The yawning maw of summer holidays are nearly upon us and for those of us who are staying at home, there will be a pressing need to organise some sort of entertainment to combat the temptation of the Xbox, TV or laptop screen. Unless your surname is Abramovitch or Beckham it is more than likely that you’ll not have wads of cash to spend on this either and so we are going to feature a few inexpensive (or free) ideas for things to do that will take into account our inclement weather. Let us know if you do any of them- we’d love to see some photos! Here is number one-
The Teddy Bears Picnic
Rare is the house without a plethora of moth eaten (or newer) stuffed toys and if they were anything like ours, a good airing in the garden or park will do them the world of good. A Teddy Bears Picnic is an enchanting thing to do that need involve nothing more than eating your lunch outside whilst sitting on a tablecloth or can become a more organised event. Call a few friends with children or involve the wider family- invite Grandparents, aunts and uncles on a weekend picnic to a local beauty spot or park and get playing some ball games or have a communal story session after the children have eaten their fill.
Cookie cutters in the shape of teddy bears can be found in many local kitchen ware shops (try Steamer Trading in Bury St Edmunds) and can be used to cut out sandwich shapes as well as the afore mentioned cookies. Nigella’s cut out cookie recipe is the best we’ve found for cookies that don’t spread and lose their shape. Ice them by dotting on eyes, a nose or go the whole hog and decorate with full icing ‘outfit’.
Bear related food will, of course, include honey and we suggest using this as a flavouring or sweetener in cookies, as a sandwich ingredient or in a packet of honeycomb if you don’t mind your children having sweets. Punnets of mixed berries or muffins with blueberries are another bear friendly favourite as are salmon sandwiches or a tub of flaked salmon with salad. Get them watching videos of Grizzlies fishing for salmon in the Yukon, an amazing sight and tell them how salmon will make them as strong and healthy as a bear with glossy, luxuriant fur (hair!). Aldi sells packets of six salmon fillets for £3- they taste absolutely fine and one fillet will stretch to feed two toddlers with bread and salad. Honey and lemon chicken is a great finger food and the marinade can be used on Quorn fillets or sausages for vegetarians too. And how can we forget the legendary Pom Bears– Mumsnet icon and meltingly gorgeous? If you are near the Pump Street Bakery in Orford., they bake and sell Bears Claws- Croissant dough folded over a light almond frangipane (almond paste and pastry cream) and dusted with icing sugar. The claw name comes from the slashes made around their curved ends and these lovelies are big enough to feed three young children!
A Teddy Bears Picnic can be at any time of the day and if the forecast shows a sunny start to the next day then how about a Teddy Bears breakfast? This is where you can really use that Paddington/honey theme with these super cute bear shaped pancakes (use a cutter to cut out the shapes after cooking them) or cut out the shapes from ready made Scotch Pancakes.
The one pictured here has blueberries for eyes and a chocolate chip nose but you could use all manner of fresh or dried fruit to personalise plus a little warmed honey to drizzle over. Again, there are many great recipes for syrups- Nigella’s Blueberry is totally over the top, insanely sweet but delicious and you simply combine 2 cups of blueberries, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into a medium pan, bring to the boil then simmer until most of the berries have burst- around eight to ten minutes. Pour into a jug and serve. Nigella also has a foolproof recipe for home made pancakes that stay firm enough to cut into all manner of shapes and being made with vanilla scented sugar, can have the amount of total sugar reduced, vanilla being fragrant enough to combat this.
Suitable stories? The classic ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen is super appropriate, especially if you are in a wood or park which allows for your own fantasy bearhunt afterwards. Hide a teddy bear nearby, ask children to go hunt for it, even write out some trail clues beforehand or build little stone cairns along the path for them to follow. Lucy Coats of the Guardian has a great list of literary bears here including ‘Where’s my Teddy?’ by Jez Allborough, another story of a lost teddy that can inspire some healthy exercise through bear hunting in the great outdoors.
Often you will find that the picnic, a story and a play outside will be enough for most children (and you!) however if you want to turn it into more of a day or even a birthday party then we have some simple ideas to jazz things up with decorations and games. Continuing the Bears love Berries theme, why not decorate plain paper plates and napkins with a blueberry pattern?
Simply dip an intact wine cork (we are sure you’ll have plenty of those lying around during the long summer break!) in a blue/purple non toxic paint then press firmly onto the paper surface. Cut another wine cork in half lengthways to make a half moon shape and dip the tapered end of this into green paint to make the leaf shapes. Cluster them in pretty clumps to make them look more natural. The dimpled ‘crosses’ on the print made by the stalk of the blueberry can be simulated by gouging out a cross shape relief onto the cork end but we don’t bother. Three year olds tend not to notice such slacking off. Alternatively you can cheat and buy a stamp from one of the many great craft shops in Norfolk and Suffolk- get a teddy bear one too and go crazy decorating every surface including the kids cheeks- a cute little teddy bear stamped onto arms or cheeks as ‘admission’ to the picnic is fun.
For games we like ones which a) tire them out mentally or b) tire them out physically and our golden rule is to ensure that each game does one or the other. This is our magic formula for avoiding tears and cries of “It’s too hard!”. Using blueberries in a game of skill is funny and not messy because these robust little berries will stand up to a gentle ‘throw the berry into the bears mouth’ game.
Should you prefer, you can buy glittery tiny pompoms like the ones in our photo from craft shops, toy shops and many newsagents. Simply cut out a large bears head from brown card, draw on the facial features and then cut out a large mouth through which the berries/pompoms are thrown. Remember to include a flap at the bottom of the bear head which can be bent back to form a stable base. We find that weighting the base down with some stones will keep it upright when your five year old is pelting it with all his might. Doing the throwing sitting down on the picnic cloth if you use berries will help in corralling them and avoid a half hour combing of the surrounding grass for any errant ones.
A friend of ours had great success with a ‘Build a Bear Cave’ activity when her child became fascinated by the famous John Lewis Christmas advert featuring a hibernating bear. Again ,this can be as simple of complex as your imagination, time and age level of the child. You will need a decent sized cardboard box or any other receptacle with space to place a teddy bear or plastic model bear. Get the kids watching documentaries on bear hibernation (and look out for the upcoming Disney documentary release ‘Bears’ due for release soon which is child appropriate) and let this inform how they prepare the cave for their bear. Grass clippings, soft fluff, pine needles; twigs, moss and sawdust; pebbles, stones and feathers are all nesting material a bear would gather and line his nest with and most of these are easily found by children either in their own garden or on walks. They could even gather the materials on their Teddy Bears Picnic then take them home to prepare their bear cave later on in the day. The cave can then stay in their room or a sheltered part of the garden although if you choose the latter, a plastic model of a bear might help avoid a very mildewed teddy emerging from his hibernation next spring.
Another game that uses knowledge of bears to good effect is ‘Guess the scent’. Children will learn that bears have a keen sense of smell and are always interested when they learn that all food must be bagged and stored up high away from both the nose and reach of wild bears when they are camping or live in bear areas. Use this to engage them by cutting out some bear shapes from medium grade sandpaper which retains scent well and doesn’t get soggy (use a downloadable template) then rubbing each one in a distinctive smell- we suggest lemon, cinnamon, vinegar, garlic, orange, onion, vanilla, ginger, a perfume you wear a lot, babywipes….
Are you in the mood for messy games? If so the ‘Gummy Bear Race’ is brilliant fun for older kids although not advisable for the hottest of days or public places! The cream gets very stinky in the heat as do the clothing and hair it gets all over, so save this one for the end of the day then send them all up for a shower. You will need one paper plate and gummy bear per child- place a sweet on each plate, cover in piles of squirty whipped cream, tie their hands behind their backs then on the ‘go’ signal, the first child to retrieve the gummy bear with his teeth wins. Played in relays of two children per heat at larger parties, this never fails to make them laugh.
For little ones who love mime and the physicality of dance and drama, the ‘Walk Like a Bear’ game is perfect. Using music, get the children to dance like: Big bears, little bears, tired bears, happy bears, scared bears, etc and make it more interesting by choosing music based on the movement you’d like. Then get them walking like a bear-
• Papa bear takes big steps
• Mama bear takes medium steps
• Baby bear takes baby steps
• Brother bear hops on both feet
• Sister bear hops on one foot
• Polar Bear walks on all fours
And finally for you when the rugrats have gone to bed, we have some bear themed cocktails to sit outside with and watch the sun go down. These might have some appallingly twee names but their effects are decidedly grown up.
The Teddy Bear’Tini
Made in a martini glass, this doesn’t use the most everyday of alcoholic ingredients but we had to include it. We suggest a phone call to one of the many excellent wine and spirit retailers in East Anglia and if they cannot come up with the good, Gerry;s of Soho will always have what you need. Simply shake one and a half shots of Pear Liqueur, three quarters of a shot of apple Schnapps, one and a half shots of apple juice and one pinch of cinnamon with ice, strain and pour into your martini glass.
Who loves black cherries? Bears! And this Black Bear cocktail is in their honour.
This cocktail is a mojito spin off. Always pronounce it mo-jit-to and if someone corrects you, tell them that pronouncing the word ‘mo-hee-to’ was a PR ploy pumped up by the liquor companies to make this drink, originally made in Ohio, sound exotic. If they look it up on their phone and start to tell you otherwise, point over their shoulder and shout, “BEAR! EVERYBODY PANIC!” Then make a run for it.
For one cocktail:Mix two parts rum, one part St. Germain and one part black cherry juice. Squeeze one half of a lime into the drink, add a few cherries and muddle them a bit, then add a few leaves of chopped mint. Stir well and add then add ice.
For a larger batch:Mix two parts rum, one part St. Germain and one part black cherry juice. Add your pitted cherries to your vessel of choice so they cover the bottom and come up couple inches. Add fresh lime to taste and serve the ice on the side as not to water this baby down. If serving this on a hot summer day it is nice to add some chilled seltzer as well.
To make the Polar Bear, simply fill a mixing glass with ice cubes then add 2 shots of Bourbon, 1 shot of cherry liqueur, one shot of white creme de menthe and one Maraschino cherry. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with another cherry.
The Ice Bear– Take one shot of cognac, one shot of light rum and a shot of Kahlua. Fill a shaker with ice, add all the ingredients, shake, strain and pour into a drinking glass.
The White Gummy Bear (a name so bad the inceptors need jailing) – Take an ounce of raspberry or pear vodka, an ounce of peach schnapps, a sweet and sour mix and lemon and lime soda. Pour the vodka and schnapps into a glass with ice then fill with equal partso sweet and sour mix and the lemon and lime soda. Mix and drink.
The Pooh Bear– this cutesy sounding cocktail subverts a childhood icon to the point of absolute wrongness. That is why we love it; plus the fact that it is simple to the point of not being a cocktail at all consisting as it does of one shot of JD with two shots of cream soda (buy a decent brand so you get that lovely creamy acidic butteriness). After adding three to five ice cubes in a chosen glass, pour one part Jack Daniel’s Tennessee sour-mash whiskey over the ice. A jigger is the perfect piece of home bartending equipment to measure out the liquor and mixer but a shot glass works well also. Two parts cream soda is added over the Jack Daniel’s. After a quick stir, the Pooh Bear is complete and ready to serve.
Chicago Da Bear a tini
Pushing the bear theme to its limit, this cocktail popular with the football tailgaters is more sophisticated in its taste that you might expect. Mix two shots of Kahlua with one part of Tezon Tequila, shake in a shaker with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
The Blueberry Smash celebrates those blueberries left standing after the blueberry throwing games and is practically a health food were it not for one or two shots of hard edged booze. Packed with fruit, both acerbic and more mellow, this is THE perfect summer cocktail made with one of our favourite liqueurs- the Elderflower based St Germain.
- 2 lemons, sliced into rounds
- 2 limes, sliced into rounds
- 1 cup fresh blueberries
- 1/2 cup (loosely packed) fresh mint leaves plus sprigs for garnish
- 1 1/2 cups vodka
- 3/4 cup St-Germain (elderflower liqueur)
Using a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon, coarsely mash the lemon and lime slices, blueberries, and mint leaves in a large pitcher. Stir in vodka, St-Germain, and 2 cups of ice cubes.
Divide drink among coupe or highball glasses; top with more ice cubes. Garnish each drink with a mint sprig.
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