children

The Apple Game; making the most of Autumn!

This could be my last post before I go to jail.  A solemn occasion, therefore, because once I enter the local Correctional Facility I doubt I will emerge the same person. It is Harry who has introduced these Draconian threats and warnings, as he passes through a very literal phase where life is governed by rules, warnings and consequences.  Thus it is he who will exclaim loudly in shocked tones in a restaurant; ‘Mummy!! Are you talking with food in your mouth?? We don’t do THAT in our family!’.  He’s right of course, and I hasten to add that I don’t make a habit of it – but still, I am ashamed.  My latest misdemeanour was to switch off the television and refuse to say sorry for doing so.  ’If you don’t say sorry’, Harry announced, staunchly and a little regretfully, ‘you will go to prison with lots of naughty men’.  Now, naughty men may occasionally be appealing, but jail is less so, so I am attempting to distract from my shortcomings with a new family game; Pick An Apple.



12 small paper bags hang from this eye-catching board, each with a different mystery seasonal activity and the equipment we need to do it. On weekends or days when Harry and I are free from work and nursery, Harry gets to choose an apple bag at random and that’s what we’ll do for the day.  I’ve picked a number of age-appropriate and interesting things – mostly outdoors but with a few bad-weather alternatives – which include collecting leaves, choosing and carving pumpkins, apple-bobbing and helping Daddy to make a big bonfire.  The content of each bag varies accordingly; for our pumpkin picking there are just enough coins for Harry to buy the right size pumpkin, and a list of tips I found online about how to choose a good one, which will require us to squeeze, juggle and weigh our way around the field as we discard lesser pumpkins in pursuit of the most magnificent.  For our toffee-apple making activity (below), the bag holds lollipop sticks for Harry to push into each apple, wipes for sticky fingers and the recipe itself.

I bought the brown paper bags cheaply at a local stationery store, then cut out apple and leaf shapes and glued together with a small piece of twig to form each apple.  Tiny wooden pegs hold these on the bags and keep each bag closed to avoid peeping.  The bags I hung from pushpins on an old cork pinboard which I painted black and stencilled.  If you don’t have a convenient pinboard or canvas, the bags would look equally good strung along a wall or fireplace like bunting, pegged to a piece of ribbon.



And here’s the result of our first activity; making windfall toffee apples. No danger of talking with your mouth full with these beauties; our industrial-strength caramel effectively seals your jaws together and prevents conversation for several minutes after consumption…genius! Perhaps I should market these as a budget-conscious and appealing alternative to the gastric band.  We’ll work through our activities between now and Halloween as the days grow shorter and the seasons change in technicolour.  I’d love to hear what your favourite activities are at this time of year, and anything we should add to our list…

Channeling Martha with a spot of dip ‘n dye

I was lying on the sofa the other day, idly trying to choose which of the few remaining chocolate Mini Eggs to eat first; should it be the pastel pink one, or the soft purpley-blue one? (Note the deliberate use of ‘first’ here; it was clearly never going to be a trade-off).  It reminded me that Easter is just around the corner and that Martha Stewart is no doubt at this very moment engaged in vigorous preparations for her extensive annual Easter home-makeover.  I prefer a rather more minimalist approach myself, saving the creative double-barrels for Christmas, but the one thing I do love doing is dip-dyeing eggs to make a simple centrepiece, or even a colourful addition to picnics when the weather allows.

The one big drawback here in the UK is the distinct lack of white eggs, unlike in the US where white eggs are the norm.  Apparently sometime back in the 60s, the UK government announced that brown eggs are better for you, and farmers and the general public immediately switched allegiance and the white hen egg was quite literally bred out of circulation.  The health-benefits story turned out to be entirely untrue, but brown eggs are now the norm and so for this I used white duck eggs, from Prince Charles’s very own Royal farms, and thus retailing at about £10 an egg.  Alright then, £2 a box.  Even so…

1. Hard-boil your eggs, boiling rapidly for 5mins then cooling gently in the pan for 15 mins to ensure a gradual reduction of heat, preventing the shells from cracking.  In the meantime….

2. Prepare several small bowls with 1 tbsp vinegar, food colouring of your choice and enough warm water to cover the egg completely. I used plain blue and green (above), then also mixed pink and blue food colouring to create a lavender colour, and experimented with different shades and depths of colour as I went along.

3. Add the eggs in turn and check colour regularly – leave for anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes for deep colour, before extracting with gloves or tongs. Don’t wipe the eggs but instead rest of a piece of kitchen roll or place in egg cups.  Martha’s minimum wage elves apparently build her custom-made draining boards with a grid of nails specifically calibrated for optimal egg drying, but for us mere mortals an egg cup is more than sufficient.

4. The eggs look beautiful just grouped on a tonal plate as below (this one is from Wedgwood’s Vera Wang ‘Chalk’ range and I use it constantly…), or you can experiment with speckle effects using either undiluted food colour (if you’re intending to eat the eggs) or artist’s ink or paint if not.  Be warned that using anything pink/red based could leave your kitchen looking like a scene from CSI, with extensive blood spatter pattern effects across every surface.

The good thing is, once you’ve finished displaying them (no longer than a week after cooking, and keep in the fridge in the meantime), they taste really lovely too, despite H’s obvious suspicion…