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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, 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.