The schools are closed and days off from work have been booked, but you still need to figure out how to fill the time. Take some inspo and avoid the homeschooling rut with our five-day at-home guide on what the whole family can eat, watch and get up to for mid-term break.
Want warming comfort food with seasonal produce? This creamy butternut coconut soup from Lilly Higgins is a serious crowd-pleaser.
1 butternut squash
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
2 cloves of garlic
1 tin coconut milk
1 Halve the butternut squash; remove the inner seeds with a spoon and discard them. Peel and then roughly chop. Peel and chop the sweet potato. Peel the ginger and slice it. Peel the garlic cloves and bruise them by crushing with the flat of a knife.
2 Melt two tablespoons of butter in a heavy-based pan.
3 Add the ginger and garlic and leave to cook for a minute before adding the squash and sweet potato.
4 Stir everything well to coat in the butter. Add 500ml of water or stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender. 5 Add the tin of coconut milk. Blitz until smooth and season to taste. Sprinkle with coconut chips or fresh coriander before serving.
Hubie Halloween landed on Netflix just this month, and has it all: it’s a comedy about an unlikely hero, with an all-star cast that should keep the grown-ups happy. Hubie Dubois (played by Adam Sandler) thanklessly spends every Halloween making sure the residents of his hometown, Salem, celebrate safely and play by the rules. Yet this year, an escaped criminal and a mysterious new neighbour have Hubie on high alert. Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi and Maya Rudolph also star.
Blow off the cobwebs – both decorative and metaphorical – by getting outside to your local park. Discover Ireland has a comprehensive list of green spaces in each county at discoverireland.ie. It’s the perfect opportunity to get back to basics with some childhood favourites. A frisbee is a great and simple crowd-pleaser, but then so are Ship Captain, Frozen Tag and Hot & Cold. Alternatively, now could be the time to teach the kids a thing or two about jump-rope – you do remember all those tricks from the playground, right?
Last year saw the inauguration of the Samhain family festival at Dublin’s EPIC museum. This year, the free storytelling/creative event is moving online. Join the festival from 12pm on Samhain’s Facebook Live (and other platforms) for Seanchaí Sessions featuring PJ Gallagher, Jerry Fish, Tara Flynn, Katherine Lynch and others. All of them will regale the family with all kinds of spooky Irish tales. At 3pm, you can enjoy an interactive family ghost-story workshop that will encourage little ones to turn their own family tales into a fun miniature storybook. Workshops will be delivered via Zoom and streamed via Facebook Live, with limited tickets available for the interactive portion via Eventbrite. See epicchq.com for information.
What kid won’t like the sound of meatballs? Here’s a perfect autumn recipe by Domini Kemp – flavoursome but not too spicy for little ones.
For the meatballs:
250g minced lamb
250g minced beef
1 large onion grated
4 cloves garlic, crushed
30g ground almonds
1tsp sweet smoked paprika
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp harissa paste
Salt and pepper
Few knobs butter
For the sauce:
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 bay leaves
Squeeze honey (two big ones)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp harissa
1 Preheat an oven to 200 degrees Celsius/gas mark 4.
2 To make the meatballs, place all the ingredients in a bowl and with clean hands, mix them together thoroughly.
3 Form into small balls – about one-and-a-half inches across. Arrange on a roasting dish, sprinkle with a few small knobs of butter, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes.
4 Meanwhile, make the sauce by sweating the garlic and cinnamon stick in the butter until soft, and then adding the rest of the ingredients. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the flavours are well mingled.
5 Remove the meatballs from the oven, pour the sauce over them and bake for another 25 minutes. Serve with a crunchy green salad.
Onward is one of the latest big offerings on the Disney+ platform, and this Pixar-produced delight – the studio’s first original offering since the delightful Coco in 2017 - has already been called “Frozen with Boys”. Touching on childhood grief and brotherly bonding in the most accessible way possible, this quest movie features two lovable blue-skinned elves (voices by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) who discover a secret magic that helps to reunite them with their late father. Packed with that lovely Pixar magic, and great fun for smallies.
Seeing as we’re keeping things simple today, get some inspiration from Kunak McGann’s brilliant book Red Rover, Red Rover (O’Brien Press), where she provides instructions of the best-loved outdoor games from an Irish childhood. Inside, you can refresh your memory on how to play French Elastics, Sevens, Marbles, Kerbs and even Tip The Can. There are 80 games to choose from, most of which are perfect for social distancing in the back garden, a quiet road on an estate, or even a green space near your house.
Want to ditch the screens for the afternoon? There are hundreds of enjoyable indoor games for kids that need next to no equipment. The paper game, for example, invites you to ball up pages from yesterday’s newspaper (we don’t mind if it’s this one) and use an old laundry basket as a target. Or, you could try balance beam, where different coloured tape stuck onto the floor can have different rules (for instance, they have to balance and walk on one leg on green, or they have to try walking on their hands on the red tape). An indoor obstacle course can be created with kitchen chairs, blankets, exercise balls, hula hoops and even a sweeping brush. Why not go right back to basics with Xs and Os, Dots and Boxes, or Hangman? Check out YouTube for one of many videos showing you how to make a paper fortune-teller (also called whirlybirds).
A recipe for even the most inexperienced baker, Vanessa Greenwood’s chocolate chip cookies means you can get the kids involved in dough rolling.
100g butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
125g self-raising flour
50g custard powder
75g good-quality chocolate (chips, buttons or chunks)
1 tbsp cold water
1 Pre-heat an oven to 190 degrees Celsius/gas mark 5.
2 Using an electric hand whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until it is pale.
3 Sieve together the self-raising flour and custard powder and slowly mix them into the creamed butter and sugar.
4 Using your hands, add the chocolate chips and the water. The heat of your hands will help to bring the dough together.
5 Roll the dough into ping pong-size balls.
6 Chill in the fridge for 10 minutes before baking.
7 To bake, arrange on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper (leave a good amount of space between the cookies, as they will spread during cooking).
8 Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until risen and golden.
9 Once cooked, leave them to cool slightly before transferring them to a wire rack.
The Million-Pound Cube airs at 9pm on Virgin Media One every night this week, and is a slightly jazzed up version of the ever-popular quiz show The Cube. With Philip Schofield back at the helm, contestants will now be put through their paces in a bid to win a one-million-pound jackpot. Will the higher stakes translate into higher drama as the contestants take on deceptively simple tasks like balancing on a beam or throwing a ball into a container, within the Cube’s four walls? There’s only one way to find out.
Dust off the bikes and head to your local green space for an impromptu nature lesson. Go looking for a squirrel’s nest. In a park or forest, make a mini animal mansion – a little shelter with twigs or leaves, for a mini creature. Find a sheet online listing the different insects you can find in a typical Irish woodland, and try to find them and tick them off the list. Likewise, there are several online resources about Irish trees. Do a mini-treasure hunt, or even go searching for something as simple as a spiky leaf or a ladybird. Best of all, it’s the sort of activity that needs next to no equipment. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, a wealth of foodstuffs is waiting to be discovered in the great wide open, from wild garlic and dandelions to berries (although be sure to reference online which of your finds might be considered poisonous). Buy Food For Free by Richard Mabey, which will give you several inspirational ideas for your own family foodie adventure.
A board-game afternoon is perfect for wintry weather conditions, not to mention for some old-fashioned family bonding. If you want to try something a bit timely, there’s always Pandemic (where teams work together to find a cure for diseases that have broken out in several regions). Balderdash is brilliant for wordy types (ages 12 and over), Cranium Junior is perfect for all-rounders who can sing as well as they can spell (ages 5 and over). Or, if you’d rather doff a cap to the classics, there is always Monopoly: Dublin Edition (for players aged 9 and over). The Guinness World Records Challenges game, meanwhile, allows players (aged 8 and over) to unleash their inner record-breaker. Who knows what talents might be unearthed.
Lilly Higgins’s Mexican Red Rice is a tasty one-pot wonder that will save on the washing up, but also packs plenty of nutritional punch.
2 tbsp olive oil
300g carrots, peeled and diced
125g spring onions, sliced, including the green tops
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
300g brown basmati rice
230g cooked kidney beans, drained
20g fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add the spring onions and carrot. Sauté for five minutes, stirring, before adding the garlic and spices.
2 Stir for another minute to toast the spices then pour in the tomatoes and water. Season well with salt. Bring to the boil then add the rice. Leave to simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.
3 Remove from the heat. Add the kidney beans and stir thoroughly with a fork. Place the lid back on and leave to steam for a further 10 minutes.
4 Gently stir through the fresh coriander. Scatter with additional coriander and freshly sliced spring onions before serving. Serve with wedges of lime, tomato salsa and sliced jalapeño peppers.
New on RTÉ, Blasts from the Past features Emily Blast, an ordinary teenager with an amazing secret – she’s a trainee time traveller. Using the Time Surfer App on her phone, Emily jumps through time to recover missing historical objects. Today, she’s on a quest to retrieve St. Patrick’s crozier, to help him abolish the snakes out of Ireland. The episode also features Daniel O’Connell and his mammy. Oh, and some mathematical Celts, whatever they are. Showing at 4pm on RTÉ 2 all week, or via the RTÉ Player.
Enjoyed Pokemon Go or the other popular augmented reality (AR) game, Ingress? Now might be the time to try your hand as a family at Geocaching – an activity where participants use a GPS system to hike and seek containers, or “caches”, that have been hidden by fellow users all over the world. These are called “dead drops”, not unlike that bit in spy movies where one person tapes an envelope to a park bench and another person comes by later to pick it up. A great alternative to gaming, and you’ll cover plenty of ground in the open air as a bonus. To get started, download the Geocaching apps from the Google Play or Apple Store. There are caches all over Ireland, so the smart money says there are plenty to be found within your 5km radius. See geocachingireland.com for pointers on how to get started.
Spleodar, the much-loved children’s arts festival, is moving its activities online for its 20th year (October 24th-31st). There are several activities to keep little ones entertained on the website throughout the day, from storytelling and music workshops and theatre productions. Right through the week, there will be interactive workshops (with packs to be issued for families in advance of the events). Kids, for instance, will also be able to create their own Sock Puppet at home with Niamh Lawlor of Púca Puppets. See spleodar.ie for information on all-ages events for the entire festival.
Paul Flynn’s Big Night In recipes, inspired by his family, are brilliant for the end of the week. Best of all, the kids can easily help too. Try his daughter Anna’s chicken alfredo pasta
1tbsp olive oil
6 chicken thighs, skin and bone removed
400g pasta of your choice
250ml carton of cream
Salt, black pepper and a little nutmeg if you have it
100g grated Parmesan
1 Cut each chicken thigh into three pieces.
2 Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan until gently smoking then add the chicken.
3 Cook for 10 minutes or so until the chicken is golden and crisp. Season with salt and pepper then remove to cool a little and shred with two forks.
4 Cook the pasta as per packet instructions.
5 Meanwhile add the butter to the frying pan and scrape the crispy chicken bits from the bottom over a low heat. Add the cream to the pan followed by the chicken and bring to a simmer.
6 Drain the pasta and add it to the pan. Season and serve with lashings of Parmesan on top.
We like the sound of A Babysitter’s Guide To Monster Hunting, which has recently dropped onto Netflix. An action-packed adventure about working together to overcome your fears, it’s a spooky number, albeit with plenty of laughs. When high-school freshman Kelly Ferguson (Tamara Smart) reluctantly agrees to babysit Jacob Zellman (Ian Ho) on Halloween, the last thing she expects is to be recruited into an international secret society of babysitters who protect kids with special powers from monsters. Based on the first instalment of Joe Ballarini’s popular scary book series of the same name, A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting also features Harry Potter star Tom Felton as a boogeyman called The Grand Guignol.
Wherever you live in the country, you are spoiled for scenic walks. Howth Head in Dublin has got some of the best views on the city’s northside; the Sugar Loaf trail in Wicklow is great for walkers of all ages and abilities; the rugged splendour of the Inishowen 100 route in Donegal is definitely the place for regrouping.
Down in Yeats country, a walk in the shadow of Sligo’s mythical Benbulben mountain is a safe bet for a remote gander. If you are based in Galway, head towards the Gurteen beach in Connemara, and make your way to Dog’s Bay; both of which are well-kept local secrets.
Ireland’s most famous fjord can be found at Killary Harbour on the Mayo/Galway border; park the car and hike along the old Green Road, a famine relief route with dramatic views over deep waters to mighty Mweelrea mountain.
Based in Cork? Ballycotton is the perfect winter wonderland. Take a bracing hike along the 8km cliff walk, which leads to the Ballytrasna beach. In Clare, Loop Head is the backdrop to one of Ireland’s most popular walking festivals, and no wonder. Soak up the wild Atlantic scenery on any of these beautiful coastal paths at Kilkee, Kilredauna and Loop head. Take off from the Lighthouse for a 2-hour, moderate hike.
Stretching across Meath and Louth, the Boyne Valley Garden Trail is less than an hour’s drive from Dublin. On the richly historic walkabout, there are several different gardens to explore, including the rose garden at Hamwood House and the Sonairte Eco-centre and gardens. And finally, 20km north of Kilkenny City, you’ll find the Ardra Castle 6km walking trail replete with features, from a rocky waterfall and some expansive forestry, to fishing lakes galore.
The Bram Stoker festival has moved its activities online, and Curse Hunters, an interactive adventure game found on the Actionbound App, kicks off today (until November 2nd). This activity is designed for kids of all ages, though “curse hunters” aged 6-11 are likely to get the most out of it. The goal is to undo an ancient curse put upon the universe in 2020. An adult can guide young explorers through the missions, from creating toxic elixirs in the kitchen to composing poetry. The event is free but tickets are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are plenty of other family-friendly events happening virtually for the Bram Stoker festival all over the weekend, too. See bramstokerfestival.com for details.