Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Madhouse diaries : Halloween fun at the zoo

One of our traditional half term jaunts is a trip to our local zoo in Fort Mardyck. It's only a short bus ride away and is cheap to get in so we go at least once or twice a year, generally at Christmas and Halloween, as they put on special activities and displays.

The birds didn't seem to mind the fact that their enclosure had been turned into a graveyard for the occasion.

In fact, we thought that this pelican looked like he was pretending to be a ghost ... all that's missing are the clanking chains !

 We marvelled at just how bendy the flamingos' necks are, then, encouraged by a sign, Pierre took up the challenge to see how long he could stand on one leg like a flamingo.

The walk-through aviary had been spooked up with giant spiders for the occasion.

Time for some silly spider selfies !

And not just for the kids !

 This skeleton spider was pretty creepy, although Pierre wasn't bothered in the slightest ! We looked out for skeletons on our way round the enclosures too.

 Whoever was given the job of decorating the zoo obviously had great fun !

We arrived just in time for the otter's feeding time so they were excitedly climbing up the sides of the fence and making funny squeaky noises.

They look cute but they've got really sharp teeth.

They made short work of the fish and chicks that the keeper gave them - eww !

Despite much encouragement from us, the peacock steadfastly refused to fan out his tail.

Last time we came, the bears weren't looking too happy and had started pacing around, looking bored.

This time they had some new equipment to play with and they looked happier.

It's interesting to see how they upcycle things to make new toys for the animals. The bears had big crates and cable rolls to play with and there were car wash brushes in with the goats and reindeer.

The bears didn't seem interested in playing but they were looking more content and had stopped pacing. 

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the newest residents - a pair of lynx cubs that were born this year.

I wasn't sure we'd get to see them or if they'd be hiding away, but they spent their whole time chasing each other around, play fighting and exploring their surroundings. They bounce around as much as Tigger !

The pigs were much more placid and spent the whole time buried in the straw !

Another walk through aviary got us up close to the storks, and this huge owl - a Great Grey Owl - which is the largest species of owl in length.

However many times we see him, the anteater still looks very strange. Apparently he can only open his mouth by a few millimetres, just enough to get his long tongue out.

The marmosets looked very grumpy !

This didn't stop Pierre monkeying around though ! Look out, it's behind you !

Country Kids

Last Minute Halloween Makes and Bakes With The Kids

If the kids are bored and you want some last minute Halloween activities to keep them busy, here is a quick roundup of spooky shenanigans to have them screaming in delight. They'll have a wail of a time (groan !) and don't panic - you should have everything you need already in the house and they'll only take about half an hour.

The spookiest biscuits I've ever cooked - horribly realistic Witch's Fingers. Will you dare to eat one ?!

How about using bagels for a Spooky Halloween Ba-ghoul tea ? Take your pick from ghosts, mummies, spiders, pumpkins, fake blood or ... ahem ... a were-rabbit !

Homemade "Marshmallow Fluff " Ghosts were a great way of using up leftover egg whites and the kids loved them.

How about a spooky After Eight Graveyard Cheesecake for dessert?

If you prefer cute to spooky, these Spider Cupcakes are perfect, or you could transform an old pizza box into a Vampire Minion !

Cheerios Frankenstein's Monsters make a great after-school treat.

Or make this simple but effective Spider's Web with odds and ends from the crafts cupboard.

Whatever you're up to, have a happy Halloween ! :)

Monday, 30 October 2017

Halloween craft : Spider's Web

Our local zoo always puts on a Halloween-themed event so we went along for a visit during half term. They offered a free crafts activity to make a spider's web and it's something you could easily make at home with a few basic supplies so I thought I'd share it with you.

You'll need a polystyrene ball, some wooden skewers, some black pipe-cleaners and some string, as well as a spider cutout. Push the skewers into the ball at regular intervals.

Use a simple knot to fasten one end of the string near the centre on one of the spokes, about 1cm away from the ball. Thread the string around the sticks to make a web design, simply looping it around each spoke as you pass, then tying it off with another knot when you've finished.

Use your pipie-cleaners to create spider legs. We had a spider cutout but you could just use a black circle of card and add googly eyes.

Wrap the ends of the pipe-cleaner legs around the string in various places to attach the spider to the web.

It's very simple but very effective - perfect for some last minute Halloween crafts.

Madhouse recipe : Witch's Fingers (Dedos de Bruja)

If you want the perfect gory Halloween treat to scare you own kids with or to hand out to trick or treaters, these Witch's Fingers biscuits, inspired by the traditional Spanish Dedos de Bruja, are simple to make and use nothing but store cupboard basics. They look really effective !

I used up a bag of Black Forest flavoured icing sugar, which is what gave them their brown colour. If using regular icing sugar, you might want to add in a little cocoa powder or even substitute some green food colouring - the more disgusting-looking, the better !

Witch's Fingers

ingredients :

255g plain flour
110g icing sugar
1 egg
150g margarine or softened butter
pinch of salt
40g ground almonds or 1 sachet (35g) of Ready Brek
about 25 almonds
strawberry jam

Start by creaming together the margarine and icing sugar (with the addition of cocoa powder or green food colouring, if using plain icing sugar).

Add the egg, salt, ground almonds or Ready Brek and flour, and mix until it forms a ball of dough. Do not over mix. Using Ready Brek (very finely milled oats) or ground almonds helps give it a firmer consistency so it holds it shape better during cooking. Pop in the freezer compartment of the fridge while you preheat the oven to 170°. 

During this time, prepare the almonds. If they still have the skin on, pop them in a little boiling water for a couple of minutes then drain and squeeze the skins off - they should just slide straight off.

After ten minutes, roll the ball of dough into a cylinder shape and cut into five sections. Cut each section into five sections so you should have 25 equally sized pieces of dough.

Use your hands to roll them into finger shapes. Pierre giggled that they looked like dog poo at this stage - ah well, it's in keeping with the Halloween theme !

Press an almond on the end of each finger, pointy side up, sticking out slightly further than the end of the biscuit, and use a knife to add lines to the fingers for knuckles and fingertip joints.

Don't worry if they're not perfectly straight - everyone knows that witches have gnarled hands and knobbly fingers !

Arrange on a baking tray and bake at 170° for 20 minutes. If you haven't coloured your pastry with cocoa powder, you might want to brush it with egg for a more golden finish.

Heat a little strawberry jam in the microwave for 1 minutes until it's slightly runny, then use a brush to add gory blood to the ends of the biscuits around the nails.

They are traditionally eaten with a "fake blood" strawberry or raspberry puree dip - strawberry jam would do just fine. They are slightly bland so they do need a little oomph from a dip - the Madhouse kids opted for Nutella !

Everyone agreed that they look totally horrific !

 Pierre thought they were hilarious and kept pointing them at people and pretending to pick his nose with them !

Happy Halloween !

Adding to this month's #KitchenClearout linky as it used up a bag of icing sugar and the end of a jar of strawberry jam.

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