Mel’s Holiday Gift Guide: Kids/Teens
My children's ages and interests are not representative of all children, so this list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but there are some great gems here that have been greatly appreciated by my children. (Feel free to share any ideas you have for your kids in the comments!)* My children are no longer toddlers, […]

My children's ages and interests are not representative of all children, so this list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but there are some great gems here that have been greatly appreciated by my children. (Feel free to share any ideas you have for your kids in the comments!)

* My children are no longer toddlers, but the gift guides of a few years ago (2014-2018) include many recommendations for the youngest

FYI: The comment threads for all of these gift guides are amazing and filled with so many more game recommendations!

3. Burrito blanket: aff. link yes, this blanket looks more like a tortilla than the ones in my fridge, and yes, when your 16 year old wraps up, he looks like a human burrito. My brother sent it to Jackson for his birthday this year, and it immediately became the most coveted blanket we owned.

custom puzzle, kid's table, killer card tricks game


4. Custom puzzles: we are a puzzle loving family, without a doubt, and when one of you wonderful readers told me about these custom puzzles I was so excited! They make such a fun and unique gift, and the quality of the puzzle pieces is much better than I expected. You can create a puzzle from any personal photo!

5. Small table for children:aff. link Cam got this table for her birthday (a "table for my room" was at the top of her list), it's the perfect Cut. For crafts, for home learning school days, for reading, for imaginary fun. It's also extremely sturdy (as in, I used the chairs as stepladders; don't say it), simple, and cute.

6. Slayer card tricks:aff. link a couple of my boys are living and dying by card and cardistry tricks right now. This simple killer card trick kit (with a special trick set) has been a lot of fun for them, and I'm continually impressed with the quality of these tricks! It's perfect for beginners and hobbyists.

melissa and doug magic set, magnetic tile kit, share a book of kindness


seven. Melissa + Doug Magic Set:aff. link these magical Melissa + Doug sets have been a huge knocking here for my youngest (8 years old). So much so that we have offered them on several occasions to cousins ​​and friends for birthdays. We have the Abracadabra collection and the Hocus Pocus Collection aff. connections - both are fantastic!

8. Mini Magnetic Tile Art Kit:aff. link These cute and smart magnetic tiles are easy to make, and it's a perfect set for the kid who loves crafts. It is also a kind of gift that keeps on giving. 🙂 Like in, Cam whipped up all of these magnets and then quickly wanted to individually wrap them around and give them to grandparents, friends, teachers, etc. Super cute.

9. Share a book of kindness:aff. link I could do a separate article just on books - we love, love, love books, especially cute, creative, thoughtful picture books. We still buy and collect great picture books even as my kids get older. This wonderful book on sharing kindness is a new favorite! My youngest children love cute pictures and stories; I love the message.

5000 awesome facts book, moosh moosh pillow, stuffed animal storage


ten. 5000 awesome facts about everything: aff. link such a fun, educational yet entertaining book for kids of all ages! My kids are poring over trivia and informational books, and this is one of their favorites. It's perfect for road trips or lazy Sunday afternoons. I am seriously constantly amazed at the facts they throw at random at the table.

11. Moosh Moosh Animal Pillows: aff. link Does the world (ahem, my house) really need more stuffed animals? Why yes, it is. Especially when they're so cute and can be used as a pillow. Don't worry, I will give you a stuffed animal solution next.

12. Plush bean bag chair:aff. link this plush bean bag chair has been a miraculous blessing for my son who has a powerful and somewhat jagged collection of stuffed animals (and that saves me sanity, too). So far, no fabric has been damaged or crushed beyond recognition; he drags this bag everywhere and is now able to use his collection of stuffed animals as a place to rest his buttocks.

albatross knife, prank book, patterned dress socks


13. Albatross knife:aff. link my dad gave my two oldest boys these unique knives when they won their Eagle Scout awards earlier this year. To say my boys were thrilled would be an understatement. They take them fishing and camping and use them outside on our property.

14. Pranklopedia: aff. link is this every 11 year old boy's dream book or what? Ha. My boys love this book and have performed many successful pranks (pray for me). The best part about this book is that the pranks aren't petty or intimidating. They are a lot of fun and make us all laugh.

15. Colorful socks: aff. link my kids love crazy colorful socks, and these cheap socks have been growing since last Christmas. We have these boys socks aff. link and my older boys have these socks for men aff. link. Cam is alone with these adorable animal face socks aff. link.

doll suitcase, best friend necklace, children's cookbook


16. Doll suitcase set:aff. link this American Girl doll travel / suitcase set is adorable. Cam couldn't get over the miniature pillow and the sunglasses; I've never seen her so excited.

17. Friend necklace:aff. link I love this beautiful, understated set of "friend" necklaces. Cam gave one as a birthday present to her good friend this year (who looks more like a sister to her) - the necklaces are a sweet representation of their friendship without shouting "We're leaving you out!" to their other friends.

18. Young chef's cookbook:aff. link my 13 year old budding chef Cade received this cookbook for his birthday this year, and it's one of the best kids cookbooks we have! The recipes focus only on baking, and they are solidly good without being too picky OR too simplistic.

daily ukulele book, crazy fangs, magnetic spek beads


19. The Daily Ukulele Playbook: aff. link ukulele players in your family? This Daily Ukulele Book is a great playbook with simple songs for beginner and amateur ukulele players. I'm pretty bad at the ukulele, but even I will sometimes take one of my kids' instruments and strum a few of these songs. It was a wonderful book for children!

20: Crazy fangs: my boys are obsessed with bold and crazy fangs right now. Is this something where you live with teenagers… or just where we are? A few of them saved their money to get a pair, and the other kid has a tie-dye pair high on their Christmas list this year. They are quite fun and it makes me smile when I see my kids heading for the car in their bold and shiny plastic shoes.

21: Magnetic beads:aff. link my kids are constantly playing with these magnetic beads, whipping them into little shapes and pyramids, and I have to admit they are a bit addicting for adults too. They would make a great tote!


If you’re a regular cook, you’ll know the “eureka” feeling when you discover a way to cut an everyday kitchen task in half. As our cookery team has spent so many hours writing and triple-testing recipes, they’ve picked up a fair few tricks and tips along the way, so we asked them to impart their wisdom…

You probably already know that adding a dash of vinegar to egg poaching water helps coagulate the white. But did you know that adding a dash of vinegar to the water when boiling eggs helps the shell peel off more easily ? Say goodbye to piles of tiny egg shell shards. Test this tip out with one of our egg recipes.

A pizza blade can be wheeled through a sheet of pastry or bread dough with ease, saving you the expense of buying shaped cutters, or having to fiddle around, twizzling the point of a knife into strange angles.

‘Hard’ herbs like rosemary and thyme can be frozen whole. When you come to use them, they’ll naturally crumble into pieces, bypassing the mezzaluna completely. Try this recipe for lemon, pancetta

If your brown sugar has clumped into pieces, place a piece of soft white bread in the packet and the sugar will break back down into sandy granules in a few hours. to stop it happening again, make sure the storage space is nice and dry.

Save yourself the disappointment of an un-squeezy lemon by microwaving it whole for around 20-30 seconds on high. It’s just enough time to release the juices, but be careful not to go overboard and dry the flesh out. Try one of our zesty lemon recipes.

If you have plain flour in the cupboard, you always have bread on hand. Just take one mug of plain flour combined with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil per person, then slowly add cold water until it’s a soft, smooth dough which leaves the bowl clean. Divide the dough into balls, roll out to a 2mm thickness then dry fry in a non-stick pan. They’ll only take a few moments and are ready when both sides have golden brown patches all over.

While the hard rind of cheese such parmesan, pecorino and Grana Padano is difficult to grate, it’s a shame to waste such an expensive byproduct. But there’s no need to. Add the rind whole when you’re sweating onions in the first stage of making a risotto or sauce. It will impart lots of its flavour but save you taking to it with a chainsaw. Don’t forget to remove it before serving though…Try using cheese rind in a risotto recipe.

Make your own dried breadcrumbs by grating stale bread on the coarse side of a grater, then spread the crumbs in a thin layer over a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 140C, giving them a good shake halfway through. The golden, crispy crumbs will last in a sealed container for up to two weeks. Try our wild garlic chicken Kiev recipe made with panko breadcrumbs.

If you need your meat injected with a bermuda, sharp burst of flavour, choose marinade ingredients wisely. Red wine quickly penetrates meat, giving it a deep colour, while citrus zest and juice tenderises it rapidly.

Not enough space for your party loot ? Save space for food by putting drinks into big tubs, buckets and bowls filled with salted ice water – the salt will cause the temperature to drop, giving you icy cold drinks in seconds. Browse our petit cocktail recipes for drinks inspiration.

Spruce up a shop-bought block of shortcrust by popping it into a food processor with a flavouring like herbs, vanilla, cheese, cocoa powder, honey or spice. All great additons to give your pastry an edge.

Bypass pencil outlines and fiddly scissors when lining a springform cake tin ( that’s one with a clippable ring and removeable base ). Lay the parchment onto the flat base of the tin, then press down and clamp the ring into place on top of it, leaving the edges around the outside to easily tear off. Try the clamping technique with this showstopping courgette, lemon

We love a stripy rainbow cake, but it’s perhaps one for an experienced baker to take on. If you want your sponge to sing with Technicolor joy but need an easier route to success, pick up a tub of multi-coloured hundreds and thousands. Mix some through your sponge batter ( not too many ) and when you cut a slice of your finished cake, you’ll have beautiful polka dots.

to peel a kiwi, just chop off the top and bottom, then push a dessertspoon in between the fruit and the skin. Turn the kiwi until all the skin falls off the back of the spoon.

When you cut the avocado in half, twist into two pieces, then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the side without the stone for immediate use. Return the empty skin to the other half, which still contains the stone, using the skin to cover it over. Keeping the stone in and covering with the skin helps retain colour and freshness until the following day.

Make this comforting ham hock colcannon, topped with a fried egg. ' /> Make this comforting ham hock colcannon, topped with a fried egg. ' /> Achieve the perfect set white and runny yolk with a few splashes of water. Fry the eggs in a non-stick pan and when the whites are almost cooked, put a few drops of water into the pan, quickly cover it with a lid and turn the heat down low, or off completely, and leave for a minute or two to finish cooking. The effect will be a perfect semi-poach. >Make this comforting ham hock colcannon, topped with a fried egg.

As soon as you buy herb plants from the supermarket or greengrocer, remove the plastic wrapping and trim the top leaves quickly to use in your cooking. By trimming off the top leaves first you’ll help the plant shoot out from lower down the stem making it stronger. Water every other day or according to the indications on the pack.

Nutty brown rice can take a long time to cook until tender, so speed up the process by soaking it in water overnight, as you would hard pulses like lentils. It’ll cook far quicker as a result. Try a recipe with brown rice.

Making a roux from flour and butter isn’t too difficult a process, but if time is of the essence, it might be easier to reach into the fridge. A tub of cream cheese watered down until the same consistency as béchamel makes a super simple option. If you want to boost the flavour, add a grating of nutmeg. Alternatively, use crème fraîche and grated cheese.

Garlic cloves are one of the trickiest items to prepare, and if you find it frustrating, invest in a sturdy garlic press, and voilà – the whole clove can be passed through it with the skin intact. It may take a bit of pushing, but once through, the flesh is passed through the holes while the skin is left in the press to be easily removed. Watch this video for tips on how to crush garlic.

Don’t just stick with salt and pepper, experiment with other storecupboard seasonings. Try sprinkling a crushed chicken stock cube over a whole chicken before roasting, or add a splash of soy sauce or wine to boost the flavour of your gravy.

Plastic bags of washed and ready-to-eat salad leaves are really convenient but don’t seem to last very long at all, even in the fridge. If you find yourself with leftover leaves, that are starting to lose their crispness, ensure they don’t go to waste. Instead, pop them in a pan with a little olive oil or butter, garlic and seasoning and wilt down as you would for spinach. This works particularly well with leaves like watercress and rocket. Learn how to build the perfect salad with our handy infographic.

Stir a few extra ingredients through your favourite shop-bought hummus and everyone will think you’ve made it yourself. Add a dash of lemon juice, chopped fresh coriander, some ground cumin, smoked paprika or a smidge of harissa paste to give it a kick. Alternatively add a few whole chickpeas and a drizzle of olive oil to make it look homemade.

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