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Simnel Buns

Bake Simnel Cupcakes for Easter

Simnel Cake is an Easter time fruit cake that is made from white flour, sugar, butter, eggs, fragrant spices, dried fruits, zest and candied peel, Marzipan is used to decorate the top and often included in the middle of the cake.

The top is traditionally covered with a flat layer of Marzipan with eleven Marzipan balls placed in a circle to represent the true eleven disciples, Judas is omitted, a ball is sometimes added in the centre to represent Jesus or even Judas.

I often make Simnel Cake although I don’t include the Marzipan as not all of my family enjoys it; here is a recipe for Simnel Cupcakes without Marzipan which are perfect for Easter Parties or to take with you on a walk.

Ingredients

  • 150g Butter
  • 150g Caster Sugar
  • 4 Medium Eggs beaten
  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 1 tsp Mixed Spice
  • 1 tsp Baking powder
  • 200g Mixed dried fruit
  • 12 whole glace cherries
  • Zest and juice of a medium orange
  • 200g Icing Sugar
  • Silver Ball cake decorations

What you need to do

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/170F/Gas Mark 5 and line a Cupcake tray with 12 cases.
  2. Mix together the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy then gradually beat in the eggs.
  3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and the mixed spice, add gradually and gently stir into the butter mixture until fully combined then fold in the mixed fruit and the orange zest.
  4. Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cases, then push a whole cherry into the middle of each one.
  5. Bake for approx. 25 minutes until risen, golden and firm to the touch, leave to cool.
  6. Mix together the icing sugar with just enough orange juice so that the icing is spreadable.
  7. Ice the top of your Simnel Cupcakes and then place 11 silver balls around the edge in a circle.
  8. Leave the icing to set and then enjoy.

Chicken 3

Make an Easter Chicken

What you will need

  • Paper plates
  • Black, Orange, Yellow/Red Felt tip Pens
  • Scissors
  • Sticky tape/Glue
  • Feathers

Chicken 1       Chicken 2

What you need to do

  1. Take a paper plate and fold in half.
  2. Cut another paper plate into 6 segments, on a segment draw the beak, comb (at the top of the head) and wattle (under the beak) and cut out.
  3. Cut a slit at one side on the crease of the folded paper plate, push the comb through it and stick down, then position and stick on the beak and the wattle, add another blob of glue where the head is and press together.
  4. Colour in its beak, comb and wattle, stick a feather on for its tail and draw on eyes and wings.
  5. You can of course paint or decorate your chicken further if you like, why not stick on the colourful foil wrapping from your Easter Eggs.

Egg faces

3 Amazing and Eggstraordinary facts about Eggs

1.   We all imagine that dinosaurs and their eggs were enormous, the largest dinosaur was the Argentinosaurus and was 37m long, yet its eggs were quite small in comparison they were only the size of a Rugby ball (30cm).

2.   Ostriches lay the largest birds’ eggs; they can be as big as a grapefruit and take 42 days to hatch.

3.   Hummingbirds lay the smallest bird’s eggs; they are the size of a pea and take 16-18 days to hatch.

Here are some silly egg yolks (jokes) to make you giggle

Q.   Why did the egg go to school?

       To get egg-u-cated!

Q.   Who tells the best egg jokes?

        Comedi-hens!

Q.   How did the egg climb the mountain?

        It scrambled up!

Q.   What do you call an egg that goes on safari?

        An eggs-plorer!

Q.   What day do eggs hate the most?

        Fry-day!

Q.    What happened to the egg when he was tickled too much?

        He cracked up!

Why not have a go at making up some more egg jokes

I hope that you all have a fun and enjoyable Easter

Gill

 

 

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The very first Women’s Institute was formed in 1897 in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada as a branch of the Farmer’s Institute it brought women from isolated communities together and offered training in home economics, child care and those aspects of farming that were traditionally done by women, such as poultry keeping and small farm animal husbandry.

 

 

 

 

 

This year the British WI (Women’s Institute) celebrates its Centenary, the first meeting in the UK was held in Llanfairpwll on Anglesey, Wales, on 16 September 1915.  Since then, the organisation has grown to become the largest women’s voluntary organisations in the UK with over 212,000 members in 6,600 WIs.

The WI was first established to educate rural women, and to encourage countrywomen to get involved in growing and preserving food to help to increase the supply of food to the war-torn nation.  Education and the sharing of skills have always been at the heart of the organisation, and this remains true today.

Whilst the meeting venues might have changed from the local village hall to local café, the ethos and reputation of the WI remains the same, and women join now to meet new friends, learn new skills and make a difference on matters that are important to them now as fellow members did in 1915.

The WI is hugely popular and is not just about Jam and Jerusalem, join the WI and you can get involved in: Making Crafts, Food and Cooking, Floral Art and Gardening, Arts, Sports, Science and Leisure Activities, Competitions and Campaigns.

The WI has a long history of campaigning on a wide range of issues, WI campaigns are about changing things for the better and tackling the issues that matter to members, some of their current campaigns are:

Now that the nights are really drawing in, instead of sitting in front of the TV why not become a member, learn new skills and find how to cook, preserve and store all the wonderful things that you have grown this year, have a look on their website to find a WI near you.

Gill

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Xmas Tree Decorations

By now many of you will have put up your Christmas decorations and most importantly your Christmas Tree it is the focal point in any home, decorating it is usually a family occasion with everyone helping.

The tradition of the Christmas Tree as we know it dates back to the mid-1800s, in 1821 Queen Caroline had one at her royal palace which was decorated for the children’s parties that were held there, In 1841 Queen Victoria and German-born Prince Albert stood one at the gates of Windsor Castle, a drawing was later published in 1848 in the Illustrated London News showing them celebrating around an indoor decorated Christmas tree, this was a tradition that Prince Albert had enjoyed in his childhood in Germany, this tradition became very fashionable and soon every home in Britain had a tree decorated with candles, ribbon, sweets, fruit and homemade decorations.

Candles are of course a fire hazard; today we use coloured electric lights, tinsel, foil wrapped chocolate shapes and baubles to decorate our trees, the first manufactured Christmas tree ornaments were sold by Woolworths in 1880. A star or an Angel is usually placed at the top of the tree; the Angel represents the Angel that brought glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds in the fields.

One of the most famous Christmas Trees in Britain stands near the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square, London it is decorated with great ceremony each year, the huge Norwegian Spruce is a gift from the people of Oslo, Norway to thank the British people for their help during the Second World War.

There are many different types of real Christmas Trees: Norway Spruce, Frasier Fir, Noble Fir, the most common is the Nordman Fir, many people choose to have an artificial tree to ‘save the earth’ or buy a living potted tree which can be brought in and decorated then put outdoors after Christmas to grow.

After 12th night, when traditionally all Christmas decorations are taken down, your Christmas Tree can be recycled, many councils will accept them at recycling centres or collect them on your green bin collection day, they then turn them into valuable nutrient rich compost or mulch.

I would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year and look forward to sharing my gardening and nature blogs with you in 2015.

Have a wonderful time.

Gill

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If you have been reading my previous blogs you will know that I love Autumn especially getting out for a walk and collecting leaves, seeds, nuts and fruits I simply can’t resist it. The fruits such as Blackberries and Apples can be cooked to enjoy now in Pies and Crumbles or made into jams, chutneys and preserves to savour over the next few months, the seeds and nuts can be planted and will produce new flowers/wildflowers for your garden or a new generation of trees, all that remains are the stunning colourful leaves and the seed/nut cases.

You can have lots of fun with leaves and when you have finished they can be turned into valuable leaf mould for your garden, for lots of ideas for your wonderful leaves click here. This year the Beech has produced a bumper crop of seeds (which are often called Beechnuts or Beechmasts) and as I have quite a lot of the Beech seed cases I got thinking … they are very dry, hard and often spikey just like the prickles of a Hedgehog, so why not ….

Beech Seed Case Hedgehog

Make a Hedgehog from Beech Seed Cases

What you will need

  • Dry Beech Seed Cases
  • Potatoes
  • A Cocktail Stick
  • Sticky Tack or Glue
  • Conkers
  • Black felt tip pen

What you need to do

  1. Choose a potato preferably with a flat side (to stop it rolling around) this will be the bottom.
  2. Leave one end of the potato bare for the face then make holes with your cocktail stick in rows along the back and sides inserting beech seed cases by their stalks until you have covered your potato.
  3. Draw or stick on some eyes then add the conker nose securing it in place with Sticky Tack or Glue

If you have plenty of materials why not make a Hedgehog family and arrange them on a tray/lid with some of your leaves.

Hedgehogs are busy at the moment looking for a safe place to hibernate and eating plenty of food to build them up for the winter months, why not have a go at the new free Gardening with Children Family Competition or School Competition for a chance to win a Hogitat Hedgehog House, a Field guide to Hedgehogs and some Hedgehog Food for the Hedgehogs in your garden.

The Hogitat Hedgehog House

The Hogitat Hedgehog House – a perfect winter retreat for your prickly garden friends

Have fun

Gill

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Beach

You can’t beat a day at the seaside there are lots of activities to keep you busy:

Paddling or Swimming in the sea

Building Sandcastles

Burying dad in the sand!

Rock pooling

Playing ball games/flying kites

or Beach Combing

There is so much you can find on a beach that has been washed up by the sea, unfortunately most of it is man-made litter, there are millions of tonnes of rubbish in our seas not just around Britain but worldwide only small amounts get washed up on the shore, this is a big problem which is getting worse, harming birds, animals, fish and sea creatures.

I love beachcombing you never know what you will find:

Colourful pebbles – worn smooth by the sea

Seaweed – I didn’t realise there were so many different types

Driftwood – Bleached and smooth to the touch

Shells – Cockle, Mussel, Periwinkle, Whelk, Razor, Scallop, Limpet

Crab Shells and Claws, Cuttlefish bones

Whelk Egg Cases and Dogfish Egg Cases also called Mermaids Purses

Sea monster 2

Why not make a Sea Creature with your beach treasure?

What you will need

Collect as many shells, pebbles, sticks, strands of seaweed, etc. as you can find

What you need to do

You can either make your creature on the beach or when you get home, we made ours at home.

Start off by making a body from damp sand or if you are at home you could use modelling clay, and firm your shells into place on the body, then add arms, legs, a mouth, eyes, hair, claws, tails and wings. This is your Sea Creature be creative you can make it how you want, it can have 2, 4 or 6 legs, 2 or 3 heads or tails, you can give it wings or claws and as many eyes as you want.

Sea Monster 1

How we made our Sea Creature

  1. Firstly we got a storage box lid and covered it with a blue plastic bag to represent the sea; you could also use a tray or cover it with kitchen foil.
  2. We then got a piece of white modelling clay, made it into an egg shape and pressed it onto the lid.
  3. We covered the modelling clay with Mussel shells to make the body, and used broken Razor shells for the legs, the curly tail was a large Whelk shell.
  4. For the head we used a Cuttlefish bone for the lower jaw and the top was a Spider Crab shell, two eyes were made out of small Whelk shells which were stuck on with the modelling clay, I drew on two eyes with black marker pen.
  5. The crowning glory was the three Dogfish Egg cases that we placed along his back.
  6. To finish it off we sprinkled sand on the lid and placed some shells and Whelks egg cases around him to make him feel at home!

It is a good idea to buy a guide to the seashore so that you can identify and learn all about what you find on your day out.

Have fun on the beach this summer, enjoy all that the seaside has to offer and help to preserve it for future generations by taking you litter home with you – the British Coastline is stunning and home to many amazing and unique plants, animals, fish, sea creatures and birds.

Love your environment

Gill

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Next week (17-23 May) is Recycle Week.

We are all aware that recycling is very important to the environment, I am sure that many people recycle items of their rubbish in their weekly collections, but could we do more? Can we recycle our waste and benefit our garden?

 Twin Bin Composter from The Recycle Works

Green Waste

Millions of tonnes of green garden waste are produced each year, don’t throw it away it contains valuable nutrients. Set up a compost bin to collect and transform your garden waste (grass, prunings, leaves, weeds etc) into wonderful home-made compost which can be used to grow flowers/vegetables, as a soil improver or as a mulch.  Teabags, Cardboard, Newspaper and Fruit and Vegetable peelings can all be added to the compost bin too.

 Twin Bokashi Bucket System

Food Waste

Cooked food waste including meat, fish and vegetables is usually thrown away but can be recycled in a Bokashi Compost Bucket using EM’s – Effective Microrganisms without the fear of smells. Simply place your scraps into the bucket with a sprinkling of Bokashi Bran and re-seal the lid, when your bucket is full leave for two weeks keeping the lid sealed and either dig the contents into the garden or add to your compost bin. Whilst the compost is maturing a nutrient rich liquid is produced, dilute this with water 1:100 and use as a plant feed in the home or garden.

Harcoster Rain Diverter

Water

Gardens can be very ‘thirsty’ especially during warm weather to reduce the amount of tap water you use collect rainwater from your down pipes with a rain diverter and store in water butts.

Paper Potter

Biodegradable pots

Why not make your own pots out of newspaper using a Paper Potter they are very easy to make and great fun for children to do. Egg boxes are great for filling with compost and sowing seeds in, cardboard rolls and toilet roll tubes are perfect for sweet peas, peas and beans as they provide a deeper root run, keep the containers continually moist to allow the roots to penetrate, once planted they will rot down.

 Love Your Environment shopping bag

Shopping Bags

We as a nation use far too many plastic bags, millions go into landfill sites and thousands more become nuisance litter in our countryside, towns and even our seas, looking unsightly and becoming a danger to our precious wildlife. Invest in a reusable shopping bag that will last for years, helping the environment and if it’s a Fair-trade one it helps farmers and workers in developing countries too, it’s a good idea to keep one by the front door as well as a couple in the car.

 PIR Solar Utility Light

Solar Power

Save electricity by recycling the suns energy with solar powered lights which are bright enough to use inside your shed or greenhouse and to light up your garden and feature plants.

Odd Socks!!!

Ever wondered what to do with all those odd socks, if you collect rainwater direct from your greenhouse or shed roof pop one of them on the end of the down pipe to collect the dust and debris keeping the water clean, replace when required!

Reducing And Recycling Waste In Schools

If you have got the recycling bug and want to do more there are many good books on the subject including Recycle – The Essential Guide and Reducing and Recycling Waste in Schools.

Love your environment – reduce, reuse and recycle

Gill

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As gardeners we all know how important water is, conserving it is important to keep our plants alive and our vegetable and fruit gardens productive.

Children love watering in the garden but often more water goes on them than on the plants a Non Spill Watering Can would make a wise investment and save on washing!

Containers, Patio Tubs, Growing Bags, Hanging Baskets, window boxes and Standing Raised Beds all require extra watering to prevent them from drying out, the addition of Rain Gel Water Storage Granules to your compost/soil will substantially reduce the need for watering as the granules absorb large amounts of water which is then slowly released to the plant roots just where it is needed most.

Here are a few other ways to conserve water in the garden:

  • During hot weather it is best to water your plants/garden in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler to minimise evaporation.
  • Spreading a layer of organic mulch around plants retains moisture as well as suppressing weeds.
  • Apply water only as fast as the soil can absorb it.
  • Water only when necessary, most plants die from over-watering than under-watering
  • Wash fruit and vegetables in a pan instead of running water from the tap.

With hose pipe bans looking likely in the worst affected areas as soon as next month I think we could all do our bit for the environment by saving and reducing water usage and not just in areas where there is a water shortage.

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