To the lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour…

Dear stranger-lady on the Boston Harbour boat tour, 

My son was an out and out horror today. 

He was so epically, UNBELIEVABLY, naughty, that after our brief encounter on the tour boat, we made our way back to our hotel – where, I admit, the day momentarily picked up with games of hide and seek, milkshake (cause no where delivers margaritas to my hotel room) and a dance party to Fat Man Scoop, but, when bed time rolled around, he was just as bad as ever.

I don’t know what his deal is, or where I’ve gone wrong…he was such a good two year old, but three? Three is…well, it’s…it’s…something.  Someone told me a couple weeks ago that I was essentially a bad mother to my son, those words have rung in my ears every day since they were written to me, and make me question myself constantly.  

Especially today.

At some point, I sat with my son in my lap, carefully pinning his arms to his legs to avoid him hurting himself, or, from being on the receiving end of one more punch, kick, or elbow from this tiny ninja and waiting out the storm.  I had, against all odds, kept my cool and was trying to reason with him, shush him, calm him – I think I even offered him cookies at one point, bribery? Whatever it took.  Trying to explain my desire to keep him safe, trying to encourage some deep breathing, and assuring him that once he exorcised the shrieking, thrashing demon from inside of him and listened, with his listening ears, that I’d let him sit, nicely, on his bottom (not standing jumping on a chair next to an open window) and leave him be.

You see, the three year old demon, clearly did not want to obey regular human being rules today, the rules that strongly suggest that when you’re on a moving boat you don’t run like Ussain freaking Bolt, in circles, up and down flights of stairs and generally put yourself in dangerous situations, or, essentially run any which place your parents are not – thinking this careless and reckless behaviour is funny, it is not.  

Prior to the boat tour he had also not taken heed of those other tricky little regular human rules, y’know, like, 

• Thou shalt not run on the train platform.  Never.  NEVER run on the effing train platform.

• Thou shalt not drop hands and bolt from your parents in a busy tourist area for any insane person to kidnap, or car to smash in to – or, for that matter, in any public place.

• Thou also shalt not clobber thy parents with moves that have clearly come directly from Conor McGregors back pocket.

And here’s where the double standard lies for parents. Let your kid run away from you on the train platform and get smushed by a train? Or jump out the window of a moving boat? Terrible parent.  Neglectful.  Absent minded.  Tut tut.  Head shake.  Clearly an utter hot mess who deserves to be burned alive at the stake.

Shout (or use that STOP FUCKING RUNNING YOU’RE IN IMMINENT DANGER” yell that parents have), put your kid in time out, or make any threats about tech-time, toys, candy or grounding them til they’re 35? and you’re too heavy handed, too strict, that poor child.  Terrible parent. 

Anywhoo, I digress.  After enduring more punches than I have in the ring, I tagged daddy-C in to the fight and sat longingly gazing in to Boston harbour wishing the waves could open and swallow me up and praying his, inexplicable and monumental meltdown would pass quickly, then you appeared.  

“Mama, I’ve been there,” you said to me quietly over my shoulder as I bit my lip and fought back my second wave of tears of the day, “could I maybe try to help?” you asked.  “Perhaps I could play a game with him and distract him somehow?” You suggested, your voice filled with empathy and understanding.

“Sure” I said, defeated, go for it” 

“Hey buddy,” she said confidently, “would you like to play a game with me to distract you?” She asked him.  

He instantly stopped melting down, looked at her curiously, and nodded.  His wet-with-sweat hair was matted to his forehead and his crocodile-tear stained cheeks were hotter than the Red Sox logo.  But he was listening.

“Let’s distract you,” she continued, “because I’m not mama or daddy and you may even listen to me.  Can you play patty cake?” She enquired,

He nodded to the affirmative (even though he cannot) and she requested he put his hands up.  He stared at her as she demonstrated her expectations.  “I’ll just leave my hands here until you’re ready to do it too”, she said to him calmly.  

He pauses for a second, glances at me, glances back to the lady, and double hi-fives the stranger.
She began singing and clapping with him, explaining the process as she went along – and for maybe 30 whole seconds he was my happy little boy again, before he plopped off the chair he was calmly sitting on and made a bee-line for the stairs to the upper levels on the boat.
I wanted to cry.  I wanted to curl up in a ball, admit defeat and have my parenting pass withdrawn.  I wanted to offer my small child up to this, clearly superior-to-me parent, and say ‘Hey, go for it’.  He’s yours to fuck up now.
“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong”, my voice quivered at her.
“You’re going to be fine”, she replied, “you’re doing great, mama.”
“It doesn’t feel like it” I sighed.
“You gotta love an independent, strong-willed child.  It will serve him well when he’s older, but it’s so hard to endure right now.  Stick with it” she encouraged.
Turns out, she has two girls herself, 6 and 8 year olds and was one of the most genuine, least “other mother”-y type parents I’ve ever met.  She’s been there, done that, and enjoying a little nice-time before gearing up for puberty and the bitchy-ville wars that she’s soon to be staring down.
Ok, the rest of our day was blown to shit, our hundred dollar day passes to the kids museum, swan paddle boats and trolley tour, among other things were completely wasted.
Ok, I had to physically hold him in his bed to stop him climbing, jumping, running and causing mayhem and throwing things at bed time.
Ok so I wanted the ground to swallow me up from embarrassment, anger, frustration, resignation…but for an instant, this absolute stranger, sat in my space, reached out a little branch of calm and made me feel even just a teeny tiny little bit better about myself in that awful moment.
So, thank you, lady on the Bostonian boat tour, in the chaos I didn’t even catch your name, for agreeing with me that 3 years old, is a whole nother level of hell, than 2 was.  For taking a moment out of your sight-seeing trip, in blissful solitude all by yourself, away from your own children, to try and help better my day, even just for an instant and to give me some relief from the hellish demon that has seemingly all but replaced my loving and kind little boy.  For making me feel better about my defeated-feeling self, when all I really wanted to do was drink, eat chocolate, cry and disappear.
As I stepped off the boat behind Col, who was getting his glasses smacked off his face for the 38559295th time, I received a text from a friend, “I get that he’s an asshole kid right now.  But you fought hard to have that little asshole and you’ll fight hard to figure out what his damn problem is and set him straight.  Even if it’s emotionally exhausting and there are days that you just want to quit.”
Today? Today I want to quit.
And so, I’m going to bed, teary and deflated, I don’t want today to last even another second.  And considering Col and I both all but passed out on the bed the second we got back in to the hotel room, I don’t think a good sleep in the bank is a terribly bad plan.  Hopefully tomorrow is a better day, because I can’t take another one like today so soon on its heels, especially since tomorrow? We fly again. Lawwwwd in heaven, help me.
Today was a bad, bad day.  I’m praying that tomorrow is better.
He wasn’t all bad – see? This cute, adorable, sweaty-faced, sun-kissed smile? Yeah.  He was grinning because he went running around the sidewalk next to a busy bus pick-up/drop-off area at the airport like the Tasmanian devil.  Causing high blood pressure, severe heart palpitations and shrieking.  All the while yelling ‘Ha Ha! You can’t get meeeeee!’ at Colin and I – and he’s right, we typically *can’t* get him, unless we cut him off from different sides and swoop him up when he can’t see us coming.  He’s a slippy one.
Why do kids gotta be such little a-holes sometimes?  All we have tried to do on this trip is bring him fun places and do fun things.  Screw it, our next vacation will be spent at Presidential libraries, WWII ships and state capitols and he can just live with it.
Ugh! He’s lucky he’s cute.

Things to do in Texas: Texas State Railroad (Fall Foliage Brunch Train)

IMG_7352

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, we went home to the UK for a few weeks, I’ve been under the weather (before and since), and Lewis is keeping me on my toes.  But, we recently embarked on a fun activity here in Texas, that I wanted to share with y’all, in case you are interested in doing the Polar Express train before Christmas.

Col and I have been married for five years as of October, the traditional gift is wood, and, after having bought him his record player (affectionately named ‘Maggie’), I wanted to find something for us to do together, to mark the occasion.  As many of you know, we love our little getaways, a weekend here, an overnight there, we love exploring Texas and think, as a state, it has so much to offer.  To get to the train ride took exactly three hours from Houston (though, on our way TO the train, it took five hours, an hour in traffic, an hour stopped for lunch, plus the three hour journey – yawn!)

We went up the day before, spent the afternoon in the hotel pool (the Hampton inn and suites, if you’re interested, was excellent, and we’d go back without question and, while I’m at it, grab a delicious pizza in a restaurant called ‘Switch’).

IMG_7338

For those of you who say that Texas doesn’t have a ‘fall’ season, you’re wrong.  I just saw it, out the window of a hundred year old steam train as we traveled across East Texas ‘Pineywoods’ forest country.  You pay $55 per person, you board the train at one of two Victorian-style train depots at either Palestine (where we boarded), or Rusk.

They ask you to be there almost an hour early, to pick up your tickets from the ticket desk – don’t groan – that gives you plenty of time to watch the steam engine come out of her little shed, down the track and connect to the carriages, and to take pictures of the train, the depot and the surroundings, it’s very picturesque.

Once on board, we found the table with our family name place card, took a seat, and enjoyed a delicious platter of fresh fruit, fruit dip, orange juice, apple juice, water and coffee, as we waited for the train to disembark the station.

IMG_7247

The journey through the trees was glorious, the sun shone, the trees were a multitude of colours, and the atmosphere onboard, was excited anticipation.  The family carriage, was filled with both adults and kids alike, I was amazed to find linen table cloths, real glasses and cutlery on the tables and fully uniformed staff ready to wait on us hand and foot.  It was a real experience, we even traveled through a rainbow – which was pretty darn cool!

IMG_7310

As we approached our one and only stop at Rusk, Texas, they brought us slices of quiche (bacon or veggie), with a side salad and some dressing (in hindsight I should have ordered a third portion because Lewis decided he loved it and ate a chunk of mine and Col’s!)

We disembarked for our forty-five minute pit-stop, watched the engine disconnect, and pass the carriages to reconnect.  In Rusk there are bathrooms (though the lines were seriously long, I’d say just go on board the train whilst no one is on board!), the men’s bathroom had a koala care station – which is definitely worth noting for those with little ones, as many restaurants, even ‘big name’ restaurants don’t have facilities in even the Women’s toilets, let alone the men’s.

IMG_7331

There is a gift shop for you to peruse and some nice grounds if you’d like a wander around.  When we got back on the train, there was a platter of crackers, cheese and tomato/cucumber waiting for us and about half-way back to the Palestine depot, they brought out a selection of muffins and cinnamon rolls.  Informing us that we could ‘pick two’ (and then offered us a cinnamon roll separate), Col had the blueberry muffin and the mini lemon and poppy seed muffin, I chose the banana nut muffin and a mini lemon and poppy seed and we picked up a cinnamon roll to share.  What we actually ate, on the other hand, was half the cinnamon roll, Lewis and I shared the mini muffin and Col had his mini muffin – so much food! (We bagged the two larger muffins to take home with us on our journey home).

The thing that surprised me on this journey, other than the food being really tasty (for some reason I always expect those type of things to be quite Ming), was the service, the servers on the train were exceptional – better than many of the restaurants I’ve been in lately.  They were friendly and warm, interested (mostly in Lewis, obviously!) but not imposing, efficient and generous (one lady even gave me some diet coke and offered more if/when I fancied it).  They definitely added to the whole experience and were full of smiles the whole time.

IMG_7358

We both loved this experience, it was romantic, fun, different and we got to see a part of Texas that, previously, had been uncharted for us, and the train was pretty damn cool – I won some serious wifey points to boot.

Their 2015 calendar includes a romantic Valentine’s night dinner and an Easter train ride – both of which sound fun.  If Lewis was a little older, we’d take him on the Polar Express Christmas train ride for sure!

Y’all should check this train out, really – it’s worth it!!

IMG_7320

Five museums for five bucks in Houston, Part III: Houston Fire Museum

IMG_3955

This ain’t our first rodeo (or, fire museum), in fact, we’ve been to at least TWO other fire museums on our various travels, in much smaller cities than Houston.  We have put off going to the Houston Fire Museum (Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4pm Adults $5, children $3) a number of times, just to make sure we left enough time for this place – but we really didn’t have to do that at all.

IMG_3961

What a disappointment.  We barely spent thirty minutes here.  UGH! For such a major city in the USA, we expected something a little more grand than a two-room museum with only two engines to look at.  My ‘147 Fun Things to Do in Houston’ book says that this place has a large collection of artifacts to look at, either the author has a poor definition of large, or they never visited this museum.  It was a poor reflection of Fire memorabilia, and we both left deflated.

IMG_3971

It was the first, paid Fire House in Houston, the Fire House itself is small, so they built an extension (also small) and they have a room set aside for kids parties (of which there seemed to be a hundred under one roof today, there were kids everywhere and it was louuuuud!)

IMG_3990

There really wasn’t a lot to look at, upstairs, the AC unit was leaking on the floor as a result of some storm damage.  There were a few glass cases up there, with some memorabilia throughout the decades which was interesting to look at, but we really expected more.

IMG_4018

This is the first $5 museum where I felt like I got short changed.  I don’t think it was quite worth the entrance fee.  They had some cool T-shirts and kitsch on sale, but unfortunately, I can’t recommend the Houston Fire Museum as something to do on a rainy afternoon in H-town, as it just doesn’t have the substance!

IMG_4015

Things to do in Houston: Art Car Museum (free)

IMG_0821

“Get into the left lane and aim high, but keep one eye on the rear view mirror for the black and whites. Art cars are a grass roots movement. Change your vehicle, improve it, personalize it and make your own statement with it so that you can once again become one with it. Art cars are an expression of your freedom and above all, of the God-given American right to be yourself and flaunt it on the highways and byways of America.”

IMG_0877

We have been meaning to check out the ‘garage mahal’ for almost the whole time we’ve lived here – I kid you not.  However, it’s in that ‘trendy’ part of town that the hubby deems to cool for him to frequent (LOL!) where the roads are crap and parking is crappier.

IMG_0822

That said, when my girlfriend Courtney came to town in August, I wanted to take her along to have a nosy – it’s a free, quirky and kitschy thing to do here in Houston, and, my ‘147 Things to do in Houston’ book, has it listed – I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of milk, but, go check out this museum.  DO IT!

“But Las!” I hear you cry, “What IS an art car?”

From their website: An art car is a motor-driven vehicle which a car artist alters in such a way as to suit his own aesthetic. In other words, the artist either adds or subtracts materials of his own choosing to or from the factory model or he may renovate an earlier model to revive a beauty and stlyle that once was. The result is a vehicle which conveys new meaning through design, mechanical or structural changes, renovation, and/or the addition of new images, symbols or collage elements.

IMG_0856

The content and meaning of these changes vary with each art car and may express either political, social, personal or purely decorative objectives. All art cars are subversive and have in common the transformation of the vehicle from a factory-made commodity into a personal statement or expression.

IMG_0861

It’s not a phenomenon that is specific to the USA, art cars can be found all over the world.  But, every month, right here in Houston, four or five of these amazing artistic creations can be found, right here at the Art Car museum.  The cars on display change each month, and, once a year – they have a huge parade, where the cars are driven around the streets of Houston.

IMG_0843

Before you get to the cars on display, there’s a couple of small art exhibits for you to ponder.  I’m not sure if these change too, but they were definitely worth a glance.

IMG_0841

“Often considered the ‘Art Car Capital’, Houston has the largest number of art cars of any city. Art cars are fine art essentially free of the conventions and contradictions of the marketplace and the art world. The Museum’s distinctive scrap metal and chrome exterior was created by car artist David Best and provides an imaginative indication of the extraordinary constructions to be found inside.   The museum’s goal is to encourage the public’s awareness of the cultural, political, economic and personal dimensions of art.”

Art Car Museum Information

HOURS: OPEN: Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm CLOSED: Monday & Tuesday Admission is always free.

Things to do in Houston: Museum of Printing History (free)

IMG_5542Another unusal and ‘off the wall’ museum that we dug out in the depths of Houston’s recesses, The Printing Museum.  This was one of the museums listed on my ‘free stuff to do in Houston’ list and it piqued my husbands interest, in particular.  It wasn’t hugely far away for us to get to, it has ample parking, it’s not a huge place – so you’re not spending hours and hours here, but it’s definitely interesting, it’s indoors, air conditioned and somewhere neat to spend an hour or so out of the Texas heat and learn a little about Printing history at the same time.

IMG_5624

From their website: As far as their permanent exhibit goes, the Museum of Printing History narrates the story of written communication and the ways in which the technologies of printing have transformed our lives.  Their galleries trace significant developments from ancient Mesopotamian clay tablets, to the Chinese invention of movable type, to Johann Gutenberg’s printing press.  American history is dramatized through newspaper accounts of major events from the American Revolution to the Civil War; Texas history is told through the life of the state’s first printer, with a press he owned and a display of the documents and newspapers he printed.  The Hearst Newspaper Gallery demonstrates the emergence of modern printing, and our exhibit of historic newspapers documents pivotal moments in recent history.

IMG_5617

The Museum features artifacts such as:

Mesopotamian Cylinder Seals

Ancient Papyrus Fragments

Asian Movable Type & early Asian Printing

Illuminated Manuscripts

1450 Gutenberg Press Replica

Old Master Etchings & Engravings

Ben Franklin’s “Pennsylvania Gazette”

Historical Newspapers

Documents printed by Samuel Bangs, first printer in Texas, with one of his presses

1830 Star-wheel Oak Lithography Press Letterpress & Type Collection Antique Bookbinding Equipment

Aside from the Printing machinery and exhibits, they also show other, various art exhibits in the building as well.  When we visited, they had a number of exhibits for us to ponder, Col, in particular, liked this one by Russell Maret.

Russell Maret: Interstices and Intersections or, An Autodidact Comprehends a Cube

The latest fine press publication by New York City-based artist Russell Maret. Comprised of the artist’s notes, sketches, watercolors, proof prints, in addition to tools used in contemporary letterpress printing practices, this exhibition illustrates the creative process of producing a hand-printed, hand-bound edition from sketch to completion. (June 26, 2014 – September 20, 2014)

They also host educational and entertaining programs, lectures, and special events, as well as offering up a substantial function room for hire, for various events – like I said, this is a neat little place that most people have never heard of in Houston!

Museum info:

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M.

Admission is free for self-guided tours. For a guided tour, the fee is $7 for adults, $3 for students, and $5 for seniors.

Parking Two Museum parking lots hold a capacity of approximately 50 cars. Additional free street parking is also available.

Wheelchair Access The building and facilities are wheelchair accessible.

Baby shower tray bake recipes

A few of my friends have asked me about the sweet treats that were available at Joanne’s baby shower a while back.  Well, please find below, the recipes we used to bring you those delicious sweet snacks – so you can make them at home yourself!

If you add anything to them or tweak the recipe, let me know – I love hearing alternate versions of recipes!

Butterfinger squares

IMG_3822

Ingredients:

  • 100g butter
  • 400g  milk chocolate (I used Cadbury’s Dairy Milk)
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 200g digestive biscuits/Schar shortbread cookies – crushed
  • 1 ‘pouch’ of Butterfinger mini bites crushed (keep aside a little for the topping)

Method

Melt together the milk chocolate, butter and golden syrup
Mix in the crushed biscuits and butterfingers and stir well
Spread out in a pan and compact the mixture
Sprinkle the kept aside crushed Butterfingers over the top of the chocolate – pushing gently into the mix
Leave to firm up in the fridge for a couple of hours and slice in to portions.

Reeses peanut butter cup squares

IMG_3819

Ingredients:

  • 100g butter
  • 400g dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli’s)
  • 6 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2-3 cups gluten free rice krispies
  • 1 pouch of Reeses peanut butter minis cut in quarters (keep aside some to sprinkle on top)

Method

Melt together the milk chocolate, butter and golden syrup
Mix in the rice krispies and peanut butter minis and stir well
Spread out in a pan and compact the mixture
Sprinkle the kept aside peanut butter minis over the top of the chocolate – pushing gently into the mix
Leave to firm up in the fridge for a couple of hours and slice in to portions.

Biscuit cake

IMG_3842

Ingredients

  • 285 g half dark chocolate half milk chocolate (melted)
  • 1 tin of condensed milk
  • 225 g unsalted butter (1 packet, melted)
  • 500 g digestive biscuits
  • 300 g rich tea biscuits
  • 4 crunchie bars
  • 1 packet of mini marshmallows

Method

  • Put the biscuits and crunchie bars into a freezer bag, or between two pieces of cling film and using a rolling pin roughly crush. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use an unopened tin of baked beans, tomatoes etc.
  • Pour the crumbs into a bowl and mix in the mini marshmallows. Stir in melted butter and then the condensed milk. Mix well and then add the melted chocolate.
  • Line a 13inch Deep roasting tin or a 9inch Square with cling film. Spoon the biscuit mixture into the tin and flatten with the back of a spoon. Place the cake in the fridge for 24 hours to set.

Coconut jam slice

IMG_3843

Ingredients

1.5 cups plain flour (I used GF flour)
160g butter
0.5 cup icing sugar sifted
0.3 cup jam (I used raspberry)
2 eggs
0.3 cup caster sugar
2 cups desiccated coconut

Method

Preheat oven 180oc/360of
Line 16x26cm pan with baking paper
Process flour, butter & icing sugar in a food processor until mixture come together. Press into pan. Bake for 15 mins until golden. Cool for 5 mins.
Spread jam over base. Put eggs and sugar in a bowl, then whisk together until smooth. Stir in coconut. Place & spread coconut mixture evenly over the jam. Bake for 20 mins, allow to cool and cut into squares.

The other tray bake at the baby shower came from previous Irish tray bake recipes.  Caramel squares – yum!

Gluten Free Northern Irish traybakes part II…

It hasn’t been all that long since round I of our mostly-no-bake-tray-bake morning (round I can be found here), but with Jr on the way, we wanted to squeeze another morning in before he makes his grand appearance. You’ll quickly learn that pretty much ALL tray bakes in Northern Ireland are called ‘buns’, Malteser buns, cornflake buns, wee buns, big buns – they’re all buns.

I’ve already started to cobble together a bunch of ideas for the next round, but I think we’re getting towards the ‘bottom of the barrel’ with the no-bake stuff, so we may have to start branching out in to the baked-goods before long.

I love these mornings, you turn up with ingredients for one dish, go home with samples of four – hubby is happy, you’re happy, and you do 1/4 of the work to get the results – genius!

Alison was our host this time around and she made us some delicious homemade soup and wheaten bread to bring us home to our roots for lunch – it was delicious – and I’ve already requested the recipe so I can recreate it in my kitchen and further indulge in the taste of home.

Meanwhile, here are the recipes we used for our delicious no-bake or part-bake tray bakes this time around.

Cornflake buns

IMG_8557

This time we each picked a recipe to make and brought the ingredients for our specific recipe.  I chose to do a Cornflake tart (as it’s seemingly known online) but, for those of us who had it for school dinners in our youth, it’s affectionately known as a ‘cornflake bun’ (isn’t everything that has cornflakes in it?!) In school this was often served with custard, or, sometimes, just a wee glass bottle of ice cold milk. It’s easy to make – it doesn’t have a complicated recipe or a whole bunch of ingredients – and it’s pretty damn tasty if I do say so myself!

For the gluten free shortbread base, my friend Alison gave me a fool-proof recipe, and for the topping part, I used a recipe from a blog I found online called Pudbakes, but I made a gluten free version, and have some comments about quantities that y’all should hear.

Shortbread Recipe: 100g butter/margarine (room temp) 50g sugar 175g flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill GF flour)

Method Beat together butter and sugar, stir in flour and mix into a firm dough – I added a tbsp. of water to bind it together a little as it was all a bit dry and flaky at first.

Press into the base of a well-greased cake tin (8×8 or 9×9 would do for one batch of this dough). Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 20-25mins until it turns a pale golden brown colour.

Filling recipe: 175g seedless raspberry jam 55g butter/margarine 55g caster sugar 25g golden syrup 175g cornflakes (I used gluten free cornflakes)

Please note:  I was NOT happy with these quantities, there was not enough ‘sauce’ to bind together the cornflakes.  In doing this recipe again, I would half the ‘sauce’ part of the recipe again and make 1.5-2 times the sauce, as the cornflakes are supposed to bind together well and not fall apart when you cut/touch them.

Method Spread the jam on top of the shortbread. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup. Mix in the cornflakes. Spread this mixture on top of the jam and leave to cool.

 Mars bar buns

dsc_04111

Ingredients

4 regular sized Mars bars
2 tbsps. of golden syrup
85g butter
3-4 cups rice krispies (enough to be coated in mix, but not too dry) These come in a GF version here too if you’re interested in making a GF recipe!
250g milk chocolate
Method
1. Melt together the Mars bars, golden syrup and butter in a double boiler/bowl over a pot of boiling water.
2. Mix in the rice krispies until well combined. Spread mix into an 8″ x 8″ baking tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Melt the chocolate. Spread over the krispie mix and leave it back in the fridge for 30 minutes until set.
4. Remove from the fridge and cut into squares
Please note:  I think the cutting in these recipes, should probably be done at room temp – we had quite a giggle trying to get the knife through the fridge-cold tray bakes!
Fifteens
DSC_0154
These things are a Northern Irish ‘delicacy’, they’re not an Irish thing, not a British thing, but are very specific to the North.  They sound very bizarre, and I’ve found a ‘variation’ on them that I want to try next time as I don’t like glacee cherries – but the husband loves these treats no end!
Ingredients
15 digestive biscuits/Schar gluten free HoneyGrams – crushed/blitzed into crumbs
15 marshmallows (at home they are ‘pink and white’) – cut into 4 or 6 pieces each
15 glacee cherries – cut into 4
15 walnuts (optional) – roughly chopped
1 small can of condensed milk
Desiccated coconut (for rolling)
Method
Mix together all dry ingredients except the coconut.
Stir in enough condensed milk to bind everything together – without being too wet or sloppy.
Make ‘dough’ in to a roll shape and roll in desiccated coconut to coat.
Place in fridge to set (around 30 mins) and cut in to slices.

Florentines

Florentines: bottom left!

Florentines: bottom left!

Florentines Base: 8oz digestive biscuits (crushed), 4oz margarine, 1oz brown sugar.

Topping: 4oz walnuts, 4oz cherries, 2oz almonds , small tin of condensed milk.

Melt margarine, add crushed biscuits and sugar. Press into a Swiss roll tin. Chop nuts and cherries and spread over the base. Pour tin of milk over the top and bake for 20 mins @ 180 oC.

When cold cut into squares.

 

A pleasantly surprising discovery – Beaumont, Texas.

When hubby announced to me last Wednesday that we were going away for the weekend for my birthday celebration, I was *almost* disappointed.  We can’t fly, can’t sail and can’t endure long car rides (especially since my chest pains arrived a couple weeks ago), so that leaves short-car trips.  One would assume San Antonio or Austin.

While I do enjoy both of these cities, (scrambling to sound less of an ungrateful mare) we favour trying somewhere new when we travel.  I should have had more faith in my wonderfully curious, explorer-husband, because he did in fact stick to our preference of trying out somewhere new, and his description of our weekend was, and I quote, ‘a gamble’.

Hmmm.  He told me the night before we left, where we were going, Beaumont, Texas – a city around an hour and forty minutes from us in Missouri City, so closer still than San Antonio or Austin (bonus points for a shorter-than-expected car journey!) and that we were going to take in a show, the Blue Man Group.  I can’t/won’t tell you too much about the show, mostly because I’m not sure that it’s something words do justice to, so, instead, I’ll tell you it’s musical, it’s visually stimulating, it’s hilarious and to go and see it, if you have the opportunity – you won’t regret it.  My mind was BLOWN.

Why bother with Beaumont?

IMG_8175

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beaumont to be honest, I’d only ever considered it as a venue for concerts by people who didn’t make it to Houston – but had never considered it as being in our ‘somewhere to go’ catalogue.

Beaumont is probably most famous as being an old oil ‘boomtown’, in 1900, the Lucas gusher blew, putting Beaumont on the map for being the home of the greatest oil well in history.  It’s success lasted around a decade, at the end of which, the oil well was drained dry, Gladys city was a ghost town of wooden shacks and all that was left, was the memory of the Lucas gusher.

First things first, this IS a manageable day-trip from the greater Houston area, that said, Beaumont, in whatever wacky wisdom they believe to work for their city, close a lot of the tourist attractions on the weekend – two days of the when, in my opinion, would be the most beneficial time to keep the places open for tourists.  That, or they open at odd hours, or request you book appointments in advance.  But, what do I know? I’m just a tourist, right?

What did we do?

We arrived on Friday afternoon, had lunch, did a spot of shopping (just in Target) and hit up the Blue Man Group in the Julie Rogers Theatre – a beautiful theatre, if you have a chance to see something here, do it.  Parking was free at the back of the theatre, it’s a great size, not too big, not too small, acoustics are good and the décor is absolutely beautiful!

Fire Museum of Texas

IMG_8202

Saturday morning we hit up the Fire Museum of Texas – and quickly discovered, that it was closed (BOOO!) But, thankfully, the worlds largest functioning fire hydrant wasn’t inside, so we had a walk around the grounds and took some fun pictures of the HUGE hydrant painted like a cow.

IMG_8264

Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum.

IMG_8204

Once we were done taking pictures in the sunshine, we headed out to the   A reconstruction of the old Gladys City from back in the days of the Lucas Gusher.  It was a very interesting museum, you move from building to building around the town, learning what life was like back in 1900, when the gusher blew and tens of thousands of oil-folk flocked to the city.

IMG_8226

Also you have model Spindle Tops, a gift shop, and, if you are so inclined, a function room that can hold up to 75 people – we spent just over an hour here at this museum and there was a lot of open space for kid-lets to run around and wear themselves out!

IMG_8203

This museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Sunday, 1-5 p.m. (last admission at 4:20 p.m.) Closed most Mondays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Information: 409-880-1750 or gladyscityinfo@gmail.com and parking is free.
IMG_8249
Being married to a guy who works in the oil and gas industry, a visit to the Texas Energy Museum was pretty much, unavoidable.  Full of interactive, educational exhibits on how oil is drilled for, processed and what it is used for, this place was quite fun.  That said, it wasn’t as extensive as I expected, and we probably were in and out in about an hour to an hour and a half.
IMG_8260
It still focuses a lot on the Lucas Gusher and the boom in Beaumont, but I feel they could have done a lot more to encompass the actual oil process.  It was definitely worth the entry fee and I think it would be particularly interesting for kids of people in the oil services industry, to learn what mum or dad’s company does.  Plus they’ll all enjoy pushing the buttons – right?! 🙂

Free parking adjacent to the Museum (always a bonus) and open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 1pm to 5pm.  Adults pay $5, children over 5yrs old and seniors pay $3.

Notable mention: Raos Bakery

We went here, under the false pretenses of lunch.  Trip advisor and Yelp said they did sandwiches, paninis and soup – as it turned out, they were all pre-packaged and didn’t look overly appetizing at all.

IMG_8243

That said, this place is a bakery, so the sweet counter got our attention in an instant.  As it was valentines weekend, they had a lot of both Valentine’s themed goodies, as well as some King’s Cakes on hand for the upcoming Mardi Gras celebrations.  We opted for the last Napoleon that was on the shelf.  Mostly because it looked like this:

IMG_8245Sweet Lord above we died and went to heaven.  Puff pastry, sweet cream and strawberries – simple, but so totally delicious (and very unladylike to eat!!) – and their chocolate dipped strawberries were fantastic too.

If you fancy a coffee and a treat, go here.  You won’t be disappointed!

Where did we stay?

Probably the newest (at the time I’m writing this, Feb 2014) hotel in the Beaumont area and one of the nicest ‘budget’ hotels I’ve been to in a loooooong time.  The Holiday Inn Express.  It came very highly rated on Yelp and Trip Advisor and hubby got a good deal on a room (around $85 a night).  For that, you get free internet (which worked pretty well for hotel internet), free breakfast (again, surprisingly good considering most hotel breakfasts – my favorite was the industrial pancake making machine and I left wanting Col to buy me one for Christmas!) free parking, close access to all of the attractions in Beaumont.

The room also had a fridge (which worked better than our own at home), a microwave (which was ace since hubby brought along some popcorn to pop – just in case!) and a decent sized bathroom.  The pool was an outside pool, which, normally wouldn’t bother us in February in Texas, but after our freakishly cold winter this year, the pool was left empty for the weekend, which was a shame.

I can’t recommend this hotel enough, we got great sleep (with a hot water bottle for a husband, a good AC unit is of paramount importance), it was quiet, we were able to watch the Winter Olympics on the flat screen and the staff were lovely and friendly.

What else can you do in Beaumont?

Here is a couple of places we couldn’t make work, due to timing, but would have interested us, had they been open over the weekend.

Places like the Beaumont Police Department Museum is free to visit, but is only open on weekdays and viewable by appointment only (call 409-880-3825).

The Fire Museum of Texas, was somewhere we were DYING to go see (we love going to see local fire museums), but, again, it’s not open on weekends (unless by special appointment).  Another free institution to go and visit (Beaumont is a really GREAT city for free museums!!) this museum is open Monday to Friday 8am to 4.30pm and ranks as the #1 attraction to visit in Beaumont.  We are sad to have missed out!

Thomas Edison plaza museum, is another free-to-visit place to drop in on your day/short trip visit to Beaumont, and, as of June 2013, they are open Tuesday through Friday 9am-2pm and Saturdays 10am-2pm and reviewers say to allow yourself an hour to an hour and a half to enjoy this small museum.

Clifton Steamboat museum, this museum (and accompanying tug-boat) doesn’t even appear on Trip Advisor’s list of things to do in the city of Beaumont – so I didn’t know about it’s existence until I got home – a little too late, right?  It is open by appointment only, costs $5 per adult, $4 per child and is free for children under 5 years old.

Road Trip! Springfield, Illinois

Did you know that Chicago is NOT actually the State Capitol of Illinois? Well, as it turned out, our brief trip through Springfield, Illinois, was the most surprising and, in many ways, most enjoyable.  Being poly-sci geeks it wasn’t too difficult, this place is coming down with politics and history and is well worth the visit, even just for a day trip!

What to do in Springfield?

Well, it’s mostly a city paying homage to this dude…

1380575_10153348458445411_355531634_n

…honest Abe.  Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States.  And very worthy homage it is, he was a great man – a very interesting man – and this city, by extension, is a very interesting city.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

1385641_10153348457515411_1432279941_n

Website: http://www.illinois.gov/alplm/Pages/default.aspx

Cost: $12

Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM DAILY

This is not my first presidential library, but by George, it was my favourite! It was moving, inspiring, educational and fun.  There wasn’t too much going on, it wasn’t heavy and boring and I feel like I got a real insight into this legendary president.

The exhibitions are thought provoking and much of what you see/read is still largely applicable to today.  There are 4 main exhibition ‘halls’ and they are all separate, yet intertwined at the same time.

Lincoln tomb and war memorial

1395854_10153348467150411_764062382_n

Website: www.lincolntomb.org/

Cost: Free

Hours: www.lincolntomb.org/tomb_directions.php

When my friend said ‘visit the tomb’, I thought she meant go to the grounds and have a walk around.  I had no idea that you could go inside, walk around, see sculptures, read about the legend, take pictures, see his actual tomb – it’s amazing, it’s awe-inspiring, it gave me goosebumps.

1395287_10153348472555411_317679464_n

It’s free, so that’s good, though there should be big collection boxes everywhere cause it’s awesome in the true sense of the word.  I told my hubby I wanted a tomb just like that when I die, he just laughed at me.  I’m serious, it’s epic.  GO!

Illinios State Capitol Building

1395977_10153348465395411_2068728093_n

Website: http://www.ilstatehouse.com/

Cost: Free

I LOVED the IL state capitol, it was definitely one of my favourites!  There’s lots to look at, both inside and outside the building, lots of interesting statues, exhibitions, information – we spent a while here and took tonnes of pictures.  They have a cool map that lists all of the points of interest, inside the building and on the surrounding grounds –

1378195_10153348466315411_1712528620_n

 Would you go back to Springfield, Illinois?

Had we more time, there was a never-ending list of places we’d have gone to visit, Lincoln’s home (national historic site), Old State Capitol building, Illinois State Museum, Illinois State Military museum, Camp Butler national cemetery, Shea’s Gas station museum and the Grand Army of the republic Memorial museum – were all on our ‘short list’ of places to try and squeeze in during our time there.

1378847_10153348456215411_1413349158_n

Aside from politics, our short trip to Springfield included a quick blurt down a section of Route 66 (which neither of us expected and we both thought was pretty cool), but Springfield also has a lot to offer for those non-politics people out there.  From shopping and art galleries, to tours and outdoor fun, I’m confident that should you find yourself, for whatever reason, in Springfield Illinois, you’ll find something fun to keep you occupied!

Road Trip! Memphis, Tennessee.

Let’s rewind a little (LOT) here, I have been so appallingly bad at keeping my blog up to date and I have a heaving pile of blog-post drafts in the recesses of the WordPress dashboard.  It was a New Years promise to myself, to sit and finish some of them and post them, cause otherwise what’s the point? I’ve had about fifteen unfinished blog-posts, just sitting there, doing nothing, when they obviously could have been out there, saving the world from bad restaurant experiences and helping with epic travel-plans.

In October, we embarked on our longest, ever road-trip, we took on a number of states, spending more time in some, than others.  And boy did we have a blast (so much so, that we’re planning another major road-trip for the near future)!!

Let me tell you about our fave places to eat, fave things to do and where we stayed in each of the cities that we pit-stopped in.  Just in case you have some time on your hands and fancy a wee jaunt into some of the neighbouring states.

Overview – Was Memphis worth the drive?

Heck yes! What a culturally rich city.  I am SO glad that we chose to hit-up Memphis on this trip.  If you like music (of any kind really) and you are interested in Black history (I.E seeing where MLK Jr was shot and killed, Civil Rights museums etc) don’t hesitate.  I think something that people don’t tend to thoroughly consider, is the depth of what Memphis has to offer.  They think Elvis, Graceland and that’s it.  But that’s NOT it.  Memphis really has something for everyone – and I’m pretty sure, we barely scratched the surface on our trip.

What to do in Memphis?

Sun Studios

993446_10153348309850411_1124769102_n

Website: www.sunstudio.com

Cost: $12pp

Hours: 10am-6pm daily

Parking: Free but limited.  Free shuttle that ferries between Graceland/Rock and Soul museum.

You look at the to-do list for Memphis TN and you see 3 music museums (Sun, Stax and Rock and Soul) and you think to your self, is it really worth it? Is there really that much ‘music stuff’ to look at? And the answer is yes.  Go to each of them, they are each fabulous, each of them are worth the entrance fee and each of them has a whole different mojo.

This place really is old – and you can tell, it’s creaky, it’s musty, corridors and stairwells are narrow, but know what else it is? It’s HISTORY and you can *feel* it as soon as you walk in.  The tour was 40 minutes, (our tour-guide, Rae was great, she was knowledgeable, fun, funny and a great storyteller).  plus the waiting time for your tour to start during busy periods (35 mins for us)  Parking is limited and to get in to the parking lot there’s a VERY narrow side-street to maneuver down, or you have to circle round, which may be easier.

Stop outside for a moment for a photo-op, you’re standing next to a major piece of history – don’t waste the opportunity!  While we waited for our tour to start, we ordered some drinks, since they didn’t have any diet drinks, I had a surprisingly delicious strawberry milkshake and hubby had a great root-beer float, pricing was great and the server was chatty and interesting while we waited.

It felt surreal to me, to imagine that people like Elvis and Johnny Cash stood in that room, recording their hits? That is nothing short of EPIC.  You also get to have your picture taken with one of the original five microphones used in ‘The era’ of recording, how awesome is that?!

1376559_10153348311910411_1703224614_n

1377269_10153348312155411_507307120_n

I was thrilled and amazed to hear that 4-5 times a week, in the evenings, this recording studio still records for modern artists – this is excellent, and now I’m curious to find out who still records here!

Stax museum of American Soul Music

9266_10153348300620411_866097685_n

Website: www.staxmuseum.com

Cost: $12pp

Hours: Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 1pm-5pm

Parking: Free and plentiful (they play music into the car park too)

This museum is one of the most interesting I have been to, a 20 minute short film about the history of Stax before you’re set loose in the main museum.  The movie is educational and moving, it also serves to help you realise that you’re a bigger fan of soul than you realise – cause you’re bopping away to songs you’ve known and loved for years.  I also never realised how racially integrated soul music was, call me ignorant, but I really learned a lot from both the film and the museum itself.  I found it all fascinating!

544107_10153348299915411_1787221598_n

It’s not in the best part of town, but, at the same time, it’s definitely worth the trip.  There’s a lot of loud exhibits, playing very close to one another, so the sound all kind of blurs together into, just, noise and it’s hard to separate, but it was nice to have a self guided tour and see everything as you like and take as much time on the exhibits as you’d like.

The disco ball spinning over a dance-floor with epic songs playing from re-runs of soul train? Dance.  You know you want to – plus, you can’t really help yourself, move your feet to the beat!

1379325_10153348297945411_880591361_n

The rotating Cadillac is fab, the fluffy extravagant exterior and the choons playing in that hall is pretty cool, I just wished I’d had something from Cee-Lo Green’s wardrobe on The Voice and I’d have felt right at home.  Excellent display – and hubby loves cars – so it was win-win!  Don’t ignore the gift shop, they have some cool things, I couldn’t justify the $60 on the throw, but I was so very tempted.  They also have a clearance table with good bargains!

This place is doing great things to preserve the history of soul music in the US, but also educating the future of soul music here too, with the academy next door.  You don’t need to love soul music to come here, just to love and appreciate music!

Rock and soul museum

601089_10153348300770411_92834110_n

Website: www.memphisrocknsoul.org

Cost: $11pp

Hours: Daily 10am – 7pm

Parking: A couple blocks away and relatively inexpensive

I think this was my favourite museum of the trip – and probably ranks very highly in my list of all-time faves, we parked in the parking garage next to the Peabody Hotel and walked the block or two to get to the museum.  I loved the self guided headphone tour, it was easy to use, type in the 3 digit numbers that are posted on exhibits and hit the play button – user friendly, good sound and plenty of information about each exhibit.

There’s a 12 minute introductory film to the museum, you will probably find yourself singing along with both the film and other patrons – like the Stax museum, you can’t help yourself! (or at least I couldn’t!)  A blend of country, gospel and blues music – who’d have thought such a fab sound would come of it?! LOL!

I, personally, favoured all of the juke boxes, I loved hearing the info about the machines themselves, and rockin’ out to some of the mu-sac as I looked at the exhibits (I must have listened to ‘Soul Man’ about 10 times, boppin’ every time!) the music is fab and you really could just spend a few hours playing all of the songs in the juke boxes.

1376559_10153348303545411_178801188_n

Lots to look at, lots to learn and a variety of artists whose music you’ve probably heard but you don’t necessarily know their names.  The rich complexity of music of this era and the tapestries and stories woven within the music is amazing and awe-inspiring.  At a time where many people were angry and hurt and scared, the music remained hopeful and less racial than one might think.  Definitely progressive for its time.  What an education in this place!

Put this museum top of your Memphis to-do list!

Graceland

1378886_10153348313290411_1304819953_n

Website: www.elvis.com/graceland

Cost: $40pp

Hours: www.elvis.com/graceland/tours/hours.aspx

Parking: $10

Disclaimer:  I appreciate his music and his achievements, but I’m not a pantie-throwing obsessive fan, so for me, this place was a must-see, but not a crying, screaming, worshiping kinda thing.

923030_10153348313915411_718389866_n

As far as the recorded tour guide goes – with SO much information to remember about Elvis, I’m kinda glad it’s all recorded and you can listen at your own speed and it’s not on some poor tour guide to remember it all and recite to you.

The ticket price is high, but for my hubby and I, worth it.  We went off-peak (October) and still had to stand in a 30-45 minute line, and it was hot and sunny outside – I’ve no idea how people can do that in August, I imagine the top-price tickets are worth it for the front of the line pass alone!

1380394_10153348320580411_1374745856_n

We went with mid-priced tickets, we got to see the main attractions plus the Lisa Marie airplane, Elvis’ car collection – this was one of my favourite exhibits!!!! As well as a smattering of other minor exhibits that we skipped as they didn’t really rope us in.

1380515_10153348322455411_1094555873_n

I loved his house and grounds, modest, but at the time I imagine it was the one everyone wanted.  The decor is what you think would be iconically Elvis (esp the room with the waterfall in it).

Railroad and Trolley museum

529387_10153348323680411_1430385041_n

Website: www.mrtm.org

Cost: $3pp

Hours: 9am-5pm Friday and Saturday, Noon – 5pm Sun.

Parking: Street-side, free.

It’s worth the entry fee at twice the price, there’s so much to see, lots of interactive exhibits (SOS, lights, children’s display).  When this place expands out back, it’ll be even better.  Hubby and I spent ages here, the staff were both lovely and friendly, they were knowledgeable about trains and the locale, they gave us suggestions for food and places to visit in town.

1384088_10153348323780411_493319476_n

Time well spent!

Where to eat in Memphis?

We weren’t hugely overwhelmed by our culinary experiences in Memphis, the BBQ we had was disappointing and we ate in some nation-wide chains that weren’t worth remarking on, cause you can go to them at home.  This place, however? This place was worth mentioning to y’all!

1381483_10153348296005411_1656140662_n

Brother Junipers: Hours: Tue-Fri 6:30 am – 1 pm, Sat 7 am – 12:30 pm, Sun 8 am – 1 pm Website: www.brotherjunipers.com

We were quoted a 40 minute wait, the waiting area was packed and most people were standing.  They were, however, selling coffee while we waited which made the wait go easier for many, and our wait time was actually 25 minutes.

This place is solely a breakfast place, so when I saw a gyro on the menu, I was immediately sold – I’m not a huge fan of breakfast food, especially here in the USA – I don’t tend to like their breakfast meat and that leaves eggs, which I seem to have an aversion to since I got pregnant.  I ordered the gyro with breakfast potatoes – and it was absolutely delicious.  The feta was strong, salty and tasty, they gave me slightly too much spinach and not enough meat, but the pita was delicious and the breakfast potatoes, in spite of the generous portion, just weren’t enough – I could have eaten those bad boys all day!!!

Delish!

Hubby had a more traditional (translation: boring) breakfast, mushroom, cheese and chorizo omlette with breakfast potatoes and he was extremely happy with his food too.

The atmosphere was buzzing, the staff were friendly, service was quick, food was hot and excellent and it was definitely worth the money and the wait – if you’re in the area, go visit this place.  The only downside is the difficulty of parking, otherwise this place is seriously a great find.