Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas is over, bring on the New Year!

We decided to keep Christmas just for our family this year.  Most years we invite those who would otherwise be alone to come and share Christmas Dinner with us, but this year we needed some peace and quiet.  Well as much peace and quiet as you can have with 3 active children to entertain!

The girls opened their presents and we had a really relaxing and fun day.  It was the best Christmas Day we've had in a long time. We all needed this holiday time together, my 3 daughters were especially tired the last couple of weeks of school.

Photo courtesy of Amazon website
We bought our 3 girls a 12 stitch sewing machine to share. My machine, that was bought for my Mum by my Nan and is almost as old as me, is too powerful, bulky and heavy for them to use easily.  They were all really excited about getting their own sewing machine and I shall of course be blogging their creations once they're finished.

My girls also got some presents that were sent over by overseas relatives.  There was much discussion and debate about being grateful for what they received as my FIL sent them books on loaders, trucks & cranes along with 4 hankies each.  LOL  We'll make lavender sachets from the hankies, using their new sewing machine, and donate the books to the school library.  My MIL sent them some fab knitted gillets to keep them warm as well as matching turtle neck tops.

My Mum sent us some money to buy the girls something so I of course bought some craft kits. 11yo got a friendship bracelet kit, 8yo received a fairy making kit, and my 5yo is enjoying her paper flower making kit.

All the kits have thorough templates and instructions so we can carry on making the craft using other materials once they've run out of the ones in their kits.  The kits have kept them amused for hours!

As is our tradition I made my girls a present each and this year my creation for each of them was a lined bag made from loads of crocheted hexagons:


I really enjoyed making the bags as I could work on the hexagons whenever I had some spare time and my girls had no idea what they were being used for. It's a great way to use up scraps of yarn too.  They did suggest they would make a fab blanket when I was making them. LOL

It's been fab just chilling out and pottering about at home, with the occasional outing to the park to let off steam so that cabin fever doesn't set in.

We're all looking forward to the New Year and hope it will be much less stressful than this past year has been.  We also pray that those in Christchurch, including our relatives, will be spared anymore huge aftershocks like they ones that they experienced over the Christmas period.

I don't make New Year's resolutions as I feel that you can decide to change things or work on stuff at any time of the year not just at New Year.  Although New Year's does give us a chance to reflect and plan, the compulsion to suddenly react to those things we are unhappy with usually wears off by February.

I shall not be staying up to see in the New Year either. I know my 3 girls will be up early on New Year's Day as they are almost every day and don't want to be tired and grumpy on the first day of the year. 

How did your Christmas Day go? What are your plans, if any, for New Year?

Friday, 23 December 2011

Homemade Christmas Gifts That We've Made This Christmas

I love making Christmas gifts as their much more personal that buying something off the shelf and we're usually broke this time of year and homemade is usually cheaper.

We made some felt Christmas Tree decorations using cookie cutters for templates and sewed on some sequins for extra decoration.



We also made some jewellery for friends, and also air mailed some to family in NZ.


We also transformed some tins into pretty canisters to hold baking or other homemade gifts.  All it takes is some PVA glue, a clean food tin (with sharp edges removed), and some paper Christmas napkins.



Decorating cheap drinking glasses is also a fab way to present your homemade goodies.


You could even add a candle for a fab mantlepiece or table decoration.


We also made our own Christmas Cards using cross stitch and paper quilling to decorate them.



My 3 girls made one of these super easy tissue paper wreaths each to decorate their bedroom doors.


And of course there were loads of homemade tasty treats!

I made these for the Church Christmas Crafts Afternoon (where some of the above crafty Christmas creations were also made)


Here are some of the edible Christmas gifts that we made and gave away, with links to my recipes.

Marshmallow or Cherry Truffles

 Russian Fudge, Chocolate Brownies in a jar and Apricot Balls - Last minute edible Christsmas gifts
Super Quick Christmassy Muffins

Lightly Spiced Christmas Cookies
 And for the Church Christms Lunch we made this Gingerbread House.


All that's left to do is to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours.  Our love and heartfelt thoughts go to those who are alone at Christmas or who will be missing loved ones, as we will be.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Lunchbox Tips - What works in our household

First and foremost relax!  After having 3 children I tend to try and take a relaxed approach and not stress too much about school lunches.  To stop it becoming a major battle of the wills issue I use an 80/20 rule. If my girls are eating well 80% of the time, I don't worry quite so much about the other 20%. 

Try to set a good example with your own lunches and remember that lunch is only one of three meals a day, plus snacks. That means there's still plenty of opportunities to get them to eat a wide variety of foods that you would prefer they consume.  Try to get them to eat a healthy breakfast, after school snack and dinner if it seems like your best efforts at providing a healthy and appetising lunchbox are going to waste.

Some kids love variety, and others will happily eat the same lunch every day for a whole term! The important thing is that you are providing, and hopefully they are eating, a balanced lunch.  If you are blessed with a less than adventurous eater, don't worry too much about bombarding them  with variety as long as they are eating a balanced lunch. Try new foods at home first, before sending them to school in the lunch box.

If you are having trouble getting lunches eaten, use peer pressure to your advantage. Find out what other kids have packed in their lunchboxes and use that for inspiration.  Not only does it give you some good ideas for the lunchboxes you are packing, but it may encourage your child to try new and unfamiliar foods.  This only works if their friends have balanced lunchboxes and not ones full of highly processed not-so-goodies.

Keep an ideas list handy on the fridge or pantry door. Sort it into a table format by sandwich fillings, sweet treats, savoury treats, and fruit.  This is an easy way of keeping track of who likes what, especially if you have several children all with different likes and dislikes. Use pictures for younger children who aren't yet able to read.

Get your children to help prepare their lunch if time allows and if they're keen.  They can plan their own menu from the options you provide. It's a good opportunity to talk about which are healthier food choices and why moderation is important.

Practical Tips:

Preparing healthy school lunches requires some forethought and planning.  Children like lunch box choices that are quick to eat and not messy.  A whole piece of fruit will be most likely be returned uneaten if it is bruised or battered. Put bite-sized fruit into small containers, peel satsumas, cut kiwifuit in half and don't forget to include a spoon.

Presentation goes a long way with kids. Healthy lunch box food is not expensive, but making it appetising to kids bombarded with advertising promoting the rustle of cellophane wrapped lunch box snacks, takes a little creativity and persuasion.  Personalise their lunch and lunchbox. Use stickers to hold together the paper lunchwrap, or write little notes to include in the lunchbox as a neat lunchtime surprise for your child. Use stickers or fabric paint pens to decorate the outside of the lunchbox too.

Pack school lunches the night before and refrigerate overnight which saves a mad rush in the mornings. The food will stay cooler longer, especially if you're using an insulated lunchbox. Alternatively use a small frozen ice pack to keep the food chilled or freeze half a drink bottle of water and top it up with cold water in the morning. Add it to the lunchbox to help keep food cool.

Don't forget to buy some disposable plastic forks and spoons to save your kitchen cutlery going walkabout.

Sandwiches and Fruit

I vary the selection of sandwich based lunches by using rolls, pita, wraps, foccacia, crackers and even savoury scones.  I tend to keep the fillings fairly simple. I often find my girls don’t like sandwiches stuffed with salad but will eat a fairly simple sandwich and then eat carrot sticks, cucumber sticks and some cherry tomatoes.  It makes the lunch seem more interesting to them if there are lots of small bits and pieces.

If your child doesn't like wraps or rolls, you can make plain bread seem more interesting by using shaped cookie cutters.  Either cut the whole sandwich into a shape or cut a shape into the top slice of bread to make a window.  Use the shape you have cut out to put on another sandwich and "glue" it on with whatever filling is inside the sandwich.

You can also make club sandwiches by using 3 slices of bread and layering them.  Using a couple of different types of bread looks fab, layering white bread and wholemeal.

Make pinwheel sandwiches our of bread or wraps – roll up long wise and slice like sushi – wrap them tightly in cling film or greaseproof paper to stop them from unravelling.

Fruit doesn't always have to be fresh, you can use canned or dried fruits as well.  Just put the canned or dried fruit into containers or use store bought individual fruit pots.

Beyond fruit and sandwiches - Other lunch ideas

Rice paper parcels – filled with thin carrot strips, tahini, cucumber strips and noodles.

Falafels – use homemade falafels with hummus dip, or put them in pitas with hummus.

Mini cheesy vegetable frittatas – use sweetcorn, pre-cooked potato cubes, pre-cooked vegetables and cheese.

Risotto cakes – use leftover risotto rolled into balls. Put a little piece of ham or cube of cheese in the middle.

Pasta Salad or Rice salad – use a combination of basmati and brown rice or wholemeal pasta.  Make up the salad using vegetables and dressings according to your tastes.

Snack Ideas

Popcorn mixed with dried fruit (Scroggin)

Homemade pikelets or pancakes with jam or Nutella in between as a sandwich, or pancakes rolled up.

Homemade pita, bagel or tortilla crisps with hummus or dip

Creamed rice in small pots (store bought or homemade)

Chunky cereal like Cheerios

Boiled egg - keep it in the shell to stop it smashing in your lunchbox.

Either cheese from a block cut into small shapes (using cookie/playdough cutters), or ready packaged pieces like Babybel.

Yoghurt in pots, pouches or tubes.  You can put plain yohgurt in a container with berries, or a small spoonful of jam to flavour it if you prefer not to use kids yoghurts which can be high in added sugar.

Why aren't they eating their lunch?!

Lots of children bring their largely uneaten lunch home with them at the end of the day, which can be really frustrating. There may be a variety of reasons why your child does not eat some/all the food in their lunch box. With three daughters and many years of school lunch making, I've come across the following reasons:

The lunch box style – your child may have an issue with their lunch container. They might prefer a brown paper bag or want the latest fashion in lunch boxes to be like the other kids. It may be difficult for them to open.

Boredom or totally overwhelmed – try to pack a different lunch every day so kids don't get bored.  However, resist the urge to put everything apart from the kitchen sink in their lunch.  Too many choices or too much food can be overwhelming and daunting.  For younger children, cut the sandwiches in different ways or shapes to add interest (see tips above). If your child's appetite seems small, offer smaller servings. Half a sandwich might be more appropriate than a whole one.

Too dry or too wet – if kids say sandwiches are too dry, try varying the fillings and leaving the sandwich uncut or package it differently.  Some fillings like dips or peanut butter may stay fresher this way.  Soggy sandwiches are dire! If you are using tomato, put it inbetween other fillings or skin and deseed it to prevent soggy sandwiches.
Fiddly and sticky – make sure the foods are manageable and easy to eat. Some children are put off by fiddly packaging or don’t like getting sticky hands. Fruit can be made easier to eat. See tips above.

I hope that you find these ideas, tips and pearls of  wisdom useful.  Please feel free to add others in the comments section.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

No Child Born To Die - Save The Children Campaign

Yesterday I attended a Bloggers and Vloggers conference at the London Headquarters of Save The Children.  I've blogged about it on my other blog

As a result of the conference and the Save The Children #Healthworkers Campaign, there's been a challenge set by Michelle who blogs at Mummy From The Heart and Gemma who blogs at Hello It's Gemma. They have challenged us bloggers to post 100 posts of 100 words about an inspirational #healthworker that bloggers have encountered in their lives. Get all of the posts linked up here by Tuesday. If 100 bloggers each write a post about this campaign and encourage more people to sign the petition, that could make a massive dent in the 20,000 more signatures needed before Tuesday.

Write your blog post of 100 words about a great health professional you have encountered in your life. Add a link to the petition and either link or add in some information from Save the Children about the Healthworkers campaign
 
Here's mine:
 
Exactly one week before my due date with our third daughter, my husband suffered a brain haemorrhage. He was operated on, and a mass of abnormal blood vessels the size of a golf ball that had caused the bleed were removed, and his life was saved.  Without the skilled and prompt treatment from the medical professionals at the hospital 3 miles from our home, he would have died.
 
Two days after my due date when I gave birth to my third daughter, I suffered a major post partum haemorrhage and lost 2.5 litres of blood.  I had to be given emergency transfusions and rushed into theatre so the bleeding could be stopped.  Again, if it was not for the skilled and prompt treatment from the medical professionals at the hospital 3 miles from our home, I would have died.
 
If my family lived in a country without free, accessible, and skilled medical care my children would've been orphans. Within the space of 9 days, our local hospital had saved the lives of myself and my husband.  I am very grateful to all those who helped us.  I work as a nurse at the very same hospital that saved us both.  I am a healthworker.  I am very grateful to be able to do the job that I do and help save the lives of others.
 
We can all help save the lives of others by signing the Save The Children Petition.
 
A quote from the Save The Children campaign:

Health workers save lives!

Doctors, nurses and midwives are vital to help children, and mothers survive. Without them, no vaccine can be administered, no life-saving drugs prescribed and no woman can be given expert care during childbirth.

No child should die because they are unable to get help from a health worker, but because of a global shortage of 3.5 million doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers, every year millions do.

The massive shortfall of health workers in some of the poorest countries is hitting the most vulnerable children and families the hardest.

Half of the 8 million children who die each year are in Africa, yet Africa has only 3% of the world’s doctors, nurses and midwives.

What are you waiting for?!?!


If you're a blogger, write your blog post and link it up here.

Tweet using the #healthworkers hashtag.

We can all make a difference!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Save The Children Blogging Conference

Question: Will politicians get sick of Social Media Campaigns?

Answer: If they do the we shout louder! It gives normal people a voice, and is difficult to ignore. Politicians cannot ignore their constituents for too long. They have to listen to the voice of the people.

Everyone shout as loud as you can, virtually of course! LOL

Question:  Do the variety of Save The Children Campaigns spread them too thin?

Answer: All campaigns give impact. All are interrelated and closely linked together. Main purpose is to Save The Children!

Save The Children Bloggers Conference

Christine Moseler is talking about the Every Child Born to Shine campaign. They followed the trail of a vaccine, so that Mum Bloggers in the UK could give a voice to the Mum's in Mozambique.

Campaign reached just under 30 million people. The point is that when you put all the social media involvement together it makes a HUGE difference. A retweet or facebook status may seem minor but it gets the word out. So get doing it!

Watching a vid from the project that Liz & Christine were involved in Trying not to bawl buckets at what some women and their children have to go through in other countries. We should not tolerate this without doing something about it!

Can you imagine what it feels like as a mother for your child to die of a preventable disease?!  They walk for miles to reach health clinics which may or may not have the vaccine, and they may not be able to afford it if there are doses available.

Christine now reading The Voice of the Voiceless. Beautifully written, profound and brutally honest.

Why do we stand by and let children die?! They are children like our own, precious lives wasted!

All you need to do is tweet or blog and it will help, find out what you can do and make a difference.

No child should be born to die!!

Help Save The Children Healthworkers Campaign

Hearing Lucy a healthworker in South Sudan via satellite phone, they need infrastructure and more healthworkers. Especially for the hard to reach communities. More training for heathworkers too.

Get involved and sign the petition so that we can try and make a difference here:

Save The Children Campaign for Healthworkers

Save The Children Bloggers Conference

Our children in the UK are so fortunate to have healthcare, food, clean water and accommodation. Not all children in the world are so lucky.  Children and mothers in poorer countries are dying because there are not enough doctors, nurses and midwives. 

Save The Children are going to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and will do a Times Square takeover to publicise the issue.

Our mission as bloggers is to visit the http://www.timeforaction.org.uk/ website and make a submission.

Go and hassle your local MP, sign the petition online too. Spread the word!! Save The Children!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Handmade Apron - Handmade Thursday

The gorgeous Tracy who blogs over at White Lily Green has a fabulous Handmade Thursday linky and I thought it was about time I joined in again.  I recently purchased some fairly decent quality sheets from a local charity shop and made plain white tote bags for my daughters to decorate.  I also made an apron as my daughters had been nagging me for a while to make them one each.  I will be making the other two over the coming weeks but thought I would show off the first of the three.

I used bias binding that I had in my sewing box and some fabric scraps to make the strawberries.  I enjoyed sewing the embroidery watching telly in the evenings.  My daughers friends all want one now so I may be making loads more.

Assisted by my 8yo daughter, here are the photos of the finished apron:






What have you made? Join the linky and show it off!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Entertainment without a TV screen in sight

This afternoon, while I made 3 dozen jars of jam, my Mum entertained my 3 daughters for a couple of hours.  We got the board games tub out of the garage and they had loads of fun!  There were 4 games that they played and there were no fights or bad manners either. That's as close to a miracle as you get in our house!


They played Pop to the Shops, Guess Who, Cinderella's Glass Slipper Game, and a travel version of Disney Princesses Hop and Drop as well as a full size non-princess version of  the same game (not pictured). 


We also discovered two Marble Runs that were up on the shelf in the lounge and my daughters had another hour of fun with those.

A brilliant afternoon was had by all! I enjoyed my jam making and supplying snacks to my Mum and daughters inbetween batches of jam, and they all enjoyed their time playing together.  Result!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Holiday Club - Toy Story Day

The second day of Holiday Club was based around the movie Toy Story and there were loads of different activities.  Here's what my girls got up to:

More flowery face painting fun AND making fruit kebabs.

The fruit kebabs was the activity that I was running today. We got through HEAPS of fruit with 75 children! LOL

There was also rocket modelling and colouring in of snap on friendship bracelets too.

Of course there had to be a Mr Potato Head activity.

My 11yo with her flying saucer.  The Flying saucer was a balloon secured to a CD.  You blow up the balloon through the hole in the CD, put it on the ground and watch it zoom about.

My 8yo with her rocket and extra seating on the side so that everyone can travel at once and nobody misses out.

My 8yo was very proud of her snap on bracelet.

There was circus skills and a bouncy castle in the afternoon. They made sure that there were only a few kids on it at once and they were timed so everyone got a turn.
My daughters also decorated t-shirts which I will probably post pic of tomorrow. It was a fab day and we were all VERY tired after helping clean up and walking 2 miles home in the heat. We did stop half way home for an ice lolly at the corner shop though. Just reward for our tiring day I reckon.

Holiday Club - Lion King Day

I'm helping out at the Church Holiday Club and the theme this year is Movie Madness.  Monday was Lion King day and all the activites had an African theme.  Here's what my cherubs got up to: 

They all made masks with lots of fur and fabric on them.
 
There was a visit from some of the Shepreth Wildlife Park animals, this is a python that the girls found fascinating. They weren't scared at all and spent ages touching 'Bubble' the python and asking about him.

This is a gecko that the girls loved stroking.

My 8yo with her face paint butterfly.


My 11yo with a mythical winged dragon face painted on her arm.

My 4yo with her face painted butterfly.
 I also helped the 75 children make Vegetable Kebabs and Spicy Couscous but didn't get a chance to take a pic, things were a little hectic LOL

Friday, 29 July 2011

Making do when the cupboards are bare

Yesterday I looked after loads of children (8 in the morning, 7 in the afternoon). I had to provide morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and snacks. Needless to say, today my fridge is almost empty and even my usually well stocked pantry is looking rather miserable.

I've got a banging headache and the girls are being feral because they're tired after yesterday's mahem visitors so I had two choices, make do with the meagre offerings we had or drag 3 tired and semi-feral girls around the supermarket and I really could'nt be arsed.  Our online grocery delivery is due tomorrow and I've recently written posts on being frugal and cutting down the cost of grocery bills so I decided to practice what I've been preaching and make do with what we have.

We ended up making fruit scones for morning tea and had them with homemade plum jam from the pantry.

Lunch was sweetcorn fritters using the Whatever Fritter recipe with salad leaves from our garden and soem tomato ketchup.  We had homemade berry sorbet for an after lunch treat.

Homemade Berry Sorbet

¼ cup icing sugar

500g frozen berries.

Put the frozen berries and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse until just blended to sortbet consistency.  Serve immediately. 


Our afternoon snack will be leftover fruit scones from this morning. 

Dinner will be Bean Hotpot with baked potatoes because I persuaded my daughters to dig up some spuds from the garden to have with dinner.  For pudding we'll be using apples off the tree in our backyard and having:

Baked Apples

5 apples

1 cup ( a decent handful) mixed dried fruit, eg: sultanas, dates, apricots

1 Tblsp brown sugar

1 Tblsp butter, melted

1 tsp cinnamon

125ml (1/2 cup) water

Preheat oven to 180C.  Core the apples, but leave the base intact to hold in the filling.  Don't peel the apples, just make a cut in the skin all the way around the middle to allow the apple to expand as it cooks. 

In a bowl mix the dried fruit, brown sugar, merlted butter and cinnamon together.  Carefully spoon the dried fruit mixture into the apples. Place apples in a baking dish and pour in the water. Bake for about 35 minutes or until soft.  Serve with warm custard, homemade or store bought.


I've got enough baking ingredients left in the pantry (just) to make pancakes for brunch tomorrow since we're low on cereal, and the kids can have them with homemade jam or baked sliced apples from the tree.  Hopefully our online grocery delivery will have us restocked again tomorrow morning. I can't wait!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Budgeting Tips for Grocery Shopping and Economical Family Recipes

Do a stocktake of what you already have. Can you make some of the weeks meals using up things that are close to their use by dates? Do you really need to buy as much as you think you do this week? Plan a weeks worth of meals based around what your needs are such as money available, different dietary needs and tastes, time constraints, visitors for dinner, and a couple of family favourite meals for those stressful nights when you need a "guaranteed to be eaten by everybody" option. Can you make several meals for the week using food you already have in your cupboards rather than buying loads more? Can you use up several items with the addition of just one or two bought items?

Once you know what you have already, then start on your grocery list. Make a list of all your basic essentials, these are all the things that you need to have in stock to keep the family ticking over – Not what you would LIKE to have, just what you NEED (nope, emergency chocolate and wine doesn't count).

The Essentials Shopping List should start with fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables. It’s possible to make a wide variety of nutritious meals by combining fresh or frozen produce with basics from your store cupboard such as flour, rice, eggs and seasonings. With fresh produce you can get loads for your money, provided that you buy what is in season. Having said that, if there is an excellent offer on frozen vegetables I normally buy a couple of packs to store in the freezer and add them to stews or bolognese style mince based meals when I reheat them as a quick addition of extra vegetables with little effort and less dishes to wash. It also makes meals go further if you think there might not be enough to go around or if you have unexpected visitors for dinner.

Next list your basic range of storecupboard staples – things like flour, bread, eggs, milk, butter, oil, baking powder, salt, dried pasta, etc. Just the basics that you USE regularly. Not what you think you might use if you ever get around to dusting off your recipe book collection!

Then you need to write down a basic range of cereals Cornflakes, Weetabix, Rice Krispies, Rolled Oats, etc - all of which can be used in baking recipes as well as for breakfast. Using ingredients for more than one purpose is the cornerstone of budget conscious shopping.

Add to your Essentials Shopping List a basic range of tinned foods (such as tomatoes or baked beans), then a basic range of seasonings, sauces and spreads. Then you can include a basic range of frozen food but remember, it’s just the essentials! Peas and beans are fine but iceream and frozen pizzas will be going on the Luxury Shopping List.

The Essentials Shopping List will be completely different for each individual household. It depends on the ages of your children, number of people in the household, dietary needs, etc.

After you’ve listed all your essential food items you then need to add meat (unless of course you're vegetarian), and then any essential cleaning products, nappies, wipes and other personal hygiene products.

Essentials Shopping List

Fresh fruit and vegetables – onions (red or brown), potatoes, carrots, garlic, apples, bananas, whatever is cheap that you need for your meal plan, and in season - write them all down. They can be fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables whichever offers best value and suits your recipes.

Store Cupboard Staples – flour (plain, self raising, bread flour, wholemeal - whichever you will USE not leave sitting around in the hope you will use it), oil, sugar, eggs, milk, butter, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda (handy for cleaning too), salt, cheese, lentils, rice (long grain and Arborio), dried pasta, etc.

Baking stuff- coconut, vanilla extract, raisins, cocoa, yeast, etc

Spreads – peanut butter, honey, jam, Vegemite (all of these can be used in baking as well as on bread)

Cereals – cornflakes, weeatbix, rice krispies, rolled oats, muesli (all these can be used in baking too)

Canned food – baked beans, tinned tomatoes, chilli beans, kidney beans, sweet corn, tuna, fruit, etc

Dried Pulses and Legumes - lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, pearl barley, soup mixes

Sauces – Tomato sauce, sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar (great for cleaning too)

Seasonings – Mixed Herbs, oregano, cumin, turmeric, paprika, curry powder, coriander, mixed spice, cinnamon, chilli, etc

Frozen food - Peas, beans, mixed vegetable, pastry blocks/sheets

Meat, Fish and Poultry - beef mince, pork mince, whole chicken or chicken pieces, good quality sausages, bacon, fish fillets (whichever fish is on offer)

Cleaning products - Bleach, floor cleaner, surface scrub, the ones you would normally use. Remember the basics ranges and store brands are usually much cheaper and do the same job as the more expensive brands. I tend to buy those brands, especially bleach and disinfectant.

Toiletries – tissues, toilet rolls, hand soap, shampoo and conditioner, soap, shaving gel, razors, sanitary products, kids toiletries.

Pet supplies - food, flea treatments, worming medication, cat litter, whatever your pets will need that week.

The Essentials Shopping List should include the basic ingredients of your regular meals as well as your baking staple ingredients. Quite often there may be things that you think are essential now, but if circumstances change they can be left off the list. For example if friends invite you to dinner, neighbours give you fruit from their trees, you manage to forage some wild blackberries, or your vegetable garden provides you with some food for the week.

The Luxuries List

This is the list of items that your household likes, but are not essential to your survival. Ice cream, wine, sugary branded cereals, shop bought biscuits, pot noodles, fancy olive oils, convenience foods like oven chips, lunch box bars and packet drinks, etc.

There is no way that you can be expected to determine the difference between a need and a want in the middle of the supermarket, especially if you are tired, have children or partners nagging for something, and basically want to escape the world for a bit with a large glass of your favourite tipple somewhere quiet.

The Essentials List and the Luxuries List clearly define your spending priorities and put in perspective what you NEED to buy versus what you'd LIKE to buy.

Sticking to a strict budget is very virtuous but can be absolutely torturous if you don't include an inexpensive treat each week. If you give yourself a little treat it makes a strict budget much easier to stick to and will help avoid a big blow out due to frustration and deprivation later on. Most household bills like mortgages, council tax, etc are fixed costs. Grocery shopping is one of the few expenses that we have complete control over. If you can save money whilst still putting tasty and healthy food on the table, the money you save can be put towards other expenses or saved for longer term goals and expenses like school uniforms, car MOT, or family outings.

The best way to use your Luxuries List is to choose only one or two items from it when you shop - but only if you can afford it.

By separating items out into the two lists you will become far more careful about how you use luxury items and ingredients to keep meals interesting therefore and you will find yourself using less of them. Having a little of your favourite foods, ingredients and treats helps you stay on track with your budget and a little treat should prevent a major blow out later on.

It's all in the way you sell it - be creative with descriptions of meals

When your nearest and dearest ask what it for dinner don't say "Leftovers" or you will probably get whinges and groans. Instead give your family a sales pitch, sell your hard work. For example, if you're making leftover homemade bolognese into pasties, tell them "We’re having delicious beef bolognese enveloped in rich flaky puff pastry to make special individual parcels". It sounds miles better than - last nights leftover mince, a handful of frozen mixed vegetables and a pack of pastry that needed using up. You can even put the first letter of their name cut out of pastry on top or cut the vent in the pastry in the shape of the first letter of their name. Some times little things like that can make a big difference for reluctant diners.

I'm not saying that you need to give a flowery and grand description of each meal. Nobody has time or energy for that kind of faff. Just try and make your family appreciate that you made the effort to cook for them. Don't be afraid to use a bit of cunning descriptive language to sell leftovers or new recipes to potentially unwilling diners. Failing that, in our house there are only two options: eat it or starve!

Here's two really cheap recipes that always go down well in our house:

Twice Baked Potatoes

Sufficient large potatoes to allow one or two halves per person, scrubbed well until clean

Milk and butter for mashing the potato.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Selection of fillings: grated cheese, leftover shredded chicken, diced ham or cooked bacon, tinned tuna, chopped spring onion or chives, tinned corn kernels, baked beans, basically whatever you have available and is to your taste.

Wrap the cleaned potatoes in foil and bake at 180C for about one hour or until a skewer or knife goes in easily. Take the potatoes out of the oven and allow to cool. If necessary, you can refrigerate them until later at this point.

When you are ready to carry on with the recipe, halve the potatoes lengthwise and scoop out the cooked flesh. Be careful not to puncture the skin and leave enough potato on the skin to form a bowl for the fillings.

Mash the scooped out cooked potato, add any fillings you like and season to taste. Gently spoon the mixture back into the shells of the potatoes, piling it up generously. Sprinkle grated cheese on the top if you like.

Return the potatoes to the oven and bake at 180C for a further 30 minutes or until golden brown and well heated through.

You can serve the stuffed potatoes as a dinner with salad, on their own as a lunch, or as a side dish.


Brown Rice and Vegetable Bake

1 cup brown rice

2 onions, finely sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

10 big chard leaves or 2 handfuls of spinach

5 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper

3 Tblsp grated Parmesan cheese (or vegetarian equivalent)

2 large tomatoes, sliced

3/4 cup grated cheese

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Lightly oil a large baking dish with cooking oil spray. Cook the rice according to packet instructions.

Cook dinely chopped onions in the oil until soft and slightly caramelised.  Remove the stalks from the chard and cook on high in microwave for 2 minutes. If you are using spinach leave the stalks on and cook in the same way.  Squeeze out excess moisture then chop up.

Combine all the ingredients except for the tomatoes and a handful of cheese.  Spoon everything into the prepared dish and flatten down lightly so the top is even.  Arrange the tomato slices on top and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes or until firm in the middle and lightly browned.  We usually serve this with a large side salad of homegrown greens.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Crafty Recipes for Loads of Fun

Cornflour Goop

Slowly add 1 cup of cold water to 2 cups of cornflour in a bowl.

Stir until the water is absorbed by the cornflour.

Add food colouring if desired.

Play with goop in large containers with spoons, cups, hands, sticks, etc.

Handy Hint: To remove goop from carpets, allow it to dry, then brush or vacuum. Goop may be re-used after it has dried out. Crumble it to a powder then restore it to the original consistency by adding water, a spoonful at a time.


Slime

Dissolve 1 cup of soap flakes in 2 litres of warm water.

Add food colouring if desired.

Allow the mixture to stand until it becomes thick and slimy. Beat with eggbeater or fork to make it froth. Put slime in a wide, open container or trough. Provide children with eggbeaters, spoons, funnels, cups, sponges, sieves, whisks, etc., for them to experiment with.


Uncooked Finger Paint

2 cups corn flour

1 cup cold water

4 cups boiling water (a little more if necessary)

¼ cup soap flakes (optional)

Whisk the corn flour and cold water together in a large bowl until all the corn flour is suspended. Pour in four or a little more cups of boiling water while stirring and beat until the mixture sticks together. Continue until the mixture is smooth, thick and translucent.

Add the soap flakes if desired and keep stirring. If the mixture seems too thick, you can add a little more water.

The finger-paint should pour slowly and keep its shape for a short time when moulded or patterned with fingers.  You can now mix colour into the finger paint.

 
Uncooked Playdough

3 cups Plain flour

1½ tsp Cream of Tarter

3 Tbsp Cooking Oil

3 cups Boiling Water

Colouring

Mix the dry ingredients and cooking oil together in a large bowl, then add the boiling water. Stir well until the mixture leaves the sides of the bowl. Add more flour if the mixture seems too sticky, then turn out and knead.

 
Play Dough - Cooked Version

1 cup flour

1/2 cup salt

1-2 tablespoons oil

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 cup water

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a saucepan and then add oil and water.

Cook slowly over a low heat until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan and it becomes difficult to move with a spoon.

Remove from heat and cool until it can be handled. Knead. Add food colouring if desired. Store in an airtight container or zip lock bag.


Salt Dough

This makes enough for three to four children, or one really creative and busy child.

1½ cups Salt

¾ cup Cornflour

1 cup Water

If you want you can colour with food colouring when you add water, less colouring for a pastel colour is usually more desirable. If you want to make models to paint later leave the colouring out.

Mix ingredients together in a pot, then cook over a low heat, stirring frequently until th mixture becomes solid. Turn out and knead immediately.

This dough can be moulded into shapes, made into beads and used for making hanging decorations. Make any holes that might be required in the finished product before the dough is left to harden. It can also be painted after it has hardened.

Once you've made your models or beads, leave the dough to harden for for 36 - 48 hours.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Tote Bags - Large and Small

My 8yo daughter had been invited to her classmates birthday party.  We were going to give her some of our Fairy Bears books that both older girls had read but were still in fairly new condition.  I decided to make her a little fabric tote to put the books in.  It took an hour in total from when I liberated the scrap of daisy fabric from my stash to when I snipped the last lose thread once I'd finished sewing.  It was so quick and easy to make up. 

Here is a really dodgy photo of the tote I took on the way out the door to the birthday party.



Once the other parents at the party discovered that I had made the bag (thanks to my 8yo chatterbox), I immediately had 6 orders for them.  I only made one as we had run out of wrapping paper and I was too lazy to battle the supermarket for more I thought it would be a handy bag for the books to be carried in that would double as a girlie handbag.  I told the other parents that I may make more and sell them at the school Summer Fair or they can pop around for a cuppa and select fabric from my stock and I will make one for them to purchase. 

I had no intention of making and selling these bags as a source of income.  But after thinking about it for a bit I decided to make two more bags.  One adult one for myself and one more small girls tote.  I'm using to test the market.  When school starts back this week I shall be carrying my tote and wait to see if other Mum's in the playground demand to know where it's from like it and want one too.  My youngest will be using the other one to carry her snacks to Nursery in.  Perhaps the other girls at Nursery will pester ask their parents for one if they like hers.

Here are the two other totes I made:




Many thanks to my husband for taking the photos and making the totes look good. 

It's really mind blowing that a new source of income can come from something as totally innocent as running out of wrapping paper and sewing a simple fabric bag.

I make them because I enjoy sewing and they're really easy to make.  I'll probably get bored if I make too many though.  I'm sure I can make other bags and will probably get a pattern book cheaply and experiment. 

Has anyone else stumbled upon a new income source completely out of the blue? What did you do and how did you manage to find the time to explore it whilst keeping everything else in your life on track?


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Choc Orange Butter Biscuits - Easter Gift

We needed an alternative Easter gift for out neighbours who didn't want chocolate eggs.  The girls and I decided to make these biscuits and put them in a lovely tin we bought from a charity shop and tissue paper that almost matches.  They especially enjoyed piping the dough on to the trays.  It was so easy that they all could have a go, even my 4yo is now a dab hand at piping.

300g softened butter, preferably unsalted

1 cup icing sugar

1 egg

grated rind 2 oranges

½ cup cocoa

2½ cups flour

Icing:

100g butter

1½ cups icing sugar

50g dark chocolate, melted and cooled

few drops vanilla essence

about 1-2 Tbsp milk

Beat the butter and icing sugar together until light and creamy. Beat in the egg and orange rind.

Sift the cocoa and flour evenly over the top of the creamed mixture and stir together gently.

Put the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle and pipe medium-size rosettes onto a greased baking tray. Bake at 180ºC for 12-15 minutes. Cool on a cake rack.

Sandwich biscuits together with icing, if wished. To make icing, beat the butter until it is pale and fluffy. Sift the icing sugar and beat into the creamed butter with the chocolate, vanilla essence and sufficient milk until you have a fluffy light mixture. Store biscuits in an airtight container.



Saturday, 16 April 2011

Iced Spiced Buns

Twas my husbands birthday early last week and instead of a cake he decided that a batch of my secret recipe Chocolate Brownies and a batch of Iced, Spiced Buns would suffice.  My three lovely daughters helped me make the buns.  Here's the recipe I used:

225g (8oz) strong white bread flour

25g (1oz) caster sugar

25g (1oz) softened butter

1 1/2 tsp fast action dried yeast

1 medium egg, beaten

90ml (3 fl oz) warm semi-skimmed milk

1 teaspoon of mixed spice

1/2 - 1 cup of raisins

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, mixed spice, and yeast into a mixing bowl (I usually use my stand mixer with a dough hook). Make a well in the centre and add the softened butter, egg and milk. Mix to make a soft dough, add the raisins and knead them into the dough. Knead the dough until its smooth and springs back when lightly pressed with a floured finger. My daughters decided to knead the dough themselves and it took them around 15 minutes to get a nice smooth, soft dough.

We put the dough into a lightly greased bowl, covered it with clingfilm and left it to prove until it had doubled in size. 

Once the dough had proved, we lightly floured the bench and shaped the dough into buns.  We put the buns onto the oven tray, covered them with greased clingfilm to stop it sticking to the buns and left them to prove once again.  When they had doubled in size we baked them in a 180 degree fan oven, for about 15-20 minutes.  

Once they were cooked, we left them to cool on a wire rack, and iced them with vanilla icing. 

Here are the finished buns, they didn't last long. The whole batch was eaten that evening.



Thursday, 17 February 2011

Baking With Children

Create a lasting fun filled memory for your child by baking with them. Allow them to measure the flour, and lick the spoon (just like you used to do) or put them in charge of mixing the dough.

Baking with children is a great experience, spending time together and sharing special moments that will be treasured forever. Baking is also a great tool to teach children, for example:

Maths – measuring teaches them about fractions; while cutting the cake into slices, teaches them about dividing.

Reading skills – improve comprehension and vocabulary

Teamwork – baking encourages teamwork

Curiosity – baking will encourage scientific curiosity, for example making children question why the cake rises

Develop patience – follow the recipe step by step, and wait for the results

Completing tasks – from shopping for the ingredients through to baking, cleaning up, and finally sampling the baking will teach children the value of following through on projects from start to finish. 

If mess is likely to bother you, remember baking with children is going to get messy.  That's the fun of it.  If you must, you can try and minimise the mess by letting them wear an apron or one of your old t-shirts to keep their clothes clean.  If you're really a clean freak you can encourage them to help you  clean up as you go, however this prolongs the actual task of baking/cooking and your children may lose interest or get frustrated.

Spread newspaper or paper towels on the counters and floor for easy cleaning if you want.

Remember to always wash your hands before handling food

To spare yourself a bit of anxiety, teach your children about all the dangers in the kitchen and how to prevent any danger, for example being careful around hot surfaces.

Here are some tips to keep them safe:

Ensure pan handles are turned away from the edge, to keep anyone from bumping into them accidentally.

Ensure the stove top is turned off if it is not in use.

Minimise falls by providing a sturdy chair or stool to stand on so they can reach the bench comfortably.

Wear oven gloves when handling pots and pans coming out of the oven.

Do not let small children handle knives, and supervise older children when they use sharp objects.

Above all else remember to enjoy yourself and keep your sense of humour!