Thanks for checking this out...

Ta muchly for visiting. Here you will find musings, ramblings and a few statements of fact. They say women can have it all, motherhood, careers and crazy social lives. But what if we don't want it all? What if we want some of it sometimes and other bits not so often? Here I'll mix and match as the whims and energy levels take me. Your tuppence worth is always welcome!

The mask...

The mask...
Life is for loving and living no matter what it involves...

Monday, 27 December 2010

Boxing clever

This year I have come to the conclusion that Boxing Day is far superior to Christmas Day. There is less stress, less mess, no fuss and a whole lot more relaxation with all the treats left over from the day before. Apparently it is so called due to the boxes people got - some say servants got gift boxes from masters, others argue the priests opened the alms boxes to the poor and yet another suggestion is that the Romans collected money in boxes to pay for the people to have their games. I see the theme there - boxes. All good stuff.

We had lots of boxes in our house too. Empty boxes with the contents scattered in death inducing fashion all over the place. Not a single room was safe from small bits of plastic, nuggets of wood or wheeled things. Thank goodness we elected to conduct the day from the safety of the sofa or someone could have been hurt. Although we did manage a small jaunt to the beach for a pebble dash with the wee ones; nothing better for working off the mince pies. Life beside the seaside is wonderful in winter. No tourists crowding the place leaving wide stretches of beach free for the locals to enjoy. Okay it is a tad on the chilly side but the view is worth it; nothing says hope like an endless horizon. There is such promise where the sea meets the sky, perfect for the closing days of the festive season.

Not quite as we saw it Boxing Day but Brighton Beach in winter is amazing.
And it has been a funny festive season this year. Christmas had ping-ponged from our place to up north and then back down again. Our feasty preparations swirled like snow as health and weather took our plans and shook them upside down. In the end by the time it came to the big day we'd sort of lost momentum. I say 'we' but the small ones maintained full throttle until around 4pm on Christmas day when they hit melt down; almost literally given the amount of chocolate consumed. Tall hubby and I rode out the day on wine and adrenalin; we cruised on the kids craziness but after they hit the hay we found ourselves fading fast. So it was a relief to wake up on Boxing Day full of festive joy and that special Christmas buzz that makes all things merry and bright.

The real fun in Boxing Day comes from the left overs. All that mad over spending is swapped for thrifty concoctions involving beat up roasties and mashed sprouts. We opted for a goose this year and I just didn't know how it would taste the day after; some things don't work the next go round, thankfully goose isn't one of them. I dry fried it with a bit of garlic, shallots and smoked sweet paprika with a dash of cream; totally yummy with a bit of bubble and the chili roasted beetroot on the side. Tomorrow the plan is to stir fry it with some grated ginger and orange for a noodle-tastic dish of leftover delight. And then that goose will be well and truly cooked.

The goose got fat and we ate it all up!
Now that the frenzy of Christmas is past we can fully enjoy the rest of  this festive season. There are treats-a-plenty to be over-consumed and presents to be explored, TV specials to veg in front of and friends to swap xmassy stories with. And let us not forget the grandest of all grand finales - New Year's Eve. Ah yes, the Christmas spirit is flowing now...Merry Christmas one and all.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Here come the girls...

Perhaps doing this blog has alerted the universe, somehow tapped into that cosmic ordering system so beloved of beardy bloke off the TV? Certainly something was sensitive to the limits of my bank balance when it was the mummies Xmas bash this week. Maybe it was the batch of hail Mary's I did before heading out? Nah, I'm not even Catholic so they wouldn't get a look in, plus I doubt the lady in blue would approve of over indulgence; let's face it she gave birth in a stable - not exactly BUPA is it.

I think with all the wisdom of my 38 years I shall notch it up to pure brilliant flukey good fortune. Can't beat a bit of random luck can you? Especially at this time of year. So it was fitting that the mummies staff night out should benefit from the benevolent purse strings of a random, unknown company's staff Xmas party. Free bar and a rare feast of quality nibbles in a generous buffet were unexpectedly available for our delight.

It happened quite by accident. Eager to kick off proceedings I arrived at the pre-dinner drinks venue armed with a thirst and a magazine (Vanity Fair FYI - Johnny Depp lured me in) to find the place heaving. A gaggle of ladies at the bar smiled in welcome, passed me a drinks list and left me to decide. Well it would have been rude not to wouldn't it? And how beautifully English it all was when I took my large glass of vino, selected a perch, whipped out the magazine and apparently ignored 'my colleagues' that not a soul chose to ask who the hell I was. There was nothing more than a curious glance sent my way. Immediately I sent a text to alert the other mummies - didn't want them blowing my cover - and they too made merry with the free bar on arrival. As a collective we assumed the identity of co-workers and everyone blithely ignored the fact they had never set eyes on us before that night. The waiters invited us - invited mind - to partake of the buffet as it appeared and with all the grace of the good virgin herself we accepted that invitation. Of course we needed more wine to wash it down. Such larks!
The red stuff was the right stuff for mummies on the town...

Rosy of cheek and semi-full of belly we left as late as we possibly could to keep our dinner date. Plus we didn't want to succumb to the temptation to make up stories about 'Nellie from accounts'. Naturally we skipped starters, thus shaving  a nice wodge of cash off the bill. That staff party was the gift that kept on giving.

More wine, liqueur coffee and onto the next venue. The cocktail lounge beckoned with a wink and a smile. We were ready for a spot of mixing but..the horror...the place was jammed with tanked up leery Loaded readers (or Nuts but definitely not Esquire types) herding round the bar. It was like a scene from Wall Street. Definitely not in keeping with the night's vibe. In a hasty retreat we  plumped for the pub and yet again saved ourselves a few quid into the bargain. It was perfect. Good times, good banter and minimum outlay. It doesn't get better than that.

There is nothing to compare to a night out with the ladies; let's face it I'm hardly going to laugh till I cry on the topic of pelvic floor exercises with big tall hubby. |It will be an eternal mystery as to whether we did them then and there or not...There are some things that are just for girls. We might talk like ladies but we can drink like the men and finished off our evening with whiskies at a late bar as the snow fell outside and the witching hour truly arrived. A toast to ladies who know how to party! From start to finish it was a night to warm the cockles and raise a smile, no a grin, a face splitting teeth sharing grin to the most harassed of mummies visages. If Christmas is for giving we have duly received. Thank you.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

festivities galore

It is that time of year isn't it when folks get festive and frolicky. Every which way you turn there is a party, gathering or get together. Round our place things are triply festive focussed with not one but two birthdays and the visit from the man in red. Throw in xmas social parties and it is all cakes, booze and bad food as far as the eye can see. That healthy eating regime? Ah yes, a fond memory. Bank balance - let us not dwell where accountants fear to tally. Close eyes, hide scales and hunker down till January. That's what I'm doing. Although with this belly I can give Santa a run for his money. Ho-ho-ho. I'm crying on the inside. Well, snuffling. I may need a comfort chocolate. Quick put on a festive weepy so it can all come out. Or better yet a fab festive celebrity work out dvd. What is it with the celebs and work outs? Like it isn't enough they force themselves to live on twigs and spend twenty hours a day crunching flab and crushing abs they have to inflict their body wisdom onto us. And at Christmas no less? The cheek! Pass the mince pies nurse please.

Wee boy was first up with the Dec parties, hosting his third birthday in the pub. Cancel that call to the social care unit - we hired the function room. Two nights in a row we cooked and created in the kitchen till way past the witching hour making sure all was ready for his big day. He wanted a tractor cake - with a trailer no less - so a tractor is what he got. Took some sculpting with the butter cream icing I can tell you. For all mums wondering how to entertain wee ones who are too young to get party games proper but too old to be happy with a chew stick I can highly recommend the pinata. We got the wee man a guitar one as didn't want the moral ambiguity of encouraging him to bash an animal till it bursts. Ah the glee they attacked that poor guitar with would have Pete Townsend blushing with pride. Although giving 3 year olds a chair leg and letting them loose was not the wisest move at first - rules were swiftly established. Cancel that 999 call. Pinata burst, sweeties exploded to freedom, very happy children followed.

Tomorrow will be my turn. The mummies have formed a collective for our own 'staff Christmas party', well when you work from home ain't no one gonna do it for ya. This too will kick off in a pub, but in the adults only proper grown ups section where consumption of booze is encouraged, nay celebrated. We don't plan on bashing anything unless it's a mugger on the way home with our handbag. But a few drinks, dinner, cocktails later and child free banter will bring the perfect twinkle to the festive build up. Am I excited? Oh ya mama I am busting at the seams for bit of proper girly social frivolity. Out on the town with big tall hubby is all well and good but a night on the tiles with the ladies is what every woman needs once in a while. Make mine a double and see you for bacon sarnies when the sun comes up.

Before the hangover has a chance to subside it'll be big tall hubby's turn to raise a glass to 38 and not a few days after that we'll be toasting the arrival of Santa down the chimney up in bonny Scotland. But that's a blog for another day. Eat well, drink up and party down. And hang the expense, it's Christmas.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Who says lunch aint free?

The interweb is beautiful thing. It may have its ugly moments but then who doesn't? Even the iconic Ms Moss has been known to have her off days so this charming piece of technology can't be blamed for the darker recesses of its existence. Back in the days when a computer in every home was just a sci-fi fantasy it was always seen a source for good (that crazy film about the bonkers killer computer that traps the lady in the house aside) and it is truly wonderful that in so many ways this dream has come to pass.

A perfect and shining example of this is Freecycle. I love Freecycle. I heart it I do. If Freecycle were a person they would dress in vintage shabby chic, have tons of friends and be one of those people who is sickeningly good at everything while being super lovely ta boot. Can't say a bad word about 'em. What an amazing concept...give your stuff away for naught, get stuff for naught. Re-use, reduce, recycle. Ethical and economical? I am there. With bells on.

We've boosted our Freecycle karma with several give-aways. It amazes me that so many people want some of this stuff that might otherwise end up on the tip or in the charity collection. And the stories- seems like that people feel the need for a fair exchange and swap a peek into their life for your unwanted bits and bobs. It is so gorgeously human. I find myself doing it when I pick up things for us. Such treasures you wouldn't believe; our latest is a stunning Indian killim rug. Thanks to that rug toddler girl has truly found her feet. No more slippery laminate underfoot and she is off. Thank you Freecycle.

The best bit about it is the sense of community it offers. You meet people who live where you live. It is sociable. When the snow hit town recently Freecyle brought a tear to my eye it was so damn lovely. Up popped a giveaway of a map showing where all the grit bins lived locally. Beyond thoughtful that is; one step beyond.

The snow came and Freecycle rose to the challenge

How brain bustingly fantastic it is that in this smash & grab day and age something can spring into life that is all about doing a bit of good with no link to cash or gain. Long live Freecycle.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

It is all in the planning

These days I don't leave the house without a detailed plan of action. Spontaneity has packed its bags and left in despair; utterly neglected. There are pluses and minuses to this situation. My inner twenty-something (and who over 30 does not have an inner twenty-something dissecting every move?) rages at the loss of life on the whimsy-side. Tall hubby and I walk past a pub with the pushchair in tow and pine for the days when we could have nipped inside and stayed till closing. To stay in a pub 'till closing these days demands military grade forward planning. And becoming sergeant major of the drinks brigade somewhat takes the fun out of it.

However there is much to be said for the boyscout motto 'be prepared'. From day trips to shopping trips; birthdays to Christmas, all are broken down into lists, tasks and detailed plans. Now the list thing is partly down to the fact that if a thought stays in my head for more than two minutes it counts as a minor miracle. Call it prolonged baby-brain or call it the  early onset of Alzheimer's but my memory ain't what it used to be. These days I can walk from the living room to the kitchen and forget why I've opened the fridge. An ideal excuse to nibble a slice of ham perhaps; alas not now the 'healthy eating plan' is in motion.

A real bonus to all this planning is the cost-saving; oh the chancellor would beam with pride if that face of his is capable of such a thing. I've slashed and bashed expenditure to get the most of...ooh everything...for the least money possible. With my trusty list pinned to the fridge by the giant letter A, I can track and chase Xmas goodies, hunting out the best deals and bargains. Inch by inch our Christmas delights accumulate into a fantastic feast that will make the 'healthy eating plan' quake in its boots. Ditto wee boys upcoming birthday party. And it is so much easier to enjoy it all when I know the bank is not broken (well it might have a slight hairline fracture).
The font of all wisdom...

This leads us nicely to the other big plus - stress reduction. With it all broken down to bite sized chunks life is so much easier to manage. Harangued by the demands of two small children the days slip past in a haze not dissimilar to the mild intoxication of the morning after the night before. There is no accounting for the time as it whizzes by - it just goes. But thanks to my new 'be prepared' philosophy Christmas is in the bag. Presents are bought (or made), stocking fillers acquired and Xmas tree goodies await a tree. I can sit and wait to see big grins on Xmas morning with time aplenty to relax and get festive.I don't share this to be smug (honest) but to spread the happy news that the loss of life on a whim comes with perks - its a yin-yang thing.
Christmas all wrapped up with time to spare

So while it is now impossible to head for the closest Italian at 8pm when we've realised too late we need to eat but can't be bothered with cooking we can whip out 'one I prepared earlier' as part of my monthly menu plan - which is almost (if you squint) spontaneous. The best of both worlds? Well it might just be...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Such fun.

Hey-ho here it is, 38, all bright and shiny new. Birthday glamour has a habit of fading fast but why limit yourself to just one day? The meter only clicks over once a year, let's stretch it out for as long as we can get away with eh? Gone are the days when big tall hubby and I would pack up and abscond from life as we know it for a few days; ideally somewhere sunnier. Traipsing off with wee ones in tow simple doesn't have the same fun-factor. Alas the birthday holiday will have to wait 'till there are a few more years on the clock; then the world can once more be our oyster. But do not despair! Oh no, we may be stuck in Blighty  but there is fun to be had despite the chill.

What a spoilt baby-mama I was this year. What is a birthday without a spot of fizz? My champagne tastes were indulged to the max with a sparking breakfast and presents in bed. Didn't spill a drop - can't say the same about the bacon sarnie crumbs though...Oooh presents - I just love them but what I love the most is the messages, cards texts and facebook posts that show people remember and care enough to say 'happy birthday'. It might be winter but I was all a-glow. Maybe it is just me but post babies the teeniest fleck of sentimentality gets me right in the middle.

Big tall hubby wouldn't let me cook a thing all it was lunch in the pub and dinner too! ;-)

The last time we went to see Seth Lakeman play there was a baby in my belly that kicked up a fuss and made dancing a crazy fantasy. So to go see him again on my actual birthday was a treat beyond all imagining - and I have quite an active imagination. Did I dance? You bet your sweet shiny dancing shoes I did. The first gig for us since toddler girl came on the scene; methinks there will have to be a few more now the genie is out the bottle. What is it with Brighton crowds though? Was I hiding the behind the bar when the dancing ban was issued? The rebel movers and shakers seemed to naturally gather front stage right while the rest of the crowd admired the music while standing stock still. Weird.

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Way back in the day I used to review bands, and in the spirit of me-past I must throw in a good word for the support act. Delta Maid is worth wrapping your ears around if a Scouser Dolly Parton with a roughed up Paloma Faith tingle gets your lobes flapping. She's got an amazing voice, a real country sound with a contemporary edge. If the world loves Duffy there is surely room for this lady on CD racks across the land.

And there is still more to come. Oh yes. We've had a night out, a friendly photo shoot afternoon and a Friday home dinner date with lashings of wine (healthy eating plan? Oh yes, that's next week....)Our adventures in fun-town will continue with a Sunday roast with friends to put the final touch on this year's celebrations. Then and only then will I officially be 38 and ready to rock on with the year. Rock and roll baby, rock and roll...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Annual review

Some celestial prankster is playing with the fast forward button as yet another year has skipped past with not the blink of an overtired eye. 'Tis the week of the day of my birth once more, another digit to the tally, another wrinkle on the forehead. But this time around I'm feeling older and wiser in a good way - huzzah! The challenge of life on a lemonade purse has turned into just that, not a problem, or a pain (okay sometimes a pain when I see something delectable in a shop window) but a good heartening challenge to met with a frank stare direct to the eyeball. I'm enjoying all this creative practicality; well who knew? My inner lush cowers in submission as I type.

But it isn't just me getting older (well duh!) toddler boy has morphed with a kick and a yell into my wee boy; proper cheeky mouthed rough and tumble boyhood is in full swing. As for baby girl, ah my last little fledgling has bum shuffled up the developmental ladder to official toddler status. So this year when it comes to birthday eve I might just get my indulgent bath as both wee boy and toddler girl are sleeping through (cranky pants illness induced insomnia aside) without a murmur. Such is progress.

Life is a but a dream...

And me and big tall hubby (grammar my dear, grammar) have a night on the town to look forward to; nothing too fancy mind! Tickets are already in the bag for a gig (sadly not guest list, ah those days are truly behind me) and with babysitters lined up (friends are such wonderful beings) for an early start we'll even manage dinner beforehand. Blimey O Riley I must be getting older as the prospect of dinner is just as exciting as a gig - the horror! This crazy past year we've come head to head with the unbelievable havoc that two small children can wreak on life as we know it; yet one fantastic fact as emerged; we love each other's company and relish the opportunities to indulge in it even after sleepless nights, todler tantrums and almost two decades of togetherness. That is no bad thing, no sirree bob.

So bring on the birthday; the celebrations; the extra year on the tally and the enticing promise of another year managing this lemonade purse.

Monday, 8 November 2010

On the flipside part deux

Just as a little addendum to yesterday's post here is the recipe for the squash/pumpkin pasta sauce. Good time of year to do it and it tastes fantastic. I got it from the 'Top 100 pasta sauces' cookbook by Diane Seed.

500g pasta
1.5kg pumpkin or squash cut into thin slices
50g butter
1 leek finely sliced
1 onion finely chopped
1 stick celery finely sliced
300ml chicken stock (may need more or less depending)
Half tsp nutmeg
150ml double cream or 125g fromage frais
70g grated Parmesan

Melt half the butter and gently soften the onion, leek and celery. Add the pumpkin/squash and cook on low heat for about 5 mins. Add enough stock to make it all moist and cover, simmer for about 20 mins. Add more stock and repeat until it is all cooked through and soft. Add salt/pepper to taste and the nutmeg then blend. Return to the pan and add the cream, Parmesan and the rest of the butter stir through and serve up.

Guess what; toddler boy is messing with the breakfast now too - not ketchup thankfully - today he announced he liked his cereal crunchy and would not be having milk. Ah such is the joy of parenting.

These bad boys are a taste sensation with pasta

Sunday, 7 November 2010

On the flipside

Toddler boy has been a dream on the food front. From baguette to broccoli, squash to spaghetti he would eat it if I cooked it. Down the local playgroup I was the annoying mother declaring, "oh mine will eat anything, yes even vegetables", while trying to tone the smugness down from a modest grin to a manageable smile. They are still talking to me so I'm guessing I managed alright; either that or they knew what was coming. If pride comes before a fall I've just tumbled down Everest. Someone has come in the night and swapped my compliant little man for a fussy faced food monster.

These last few weeks toddler boy's taste buds have revolted. All that passes his lips is now subject to the type of scrutiny that has tax evaders quaking. There is no hiding a bean behind a bit of pasta; he'll take it then spit the offending item out. And baby girl likes nothing better than to imitate her big brother; he doesn't eat it then neither will she. Double trouble. So what is off the menu...onions, courgette, mushroom, broccoli, cabbage...the list increases daily...nay hourly. Each and every meal time brings a new revelation and ramps up the horror for my inner chef.

off the menu..arggh

I've resorted to cunning measures to cram the goodness into them whether they like it or not. There is a delicious recipe for pasta sauce made from squash, with onions in there too - it tastes sweet and creamy - the perfect hiding place for veggies heading for toddler lips. Mind you, what works one day won't work the next. Oh I've learnt my lesson; no complacency here thanks.

And it isn't just the food groups he's particular about. Oh no. Let us not forget the grouping of the food on the plate. The potato mustn't touch the stew, beans on the left, fish fingers on the right etc. The ketchup (compulsory with all meals apart from the bowl of cereal in the morning and I fear it is only a matter of days before he demands it there too) has to be pooled neatly in the exact spot on the plate he indicates or all hell breaks loose. I swear a mad dictator could not be more demanding or persnickety. In a bid to allow him some sense of self - going on the premise that this flip in his behaviour is a developmental stage - please, please let it be so - I'm going along with some of this. Plus I do need him to eat something; if all his meals go in the bin with nothing 'till the next meal childhood obesity won't be an issue in this house.

Humbled I head towards another week of kitchen hit'n'miss. If all else fails we'll dig out the baked beans and bulk buy the fish fingers; at least that is two major food groups covered. And now in playgroup I can smile in empathy with the other mums who suffer the whims of toddler appetites; so much easier on the facial muscles. I could probably cut back on the anti-wrinkle cream thanks to this; ah a silver lining.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Parkin for when it's parky

Sometimes life just likes to slap you about the face a bit, like a tanked up landlady at the Queen Vic it assumes you need taking down a peg or two when in fact that is the last thing you need. The weather has turned wintry and the park has turned into the last place on earth you want to visit. Beautiful autumn colours on the trees? Well yes they are but it is also freeeeeezing. Call me difficult but I just can't concentrate on the finer points of decaying foliage when my fingers are falling off. Now don't get me wrong I'm quite partial to a bit of the outdoors even when  it has turned a tad nippy in the air, but the play park is something quite different. Toddler boy loves to climb and swing and whizz about without any help from me, Channeling his inner gibbon. Baby girl is swiftly approaching toddler status too and likes nothing more than a clamber up the slide to the tree house where she'll happily sit...ooh for hours if allowed while I stand guard slowly turning into a snow woman. There is no action for the grown up. If I'm going to be outside then at least let's keep moving.

So you'd think it would be quite a relief to have an excuse to stay in for a few days. Alas not. Not when the excuse is two wee ones with nasty buglings oozing out of their noses, spraying forth in coughs and splutters and generally turning them into balls of frothing overtired temper-tots. Ah yes for with the bugs comes sleeplessness. And if they don't sleep, we don't sleep. Housebound, germ-ridden and frazzled; that's us. There is only so much Cbeebies a woman can take, while it seems small ones have an unlimited capacity for the TV twaddle.

Events were ripe for an intervention. In the time honoured tradition of frazzled mothers the world over I sought solace in the kitchen. At the very least it is warm in there. We would bake! It was a cunning plan, keep them busy, cosy warm and produce goodies to bribe them with at a later date. And that is when I found the Parkin recipe. If life was going to administer a few slaps then I'd slap it right back - wallop. Take that evil fictional pub landlady.Armed with only a mixing bowl I defeated the bad mood and ushered in contentment. Ah.Que smiles all round.

Parkin, a great taste of Yorkshire. This recipe came from a Yorkshire man too, James Martin. And as a Brucie Bonus it has hardly any butter and only 1 egg so squeezes into the 'healthy eating' regime too. Okay, I am turning a blind eye to the sugar and syrup but I've had no sleep, for days sugar is essential to my ability to function at any level approaching human...

225g self raising flour
115g caster sugar
2 tsp ground ginger ( I like to add a couple of tsp of mixed spice too)
1 tsp bicarb of soda
55g butter
115g golden syrup
1 egg
200ml milk

Preheat oven to gas mark 2 and grease an 8inch cake tin.
Melt butter and syrup in a pan on a low heat. Add to flour, caster sugar, ginger and bicarb of soda and mix well.
Whisk the egg into the milk and add to mix. Stir all up and put in cake tin.
Bake for 1 hour. Eat!
A ginger taste sensation

Boosted by the success of the parkin we've spent the rest of the week baking flapjacks, peanut butter cookies and lemon drizzle cake. Now as a germ free family we have lots of things to take to the park and nibble to fend off the chill. Of course it would be rude to indulge in cake without a coffee but rather than queue with the yummies for a frothy latte I'm kitted out with a big flask of the hardcore black stuff.

Caffeine, cake and kiddies gone crazy...bring it on.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

A liitle off the middle

If it isn't complicated enough trying to keep two small ones and big tall hubby well fed and chirpy without bringing down the wrath of Cameron and Co. on the state of our finances we've added a little extra challenge. Keeps things fresh doesn't it? And what is this challenge? To cook while doing the downward dog? Nope. Shopping only while wearing fluffy slipper booties and a smile? Nah. Although I do love my slipper booties and see no shame in sharing them with the world. See...

Cosy winter tootsie warmers
This is something we never ever do. Ever.

Shh and I'll whisper Well I say diet, it is more of a cutting down exercise, trimming off the fat as it were. That dreaded phrase 'portion control' is coming into my kitchen on hushed feet. What torture is this? Actually portion control is fab, saves a fortune so long as we don't snackeroo. So far so good. No, it isn't a diet. Sensible eating fits the bill nicely. If you call it a diet all you want to do is eat. Munch, crunch, chew and nibble. So it is most definitely not a diet. The D word is banned henceforth.

Now you'd think eating less would cost less but not so. 'Tis probably why only the rich and famous can afford to be thin as age advances along with the waistline. This being sensible lark takes time and effort and its toll on the coffers. Wee ones need their food and their fat. Big ones need to reign it all in while they still have the chance. So we're juggling to avoid the jiggling. Thank heavens for booze I say! Cutting down on the nightly medicinal vino (the balm of most mothers post bed time) helps boost the purchase of 'healthier options'. I'm amazed anyone can afford to be veggie, it tots up.

Let's give it a few weeks and see how it goes, once I find a recipe that actually tastes as good as a full fat version then I'll whip it up here in a flash. Hope it isn't a long wait!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ta very much garden of Eden

If the Good Book is to be believed dear old Eve was tempted by the delights of the humble apple way back before temptation was even a word. And who can blame her? Well we can all blame her apparently but let us brush that aside. Round, luscious, juicy with a rosy red glow (no we're not still talking about Eve) who could resist the delights of that little fruit?

I for one would have snapped up the serpents offer and taken a big old bite. Which is why the annual Apple Festival at Middle Farm in Sussex is a true delight. Apple-fest to us regulars (get me, regular, I've been the last two years) is a big bucket of appley-fun. And the copious quantities of cider on offer only adds to the joy. Cider, now there is wonder. Apparently the true drink of England predating even our beloved beer. While it may conjure images of aggro-teens escaping the boundaries of the local park after one too many special K, or the street crazies lounging on benches with 5 gallon jugs of the supermarket own brand gut rot, cider is in fact a noble taste sensation that has graced the tables of kings (I think- hic).

Welcome to the home of the good sup cider

So I'm happy with the bars and bands on offer. Oh yes live music graces not one but two stages with hay bales galore for a true country-knees up vibe. What is a dance without straw in your hair I ask you? Hubby has the short straw (no pun intended) of designated driver but compensates with hog roasts and pork sausages so he's happy. Actually so am I, the hog roast is a proper whole pig spit roasted on site and worth the 20 minute queue. Granny joins me in the festivities with a sip or two of the 'grown's up apple juice' and the wee ones have the best deal of all with a funfair, farm animals, fluffy bunnies and a play park to enjoy, washed down with lashing of freshly pressed apple juice. Lest we forget there is also ice cream, cake and toffee apples on offer to ensure they have enough sugar energy to make the most of all the entertainment on offer.

The market stalls proffer rosy balls of apple delight, all locally grown age old varieties your supermarkets rarely provide at a mere £1.99 a kilo which isn't a bad deal at all. Then you have the cheese, pork pies, sausages, chutneys and jams. All local produce and all delicious to the last. If it has apple in it you'll find it here. Cream of the crop for sure.

Temptation in a box

My mission as this blog states is to satisfy hearts, minds and tummies on a budget. With under 12's going in for free it cost a mere £20 for us to get in, plus a little extra for the fun stuff inside (not to mention the bar bill) but it is worth every penny. This mini festival hits every spot for all the family and is the perfect practice run for a great big summer festival which is the aim next year. Of course we'll be hitting the apples again too.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Strength in numbers

Six adults, six children and one large cottage complete with heated indoor pool. It sounds like a fair deal on paper. One adult per child and six of the ankle biters to amuse each other would surely mean adult supervision could be kept to a minimum. The pre-hol dream was of lazing by the pool with a glass of vino sharing banter with like minded pals. Alas not fair reader. Take those six children and multiply the effort per child by ten and you're just hovering in the right ball park. Not that you would want to go into that ball park - 'tis chaos in there. Us poor adults were run ragged day after day as the mini-us ramped up the energy levels with the sheer excitement of seeing each other every single day combined with the unknown delight of their very own swimming pool, right in the middle of the house. A small miracle before their very wide eyes.

It took two days of constant group vigilance to end the game of 'bounce on the big bed furthest from the grown ups'. While we've all indulged in a bed bounce now and then this game had the edge and that edge came in the form of clothes flinging - all over the room. In the end we conceded vigilance was not enough and wedged the door closed with a chair. That did the trick.God love 'em.

Do not be deterred though, a group holiday has its perks. First and foremost we got to hang out with friends for a whole week, sharing the pain of tiny-tots crazy hour and the fuzzy glow of witnessing group baby hugs and toddler love-ins. Plus the grown ups sank more than a few bottles of vino, local ales and fruity ciders each evening resulting in our own group hugs - love-ins however were strictly a private affair. And we got to play Pictionary!Oh yes we know how to rock. It's a game that needs at least four semi tipsy (or ideally totally trollied) players and in an increasingly baby-centric social circle it is hard, nay almost impossible to get the right conditions to play. So what a treat it was to whip out the board and sharpen those pencils. I mock ye not. And I didn't even win.

Purse-wise a group hol is a top idea too. 'Tis way cheaper than B&B's or hotels and probably on a par with camping without the wet weather worries or hassle of pitching. Economical and social - a match made in heaven. Not to forget the built in babysitting service. Priceless.

Not having children of school age helped too, we snuck off post summer hols and shaved a fortune off the rental price. Ah bring back the 70's when you could whisk kids out of school any time you liked. If this double dip recession continues I foresee my small ones having bouts of flu around Oct time requiring a full week off school to recover. Honest headmistress, they have a temperature of 39 (this global warming business has helped enormously with the late break - in T-shirts on the beach in Oct? Oh yes).

Is a group holiday with multiple wee ones a good idea? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. I'll just remember to wedge the door shut on the first day next time. 

Sunday, 10 October 2010

123, easy as N.C.T

It is every parents nightmare. Perhaps nightmare is too strong a word. Shall we go with bankbusting horrorfest? Yes, lets. Not one but two small ones suddenly spurt upwards and all those lovingly selected wardrobe items that once made them look like Jo-Jo-Mama models now make them look like tiny Frankensteins. It is freaky the speed with which those limbs extend, maybe it is all the reaching for the choccy in the top cupboard, surely biology alone can't be responsible?

Whether it was the chocolate (rationed I promise) or the mere fact of growing up I had to face facts, toddler boy and baby girl no longer fitted their clothes. Not just one or two items, no nothing so simple as that, every item of clothing from 'big boy pants' to frilly frocks refused to cover the cracks and meet at the seams. In a matter of days I struggled to dress my wee ones in anything that didn't look like I'd stole it from a leprechaun. Urgent action was called for.

In the nick of time a friend spread the word - the skint parents holy grail an N.C.T sale was in the offing. Relief was at hand. Not only was it a chance to update their wardrobes in one fell swoop, but thrown into the bargain was a chance to natter with the ladies and lunch back at the friends where all the small ones could run wild in their too small clothes together. With a glass (or several) of wine for the grown ups what was not to like in that plan?

Bunfights at dawn or 10.30am to be precise. An N.C.T sale is a unique event for the uninitiated. Ordinarily polite mummies let loose their inner hoodie to smash and grab with gay abandon When you see a smile translate as 'get your hands off'. The annointed (read N.C.T members) get first dibs and make merry while us mere mortals queue in desperate anticipation.

But I knew it was going to be a good day. On the way a lost French man was much relieved when I informed him he'd picked one of the few streets left in Brighton with free parking. Spreading the joy is a joyful thing. Surfing the streets on smiles it only get better at the station when a lovely man gave me a free latte because the person he'd made it for changed their mind. Giving a mother of two small ones free coffee is akin to saving them from a fire, especially at 9am on a Sunday morning (lie-in? What is that? A dim memory that's what) and his karma will surely shine.

Even the ticket man on the train was a sweetie, giving toddler boy not one but two 'tickets' for him and the friend he was on the way to visit. And he had a self confessed hangover. Another destined for good karma central methinks.

It was then I decided to go with the flow of the day. I would not engage in a bun fight over a pair of tights. I would not grab and dash and glower to get that top or those pants. No. This N.C.T sale would see a serene me, gliding round the hall, collecting charming items in a leisurely fashion, while like a swan under the calm was a frantic paddling. Totting up, planning ahead and weighing the value. Such fun.

I ended the day £50 down and the wee ones were fully (and funky) wardrobed up. The karma did not fail us and both toddler boy and baby girl can once more leave the house in clothes that fit and will hopefully continue to do so for many months to come. The N.C.T is surely a wonderful thing. And wine with lunch too? What sort of crazy bliss is that?!

Friday, 24 September 2010

The best laid plans...

I'm not a mouse or a man but my best laid plans most certainly went astray this week. The whole creating yumminess on a budget thing has been going remarkable well even if I do toot my own horn in saying it, so I guess it was time for a cock-up.

For days I'd been gathering in the ingredients for a stuffed cabbage, mentioned before in this blog, the stuffed cabbage is a delight and wonder that belies its grim institutional sounding name. Every trip into town was a recce for another component, all ingredients were located at rock bottom prices starting with the savoy cabbage and ending with some pine nuts (ooh they are pricey little nuggets at the moment - has there been some harvest failure I don't know about?)

Hubby was excited, I was salivating, toddler boy was fascinated and baby girl couldn't care less. All was well in the kitchen as the ingredients took shape into the dish. Now a stuffed cabbage does taste amazing but it is a major faff to make. The French do like their food a tad tricksy on the prep front. So tomatoes had been skinned and cored, pine nuts toasted, bacon diced, onion chopped, breadcrumbs whizzed and cabbage leaves blanched and assembled.Not to mention the crushed garlic, minced pork, blended herbs and beaten eggs. Finally I layered up the leaves with the stuffing and tied it all up into a big muslin wrapped cabbage again. This went to rest in the mixing bowl while I prepped the sauce it cooks in.

Shallots sauteed in butter while I diced potato. I was just peeling the carrots when disaster struck. Toddler boy got over curious and upended the mixing bowl, shattering it all over its contents. Unless we wanted minced insides there was no way we could eat the cabbage. Disappointed is too mild a word. Never have I wanted to eat something so much as that cabbage, nope, not even that hidden choccy bar during PMT. Toddler boy picked up on the enormity of his actions as he inserted a very heavy "sooooo" before his "sorry".

But in the spirit of the blitz (very topical me) I sliced the peeled carrots and whipped out the hummus for a little pre-dinner nibble. After a few more were added to its number the diced spuds turned into a buttery mash. The poor sauteed shallots were rescued by turning them into a white wine gravy (which nearly ended badly when the stock cube refused to co-operate and formed huge lumps throughout the sauce - thank heavens for a whisk Mrs Beeton indeed). A packet of herby sausages pulled from the freezer provided the pork fix and dinner was saved.

It wasn't stuffed cabbage though was it? Grrr...

What we should have been eating...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Why shell out more?

The egg man is our weekly pilgrimage. We get through the eggs in this house. I blame the brownies - as in the cake not the fairy folk. Not that we make them every week or anything but it's a 3 egg deal when we do. Then there is lemon drizzle cake, cookies, omelets and my favourite a tortilla or Spanish omelet to distinguish it from its flatter bready cousin. Yup, we like the eggs. Thankfully we like the fruit too or we'd be in a right...err..bind.

If the veggie patch fails again - or rather if it falls siege to the entire South Coast population of slugs and snails for yet another growing season (death to slugs and snails, show no mercy) then we're toying with the idea of swapping the soil for a chicken coop. Ooh home grown eggs, can you imagine? We could try that grab them while they're hot game and squish them into squares, sooo much easier to slice. It is definitely a plan.

But in the meantime it is the egg man. He lives in Brighton's open market and sells the best eggs ever, free range, locally sourced and totally non corporate. There is usually time for a chat about the world and life in general thrown in with the eggs. Toddler boy loves him, hands over the cash with a chesire cat grin. And the best bit is that there really isn't much cash involved. His biggest baddest ovum are a mere £1.18 for six and those babies are big, mahooosive. His mediums (89p for half a dozen) are about as big as the best the supermarkets offer in their large range. The eggman can't be beaten - although his eggs can and make a rather nice meringue if you do.

Urban freshness at Brighton's open market

Friday, 10 September 2010

Nifty thrifty

One doesn't want ones little ones to look like scallywags does one? Not at all. Nope. Brighton is a city where funky is taken on as a religion and to lack style, well, it is a sin. So what can one do if one lacks the budget to get 'the look'? One can fiddle and fake it, that's what. Or tell the fashionistas to go shove their style where needles fear to thread. But being a polite young woman (yes young thank you very much) I would never be so rude. So fiddle and fake it wins the day.

Out browsing in the North Laines I stumbled across a new shop selling sweet, sweet dresses. Hand made in the funkiest of funky fabrics. Ah my baby girl would look just darling in one of these beauties. Shame about the price tag then. For a mere £27 daughter dearest could sport a dress to make the toddlers drool with envy, or at the very least the yummy mummies nod with approval. And who doesn't want to see that? Yes that £27 would bring smiles and joy to my wee one for all of 3 months at the rate she's growing. Or I could go to H&M kids and get 3 for that price. But they wouldn't have the kudos would they?

Ah that dress sparked an itch I had to scratch. So a plan was devised. There is a marvellous lady who sells the most amazing fabrics in Brighton (Michelle Le Maitre. 20, Church St,) and at £12 a meter they make it easy to create fresh and funky clothes at a fraction of the cost of buying them ready made. One meter was plenty to create a dress exactly like the one in the shop - 2 dresses if I cut carefully and lined with a plain fabric. What is not to love about that? 

So I got out the brown paper and a similar dress to make my pattern. Snipped and pinned and sewed and tweaked. And voila - a dress. Unique. Funky and most cost effective. Itch scratched. Baby girl got 'the look' and I got a pat on the back. Yay!

A toast to the new dress mummy dearest...
Baby catwalk
Up close and funky

Friday, 3 September 2010

In this we trust

The best thing we bought this year was annual membership of the National Trust. So very middle aged of us - for shame and not even forty. Ah yes a few sweet years still linger between me and the big FourOh. However I don't need to wait for the widening waist band and slipping dress sense to enjoy the bounty of this most illustrious organisation. National Trust is where it's at I tell ya.

For a mere eighty quid a year we can truss up the kids and shake them down in country estates, castles, glorious gardens and wild woods. Space, oodles of the stuff in every direction and fresh air coming out of our, well, our mouths. Breathe in - annnnnd- breathe out. It is like therapy for all the family. And the best bit is it's not retail therapy.

I have become the picnic guru. Who wants egg sandwiches and sausages everytime? Nope, no one. But even on a budget a picnic can be a treat. I've been getting glam with the sarnies, going for wraps or diddy ciabatta slices to shake it all up. This is for me really, my chance to get creative with the day. But with places like Aldi the baby girl and toddler boy (and me and hubby-man) are scoffing serano ham and cream cheese on ciabatta - yum.

On the baking front I can whip up a batch of the best brownies ever for less than £1.50 and that'll make enough for at least 2 trips out. It's the Hummingbird Bakery recipe and is the fruit of much searching on my part for the ideal brownie. Try it - I swear you won't regret it.

So, we've had top notch grub, amazing scenery and exercise beyond the minimum requirements. All on a shoe string. If you use your membership more than four times then every visit after that is free really as you're looking at £20 a pop for 2 adults to get into most places - under 5's go free anyway. We use ours every week almost, it has become the Saturday tradition. Scoop up the kids and go get some culture in the great outdoors. Toddler boy loved his last day out so much he danced round the kitchen singing 'I love the world' when we got home. Can't ask for more than that really.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Gone but not forgotten

Goodness me time does have the wings of a 747 in a hurry. It has been 9 long months since I last updated this site, long enough to have another baby (no-no I haven't). The two are plenty enough for me and as my absence from this shows rather time consuming.

So how's the battle to keep the troops happy on a budget? Well it is ongoing and rather like a British summer, occassionally glorious but patchy in places. I read an article in the Guardian about a woman who, for a change, as an experiment, on a whimsy, decided to try and entertain her wee boy for a WHOLE week spending not more than ten English pounds. Her conclusion? It is rather exhausting and more than a tad tricksy. Welcome to my life lady. You take that week, multiply it by 52 and then get back to me. Oh and add another small child into that equation while you're at it. Exhausted now?

So before I sound all bitter let's get back to business. The blogging business. I hereby do pledge to keep this blog up on a weekly basis. One post a week is my promise. What I can't promise is that there will be no typos or slight rambles although I'll do my damndest to avoid them but that old 'tired beyond reason' excuse will be the culprit if they do crop up. Forgive me.

Righteo-ho. So long, farewell and keep scrimping till next week. Over and out.