> The Beesley Buzz: April 2017

Simnel inspired Easter Celebration cake

Easter has come and gone and yet here I am writing up an Easter cake recipe. Why? Our family Easter had to be postponed this year. 

On Saturday evening we noticed a few spots on Miss T and as we'd always been told that contracting chickenpox whilst on her methotrexate injections would be dangerous for her, we phoned the hospital ward and they asked her to go in and stay overnight. 

Fast forward another 5 nights and she was still there having missed roast dinner and the annual Easter egg hunt that has become tradition at granny and grandads house. She's not even had much of an appetite for chocolate so hasn't yet eaten the chocolate egg that the nurses gave her in hospital.

She's been on acyclovir intravenously to help her fight the chickenpox which her immunosuppressed body would be unable to do unaided. 

I did the usual thing I do in a crisis when I am feeling stressed - I've baked! It takes my mind off things as I need to concentrate to avoid my typical baking disasters and I've pottered in the garden planting up some bright spring flowers for Miss T to enjoy when she got home. 

I also wanted to bake something really special - an Easter cake made especially for Miss T to celebrate her getting out of hospital so that we can celebrate our postponed Easter. 

I was inspired originally by the idea of a simnel cake ever since seeing it on Mary Berry's Easter Feast last year, but I knew Miss T isn't a massive fan of fruit cake. So I used the melted marzipan layer as my starting point for deciding upon this cake.

I love lemon and poppy seed cakes - they remind me of springtime and it's lighter than a fruitcake so decided to use that as my main cake batter but added in a few twists...saffron which I love and reminds me of my cultural heritage with my late mum being Persian, a small amount of dried fruit to give a nod to the classic Easter simnel fruit cake and some chopped crystallised stem ginger - simply because I had bought some ages ago and never been brave enough to use it in any cooking.

I initially wanted to decorate it in a fun childlike fun way with bunnies and eggs to appeal to Miss T but as I baked and decorated things just evolved to give me the cake I ended up with. In many ways simpler than I had planned but I feel more fitting to what Easter means to our family. Easter is a special time for me because I was baptised as an adult 15 years ago at an open-air dawn service on Easter Sunday. Whereas Christmas can easily become an over-commercialised present-frenzy, Easter feels like a simpler time of year - a time for reflection as well as a time for celebration and renewed hope. 

I baked it in my heart shaped silicone cake tin to represent that this is a labour of love for my little girl that I've missed so much, and also reflecting God's love for us at Easter time. 

I wanted to include the 11 marzipan balls to represent the 11 disciples (minus Judas) and I knew I wanted to include some edible flowers from the garden and Miss T adores flowers.

So this is what I ended up with.

Miss T was allowed home from hospital today. Her consultant agreed for her to move onto oral acyclovir for the next 7 days of treatment which means she no longer needs to have the drip, which means she can be at home - hurrah!

We captured her reaction to the cake on video when she arrived home:

Here's the recipe for my Simnel Inspired Easter Celebration cake with saffron, lemon, poppyseed and crystallised ginger:

250g self-raising flour
250g caster sugar
250g soft butter or margarine
25g poppy seeds
4 eggs
big pinch of saffron (ground with a pestle & mortar)
chopped crystallised stem-ginger (to taste)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
approx 50g chopped mixed fruit (we used chopped apricots, sultanas and mixed dried fruit)
454g pack of marzipan (or you can make your own)
a little apricot jam
a little beaten egg to glaze marzipan
edible flowers to decorate

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a cake tin.
2. Mix together the caster sugar, butter/margarine, eggs and self-raising flour.
3. Add in the poppy seeds, saffron, lemon juice and zest, ginger and dried fruit (you can toss the dried fruit in a little flour first to prevent it from sinking inside the cake).
4. Pour half of the cake batter into the cake tin.
5. Break the marzipan into two roughly equal pieces - one can be slightly larger than the other. Using the smaller half, roll until thin and cut to the shape of your cake tin. Place into the cake tin on top of the cake batter.
6. Add the remaining cake batter on top of the marzipan.
7. Place in the oven and cook for approximately 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Mine needed 35 minutes at 180C and then I lowered the temperature to 170C for a further 25-30 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
9. Once cool, remove from the tin and brush the top with apricot jam mixed with a little boiled water to loosen it. Then roll out your second piece of marzipan, cut to shape and place on top. Using the remaining pieces of marzipan from the off-cuts, make 11 small marzipan balls and place on the cake.
10. Brush the marzipan with a little beaten egg and place the cake under a hot grill for a couple of minutes to slightly brown the marzipan.
11. Once cooled down again, decorate using edible flowers. I used pansies, violas, primroses, and pinks (dianthus) from the garden. I also added a little rosemary for a splash of greenery.

Having tasted a crumb that fell off the cake, I was worried it was too dry, but when served a slice of cake with the marzipan melted in the middle, it was perfectly moist enough.

There was just the right amount of poppy seed for that satisfying crunch and the saffron fragrance permeated through the house as this cake cooked.

It's been so lovely having Miss T home this evening and I was so pleased that she loved her cake. Here's hoping for a less eventful Easter next year!

Linking up to Mummy Mishaps.

Monsters by D

Sometimes I'm tidying the kids bedrooms and come across something that makes me stop and smile. Equally sometimes I find things that make me go 'ugh gross' like smelly socks they'd stuffed behind the cupboard instead of putting in the wash!

Anyway, this morning was a nice find. D had scribbled a little poem and I really liked it so with his permission, here it is:

Monsters, by D, aged 11

Monsters like to put mud in their tea,
Concrete in their toenails,
Frogspawn in their teeth.

Monsters like to eat bricks,
Slobber over trees and,
lick cute chicks.

But the one thing normal about monsters,
is that wherever they go,
they pick their nose.

Book review: Let The Dead Speak, by Jane Casey

Review by Richard Beesley.

Let The Dead Speak is the latest novel by Jane Casey featuring Detective Sergeant Maeve Kerrigan. Although the seventh Kerrigan story, I haven't read the previous ones and can honestly say this works brilliantly as a standalone book.

When eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns home early one Sunday she finds what nobody would ever want to see. Blood - splattered across the floor, over the ceiling, splashed down the walls. And her mother, missing. Whilst Chloe, who has learning difficulties, appears to not understand what has happened it quickly becomes apparent that everyone has secrets. It is down to DS Kerrigan and her colleagues to piece together the sparse and twisted evidence to try to find out what has happened, and who is responsible. As the lies build, the path to truth becomes more difficult and convoluted.

Chloe refuses to talk to the police, but it seems her friend is protecting her. Her father knows nothing, and her step-mother is far from helpful. The neighbours cannot or will not say anything. Some secrets, it seems, are too terrible to share.

Whilst this is the first Kerrigan story I've read, I really enjoyed it and wasn't hindered by not knowing the previous tales. The book is fast-paced and, despite the gruesome details necessarily contained within it, it's an easy-read. Brilliantly-pitched to avoid police cliches or jargon, whilst ensuring all the basics of forensic police work are covered.

Readers are encouraged to instantly dislike certain characters - but the truth of whether that is fair or not is only revealed much later on in the story. The book is full of secrets, and as each is revealed we are drawn down a certain path for a few pages before the story twists and turns down a different route again. Truly captivating stuff, I couldn't put the book down until it was over... A great read, and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for other Kerrigan novels by Jane Casey.

Let The Dead Speak, by Jane Casey, is published by Harper Collins and can be purchased direct from them or from Amazon.
“I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.”.  This post contains an Affiliate link which means that at no cost to you, I may receive a small payment if you buy something from a site I link to. I only recommend and link to products, services and companies that I am happy to promote.

There's no such thing as a free lunch but there is FREE Tennis!

Last summer we signed up for a tennis session with the Lawn Tennis Association's Great British Tennis Weekend. Miss T and D had a whale of a time in their session and we were really impressed by how geared up for kids the session was. 

Miss T has repeatedly asked to do tennis again since then but we just had not got around to looking into it. 

And then we heard about another great initiative by the Lawn Tennis Association. FREE tennis sessions for kids aged 5-8. It's Miss T's 5th birthday next week and so she'd be the perfect age to take part.

What's even better than FREE tennis? Free tennis sessions PLUS getting a FREE tennis racket to keep at the end of the course. How amazing! And they're open to anyone aged 5-8.

We found a club close by and have signed her up for a series of 6 #TennisForKids sessions. There were various venues and session times listed on the Clubspark website where you can easily book online. The process was so simple and took just a matter of minutes and she was fully booked onto a course.

I love that the #TennisForKids sessions are specifically tailored for a specific age group (5-8) and it seems they've thought of everything from having softer balls for beginners, ball games to help hand-eye coordination and build confidence, holding sessions on mini-tennis courts so that kids find it more manageable. The coaches are trained in getting young kids excited about tennis making it a really fun experience!

I don't think Miss T will have any problems getting excited because when we broke the news to her she ran outside with Daddy's tennis racket and ball for a quick practice.

The sessions start from 22nd April (Miss T is booked onto a course starting in May) and there are a whopping 20,000 places available across the country. Completely free of charge! And a free racket to keep too! Is there anything left to stop you booking onto a course right now?

Thought not. So if you have a 5-8 year old who would like to give tennis a try (and get a free racket to keep), whether they are a total beginner or have already played tennis before, then head over to the Clubspark LTA website and book them onto a course now.

(Quick before all the places are gone.) Go Go Go!

Disclosure: I’m working in a paid relationship with the Lawn Tennis Association on their #TennisForKids campaign. Sign up for your FREE tennis activity here.

LEGO Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy (vol 2) : Ravager Attack review

It's LEGO. It's Disney Marvel. It's Guardians of the Galaxy. What's not to like?
Our household is getting excited. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is released on 28 April starring big names including Chris Pratt , Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper. To celebrate the release Disney have launched a range of new products - plush toys, mugs, costumes and, of course, LEGO!

The lovely people at Disney sent us a Ravager Attack set of the Marvel Superheroes, Guardians of the Galaxy (Volume 2), and we set 11-year old D the task of building it. With a freshly-broken arm after his latest battle with his bike, I wasn't sure he would be able to take on this challenge... but I was wrong!

D loves LEGO. So do I. So I admit I was a little disappointed that he didn't ask me for help. But he really enjoyed building the Taserface's M ship, and it was great to see him overcome his own physical challenge to complete the build alone.

This Ravager Attack set (76079) is designed for 6-12 year olds, and D found that age bracket was right. The instructions were really clear, and he took no time to build the M ship, the tree, six-stud shooter and characters (Taserface, Mantis and Rocket are included).

It wasn't until the build was over that I found out that the six-stud shooter fires up to six shots, and the M ship is equipped with stud shooters. Yes, I became the target. Thankfully the set comes with quite a few spare studs to help replace any temporarily lost in battle.

The set comes with a short comic featuring the items in the set. As D is a big comic fan, this was a nice little extra.

We completely love this set, and it has already entered battle in D's room. So, if you've a fan of LEGO, Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy or comics in your household, grab the Ravager Attack set... then take cover from the stud shooters!

You can buy the Lego Marvel Super Heroes - Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Ravager Attack set from Amazon here. Also available from Disney and other online retailers.

Disclosure: We were sent the LEGO Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 set for the purposes of review. All opnions are our own. This post contains an Affiliate link which means that at no cost to you, I may receive a small payment if you buy something from a site I link to. I only recommend and link to products, services and companies that I am happy to promote.

Is anyone truly perfect? A review of Cecelia Ahern's new YA novel: Perfect (#ad)

I hadn't read "Flawed", Cecelia Ahern's bestselling debut novel. But I was keen to read this sequel. The basic premise of it, humans being able to judge other humans as 'flawed' if they don't live up to the standards of the morality court, reminded me of Max Lucado's book for young children 'You are Special' where the Wemmicks judge each other and stick dots and star stickers as they see fit.

In Ahern's book, the punishment structure is rather more severe with the "flawed" being branded with hot irons in the shape of an 'F'.

And the heroine at the centre of the story is the immediately likeable Celestine North. Her traits of care, kindness, compassion and wanting true justice make her seemingly the least likely candidate for a 'flawed' branding. And yet here she finds herself on the run, not knowing who to turn to or who she can trust.

Full of twists and turns, this gripping novel had me turning the pages to know if Celestine succeeds in saving not only herself but all of the Flawed.

Whilst we'd all like to think that we are reasonably good people and would never do anything do be branded flawed ourselves, in this novel, things aren't so clear cut.

I took the Perfect/Flawed test with these simple questions on this quiz and was shocked to find myself 60% Flawed. A sentence of 2 brands would be my punishment in Celestine's world where she is fighting to bring true justice which holds compassion and logic at it's core.

Richard fared even worse in this world which has lost sight of what is truly right and wrong. His morality score came out at a mere 10% with a sentence of 5 brands! Yet he is the most honest person with the greatest integrity that I've ever known.

Having read the book, I'd rather be 'flawed' than 'perfect'.

Whether you've read the original Flawed book or not, Perfect is a gripping read which works in its own right. 

You can buy a copy of Perfect here

Disclosure: We were sent a copy of Perfect for the purpose of review. A small fee will also be paid for our time. 

"How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top."

Miss T adores Aquabeads. Ever since her godmother gave her a playset for her birthday last year, she's been totally hooked on these little colourful beads that magically stick together with a spray of water. 
 So you can imagine her excitement and delight when Aquabeads sent her the Finding Dory Aquabeads Playset to review.

The set came with a bead palette to store the beads, a design table (which also doubles up as a clip on cover to keep the beads safe when not in use), a layout tray where the beads are placed onto, 3 template sheets which help you form the Dory / Nemo themed designs, a sprayer for squirting the water on and a bead pen.
 One of the things we've noticed about Aquabeads is that they seem to be continually looking at little ways to innovate and improve. For example, of the 3 sets that we own, each of the design tables clip onto the bead palette in a slightly different way. Indicating that Aquabeads are always improving on the design.
 Similarly the bead pen that was included in this set is different to the other bead pen that we have. This one can store several beads in it whereas the previous one is for picking up and placing one bead at a time.

Miss T did actually find the previous style bead pen easier to use but that may change with practice.
 Now here's the interesting thing that happened with Miss T. She loves Aquabeads. She often asks to get her Aquabeads playsets out. So she started working on a Marlin and Nemo design straight away.

Then she took a break from it for a few days. Then she decided she didn't want to carry on with it so we packed it all away.

The following day, she wanted to play with the Aquabeads playset again. She once again chose the Nemo design to work on. She concentrated hard and put the beads in place. Then took a break. The following day, she did some more.
 She loves the satisfaction of finding the right colour beads, choosing which beads to use next and getting them in the right places.

Then she took another break. This time after asking her if she wanted to carry on, she said she wanted to pack it away for now. So the beads were put back in the tray and I have no doubt she will again get them out next time she wants to play Aquabeads.
Now the dilemma I faced and had to bite my lip about was that grown-ups often only value things that are finished, complete, finalised.

So as much as I wanted to just place the final few beads on and spray it with water so that it was 'done', I had to resist that urge and respect the fact that Miss T is getting a huge amount of enjoyment from the process rather than feeling the need to get an end product out of it.

As I write this blogpost, I don't have a finished Marlin to show you, nor a Nemo or a Dory or Hank the Octopus. But I don't mind and I hope you don't too because Miss T has enjoyed the Finding Dory Aquabeads playset regardless and I'm sure she will continue to do so.

You can buy the Aquabeads Finding Dory Playset from Amazon and other good toy retailers.

We are delighted to be official Aquabeaders!

Disclosure: As official Aquabeaders, we were sent the Finding Dory Playset for the purposes of review. All opinions are our own. This post contains an Affiliate link which means that at no cost to you, I may receive a small payment if you buy something from a site I link to. I only recommend and link to products, services and companies that I am happy to promote.

*Quote by Yvon Chouinard


A visit to The Canterbury Tales including the NEW Medieval Story Garden

Today marked the launch of the opening of the new Medieval Story Garden at The Canterbury Tales, a unique visitor attraction in Kent. We were invited along to visit the new story garden as well as to experience The Canterbury Tales tour.

The experience is situated in the heart of Canterbury in the building that was formerly St Margaret's church many years ago.

We weren't sure what to expect and arrived for the tour we had been booked into at 11am. Tours run throughout the day and with no more than 12 people booked into any session, booking in advance is advisable.

The tour itself lasts for 40 minutes and is a combination of a guided tour by an actor dressed in medieval clothing, and a recorded audio tour accompanied by visual effects in each of the rooms. As you walk through the darkened rooms you are introduced to Chaucer and his travelling companions and then get to experience 5 of his most well-known tales from his famous book, The Canterbury Tales.

My children are currently aged 12 (nearly 13), 11, and very nearly 5 and I did wonder whether the youngest, Miss T, would cope with the experience or whether she would get bored. In fact, she loved it and asked immediately afterwards if we could visit again. The audio tour is available for children and adults and the children's version kept her enthralled throughout.

The Medieval Story Garden (which opened today and will be open throughout the Easter holidays and future school holidays throughout the year) is included in the ticket price.

Upon exiting The Canterbury Tales tour into the glorious sunshine outside we headed into the garden.

As it was the first day of the gardens being open and the first day of the Easter holidays, it was quiet and without many people there it didn't look terribly exciting. But that is where the knowledge, passion and enthusiasm of the staff really comes into play.

Within a few moments, the kids were transported into the realm of medieval knights learning sword skills and doing battle both with the practice mannequins and with each other. They learnt how to hold and use a sword properly, how and where to attack, how to block and defend, and how to use a shield for defence and attack.

Truly fascinating stuff!

Next we looked at the herb garden to learn about Medieval Medicine. It was so interesting to find out how some of our current medicines are based on the original ingredients of medieval herbology. The children crushed herbs in pestle and mortars and played a game where they had to cure the ailments using medieval medicine.

The story tent being undercover is going to be a useful addition to the story garden as we were told that it will be open rain or shine.

Maypole dancing is one activity that I never thought I would get excited about but there we all were taking part in a maypole dance. First a simple one and then attempting...and I'd like to emphasise the word attempting... a more complicated dance.

It was so much fun taking part in the Maypole dancing. Can't wait to find another maypole to do it again!

The Medieval Story Garden will remain open from now until Friday 14th April and is open daily from 11am-3pm.

There are also some further upcoming events in 2017 that sound really great (all correct at time of publishing to the best of our knowledge - but please do check nearer the time directly with the attraction):
  • Monday 1st May - Mystical Beasts in the Medieval Story Garden
  • Saturday 27th May - Sunday 4th June - Magical Patterns in the Medieval Story Garden
  • Saturday 22nd July - Friday 1st September Summer opening of the Medieval Story Garden
  • Saturday 2nd December and Sunday 3rd December FREE ENTRY to the Artisan Gift Fair
  • Saturday 16th December and Sunday 17th December Magical Medieval Christmas theme

In summary, if you are visiting Canterbury or the surrounding area, then The Canterbury Tales is definitely worth a visit.

Disclosure: We were invited to visit The Canterbury Tales for the purposes of review. All opinions are our own. 

Country Kids