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, 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.