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...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Happy Birthday to ya, happy birthday...

Having children puts you in really weird positions, ones you could never imagine BC, not just even imagine but even begin to contemplate as a tiny germ of a possibility. First off is the mad bad world of baby groups - talk about culture shock, those places are seismic on the psyche. And yet they lure you back time and again as adult conversation with brain numbed ladies who are as worn out and sleep deprived as you is oddly seductive when weighed up against the alternative of no conversation at all. If you're very lucky you'll even get to know other mothers names and not just that of their offspring, I spent months knowing people as 'little Ethan's mum' or the lady from playgroup with the small baby. And if the gods are really smiling on you then you'll meet mums (friends BC are obviously excluded from this) who you genuinely like and could actually be friends with outside of the whole baby deal - that is a rare find and one to be treasured. I can count them on one hand so am either really anti social or incredibly discerning.

So, as my wee ones gained a few years it felt like progress to leave behind playgroups and that whole weird baby centric world that I took part in without being part of - it felt like I'd done my tour of duty. Why did no one warn me about  kids parties then? Oh horror I may have finished one tour but there are clearly a lot more on the way and I'm just not ready for the terms of combat. Now my wee man is older the parties have got more complex and we've just done the first of the 'don't know a soul here, not even the child who invited us' parties. Weird doesn't even begin to describe it. Being back at work I just don't meet other mums at the nursery, we all drop them off and scoop them up at random times dictated by the whims of employment. So, Saturday we're all gathered in a room and 80 % of people seem to know no one especially well so bond over 'lifestyle snap' - oh you wear prada - me too - lets chat - that sort of thing. The other 20% do know each other and form tight cliques which permit no outsiders. Lifestyle snap in that particular time and place was never going to work in my favour; so it was with relief I spotted the availability of vino plonko for grown ups, filled up a glass and secured a seat by the window so I could at least see the outside world and remember it existed.
cupcakes at dawn - the arrival of the status party

Now while I admit to imbibing a few glasses to get me through I can honestly say I was amazed - nay shocked - at the enthusiasm with which the yummy mummies hit the bottle. As cheeks got pinker, hips got looser (oh yes sir I can boogie so long as its ooh-ooh-ooh I want be like you-oo-ooo) and perfect smiles slipped away to reveal the frazzled souls beneath. One particular lady who upon arrival was cradling her darling and cheering on spotty-frocky-wocky-doodah-clownface an hour or so in dashed past me gently shrieking 'I will thrown him out the window' as her darling one made off with the birthday present stash that wasn't his. That was nice. We're all the same under the designer frocks.

Still it was hard work. Kids, cake and party tricks all equate to total mayhem which is not eased by the social stonewalling of parents with agendas. Maybe seeing the Rum Diary the night before had tainted my reasoning but it was a challenge not to stand up and shout 'what kind of fuckery is this?' Hunter would have been pleased I'm sure, not convinced the other grown ups would have seen the funny side. Thankfully not all kids parties will be thus - with friends the deal is entirely different and you don't even need a glass of vino to get through it as I discovered on the Sunday. So hurrah for that. The landscape of parenting may be shifting again but at least I know I can always rely on my friends for a good time.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Dulce et decorum est ut dico a nosey alio impetro lost

We may be approaching poppy day which is why this bit of Latin sprung to mind, but I've appropriated a spot of Wilfred Owen for my own ends I'm afraid. Roughly translated this means 'Sweet and honoured it is to tell a nosey person to get lost' and it is far, far, far more polite than the actual exchange that took place. I wouldn't want to raise a blush to innocent cheeks!

What could irk me so much to hurl such insults you may wonder. Well, wonder no more for I shall reveal all...

Any person with a small child will tell you that some days the gods simply are not on your side; nope, they are actively huddled against you, gazing down from the sky in heartless delight at your growing despair and waning sanity. They are revelling in your misfortune. Such a day happened to me last week. It all started when the pushchair broke the day before. Transporting toddler girl and my wee man to nursery the next day became an epic journey of Herculean proportions. A mere 20 minute amble turned into a 50 minute slog from hell, accompanied by suitable wails, screams and flailing limbs - and that wasn't all coming from toddler girl. Meanwhile my wee man was being patient and sweet, polar opposite of his sister who flung herself face down on the pavement, ran into gardens and to cap it all removed her clothes repeatedly.
The full force of toddler girl fury was unleashed...

It was in a state of semi undress (no cardi, no coat just a short sleeved dress) on a cold autumn morning, face contorted with wails of protest, as I attempted to safely get her across a rather busy road, that the incident happened. A lady, late fifties, clearly well to do, decided she knew better than me how to handle my children. So she opted to turn her car around and drive over to me, pull up, wind down her window and inform me that 'maybe your child would be happier if you dressed her properly, put a coat on her'. Said coat was dangling useless in my hand, repeated attempts to get the damn thing on toddler girl had ended badly; there are only so many battles you can take on in one morning. Next to me stood wee man, suitably wrapped up against the weather - clearly I knew how to do it - it was obvious toddler girl wasn't co-operating. What right did this woman have to vent  her unasked for wisdom on me? So she got the full throttle of my angst and frustration, which was phrased more delicately than I'd have liked thanks to the presence of the wee ones.  My tirade ended with 'look, she has a coat you nosey old cow'. Which I thought was quite mild in the circumstances.

People at the bus stop opposite made the unfortunate choice to gawp, and they too experienced my wrath, "anyone else care to comment on how I raise my children?" I yelled to ducking heads and averted eyes. Nope, good. Then let us continue on our way.

The good folk at their nursery were most kind on seeing my distraught face. Tea & sympathy followed - when wee man piped up "she was a nosey old cow wasn't she mummy?" tension released into smiles and the day improved dramatically. But I still bought a new pushchair on the way home!

Monday, 27 June 2011

I have of late, wherefore I know not...lost my cooking mojo.

I seem to be channelling my inner Hamlet at the minute with these post headlines. It must be my education coming back to haunt me although maybe I should have paid more attention in home-economics as these past few weeks my abilities in the kitchen have taken a knock or two. I've gone from (self proclaimed) kitchen diva to kitchen disaster in the time it took to realise that grown-ups at work actually have conversations and don't just say 'Please can I have' swiftly followed by 'Why?' every five minutes. Perhaps I am still reeling from the shock and when I get my balance back so the cooking mojo will return.

Big tall hubby and I still enjoy monthly £10 dinner dates, this month it was my turn to cook and I set out determined to be Mrs Organised and deliver a delicious taste sensation in three easy courses despite it being on a Friday and me not getting home from work till gone six. Attending the girl-guides all those years ago hasn't been wasted on me, oh no, I can be prepared with the best of them. So Wednesday I'm planning a menu, loosely around an Andalusian theme, Thursday I begin to get things prepped. We're starting with Gazpacho, which would have been fine but for the fact the blender broke.The resulting food processed soup lacks that, smoothness, the velvety touch, but I ploughed ahead with it anyway. Then I attempted the pudding, a mango tatin, which went horribly wrong not once but twice. Second time around I was too tired to care and plonked it on a plate hoping lashings of ice-cream would disguise the burnt-caramel top.

The real Gazpacho - look at the glossy liquid in that glass!
Friday arrives and in a crazy, 'ooh I've got a paycheck' frenzy I decided to make an extra course (clearly flaunting the £10 rule) of dates wrapped in bacon. Sadly the balsamic reduction goes the same way as the mango tatin. So we're 'enjoying' and I use the term loosely, burnt appetisers followed by grainy lumpy soup for starters.Thank heavens for Sainsbury's special offer on Rioja!

Things start to look up with the main, polenta crusted pork with a chili buttered rice and green beans (thank you Delicious Magazine for that). That we wolf down all smiles. Although, by this point it could be the Rioja kicking in. Then comes the dessert, with mangoes so overcooked they give rubber a run for its money. You could have tiled roofs with them, I swear. Hubby, in a bid to cheer me up announces the pastry 'is lovely and goes well with the cream'. Much to his amazement this throws me further into a foodie-funk - I bought the pastry ready made - the only edible bit of the whole dessert was not from my own fair hand. Sigh. Abandoning culinary delights for coffee and rum is a much wiser move and ensures we finish our date with a flourish. These things are for the fun, not the food, I remind myself; there is more than one sort of mojo out there...

Still, there is a summer fete coming up and I'm down to bake a cake...please sir, can I have my mojo back now?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

To Bee or not to Bee

Golly it has been a while hasn't it? That's what getting a job does for you; no time left to do all things you did when you didn't have a job; well not a full time-all the time one anyway. Now I have to get up every morning I can see why I liked freelance. Still, on the plus side my bank manager can heave a sigh of relief and my purse is officially upgraded to a nice large glass of Rioja.

Job or no job, mummy duties remain. And what can be a finer (or more demanding) mummy task than creating the ubiquitous Fancy Dress Outfit. Why do these educational establishments insist on hosting events that involve dressing ones child in a costume that is near to impossible to pull together from an old tea towel and some sticky backed plastic? What happened to the Nativity being the only time when you had to transform your wee one into something marvellous? I have not one but two of these things in the space of three weeks; I ask you do they think we all have mini-costume wardrobes at our finger tips? My house isn't a storage facility for the BBC. These things take time. They take thought. They take it out of me, they do, they really do.
Now that is a bad-bee. My bee was better I swear! If only he'd worn it so I could get a photo...

These days you can pick up fancy dress outfits for a modest price and the wee ones do love a bit dress up; so it could be an investment. But filled with the desire to be a good-mummy I whipped out the needle and thread and got creative with some fabric, knicker elastic, coat hangers and fabric paint. It seemed like a good idea; cost effective even. Hmm. Me thinks it may have been a false economy. My small boy was due to sing at the Bugs Ball, so inspired I set about forging him a Bumble Bee outfit. This comprised of black tights, a long sleeved black top, deely-boppers and a handcrafted yellow and black striped bee 'shift' elasticated at neck and ankles to give that 'puff-ball' look, complete with mesh covered coat hanger wings. Honestly it was not as bad as it could have been. It could have been so much worse. Hubby declared himself dismayed on our wee man's behalf. 'He's not wearing it' he declared. 'Oh yes he is' I insisted - I'd finished this masterpiece at midnight - on a work-night too. It was not going to waste; not on my watch. That was my stance as fell wearily into bed...

As it turns out my first born, a small and growing boy did not sing as a Bee. He sang as a slug, permitting all but the bee bit of the outfit anywhere near his tiny frame. So in answer to Hamlet's eternal question, it is clearly 'not to Bee'.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Home is where the art least for May

It is that wonderful time of year when Brighton opens up its treasures for the month of May and the largest arts festival outside of Edinburgh kicks off once more. Brighton Festival is simply fantastic. There is art, comedy, theatre, cabaret, music, dance and literature; some is a tad on the pricey side but there is much to be enjoyed for absolutely nothing. Free is my favourite word. Free and festival in the same sentence? Just watch that grin spread over my face.
The fire garden; a free event for Brighton Festival 2011

For those with a love of art and a well developed nosey streak a highlight of the festival is Brighton Open Houses. Generous folks open their doors and let any Joe-schmo off the street into their homes to ogle art in all its forms. You can spy sculpture, paintings, crafts and fabrics; an eclectic range of creative wonders to delight your senses and fuel your inner art critic. Some of it is frankly dodgy but there is an amazing number of talented artists out there who call Brighton home. There are around a hundred of these Open Houses, all for free and many come with nibbles and if you are very lucky a glass of wine.

Big tall hubby and I have the good fortune to have an extremely talented artist for a neighbour (check out his work here. He kindly invited us to the private viewing of his Open House show (at someone else's house) which was packed with great art and there was wine aplenty. Our attendance nearly didn't happen when babysitters were hard to find; when another neighbour most generously stepped into the breach. Fret not, we don't leave the children with any old person who happens to live on our road; our saviour is a trusted friend that the wee ones speak to often. Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours; oh the song is so right. We enjoyed a wonderful Friday night out on the town that didn't cost a bean simply because we share a postcode with some lovely individuals.

It doesn't matter if you know no one; Open Houses are for all to enjoy. Just check out the Open Houses website and shimmy on down for a spot of culture that doesn't cost a bean - unless you're tempted to pick up a bargain and bag yourself a future Warhol.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Thank you Prince William and KateMiddleton for another bank holiday

Here we are at Easter Monday, day four of a bank holiday-fest with not one but two more to look forward to within the space of a week thanks to the wedding of Prince William to his 'peasant' bride Kate Middleton. How lovely of them to bestow something on the nation in celebration of their big day; will this be an annual treat? I hope not.

Call me sour-puss if you will but I could do without another day of bank holiday madness. I blame it on living in a seaside town; if the statisticians are to be believed a whopping 400,000 people have descended on Brighton this Easter to enjoy the unbelievably un-British hot weather beside the seaside. At any one point 150,000 bodies were worshipping the sunshine on our boiling shingle. Is this the place to take two wee ones seriously lacking the sense to stay put in a crowd? I think not. Especially not toddler girl who assumes a bright red shade as the weakest of the sun's rays strike her fair complexion and yet refuses to keep her hat on for more than an hour. As for applying the saving grace of factor 50 - try pinning down a raging tiger it will be easier.

Thankfully we had the wondrous National Trust to fall back on; throwing caution to wind on the cost of petrol we scuttled out of Brighton as fast as our wheels could take us and headed for Standen House. This old Arts & Crafts estate is amazing. They've built a fantastic zone for kids out of woodland; this has two cunning bonuses. The first is shade; not to be sniffed at when the temperatures soar and sun lotion is a battle best avoided. The second is a crazy, clambering, rough and ready range of amusements for small folk that can be bashed and scrambled on with wild abandon. No need to fret or worry about potential damage and it is self contained so they can't disappear into the masses and send your heart rate into the danger zone. Throw in some perfectly placed picnic table with stunning views and you have it made.

The beautiful Arts& Crafts estate of Standen House; views aplenty
But there is no need for a bank holiday to head out there; it's open every weekend for 9 months of the year. While I see that bank holidays are quite lovely really I can't help but heave a sigh a relief once they are over; entertaining wee ones is hard enough without having to fight the crowds for the fun-stuff. As for the double-dose next week; well best get the National Trust book out and start hunting for salvation.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Can you picture the Royal Wedding photo album?

Unless you have been dwelling in a cave these past few months the crazy media feeding frenzy that is ramping up for the nuptials of the century as William and Katy tie the knot can not have passed you by. While I fervently wish it would simply slide past my consciousness I am unable to avoid its approach. Which got me to wondering how would they do it if they had total freedom. An even more radical thought, what if they were footing the bill? As anyone who has ever said the immortal words 'I do' will appreciate the fact of a wedding quadruples the cost of everything involved. That bunch of roses you see for £20? Oh no, with a special wedding ribbon added they suddenly cost £80. And then there are the photos. Capturing all those smiles doesn't come cheap. It is amazing the bride and groom can smile at all with what most shebangs cost these days.

Hubby and I did it on a budget so tiny it probably doesn't even cover the cost of the confetti for our dear darling Royals. Thankfully we have creatively wonderful friends who loaned us their talent at no cost so the wedding album is bursting with great shots of the big day. A good photo is hard to beat for bringing back memories or simply just a smile. But not all days of our lives are 'big days', more's the pity as the excuse for champers would be quite brilliant. What about those days that slip past full of laughter and silliness? I've come round to the idea that it's why they invented mobile phones. There is a back catalogue to rival Annie Liebovitz of snap shots and caught moments; these show our little family in progress through this life and are worth more than gold to me. Flicking through the digitized photo albums is an instant mood enhancer.

Possibly the greatest photo collage of all time...
Another up-side to the digital photo is home printing; cheap and instant, like a Polaroid without the shaking. As the job hunting (mentioned in the last post) is something of a non-starter I decided our house needed a big mood boost; a karmic shift of sorts. What better than a huge collage of family photos? An old framed poster was the perfect size, so out went Klimt and in went the wee ones along with a carefully edited selection of mummy and daddy. Home printing allowed me to plunder the back catalogue, printing pics of all sizes to build up a massive A1 sized gathering of all that was good with life. Just looking at it makes me feel all fortunate and soft centred. We now have a new vibrant bit of 'art' for the walls and all for the cost of some paper and ink. And I have pinned down dozens and dozens of reasons to be cheerful in the face of job hunting torment and impending Royal weddings. Say cheese!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Is SEO the way of the future?

A lemonade purse is all well and good but there comes a time when a gal wants more; like champagne or at the very least a nice class of rioja. This freelance lark is fine when a stable income isn't a priority but in these times of new austoryty - oops sorry that is austerity isn't it. Silly me. As I was saying; with belts pulling in faster than troops in Libya it has reached a point when a return to the world of the office is a must. After three years at home with wee ones I have discovered that employers are less than thrilled to see my CV land on their pile. And what piles they are; great towering edifices of hope and desire. My experience and skill set is, even if I do say so myself, rather good. But a communications job in Brighton - make that ideally a part time communications job - is harder to find than hen free pub down Western Road on a Saturday night. That is unless you work in the SEO trade. For those saying 'what the heck?' this is Search Engine Optimisation. It is a way of marketing online that can be rather brilliant (white hat) but sometimes rather shady (black hat), oh I know the lingo I do. You naughty spammers you.

As I left the world of corporate communications waddling with my baby bump, the world of SEO was new territory to be explored. It appears that in my absence it has not only been explored but conquered and Brighton owns the whole damn kit and caboodle.So it was with a huge sigh of relief that I discovered a free - yes free - conference all about SEO right here in Brighton. If you tweet you'd find it under #BrightonSEO. These lovely SEO people are so brilliant at what they do that they kindly shared their wisdom for naught but the pleasure of people listening and they offered free coffee and danish pastries into the bargain. I genuinely think they deserve a huge round of applause for their efforts; it was well organised, had an amazing range of speakers and for me proved the ideal learning platform for this growing area of communications. Did I mention it was free too - ah yes.

Brighton, a city that is King of SEO

If you want more info on this wonderful event visit Brighton SEO.

Now thanks to the info sharing joy of Twitter and the wonderful generosity of #BrightonSEO I am armed and dangerous; ready to write SEO copy for the highest bidder. Well, at the very least I would be comfortable adding it into my marketing mix and this adds another layer of polish to the old CV. Can SEO be part of my future? Let us keep fingers and toes firmly crossed.

Monday, 4 April 2011

What would Angelina Jolie do?

There are those mums that tell their kids "I don't want anything for mother's day." Who are they kidding? I mean really you spend all year being on hand for cooking, cleaning, hugging and playing, listening, making and general all round providing. Isn't it nice, just for one day (okay let's make that two days as your birthday must come under the same joyous rule book) to kick back and be indulged? Call me selfish if you will but I like to wallow in the 'me-me-me' of this glorious hallmark holiday. Come on, they don't call it Mother's Day for nothing now! I will bet my last chocolate in the box that even a jet set A Lister like Angelina Jolie welcomes the chance for her brood to show some mommy-love.
From People magazine website - Angelina and her babies. All mommies need a pampering...
With the wee ones being a tad too wee to actually understand what this day is all about I have to manage my expectations a little but big tall hubby helped them deliver a day to treasure. Now when I say I want something, I mean bare minimum a card. And did they deliver? Oh yes they did. Wee boy came home with the sweetest card ever from nursery (it is good to know that he loves me because I make him smile - AND - give him chocolate) and both made gorgeous cards with a little handicraft daddy-help. You can't beat handmade when it comes to cards; all that budding creativity on show and it costs next to nothing. Indulgence can come cheap.

Not quite as secret as secret squirrel but lovely none-the-less.  
Of course the chocolates and flowers didn't go amiss - although wee boy blew any surprise factor by announcing first thing, "Daddy has secret flowers and chocolates for you mummy." Well, not so secret now are they? Bless. But a little mummy-me-me-me-ness does not have to involve presents (welcome though they are), nope what made my day was the constant stream of hugs and kisses from wee boy and toddler girl flagged with the cry "Happy Mother's Day", and big tall hubby's willingness to take on all kid-duties from dirty nappies to bedtime stories for the day and cook me dinner into the bargain...and to do the dishes after. Now that is what I call a pampering.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Back to nature

Spring has sprung and all things fresh, new and leafy are happening. It is that exciting time of year when winter wanders off and we all remember what the sun feels like on our skin. It is a time of hope and optimism. Mother nature is saying hello and it would be plain rude to ignore her. Life in cities sometimes feels one step removed from nature but if you look close enough it is round every corner. From front gardens, window boxes and parks to allotments, roadside verges and even cemeteries there is stuff growing aplenty. Perhaps wee ones pick up on this as they seem overly blessed with energy as the days get brighter and the mornings earlier. While this is fantastic for all things veggie soaking up the goodness of the golden rays it is slightly less than wonderful for any person with a wee one. Toddler girl and wee boy are up at the crack of dawn, literally, so as that crack comes in wider and earlier so do they into our bed shouting 'hello, I've had a good sleep.' I find that hard to believe and even if they have you can pretty much bet your last pound coin mummy and daddy have not; a good sleep requiring the basic semblance of a lie in. It was once if I was out of bed after 6.30/7am at a push (obviously AC  - if we're talking BC then call it midday) it was the best lie-in I could hope for; now if it's 6am I feel blessed and very, very knackered.

In order to cash in on this unavoidable seasonal bounce I get with the garden and grow-grow-grow. Some years this works like a dream and we laugh giddy with the abundance of leeks and potatoes in our grasp. Other years it ends in all out war with the slugs and snails as crops disappear before our eyes. Last year was hit and miss. The veggie patch became pure slug territory and my poor pumpkins were massacred as were the carrots and leeks. But the tomatoes and green beans came on like Olympians and we dined on them in endless nicoise salads or minestrone soups (what else can you do with them both?)

Taking to the garden as the days get brighter has multiple benefits, not least the wee ones can 'help' with the planting. This week we planted our tomatoes, three varieties and I'm going for a double prong attack. A grow bag holds some hopeful seeds out on the patio while little pots sit on our window sills waiting for the shoots to arrive. The window sill method is usually fail safe but I'm not sure how many will make it this year; toddler girl was a little less adept at keeping hold of the seeds than required. Maybe the lawn will sprout a few plants as  more than a few seeds ended up hidden in the grass.
Tiny sprigs of spring hope; let the tomatoes grow...
We'd been busy the week before with the carrots, beans, peppers, pumpkins and onions. I don't have high expectations for them as the slugs still own the veggie patch but these tomatoes are the great bright hope of our spring planting plan. Toddler boy is a seasoned gardener now; he fondly recalls the joy of pulling the ripe veggies off the plants last autumn; this has influenced the care he's lavished on this season's seeds.

So we've had time outdoors that doesn't involve a park or the beach; always a bonus in my book. In a few months we can save on the food bills as the crops come rolling in (fingers crossed, slug pellets out) and the days have been packed with planting activity keeping the wee ones busy with no effort required - well just a little effort. Our little seedlings will continue to keep the wee ones active as we embark on the daily do we - don't we water debate. I say debate but it is more of an ongoing 'explaination' with wee boy who would like to water them at every opportunity; but to be fair when they do need watering he is right on the case with toddler girl right beside him.

So come on the sunshine; you've work to be doing!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Sew, a needle pulling thread

In case you hadn't guessed I like to cook. I love cooking, which is just as well as I do a lot of it, tonnes of the stuff. Our bread, cakes, biscuits, sweet treats, soups, sauces and meals are 99.9% of the time home cooked by my fair hand. As a consequence my wee ones enjoy time in the kitchen watching mummy go slowly mad trying to prepare four things at once and keep tiny fingers from being burnt/chopped/blended/crushed in the frenzy.

Alternatively I'm attempting to save the dish of the day from total ruination thanks to the wonderful 'help' the wee ones love to offer. Such help as adding handfuls of salt, pouring in twice as much liquid or dropping it all into the beaten egg mix; all and more has gone before my frazzled eyes as two hours of work goes into the bin. But, you know, it's my mummy-duty to encourage this cooking interest so I'm told and I always like to do what I'm told - well nearly always.

To be fair small boy is now very adept at helping and will almost do exactly what he's asked. I like this progress and to encourage it I decided it was time for him to own an apron. Toddler girl was gifted a charming pink apron which she adores mostly because it is pink. Pink is the colour of joy and happiness for her right now; she gravitates towards all things pinky like a bee to nectar. Both the wee ones like to copy grown up behaviour, so when I don my apron toddler girl must have hers. Poor small boy was feeling a tad left out.

Brighton has some fantasticly lush cook shops, and those shops that don't seem to sell anything specific just random things from joke toys to candles and in the mix is always some fascinatingly wonderful homeware that costs at least twice as much as you'd expect for the size/practicality/general existence. Off I went in search of an apron suitable for a small boy and aprons I found in said cook shops and random emporiums. Could I find one that was A) attractive and B) affordable? Could I heck. If it was cheap then it was usually branded with some hideous kids TV programme and if it was funky it was a small fortune for such a simple item.
Many choices of pattern but it comes at a price.
With no middle ground in sight and very achey feet from all that shop-browsing I admitted defeat and trudged home; it was on the slog up the hill that it hit me - I would sew him an apron. With bags of fabrics at my disposal it was the ideal sollution. That very eve I perused my fabrics and using toddler girl's apron (or apricot as she likes to call it, thankfully I speak fluent toddler) as a basic template I upgraded it for my small man. So easy, it took less than two hours to choose, cut and hand sew the whole thing. The next morning I made pancakes just to have an excuse to whip it out for him.

Should you fancy making your own I found this great web site which has stacks of apron designs you can use... Free-apron-patterns-you-can-make

Now my small boy sports a very dashing denim apron, designed especially for him. It has been lovingly hand crafted from recycled jeans and bears his name in chunky letters of other clothing related fabrics. Waste not want not as the mantra goes. When he stands still for long enough I shall post up a photo as I'm most chuffed with this needle and thread effort. It cost me nothing but time and it was time well spent. All three of us strut around the kitchen decked out in our apricots having a grand old time with whatever ingredients are called for; cooking doesn't get better than this.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Good times aren't hard to find

You know the annoying credit card ad on TV which shows you someone spending a fortune to 'bond' with a family member before declaring the whole thing 'priceless', well they got one bit right. Time with people you care for is totally priceless. The crucial point the ad misses is that because time with such people is invaluable then you don't need to spend a king's ransom to enjoy a few hours with them. Some aspects of life are not for buying. I will now climb down from my soap box in a ladylike way.

It came to mind because we've just had a lovely weekend spent with friends and family and while it didn't come for free we certainly didn't need to crack into the credit cards to make it happen. All it cost really was a bit of organisation and commitment. First we had family round for dinner; there's only one set close enough to 'pop round' for dinner. You can't really call a 300 mile or 800 mile round trip 'popping' can you? But with work, kids and DIY those of us down south find it hard to pop anywhere in synch despite living 10 miles away from each other. So dinner was an event. We've had a few of these events this year. It's the plan; socialise at home, cook lavish 4/5 course dinners and go the whole hog with menu's and place names. I keep a menu from each and they'll be going into my scrap book (the year we ate - I'll call this section in the ongoing saga of life.) Maybe I'm hoping that one day I'll be a famous author and these scrapbooks will be lovingly held in a museum. More likely I'll be scrutinizing them in the old people's home wondering what it's all about; but hey I prefer option one.

Despite spending a day and a half cooking  like a loon it was worth the effort; we valiantly stayed up till midnight before confessing en-mass to being shattered and good for nothing; certainly not Pictionary which had been the plan post dinner. We even abandoned the rum - imagine! Another perk of the lavish dinner party is left overs. I say lavish but it is more about the scrumptiousness of the food than expensive ingredients; so tonight we're having steak chili in tortillas and chocolate mole tart for pud; not fancy but tasty. I love leftovers.
Chocolate, spices and sweet temptation on a plate...

There were no leftovers from our catch up with friends the day after though; the downside of not being the cook. Many moons ago we lived in London and were lucky enough to find the most amazing group of locals who we gelled with; for many years we socialised with each other several times a week. This was BC of course when nipping to the pub didn't involve UN levels of negotiation. And Gipsy Hill is an area awash with good pubs and restaurants for DINKIES to wallow in; it would have been rude not to. These days few of us remain DINKIES but we do remain friends. For the first time our new child-focused life collided with our old footloose and fancy free life as we took the small ones along for the reunion. So weird to hold my small boy's hand while wandering past pubs I'd staggered out of almost a decade before. But our old favourite restaurant Lorenzo's ( not let us down; all the children were catered for and all the adults ordered wine and old faves from the menu. Lunch lasted three hours but it felt like minutes and when the bill came we all smiled. Yup, Lorenzo's is still great value for money and our friends are still great friends. In some cases thousands of miles usually separate us but you wouldn't have guessed from the banter round the table.
The wonderful Lorenzo's for tasty Italian food that won't break the bank
With so much going on in the world that is sad, grim or plain horrible at the moment I wanted to offer up a post that celebrated the simple pleasures of spending time with good people. It need not cost the earth but it is most certainly priceless. 

Monday, 7 March 2011

Finger licking good

No, no, no, we're not going to be talking about the delights of fried chicken in a secret recipe coating (hormonally tempting though it can sometimes be) that if they are to be believed is the sole creation of a nice old Southern gentleman. Really? A colonel you say? Well I never. We're talking chicken plain and simple. This is one bird that deserves a place in every kitchen. Let's list the good points:
  • Healthy (well it is when grilled or boiled but even fried or roasted it's better than other meats)
  • Versatile (you can cook it and eat it in so many ways it's like this bird wants to be eaten I swear - it has wings and yet it doesn't fly much? Hmmm)
  • Economical (there ain't much waste with these birds, right down to the bones)
  • Darn tasty (most especially when fried but let's not dwell on that point as we're still attempting 'the healthy eating regime')
As a family food staple you can't go far wrong with our feathered clucking friend. Unless you don't go in for the flesh of animals of course and then you'd be so far wrong that you may as well enjoy the trespass into the dark side. A good bit of chicken, like a top slice of bacon, has been known to topple more than a few veggies in its time; all hail the conquering hero. It is a taste temptation.
Moist, tasty and great value; the bird with the mostest.
Regulars of this blog will know that the aim here is to have much fun or indulgence as possible on the least amount of cash; and in this increasingly recession-heavy climate who doesn't what that? So how does chicken fit in? Especially if you've been Jamie O guilted into purchasing the flesh of birds that have skipped and danced in neverland before landing on your plate - blimey their lifestyle costs more than mine it would seem. Still, they do taste better for it. The key to maximum chicken value is a full on roast. 

A large roast chicken can provide three dishes for four folks which is both nifty and thrifty. So, we start with a roast and all the trimmings (left over veg can either go into bubble or as I did here, into the soup). There are three meals which scream Great Britain and a big old roast is top (followed by a full fry up and fish & chips) whether it be beef, lamb, pork or bird. It's gotta have a Yorkshire pud, stuffing and some bacon wrapped sausages no matter what; no purist plates here thanks. Roast the bird french style with a lemon up its bottom and basted in butter and garlic - leaves you with super moist meat gently flavoured. Just rub a bit of butter all over it every 20 mins until it's been in the oven an hour, then add 6 cloves of garlic (don't peel them just shove them between the breast and legs) and a last bit of butter and let it cook till its done. Delicious. There is something so calming about the tradition of a proper roast dinner; Sunday ain't Sunday without it.

Once the roast is finished strip the bird of all the flesh you can find (we're experimenting with portion control so it helps with the leftovers) and take half for the soup. Shove the bones into a pan of water with a couple of bay leaves and a few sprigs of rosemary & thyme (or put in some dried herbs) and boil for at least an hour. Then here's a recipe for a nice soup...
  • 2 large carrots chopped small
  • 2 sticks celery thinly sliced
  • 1 leek sliced
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 courgette chopped small
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can canelli beans
  • all the left over veg including the roasties all chopped up chunky - if there isn't much left on the veggie front then add 1 medium potato chopped and a big handful of either fresh or frozen greenbeans.
Once the bones have boiled take out the carcass and fresh herbs and give it a once over for any escaped morsels of chicken, set these aside if you find them. Then add all the veggies and boil for about 45 mins.  Add the tinned veg and let cook for another 10 mins. You can add a bit of tomato puree if you want it to look a bit more orangey but it'll be fine without. Once all your veggies are cooked throw in the reserved cooked chicken and you're ready to serve. Because of the small ones I don't add salt to the main pot but sprinkle to taste in the bowl. This soup is great anytime of year, you can just use spring veg to make it lighter as the sun gets warmer - although as we're talking British summers we're straying into wishful thinking.

Two down and one to go... spoilt for choice with the last bits of chicken really. In summer I like to chop it small with the left over sausages in bacon and stuffing, mix it with a bit of mayo and enjoy some luscious sandwiches. But there are so many other uses...with broccoli in a fritata, mixed with spinach in a creamy white wine sauce with pasta, combined with chorizo and peppers with rice to make a cheats paella...on and on it goes and where the list stops nobody knows...

Three times the taste for the cost of one simple bird - now that is So Good.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Getting crafty

I blame Blue Peter. All those letter holders and Easter bunnies from toilet roll tubes and cotton wool got to me at an early and impressionable age. When it comes to make and do I'm your gal. If it involves a bit of sticking and painting all the better. Crafts have always been my bag; sometimes I actually make bags (see but I'll turn my hand to many things, collage, cork-boards, knitting, sewing and papermache-ing. Yup I'm the annoying woman in the shops who stands and declares "£20 for that? But I could make it myself." There are times when this is true but there are also those things that I really shouldn't bother trying; it'll only end in tears.

Cork-boards made from old corks and old picture frames look fantastic and make a lovely present.
Lately I've found that attempting crafty activities with the wee ones is also likely to end in tears. Usually when toddler girl has upended the glitter over wee boy's masterpiece thus rendering it useless and bin-bound, until I can convince him that a glittery dinosaur train driver (abstractly rendered as a greeny/purple splodge with yellow highlights) is actually quite brilliant and deserves as spot in 'the gallery'. I blame another childhood TV show for the creation of 'the gallery', Hart Beat (I think) the one with Morph anyways. Don't be misguided, the aforementioned gallery is actually just the wall by their beds but they like it and it saves on wallpaper.

Clearly despite watching too much TV in my youth I've come away with a creative ethic so it isn't all bad. With that in mind I do let the wee ones enjoy a bit of Mister Maker on cbeebies and quietly catch a bit of it for my own viewing pleasure.  Although these days I'm a tad more advanced in my handmade output there is something compelling about all that water based paint and pipe-cleaners.

It does save a fortune, making your own stuff. Take birthday cards; I've saved masses of images from magazines, fliers etc and I collage cards for friends and family. Sometimes it takes ages to find just the right thing but that's cool; I like that the card they get has been properly thought about and is utterly unique. And the wee ones like to experiment with card making too; we get out the card, glue and cut-outs and have some family fun. Okay I confess sometimes mummy does get a wee bit cross when small hands try and sabotage her work but on balance it is all good. Whether or not the cards recipients like it as much as we do is another thing! But they seem well received; then we do have very polite friends.

So it was a real treat to find this ladies blog ( with the free templates for some of her wonderful creations. Thanks to a lovely friend for passing this on as Ann Wood is a talented woman and I fully intend to have a go at those tea-cups. They'll make perfect containers for sweet treats. How glorious is that - combining two passions, cooking and crafts to produce individual gifts that will (hopefully) look amazing while costing a fraction of a shop bought version. Yup arts and crafts are sure way to beat the recession blues and have fun trying too.

If you've got a creative talent tucked away then bring it out, dust it off and share a photo in the comments box below...

Monday, 21 February 2011

From coast to coast

Big tall hubby and I dwell on the south coast; being by the sea is wonderful. Fresh air, fresh donuts at the pier and fresh faces every summer wandering around the place all astray. Funny how when you're a tourist you forget that other people live there all the time and when you live there all the time you forget that in other places you're the annoying tourist.

With both our families up north, these days we're the tourists when we go home; especially lacking the required regional accents. Hubby never had his and mine just got lost along the way; careless I know. Nothing marks you out like a stranger in strange land than your voice. But it still feels like home and makes for the perfect get away. What more affordable holiday is there than staying with friends and family? Not to mention the brilliant babysitting service it affords. We certainly made the most of that one; not having grandparents on the doorstep usually it was a treat beyond imagining to have them to lean on for a week. It was even possible to squeeze in a cinema visit (Black Swan - amazing) which we never do at home. Why waste a rare babysitter to go sit in a darkened room for a few hours ignoring each other? We may be notching up two decades together but we can still hold a conversation - given half a chance. Let's face it with wee ones around a proper conversation is as rare as roller skates on a granny. So when we had the option of babysitters for a few days in a row suddenly going to the cinema felt like a treat. The bonus of going up north is that it cost half the price of going at home, leaving plenty of spare change for some pick and mix sweeties. Oh we know how to live we do. Plus hot fresh coffee to keep us awake for the duration; problem of going away with wee ones is the disruption to sleep schedules. When they won't sleep neither can we...

Unless a generous neighbour is away for a holiday and leaves her keys for you. As an extra holiday bonus we got to spend not one but two nights all on our ownsome. We weren't just in a different room we were in a different building. Heaven. Thank crunchie for granny who embraced her 6am wake up calls without a murmur while we slept on and on. It was as good as a hotel; without room service but hey, sleep trumps breakfast on a tray any day. We actually felt like humans after our two nights of uninterrupted sleep and extended lie-ins. Well worth travelling 500 miles for make no mistake; and in the words of the proclaimers I'd travel 500 more.

A holiday without visiting a tourist attraction is like a boiled egg without the soldiers; it just isn't right. As Madagascar is the film of choice for our wee boy, with toddler girl swiftly following it seemed sensible to make the zoo our tourist destination. 'Lets go see Alex the lion' we enthused at wee boy who wasn't that keen to get back in the car. Unfortunately Scotland in winter is not the best place to see lions, tigers and bears. While we shivered in the showery cold the animals sensibly hid indoors under straw keeping warm. Apart from the penguins; it was the perfect climate for them. Our small ones didn't mind, they were too busy roaring at each other or attempting to break into enclosures. As grown ups we would have been a tad miffed at the cost of staring at nothing for half the afternoon had it not been for another generous friend providing us with free passes for the place; hard to complain at that price! The conclusion was that the zoo is best left to summer but at least we tried. It cost nothing and we lost nothing (apart from the tips of our fingers to frost bite).
Like their cartoon cousins Penguins are renown for their swift flippers when it comes to swiping goodies.
So our first family holiday of 2011 was also our first visit to family this year. It's handy having relatives half way up the country and right at the top; we can double dip into the gene pool and save on petrol costs. It wasn't quite Land's End to John O'Groats but our little coast to coast adventure was the perfect (economical) escape.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

One for the road

A road trip can be a wonderful thing. Open roads, comfy leather seats, good tunes on the stereo, junk food and lazy banter; cruising along life's highway with no rush or fuss. We've had many a happy time on four wheels; whether it be a road-trip proper or a long-haul motorway visit. That of course was BC. Yes, the days before children. Add two small ones to the mix and the romance of the long distance drive drops sharply. Tiny feet kicking at the back of your chair slightly detracts from the joy of scenery gazing; even when it is the glory of the peak district flying past the window.

Can't travel 500 miles up the country without eating though, most especially with children. Motorway services have never been a favourite but avoiding them is near impossible. Our plan has always been to scoff our own road-rubbish limiting service stops for caffeine fill-ups. With kids in tow the quality of our road-rubbish has gone up; now it even includes some of our five-a-day. Blimey. Fruit? In a car? What happened to the wotsits? But the caffeine fuel remains essential; as does the opportunity to let the kids run free. They don't take well to being strapped down for hours on end, especially toddler girl who announced 'I want to walk' in a very loud voice just hours into our mammoth drive up north. With impeccable timing she chose to drop off mere minutes before our service-stops which left her less that cheerful on the return to the car. By the time we reached Carlisle I was quite prepared to let her out for the much demanded 'walk' - all the way to Edinburgh. Thank god for strawberries. These red lovelies proved to be the saviour of our sanity. Both the wee ones happily munched them while we let the i-pod shuffle us up the motorway.

But there is one service stop that is a shining beacon of joy for harassed parents on the road; in fact it is a stopping-delight for anyone on wheels who happens to be up in the Lake District. Some know it as Tebay, others as West Morland, either name the place is the same. Why all service stops can't be like this I don't know. It is restful, the seats are comfy, it has ambiance (I know), it has a lake - with ducks, and a farm shop that sells snacks which although rather pricey does actually involve food and not cardboard or sawdust. What is more it has a children's play area that puts the sad little corners most services offer to shame. Hand crafted from real solid wood, beautifully decorated and ingeniously designed to allow maximum run about for wee legs in a small area the jewel in this play-zone crown is the CCTV that feeds directly to the tables and chairs in the adjacent parent zone (which also comes with kiddy sized tables and chairs so the wee ones can sit by you and pretend to be grown ups). Mummy and Daddy can upload on the coffee safe in the knowledge that the small ones are playing nicely.
The kid-zone is a treat for tiny sore legs and eyes
Even toddler girl didn't mind being woken up when she saw this place. And ever conscious of the spending - you get a second cup of coffee free if you take your empty cup up. Nice touch. I heart this place big time. Service station of the century I say. If you are going up north then schedule this place in - you will not regret it. On a budget it ticks every box; reasonable priced coffee and pleasant facilities. If you have the cash to splash then there are so many goodies on offer here you will pop with spending pleasure.
The gorgeous Tebay Services; makes the rest look amateur
As for the rest of the services; blah and double blah. Drink up and get out quick the car is way preferable. And so hot tips for in-car munchies on a budget include: the ubiquitous sandwich (cut into dinky squares), cheese chunks, strawberries (oh yes), bananas, little sausages and mini donuts (way less mess that biscuits). This finger food is easy to make, quick to scoff and very handy for passing to backseat passengers too wee to be trusted with their own nibbles. All that food combined with the coffee stops and a good soundtrack, why it was almost like a car trip BC. Keep that motor running...

Monday, 7 February 2011

In praise of tea

The more simple the pleasure the greater a pleasure it is. Nothing quite beats a cup of tea when it comes to the perfect 'ah' moment. And very few things are cheaper than a cuppa these days, unless you're buying it in a Parisian street cafe where you may as well buy a beer for half the price and double the fun. Perhaps appreciation of a Good Cup of Tea is a British thing? Although I'm being rude there and ignoring the glorious Chinese and Indian teas. For shame, not very multi-cultural of me at all. So I'll take that back. Many nations enjoy a good cup of tea and there is ritual and satisfaction in it the world over. Ah, balance restored.

Right there with that word I've pinpointed the joy of a cuppa, the ritual. Even the atheists amongst us need a ritual in life here and there; gives a day focus like nothing else. And if that ritual is no more complicated than dunking a tea-bag, adding a splash of milk and plopping into your favourite chair then so much the better. With biscuit or without biscuit - the choice is yours. But why stop with a biscuit?

In my recent hunt for Victoriana I stumbled across a glorious cake-stand. You know the ones that grannies brought out for Sunday brunch, 3 tiers of naughty taste-ticklers to tempt you, that's the one. A small family tradition growing up was to take afternoon tea once in a while at a splendidly grand establishment, my dad wanted me to grow up feeling comfortable in these places. Well he achieved that no problem; luxury hotel stay? Yes please. However, as budgets do not allow for a cheeky stop over at The Dorchester these days I have come up with the next best thing (almost, minus the service and chance to celebrity spot and the amazing comfort factor). I said next best didn't I?

What is this alternative - I'll tell you. Afternoon tea at home. That cake stand works like magic, worth every penny of the £1.50 it cost me. Set the table, bring out the tea service, cake stand in proud full view laden with home made goodies and a plate of little sandwich triangles with the crusts removed. Oh yes. With one friend or four friends (can't hold enough cakes for more), it is an afternoon of indulgent fun. For at least five minutes we are ladies who lunch and not harassed mummies about to pop. Perhaps I have seen one Merchant Ivory film too many but pouring tea from a tea pot into a proper tea cup & saucer feels like the ultimate in elegance and sophistication. Such a ladylike activity can't help but feel indulgent - even if it is self service.

But tea doesn't have to be all pomp and ceremony to be brilliant. Morning does not officially start until the first cup of the day has been consumed. Both toddler girl and wee boy know mummy won't be serving breakfast until that mug is empty. And it has to be a mug in the morning; that tea has hard work to do dragging me from knackered to shattered in twenty sips. 'Time for a cuppa' is a phrase guaranteed to diffuse any toddler generated craziness; it transports one to a comfort zone out of place and time. I know every out of reach landing space in every room we own for my tea-vessel thus saving small ones from a scalding. This ensures every tea-break is an oasis of 'me-time'. And there isn't a mummy (or daddy) on the planet who doesn't need a daily dose of that.

Luxurious loveliness that doesn't cost the earth

Should tea not be your cup of tea (like big tall hubby - I have failed to convert him despite years of trying) then there is always coffee. If it is hot and hits the spot then let us raise a cup and shout hurrah. Top up? Oh go on then...

Monday, 31 January 2011

The hunt for Victoriana

About three days ago I had a fantastic flash of inspiration for what I'd blog about come the weekend. Then in typical baby-mama style the idea got up and walked away before I could pin it down. Pesky thing. Sometimes I think it is amazing that I get anything done at all. I have so many balls juggling up in the air that I could go run away to join the circus. Now there is a plan, although they would probably want me to juggle chainsaws and as I value my hands, not to mention head and arms it is a plan best put to one side.

So rather than the thing I was going to talk about I'm going to whitter on about junk instead. Not just any junk but victoriana stylee-junk. See the thing with wee ones in the house is that nothing is sacred. In the three years we've had them we've lost glasses, plates, wedding presents, photo frames and teeny tiny fragments of our sanity. Sadly the sanity cannot be replaced by scouring flea markets, car boots and charity shops but the other stuff can. And it is with this mission in mind that the great victoriana hunt began. Given that we have limited funds and an in-house wrecking crew we're not after vintage wonders to make collectors green with envy. All we want is a mix'n'match hotch potch of dishes, cutlery and bits'n'bobs that fit with our victoriana theme. So if it has that funky faded gold trim on the edge, flowers or swirls and it looks like it came from 1900 then it is in the bag.

The plates that tempt us when small hands have played grab & smash

What is it with charity shops these days? Car boots and flea markets more often than not have the odd plate or dish way cheaper than charity shops and they have to buy the stuff they sell. Go figure. I know giving to charity is A Good Thing but some of them have obviously seen one too many episodes of Antiques Roadshow and a little knowledge is clearly a dangerous thing when it comes to pricing the goodies donated. This isn't Cash in the Attic folks, this is an almost ugly old plate worth tuppence so why mark it up for £3.99? I can buy a new one in Habitat for that. Pff! My favourite port of call at the moment is a guy at the open market who sells a big old mess of brick-a-brack for 50p a pop. He's always worth a rummage. Good word that, rummage, suits the action perfectly. For some reason no matter where I look there is an abundance of tiny plates and a total lack of big dinner plates. And post New Year no one has champagne flutes, maybe everyone broke theirs like we broke ours on NYE. So the hunt goes on.

This miss-match approach to dishes and associated breakables is highly recommended. If you have tiny tots you won't care if - or rather when - they smash the lot to smithereens and lose your cutlery down the drain in the garden. It is liberating this freedom from care and makes all our lives a whole heap less stressy. Not that we encourage destruction. Not one bit of it. But let's face it, it happens and better that it happens with a shrug rather than a total breakdown. And as a Brucie bonus it is fun. Dinner parties look fab with nothing matching at the table; I like to call it eclectic-chic. We might buy junk but it's funky junk with a style all its own and the re-cycle/re-use philosophy polishes our environmental halos to a Brasso shine.

Not that I don't have moments of longing. My champagne tastes came to the fore when I spotted a gorgeous plate that turned out to be part of a dinner set that turned out to be Clarence Cliff. A snip at £950. Hmm. Maybe leave that one for someone else to enjoy. So the hunt for Victoriana is still on, and given our breakage rate is likely to be ongoing. I like this. It keeps me busy and is one ball I don't mind juggling.

the gorgeous and desirable Clarice Cliff

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The joy of shank's pony

When one has two wee ones the opportunity for a night out is rare indeed, especially with 99% of the family oop north. Friends are fantastic, not only do they provide babysitting services for free but we can enjoy kid-free coupledom happy in the knowledge that the wee mites are in safe hands. But friends are friends with their own lives to live so we don't like to call on them too often. So what does one do if going out is not an option? For us, staying in is the new going out. We live in dread of being one of those couples who go out to dinner and sit in silence because they've forgotten how to be together. Isn't it all too easy with demanding mini-egos tugging at your attention to blast through the day and not share more than two words with the other half? Is this acceptable? Not on your nellie. I say fight back. Reclaim life as a couple. Home based socialising is the way forwards. Happy mummy and daddy makes for happy kids. Big tall hubby and I book date nights in the diary and nothing but nothing gets in the way of pre-booked 'us' time.I've mentioned before our £10 dinner dates and they are still going strong. We've added a movie night, good film, couch potato nibbles and a glass of wine while we curl up on the sofa together. Bliss.

I don't know who writes the film descriptions for pay per view movies but I think in a past life they wrote the phone book. The most eagerly anticipated of new releases is rendered dreary and flat by the hand of these pay per view reviewers. Instead we google it to get a real idea of what it is all about; what a pain huh.

Call me a Luddite but I still prefer a trip to the video shop. Yes I know it is DVDs these days but it is still the video shop for me. Same as with Opal fruit - starburst? I think not. There is nothing to compare to browsing the shelves, checking out the box artwork and absorbing the blurb on the back. Prices are the same as pay per view so the only hassle is getting there. Now small boy is at nursery it leaves a few hours per day for me and toddler girl to get out and about. So much easier with just her as she still hasn't figured out how to unclasp her pushchair straps. Whoop. A contained toddler is a marvellous thing. I can feel my shoulders unclench at the very thought.

With toddler girl in tow I chose a film in relative ease; the only tricky bit was which film to watch. So many amazing movies and so few movie nights. In the end I let the cast list tempt me (genuinely good actors rather than phwoar factor) and went for The Brothers Bloom. A con-man caper of the highest order by the director of Brick (another stylish film noir-esque delight). It didn't disappoint. Neither did the pizza. We usually try to cook the nibbles at home but plans went awry this time as I forgot to defrost the pizzas (oops) so it was Domino's for the NHS discount; it might be movie night but thriftiness is all round here. I did bake chocolate cookies though. No tutting please, movie night is exempt from the healthy eating regime. Delicious.

Greed guilt the next day? Nope. I walked it off. Toddler girl is pretty steady on her pins these days and I'm at long last venturing forth without the pushchair. Outside with the wee ones without wheels? Can it be true? Actually I think I get more exercise with the wheels; pushing over 5 stone in weight up a big hill is no mean feat. But going on foot means freedom. No more am I a pavement pariah; pedestrian enemy number one. Nope, now I am the crazy lady shouting don't run, come back, please stand up and stop talking to the [imaginary] guinea pigs. There was one behind every gate you know; pesky critters. Now I'm pitied by my fellow pavement pounders rather than despised; I like to think of this as progress. Toddler girl thought it was the most fun ever to sit down a quarter of the way across the road. Cars? Not a worry for the wee ones when there was a mummy to wind up. I resorted to carrying a wriggly toddler girl like a sack of spuds while small boy attempted to turn his fingers into squid as my hand desperately grasped his.

These feet were made for walking and now that's what they do

These hiccups aside we made it to the video shop and back to return The Brothers Bloom in a mere fifty minutes. On my own I can get there and back in ten. Like I say, progress, it always comes at a price. At least this a price I can afford and am more than willing to pay. My pushchair days are nearly over; let's hear it for feet!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Chicken soup for the soul (or immune system for the more pragmatic)

New year, new broom. Well I would sweep things clean but I've been too wiped out thanks to the flu bug doing the rounds. Is it swine flu? Well I have pigged out over the past month but doubt that porky behaviour garners porker diseases. It was definitely flu though, not your common cold or even dubious man-flu but full-on bludgeon your brains to mush flu. Nothing like a spot of flu to knock the oomph right out of your sails. While I did feel right royal rotten it was also secretly quite lovely to abandon all hope and collapse on the sofa. Big tall hubby came into his own and whisked the wee ones off my head to allow me space to be properly ill. Yes, they were indeed on my head, both of them. So weak was I that I couldn't raise the energy to shift them. They thought it was hilarious. Although they aren't laughing now the bug has got them under its wicked spell. Not that I'm laughing either. Two sick wee ones demanding cuddles, too cranky to share their mummy, chocolate not even a temptation; it is the stuff of nightmares.Plus I'm still in what we'll optimistically call recovery (this is a vicious bug and I fear a second assault) so have limited resources myself to bestow on my needy offspring. Impossible to refuse them though, their poor hot faces looking to me to make it all better. Thank goodness for calpol for without madness will surely come.

On the upside all this illness has kick started the homemade soup marathon that will form the backbone of lunches for 2011 in a bid to shift some of these extra pounds (sadly not financial ones) and get our bods in healthy shape. We started with red lentil and sweet potato but the real jewel in this culinary crown is chicken noodle soup. When I was a wee girl my dad made this soup like no one else and it is from his recipe that I draw inspiration today. There is a reason they call it Jewish Penicillin; this soup has magical medicinal properties. By accident, if not design I have started the year as intended, home cooking in the most economical and healthy way possible.

For your eyes only here is the recipe, feel free to play with it and add stuff or take it away...

healthy and tasty; the perfect fix for flu

Take a chicken carcass (save the stripped off cooked meat) or chuck in 4 legs or 6 drumsticks and boil them for at least two hours with 2 bay leaves. Remove the bones and leaves, keep the liquid and save the flesh to one side.
Chop an onion into thin slices and throw into the liquid.
Shred half a cabbage thinly and chuck that into the liquid.
Add a generous couple of handfuls of sweetcorn and peas.
Add a pack of cooked prawns (can be a large or small pack to your own taste)
Add one teaspoon of white pepper, a big pinch of salt, a hefty twist of ground black pepper and a teaspoon of Chinese five spice.
Bring to the boil then let simmer for at least 30 mins (the longer this cooks the  better it all tastes although the prawns can get a bit rubbery so you can add them with the chicken later if you prefer)
Add a pack of instant noodles, or any dried noodles you like, even pasta will work. Simmer for another 15 mins.
Chuck in the cooked chicken meat.
Whisk a couple of eggs in a cup. Remove the soup from the heat and immediately add the egg slowly, stirring gently to swirl it all around. And voila - soup to make you feel good in the inside in all possible ways.

By the way if you fancy a black & white movie to while away the ill-hours I can recommend On the Beach, great cast, bizarre plot and most un-Hollywood in execution, spoiler alert: it is a tad depressing. That and a bowl of soup makes being ill almost worth it.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

An evening to remember

New Year's eve is the time of year I like best. Not so commercial as Christmas yet just as full of indulgence and merriment. How wonderful it is that no matter how good, bad or indifferent your year has been this is the eve that allows you to take stock and move onwards, upwards or sideways. On this night of all nights the world is once more your oyster as with the an arbitrary click of the celestial wheel we shunt into another 365 day cycle. Had a bad year? Shrug it off with a grin and wink, down that champers and welcome on in 2011, hello you beautiful blank slate you, let's make plans. Your year was brimming with delight? Well then shout hurrah and so long you beauty, may the next 12 months be just as bountiful. Any which way you choose New Year's eve is a gift waiting to be unwrapped.

Not quite our back garden but a very Happy New Year to everyone! x

Isn't it just brilliant that more and more people choose to celebrate this night with family and friends, house parties, intimate dinners or a chilled one with a bottle of fizz and Jools on the box. It was the millennium what did it I tells ya. The overpriced tickets for pubs, clubs and restaurants (where you could puff and huff your way to midnight with the crowds fighting to get served before the bell tolled) shone a big old beam of light on how silly it all was when you can have twice as much fun at home for half the price. Who wants to spend half the night queuing to get your coat in the cloakroom and the other half queuing to get it out again? Nah, stay home and use the bed (to dump coats on of course)...tut.

This year, as with many years before it, we did exactly that. Our teeny home welcomed friends and we set up Chez Carmichael, a cosy bistro offering home cooked goodies in exchange for good company and top banter. I like to go all out for NYE, so we printed up menus and place names for the table, oh yes we got right posh on ourselves we did. Here's what we ate...

Scallops cooked in the shell with chorizo, cherry toms and red onion
Home made focaccia with thyme & garlic and rosemary & sea salt
Portobello mushrooms stuffed with bacon and goats cheese
Beef in red wine stew with cheddar dumplings
Celeriac gratin
Shredded savoy cabbage with butter
Walnut, honey and chocolate tart
Madagascan vanilla ice cream with salt caramel sauce

We had planned on cheese and biscuits followed by coffee, liqueurs and mints but as it was 1am before we hit the puds they fell by the wayside. All of us had wee ones to deal with in the morning so the 2.30am bedtime we eventually succumbed to was pushing all our boundaries. Ah, if you can't push it on NYE when can you? Eating your way to midnight is a sure sign that you've passed the first flush of youth is it not? But you know what, I like this second flush of youth, my friends are long term and my cooking has come on a treat. The wee ones gifted us an early night, all slept through without a murmur allowing us grown ups to slip into a more relaxed state as the night sped past.

Spending time with people you know well is so much easier (and immeasurably more pleasurable) than faking interest in strangers you've taken pity on because they are on their own in the pub; more often than not there is a reason they are there alone that becomes more and more apparent the longer you are stuck talking to them. Oh nasty me. Let's start this year with a smile and skip. Strangers in pubs can be revelations of wonder and delight and everyone one unknown is a potential friend in the making. There; much better. None the less a night with old friends is just the perfect finale to the year, not just the year in this case but the decade. I started this decade penniless in NZ with no job and no flight home, childless and fancy free; never would I have dreamt that ten years later I'd be back in Blighty, married with 2 kids and a mortgage but life is always stranger than dreams.

So it is that I start 2011 with a feeling of contentment. We saw out the old year in the best possible way and this new one is all shiny and fresh, waiting to develop like a Polaroid picture. It just needs a bit of a shake. Let us see how that shake-up works out shall we? I hope you'll follow my progress and in turn I wish you dear reader of this blog all the best over the coming 12 months; may your shake-ups develop into beautiful pictures.