Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Easter Sunday Treasure Hunt

Or some tips on making the Easter egg hunt at your home a tad more interesting.
Our forest gnomes have gathered to discuss their strategy for the Easter Sunday Treasure Hunt.

All year I wait for this, and always have.  Easter Sunday.  Memories of the Easter egg hunt taking place as the sun only begins to emerge over the horizon.

Now I am an adult and parent, I no longer anticipate the joy of searching for chocolates, but relish the opportunity to be the architect of the hunt. 

I thought some readers might enjoy hearing about my plans for this year’s Easter hunt.  They are becoming more complex as Sylvie is growing older.  I know that some day they will involve some orienteering and GPS (yes, I’m serious).  I love parlour games and quizzes. It’s a good way of stretching out the fun.

There are lots of photos provided and I hope that they will give you some inspiration for your Easter Sunday Egg Hunt.  I shall be posting photos of our hunt on Easter Monday so you can see how we went.  Good luck and have a happy, happy Easter.

PS, I expect the balloon part of this treasure hunt to be the biggest hit.  I shall let you know.

The Easter Sunday Treasure Hunt

The night prior.

Sylvie needs to write a note to the Easter Bunny letting him know she’s excited about his visit.  We will put out a carrot and a glass of water.

On Easter Sunday morning, Sylvie will bound from her bedroom and find that the Easter Bunny has indeed, visited.  (Ubiquitous flour sprinkled on the floor with rough approximation of bunny prints made by hand).  The carrot will have been nibbled and the water will have been drunk a little.  The Easter Bunny will leave a note to Sylvie thanking her for her kind gesture with regards to the Bunny snack she thoughtfully left for him last night.  He will leave her fluffy ears to wear as she begins the treasure hunt. Sylvie’s parents will awaken to the excitement that is Easter Sunday. The Easter bunny has included in his note to Sylvie that she needs to look in the freezer to find her first clue.  It will have a pink ribbon on it.  The Easter bunny will explain the rules of the hunt, don’t open the presents until you come home and, pick up any rubbish.

Clue #1
If you have read my other blog on the Milk Bottle Easter rabbit you will know how to cut up a milk bottle for the useful plastic (if not, here is the link).

Cut some milk bottle plastic into pieces and write the letters of the next clue on each piece.  Use some small blobs of blu tack to hold the pieces of plastic upright in a container (with lid).  Add some drops of food colouring to disguise the letters a little.  Tie a ribbon around the container.  Avoid using an overly large container or your little one will be frustrated with the amount of time they need to spend to crack the ice apart.  As you are awake (albeit just awake, remember it’s REALLY early), you will need to assist a little, and run the container under some warm water to release the ice block.  You can hand your child any hammer and set them up in an appropriate spot in your house (and old towel on the kitchen floor, the ice block on a cutting board is good).  The child needs to chip away the ice and retrieve the letters and you might need to help them spell out ‘bath’. 

Thus, the first present and clue will be located in the bath (in the bathroom).

The plastic letters held in place with blu tack in a 500ml container (with lid).

Green food colouring added to the water and an identifying ribbon added before placing in the freezer.
Clue # 2
(In the bathroom).
The clue is attached to the binoculars that have been left for the purpose of the treasure hunt.  Sylvie has to look through the window with the binoculars to see if there is anything unusual in the willows in the valley (the balloons strung from the branches will be the giveaway).  The clue instructs her to go and investigate.  I shall walk with her down the hill to retrieve the next clue.

I used a pipe cleaner strung through a hole made with a hole punch, easy to untie and remove.
Clue # 3
(At the willows).
The clue is a note attached to a balloon.  It tells her because it’s morning, the hens and rooster will be hungry and she ought to go and feed them.  This means she will find the next clue in the chicken’s feed bin.  (And so back up the hill).

Clue # 4
(In the chicken’s feed bin).
“When you have fed the chickens with grain, have a look and see if anyone has laid an egg” (sending her to the nesting boxes).

Clue # 5
(At the nesting boxes).
The clues are in plastic eggs, some have small chocolate eggs in them and the larger two have the clues.  One is a deflated balloon with the clue written on the side and the other contains a note with a pin.  The balloon clue is easy to do.  Either draw a picture clue (if the child is very young) or write out a clue on a blown up (but not tied up) balloon, deflate it and then put the balloon in the plastic egg.  For the second egg, cut a piece of paper and attach a pin with a note, “you will need this pin soon”.  The adult accompanying the child will need to inflate the balloon.

The plastic fillable eggs that will be placed in the chicken's nesting boxes.

An inflated balloon, a texta is used to write the clue, and the balloon is deflated.

The deflated balloon with the clue.

The contents of the plastic fillable eggs, note the fabric with the pin and note "you will need this pin soon!"
The clue explains that:
“Find every balloon in the forest and pop it to find the letters that will spell out your next destination”.  We will explain that Sylvie will need to pick up every piece of balloon plastic before you leave please or the gnomes (who live in the forest) will be unhappy.   Ahh!  So this is what the pin is for!

Clue # 6
(In the forest).
In 5 of the balloons I inserted the letters “G”, “N”, “O”, “M”, “E”. Roll each small paper letter up and slip them into the balloon and lightly puff them in before inflating the balloon. Remember the fun is in having quite a few balloons.  If you see a letter flutter down unnoticed, bring it to your child’s attention.  Sylvie will need to collect all the letters and then work out what they could spell (after an appropriate time, if she hasn’t worked it out, one of us will prompt her…!)
Roll up each letter and slip into the balloon before inflating.
Blow up quite a few balloons, the children will be delighted!
Clue # 7
(The gnomes are placed at regular intervals up the driveway).
As the clue has spelled out gnome, we hope this will trigger Sylvie to begin looking for them.  They are normally found in the forest, so this will be an unusual event for Sylvie, to see the gnomes in a long row along the driveway.

Clue # 8
(At the front gate).
The gnomes have left a pretty card with a blog address.  Sylvie will need to go back to the house and type in the address. Create a new temporary blog with only one post (the clue, a map). It is as simple as drawing a diagram on a piece of paper, scanning it in and uploading to a file sharing site.  Take the address and add it as a link into your blog.  The thrill for the child is typing in the address correctly and discovering something on the internet that directly relates to their life.  For smaller children you could use photographs.  The clue will be tied to our stockyards (and will have balloons attached so Sylvie can see her target destination from the valley).

Clue # 9
(At the stockyards).
Sylvie’s beloved bear, Sydney will be waiting (if it’s raining he will be under an umbrella).  He will have a note explaining that he has been waiting for a long time and is desperate for Sylvie to make him a cup of tea.  This will send Sylvie back to her cubby house.

Clue #10
(In the cubby house).
Chicky chicks are placed all about the tea party table.  They all are saying something in cartoon bubbles.  Only 5 of them have ‘* = A’, ‘+ = O’, ‘# = N’, ‘~ = D’, and ‘> = S’.  The others can say things like, ‘We love you so much Sylvie’, ‘Happy Easter Sylvie’ etc.  You can make them yourself (easy to draw, cut out and attach with a hot glue gun), or here is a PDF with the blanks provided for you.

Printable cartoon bubbles for chicky chicks

The tea party in the cubby house with the chicky chicks & their messages.

It's Easter Sunday!

Some of the cartoon bubbles hot glued onto the chicky chicks.

The text below is written on the blackboard, and it needs to be decoded.

Im*gine   y+u   *re   *   p*l*e+#t+l+gi>t. 

Fi#~    >+me    >*#~    *#~    ~ig.

Y+u   #ever   k#+w,   y+u   might   fi#~   *   ~i#+>*ur!

Here is the key:
a *
o +
n #
d ~
s >

I wrote this using two chalk colours and made the letters that required deciphering much paler so they were easy to rub off and write over.

Here it is decoded.

Imagine you are a palaeontologist. 
Find some sand and dig.
You never know, you might find a dinosaur!

This will send her to the sand pit (in our case an old inflatable pool filled with play sand).  Several Schleich dinosaurs have been buried in the sand.  Sylvie is very interested in dinosaurs and claims she either wants to be a palaeontologist or a swimming teacher when she grows up.  I shall have some brushes and a small play spade sitting by the sand pit as pretend palaeontology tools.

After this has all been completed, we are looking forward to a special breakfast of poached eggs, smoked salmon and a glass of champagne.

Wishing you a very Happy Easter!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Make me! Easter chicky-chick bubbles

Or a speedy Easter gift idea that doesn’t involve chocolates or sugar, & is totally calorie free!

Easter chicky-chick bubbles

Easter chicky-chick bubble gifts, don't they have the sweetest little faces?

In many Australian primary schools it is customary at Christmas time for a student to bring in hand-written cards for each member of the class with a small token gift included in the envelope, something tiny; a decoration, a pretty pencil, perhaps a small candy cane. 

This practice extends to Easter and the obvious little token gift is… you guessed it, chocolate.  Count every student in the class and this will be the number of chocolates your child will bring home on the Thursday prior to Good Friday.  This translates to the prospect of a mini-chocolate feast beginning before Easter Sunday, and as a parent you are faced with the situation of letting them eat all 24 eggs on the drive home on Thursday, or gathering them all up and saving them for Easter Sunday (or somewhere in between).

Here is a very easy idea that you can whip up in a flash.  There are two components and only one piece of equipment required.

What you need

A hot glue gun & glue
Mini bubble bottles (usually sold in slabs of 24 in the party section of supermarkets)
A small chicky-chick for each bubble bottle (sold in large haberdashery stores like Spotlight in the lead up to Easter, often in packets of 12 or 6)

A box of chicky-chicks + a box of bubble bottles + glue gun = 24 dear little chicky-chick bubble bottle Easter gifts.

Instructions (the shortest I will ever write I think).

Warm up the glue gun, apply glue to the top of the bottle cap and settle the feet of the chicky-chick into the warm glue.  Let the glue set.  Done!

You can add to this if you wish by purchasing the large sized plastic egg containers (‘8cm fillable eggs’) and pop the chicky-chick bubble bottle inside.  These gifts are for 5 year olds so I avoided adding a ribbon around the outside to keep it simple, but you could dot a bit of hot glue on the join, centre a length of ribbon and tie at the front if you wished for an added, extra sweetness).  

Fits perfectly in the 8cm size 'fillable' egg available at craft stores around Easter time.

The be-ribboned egg.  I used about 50cm of velvet ribbon.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Easter bunny gingerbreads

Or telling the tale of a family tradition established around 1978, I think.

Golden, plump, delicious.  Easter gingerbread bunnies.

We live rurally on the Fleurieu Peninsula (a part of the Adelaide Hills).  Our snail mail is delivered to a postbox in the village.

After living on the 25th floor in a Sydney apartment, we eventually moved to a semi-rural region, near the beach on the South Coast of NSW; it was our ‘sea-change’.   After this we re-located to South Australia, and the Adelaide Hills.

Our now 12 year-old Chihuahua, Sugar still misses our South Coast daily visits during the week from the postie puttering along on his red 125 cc motorbike, rain or shine.  

Adorable, best dog in the world (we think), our lovely Sugar.

It was the postie’s bike that delighted Sugar the most.  She would rush to the gate barking, her eyes popping from her apple shaped skull, taking a forward stance with her little heckles up on the back of her neck.  The postie would switch off the engine to have a chat and a gossip at the gate (this was a seaside village on the South Coast of NSW, not the busy city) and Sugar would settle on the driveway to rest, her eyes welling up with tears as she stared directly into the sun, in total sun worship (those familiar with Chihuahuas would relate).

Village gossip exchanged, the postie, (his name was Pete and ‘hi’ to you Pete if you’re reading this; you were an excellent postie, everyone in our district loved your work ethic and positive attitude).  Pete the postie would start the engine on his postie bike and Sugar would leap from her reverie in the sun and take the postie stance.  Pete would deliberately gun the little engine to thrill Sugar and Sugar would reinterpret her last eye-popping performance with very few modifications; the postie would ride off and Sugar would return to relaxing in the sun.

I have digressed greatly, but I needed to pay homage to our postie back on the South Coast and you’ll see there IS a segue.

Back to our family tradition that I suspect began in the mid to late 70’s.  When my mother grew up, no-one in her family taught her to cook.  She claims she only knew how to boil a bit of spaghetti and then toss some butter over it as a midnight study snack.  When she married, her mother-in law, my fabulous Russian grandmother Helena took her under her wing and Simone learned.  She was taught to make all sorts of meals that were hearty and used many different cuts of meat, including offal (which I found pretty inedible as a child), but Helena taught Simone about thriftiness, slow cooking and flavour.  My mother is a good cook now, but not much of a recipe person.  If you ask her exactly how much of an ingredient to include in a recipe, my mother’s response is always, “well you know, a good amount” and you know you have to go with your natural instinct and feel.  It usually works.

In the 70’s my mum must have made a conscious decision to explore other realms of culinary delights.  I was only a child, but to be direct about it, she became baking OBSESSED.  We ate ‘pain au chocolat’ for breakfast, most days, for a time.  Croissants.  Freshly baked bread, delectable dinner rolls; “would you prefer a poppy seed garnish or sesame seed”?...  You could choose!  

During this exploration of then, to her, new dimensions of cooking, my mother began to make gingerbread.  After  a time all the fancy yeast based breads and desserts faded, and my Dad instituted a sickening morning family running regime, (thanks so much James F. Fixx; “The Complete book of Running” completely ruined my mornings before school for a term at least until Dad realised all the whinging wasn’t worth it and it was best he took himself for a run. (Although I’m partial to running as a meditative sport now, so, thanks Dad in the long ‘run’ you were right).  

This cover brings back the 70's to me.  In an instant.

But the gingerbread stayed.  It became the treat to celebrate Easter and Christmas.  My generous mother enthusiastically made bucketloads of gingerbread and gave away pretty tins full of them to family friends every Easter and Christmas.  Everyone loved them and began to anticipate these times of celebration as they knew a gift of gingerbreads was forthcoming.

My mother proselytised gingerbreads.  She took her gingerbread paraphernalia and dough to primary schools and made gingerbreads at Easter and Christmas with every child in every class in the school.  Her friend (Sue N.) was a school librarian and she and Mum would run the madness that was 25 children at a time in the art/rec room rolling dough whilst maintaining the cooking in the ovens.  I can’t recall the system they used to ensure that each child received their own creation after cooking, but I know there was one.

About 10 years ago, my mother notched up the gingerbread from pretty yummy on the treat scale to absolutely (if you were keen on them in the first place); from pretty yummy to absolutely delicious.  She added a ridiculously thick generous layer of chocolate on the back; completely her invention and a beautiful flavour combination it is.

So there you are, the gingerbread family tradition explained; inaugurated by my lovely mum over 30 years ago.

And the postie segue I promised? 

As we live rurally (Graeme likes to say we made the ‘tree change’) there is no Pete the postie on his bike delivering mail to your postbox at your driveway's end; instead we drive to collect our mail from the local post office.  Greg is our postmaster.  He likes the cold weather, loathes the hot, and plays a huge role in the local football club.  He knows everything about everyone in the village, he’s charming and has a good sense of humour and I think my mother has only failed once in 10 years to present Greg with a lovely gift of Easter and Christmas gingerbreads (his family love them).  He’s a super postmaster and my Mum is a fabulous generous lady.  Thank you Greg the postie for your work and thank you Mum for your big heart.

Here is Sylvie in Mum’s kitchen following the family tradition.  The recipe is included after you have scrolled through the photos.  Remember my Mum’s cooking style is ‘instinct’ based, so follow your heart.

Have a happy Easter.
Best, Lara Jane.

The rolled out dough, Sylvie cutting out the bunnies.

Painting the bunnies with a milk wash before decorating.

After the milk wash, decorating the bunnies, eyes, nose and 100's & 1000's for the body.

The before and the after (before chocolate coating the back).

Mum coating the back of each gingerbread with chocolate.  She places them on alfoil to let the chocolate set.

Simone’s Gingerbread recipe (fine-tuned over 30 years but still, 'go with your heart'). 

You’ll need to convert the measurements, but I wanted to leave them Imperial for our American cousins and also because this is how Mum presented me with the recipe.

Ingredients & equipment

1 and a half pounds of SR (self raising flour), (I think in the US this is referred to as baker’s flour, it already includes the rising ingredient).
10 oz sugar
10 oz Golden Syrup
2 eggs
1 tsp mixed spices
1 tsp cinnamon
A ‘good amount’ of ginger (translates to, on questioning; around 4 teaspoons, but described as, “oh, just shake a good amount in, don’t be scared, it needs to taste of ginger for goodness’ sake”)
2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (mixed in a separate cup with just a little hot water)

milk in a cup
brush to add the milk wash
your choice of biscuit decoration (100’s and 1000’s etc)
cooking chocolate (Mum is very generous, about 300g)
rolling pin
baking trays
baking paper
cooling racks
electric frypan and metal container to melt the chocolate
broad bladed knife to apply the chocolate
aluminium foil


Heat your oven to 180 centigrade (or 350F), but all ovens bake differently, keep your eye out, the gingerbreads are not like soufflé, they are reasonably resilient and they will survive regular turning and checking.

Combine all dry ingredients in a big mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.

Gently melt the sugar and the golden syrup in a medium saucepan on the stovetop and then add the bicarbonate of soda mixture to the saucepan.  The mixture will froth a little.  Let it cool just a bit.  Pour this mixture into the well of dry ingredients.  Begin to combine with a wooden spoon and then add the two eggs.  If your dough is too dry, add just a bit of water, but it’s usually not necessary.  Turn out dough onto floured surface.

Take sections of dough and roll out to around 3mm thick (not too thin, you’re making gingerbread, not ginger snaps.  Use cutters to make the shapes you require (rabbits in this case) and place the rabbits on a baking tray using baking paper. As you re-combine rolled out dough with new dough as you continue to cut out the shapes, the dough may become dry, use the milk wash brush to brush on a bit of milk and then handwork the dough until it is a reasonable consistency.

Before placing in the oven, apply a milk wash and decorate your gingerbreads with your chosen items.  Pop them in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, they should look golden brown when they are ready and have expanded to be quite full and plump.  Place them on racks to cool.

Mum melts chocolate in her electric frypan she and Dad purchased as newly weds, (they made things to last then, as Mum and Dad have been married for over 40 years).  I am no expert in chocolate but somehow Mum ensures the chocolate on the gingerbreads is always shiny.  She says the trick is to heat it slowly and not over-heat it.  (There will be those out there who know so much more, and I would love to hear from you).

Use the pictures to see the method Mum uses to coat the back (and sides).  Pop them on a foil-lined tray until set.  Mum recommends using kitchen grade (no powder) kitchen gloves, it saves sticky fingers.

Tell me how you went!
Happy Easter!