...seen through a slightly smudged, secondhand pair of rose-tinted glasses

Tuesday, 15 April 2014


I'd like to think that somewhere there's a special toy lab full of slightly eccentric people trying to out do each other with ideas for the weirdest, wackiest things they can fit in a Kinder egg.

'…hey, what about a scary baby on wheels sucking a dummy?'

'…wait! wait! I've got one! A baby in a turban...on a magic carpet, that can levitate!'


And so it goes on.

Maybe they're all computer generated now, but I'd rather hang on to the image of some toy techie person trying to work out how to get a bug rowing a pea-pod boat into a small orange capsule.

Kinder Surprise! There's a good chance you probably will be…surprised, that is.

Some of the toys are truly inspired in a crazy creative kind of way, with little moving parts that slot together; like mini feats of engineering.

As you can probably tell, I am a fan: I've been collecting them on and off for over twenty years.

What can I say? I love tiny.

Wasted on kids in my opinion.

Though they're not always brilliant: not always a swiss clock with a bird popping out kind of brilliant...

Sometimes just a boring lump of plastic, or - my least favourite surprise - a puzzle.
So disappointing.

But the ones that move, or wobble, or fly or even light up - like this dragon - well, you've got to be happy with that…(or maybe just me?)

Probably my favourite one is the mice in a box - frightening to think it's actually about 20 years old.

Simple but  clever: a little mechanism inside means every time you slide the box open either way, a mouse pops out.  I'm also quite keen on the kung-fu monkey that karate chops a piece of wood.

He really does.

I want to say they aren't as good now as they used to be - and I think they did take a dip into dull. But recently the Kinder toys seem back on form - a pony with a ring that clips on its back you can wear (well, not me..) I'd show you if I could find it. My daughter loves the flower fairies with petal skirts. Again I'd show you...

For some reason I still kind of weigh them by hand, in the possibly mistaken belief that heavier is better. And I still give the chocolate to anyone who'll have it.

Surely no one buys them for the chocolate?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Ode to Croissants

Beaming crispy crescents
lying in a pile,
Hard resisting something
that looks like a smile )

The flaky bakey loveliness
sets many tums aflutter,
Possibly because they're made
with half a ton of butter.

Try not to look, to catch a smile
and focus on the bread,
But it's no use, I leave the shop
with five croissants instead.

(no prizes for guessing where we are at the moment…enjoying some sunshine and frequent visits to the Boulangerie :)

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Sweet potato curry with cherry tomatoes

One upside of a new school, endless driving, and too much time spent hanging around car parks is I've met a lovely bunch of people. New friends who quickly swept me under their wing when things got tough: when Dad took a turn for the worse: when I needed help most.
We don't have family nearby, and as despair gripped hold, they calmly gathered up the children and packed me off to the airport. No fuss. No bother. Amazing.

I was just thinking about all this, because the mum who looked after my youngest came round yesterday and I wanted to make her something special. A chance to dig out a favourite recipe that's done the rounds (another joy of new friends..)
She's Vegetarian and Sweet Potato curry has got to be my top veggie meal - I'm pretty sure anyone who's ever come here long enough to be fed has had it. Vegetarian or not. Possibly a reflection of my limited recipe repertoire, but mostly because it's a cracking curry.

It's also the reason why there's nearly always a jar of red thai curry paste in the fridge - a favourite cheaty cheeky shortcut - perfect for giving a dullish meal a quick, warm, lemony, garlicky boot up the behind without all that tedious chopping. I'll probably get bored of it soon because it's going in EVERYthing - soup, savoury rice, pasta sauces. Just a little, mind: a friend once mistakenly used a whole jar…. I love a chilli hit, but that floored us all.

I've even been known to pop half a teaspoon into some of the kid's meals to jazz things up a bit (spice by stealth you see..)
No one's complained yet.

Anyway, back to why the paste's in my fridge in the first place. This delicious, quick and easy curry.

Serves 4

3/4 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled, chopped or cubed
1 onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped
1 tin coconut milk
inch of ginger finely chopped
half teaspoon of chilli powder (optional)
2 stalks lemongrass finely chopped (crush with back of a knife first)
1 tablespoon red thai curry paste
half a chicken or vegetable stock cube
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
juice of half a lemon
fresh coriander

Gently fry the onion until it begins to soften, and add the chopped garlic, ginger, lemon grass and chilli powder (if you want the extra heat) 

After a few minutes pop in the curry paste and stir.

Next, get the sweet potato pieces into the pan, give it all a good mix about, and stir fry until the potato just start to soften.

Pour in the coconut milk, plus half a stock cube and add a little water so the liquid just covers the sweet potato. Let it gently bubble away for 8 to 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and cook on for another 5 or so, to heat them through. 

Season, and add lemon juice to taste.

Serve with a good sprinkle of chopped coriander.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Ups and Downs

It's been a funny old week: after we limped over the £12 Challenge finish line, I just seemed to drift back into clouds of melancholy. Thinking about Dad.

Being outside in the garden helps - always has when sadness or anxiety crowd in; but I've not been able to get out much. Instead, rushing from one thing to the next and getting nothing done: like pedalling madly and going nowhere.
Tell you what really didn't help though - my eldest eejit leaving the bath running and flooding the place...

The Challenge was a good distraction - glad when it's over, but always glad we've done it. Makes me cook with more imagination and makes me think about things I take for granted.
Usually leaves me brimming with good intentions too: the thing is, I know it doesn't take long for bad habits to creep back into my kitchen and my trolley. So, a return to spur of the moment mundane meals and the same old same old. I'm going to try a bit harder this time, and force myself to meal plan more often, because it does save money (and sanity), and I'm going to stick to making bread at least once a week. Think I'm quite quick and it now.

To celebrate the end of the Challenge, I bought these…

..honestly I'm hoping they won't get used for aaages, it's just they were cheap! £2.50 in Asda. And it's sod's law isn't it that if you leave sledge-buying till it snows, they'll be as hard to find as hen's teeth. Pretty nifty forward planning I thought. Certainly for me!

The highlight of my week is without doubt The Great British Sewing Bee. Love, love, LOVE it. Simple pleasures. On Tuesdays I shoo the kids upstairs by 8; daggers if anyone dares come down again.  I'm totally hooked this year; they're such a happy, talented group, and seem genuinely fond of each other. Makes me cry when one of them has to leave. Though, to be fair, it doesn't take much at the moment. I'm in awe of what they produce in such a ridiculously short space of time. Mind you, making clothes is way outside my crafty comfort zone, I don't have the patience for a fabric pattern and am still slightly nervous around sewing machines.
At least mine is out in the open now. And sometimes gets used.

I'm more at home with hooks and big needles. A bit of click-clack comfort. I took some needles and wool with me when I went over to Northern Ireland to spend time with Dad in hospital. He slept a lot, and it was sad but peaceful sitting there with my stepmother and my sister - nurses and visitors coming and going. I don't think I've ever sat so still for so long. Not speaking. Sorrowful silence.
Reading didn't feel right, so I started knitting. Don't ask me why, but I made a kangaroo…? Shame I didn't write the pattern down, - don't think I could knit another one. Anyway, it made Dad smile. Happy/sad memories when I look at it now.

The dalmatian was for Dad's birthday a few years ago. He really loved dalmatians - they had one when he remarried, and Dad adored her. She was totally gorgeous, but mad as a brush.
So, this is Dotty.

It's a Debbie Bliss pattern and possibly one of the trickiest things I've knitted...not just dealing with random dots, but when I'd finished knitting, there were about 28 pieces to sew together.

With the sea between us, I didn't get to spend a lot of time with Dad, so there aren't that many reminders or associations with him here. And I think, while it's all still raw, this kind of helps me just trundle on with things; but there'll come a time when I know I'd like to have more of Dad about.
Maybe I'll ask my stepmother if I can have Dotty.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Easter egg box flowers for Mother's Day

My little spring posy is based on the roses I made a couple of weeks ago. Egg boxes are great for flowers, and I was thinking this simple arrangement might come in handy with Mother's Day around the corner?

So, if you fancy flowers, you'll need some egg boxes, pipe cleaners (yellow and green), coloured tissue paper, paint, glue, a yogurt pot and a lump of plasticine.

Cut out a few egg cups for the daffodils and keep the edges nice and wavy - makes it look more like petals.

Cut some middle cones out too for the crocus/bluebell shaped flower (seems to be a sort of cross between the two!) - use the corners for the petal tips and join by drawing a triangle on each side, like the picture above…

Paint them purple and the daffs a sunny yellow.

Pierce a hole through the bottom of the bells and the middle of the daffs and push a piece of pipe cleaner through (should get about 3 stalks from each one). Bend it over to hold in place - nice and flat for the daffs.

With the bells I used a yellow pipe cleaner and folded it over so it looked more like a flower stamen, before pulling back down.

To finish off the daffs, fold a piece of orange or yellow tissue paper (about 12cm by 12cm) until it's a 2cm wide strip - you don't want it sitting too high above the edge of the egg cup - then roll up tightly.

Let them unfurl a bit, glue the end down and stick over the pipe cleaner middle.

For the daisies, cut a one cm strip of white paper or card, and snip into 6cm pieces. Fold them in half and round off the ends.

Open up and use the middle fold to arrange three evenly on top of each other, so it looks daisy-like.

Glue together and when dry, carefully make a hole (with nail scissors), big enough for a pipe cleaner. Wind it round a few times for a fuller centre.

We cut some long leaves out of tissue paper and stuck them on too - the easiest way to do this is to wrap them round the stalks.

Arrange your blooms in a piece of old plasticine - one of those mashed up multi-coloured bits…(make sure you warm it up a bit first, so the stalks go in)

Cut a strip of wrapping paper to decorate your pot - make sure it goes round with plenty to spare, then cut into pieces - so much easier to glue on neatly like this.
You could stick a ribbon round instead.

Pop in your flowers.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Charity Challenge Day 6 - Chocolate Brownies save the day...

The brownies arrived in the nick of time: there was a sprinkling of dissent in the ranks, and I think the eldest was on the verge of a possible muffin mutiny. It appears you actually can have too much of a good thing.

Don't think he'd ever get sick of brownies though.

I know the internet is awash with brownie recipes, but sure one more won't hurt.
I make these a lot, probably the thing I bake the most. Perfect for cheering up grumpy kids/husband.

150g dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa)
150g butter
3 eggs
225g sugar
tsp vanilla extract
90g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Grease and line a 20cm square tin (or round if you want a brownie cake) Oven 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the chocolate and the butter together, and while that's going on, beat the eggs, sugar (brown or white) and vanilla in a large bowl. When the choc/butter has melted, let it cool for a bit before adding it to the sugary eggs - then tip in the flour and baking powder, and mix. 
Pour into your prepared tin, and pop into the oven for 15-20 mins. Cool before cutting.

As we only had 100g of chocolate, I reduced the quantities by a third, but probably could have done with a bit more flour as they're extremely gooey - not that anyone's complaining.

There has been an increase in moaning though as the week's gone on - not about what I'm giving them to eat; more about the lack of variety, and that they can't have what they want. This is no bad thing, because these moments, when the kids are thinking about not being able to have crisps or custard creams or whatever it might be; they're good times to remind them about children who never have any choices; children who are grateful for every meal and every mouthful. But not in a lecturey way, because I know they'd just switch off if I did that. It'll probably make more sense when they watch a bit of Sport Relief tonight and see where the money we've raised will be going.

For me, the Challenge has meant a lot more planning, cooking and thinking ahead - it's been good to do,  but know I'm not organised enough to keep it going. I was thinking that yesterday morning when I made the kids pancakes for breakfast with the leftover batter from the night before: they loved them and it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling - but I'm not usually on the ball in the morning and don't need to add any extra chores. Hard enough getting them out the door by 7.30.
And remembering to brush my hair.

I used Hugh FW's drop scone/pancakes recipe, but watered down the milk to make it go further. We've done quite well making our milk supply last. I only have one milk drinker though, and he's been on water rations.

The old bits of bread mentioned last time were whizzed up to make breadcrumbs. I fried them with some butter, a splash of oil, a chopped clove of garlic, and a little rosemary from the garden (chopped so finely no child would spot it). I added a little grated cheese from the rations too, and then sprinkled the toasted breadcrumbs on our tomato pasta (popular in some parts of southern Italy as a cheap alternative to parmesan apparently).  I really liked the garlicky crunch with the pasta, and even got a thumbs up from the fusspot! But the youngest wasn't so keen - always bloomin' one, isn't there.

Anyway, they all ate it up.

I bribed them with brownies.

I'm doing the £12 Challenge for Sport Relief - if you're interested, my donation page is here.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Charity Challenge Day 4 - The art of deception

The fussy one had eaten nearly all his Almost Spanish Omelette before he realised there was potato in it. I'd cut the potato really, really small. Needs must you see.

Another Charity Challenge highlight has got to be using a chef's ring for the rosti - honestly it's not been out of the drawer for aaages, and I'd forgotten how a bit of neat uniformity can magically make things seem more appetising. Appearance matters for kids - well it does for mine, and frankly I'll take all the help I can get.

So I'll be making round food more often, and have another go at rosti cakes, though next time I'll squeeze more of the starchy liquid out of the grated potato; pretty sure that's the key to a good rosti.

We're over half way through now, and not wanting to tempt fate or anything, but our £12 veggie week is going better than expected - I'd even say my fussy blighter has eaten more than he usually does.
This has probably got a lot to do with a ready supply of homemade bread. Last year I used Recipe Junkie's delicious bread recipe, and even made a bubbly, yeasty sourdough starter, but this time I've gone for speed and stripped my bread prep down to the bare bones.

500g of strong flour in a big bowl with a 7g sachet of yeast sprinkled on one side and 5-10g of salt on the other (so the salt doesn't kill the yeast), then mix in 300ml of warm water, plonk out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.
Put the dough ball onto a very lightly greased tray and leave, covered with a tea towel, somewhere warm for one hour plus. Score the risen dough, and pop into a pre-heated oven at 220 degrees C for about 25 minutes. Should sound hollow when you tap the top, and seems to have worked fine so far, even with my old/new flour mixture.

I made some cider bread today, and know I've banged on about it before, At Length - but it really is the easiest bread EVER. No need to knead, and takes only a few minutes to prepare. If you've got some spare cider/lager/guinness knocking about do give it a go. I had the end of a bottle of cider in the fridge and cut back on the cheese and butter quantities so it didn't make too much of a dent in our rations.
It's best eaten on the day it's made, but that's never been a problem!

Also wanted to mention I've kept any spare bits of bread and ends of loaves for something I'm going to try tomorrow. I know I'm going to like it, just not so sure about the kids...
All will be revealed in the next post.