Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Sunday, 28 September 2014
Having dealt with solicitors and wills I know that getting my affairs in order would be a really useful thing to do for my children.
I read of Lynda Bellingham's news that she has terminal cancer and has chosen to die naturally by stopping chemotherapy.
I experience mild panic when I hear things like that because if that were to happen to me then I haven't got things sorted. My life isn't organised enough for me to die.
When I sort through things I'm keeping in the loft, for example, I try to have rules:
- Will I need it again in my lifetime?
- Is it sensible to store this or would I be better to buy another when I need it?
- If my children were sorting through my affairs would they choose to keep it or ditch it?
I'm not very good at sticking to my own rules and I know that my children won't choose to keep the majority of my belongings.
I'd quite like to ask their advice so I can be more efficient at sorting things but what they say now won't be the same answer I'd get from beyond the grave.
One thing my husband is taking control of is large, bulky photo albums. We are sorting our photographic life before the digital camera and after the digital camera. We are getting books printed that contain our memories. They take up less space and are pre-sorted.
At least we don't have a three piece suite in the loft anymore, although there is a bed there.
I'm not "the hoarder next door" but I would quite like someone else to go through the loft and ditch stuff for me.
I have a horrible feeling though my legacy will be a mess requiring several skips and trips to the tip.
Saturday, 27 September 2014
This is school choice time. The time of year when pupils and parents visit schools to decide which is best for their little darlings.
We're considering grammar schools for Ethan because he's bright. That isn't just my opinion and I am aware parents are prone to over-estimating their offspring's abilities.
Other people tell me Ethan is bright: teachers tell me (as well as telling me his handwriting and presentation is dire), parents tell me because their children sit in the same class as Ethan and that is their view of him, and relatives tell me because Ethan memorises books full of facts and can appear knowledgable through the reciting of these facts. I am well aware that others at Ethan's school are brighter; they just might exhibit more modesty.
People know Ethan's doing the 11+ exam. I know how competitive the 11+ is and I am most definitely not sure whether Ethan will do well enough in the exam to gain a place at his school of choice.
Everyone else seems absolutely sure Ethan will do well and will "pass".
The problem with everyone else's expectations is that it piles on the pressure. The "Oh, he'll be fine!" just increases the stress.
Nobody wants to fail. If there are no expectations then there is no failure. If there are great expectations then there is the opportunity for great failure.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Friday, 26 September 2014
Ethan had been drooling after an episode of The Great British Bake Off and was bemoaning his lack of culinary skill.
I told him to pick something he wanted to cook from my recipe book shelves and we'd give it a try. If it was something I'd not made before then we'd both learn. He chose Tana Ramsey's Hot Chocolate Puddings which are chocolate fondants in all but name.
I'd never made these before and I left Ethan to it. Hannah joined in when she arrived in from school. They were just the way they should be: cooked on the outside and gooey in the middle.
I needed small pudding moulds. Posh Silverwood pudding basins are £3.29 each in Steamer Trading Company
Sainsbury, on the other hand, have four non stick pudding moulds for £4.50.
You need six pudding moulds for this recipe.
- 250g plain chocolate (if you'd like it a little sweeter I'm sure milk chic is fine)
- 125g unsalted butter
- 3 eggs
- 2 heaped tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tbsp plain flour (I'm sure gluten free would work)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
I'm sure you can add orange zest and that would make them very tasty.
- Grease your pudding moulds with butter. I'm sure ramekins would work but turning them out might be trickier.
- Pop butter and choc in a bain marie (bowl over a pan of simmering water and don't let the bowl touch the water)
- In a mixer whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until frothy. (You can do by hand if you're a sucker for punishment.)
- Sieve the flour onto egg mixture and fold in.
- When the bain marie has done its job and the butter and chocolate have melted, add it gradually to the egg mixture folding gently with a metal spoon.
- Pour the resultant mixture into the greased pots.
- Rest for a couple of hours. The puddings, not the cook. Now we put our puds in the fridge which I think means we could have increased the cooking time by 30 seconds.
- Preheat oven to 180°C (for fan oven) and cook for no more than ten minutes (unless you rested them in the fridge in which case ten minutes and 30 seconds should still be fine.
They are just as they should be with a gooey middle and, whilst we served with ice cream, I think clotted cream would be perfect.
Thursday, 25 September 2014
Tuesday, 23 September 2014
The concept is a cake like texture in a loaf tin but with savoury elements providing the flavour instead of sugar. It's a very healthy option, I think.
- 250g plain flour
- 1tbsp baking powder
- 4 eggs (I used large eggs)
- 60ml milk
- 60ml plain yoghurt - I didn't have this in the fridge so I made my own buttermilk with milk and a dash of lemon juice and used that instead
- 160ml olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Savoury filling - I used 150g cooked chopped chorizo, half a cooked chopped pepper, half a cooked chopped onion and chopped double Gloucester to the same volume as chorizo. The recipe calls for 140g French sausage or salami (finely chopped), a handful of pistachios (roughly chopped) and a handful of prunes. The idea is to use up leftover bits and bobs that happen to be in the fridge.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (for fan oven) and line a 400g loaf tin (loaf tins are sold in two sizes - this is the smaller of the two sizes).
- Put the flour, baking powder and savoury bits into a bowl and mix. This coats the filling in flour and helps individual bits to stay suspended in the mixture when baked.
- Put the eggs in a separate bowl and whisk until thick and pale in colour. Gradually add the milk, yoghurt, oil and seasoning, whisking all the time.
- Fold in savoury flour mixture. Scrape/pour/tip into loaf tin and bake for 40 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out without any cake mixture clinging to it.
Monday, 22 September 2014
Planning food isn't really my thing.
I generally buy ingredients and then invent ways to combine them. Recipes are for cakes, bread and pastries not for a pasta dish, risotto or jacket spud. My home cooking really isn't very inspired.
But I found this, which I quite like. Tesco Meal Planner.
I haven't used it, but I think I might. I know Tesco has been in the news today because they don't seem to be very good at counting (massive profit overstatement) but they can get some things right.
Sunday, 21 September 2014
Saturday, 20 September 2014
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
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
Monday, 15 September 2014
Sunday, 14 September 2014
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
Friday, 12 September 2014
Thursday, 11 September 2014
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.
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
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 http://brentwood.retiredgreyhounds.co.uk
You never know, you might fall in love.
Tuesday, 9 September 2014
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
Sunday, 7 September 2014
Saturday, 6 September 2014
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.
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).
Friday, 5 September 2014
I have seen much consternation in online chit chat about the Facebook Messenger App.
Apparently it doesn't just steal your data, pictures from your camera, and text messages, it also steals your soul and your children, or something.
I don't know how bad Messenger is but Messenger's badness isn't why I hate it.
I am just really annoyed that Facebook is frying me to have separate app. I was quite happy with Messenger being part of the Facebook app. I don't understand why Facebook wants me hopping about between apps. It's inefficient and just very, very annoying.
So, for these reasons, and the paranoid shizzle that is prevalent on the interweb I am sticking a proverbial two fingers up at Facebook.
You can view Facebook on your phone using your browser. If you use your browser to find Facebook.com it will automatically redirect to the mobile version of the site. Simply add this to your home screen because you can still access Messenger from the mobile version of the site.
If adding a website to your home screen is leading you towards thinking I'm a geek (and based on my blog visitor profile, I doubt it) then here'e how to add a website to your home screen (thank you Lifehacker).
Thursday, 4 September 2014
Well as it's September and the schools are back I thought I'd call to find out where the appointment letter was.
When I spoke to the school nurse she sounded defeated and apologetic. Apparently in June the work of school nurses had been put out to tender and the NHS lost the tender.
The contract has been given to a Social Enterprise. Social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community.
Wednesday, 3 September 2014
I've been experimenting.
I read about people who've given up shampoo. I'm sure you've also read about the hippies that don't wash their hair at all; apparently the first six weeks are the worst (yuk).
Does anyone else remember the BBC programme from the seventies in which normal people tried to live like people in the middle ages. I think it was the middle ages. I've just asked hubby about this and he said he remembered it. I asked him what it was called and he said it was a big load of poncey hippy crap (or this is my polite translation). Anyway, they had to do without 'poo and their hair was rank.
Well my experiment has been a no 'poo experiment but not a no washing hair experiment.
I've been trying alternatives to shampoo and conditioner in a post I found on Treehugger. I am a poncey hippy at heart.
Instead of shampoo one uses a teaspoon of bicarb of soda with a glass full of water. I use a jam jar, pop the bicarb in add water and shake to mix.
Instead of conditioner one uses a tablespoon of cider vinegar diluted with a glass full of water (I use another jam jar as above).
I've not been doing this all the time; I've been doing it randomly.
Why have been doing this? Because I'm a poncey hippy at heart.
Does it work? Well to my surprise, yes. It works very well and I think my hair might actually look and feel better when using these alternatives.
Doesn't my hair smell of vinegar? Surprisingly no, or at least not very much and not for very long.
Isn't it yucky to get these mixtures in eyes? Well yes but I can't say I'm a fan of shampoo or conditioner in my eyes either.
Would I recommend this? It depends on your hair type. I've read that it only works on certain had types. My hair is thick, bleached, coloured and has natural platinum highlights (my positive spin on a touch of grey) too.
Will I continue this? Probably, off and on.
Bet you didn't expect this in a blog post eh…?
Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Are you the sort of person that finds postcard writing a chore?
Do you find that when you go on holiday these days you send less postcards than you did in previous years?
We used to leave postcards as a job to be done on the last day of the holiday. We used to dither over who would like which picture the best and then we used to try and tailor the words to the addressee.
We would mumble our way through postcard and step purchases unless we left things so late we ended up posting them once we returned to the UK.
Not this year. Well, not quite this year.
This year we experimented with Touchnote, app-based postcards that use your photos.
Well the experiment was a success.
We used the photos on my phone, still dithering over who would like which image. We pulled the contact details from the contacts on the phone and we mulled over which message to type in the space available. We pressed send and it was printed and posted from Guernsey.
Despite the personal touches involved I think this postcard may have felt less personal to the recipients. The photos can be very personal but we're a camera shy family so our pictures were of things not people. And the message is printed not written. I remember writing postcards crammed with words on every spare space and the printed text doesn't allow for this, or hand drawn pictures either.
I think we'll use it again. I like it, but I don't know what it's like to receive a Touchnote card.
If you want to find out more about the app, click here.