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25th Oct 2007

Trick or Treating Spiders

Tamsin: As we approach the time of year when witches, ghosts, devils, spirits, kelpies, demons, hobgoblins, skeletons, mummies, banshees, spiders and ghouls stalk our streets, our thoughts turn to concocting fiendish morsels to feed them. Last year we made pumpkin biscuits and the children decorated them with various ghoulish faces, which our trick-or-treaters seemed to like.
This year, we’ve decided to go with a spider theme. We can get as many as 50 local children calling round trick or treating, and we don’t dare to run out of goodies early in the evening.

So I was thinking of creating something simple and easy to make in large quantities, and suitably Hallowe’enish. Remembering a glut of black pipe cleaners at the back of my cupboard I thought of Teacake Spiders, with long pipe cleaner legs and cute icing faces.

The kids are always keen to receive sweets, so I adapted the basic shape to make a Sweetie Spider using a handful of Smarties as the body. Put these leggy spiders all together on a big tray and they look very gruesome.

They’re not quite bloody enough for some Hallowe’eners, though. And so, when the pipe cleaners run out, we’ll bake a batch of cupcakes for an Invasion of the Bug-eyed Spiders. These creepy arachnids are dripping with more blood than an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, with their red icing heads and strawberry shoelaces for legs.

Last year some children who came a-calling sang for their treats, and I remember enjoying it much more than the usual trick or treating (which can sometimes feel more like smash ‘n’ grab) that is common these days. In Scotland where Jane grew up, everyone went guising instead of trick or treating in the 1960s and 70s, and had to do a little performance—singing a song, reciting a poem or even doing a dance—before they got their goodies. The guisers carried homemade pumpkin lanterns, and would be invited into the houses to dunk or ‘dook’ for apples, spearing them with forks held between their teeth. They’d get given sweets, nuts and homemade toffee apples to take away.
It’s a nice-sounding tradition, and one I’d like to bring back. After all it is the time of the year when long dead things awake, isn’t it?
(For other guising goodies, you could try making Meringue Banshees or Hallowe’en Cakes.)


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23rd Oct 2007

Carla's Cookery Classes

Carla: At my school we have a cooking club. It’s run by two brilliant cooks, Mandy and Melissa, who cook our lunches. They always make us try new food at lunchtime and at the cooking club. We make new dishes every week, sweet and savoury, then take them home and eat them for supper. They teach us how to present the food nicely and also how not to present it nicely – like when you’re making a sandwich not to press it down at the end. Sometimes they let us try the food that we’re going to use, like different eggs – duck, goose, quail and hen. They also tell us all about them. One week we made soup. When they make soup for our lunches they always bake soda bread to go with it. Because I don’t like soup that much, I eat the bread normally coz I love it. So when I heard that we were going to make soda bread in the club I was really happy!

It was easy to make, this is how you do it. I really hope you make some and enjoy eating it as much as I do.

Tamsin: Our children are very lucky to have these two amazing dinner ladies. Mandy and Melissa started cooking the children's school meals two years ago. They both had children at the school and had kept the PTA going for several years, but wanted to do ‘something new’. This ‘something’ was to take over the school meals and create caring, inspiring and nutritious lunchtimes for the children. Mandy and Melissa are so closely involved they know most of the 400 children by name and if asked can wheel off the food each child has tried that week. Children are encouraged to try new foods, design menus, and help out with the serving (for which they get a golden ticket allowing them to jump the lunch queue for a day). Mandy and Melissa also do themed dishes (Tudor, Anglo-Saxon...) and celebratory meals throughout the year. When they took over, only 60 children had school lunches and now most of the 400 do. They've  justly won awards but most importantly have transformed the way our children eat at lunchtimes. We can't thank  them enough.  

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21st Oct 2007

Go Ape!

Maudie: three friends and I went to Thetford Forest in Norfolk to do a Go Ape! course for my 11th birthday party. When we arrived a man gave us harnesses to put on, then gave us a demo on how to attach ourselves to the wire. Then he took us to the first course. There was a series of wires and zip wires on this one. It looked quite easy, but you had to attach a red metal clip to yourself and it was really hard to get off. Then you had to attach two ropes with a metal clip onto the clasp on top of the wire. Then you flew down a zip wire. You had to run in the air when you came in to land, but I landed backwards instead and got bark down my trousers!
Then we went on to the first course, where we had to climb up a rope ladder and swing on a Tarzan drop and catch a net. That was really scary! We also walked along a single piece of wire, and swung on another zip wire, but this one was 30 feet from the ground. Again I landed with bark down my trousers.

My favourite thing was the zip wires because they were really high from the ground, and at one point, 60 feet! All the courses were fun. Here’s some of the things we did: Giant Tarzan swing, wobbly logs, trapeze walking, more zip wires and so on! It took three hours to do the course, but it was great fun.

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17th Oct 2007

Chocolate Workies

Mike: These are a childhood favourite of mine and I have managed to add them to Joe and Carla’s list of favourite puddings. Just pineapple rings, digestive biscuits and melted chocolate. They’re called ‘workies’, why I don’t fully know but it has something to do with my father eating them at work – either as a pudding served up at his canteen at Tate & Lyle (in the days when everyone stopped for a big cooked lunch in the middle of the day) or as a dessert at a works ‘do’ he and my mother attended.

There are a few important things to remember when making workies. Firstly, you must drain the pineapple on kitchen paper and pat each circle dry before placing it on the digestive biscuit. It is amazing what a perfect fit a pineapple ring and a digestive biscuit are – they were made for each other, edges matching edges giving you a smooth plane to smother in melted chocolate. Secondly, you need to make sure that the melted chocolate completely fills the hole in the centre of the pineapple ring.

Then spread the chocolate over the top and finally around the sides so you completely seal in the pineapple. This can be a bit of a messy business but if you form a tripod with your fingers and thumb, you can balance the workie nicely on top.

There is then the question of how to eat them. Some people bite away in a random fashion while others nibble systematically at the sides until they are left with a last satisfying bite of ‘workies’ centre – pure chocolate and digestive. 

Workies will keep in a tin for a couple of days, but with grown men and children around it’s more likely the plate will be emptied on the day they’re made.


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14th Oct 2007

Balloons Within Balloons

Jane: In our downstairs loo, there’s a pile of Mal’s old secondhand books I’ve always ignored. But a while back when we were talking about old party activities we used to play, he pulled out one of these tattered tomes and handed it to me triumphantly. It was a 1960s book full of daft party games for adults and children - the sort you just know, no excuses, you're going to have to try out. So yesterday we had a go at Balloons within Balloons, a slightly more complicated version of balloon popping, with a group of Maudie's friends.

First we had to blow up two balloons, one inside the other – which thankfully is less complicated than it sounds. We’d bought strong balloons the same size but in contrasting colours. It’s easier if you blow them up a little first to stretch the rubber, then let the air out. Push one balloon inside the other, leaving the neck of the inner balloon protruding. Blow up the inner balloon three-quarters full, then tie it at the neck. This needs a lot of puff – I could do it, but the kids found it tough. Then we blew up the outer balloon to full capacity, and tied them at the neck. We made eight of these double balloons, which took a while – when the children got bored, they ran off to find a sharp stick each, with which they would later burst the balloons.

When we were ready, the kids divided into pairs. One person threw up a balloon, the other prodded it with the stick so only the outer balloon popped. This demanded quite a lot of skill and they found themselves chasing their balloon around the park, which was funny (they probably needed sharper sticks but we hadn’t brought a penknife). Although you know what’s going to happen, it’s still extraordinary to see a balloon pop and instantly see another in the air in front of you of an entirely different colour. We scored five points for each outer balloon you burst, with two points deducted if you popped both. The first team to reach a score of 15 wins.

The verdict: this an entertaining game, engrossing to play and funny to watch, that you could also play indoors in a party venue – just mind those sharp sticks. 

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10th Oct 2007

Shrunken Heads

Tamsin: I came across this Hallowe’en idea by accident. In my job as a museum educator, I often find myself doing some strange activities and turning my hand to long-forgotten crafts. One of the museum’s activities is to show children a collection of objects from which, over the years, dolls have been made – there’s one bogus item in the pile and the children have to guess which one it is. They often pick the apple I’ve carefully put in there, but they’re wrong – in the past, dolls’ faces were often made from dried apples that had been carved and painted.

I’d never seen an apple doll so was curious as to how it could be done. I’d just picked a whole lot of apples so decided to have a go and started carving bits and pieces out of one of them. (If you would like to make one of these spooky Hallowe’en decorations, there are instructions on our website.)

But somehow, the resulting head began to look less like a pretty doll and more like a shrunken head out of a horror movie. Could I really take this into the museum and show it to the children under the title of a ‘doll’s head’?

Never mind, it will be put to good use on the 31 October. And if anyone’s interested in making a total apple doll, there’s a wonderful US website that shows you exactly how.

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7th Oct 2007

My Tudor Lady

Maudie: We’ve been studying Tudors as part of our history work at school, mostly about Henry Vlll and his six wives. Our teacher then told us that we would be sewing a Tudor lady (or man). I thought eek! I can’t sew very well at all. But when it came down to doing it, I started off quite well. I had chosen an Anne Boleyn sort of lady, so I sewed a collar as the top of her dress and then a green velvet coif. (The bit underneath was for decoration.) I then sewed her hair using simple running stitch, but it looks quite effective, don’t you think?

Her earrings are just gold beads, for which I used special thin thread and a thinner needle. The next thing I sewed on was the green bits for her eyes – I chose the green to match her coif. I also did her nose and lips with different pinks so it would look like she had lipstick on. I sewed her chain and hood with running stitch and attached pink beads for her necklace.

Carla did a Tudor lady too, using different colours and stiches, and we both really enjoyed it.

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3rd Oct 2007

Gaia’s Courgette Birthday Cake

Jane: It was my niece Gaia’s 5th birthday and her mum, my sister Joanne, decided to make a tempting but healthy batch cake for the party. That meant introducing one of the mandatory five-a-day veggies (though a dietician I recently talked to suggested nine a day was more like it) into the cake. Carrots were out (five-year-olds can spot them a mile off), so Jo thought to tap into the latest craze – courgette cake. Subtle, green and mysterious.

Actually it’s not so green, more an ordinary Victoria sponge colour with bits in. Jo’s just had a stove and oven put in after years cooking with a Baby Belling and microwave and is enjoying her new culinary freedom: she cobbled together a big batch recipe from various online sources, and decorated it with Smarties and five candles which Gaia blew out beautifully. It was a great cake. Most of the kids gobbled it up though a few headed off towards the chocolate brownie plate instead.

But the big surprise was how much the adults loved it. Mothers came up to Jo afterwards, saying ‘Ooh, its lovely, so moist and delicious.’ Most people think courgettes are dull (though I adore them – especially grilled with oil and lemon juice sprinkled on). But in this recipe you couldn’t taste them at all – just a general yumminess and lightness of flavour that made eating the cake a delight.

The next day Jo was in Crouch End, N8, in an artisan boulanger called Coffee Cake on Broadway Parade. Among the fantastical piles of meringues in the window she saw a single plate of chocolate courgette cake, exquisitely glistening. Like buses, two courgette cakes always seem to come along…

To make Gaia’s courgette cake

180g raisins

750g courgettes

375ml vegetable oil

450g caster sugar

6 large eggs

675g self-raising flour (for a chocolate version, substitute 125g of the flour with cocoa powder)

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp baking powder 

Soak the raisins for a few hours until fat and plump. Drain. 

Grease a batch tin 33 by 23 cm, and heat the oven to 180 degrees C, Gas Mark 4. 
Wash the unpeeled courgettes, dry, then grate them finely. Push through a sieve to drain off any excess water. Put to one side. 
Cream the oil and sugar and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and mix well. Stir in the courgette and raisins. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 45 mins. Check after 40 mins – a metal skewer should come clean, and the cake should be lightly browned. Leave to cool in the tin, then ice.

For the icing:

300g cream cheese

150g to 200g icing sugar

Juice of one to two limes

Smarties to decorate
Beat the cheese until smooth; add 150g sieved sugar, beating well, then the lime juice to taste. You may need to add more sugar to get a spreading consistency. Layer on to the cold cake with a palette knife. Just before serving, decorate with Smarties or other sweets (they will go soggy if you do it earlier). Cut into squares.

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