Non-scary pumpkin carving with kids!

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J is really interested in Halloween this year and has been getting really excited about it. She has had her bat outfit on more than once already and has been trying to cast magic spells with her wand. Enjoying Halloween with her has been great fun so far and I wanted to find a way to make a great looking Pumpkin whilst keeping her fingers intact and not terrifying her (she’s only three!)

My solution to carving the Pumpkin safely was to do the cutting and preparing myself and enlist Joss’ help with the rest. Once the top of the pumpkin was cut off, Joss spread glue all over it and sprinkled glitter / jewels on top (and got a fair amount stuck to her hands too!) While she was decorating, I quickly scooped most of the flesh and seeds out in preparation for carving.

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Instead of carving a scary face into the pumpkin, I thought something more ‘pretty’ to go with the lovingly made lid provided by Joss would be nice. I used cookie / pastry cutters to make shapes in the pumpkin by hammering it gently into the sides with a rolling pin. Joss was able to help with this too and we chose a heart shaped design which we hammered all the way around and I used a sharp knife occassionally to help the cutter through.

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One of the nice things about this way of carving / decorating the pumpkin is that the glitter / jewels look good in the daytime and the shapes look great at night with the candlelight so you can make a display on a windowsill or as a table centrepiece that looks good throughout the day. Happy Halloween!

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Cooking with kids: Rusty’s Winter Warmer Granola

Enlist the help of your toddler to make a healthy, tasty and pure Granola that’ll give you something guilt-free to look forward to every morning.

rusty's granola

Ingredients:

I use about 100 grams each of the below nuts / seeds:-

Linseed – great plant source of omega 3 fats, adds a nice crunchy texture to the granola

Walnuts – omega 3 fats, can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, source of antioxidants, good for your brain

Pecans – Great source of vitamin E which is important for healthy skin

Brazil nuts – rich in mono-unsaturated fats, vitamin E

Almonds – good source of magnesium which is good for a healthy heart, potassium, vitamin E

Sunflower seeds – lots of Magnesium, vitamin E, Selenium (may be good for preventing cancers)

Pumpkin seeds – contain Zinc which is great for your immune system, mood, sleep, skin (and more)

Dried, diced papaya and / or pineapple – taste great

One large cooking apple – for binding the granola

Honey – so good for you in so many ways I can’t list them all here and anyway you need it to bind the granola together

Oats – I use quick cook oats as they’re easier to buy in a supermarket but simple rolled oats are a longer lasting energy source

How to

Slice up the large cooking apple into chunks and put in a pan with three or four tablespoons cold water. Put a lid on and give it 5-10 minutes at a low – medium heat. Have a look and give it a mix. Once it’s the texture of apple sauce take it off the heat and put it to one side while you prepare the rest of the granola.

This is where your toddler will love helping. Show her all the nuts you’ve bought for your granola and tell her what they are, what’s good for her about them and encourage her to have a taste (being mindful about allergies and choking – you know your own kids). She won’t like all of them but will hopefully like some. Eating nuts is a great habit to get children into – they’re great for snacking and keep really well. Very healthy in moderation.

Now help your toddler to pour all of the nuts into a big, strong freezer bag. Seal up the bag (be sure to squeeze the air out first) and get a rolling pin. On a large chopping board or tough surface, help your toddler to smash the nuts up with the rolling pin. Keep her fingers out of the way and be sure to make some serious noise. I personally like to make monkey noises as loudly as possible with Joss. It’s a fun way to let off some steam and smile. If the noise is too much for you or someone else at home, you could provide some monkey ear muffs for the duration. I try not to worry about the size of the nut fragments, it’s nice to have a bit of a mixture for texture and crunch.

Get a big mixing bowl and pour in 500 grams oats, the smashed up nuts, seeds and dried papaya / pineapple. Ask your toddler to give it a quick mix to make sure the nuts and seeds are evenly distributed.

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Now take the pan of cooked apple from earlier which should still be warm. Help your toddler to add 2 – 4 tablespoons of honey and mix in. You can use whatever honey you like but I really like using an orange blossom honey for the citrus taste. I add a couple of teaspoons of ground cinnamon too and then ask Joss to mix it up really well, trying to make sure the cinnamon is well combined, get your toddler to have a smell, amazing!

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Ask your toddler to spoon about half of the apple / honey / cinnamon mixture into the bowl of oats, nuts, seeds and fruit and mix it in well with a big spoon. Once she has combined as much as possible, add the rest of the apple sauce mix too and ask her to give that a good stir in. You might need to help out to ensure that everything is well mixed in. The whole mixture should end up quite stodgy and moist. If it doesn’t fit this description you can always add another tablespoon or two of honey to help it stick together.

Preheat your oven to around 140 – 160 celsius and spread the mixture out thinly onto baking trays. The last time we made it, the mixture covered 6 baking trays so we had to cook it in three goes. Put each round of baking trays into the oven for around 10 – 15 minutes, checking regularly and redistributing on the tray if necessary. A little browned is ok, but take care not to burn it. Once done, leave out for a few minutes to cool down and fully dry out. Break up gently and store in an airtight container.

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I eat Rusty’s granola with either coconut milk or natural yogurt and a little honey. You could try adding fresh fruit to it as well. This granola lasts me a month; don’t overdo it – there are a lot of nuts and seeds in this granola so probably 3 or 4 tablespoons is enough for breakfast. What a great treat on those autumn / winter mornings!

Optional: I sometimes add finely chopped, crystallised ginger before baking. Use in moderation but it’s a brilliant winter warmer!

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

Last weekend I made like a tourist and took J on an open top bus tour of our own fair city. There’s a lot to be said for taking the time to remember what you love about your surroundings, and it was lovely for Joss to take a different view of the toon landmarks that she’s growing to know and love as much as I do. As we made our way, windswept and chilly she shouted out “I’ve been to that Park” and “we go there!”

For the reasonable price of £8 per adult, and with under fives going free, you can hop on and hop off the bus along the hour long route, I highly recommend dressing warmly if you’re going to sit on the top deck, but it’s such an adventure for public transport loving little ones!

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When Travelodge Newcastle asked me about Newcastle’s hidden gems for visitors I thought back to the bus route and the things J paid particular attention to on the way.

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

I think our favourite places in town are great for visitors and local alike. Whatever the season, whatever the weather Leazes Park is perfect for a walk, wrapping up and crunching through the autumn leaves, and gathering conkers and acorns is one of my favourite things to do in town. There are some fab little eateries up there, including Red Mezze and Bar Loco for great value grazing.

We often have a walk through the park before a visit to our favourite family museum The Hancock (or Great North Museum). If your kids love history, animals or dinosaurs they’ll love the Hancock’s longstanding exhibitions, younger ones will love playing in the Mouse House playroom and we keep going month in month out because their special exhibitions are superb. At the moment there’s a great exhibition, Spineless, about invertebrates featuring new specimens, games, activities and lots of opportunities for dressing up – ladybird selfie anyone?! One of our hidden gems is Mark Toney’s Ice Cream Parlour up by Haymarket Metro, the sundaes are great value and a real old fashioned treat for kids.

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Down Northumberland Street you’ll find two of J’s favourite places to pop in and relax, The Laing Art Gallery and Newcastle City Library – both have little reading nooks and play areas for younger children and with plenty of events and heritage collections at the Library, and great value exhibitions at the Laing there’s always something to browse for all ages. As an aside, if you’re ever in town and stuck for a gift or a card both the Library and the Laing have fantastic local contributions, I’ve been known to do most of my Christmas shopping in the Laing!

Heading straight down to the Quayside (but if it’s lunchtime popping into our favourite cafe, Panis, for a quick pasta lunch!) there’s a lot to be said for taking some time out by the River Tyne.  As an aside if you’re planning on staying in Newcastle the Newcastle Central Travelodge is located at the riverside so a good place to pick up the Hop On Hop Off bus!  We’re usually pretty eager to head over the Gateshead Millenium Bridge to get to the Baltic. J likes to head straight for their children’s activity area where there’s usually a crafty activity set up, I like to browse the exhibitions and often pop back two or three times to see my favourites, this summer Fiona Tan was particularly enjoyed but there’s always something to pique my interest. Heading up onto the viewing platform gives a sublime view of the Tyne Bridge, one of my favourite landmarks, and on a nice day you get a great view of the river towards the Ouseburn.

Tan exhibition

Tan exhibition

This completed our bus tour of the toon, we headed back to Central Station and chatted about the things we’d seen on the way home.

Do you have any favourite family haunts in Newcastle? We’d love to hear about your hidden gems!

Disclosure: Post in collaboration with Travelodge