Saturday, 20 September 2014

Supper darling? Darling supper.

I've been to a few supper clubs.  Thought you might be interested.

Katherine (@mustardseedcook on Twitter) runs occasional supper clubs from her home.

A supper club is an occasion in which one opens one's house up to people willing to pay for your cooking.

The most recent one I've attended at Katherine's house had a Mexican theme.  I booked, in advance, with friends.  Other people also booked and we all turned up hungry with BYO bottles in our hand on Friday evening.

Katherine starts with a theme which evolves into a menu.  The price is fixed in advance, a deposit taken with payment finished after the meal.

Katherine turns one of the rooms in her house into a dining area for up to 24 people.

It's a relaxed environment where you can be with friends, or meet new people, or both.


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Mixed emotions

Just after I'd got to work, plugged the laptop into the docking station, sat down with a cuppa and opened my email there was a call on my phone.

The owner of the company building the flats next door to us was on the line.

He opened with "Are you in a good mood?" to which my rejoinder was "Why? What have you done?"

It transpires the builders have knocked our wall over.

This will be the long, single skin, six foot high wall that separates us from the building site.

Nobody was hurt.

My initial reaction was boiling rage but I suppressed that and asked how bad the damage was. John (the contractor) didn't know so I asked for someone to send me pictures.

He apologised and we talked about possible solutions; either a patch fix or a new wall.

Apparently the wall wasn't pointed on the side of construction so they had wanted to build a new wall anyway.

We had been told by other contractors working on our property that single skin walls shouldn't be six foot high.  I had been worried it would be knocked either by construction traffic or by residents' vehicles once construction was complete.

So the good news is that the children weren't hurt and this might result in a new, more substantial wall.

I don't know what other damage I might encounter but I can't undo what's happened.

The initial anger lasted a while and resulted in a fair amount of venting once the phone call finished.

The anger was replaced by nervousness because the extent of the damage was still unknown.

I'm sure I'm working through a cycle of emotions and, at some point, I'll get to acceptance. I'm not quite there yet.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


I visited the dentist the other day.

I hate visiting the dentist.  I hate the intrusion; someone I barely know sticking their fingers, mirrors and sharp, pointy, metal instruments into my mouth.

And does anyone else experience jaw ache after a dentist visit?  It hurts to eat and open my mouth and it's over a day since my ordeal.

I had a couple of x-rays while I was there.  No reason for them other than it had been a while since I had some.  That was horribly uncomfortable; being asked to bite down on some hard, sharp plastic to keep the film in place.

And then there's the scrape and polish which just sounds disgusting.  The "something and something" as a medical procedure.  I don't know why but it makes me think of D&C which is a very unpleasant connotation.

So scraping and polishing means using what my dentist calls the "Instrument of torture" combined with a metal scraping tool to clean the teeth.  When that ultrasonic thing hits the gum and not the tooth my nails dig into my palm to divert my attention away from my discomfort.

And the dentist said it would feel good afterwards.  It didn't.  My teeth felt scratchy and sharp and not good sharp.  

And because I don't know any better I have to trust that what the dentist is telling me is true.  In this case there was no work required but if had said "Five root canals needed to day Mrs Cardus" then I wouldn't have known whether he was right or not.  I'd have said "Er, OK" and gone along with it because that's what you do.

I posted that I felt "a little violated" after a dentist visit.  I seemed to be alone as nobody else felt the same way.  Just me?  Really?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Bounty bar

Julia recommended using coconut oil on hair about 20 mins before washing it and then washing it but not using conditioner.

I bought some coconut oil for the first time. Weird stuff. It's a solid until at body temperature when it turns to liquid.

I did as Julia recommended and it works quite well (but I found it easier to use conditioner too.)

I also did as the packaging recommended and used it as a moisturiser. It does this job very well but does leave you smelling of desiccated coconut.

The children don't like the smell of coconut and ran away when I went near them.  To overcome this I use the coconut oil followed by cocoa butter moisturiser. This means I smell like a Bounty chocolate bar.

This makes me hungry.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Boys books

If you're stuck to choose a book for a ten year old boy who do you ask for advice. Well you could visit a bookshop and ask in there or you could ask in a library. Or you could steal into someone's house and take a peek at what's on the bookshelves of a ten year old boy.

Ethan is ten and has a good reading age. These are the books on his bookshelves.

There are more books downstairs and on the landing but these will do for starters.

Based on this selection what would you recommend he read next?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Bruno, our housekeeper

A few weeks ago I was looking at the mess we make as a family, particularly anywhere where food and children come together, but also where food preparation and I collide.

I needed a solution.  Yes, I could haul the vacuum cleaner out from under the stairs.  Alternatively I could grab the pathetic handheld vacuum cleaner from another cupboard.

Both of these require regular effort and I am inherently lazy.

So I bought a Roomba and so far, so good.

We've called him Bruno because to give him a female name would be to assign a traditional female stereotypical role and that would be wrong (I live in a feminist household - what did you expect?).

Additionally Roomba sounds a bit like Rumba which is a latin dance.  Out of the Strictly Come Dancing judges, Bruno is the most latin so...

Bruno gets turned on every day, usually while I'm out, and he tours the ground floor of the house in a somewhat random and haphazard manner sweeping, brushing and sucking as he goes.

He's not terribly handsome but he is quite effective.

He needs attention daily because he's quite small and needs emptying daily.  His brushes also need regular maintenance because his brushes end up tangled with hair from Hannah and me.  But it beats the heck out of regular hand vac'ing.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Stay calm and draft an email

We are living next to a building site.

I understand that building sites are noisy, dirty places but that doesn't mean I have to like it. 

When work started on the over-priced, under-sized flats next door I checked to find out when I could expect activity over the wall. I discovered that there is a "Considerate Contractor" document on the Council website that outlines the hours that a considerate contractor will work. These are 08:00 until 18:00 on weekdays and 08:00 until 13:00 on Saturday. 

Today, a Saturday, builders arrived on site at 07:20 and were making a racket within ten minutes. Today's jobs required heavy machinery and industrial power tools. At 17:00 the power tools were still giving us 90db as measured in our garden. This stopped us from enjoying the garden and Ethan spent quite a bit of time being angry in the garden whilst wearing ear defenders. 

The builders, however, don't appear to regard their hearing with the same respect. Nobody over the wall today was wearing ear protection. But they don't seem to have much regard for Health and Safety generally. They don't wear hi-vis jackets, hard hats, eye protection or harnesses either. 

Today they were managing RSJs including cutting them with a circular saw with sparks and tiny metal shards flying around. The operator was wearing shorts and a t-shirt without goggles and ear defenders. 

While one crane operator lifted a lump of steel up the storeys, the chap up at top receiving it was wearing neither hi-vis jacket or hard hat. 

Their health and safety is their concern but their complete disregard for my right to enjoy my outdoor space does bother me. I try hard to ignore it. I try hard to be completely OK about it, but I can't. I started the day annoyed when they turned up forty minutes early. My anger escalated as the hours beyond one o'clock passed and as the noise from over the wall continued. 

My frustration and anger achieves nothing. Writing too the contractor will achieve nothing. Writing to the Council will v achieve nothing but I'll draft an email anyway.

Friday, 12 September 2014


I have an iPhone and it's a dog. 

Apple are clearly very annoyed with me because it's been a while since I upgraded. I have gone through the £55 battery replacement but that's the only money Apple have had from me for a while. 

I believe that Apple have somehow degraded the performance of my phone. I've read that there's evidence of Apple iPhone performance degradation when a newer model is launched. Apparently Samsung products don't experience the same issue. 

My phone is slow with battery life that means that one charge doesn't last a day of light use. I've seen the gumpf on the new iPhones and there's nothing that floats my boat. The phone I have does everything I need, it just does it too damn slowly. The phone freezes all the time which drives me mad. 

I'm just annoyed with Apple for spoiling the phone that I was very happy with. I don't want a new phone but my current phone is becoming unusable. 

I understand that this created obsolescence pushes normal customers to buy a new iPhone but I'm not a normal customer; I'm a woman scorned.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sticky ginger cake with lemon icing

We had a birthday in the house today and the need for a cake.  The birthday boy isn't really a fan of cakes with buttercream and lots of decoration.  Whilst he's a Londoner by birth he harks back to maternal Yorkshire roots where cake preference is concerned. 

I searched and found the perfect recipe.

Ginger cake

Here's what you need to do to make the same.


  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger (I read this wrong and used just 1 tsp)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 115g unsalted butter
  • 115g dark muscovado sugar
  • 115g black treacle
  • 115g golden syrup
  • 250ml milk (any kind of milk)
  • 85g drained stem ginger (grated) - grating this isn't easy and if you don't have a rotary grater then I recommend chopping finely
  • 1 egg


  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • Syrup from stem ginger jar


  • Preheat oven to 160°C if a fan oven.
  • Butter and line an 18cm (7inch) deep cake tin.
  • Put flour, bicarb and spices into a mixing bowl.
  • Cube the butter and add to the flour mix.
  • Rub butter into flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs and put to one side.
  • Put the sugar, treacle, syrup and milk into a saucepan and heat whilst stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Once the sugar is dissolved, take the mixture to just below the boiling point.
  • Add the stem ginger to the flour mixture and then add the treacle mixture, stirring all the time. I added the treacle mixture while the beater was whirring on the mixer.
  • Add the egg to the mixture and beat until the mixture is combined and it resembles a thick pancake batter.  My mixture wasn't a terribly thick mixture.
  • Pour into the tin and bake for about an hour or until it passes the skewer test.
  • Leave to cool in the tin.
  • The cake can be frozen at this point if desired.
  • Mix the icing sugar with the lemon zest and the stem ginger syrup until you have a gloomy icing mix.  I put this icing in an icing bag and I made more than the recipe said to allow for waste.  If you didn't use an icing bag you could drizzle the icing from a spoon.
  • The cake can be stored for up to two weeks and improves with age.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

For canine commitment-phobes

Like the idea of a dog but think it's too much of a commitment?

Want a dog but you'd quite like to borrow one for a while to see if it'd work out?

Like the idea of getting exercise by taking a dog for a walk but don't actually want to live with a dog full time?

Would you be interested if I said all if the above was possible?

There are many centres around the country that re-home retired greyhounds and the nearest one to me is the Brentwood Retired Greyhounds Trust at Ashwells .

Ashwells Retired Greyhounds is home to 50 greyhounds who are all looking for their forever homes.  

All of the dogs need to be walked daily.  If you can spare an hour or so on any day of the week then the greyhounds would be delighted to see you (as would the kennel staff).  There aren't enough kennel staff to walk all of the dogs so the trust is reliant on volunteers to provide some exercise for the dogs.

The kennel opening hours are 09:30-12:30 every day and you can just turn up.  

The address is Suffolk House in Ashwells Road, Pilgrims Hatch, Brentwood CM15 9SG. The telephone number is 01277 373799 and the website is  

You never know, you might fall in love.


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Comfort Food - curry

Jamie Oliver reckons you'll want to cook up a proper posh chicken tikka masala.

Well you might.  Or you might get a takeaway.  Or you might buy a ready meal.  Or you might make a curry at home, either throwing ingredients together (my method) or by following a recipe.

What you're unlikely to do, is dig a pit in your garden for an impromptu fire.

You're also unlikely to have a few frying pans lying around that you don't mind using on an open fire in the middle of your garden.  I'm not sure what you do when you've finished with the fire.  Do you fill it in and try and sow grass to put it back the way it was or do you leave a gaping hole in your lawn ready to trip up the unsuspecting?

I'm not quite sure how far ahead one needs to plan to cook this meal or how long one is expected to live with the changes it required.  If there are special frying pans kept for cooking on the fire do they need to be stored in the kitchen or would they be stored in the shed?  I'm not clear.

The other thing I'm very clear you'll want to do is buy the 26 ingredients.  Yes, 26.  I'm not even sure my weekly grocery shop has more than 26 different food items.  I am being a little harsh here because many of the ingredients are store cupboard staples but who likes cooking something with so many different ingredients?  Especially for a Friday night curry with the lads (which is the way this particular dish was presented.)

Let's address the Friday night curry idea.

You've had a full day at work and you rush home via the shops to buy what's on the extensive ingredients list. Then it's beers in a fridge and get changed into gardening clothes.  Dig a fire pit and nip to a local garage or wood to collect firewood.  Make the fire, because for Jamie's fire you need a fire that's been burning for a while.  Put beers in the fridge (trust me, after going through the prep for this meal you will need beer.) Make a marinade and then bung the chicken in the marinade (the minimum marinade time is two hours). At this point you'll probably need a shower and a change of clothes.

Once you're refreshed you'll be opening the door to your mates because they're probably hungry.

You can't relax though because you need to make the sauce.  Once the sauce is made you need to cook the chicken.  At some point you'll also be making your own parathas.  Whilst you're doing all of this you'll be making your guests comfortable, tending to the fire and ensuring everyone has a beer in their hand.

Am I the only one whose thinking a take out is probably easier, (cheaper) and less stressful?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Comfort food

I caught a bit of Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food this evening (in between helping Hannah with History homework and Ethan with English homework). The two snippets I saw covered the cheese toaster and chicken tikka masala. 

I understand the premise for the show; the idea is to take the nation's favourites and make them a little more special. 

Let's look at these two, cheese toastie first. Jamie's cheese toastie was a cheddar and red leicester sandwich (white bread) which was fried, both sides and then enhanced with a cheese crown and bottom.

 I don't know about you but a cheese toastie is my "I've got in late and I've been drinking to much" snack. I toast bread (whatever is in the bread bin) then add butter or spread, bung cheese on top (whatever is in the fridge - probably mature cheddar) and grill until oozy. 

I don't think drunk people should be encouraged to operate a frying pan and manipulate melted cheese. 

I don't know what Jamie's thinking. He also suggests it is a suitable dish for breakfast. He's wrong. It's drunk food. 

I'll cover chicken tikka masala tomorrow but I think you can guess where I'm coming from.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Video parenting

I saw a Facebook story about a father who was frustrated by his children's lack of help around the house. He'd filmed an instructional video showing how to change a toilet roll. 

Here's his video: 

Well I have similar issues with my offspring.  

The first example today was plates left on the side rather than put in the dishwasher. 

The second was an apple core left on the side and not put into the food waste bin. 

The third was shopping that belonged to the children and which I had moved to the stairs, a clear sign that the items need to be taken upstairs. 24 hours later and the items were still on the stairs. 

I'm sure there were other things that caused irritation but I decided that I needed to follow the example of the dad shaming his children. 

I have discovered that if children realise you're trying to shame on the internet then they get their act together fairly quickly. 

I tried to make three videos but was thwarted by the children rectifying situations. Two videos have made it to YouTube and I'll decide whether to share when it suits me to decide.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Gluttonous blackberry, or summer fruit muffin recipe

I've been blackberrying this week and the rest of Essex appears to have beaten me to it.  I was quite persistent though and managed a reasonable haul.

To save this nature's harvest I soak them in a salty solution for a while (I read somewhere this gets rid of any bugs), then rinse, drain and freeze.  To freeze I use a big baking sheet with edges and spread the fruit one fruit deep.  Bung in the freezer and then when frozen I store in plastic containers, but freezer bags work equally well.

This weekend I fancied a mid-morning treat so I made some blackberry muffins.

Blackberry muffins

If you too have a glut of blackberries, or any summer fruit then why not try this easy recipe.

You will need a 12 hole muffin tin and muffin cases and a fan oven pre-heated to 160°C.  I use different quantities of liquid and fruit depending on whether the fruit is frozen or not.  When I freeze fruit I wash it, drain it and then freeze.  I figure I can never remove all the water so the frozen weight includes water that isn't part of the fruit. So I reduce the liquid by the same amount that I increase the fruit amount by.  Does that make sense?



  • 280g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (extract not essence) - optional (I didn't use this)
  • 85-110g white sugar (caster or granulated) - amount varies depending on how sweet you like things
  • 1 egg
  • 240 ml milk (220ml if using frozen berries) - any type of milk
  • 90ml corn oil (sunflower oil or rapeseed oil will also work but don't use olive oil)
  • 140g blackberries or other fruit (160g if using frozen fruit)



  • Firstly - if using frozen berries then don't defrost them before using them.
  • In a large bowl stir flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together with a fork.   If you like washing up then use a sieve (I never use a sieve).
  • In a separate bowl or jug beat the egg and stir in milk and corn oil.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until you can't see any flour.  Do not beat the mixture.  STIR only.  I use big tablespoon for stirring rather than wooden spoon.
  • Stir berries in at the end until evenly distributed. If using fresh fruit then do this gently to avoid crushing the berries.  Big berries should be chopped before this step.  I had smallish blackberries and didn't chop them - I couldn't really because they were frozen.
  • Spoon mixture into muffin cases.  I find this mixture makes eleven good-sized muffins but you could make 12 slightly smaller ones.
  • Cook for 20-25 mins (add 5 mins if fruit is frozen).
  • They don't go a deep brown colour and should be taken out of the oven when lightly browned or when they spring back when pressed lightly.
  • Tempting as it is to have them straight from the oven it is best to wait until they've cooled a little because otherwise the muffin stays stuck to the muffin case.
  • These muffins freeze very well and can be defrosted quickly with a 30 second blast in the microwave on full power (one at a time).