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Dog Eats Food…Again

Funny thing that happened the other day (and an update on Joe’s feeding habits). Whilst on a rather long call to nPower Customer Services (another story entirely), I looked away from Joe for a minute and back again to catch him feeding his whole dinner to Roxy, our four-year old golden retriever.

I could have been frustrated, I suppose, but the scene was just too funny not to laugh – Joe innocently tipping the food off his plate and Roxy eyes lighting up like her birthday had come early, as she raced to lap up the falling food. I had to hold back from laughing lest the Customer Service girl on the other end of the phone wondered what on earth was wrong with me.

J

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raw-brownies

(Easy) Raw Brownies

My kids love helping out in the kitchen, and one of their favourite things to eat are brownies. However, I’m pretty careful not to buy the store-bought kind too often, as these are normally filled with overly processed flour, hidden dairy (which Tilly can’t have) and wayy too much sugar. Therefore, I normally keep these kinds for special occasions (when family comes over) or for kids’ birthday parties (if I’m in a pinch).

Instead, I try to bake something as often as I can, whenever I can find the time (usually once a week), so that I can put something sweet in Tilly’s lunchbox without worrying too much about how much sugar she’ll be consuming in a day (as hooked-up sugar-fueled kids are every parent’s worst nightmare).

I recently discovered this amazing raw brownies from the wonderful food blogger, Ella Woodward. Her blog, Deliciously Ella, has seen massive success for its plant-based. gluten-free recipes, all free from refined grains and process sugar. The term ‘raw’ might raise some alarm bells, but I promise you. they’re super-easy and fast to make, and most importantly…they’re DELICIOUS!

After we made these brownies last weekend, I can now safely say that:

  • They’re fast, easy and relatively cheap
  • They’re perfect for kids or those long summer days where you don’t feel like turning on the oven. All you need is some fridge space.
  • They contain no refined sugar, meaning your kids won’t be bouncing off the walls afterwards(!).

Ingredients

  • 2 cups medjool dates (unlike dried dates, this variety has a particularly soft, sticky consistency)
  • 1 cup pecans (hazelnuts could also work)
    2-3 tablespoons of cacao or cocoa powder (Ella uses cacao for its health benefits, but I find that good-quality, dutch-processed cocoa powder is more purse-friendly and contains less caffeine for the little ones)
  • 2 tbps pure maple syrup/agave/raw honey (optional).

Instructions

1. Place pecans into a blender and blend until they are fine and crumbly.
2. Add the dates and blend with the pecans.
3. Add the maple syrup last (if using) and blend again.
4. Spread mixture evenly into a baking tray and refrigerate for 3-4 hours to set. Afterwards, slice into 10 brownies.
5. Keep the brownies in the fridge to retain their freshness!

This recipe is courtesy of Ella Woodward. Find more of her recipes here.

Family Fitness

It’s been a while since I last posted, but with Christmas taking over and the festive season seeming to go on forever, I think it’s about right! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a a great New Year’s…We certainly did!

DeathtoStock_NotStock6One of my New Year’s resolutions this year, as you probably know, is to make more time for exercise in my daily/weekly routine. This is not just for myself and Marcus, but for the kids too. Luckily, us having a dog makes it that bit easier to get out and about…but it is all too easy to let Marcus do the evening walk while I get the kids ready for bed and flop in front of the TV.

So I’ve been looking at ways to get the whole family moving more together, as isn’t exercise always better when its done with a group? It all counts as quality family time, after all.

It’s also just as important for your little ones to get at least one hour of physical activity a day, as this builds essential motor skills; co-ordination, and their growing hearts, lungs, bones and muscles. It also allows them to learn just what their bodies are capable of and discover their favourite physical activities early on.

Here are some tips for family fitness that I can’t wait to try in 2015.

1. Pre or Post Dinner Walks

Taking a walk together before or after dinner is a great way to boost the metabolism and prevent sleepiness after eating. (If you hDeathtoStock_SlowDown10ave a dog demanding to be walked, this makes it easier!)

Allow toddlers to alternate time in and out of their buggy to get them used to walking, and you can even make it into more of a game by asking your children to spot things along the way (a certain colour cat; a type of tree; a type of house etc.)

2. Dancing

Dancing is by far one of the more fun ways to be active. If you have older children you can dance to whatever type of music you like, but for younger ones it might be best to stick to a CD or DVD of their favourite TV show where you can help them learn the actions to all the songs.

Push the furniture out of the way and create more space – this will help you move more and make it more fun. Cheap coloured or flashing lights will help to make it a disco!

3. Ditch the Car

You might be used to hopping in the car everyday because its more convenient and leaves you more time to make those packed lunches. But walking or taking the bus to school/playgroup is a small change you can make to fit more activity into your day, as well as being more beneficial for the environment.

Use the walk to fit in more social time with your youngsters. Ask them about their day ahead at school – what projects they’re working on; who they like to play with. You can also invent spotting games to play along the way, or test them on their spellings.

gardening-with-kids4. Get Gardening

As the weather starts to get warmer in the next couple of months, you’ll no doubt be turning your attention to the garden. Why not get your kids to help you by giving them simple tasks to do? Watering the plants; digging up soil to plant new bulbs; gathering leaves or pulling up small weeds are easy jobs that your kids will likely throw themselves into.

Gardening has been shown to be one of the best activities for improving motor skills and is also a great opportunity to teach your kids more about plants and vegetables.

5. Weekly Sports Night (or Day)

The warmer weather is also a brilliant reason to get to your local park or playing field and kick around a ball. You can maybe even invite some neighbours’ kids who are of a similar age to your own. Set up a game of 5-a-side (or more) and if it all goes well, try to make it a regular thing.

Remember its not all about getting the rules just right. Its about having fun and getting your kids to be active, whilst possibly making some new friends.

6. Go on a Nature Walk

If you’re lucky enough to live nearby some forestry or woodland, make the most of this by DSCF7252taking the kids on a long nature walk at a weekend. Everyone takes a small lunch, and puts on their wellies or walking boots. Then you can follow a designated trail or path, asking the kids to spot different types of bugs, furry animals and trees/flowers along the way.

If you don’t have a nature spot nearby, there are many forests you can drive or take the train to up and down the UK. Many of them contain preserved species of woodland creatures and have experienced rangers on hand to guide you.

After-School Winter Warmer: Pumpkin Spice Latte (for kids!)

At this time of year, when the sun is setting almost by teatime, all you want to do is tuck your little ones up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate in front of some cartoopumpkin-spice-latte-for-kidsns when they come home from school.

In our house it used to be hot chocolate…that is, until we discovered pumpkin spice cocoa. I know you’re probably thinking immediately of the Starbucks-packaged treat that has become so prominently associated with all things Autumn, but this pumpkin spice experience is much healthier…and it’s for kids!

All in all, its very easy to make your own pumpkin spiced latte without all the sugar and processed ingredients of the Starbucks version. But leaving out the espresso/coffee and slightly increasing the cocoa content can make this a delicious treat for children, too.

Here’s my own pumpkin spiced latte tea/cocoa recipe, just about ready after many days of experimenting!

Ingredients (per mug):

cinnemon-spice1 cup milk (normal or non-dairy milk of your choice)
1/4 cup pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (OR 1/2 tsp cinnamon with a pinch of nutmeg)
1 tsp good quality maple syrup
1/2 tsp plain cocoa powder
Sprinkling of brown/coconut sugar (optional)

How To Make:cocoa-powder

1. Put milk, pumpkin puree and the spices into a saucepan and heat on a low flame until the milk comes to the boil (but don’t let it boil over!) Remove from the heat.

2. Add the cocoa powder and whisk together. You may wish to use a hand blender to help soften and blend the pumpkin  for a smooth consistency. This will also help get the milk nice and frothy!

2. Add your quantity of maple syrup and stir.

3. Pour into mugs, using a spoon to hold back the froth until the end if you like a nice froth-capped result.

4. Add more maple syrup to taste if you wish,and/or sprinkle the coconut sugar on top to serve.

Happy Autumn!pumpkin-spice-latte

(Little) Green Fingers

As its the summer holidays, I’ve been trying to get Tilly more involved in the garden the last few weeks. I think its great for kids to get to grips with the basics of gardening gardening-with-kids- it gets them outdoors; it develops their coordination and they can learn all kinds of things about plants, bugs and garden wildlife in the process.

Tilly’s been loving it, although she didn’t always like getting her hands dirty at first! Roxy ‘helps’ us by not eating the flowers we plant or digging up the flowerbed…and even Joe likes to dabble about in the soil with his plastic spade every so often whilst Tilly and I work.

There are plenty of options for things to plant if you’re gardening with kids. Easy-to-grow vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and peas can be a great way of teaching them more about where their food comes from, whilst easy-grow flowers or fruit trees can sometimes just be fun to look at.

Here are my favourite choices so far for what to plant in your child-friendly garden, whether you’re using flowerbed soil or using pots. Some of these we have planted already; others we plan to plant in the days and weeks to come.

1. Daisies

child-friendly-flowers

Fun, friendly and cute, who doesn’t love a a few giant daisies in their garden?? Not only do they flaunt an innocent combo of yellow on white, they are said to be loaded with pollen, bringing lots of bees into your garden, and are easy to maintain.

We planted our daisies midway through June, as the prime time for seeing is from June to early July, Try to plant in a sunny spot as daisies love sun!

2. Pansies/Violas

planting-with-childrenPansies (or violas) are also an easy little flower to grow in small pots and containers. They come in an array of bright colours – many of them two-toned – they can be planted as late as early October for the flowers to bloom in the following spring.

Though we won’t see them flower this year, Tilly and I have planted some violas we hope to see shine through next year.

3. Wild Strawberries

Here’s an edible plant that most kids will almost definitely growing-with-kidsenjoy the results of! This bright, juicy berry can be a delight for kids who often like to see their hard work paying off, and are often much sweeter than the ones you usually find in the stores.

4. Lady’s Mantle

kids-fairytale-gardenLady’s Mantle is said to be an intriguing little plant that has the potential to bring magic and wonder to your kids’ garden. It grows frothy, lime-green flowers in the early season and larger fanned leaves which last throughout the rest of the season. The leaves tend to hold drops of dew or moisture on their surface which can sparkle like diamonds when hit by the sunlight. (Ideal for creating a ‘Fairy Garden’…!)

These tough little plants are apparently very drought-tolerant, meaning they’re likely to do well in a cooler or shadier patch of your garden.

5. Sunflowers

Like daisies, sunflowers are fantastic at bringing positivity and growing-with-childrenfun into your garden. Big, bold and eye-catching, they are another nectar-producing flower that will attract bees and butterflies (if you buy the heirloom variety).

Sunflowers can be planted from May through to June, preferably in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun a day. If you like to see them grow tall, then planting them against a fence might be a good idea.


Remember to always read the packet instructions on your seeds for how deep to plant them and whether they need any particular type of soil. After planting, soak them with plenty of water and keep them well moist every day. :)

You can also find lots of other useful information about gardening with kids right here.

Holidays For Furry Friends

So the air is warm and the sun is shining (most of the time anyways), so I guess it means dogs-on-holidaywe’re way into summer now! We’re scheduled to go away next month to Florida, where we will be staying at the amazing Key West beach. Tilly is so excited, and we can’t wait to spend some time in one of our favourite hot spots.

Our reasons for choosing Key West, however, might surprise you. Besides being a beautiful, sunny and uplifting place and perfect for families, Key West is also a primarily dog-friendly place. And with Roxy, our four year old golden retriever in tow, what other reason do we need?

While lots of dog-owners might see their holidays as a rest from the doggie duties, we’ve been taking Roxy on our trips for the last three years. The first time we left her was difficult for both us and her, so we decided that whenever possible, we would include her in our summer vacations in the future. The cost of paying for your dog’s stay in a hotel is about the same, if not less than putting them up in kennels for two weeks anyway. So why hesitate?

Key West has a dog-friendly beach, a dog-friendly restaurant next door (the Afterdeck Bar at Louie’s Backyard) and a range of other dining options where dogs are welcome (Island Dogs Bar; Blue Heaven, and Cheeseburger on Duval Street). We’ve been there before and always had such a great time and Roxy loves the opportunity to frolic in the sea.

However, Key West is definitely not the only option if you’re looking to take your furry friend on a much-needed trip. San Diego in California is home to a number of dog beaches where leashes aren’t mandatory, and there are dog-wash facilities nearby. There are also plenty of pet-friendly eateries like Baja Betty’s, O’Bistro, Cafe Merlot and Heavenly Cupcake (where they even make ‘pupcakes’ for dogs!)

dogs-national-trustIf the crisp English countryside is more your thing, then England and Scotland is just brimming with hotels and country lodges where your canine will be welcome.
The Swan Hotel in Southwold provides lovely dog-tailored accommodation in its Lighthouse Rooms for just £10 a night, and dogs get their own bowl and treat upon arrival. There’s also a dog beach along Walberswick Harbour for running and playing.

Fieldshead Hotel in the pretty fishing town of West Looe also looks like it would be a great choice. The hotel is said to be luxurious and relaxing, providing five-star service, pet-friendly rooms, and an ocean coastline right on your doorstep. Meanwhile, Trigony House Hotel in Thornhill, Scotland, looks a classically beautiful and charming place, surrounding by enchanting Scottish countryside including lots of exciting walking trails. This place is said to be a more up-market stay for dog-owners that want a bit of luxury for both themselves and their pooches, and its service is award winning.

It can indeed be difficult to get a good blend on dog-friendly vacations, especially as humans tend to like sightseeing and culture, whilst dogs love forests, fields, woods and other open spaces. English Heritage and National Trust in the UK however often aim to combine outdoorsy activities with historic walks and experiences, so their trips can be a good option (and they accommodate dogs in many of their hotels, pubs and restaurants too).

As far as accommodation is concerned, you’re certainly not necessarily limited to camping. Lots of travel agents (including a young startup named Chien Bleu Travel) can point you in the direction of lots of pet-friendly hotels, as well as self-catered holiday homes and lodges, right across Europe and beyond.

Be patient, do your research, and don’t be afraid to make enquiries (or be open to something new!) When the whole family travels, there should be no more excuses for leaving your four-legged friend behind.

J

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dog-on-beach

 

Dining Room Redesign: Inspirations

So Marcus and I have decided to redecorate the dining room. We’ve been a while putting it off as we were pretty sure Roxy would trash the place when she was a puppy…but now that she’s got out of the chewing phase I think its about time we roll our sleeves up and get it DONE! (That’s not to say Roxy won’t trash it anyway…I’m sure if she doesn’t, the kids will. But we’ll see how things go…)

So far I’ve been picking out small designs for wallpaper, colour schemes, lighting and furniture that really inspire me, whatever may be their source. As easy as it is to walk into a store and point to a photograph in a brochure, that sort of approach isn’t really for Marcus or me. I’m usually pretty intent on keeping things original, and Marcus’ mother used to work in interior design so I don’t think we’d get away with it if we didn’t consult her opinion!

I thought I’d post a few of my favourite ideas here that I’ve found so far. I have consulted some design mags and websites…but sometimes its also fun to simply stumble upon inspiration when out and about or surfing the web. Pinterest is certainly a great place to inspiration on ANYthing…you should definitely get on it if you haven’t already.

Wallpaper

dining-room-wallpaper-inspiration

I love this tree pattern – its very fresh and spring-like and reminds me of the white blossom trees at the end of our street. Whilst a neutral colour, its also still pretty playful, which I like.

Table/Furniture

dining-table-inspiration

I love this rustic dining table, which could bring a distinctly warm feel into an otherwise cool room. I’m not too keen on the chairs, but the mahogany table could make a beautiful centrepiece through both summer and winter. I also like the tree wallpaper used in the room in this photograph too!

Lighting

dining-room-lighting-inspiration

This metal-framed leaf-designed hanging lamp is from Overstock’s Home & Garden range. Whilst a dark colour, I love the pattern and I think it would go perfectly with a nature-esque, organic theme (which seems to be a recurring element right now…!)

Rug

dining-room-rug-inspiration

I think we’re pretty set on having a hard wood floor, so a rug will probably end up being an essential. I usually love heavy, rich-coloured rugs that echo exotic countries like India and Morrocco…but being a dining room I’d like to keep things fresh and airy. This cream-coloured woven rug made from natural materials would be perfect…though how long it would stay clean for is another issue!

Baking Cookies!

It’s been baking-central here in our house this week, as Tilly’s school is holding a family fun day to raise funds for the local hospital. The teachers want all the kids involved (and obviously, the parents!) so we’ve been baking up some varied treats to contribute to the bake sale (as well as one or two extra batches to munch on ourselves, of course!)

So far we’ve done around three batches of 20 cookies and one batch of brownies…but I have a feeling we’re going to need more of the latter as they taste so good, they may not last in this house for long…

I think above all though, the winners are these truly delightful peanut butter cookies, which most kids are likely to love. Before making these for any community-based project, do check that there’s nobody with any nut allergies, or anything (luckily Tilly’s class is clear). If not, you’re good. Bake away!

This recipe is from food.com.

Soft Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredientspeanut-butter-cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter (preferably sugar-free, for your own peace of mind)
1/2 cup raw cane sugar
1/2 dark brown sugar1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour (choose white or wholemeal)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

How To Make
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. Mix the butter, peanut butter, both types of sugar, the egg and the vanilla.

3. Gradually add the flour, mixing well.

4. When you have a nice thick doughy consistency, roll into balls and use a fork to press down on a greased baking tray. (You can dip the fork in sugar or flour if you like.)

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes (10 if you like them soft). Be sure to keep an eye on them though as some ovens get hotter than others.

These cookies are perfect to make with kids as they’re really easy, and little ones can help with simple things like mixing and rolling the cookie dough.

Then of course there’s always licking the bowl at the end, which is Tilly’s favourite part (though I can’t figure out why…!)

Enjoy!

J

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The Joys & Trials Of A Fussy Toddler

Things have been a little hectic here at Jin Towers – not only have my deadlines kept me exceedingly busy, but we are currently in the middle of transferring little Joseph onto solid food…something which I can’t say hasn’t been quite an experience!

The whole transference to solid food process means that Joe messy-baby-highchairobviously needs to be supervised at all mealtimes and takes much longer to feed – not the most conducive circumstances to get a good 3000 words a day in (my target has shrunk since I began working from home to be with the kids – it had to) but nevertheless we try.

It’s actually been really fun finding tasty foods that Joe will be willing to eat, as well as bake him up a baby-sized treat every now and then, like these delicious little chocolate brownies from Small Steps Online. (These are for special times only – like when he eats his whole dinner – a very rare occurrence.) I can’t wait till he’s big enough to get involved in the baking himself – not long now before he’ll be able to stir and roll things, I’m sure!

baby-solid-foodTilly is great – she often helps to feed Joe his afternoon snack when she arrives home from school and has taken to fixing him a mini version of what she eats herself. This usually involves something simple like peanut butter with celery and raisins, but it doesn’t always go down well with Joe. Sometimes he’ll simply play with it and make a mess; other times he just won’t touch it at all.

Overall, it is a changing phase that will require perseverance, no doubt, but I find plenty of support from the forums of netmums.com and Small Steps, and I’m really relishing spending more time at home (even though the whole freelance working thing isn’t getting my fullest attention right now, admittedly). Still, they say these years pass by faster than you could imagine, so I’d rather be enjoying adventures with my kids whilst they last, and have much more to write about later down the line!

Until next time,

J.

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