QUICK AND EASY BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

Baking sweet treats is definitely my pastime of choice at the moment. I have always been obsessed with the Great British Bake Off, to the extent that I think I have dreamt myself into the show and into fancying my chances as the next Prue Leith. Joking aside though, I love having an excuse to get creative and this time of year, which can be a bit dreary after the excitement of Christmas, is the perfect one. I tried my hand at some blueberry muffins, and I’m really happy with the end result. They are quick, easy to make and the perfect cheeky delight.

INGREDIENTS

To make twelve muffins, you will need:

100g of softened unsalted butter
140g of golden caster sugar
2 Large eggs
140g of natural yoghurt
2 tbsp of whole milk
250g of plain flour
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
125g of Blueberries

CREATING YOUR MUFFINS

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius, and place a paper case into the twelve muffin tray spaces.
  2. Measure out your flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, then mix briefly so that they combine.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar together until it’s creamy and fluffy in consistency, followed by the two large eggs for a further minute, and next the natural yoghurt, milk and vanilla extract.
  4. Tip the dry ingredients you put aside earlier (the flour etc.) into the wet mixture and stir in.
  5. Finally fold in your blueberries, and split your finished batter evenly between the twelve muffin cases.
  6. Bake for 5 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 180 degrees and bake for a further 15 minutes until they are golden in colour and have risen.

and voila, twelve delicious blueberry muffins! I love how simple each step is; that is partially because I’m a complete novice, but also because it allowed me to involve Madeleine too. She really enjoyed measuring and mixing the ingredients, as well as spooning it into the muffin cases.

If you give these a whirl, do leave me a comment below, or tag me on social media with a picture of your blueberry creations – I’d love to see them. This recipe came from BBC Good Food: they are my go to website for baking inspiration, I can’t recommend them enough.

Follow:

A TODDLER’S STOCKING FILLERS

And just like that, Christmas is imminent again. I am characteristically a last minute festive shopper; I have all the intentions of buying months in advance, but in reality I’m awful at decision making and spend way too much time ensuring that each gift is considered. I have definitely mulled over Madeleine’s presents more times than I can count this year. She is 19 months old, so her interests are changing and developing all the time. I really wanted to get her things that would grow with her, but would also allow her imagination to thrive; and that has been trickier than I thought since there is so much choice out there.

Part of our family tradition is to open gifts after lunch, so Madeleine has a stocking from Santa which contain things that she loves and will entertain her for the morning interim. I am utterly obsessed with my recent stocking find for her. It is handmade by Ruth from Gathers & Bows. She crafts them from Liberty of London prints and teams them with the softest velvet cuffs. The size is perfect to fill, and the finish is beautiful; you can really see the amount of time and attention that has gone into each piece. I love that this special stocking will become a part of her festive tradition, and will carry her through every childhood Christmas.

I have compiled a run down of my toddler’s stocking fillers, which I thought would be fun to share. I find these kind of posts really useful when I’m looking for age appropriate gift ideas, and I also love seeing how others celebrate Christmas too.

ALPHABET ANIMAL MATCHING

I have always tried to make sure that, where possible, there are opportunities for Madeleine to learn through play. I think that puzzles can be brilliant for this, because so many skills are required in order for them to be completed; fine motor, cognitive and problem solving to name a few. I love this alphabet pairing game from Wilko. Madeleine can place pieces together in simple two part jigsaws, so this puzzle will allow her to build upon that skill whilst also teaching her the alphabet. It will also help her to broaden her vocabulary, as it requires her to match up animals with their corresponding letter.

THE GRUFFALO SNAP

My daughter’s fascination for problem solving also inspired this next stocking filler. Madeleine has a number and shape puzzle which she almost instantly grasped, not because she recognises digits by sight, but because she can match colours. This game feels like a progression of that idea and skill, making it a brilliant development aid for her. As with any game of snap, Madeleine has to pair cards together. I love that each set has a coloured border so that those that match are easily identifiable. Madeleine loves the story of the Gruffalo, so I’m excited to see her interact with this tale again.

HAPPYLAND CHARACTERS

Madeleine is really enjoying role play at the moment. She loves to provide characters with individual voices, and finds so much joy in getting them to interact with one another. Early Learning Centre has a fantastic toy range called Happyland; these are sets of people, animals and scenery. Madeleine has a few already and they are easily her most played with possessions, so I was keen to add to her collection. I love that they encourage her to use her imagination, and also help to develop her language further. I chose two character sets; the first were farmyard creatures and the second a gardening family.

WOODEN SWISS ROLL

I recently found myself reading about the Montessori method of education, which has been really useful in terms of understanding Madeleine’s needs. The approach mentions that there are development phases that every child goes through; these are called ‘schemas’. By pinpointing which schema your child is in, you will be better equipped to supply them with toys and activities that build upon their current interests. When I observed Madeleine, I found that she was exhibiting all the behaviours of a transporting schema. She loves to collect objects together and carry them, and she adores pushing her pram. So, in response to that we bought her a shopping trolley and some play food for Christmas. This wooden swiss roll is a precursor to that gift; it cuts up into six little pieces, making it the perfect toy for her to gather up or push around with her other groceries.

POSTMAN PAT FIGURES

Anyone that knows my daughter, will be all too aware that she loves Postman Pat. In fact, her adoration for this program is so great that, whatever the public place, anyone and everyone is subjected to ‘Pat’ screamed at the top of her voice (and on repeat). It will come as no surprise then that one of her stocking fillers is dedicated to this postman. I found a set in our local toy shop which contains all of the main characters. They are a great size for little hands, and have moveable legs and arms which make them perfect for role play and sitting in toy vehicles.

CLASSIC FAIRY TALES

Madeleine has always enjoyed being read to since she was small. As a baby she loved books that were interactive, from flaps to lift to textures that she could feel. Now though, she has transitioned away from these and adores deeper stories. I came across a little collection in Marks and Spencer’s and thought that they were perfect for our bookworm. They have an entire array of short fairy tale classics to choose from, all of which are beautifully illustrated and written. I chose Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Pea, and finally Three Billy Goats Gruff. They are great for her to listen to now, but also serve as early reader books too; they will be brilliant for her to read to us in the future.

What do you put in your children’s stockings? What did you have in your stocking when you were little? 

Follow:

PERSONALISED TREASURES: A GUIDE TO THE BEST CUSTOMISABLE CHILDREN’S GIFTS


Before Madeleine, if you had said the word ‘personalised’ to me, I may have run a mile. That’s because it reminded of childhood excursions, when every attraction’s gift shop was rammed full of kitsch, named goods; from mugs and pens, to stickers and keyrings. Today though, the term means something very different. It depicts an item that is beautifully designed, carefully made and truly unique. Personalised gifts are now in a league of their own, and I am officially obsessed.

Over the last twelve months, Madeleine has accrued quite the selection of customised things. That ranges from clothing to artwork, and even books too. Some were kindly to her gifted by family and friends. Others were hidden treasures that I had to buy too. In this post, I thought I would share a few of my favourites. If you are a new parent or soon to be, then I apologise in advance (they will likely capture your heart as they did mine). I adore Madeleine’s precious keepsakes; they are sure to stand the test of time.

THE BIRTHDAY THIEF – WONDERBLY

If you follow me on social media, or have perused my recent blog posts, then you will know, only too well, the extent to which Madeleine loves to read. Her entire face beams when she sees a book, and she will instantly explore every crevice of each page. That means lifting flaps, feeling textures, and analysing illustrations too. So, when Madeleine received a personalised book to mark her first birthday, I think her world was truly made.

In this story, titled ‘The Birthday Thief’, your child is the main protagonist. Someone has stolen their special day, so they set out find the culprit by following a paper trail through magical lands. The tale ends with an evening of celebrations, and the ‘thief’ joins the party as well. Madeleine’s name is referenced throughout this book; and that really brings the story to life. It also highlights her birth date, which is a truly special touch and definitely makes it feel more personal to her. I adore the use of rhyme in this tale; it is exciting and engaging, and I’m sure that it will capture Madeleine’s imagination as she grows. There couldn’t have been a better fit for this little bookworm. She loves this book, and so do I.

YOUR NIGHT SKY – POSTERHASTE

I’m sure that every parent will agree with me when I say that, one memory which will never leave you, is the moment that your child is born. When I have a bad day, and I feel that parenting is tough, I like to reflect upon that and remember what a privilege it is to raise my little girl. Madeleine turned one last month, and amongst the gifts that she received, was this unique piece of artwork from her godmother. It is a great addition to her nursery and has become the best visual reminder of an amazing point in time.

Described as your star map, this print presents the night sky, as it was, at a specific time and location of your choosing; in this instance, that was the moment that Madeleine entered the world. The map is extremely detailed and shows constellations, faint stars and even planets. In addition, it is personalised with Madeleine’s name, and the time, place and date of her birth. It is brilliant that you have the freedom to add as little or as much detail as you like to your print, and are able to play with various fonts too. We are thrilled with our star map, and will certainly treasure it with Madeleine in years to come.

FLEECE HOODED ROBE

It is definitely no secret that Madeleine has never been a huge lover of sleep. Though she doesn’t wake through the night anymore (which we are so grateful for), she will still start the day, religiously, at 5am. At that time, we bring her downstairs, and she sits quietly for half an hour or so, watching CBeebies or similar. Madeleine loves to snuggle in our arms, wearing her pyjamas and her personalised robe too.

This gown is the perfect cosy garment for our early ‘play dates’; it keeps her so warm, whilst also giving her the freedom to play and move. It has two large pockets to the centre, which Madeleine loves to collect trinkets in, and an eared hood which makes for the perfect photo opportunity. Her name appears on the chest of the robe, and has been beautifully embroidered into place. I love that; it really adds to the finish, and ensures that it will last.

FLAMINGO PRINT BACKPACK – MY 1ST YEARS

Without doubt, every parent and parent to be should become acquainted with My 1st Years. This brand has the greatest selection of personalised children’s goods, which cater for every aspect of life, at each developmental stage. Madeleine is currently moving into toddlerhood, which is evident as she is wanting to do more for herself. I have been keen to aid this transition, and have therefore started to involve her in parts of our everyday routine. I found this backpack on the My 1st Years site, and thought that it would be the perfect gift for my independent daughter. Madeleine enjoys placing items into boxes or drawers, so this serves as a great substitute.

I loved the extent to which I could personalise the bag. I was able to choose from four complementary colours and four different texts; they can be previewed as you input your child’s name. It also arrives wrapped in tissue and presented in a gift box, which is the sweetest touch. The backpack itself is adorable. It is covered in pastel coloured flamingos and mint green leaves. There is a large, zipped pocket on the front (which has been great for storing snacks in) and padding on the straps; that is perfect for tiny shoulders. I can really see this backpack growing with Madeleine, and being utilised even more as she develops. It is such a special accessory and I can’t recommend it enough.

Do your children have any personalised belongings? Which are their favourites? 

I would love to hear about customised items that you adore too. Do leave me a comment with your recommendations.

 

Follow:

AN ELEVEN MONTH OLD’S FAVOURITES

It’s April.  That was the very realisation that crept up on me this week; that we are already a quarter of the way through 2018. April is the month that marks Madeleine’s first birthday, which is really exciting, but also a bit overwhelming.  As a first-time parent myself, it is only now (with the benefit of hindsight) that I can appreciate how quickly the baby phase passes, and can absorb the extent to which my once newborn bundle has changed.

With that premise in mind, I thought that it would be great to share some of the things that Madeleine has adored over the last month. Babies make their seventh developmental leap at around eleven months old, so this is the perfect time to record their new interests as they have suddenly changed. I hope that these suggestions prove useful to any parents or parents-to-be, and that they compel you to document or capture your little ones’ loves too.

TEN LITTLE PRINCESSES BY MIKE BROWNLOW

As I mentioned in my last blog post, Madeleine adores books. Therefore, it will probably come as no surprise that included within these favourites is a story. This month, I have found that Madeleine has made a real transition in terms of the type of books that she enjoys. She will now happily sit and listen to a tale, even if there are not textures to explore or flaps to lift.

Ten Little Princesses is fantastic if you are looking to introduce your developing baby to the world of narrative. Brownlow uses rhyme to count down from ten to one, using characters of his choosing. Each part of the story references a different fairy tale classic, so the seventh princess, for example, is blown away by a big bad wolf. I love that this book limits the amount of text that it puts on each page, and contains beautifully detailed illustrations. It has really helped me to maintain Madeleine’s interest, as it allows me to point and show her how bits of the tale relate to the pictures she sees.

Madeleine reaches for this book again and again, which is testament to how exciting this story is. Luckily, Brownlow has released an entire series of tales, so there are plenty for us to still invest in.

TEA AND TOASTER SET BY EARLY LEARNING CENTRE

In addition to the transition that Madeleine has made in her approach to books, so too has her interest in toys changed. She now loves to explore every facet of an item; in fact, the more interactive it is, the better. I have been searching avidly for items that will prove engaging for Madeleine and will aid her development, and found that this tea and toaster set ticked both of those boxes.

The toaster contains three little buttons that, when pressed, either say a phrase, play a tune or prompt a motion (e.g. popping up the toast). It also has a bar to the centre that moves back and forth between different pictures, and announces the word for each as it is pushed (honey, jam etc.). Madeleine loves both of these elements, as it rewards her for every action that she takes. Moreover, I have observed that her fine motor skills are improving as she engages with the toy in this way, which is brilliant to see.

The tea pot is fascinating too for little hands. Using the handle, it can be tilted so that its transparent centre lights up and pouring sounds play. Moreover, with the press of a button the settings will change; then, the melody that will follow will be that of a cold drink being shared. I will often hold the cup (which is included in the set), and will help Madeleine ‘pour the tea’ from the pot. That has served as a great introduction for her, to imaginative play.

Without doubt then, there are many fantastic facets to this toy and it is not difficult to see why it has been so loved by Madeleine. It has really captured and maintained her interest, and has fuelled her curious mind.

BUILD-A-BEAT STACKER BY FISHER PRICE

I am sure that every parent can agree that babies love to make mess. Madeleine peaked at this ‘talent’ a few month ago, as she seemed to relish disassembling and tossing everything that was within her grasp. However, to my surprise, more recently I have found that she likes to carry out the very opposite behaviours; this has been so exciting to watch. Madeleine now places items carefully and with complete concentration. She loves to try and pile objects on top of each other, whether that’s using rings or with wooden blocks.

The Build-A-Beat stacker is another variation of this idea, and will aid babies and toddlers as they attempt to master such a skill.  The toy consists of a base, and four ‘boogie buddies’. When any of these characters are pressed onto the stand, a series of lights will appear, and the base will begin to play a song. Madeleine loves this, because it provides her with instant gratification for her efforts.

The boogie buddies have been carefully designed so that they will stack onto one another with ease. Their hollow centre also enables little hands to grip them with no effort, and their rubber ears serve as the perfect teething device. In addition, each creature contains a number of rattle beads. So, when Madeleine dances as the base plays a beat, she is able to shake another character too.

This toy has been a clear favourite of Madeleine’s this month, but it has also been mine. It has been great to see her hand-eye co-ordination develop through such use, and I have no doubt that it will tune her fine motor skills too.

BEAT BO BY FISHER PRICE

Madeleine loves this toy by Fisher Price. BeatBo is a robot that sings, talks, dances and moves. He has a bright LED, grid-like tummy that glows in various colours. His ears and hands are malleable and soft to the touch, which is great for curious hands like Madeleine’s that love to grab and, more importantly, eat everything.

By far the most exciting element of this toy, though, are the three buttons on BeatBo’s feet. The first plays upbeat music which encourages Madeleine to wiggle. I love to push this as she crawls, since she will instantly freeze and begin rocking back and forth, and grin excitedly too.  The second button plays songs that aid learning; BeatBo sings about the alphabet, numbers and colours. Finally, the last asks your baby to record a message, and then BeatBo sings it back to them. Whilst madeleine’s language is only beginning to develop, she still loves to babble into it and chuckles when she hears herself back.

BeatBo has provided Madeleine with hours of entertainment and laughter, and I am excited to see how she responds to it as she continues to grow and develop.

MUSLIN SWADDLE BLANKETS BY LITTLE BLUE BABY NEST

I couldn’t end these favourites without including one of my own. It is not, as such, new, but an item that I have reignited my love for this month. I first purchased these muslin blankets when Madeleine was around a month old. I found that not only were they beautifully designed and made, but they were also a complete lifeline for us. I would swaddle madeleine in them, and she would settle happily in her crib for prolonged periods during the night.

Now, as the sun has finally shone once more, and it has become much warmer, I have found myself reaching for them again. They are perfect to place over Madeleine in the pram, since they are lightweight and big enough that they can be comfortably tucked in around her. In addition, these blankets are the perfect accessory for impromptu park picnics. When folded up they can easily fit into a changing bag or pram basket, yet unfolded they are big enough to seat myself and Madeleine comfortably.

 

In short then, they are extremely versatile, the prints are lovely, and the quality is fantastic; they still look as good today (after numerous washes) as the day I purchased them. They are perfect for each stage of baby and toddlerhood, and I can’t recommend them enough.

Are there any items that your little one’s have adored recently? Do you have any products that you would recommend for this stage and beyond? I would love to hear your suggestions!

Follow:

READING WITH YOUR BABY: MY BOOK PICKS

I am sure I am not the first to admit, but when it was suggested to me that reading to my baby would be a great activity, I was dubious. How could this little human being, who has no understanding of what I am chanting at her or why, gain anything from this? Is it not a waste of time when she would rather grab, dribble and chew each beautifully illustrated page instead of looking at them? I have since eaten my words – the opposite is true! Madeleine absolutely loves being read to, in fact I would even say that it is her favourite mummy and daughter pastime.

Reading to Madeleine has been one of the best bonding exercises. I gain such a feeling of closeness from it: we snuggle up together in a blanket, and she sits happily nestled in my lap. That is such a saving grace for us, because now that Madeleine is so mobile it has become near impossible to keep her in one place for any length of time. I love that it comforts her too. Whether it’s tiredness or teething, I have found that if she is upset or unsettled, I can always reach for a book in the knowledge that it will calm her down, and maintain her interest. Amazing!

As Madeleine’s interest in reading has grown, so too have the number of hours we have spent trawling book shops and our public library. Shopping causes me to break out in a sweat nowadays, not because of overdressing nor a lack of air conditioning, but because I have a baby who views artificial lighting and cheesy music as an invite to scream hysterically. Despite this, and now dripping from head to toe, I can safely say that it was worth the effort; Madeleine has a collection of books that she babbles and rocks excitedly at, every time they emerge. I have gathered up a selection of mine and Madeleine’s favourites, which I am excited to share. I hope that these prove useful to any of you that, like me, now find that ‘browsing’ is impossible.

THAT’S NOT MY DUCK – FIONA WATT

Fiona Watt has recently released her 50th story in this series of board books, which comes as no surprise to me (being an avid fan myself). The pages are brightly coloured, and have big, bold illustrations to match. Each story focuses on the features of a particular being; that could be an animal, a mythical creature like a unicorn, or even a form of transport such as a tractor! That has proven brilliant for Madeleine’s language awareness, as she now recognises the same animal in other books when I use their name.

Without doubt though, Madeleine is most excited by the textured patches that can be found on different parts of the animal (for example), at the turn of every page. Her eyes are instantly drawn towards them, and her hands love grabbing and exploring every touchy-feely surface. Now that Madeleine is sitting and crawling, I often let her investigate these books on her own too; since they offer endless amounts of sensory stimulation. I think that these stories are a great investment, because they are fun and relevant for young babies through to toddlers.

WHERE’S MRS LADYBIRD – INGELA ARRHENIUS

Madeleine and I adore this series by Ingela Arrhenius. I remember vividly the first time that I read ‘Where’s Mrs Ladybird?’ to her, when she was four months in age. It was the only story (of countless that I had tried) that really grabbed Madeleine’s attention and ignited in her, a love for books. Each title follows the same clever format; there are five brightly coloured, carefully illustrated pages, and on each is a creature that is hidden under a luminous felt flap! I cannot stress enough how perfect that is for little hands. Madeleine happily grabs at the felt and explores its texture, whilst unveiling the animal underneath, and all without any card being ripped.

These books are great for developing minds. Ingela repeats the same key phrases again and again; ‘Where’s Mr … here he is’. I have seen such a change in Madeleine’s understanding of this. She has learnt to respond to these cues; she now waits patiently for me to ask where Mrs Ladybird is, before lifting the flap to see her!

By far my favourite aspect of these books, though, is the inclusion of a mirror on the last page. It is no secret that babies love looking at human faces, and that is so evident in madeleine’s reaction, every time she sees herself. The story always ends by asking ‘where are you?’, which is such a great way to help your baby understand that the reflection staring back at them is, in fact, their own. Madeleine and I may have read these countless times, and they are still as exciting as ever. I could write about how great they are all day but, in short, I would really recommend!

 

TALES FROM ACORN WOOD – JULIA DONALDSON

This series consists of four stories, all of which are written by the famous children’s author Julia Donaldson, who was the brainchild of the Gruffalo. These books are perfect for Madeleine now that she is heading towards her first birthday, because there is more of a tale to follow. The illustrations are beautifully detailed, and each page contains a little flap for your baby to find and lift. I love that each of these is a different size and shape, and forms part of the illustration; I think that it really helps madeleine to engage with the story. The only shame is that the flaps are made from card, so you may find yourself reaching for the Sellotape!

Aside from being visually exciting, these books are also written brilliantly for little, growing minds. Julia Donaldson uses rhyming couplets to make each of these tale’s fun and engaging. She also ends every pairing with a question, which I find so useful as a parent because it allows me to show madeleine how my words relate to the pictures on the page. I think that these, too, act as perfect aids for learning new words. Since the same characters are pictured and referenced throughout, it offers ample opportunity to repeat each animal name. In summary then, if you are looking to move your baby from basic picture books to stories, then this is a fantastic collection to have.

What types of books have your little ones loved reading? Have you got any recommendations? I would love to hear them!

Follow:

Get in touch