Friday, 30 March 2012

Russian doll giveaway/ cd 5 May NOW CLOSED

When is a Russian doll not a Russian doll? If you arrived to my blog in search of the Russian nesting dolls, you might be disappointed that the doll I am offering as a giveaway is actually a doll in a Russian national costume. Or one of them, since there was such a huge variety of costumes, different in each region. The Northern and Southern Russian costumes differ quite dramatically, and even then each province, district and even village would have their own distinct features.

De Agostini started a new series of dolls exclusively for the Russian market: dolls in folk costumes.
The first doll represents the Moscow province (and is wearing a winter dress).

 I have a spare doll to offer as a giveaway (please note the booklet in Russian is not included in the prize, as I don't have it).

I will also add a set of three Russian dolls cookie cutters from Lakeland.

These are excellent cookie cutters, and I have used them for making biscuits. If you fancy to have a look at what you can do with the cutters and how to decorate the biscuits, have a look at my older post.

To be entered in the draw please follow two simple steps:
1. Answer the question by leaving a comment below this post
2. Leave a comment on any other post.
Only people who will do both steps will be entered in the draw. I love reading comments, so please indulge me, you can choose any older post to leave a comment.

You do not have to follow my blog to be entered in the draw. If you decide to follow my blog, I will be thrilled, of course.
Please leave me some means of getting in touch with you if you win: your Twitter name, or forum name (if you come from any of the comping forums), if you use a Blogger, make sure there is an email address in your profile.

And the question is (pick any question):
Have you ever been to Russia (or plan to)? What places did you visit? Did you enjoy your trip? (or not?)
Or if you haven't been, and have no plans to travel, tell me something Russia-related. Whether you collect dolls, or tried Russian food. :)

This is a not a sponsored giveaway, I would prefer it to go to someone who loves dolls and who would appreciate a new addition to their collection, or who has a child who would give it a loving home. I would hate it to end up on ebay.
This giveaway is open to the UK residents only.

Good luck! The winner will be chosen after 5 May 2012.

Many thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway, I enjoyed reading your comments. I wish I had a few prizes to give away. But there could be only one winner. All the names went into the Raffleking, and the winner is ........
Big well done! I am going to contact you now as to where to post the prize.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Mummy's Little Helper...

or hindrance (more likely)... Whenever I start doing the house chores, Eddie wants to join in, and of course, he is at the age when he is more of a hindrance than real help. But I do not want to discourage him.
He loves our garden, and every time I do a bit of weeding, he is there with the brush and the scoop.

He has developed a great fondness for the big garden brush, and would take it around the garden and even use it right at times.

Of course, then my own work has to be abandoned and you need to supervise him closely. I remember when Sasha was little, he watched me snipping off the dying flowers and then beheaded all the tulips in the garden, and he was very proud of his effort. I had no heart to tell him off, as he clearly thought he helped me.

I have big plans for Eddie. This year we are going to grow tomatoes again, and he will help me to water them, this task will be easy enough for him. We have a water tank, so hopefully there will be enough water for the tomatoes, as there is a threat of a water ban this coming summer. Sasha has always enjoyed watering the garden plants. He would get soaking wet, but so deliriously happy.

Then there is the call of the kitchen and the temptation of all the kitchen utensils and appliances.
Eddie loves watching me cooking, and I let him mix the cake dough or decorate the cookies.

Of course, at times the mixing bowl ends up on the head, Lady Gaga-style, and who is having more fun, Eddie or me when this happens?

As Eddie is too young to handle the electrical appliances, I only let him push the button on the milk shaker and he squeals with delight when it starts the noisy dance.

Is 20 months too young to be helping with the chores? Perhaps. But if the little people see the chores as a fun activity, they will want to join in.

One can dream: perhaps one day I will have a man in the house who will not throw dirty socks on the floor, leave the wet towel on the bed or crumbs in bed. Or does this only happen in Hollywood films? :)

Clickety Clack Track: Dinosaur Train (review)

A parent's dilemma of choosing either educational or entertaining show for their children is easily solved with the new series called "Dinosaur Train".
We were recently sent a DVD of the first two episodes of this new animation which aired for the 1st time on March 14, 2012 on Nick Jr. 

Show synopsis:
Dinosaur Train, created by Craig Bartlett (Hey Arnold!), is set in a whimsically realistic, prehistoric world of jungles, swamps, active volcanoes and oceans. Each day, Dinosaur Train will help kids ages 3 to 6 to apply scientific thinking as they discover new types of dinosaur species, compare and contrast dinosaurs to today's creatures and embrace the living sciences of paleontology and natural science. The half-hour shows feature two animated episodes; Based on input from paleontologists, science educators and early childhood education experts, Dinosaur Train promotes critical thinking skills for preschoolers based on an engaging and creative curriculum.
Dinosaur Train, produced by The Jim Henson Company, is co-produced with Singapore animation company Sparky Entertainment, with the participation and assistance of the Singapore Media Development Authority. UK production and financial support is being provided by Ingenious Media. The series is executive produced by Lisa Henson, Brian Henson, Halle Stanford and Craig Bartlett.

Plot Synopsis

EP 1: In Valley of the Stygimolochs, Buddy wonders if he’ll grow horns when he gets older, so Mrs. Pteranodon takes him to visit some dinosaurs called Stygimoloch, who have really impressive horns.

EP 2: In Tiny Loves Fish, after Mr. Pteranodon teaches the kids his fishing method, Buddy and Tiny work together as a team to catch fish in the Big Pond.

Character descriptions:

Buddy, a curious, funny, and intelligent T-Rex is the star of the show. He is cautious, but always ready to jump into action and start asking questions. While on the Dinosaur Train, Buddy makes a hypothesis and begins searching for the answers to his questions with the help of his Mom, the Conductor, and the new dinosaurs he meets on the train. When Buddy isn’t taking exciting trips on the Dinosaur Train, he is playing with his siblings, Don, Tiny, and Shiny and anticipating their next adventure.

Tiny, who loves to make rhymes, is quite clever and very brave. Tiny approaches every dinosaur she meets with the confidence of a news reporter trying to get the full scoop. Tiny is so brave that she often wanders a little bit too far; but, Buddy is always there to help her get back on the right track. And in return, Tiny is fiercely protective of her brother Buddy. Tiny also has two Pteranodon siblings: Don and Shiny.

Shiny is more “girly” than Tiny and proud of her shiny exterior, but can become shy in social situations. Shiny is outgoing with her siblings and acts as if she is the “wisest.” She can be a bit of a show-off and loves role playing with her brothers and sister. Shiny is happiest at home in Pteranodon Terrace hanging out with Dad and Don, while her Mom, Buddy, and Tiny take trips on the Dinosaur Train.

Don is a sweet, mellow little Pteranodon. Although he has a goofy streak, he is steady as a rock and very focused on the task at hand. Don is loyal to all his siblings and graciously waits his turn. Once his mind is made up, though, Don goes enthusiastically head-first into every challenge.

Mrs. Pteranodon: teacher, companion, and tour guide extraordinaire. But, first and foremost, she is “Mom” to Buddy, Don, Tiny, and Shiny. She is always there to listen to Buddy’s questions about being an adopted member of the Pteranodon family. Mrs. Pteranodon is intent on a good education, but she is also always looking for ways to let her kids explore their world.

Mr. Pteranodon: The kids' devoted, hands-on "sports dad," Mr. Pteranodon loves to approach parenting like coaching a team. He can even make a squawk that sounds like a whistle when he needs to call "time out!" He exhorts his kids to work together towards their goals, often calling out, "Go Team Pteranodon!" He is fun, can be a little silly, and encourages the kids to "be adventurous."

Conductor Troodon is a Troodon and a special friend to Buddy and his family. He becomes one of Buddy’s heroes because he is the Conductor of one the most awesome trains of all, the Dinosaur Train! The Conductor is very intelligent and is happy to explain facts about dinosaurs, the places they visit and even how the Dinosaur Train works.

My boys enjoyed the DVD, despite the fact that their ages don't fit exactly the age group the series is aimed for. Sasha is 10, but enjoys watching animation for the younger audience still. Eddie at 20 months is a bit too young to appreciate the educational part of the series, but he loved the colourful characters and the fab animation.

Here they are, watching the DVD and having a laugh. Sasha laughed at the comic twists in the animation, and Eddie was mostly joining in the laughter.

I loved the fact that they were watching together and sharing the experience. I must say I expected a high quality animation from The Tim Henson Company, and I wasn't disappointed. This is a truly creative, educational, fun animation.
I also loved the message that it is OK to be different. There is a lot of peer pressure among children nowadays to conform and be like everyone else and lose individuality. This animation teaches children to appreciate the difference and be true to yourself.
So climb aboard and enjoy the show!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Buckwheat blini

Russian blini (pronounced bleenY) are often made using a buckwheat flour batter and have a pronounced nutty flavor. I know many recipes call them blinis, but blini in Russian is already in plural (one pancake is a blin), so I think the extra S is totally unnecessary.

Russian pancakes

For about 15-16 small size blini you will need
4 heaped tbsp of standard self-raising flour
4 heaped tbsp of buckwheat flour
2 medium eggs
1 tsp of granulated sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
200ml milk
2 tbsp of soured cream (optional), if you don't have soured cream, you might need to add more milk
butter for oiling the pan and for the blini themselves

Add all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and use a blender until you have a smooth batter.
You might want to experiment with the buckwheat/standard flour ratio.
If you want, you might use just the buckwheat flour, but then the flavour will be very strongly on the buckwheat side. They will also be thicker.
I like it at 50/50.
Use a pancake pan, you need to add some butter or oil to it first. Once very hot, using a ladle, add the batter to the pan, or use a tablespoon if you like, about 2 tbsp per one pancake. You can make them big-sized too. Spread a bit of butter on top of the hot blini as you make them.
They are best eaten hot.
Do not use the lemon juice and sugar if you want an authentic Russian flavour. For the savoury blini add a generous dollop of the thick soured cream and a bit of the smoked salmon or caviar, and you don't have to buy the most expensive ossetra or beluga caviar, salmon caviar from Waitrose will be just fine.
For the sweet blini, you might choose either a dollop of the soured cream and sugar, or the honey.

I have been reading recently a little feature on blini in The Observer by some chef called Sasha Belkovich, and she wrote: "Blinis are eaten everywhere in Russia, and by everyone, particularly for breakfast. You'd struggle to find a family that didn't have them a few times a week"
Some families have them regulalry, some only very occasionally. My brother was visiting recently and I read the quote above to him and we had a good laugh about it. When we were growing, our Mum didn't do pancakes. In fact I cannot recollect her making pancakes ever. She is a fab cook, but pancakes were not something she made for us. I started making pancakes when I was about 11 or older, and remember well my cooking disasters.

Here is Eddie eating two pancakes at the same time.

This will be my second entry to the Flavours of Russia event.

originated by
guest host by Garnishfood Blog

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Honey cake with prunes and soured cream

Russian cake recipe

There are many variations of the honey cake with the soured cream in Russia, I have tried many, and this one is my favourite. I have played with different flavours, substituting soured cream with the whipped cream and butter cream, but realised that the soured cream is the must. It truly enhances the sweetness of the honey and prunes. You will need a good quality soured cream, closer to creme fraiche, as it has to be thick, not runny, otherwise it won't work.

You will need:
100g unsalted butter
80g honey (runny variety but preferably a good quality one not the syrupy substance that often comes as honey in the supermarkets)
400g plain flour
2 medium eggs
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Earl Grey teabag
1 tin of prunes in syrup
200g prunes, pitted
200g caster sugar
300ml soured cream (thick)

Place the butter and honey in a mixing bowl, cream thoroughly, beat in the eggs, add the flour and baking powder, mix together to form the dough. Cover the bowl with a clean teatowel and put in the fridge for 2 hours.
Once taken out of the fridge, leave it for about 30 mins at the room temperature, before dividing the dough into 5-6 balls. Roll each ball on a lightly floured surface to about 3-5 mm thickness. Cut them into large circles, using a plate or a bowl. The variation of this recipe was published in the DK Everyday Easy Cakes & Cupcakes, they didn't make any acknowledgement but this is my recipe, and I blogged about it some time ago. They mentioned using a 14 cm bowl for this purpose. I use a wider plate, hence I have 5 layers, and they have 6. It is entirely up to you, if you want it wider or higher.
Bake 2 layers at a time on 2 trays at about 180C for 8-10 minutes, or until golden.
Here is a stack of honey cake layers without added cream

Make a mug of Earl Grey as usual, and leave it in the mug for 3 minutes, then discard the teabag. Add the pitted prunes and half the sugar. Bring to boil and remove from the heat. Let it cool.
Open the tin with the prunes, remove the stones from the prunes and keep the juice. Remove the pitted prunes from tea and set aside. Add the prune juice to the tea.
Brush each honey cake layer with the prune & tea mixture.
Add the remaining sugar to the soured cream and beat it together. Add a couple of spoons of the soured cream on top of the honey cake layer, spread it evenly. Place the mixed prunes on top (both pitted prunes that were removed from the tea and the prunes from the tin). Put the next honey cake layer, repeat the process until all the soured cream and prunes are used.

Now that your cake is assembled, you might want to add the syrup. To make the syrup boil the mixture of tea and prune syrup until much reduced, leave it to cool, then spoon over the cake.

Russian recipe

Don't be tempted to eat it immediately, it needs a few hours for flavours to come together. It is best served the next day. It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Russian recipe

This cake is quite time-consuming to prepare, but it is worth it. This is probably one of my most favourite cakes.

The recipe is sent to "Flavours of Russia" Event
originated by
guest host by Garnishfood Blog

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Bakestone journey continues

Our taster journey continues, thanks to Bakestone. The February parcel was full of surprise breads with names that didn't sound familiar like Hoofers and Toothsomes.

What exactly is a hoofer, you might ask. And the answer is "A barmcake with attitude! Ideal for chip butties, yum!"

Chip butties didn't sound very appealing to me, so we haven't tried it. The bread itself was a bit too bland and too soft, but perhaps it is supposed to be like that. It went well as a sandwich with fillings like ham and cheese and mustard. Great for sandwiches, but I would have like a more robust flavour and texture.

Two long finger style rolls that are great for sandwiches or hot dogs. Toothsome literally means delicious or luscious!
Good idea for hot dogs with plenty of mustard. My toddler loved them, simply sliced and with a bit of butter and jam. Personally I like rolls a bit more crusty for sandwiches, but they were approved by all of my boys (husband and sons).

A long brown roll similar to a large finger roll. A longstanding favourite in Liverpool!
Great healthy rolls. Make perfect filled rolls, and taste good to serve with a soup. We tried them with butter too. Good quality, and oozing health. My toddler was less keen on them, but my husband and I enjoyed eating them.

Poppy Seed Nudger
A tasty and healthy choice for lunchboxes and big enough to satisfy healthy appetities!
I loved poppy seed buns as a child, and still do.
A tasty bun, we all loved it. I think more poppy seeds might make it even better. We tried it as it is and with butter. Lovely! My top choice from the selection.

Here is Eddie, munching on a poppy seed nudger and enjoying it.

Hot cross buns: once you open the plastic bag, the aroma of the hot cross buns is unmistakable. They were soft, moist and lush, very moreish, with a good blend of spices and sweet raisins - just how the hot cross buns should taste. We tried them as they are, sliced with a bit of butter, and also toasted with a thin layer of marmalade. Absolutely delightful.

I enjoyed trying new breads and flavours, and this was definitely a discovery parcel.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Justin Fletcher's new CD "Hands Up" (review)

When I read several mummy bloggers' reviews on the new Justin Fletcher's CD, I was dismayed to find out they were apprehensive to start with. How could they? It's Justin! The one and only, inimitable and unique, a hero of all families who have children with special needs.

First it was Sasha who learnt about Mr Tumble at school and started looking for his videos online, later after seeing how interested he is, I started buying DVDs.
I was really looking forward to listening to Justin's new album with my 19-months-old son. Eddie knows Justin Fletcher from the DVD collection that we have and loves his Nursery Rhymes so much that we put it on at least once a day. In fact, Eddie is watching Something Special right now, as I type.

The new album contains 20 songs, most of them are well known children's classic songs like "If you're happy", "The Hokey Cokey", "The Wheels on the Bus".
There are a couple of songs that we haven't heard before: "The Sailor's Lament" (this is a rather melancholic song, beautiful and even poignant if you think about it) and "Justin's Lullaby" (another lyrical piece, very peaceful and slightly philosophical).

The tunes are very upbeat, with a modern interpretation. Easy to listen to and very catchy. Justin's voice is immediatley recognisable. His charisma shines through his performance. The album starts with a cheerful dancing tune and ends with three calm songs.

We listened together with Eddie, we danced and laughed at ourselves. We whirled around enthusiastically, me wiggling my bum and Eddie laughing his socks off at Mum's dance.

This CD will make a lovely present to any pre-schooler. It is available from 5 March.

We love it!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

ClassDojo, a digital age education tool

ClassDojo – encourage positive behaviour whilst engaging a classroom in minutes

Have you heard of ClassDojo?
It is a new real-time behaviour management tool for teachers called ClassDojo (

ClassDojo is a behaviour management tool that allows teachers to digitally monitor and record pupils’ behaviour and progress in real-time. For many teachers, parents and students, improving students’ behaviour is a hassle that gets in the way of effective teaching and learning.

Sam Chaudhary is the co-founder and CEO of ClassDojo. He achieved Double First Class Honours in Economics at Cambridge, and his co-founder Liam Don was a PhD candidate at Durham University. Together, they are creating a hugely successful student behaviour management tool based on his own experiences as a teacher. The system has been adopted by tens of thousands of teachers and students in 25 countries in just a few months since it launched; it also won a $75,000 Citigroup Innovation Prize, winning ‘Best Education Technology Startup of 2011’. Sam and Liam were subsequently invited to present their programme live on US national television on NBC’s Education Nation programme with and the Today Show. Here is a video demonstration of the tool:

ClassDojo will soon engage parents to fix behaviour problems in the home as well. The vision is that rather than the negative approach currently taken to behaviour, there is a huge opportunity for pupils to be successful, ‘whole’ individuals by going beyond building good grades alone, to actually building good character.

ClassDojo is inspired by some of the work on character development done by James Heckman. Heckman’s work shows that good life outcomes are secured by not just the development of cognitive skills, but crucially, of character skills,. This approach is slowly making its way to the UK, with thousands of teachers using ClassDojo on this side of the Atlantic. A focus on character development is something of a shift from the current UK system, but there is a growing school of thought that believes a move to placing more emphasis on character building will prove more effective than measures of cognitive achievement at raising standards and providing the kind of employment skills needed later in life, the premise being that the majority of jobs are not intellectually complex but they do require collaboration, confidence and motivation.

Recent news showed stats that only 59% of children aged five have a good level of child development. There have also been some comments from Prince Charles recently about the need for pupils to build character and for schools to educate the 'whole person' instead of just focusing on academic disciplines and his concerns about the number of young people leaving education with very little life skills such as confidence and motivation. One of the key points about ClassDojo’s vision is that it will encourage pupils to build these skills.




I have been asked to add this interesting post to my blog. Inevitably the digital age brings its own tools and ideas. On the whole, I tend to agree we need to move on with the times, and using the digital media can be only a bonus. The benefit of ClassDojo, from how I understand it, is for parents to get the feedback on their children's behaviour in the class.
But at the same time I feel that my expectations of what a school should do are somehow slightly different. For me the school is first and foremost a place of getting an education, and by that I mean an academic knowledge rather than social skills and confidence. Nowadays parents expect everything from school, from potty-training to learning how to use cutlery. The school should not be a substitute for parental guidance. This is not a criticism of ClassDojo, this is more of a disagreement on what the school should be doing. Prince Charles is perhaps not the best mouthpiece to promote life skills, coming from his privileged background and surrounded by servants who do everything for him. Academic disciplines should not be overlooked in favour of the social skills.
I would love to know what you think on the subject.