running every Saturday and Sunday from 17th April until the 9th May, and all children that come in disguise, they will receive a rosette.

Having checked and been advised by a lovely follower on social media, all children (even those under 1 years) require a ticket for this which seems a little unreasonable.

https://churchfarmardeley.checkfront.co.uk/reserve/?item_id=452

We then went back on ourselves and having picked pig feed at the beginning of our visit, we went around looking at the cute piglets. Ita really enjoyed seeing them interact with each other and the different sizes of all of them.

The Church Farm offer other activities when you visit, one of them is to see their all new Farm Fairy Trail which comes with an activity booklet to complete. This area is really well made, with a couple playhouses, rabbits and lots of different fairies to spot and read about.

Another activity you can pre-book is the Lamb Bottle Feeding which I know we would have all enjoyed and is available for people of all ages and is such a unique and amazing experience to have.

Finally you can join in with the egg collecting on the farm. You can help collect the eggs from over 300 free range hens and then take them home which I think is another amazing experience.

Overall, we had a really enjoyable morning at The Church Farm and would highly recommend the Teddy’s Big Surprise experience. All the information you need can be found here:

https://www.churchfarmardeley.co.uk/

Ita with her special toy!

Easter Baking Ideas

Following the well received Valentines Day Baking Ideas blog post we did last month, we thought it would be a good idea to do the same for Easter!

Jump to the Easter Macarons Recipe
Jump to the Creme Egg Blonde Recipe
Jump to the White Chocolate Easter Egg Cheesecake Recipe
Jump to the Hot Cross Bun Recipe
Jump to the Easter Tiffin Recipe
Jump to the Cinnamon Roll Recipe

Over the next few weeks we will be adding loads of different Easter themed recipes!

Easter Macarons

Ingredients

Macarons

  • 200g Icing Sugar
  • 100 g Ground Almonds
  • 100 g Egg Whites (3 Medium Eggs worth)
  • 75 g Caster Sugar
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Food Colouring (Use Gel Colouring or Powered Colouring – for some reason liquid colouring didn’t work and helped the macarons to burn in the oven)

Macaron Filling

  • Lemon Curd
  • 75g Butter (Softened)
  • 150g Icing Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Instructions

  1. In a medium sized bowl, sift 100g of the Icing Sugar, and 50g of the Ground Almonds. It is very important that both are sifted as this prevents lumps.
  2. In a second medium sized bowl, do the same with the other 100g of the Icing Sugar, and 50g of the Ground Almonds.
  3. Make sure the bowl and whisk you are using are spotlessly and whisk the Egg Whites.
  4. Whisk the egg whites up to stiff peaks, and start adding the Caster Sugar teaspoon by teaspoon until all is incorporated. Whisk for another minute.
  5. Add half of the meringue mixture to one of the bowls of Sugar/Almonds. Should be around 85-90g.
  6. In that bowl, add the 1 tsp of Vanilla and one of your food colours (we chose yellow) and fold the mixture carefully but making sure that its all combined.
  7. With the other half of the Meringue, add the other food colouring (we chose blue) and 1 tsp of Vanilla and whisk till combined. Add this to the Sugar/Almond mix and repeat the folding.
  8. With a disposable piping bag, add a small round tip or cut the tip of the bag. Carefully pipe the mixtures on a baking sheet (I drew some small circles using my husbands wedding ring).
  9. You should end up with equal amounts of yellow shells, and blue shells.
  10. Once piped, tap the trays onto the work surface 5-6 times to get any air bubbles out, and leave on the side for 1 hour to form a skin.
  11. Towards the end of the hour, turn your oven on to 130C Fan.
  12. Once the hour is up, put the Macarons in the oven to bake for 16-20 minutes.
  13. Leave them to cool fully on the mats before peeling them off (it’s very easy to peel them before they have cooled though)
  14. Once cooled, make your buttercream.
  15. Add your softened butter to a bowl, beat the butter for a couple minutes and add the icing sugar, little at a time until it comes together. Add the vanilla and a little bit of milk if the mixture is too tough!
  16. Add to a piping bag or use a spoon to add to one side of the macaron in the middle and then put them together!
  17. Or add lemon curd to the middle of your macarons.
  18. Put them into the fridge to set and the enjoy!

Creme Egg Blondies

Ingredients

  • 170g Butter (Softened)
  • 165g Light Brown Sugar
  • 100g Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Large Egg and 1 Yolk
  • 275g Plain Flour
  • Handful Mini Creme Eggs (We used approx 10)
  • 3 Creme Eggs, Halved

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven at 160C Fan.
  2. Whisk the Butter, Light Brown Sugar and Granulated Sugar until fully combined.
  3. Add one Egg and one Egg Yolk and whisk again.
  4. Add the Plain Flour until just combined.
  5. Spread into a baking tray, and then add the Mini Creme Eggs.
  6. Place in the oven, and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the skewer comes out slightly clean when inserted.
  7. While still warm, add the halved Creme Eggs on top and leave to chill fully in the tray (Tip when halving the Creme Eggs, place in the fridge for about 30 minutes and cut from the top of the egg)

White Chocolate Easter Egg Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 3 Easter Eggs (Halved)
  • 200g Digestives
  • 75g Butter
  • 150g White Chocolate
  • 200g Cream Cheese (We went for reduced fat)
  • 50g Icing Sugar
  • 120ml Double Cream
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Decoration (Optional but we used)

  • Mini Eggs (please remember these are a choking hazard for small children)
  • Purple Colour Gel
  • Green Colour Gel
  • Pink Colour Gel
  • 40g White Chocolate
  • Carrot Decorations
  • Wafer Flowers

Instructions

Biscuit Base

  1. Half the Easter Eggs (I put them in the fridge to harden up for 20 minutes and then cut them from the top).
  2. Blitz the digestives in a food processor or put them in a sealed bag and smash with a rolling pin (this is what we did)
  3. Melt the butter in the microwave.
  4. In a bowl, tip the melted butter over the crushed biscuits and mix until combined
  5. Fill the Easter Eggs with the mixture and place back in the fridge until the filling has been made.

Filling

  1. Mix the Cream Cheese, Icing Sugar and Vanilla using a whisk or a spatula until smooth.
  2. When whisked, pour in the Double Cream and continue to whip the mixture until it starts to thicken (Remember not to over whip the cream mixture as it may split)
  3. Once completed, spread your mixture in the prepared Easter Eggs evenly. Leave to set in the fridge for 5-6 hours or overnight.

Decoration

  1. Melt 10-15g of White Chocolate and mix with Green Colouring Gel and decorate as you wish.
  2. Do the same with the remaining colours, Purple and Pink.
  3. Use the Mini Eggs, Wafer Flowers and Carrots for decoration.

Hot Cross Buns

Ingredients:

  • 225ml Whole Milk
  • 500g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 65g Caster Sugar
  • 8g Dried Active Yeast / Fast Action Yeast
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Nutmeg (or you can use a Mixed Spice instead)
  • Zest of 1 Orange
  • 50g Unsalted Butter (cold)
  • 150g Raisins
  • 100g Milk Chocolate Chips (when I make these again, I will probably omit these as I am not sure they added that much to the flavour)
  • 2 Medium Eggs

Topping

  • 30g Flour
  • 30ml Water
  • 1 tbs Caster Sugar
  • 1 tbs Boiling Water

Instructions

  1. Warm your milk in a pan until it is just steaming.
  2. In a bowl, add your Flour, Salt, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg, Sugar, Yeast and Orange Zest – add in your Butter and rub between your fingers.
  3. To the bowl, add your warmed Milk, and the Eggs, Raisins and Milk Chocolate Chips and mix it all together.
  4. Knead for 10 minutes until the mixture is smooth, elastic and springy to touch. I did it by hand and it is hard work but definitely worth it when the dough comes together, but you can also use a Stand Mixer with a dough hook.
  5. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with a tea towel. Leave to prove and rise until doubled in size – usually takes 1-2 hours (took ours 1 hour and 40 minutes)
  6. Once risen, remove from the bowl and knead lightly on a floured surface to knock the air out!
  7. Cut evenly into 12 balls (mine weighed 98g each) and add on a lined tray with about a centremetre gap between the balls.
  8. Cover with lightly oiled cling film, and leave to rise whilst your oven preheats to 200C/180C Fan. I left them for 60 minutes!
  9. Once the oven is at temperature – whisk together the flour and water and carefully pipe on to form the crosses.
  10. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes!
  11. Once baked – boil the water and mix with the sugar. Brush the Hot Cross Buns lightly with the sugar mixture if you like them sticky and shiny and then leave to cool fully.
  12. Enjoy!!

Easter Tiffin

Ingredients:

  • 175g Golden Syrup
  • 125g Unsalted Butter
  • 200g Milk Chocolate (Chopped)
  • 200g Dark Chocolate (Chopped)
  • 200g Digestives (Chopped)
  • 100g Raisins
  • 200g Mini Eggs (50g for Decorations)
  • 75g Mini Marshmallow

Instructions

  1. Line a 9×9″ square baking tray with parchment paper, leave to the side.
  2. Melt the Golden Syrup and Butter gently in a pan on a low heat – when the butter and syrup have melted fully and started to bubble a little, turn the heat off and add the chopped chocolate and stir until it has all melted.
  3. In a big bowl, add the Digestives, Raisins, Mini Eggs, and Mini Marshmallows and the pour the chocolate mix on top. Mix the ingredients together until it is all coated well. Pour into the tin and spread down firmly.
  4. Sprinkle the crushed Mini Eggs on top of the Tiffin! Leave to set in the fridge for 4-5 hours or until it is firm.
  5. Once set, remove from the tin and cut into pieces.

Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients

The Dough

  • 600g Strong White Bread Flour (Plus Extra for Dusting)
  • 14g Dried Active Yeast
  • 75g Caster Sugar
  • 90g Unsalted Butter
  • 275ml Full Fat Milk
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Large Egg

The Filling

  • 45g Unsalted Butter (Melted)
  • 175g Light Brown Sugar
  • 1-2 tbsps Ground Cinnamon (We added more)

The Topping

  • 200g Icing Sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 3-4 tbsp Water

Instructions

  1. Sift the Flour into a large bowl and then add the Caster Sugar and Yeast. Mix until they are all distributed evenly.
  2. Rub the Butter into the mixture until it is like breadcrumbs.
  3. Gently heat the Milk until warm – but not hot (if you are doing it in a pan, you want the milk to just start steaming)
  4. Add the Milk, Vanilla and Egg to the dry ingredients.
  5. Knead the dough together for around 7-10 minutes (I had to YouTube the best way to knead as it is definitely new to me) or use your Stand Mixer with the Dough Hook.
  6. Once it is kneaded it will be elastic and springy to touch (not sticky)
  7. transfer into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with cling film or a towel. Let is rise for 1-2 hours, or until it doubles in size (mine took 75 minutes)
  8. Whilst the bread is proving, we can make the filling. Mix together the Light Brown Sugar and Ground Cinnamon and leave to the side.
  9. Once the dough has risen, transfer to a lightly floured work surface and roll it out to a rectangle. Mine ended up being around 50cm x 30cm!
  10. Gently brush the surface with the Melted Butter and then sprinkle over the Sugar / Cinnamon Mix.
  11. Roll the dough from the long side to long side so you have created a long sausage. Now cut into 12 pieces.
  12. You should cut the middle, and then two halves into two more, and then each into three pieces (I must confess I did this part wrong and cut too many times, so I ended up with 15 pieces)
  13. I used a large rectangular baking dish (around 30cm x 24cm) and put them in. They should be spaced out so they are not touching each other yet.
  14. Cover the dish with clingfilm and let them rise for another hour or so. By the end they should be touching.
  15. Towards the end of the second proving, preheat the oven to 180C / 160C Fan so that they can go straight into the oven.
  16. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and cooking through.
  17. Leave to cool and make the icing! Mix the Icing Sugar, Vanilla and Water until a thick icing paste is produced. The spread it over the rolls.
  18. Enjoy!

Valentines Day Baking Ideas

We previously wrote a blog post about Ideas for a Lockdown Valentines Day (click here)

I thought it would be a good idea to give you some Valentines inspiration for baking for the kids and by yourselves.!

I posted a few ideas and recipes on my Instagram recently, but thought it adding them all here would be beneficial for you guys!

Shortbread Hearts

Ingredients

  • 200g Unsalted Butter (or a suitable alternative)
  • 100g Caster Sugar (plus more for sprinking)
  • 300g Plain Flour (plus more for dusting)

Decoration (totally optional but we used)

  • 75g White Chocolate
  • 75g Milk Chocolate
  • Food Colouring
  • Sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Add butter and sugar in a bowl, beat together until fluffy (we used a hand whisk)
  2. Add in flour and beat until the dough has formed (make sure it is well combined)
  3. Lightly flour the surface and roll out the dough. Roll until the dough is around 1cm think.
  4. Cut out your shortbread hearts – we used a heart cookie cutter, but you can use any cookie cutter of course, or even make your own with a card.
  5. Carefully pick the shortbread up and add to a lined baking tray. Once they are all cut up, place in the fridge for 30 minutes
  6. Whilst they are chilling, preheat your oven to 180C / 160C fan.
  7. Once chilled, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar.
  8. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until they’re turning lightly golden (if shortbreads vary in size, adjust the cooking times accordingly)
  9. Once baked, leave to cool. Then decorate and Enjoy!

Valentines Triple Chocolate Brownie Tray Bake

Ingredients

  • 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 200g Unsalted Butter
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 275g Caster Sugar
  • 90g Plain Flour
  • 35g Cocoa Powder
  • 100g White Chocolate (Chopped or Chips)
  • 100g Milk Chocolate (Chopped or Chips)
  • 100g Dark Chocolate (Chopped or Chips)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C Fan and line a 9′ square baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Melt together the Butter and Dark Chocolate in a microwave for 1-2 minutes until all melted. Leave aside to cool to room temp.
  3. Using a electric mixer, whisk together the Eggs and Caster Sugar for a few minutes until the mixture has turned pale and is doubled in volume.
  4. You will know it is done with you lift your whisk up out of the mix it will leave a trail for a couple of seconds before disappearing.
  5. When whisked, pour the cooled chocolate mix in and fold together carefully. Take your time as you don’t want to knock out all the air.
  6. Once completely combined, sift the Cocoa Powder and Flour on top of the chocolate mixture and then fold in again. Again be careful when folding!
  7. Once well combined, fold through the chopped chocolate and pour into the prepared tin – bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until you think it is moist enough! Once baked, leave to cool in the tin completely.
  8. At this stage, we added melted pink chocolate and sprinkles.

Oreo Ladybugs

Ingredients

  • 10 Oreos
  • 75g White Chocolate
  • Pink Food Colouring
  • Edible Eyes
  • Sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Melt the White Chocolate in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Use the Pink Food Colouring to colour the chocolate (use as much as you want to get the desired colour)
  3. Dip half the Oreo in the chocolate and set aside.
  4. The decorate with the edible eyes and the sprinkles
  5. Enjoy

Heart Shaped Cheese Nibbles

Ingredients

  • 120g Plain Flour (extra for rolling)
  • 120g Butter
  • 120g Cheese
  • Add spice for flavour

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C / 150C Fan.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, using your hands (great to do with kids) until a dough is formed.
  3. Roll out the dough to a 5mm thickness on a lightly floured surface.
  4. Use your cookie cutter, we used a smaller heart cookie cutter, to cut out your biscuits.
  5. Place your biscuits on your parchment lined baking tray and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  6. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden and crispy.
  7. Enjoy

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Ingredients

  • Strawberries
  • 50g White Chocolate
  • 50g Milk Chocolate
  • Sprinkles

Instructions

  1. Melt your White Chocolate and Milk Chocolate in separate bowls in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Dip your strawberries in the melted chocolate and set aside.
  3. Use sprinkles or any other decorations to make the strawberries look amazing.
  4. Set in the fridge for an hour
  5. Enjoy!

Ideas for a Lockdown Valentines Day

As you may know, we always celebrate Valentines but we tend to celebrate it as a family rather than romantically. I think so much pressure is put on people when it comes to showing how much you love someone. In fact one Instagram mummy friend told me last year that she inadvertently ended up arguing with her partner having seen what others had received on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t that she hadn’t received anything, (she had), but she felt that her partner hadn’t tried as much as others. What a waste of a lovely day!

Our Valentines Day usually involves heart pancakes for breakfast, an afternoon tea out and a later meal at home. We give cards to each other, Dominic buys me and Ita flowers and Ita makes a Valentines themed craft. And there are always balloons. Ita is obsessed and each year she wakes up to her bedroom filled with heart balloons!

This year may be different because of lockdown. We wont have the freedom to go out but we will still want to celebrate in some way and so here are some ideas for you too.

Decorating

We have some small decorations that we add to our living room. They’re deliberately small and easy to store away.

This heart bunting is only £2.19 from Partyrama and dresses up the mantle piece perfectly. They also have a huge selection of other decorative items so I have ordered some balloons from here too.

Heart bunting

Link for the banner (Click Here)

I tend to buy a cannister of helium to blow up our own balloons but so many places now post filled balloons.

The heart plate below along with the heart shaped board are both from Poundland. This year they have a pink version so we picked these up to have a themed afternoon tea at home! (Also below). Usually I will leave the plate out with some treats on the days leading up to Valentines, just because why not! Of course they were only £1 each so a complete bargain.

Heart plates from Poundland

I think places like Poundland, B&M and Home Bargains are the best places to head to for themed items.

Sweet Treats

Dominic will no doubt bake us some themed biscuits for us all to decorate together but I have also been on at home to bake a brownie tray too! I bought some small moulds from ebay to make little chocolate hearts in so that we could pop on top of the tray bake. Not only will these keep Ita entertained but we can then enjoy them for our Valentines afternoon tea.

Our little cake topper from eBay

This Valentines cake topper will be perfect for it! (Click Here)

I have also ordered some Valentines popsicles from Harrisons Bakery on Etsy. I also adore Jax Bakes on Instagram (Click Here)

When I last checked, Ita’s favourite, Laduree, are also delivering their special Valentines Boxes (Click Here)

If you fancy baking your own then companies such as Peggy Porschen are selling bake your own sets which could be really good fun. They have a few options starting from £30 and pre-orders are now open! This one that I have linked here s the red velvet set which makes 12 cupcakes (Click Here)

We have ordered the Love Heart Krispy Kreme set too because Ita really enjoyed this when we bought the set before Christmas. I had a good few messages from people telling me they had ordered this after seeing it on our instagram page and that they too thought it was really good. This kit comes with 4 ready-made glazed doughnuts, 2 of them heart shaped with sherbet kreme fillings. The set also comes with lemon and strawberry icings to glaze your creations, along with rainbow sprinkles, mini sugar paste hearts and 2 message plaques inspired by Love Hearts (Click Here)

Krispy Kreme DIY Kit

If you are more of a Doughnut Time person then they too have kits! We initially did these last Easter and found them to be quite messy though! I think there is more of a skill to these ones! These ones come with Vegan friendly options (Click Here)

Afternoon Tea

So as previously mentioned, we will definitely do a Valentines Afternoon Tea! You can of course make one at home (do check out or previous posts and Afternoon Tea Highlight on Instagram) but many places are offering home deliveries too.

We have booked a treat in Claridge’s (link below) but there are lots of other options around.

https://claridges-stvalentinesday.slerp.com/order

Cutter & Squidge have always done a home delivery set which has had really good reviews. They do a plain version and a special Valentines one too! I really like this set so I would probably recommend ordering the standard set for two at £29.90 and then order some themed treats too.

https://cutterandsquidge.com/products/afternoon-tea-at-home-uk-delivery

Lola’s cupcakes looks delicious and is a great option, although not too themed.

https://www.lolascupcakes.co.uk/Ordering/2012/Deluxe-Afternoon-Tea.htm

Movie Night

This year we are going to set the projector up outside and watch a movie in the garden (much like we did last summer and over Christmas).

Our mini portable projector was from eBay and was about £25 (Click Here)

However I have seen some priced around £28 on wowcher. Id suggest hopping onto google and searching ‘mini portable projector’ and then deciding which would work best for you.

Initially we used a cloth screen (at about £12) which we hung from the gazebo and it worked well in the summer months but for some reason, not so well in the winter. In all honesty I think the screen and stands are better value. We have a 70 inch screen and stand and it cost £39.99. It also folds away really easily so storage is not a problem (Click Here)

I also ordered these personalised movie night tickets from eBay but you could most definitely make these at home, just to make it a bit fun for children.

Personalised movie tickets

In all honestly, with so much of the last year been spent locked inside. These 2 buys have been so worth it. Although we have used them in the garden, you could easily use them inside too!

Our festive outdoor movie night will become a valentines one!

Cocktail Masterclass

One for the adults? Myself and Dominic used to love cooking classes and during lockdown we have done 2 cocktail making classes via zoom. They have both been so fun but I would really recommend Le Reve Bar because the way they packaged all the necessary ingredients was beautiful and felt like a present in itself.

https://lereve-bar.com/ or contact them via Instagram https://www.instagram.com/le_reve_bar/?hl=en

A photo from our cocktail masterclass

Teepee Hire

This concept is not new to us at all but it was something that Ita and her cousin enjoyed last year thanks to Tip Top Teepees based in Hertfordshire. They were absolutely brilliant and decked our front room out in everything needed for a Galentines party. (See our IGTV on Instagram!). It really was such a special treat and Ita often talks about it.

There are so many small businesses that do Teepee Hire now and are still able to by dropping the items outside for you to set up yourself. Perfect, given the current restrictions. Best of all, most companies will do a themed version for Valentines!

Last years Galentines Teepee sleepover

Hire a Hot Tub

Now I will admit, this is not something I would have considered any other year but with it being lockdown, it might just be what we need to break up the monotony! Many companies hire these out with themes now and we have found one quite local that actually has a Valentines theme! I’m still debating it…

When I researched this idea, it seemed that most companies hire these out over the course of 2-3 days and priced have ranged widely from £120-400 depending on where you reside. Definitely gather a few quotes and see what options best suit your budget and space!

Photo from Pinterest *

Hire an Igloo

Possibly the most extravagant recommendation? I mean this would honestly be the dream. We were booked to dine in one but Borris decided to punish us and place us in Tier 4 just a few days before our booking.

Interestingly, there are a few companies who do hire out igloos, but finding the price without calling them is very difficult. Only one company transparently put their price on their page. One south based company advised that from £375, you will be delivered an igloo, table and chairs, décor, heater and lights. So it really is a very pricey treat.

Many are able to set up even with the Covid restrictions so long as they have access to your garden.

Yoto Player Review

A few weeks ago we received the Yoto Player, a children’s audio book speaker. It is described as being a smart player because it has additional features when compared to other audio speakers on the market. The Yoto plays stories, music, educational activities and has a clock too. It also has a sleep trainer and a night light too, an aspect that really reminded me of a Gro Clock.

All of the stories are on cards which you slot into the top of the box, they start playing immediately when a card is inserted and stop as soon as the card is removed. The cards are really durable but are they as small plastic cards, you do need to be careful where you store them so they don’t get lost. You can buy a pouch that holds up to 20 cards but I think an old fashioned business card wallet would work better!

Although most of the cards available are stories, they also do ones to assist with learning such as phonics and times tables. What I really like about the Yoto is that you can also purchase blank cards (around £5.99 for 8) so you can record your own stories on them too. Were going to ask Ita’s granny to record a story at some point as I think she would absolutely love this.

Phonics cards

In the Yoto Store, the cards are broken down into sets with ages 3-5 years and 5-8+. Ita was also sent a box of Julia Donaldson stories which included Zog, Tabby McTat, Tiddler, Stick Man, The Highway Rat and Superworm. The cost of this boxset is only £19.99 which is such good value for 8 stories. I think this is the cheapest I have come across when it comes to children’s audio players. They have lots of individual cards starting from only a few pounds but I like the value of the box sets which also include Winnie the Pooh, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. The card store has a huge amount of stories to chose from and you are also given free downloaded stories each month.

I really like that the Yoto doubles up as a clock with the ability to help children learn the time. This feature is really appealing especially if you plan on putting it in your childs bedroom. The pixal screen shows night and day and also has a soothing light for night time.

Another feature which I think really sets Yoto apart is the daily free podcast and their own little radio. More so, there are no ads in between and the podcast has daily little riddles which Ita seemed to really look forward to. The Yoto can even be used via Bluetooth to play music via the likes of Spotify! 

It was really very easy to set up and we leave the audio players in Ita’s playroom as background noise mostly whilst she is doing her home schooling.

I would say this is definitely not suitable for a child under 3 but even at 4, Ita really struggles to use this autonomously. I (or her dad) need to turn it on however we realised that if you keep it on the charger then it stays on indefinitely making it that bit easier to use.  There is also a headphone port though which will be quite handy for travelling. We have only had this for a few weeks though so I am confident she will get the knack of it and use it very frequently, on her own.

The box costs £79.99 and comes with the charging docking station and a welcome card. Other cards are available to purchase on line.

https://www.yotoplay.com/pages/player

Dressing for the snow

Theres no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”. Its something my granny used to say to us when we were younger and staying with her in Ireland. In true Londonder style, we would complain about Ireland being too cold, too wet and frankly, too uncertain. I always thought my granny made this saying up until my lovely Instagram friend (lolaahmadu) shared a post back in December and attributed it to Alfred Wainwright!

Honestly, I used to hate when my granny said it to us. It was in such a tone as to tell us off for being city folk. She was right though. There really is no such thing as bad weather and if you have the mind frame that there is, then you are probably going to miss out on lots of fun adventures. Britain is not known for its sunny climate so you really do need to make the most of whatever the weather is and still plan fun days out and things to do.

I like to think we are equipped for most types of weather now and when the snow (finally) arrived yesterday, we were well prepared to go and have fun. We spent 5 hours outside building snowmen and sledding. It was just what we needed with this lockdown! I received quite a few messages about Ita’s snowsuit so I thought it would be ideal to do a blog post to refer to.

The cold weather is by far the hardest to plan for. I say that because you need to invest in pieces that you may only use a few times a year. This is why most families tend to purchase one big coat and wellies for the winter months. It makes sense. However, snow items last years so they too are a really good investment.

Ita’s snowsuit here is a 2 piece from Amazon. It was only £35 and as you can tell its quite big on her. I deliberately bought this size because it was intended for Lapland in December 2021 (well, hopefully). I am quite sure it will last this year and next year too. The trousers are dungaree style so have adjustable straps. Ideally snow suits should be suite short so they fit on top of snow boots. The jacket is very big too. So this set may actually last 3 winters! You can probably tell, Ita chose the colour. It is also available in pink, navy, red and white. It is worth the £35 investment for sure.

2 piece snowsuit from Amazon

(Here is the link to the snowsuit).

We also have another ski suit for Ita by Wedze, again it is quite big and will last a few years too. This one we used for skiing because it isn’t as puffy but has fleece inside. It was reduced in Decathlon. One of my favourite places to pick up a winter clothing and accessories bargain.

Ski suit from Decathlon

In fact, the outfit is still in stock and the jacket is currently only £14.99 and trousers being only £12.99.

https://www.decathlon.co.uk/p/kids-ski-jacket-100/_/R-p-302026?mc=8503381&c=BLUE

https://www.decathlon.co.uk/p/kids-ski-trousers-100/_/R-p-306997?mc=8544827&c=PINK

One main thing that made yesterday was our snow gloves. There is no way we could have stayed out as long. Ita’s navy ones as seen in the pic, were only around £5 from ebay. We also bought her a pair a few years ago when we visited Poland and they still fit her. These types of gloves are sized in a way that means they should last years. Dominic and I also have snow gloves which we bought from Decathlon too. They were approximately £10. Again, these should be a one off expenditure for us so is worth purchasing.

We have used these gloves skiing, when we visited the indoor sledding and of course yesterday. So they have come in quite handy!

At the moment, Decathlon have children’s snow mittens for £1.49! Be quick though!

https://www.decathlon.co.uk/p/children-s-first-heat-ski-mittens-black-s8/_/R-p-170974?mc=8398680&c=BLACK

And of course, I had lots of comments on Ita’s snow boots. These are of course Dior but there are lots of other, very affordable ones around. Moonboot are very iconic but places like Trespass, Decathlon and even Aldi, sell snow boots for as little as £10. A little tip though, some snow boots come in regular sizing, which means you may only get 1 or 2 years wear out of them. Others however are sized with a bigger scope i.e. UK1-3. These are the ones I would recommend because they are likely to last a lot longer.

Last but definitely not least is a woolly hat. We have so many of these which is probably obvious. Some of Ita’s sets are from when she was as little as a year old. (In fact this pink set below is 4 years old!)

My favourite brand is Kinder because they look beautiful and elegant but the hats are only about £15.

Whatever the weather, enjoy it. Children really are only small for such a short amount of time and if you are only planning adventures on the warm days, then you might look back and find you’ve missed out on making lots of memories.

Treasure Trail Maps – Review

We are really missing our days out. They are a huge coping mechanism for me personally to balance out my work and frankly, the monotony of lockdown has really started to take its toll. Of course we’ve been going on daily walks and bike rides, but even those have become a tad boring now too!


I came across Treasure Map Trails on Instagram and the idea fit perfectly with the current circumstances. So I purchased the Tring (Hertfordshire) trail and we planned to go as soon as the weather was dry.

Our treasure trail map!


Every Treasure Map Trail is based around a small section of a real town, aiming for no more than one mile between the two furthest points so that little legs don’t get too tired. The clues are not too difficult which meant that Ita was engaged the entire trail. We did get stuck at one point but there are handy clues (and even the answers…) on the back of the map to help you along.
Another thing that Ita really enjoyed was taking control of the map and marking off the “treasure”. Treasures are works of art, statues, quirky creations and eye-catching features that they’ll see if they look up, look down and pay close attention to their surroundings.

Making our way around the trail…


We were actually stopped by a lady who was enquiring about the map as she said she had seen someone else with it the day before!


With every map completed, your child moves up one rank in the Treasure Map Trails Academy, from Cadet to Captain to Explore to Adventurer and finally a Treasure Hunter Master, earning their very own certificate each time. (You print the certificate at home). I love the fact that you can purchase trails by easy, medium and hard ratings as it means you can decide what is most appropriate for your child(ren).

Ita wanted to take control!


There are currently a number of trails with more being added weekly.


So far there are trails in;Aylesbury, Berkhampstead, Cambridge, Chester, Hemel Hempstead, Iron Bridge, Leyton Buzzard, Shrewsbury, St Albans, Stony Stratford and Tring.


We had a really fun morning doing the trail and can’t wait to do another! I would say we spent around an hour and a half doing this trail at a leisurely pace. The website suggests breaking the map up and doing a bit of the trail over a few days. I think if you went for the more difficult maps, then this is a really good idea.


One tip though, plan where you want to start. It really helps with the flow. We deliberately started our trail at 9am so that it would be very quiet out too.


They are priced at £5.99 and available directly from Treasure Map Trails website;
https://treasuremaptrails.com/collections

Santa Train, North Norfolk Railway

Today we went on a magic train journey courtesy of the North Norfolk Railway! The Santa Train is a similar take on the Polar Express, something that Ita absolutely loves.

Our journey started at Sheringham Station where we were greeted by the ticket conductor who informed us of our carriage number and we boarded our private compartment. The steam train is beautiful and really did remind me of the polar express train! When we booked our tickets back in June, we deliberately paid for the private compartment at an extra cost of £25. However, as covid issues continue, everyone now gets a private compartment (we weren’t refunded for paying extra but if you did then it may be worth enquiring).

Our compartment!

The compartments are only very slightly decorated with tinsel and I do think they could make a bit more effort in the compartments as it would encourage people to spend more time in them – I’ll get to that in a moment… Off we went on a short journey (about 10 minute) to Weybourne Station where we arrived at Santa’s station aka The North Pole.

We were instructed quite clearly upon entering Sheringham Station that once we arrived at at Weybourne, we would gradually leave our carriages in order to careful filter people to collect their mulled wines and to see Santa. However this didn’t happen and it became a bit of a free for all! Everyone jumped off the train and the station became really packed. I do feel that this part could have been better managed as we didn’t know what to do or where to go.

Ice Princess

We decided to queue to meet Santa and we were greeted by a friendly nutcracker. Once inside we entered through a magical wardrobe, into Narnia!! It was stunning and we weren’t expecting it so it really did feel magical.

We wonder around the festive walk-through kingdom. It’s filled with over 100 Christmas trees, light displays, decorations and much more. There are lots of photo opportunities and this part didn’t feel busy or rushed. At the end you’re greeted by a very energetic elf and brought through to meet Santa in a small with a wood burning fire. Although the gift Ita received wasn’t great, it was actually better than the one she received in Hamleys!

Afterwards you are asked to head back to your carriage to wait until the train departs back. You do get to spend a bit of time in your compartment, especially if you’re one of the first to meet Santa. I really looked forward to spending time in the train carriage so it’s a shame that there wasn’t any music on (they had speakers up) or that it wasn’t decorated more. I think this is an area they could definitely work on.

When booking your tickets, you can add a little food platter. Each of these platters (serves 4 people) are handmade and are made up of freshly made sandwiches, savoury bites, cakes and of course sweet treats. I actually wish we had booked one of these because they looked tasty but it would have been perfect to nibble on whilst we waited to depart back to Sheringham. You can’t bring your own food onto the train so this is something to bear in mind.

The train departs 4 times a day at 10.00, 12.05, 14.30 and 14.35. The whole experience is about 2 hours and the trains are cleaned in between.

For further info, head to their website; https://www.nnrailway.co.uk/santa_specials-2020/

Family Sleigh Session at SnoZone, Milton Keynes

On the weekend we made an impromptu booking and travelled to SnoZone in Milton Keynes for a 30 minute Private Family Sledging Session! This session has only just reopened and we were quite eager for some fun.

The SnoZone is situated in Milton Keynes MK9 3XS and was quite easy to find. There is ample parking but you do need to pay – I think we paid around £3 for 2 hours so it was not too much at all.

Ita ready to go!

Inside, it is right by I-Fly (which also looks very cool!) and there are other various shops around too.

5 Minutes before our start time, we headed to the hire desk and handed our passes over. We were asked to walk over to the slope entrance where someone would meet us to talk us through our session. Here we were handed 3 smallish sleighs and shown to our private slope. We had a quick introduction on how to safely sleigh and we were off!

Of course there was time for snow Angels

Ita immediately took to it and was quite a dare devil – no surprise there really! She wants to go right to the top of the slope where as we were quite happy to work our way up! The 30 minutes did seem to go really quickly and I think a 45 minute session would have worked out perfectly to be honest. I had quite a few questions from Instagram on what the sleighs were like. Well… pretty much this! They were more ‘’seats with sticks’’ as Ita called them but they worked really well and were light too so it was easier walking back to the top each time. I know in some places you can hire rings but I don’t think they are an option here.

We were advised to arrive 45 minutes early but really there was no point and I think we would have been better off arriving only 15 minutes before. I think this might be older information relating to if you have to change and get ready there at the centre. However now you have to arrive ready to go!

So child friendly!

You are advised to wear waterproof clothing and snow boots or wellies, otherwise you may find yourself with wet, cold feet.

Due to the necessary precautions, you cannot hire any snow boots, gloves or helmets – all of which are a must to be on the slope. Luckily we had our own from a previous ski lesson but this is something to bare in mind when booking. If you were thinking of doing this session, I would look for sales and special deals in places like Sports Direct. The main thing you will need to focus on is a helmet for safety, but snow boots and gloves can really vary. I for example wore uggs and on their website they do suggest wellies as an alternative too. (Cycle helmets are permitted too!).

The changing area and lockers are also out of use, again, because of covid. Therefore you must leave everything in your car or by the entrance to the slopes. It really is worth baring this in mind if you are not travelling by car. Although I am sure it is safe enough, the centre does not take responsibility for any items that go astray.

This session is for a family/social bubble of up to 6 people. The price is £59.99 per bubble so this works out very well if you are a family of 5 or 6. Otherwise it feels a bit steep. However, with that said, we had a great time and have already made plans to go back!

Please note your group must contain 1 adult aged 16yrs+ (with a maximum of 2 adults per group) and juniors must be aged 3 years and over. 

For further info head to the SnoZone website;

https://www.snozoneuk.com/

Waiting patiently…

Mystical Afternoon Tea at Taj 51 (Review)

Last week we were invited to the beautiful Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residence to enjoy their Mystical Afternoon Tea. The Taj 51 is a beautiful 5 star hotel that sits in Victoria and we had heard so many lovely reviews of their Alice in Wonderland Tea, so we were really looking forward to trying their festive version.

One of the many beautifully decorated trees

The building itself is gorgeous and completed decked out in its festive attire. We entered the lobby area and Ita’s eyes lit up and she almost ran right into this stunningly themed tree! It caught her attention immediately because she absolutely loves Alice in Wonderland. The staff straight away came across as child friendly which is always something I sense instantly and it typically determines whether we have a good time or not. Being a parent, it is really important that you feel valued and that your child is too, rather than being made to feel like a nuisance. The doorman especially engaged in a chat with Ita explaining the theme of the tree and I could have died when she told him in no uncertain terms that she knew exactly that it was based on the Mad Hatter.

Family pic!

The reception staff were also so courteous given that, in typical London fashion, we were late because of the traffic. Again, Ita was welcomed and asked whether she would like to lead the way!

The moment we saw the main Christmas tree in Kona (the restaurant area) it took my breath away! Ita kept going to look at it because the whole design was simply spectacular. The dress actually lit up far more than this photo shows. The room itself is modest in size which we absolutely loved because it felt intimate and there are only a small amount of tables in here.

The decorations were stunning

Our afternoon tea started with a festive spiced hot chocolate and our choice of a large selection of teas. We were then served our sandwiches but I can honestly say they were the best presented sandwiches we have ever encountered. Usually afternoon teas serve simple finger sandwiches but these were so striking and frankly so beautiful. The selection included Rosemary roast beef and English mustard, Yorkshire ham with cheddar and pickle, smoked salmon and orange horseradish stars and egg mayonnaise with a little twist.

Selection of savouries

The sweets treats included spicy gianduja chocolate gateau, pine forest pistachio cremeux cones, Bakewell toadstools, a starry night nougatine snap and a Baileys and cream yule log! Of course we also had scones and ones with cranberries in too!

And the treats…

We do quite a few afternoon teas and for us, this one definitely stands out. The food was plentiful and the designs of the sandwiches were the best we have ever had. Dominic thinks this was his favourite afternoon tea… by far! Ita also commented on how fun the treats looked and especially when you look at it from a child’s perspective, she is right! They were bright and inviting.

We would absolutely recommend this afternoontea! It is very fairly priced for a festive tea in a 5 star hotel and it feels luxurious but also very fun. I cannot stress how lovely the staff were which of course added to our wonderful experience. I was even forced into a photo which I was secretly happy about! I’m usually the photographer! I think this also demonstrates how family orientated it was too though.

Beautifully presented

Afterwards we were actually encouraged to look around. In fact, Ita was told she would love the lights outside and the tree in the joining building. She wanted a photo by every. single. tree. I kid you not! Although I can see why. Taj 51 really is decorated very beautifully. 

This particular afternoon tea is available throughout December and served on Thursdays and Fridays at noon and 2pm, and on weekends at noon, 2pm and 4pm. There are sittings on Christmas Day and on New Years day too.

Price £55pp and children aged between 4-11 years can also have tea for half this price.

For more information on the afternoon teas served at Taj 51, please see the link below.

https://www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk/Fine-dining/Afternoon-tea/

Menu