Catching up with everything…


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Snickerdoodles for the coffee morning

Crikey, it’s been a good fortnight since I last posted anything – I’ve just been so busy!

I’ve bagged myself a bunch of new pen pals. so there has been letter writing and crafting going on there. I’ve also been in rehearsals for Sister Act, which is challenging, but highly enjoyable. It turns out Nun #11 (or Sister Sara of the Two Mules, as I have dubbed her) has a few tricky things to do, such as performing Latin tongue twisters, repeatedly, at speed, to a tune; or where other nuns have one note to sing, Sister Sara has eight of them, and has to sustain them. I am enjoying it immensely!

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Little white chocolate mice with strawberry lace tails for the coffee morning

Then there was a fundraising coffee morning for the Beaconsfield Operatic Society, so I baked snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, and cheese scones, as well as making white chocolate mice with strawberry lace tails. Of course, I had to taste-test the goodies too, so several went into my own gob (naughty, I know, but so worth it!). We also had Grom round for Sunday dinner – she comes round every few weeks for that, and we always look forward to it. It means a flurry of activity in the kitchen, though, as when she comes, we eat our main meal at midday, instead of in the evening.

On top of all that, Choochie isn’t very well at the moment, so he requires extra hugs and kisses and general Mummy time.

And throughout all this, I have completed and added another row on my Sky Blanket. That’s thirteen rows now finished – one more and we’ll be at the half way mark!

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Thirteen rows of Sky Blanket completed!

20.06.16 - Brunette KellAnd then I dyed my hair brown in preparation for shaving it all off in August for Macmillan Cancer Support and sending to Little Princess Trust to be made into wigs for kids who have lost their hair to cancer treatment. My cousin’s fiance will be doing the honours, and to be honest, I can hardly wait to have it all taken off! For the record, I will be having my head SHAVED, not just having my hair cut short!

Incidentally, if you’d like to sponsor me in my Brave the Shave efforts, you can do so at my Brave the Shave page HERE. Every little helps! Thanks in advance. 🙂

No Meat March


1279376409_origNumber 11 on my list of 52 Things in 52 Weeks is to go vegetarian for a week. However, I recently heard about No Meat March, and thought, what if I went vegetarian for a whole month instead?

It’s no secret that I love meat – I really do. I eat it pretty much every day at some point – but there are also quite a few vegetarian dishes I enjoy too. I have no idea if I’ll make it for the whole month, or if I’ll unthinkingly snaffle a piece of chicken or ham or whatever, but I think I’ll look at this as an opportunity to try some new recipes.

The fact is, I’ve been thinking about becoming vegetarian for some time, and this might be a way into it, but even if I don’t ultimately go full vegetarian, I can at least cut down on my meat consumption considerably. There are many reasons I’ve been considering making this change, but the main three are the detrimental impact on the planet made by farming animals for consumption, the treatment of animals reared for slaughter, and the long-term health effects of eating lots of meat products. I’m not a heartless person – I’m an animal lover and I’m an eco-conscious person, who worries about the long-term consequences of my personal life choices.

Please note, I would never berate or belittle anyone who is not vegetarian – it really is all down to personal choice and I fully respect that – it’s something every person has to decide for themselves. And in that vein, I will be the only person in our household going vegetarian – Hubby, Tadpole, and Choochie will all continue to eat as they usually do. After all, just because I prepare their food, it doesn’t give me the right to say what they can and cannot eat (within reason – obviously I would never let my kids eat bleach from under the sink etc – I’m not stupid!). If any of them should decide on their own to become vegetarian, then I will support them in that choice, although in the case of Hubby, I’ll eat my hat the day that happens, because he doesn’t like vegetables!

Either way, I’ve signed up for the challenge, and I shall give it my best shot.

If you’d like to join me, you can join the challenge by signing up via the link below:

No Meat March 2016

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Sausage and Bean Hotpot


I am suffering with a horrid cold on top of it being my time of the month, so all I want to eat is good, old-fashioned comfort food. Is there anything more comforting than a nice sausage? This hearty meal will fill your belly right to your boots, and it is great for using up all the odds and ends of veg knocking about in your fridge and cupboards, looking a bit languid and forlorn, a day or two before you do your grocery shopping.

If you’re vegetarian, you can use vegetarian sausages or leave them out altogether, as it also makes a very nice bean and vegetable hot pot.

944098_10156311643150386_8876319933887294806_nSAUSAGE AND BEAN HOT POT
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • Sausages – allow 2 per person
  • 1 ltr passata
  • 2 tins of beans in water (not in sauce!)
  • a good-sized handful of lentils
  • a good glug each of balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sweetener (to take away the acidity of the tomatoes)
  • whatever herbs and spices take your fancy
  • as much veg as you can cram in there

Directions:

  • Cook your sausages however you prefer – I grill mine, but you could oven cook or fry them if you like.
  • Cut your sausages into small chunks and chuck them in a pot with all the other ingredients, and let them all simmer away together till the veg is tender and the lentils are soft.

This time I used black eyed beans and butter beans, but other times I’ve used chickpeas and kidney beans, barlotti and cannelini beans – I just use whatever is in my cupboard at the time.

On this occasion, the veg I used was:

  • butternut squash (diced – I just cooked it in the sauce)
  • onions and garlic (which I sauteed lightly before putting in the rest of the ingredients)
  • baby corn
  • peppers
  • chillies
  • muchrooms
  • courgette
  • spinach

I tend to go with my old favourite combination of chilli powder, paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and dried mixed herbs for flavour, but feel free to use whatever combination you like best.

It really is one of those dishes where I just see what’s looking a little limp or what’s rolling around in the bottom of the fridge that doesn’t look too suspect or like it’s about to grow legs and walk to the bin by itself. No matter what I’ve put in, it’s always turned out tasty.

I used a combination of four Asda Reduced Fat sausages and four Linda McCartney Rosemary and Red Onion sausages, and it made five very generous portions.

I served mine with chips, but it’s also delicious if you top it with mashed potato (or a mixture of potato and root veg all mashed together) and whack it under the grill to brown. If you fancy it, top that with cheese, and serve with even more veg, steamed to perfection.

You can cook this in your slow cooker if you like – just brown the sausages, cut them up, and chuck everything in the pot. Whack it on low in the morning, and it’ll be ready for dinner when you get home from work. Equally, you can do it in a casserole dish – I reckon it’d take anything between 30-45 minutes, but I don’t tend to cook that way, so I couldn’t say for sure.

This recipe freezes well, so if you have an extra portion or two, pop them in freezable containers, label them, and whack them in the freezer to enjoy another time.

If you try this recipe, I’d love to know what you think of it, so please do leave a comment below!

Pulled Pork with Spicy Onion Gravy


Be prepared to fall in love with your food, people, because this is the most delicious syn-free pulled pork you will ever taste, and when it’s coupled with the thick, rich onion gravy, it is out of this world! This is the dish slow cookers were created for, so if you don’t already have one, go out and buy a basic model slow cooker immediately – they cost as little as a tenner, so you have no excuse not to have one, and I guarantee you’ll thank me for it once you have tried this pulled pork It’s one of my favourite recipes!

12509569_10156299358645386_5555115970830740673_nPULLED PORK WITH SPICY ONION GRAVY

Ingredients:

  • One pork loin joint (large enough to feed however many people you’re feeding) (P)
  • 2 small/medium onions per person (S)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed (S)
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed (F)
  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs (F)
  • 1/2 tbsp garam masala (F)
  • 1/2 tbsp paprika (F)
  • 1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper (F)
  • 1 tsp jerk seasoning (F)
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning (F)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (F)
  • Stock cube(s) (F)
  • Boiling water (F)

Directions:

  • Mix together the garlic, herbs and spices for the rub.
  • Coat the pork in the spice rub, pressing it into the meat, then wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least an hour (preferably overnight, to really get those flavours into the meat).
  • Roughly quarter the onions and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  • Place the meat on top of the onions, and pop any remaining spice rub on top of it.
  • DO NOT ADD WATER TO THE SLOW COOKER!
  • Switch on the slow cooker – I usually leave a 4-person joint in there for a good 4-5 hours on high, or 6-7 hours on low.
  • When you’re ready to serve, remove the pork loin from the slow cooker and put it in t a large bowl. Attack it with a couple of forks – it will pull apart very easily.
  • Remove half the onions from the slow cooker and add them to the pork (I cut mine up with scissors for ease and speed), mixing them all in nicely.
  • Pop the stock cube and a little boiling water in a large jug and whisk together, then add the remaining onions and any juices or scraped up “gubbins” from the bottom of the slow cooker, and blend till smooth to make a thick gravy.
  • Serve the pulled pork and onions with the gravy and bask in the golden glow of compliments from your family as they dig in.

For my gravy, I use a Knorr ham stock cube and an Oxo beef stock cube – the beef one is simply to give the gravy a deeper colour and a little extra “oomph” to the flavour. The onions have been soaking up flavour from the meat and the spice rub, and they add a lovely juiciness to the meat.

You can serve this with veg, or it is equally delicious served on a wholemeal bread bun (your HEB choice). If you have any leftovers, it’s very nice chilled with a salad too.

Pork loin can be a bit expensive, so do what I do and look for a nice piece that’s been reduced because it’s on it’s short dated – you’ll save yourself money and it’s just as good!

If you try this recipe, I’d love to know what you think of it, so please do leave a comment below!

Carrot and Lentil Soup with Fennel Seeds


It’s cold and wintery outside, and I like nothing better than a hearty, warming bowl of soup for lunch, to heat me up from the inside. This is one of my favourite recipes to enjoy on such blustery days as I want to stay cozy and warm in the house!

12359957_10156221728995386_7391187767704627159_nCarrot and Lentil Soup with Fennel Seeds
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • A little oil
  • 5 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 100g red lentils
  • 1 ham stock cube
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1.5 ltr water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Lightly saute the onion and garlic till just starting to go golden, then add all the other ingredients to the pan, and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the lentils and carrot are tender.
  • Serve and add salt and pepper to suit your preferences.

It’s so easy to make, and the crushed fennel seeds add a delicious flavour to the soup that works really well.

I hope you’ll enjoy this lovely, warming soup. If you try it, let me know what you thought of it by leaving a comment below!

Chocolate Chip Cookies


We’re just over a week away from Christmas, and in my house, that means it’s cookie-baking time! I made snickerdoodles last week (and I’ll be making more next week too!), so this week it’s chocolate chip cookies. Is there anything in the world so perfectly delicious as an ice-cold glass of milk and a soft, crumbly chocolate chip cookie? I think not! Anyway, here’s the recipe I use.

11226003_10156221677920386_7048102649200589546_nChocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 24

Ingredients:

  • 120g salted butter (room temperature)
  • 150g sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 170g chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  • Beat together the butter and sugar till just combined, then add the vanilla essence and egg, and beat well.
  • Sift together the flour and bicarbonate of soda and add, a little at a time, to the mixture, combining well before adding more.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Divide the mixture into 24 equal portions (divide the dough into eighths, then divide each of those eighths into three).
  • Roll into balls and place them on baking trays lined with grease proof paper or baking parchment, pressing down gently, leaving plenty of space in between.
  • Bake for around 12 minutes till golden.
  • Cool on the trays for a few minutes before removing them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Store in an air-tight container. I’ve no idea how long these will last in such a container, as they disappear within a day or two in our house!

This is a fun, easy recipe to do with the kids during the Christmas holidays – maybe make some on Christmas Eve to leave for Santa?

If you make them, let me know what you think of them by leaving a comment below.

Santa’s Favourite Snickerdoodle Cookies


Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But snickerdoodles are so delightful!
To the kitchen we must go…
Cookie dough, cookie dough, cookie dough!

Christmas is fast approaching, and as Santa’s favourite cookes are snickerdoodles (I’m pretty certain that’s official!), it’s time to get baking! They are deliciously simple to make, although it’s devilishly difficult to keep from eating the cookie dough before they even reach the oven, because the scent of all that cinnamony goodness will drive you to distraction and have you drooling in anticipation of these melt-in-the-mouth little pieces of food heaven!

I accept no responsibility for your taste buds exploding with pleasure, nor for your expanding waistline when you have to make a second batch to cover the fact that you ate the entire lot in secret yourself and the kids didn’t get any! These buttery little beauties are a recipe you’ll be baking every Christmas from now until the end of time. And in between too!

12375062_10156207007265386_1090460394727965666_oSanta’s Favourite Snickerdoodle Cookies
Makes 3 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 240g butter (melted)
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 300g flour
  • extra sugar and cinnamon for rolling

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 170C.
  • Melt the butter and mix well with the sugar.
  • Beat the egg well and stir into the mixture.
  • Add the vanilla, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, and salt, and mix well.
  • Sift the flour and add in increments, making sure it is well incorporated after each addition.
  • Put the dough in the fridge for a while to firm up a little.
  • When it has firmed remove the dough from the fridge. This is the hard part – do NOT eat the cookie dough! If you start now, you will not stop and you will have no snickerdoodles at the end of it, which would be tragic!
  • In a small bowl, mix a couple of spoons of sugar with a coupe of teaspoons of cinnamon (don’t stint on the cinnamon at this stage – you’ll thank me later!).
  • Using a tablespoon to scoop the right amount of dough, roll into small balls, toss them in the cinnamon sugar mixture, and place on trays lined with grease proof paper or baking parchment, leaving plenty of space in between for spreading (I only put about half a dozen cookies on each baking tray, to make sure they don’t touch).
  • Pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes, till golden at the edges.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the trays for two minutes, before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

You will be tempted to eat the cookies before they are cooled. I’m not going to tell you not to sneak one for yourself (baker’s privilege and all that!), but be aware that it will be extremely difficult to stop at one. Keep them in an airtight container – I have no idea how long they’ll last in there, because in our house, everyone goes at them like gannets and friends suddenly descend, having smelled the cookies baking from half way across town, and they snaffle a few to take home with them too, so they’re always gone within a day or two!

This is actually a very nice project to do with the kids on a cold, wet afternoon, but your yield will be about half, because your kids will eat the cookie dough – be warned! And then they’ll eat all the cookies too, so you’ll still have to make a second batch!

And don’t forget to leave a couple for Santa on Christmas Eve – it’s a well known fact that he leaves the best gifts for people who leave him snickerdoodles!

You can thank me now. 😉

A new challenge…


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The sign on my fridge, just to remind me!

My 52 things in 52 weeks list of challenges is going rather well: Fourteen challenges are now completed (not bad for under two months!), and some others are part way through (some of those will take all year, but some are half done already).

This week I decided it was time to try being vegetarian for a week. The first year I did these challenges (back n 2013), one of them was to be vegetarian one day every week for the year, which I did. I like a lot of vegetarian food anyway, so that wasn’t too difficult to do and I enjoyed it, but I have never consciously chosen only vegetarian foods for a longer period.

So, this week, starting today, no meat or fish will pass my lips (eggs and dairy produce is allowed – I’m not going vegan). I already almost had a slip up at lunch time while making Hubby a sandwich with leftover roast chicken – it was an automatic reaction to snaffle a teensy piece for myself, but I remembered with that tender morsel of chicken half way to my lips and I put it down. This was despite the notice I put up on the fridge last night to remind me! That’s going to be the challenge – remembering not to eat meat. Because I like meat. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I love meat, and I eat it most days as part of at least one meal each day. To go for a whole week – breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, and all snacks – meat free is going to take conscious effort.

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Breakfast this morning: Natural Greek yoghurt with a drizzle of honey, passion fruit, and dragon fruit – look how colourful! And SO delicious!

Perhaps this will lead to me being more mindful as I eat and more discerning in my choices. It will also give me the motivation to try out some new recipes (another challenge on the list!). I have a wonderful Jamie Oliver recipe book that has some delicious looking meat-free meals gracing its pages, and I’m more than tempted by quite a few of them. It has already lead to my trying something new, and I hope to continue that too (another challenge to cross of the list soon!).

Who knows, if this goes well, perhaps next year I’ll try going vegetarian for a month. Then the next year I might be vegetarian for the whole year – one never knows where it could lead! I just have to make sure I still get enough protein as the week progresses. This could take some inventive thinking!

Recipe: Banana Bread


I often buy bananas, and they usually get eaten, but sometimes, just sometimes, we just don’t fancy eating them and they get a little bit over-ripe. There is however, a solution that does not involve throwing them out uneaten! Banana Bread!

It’s tasty, satisfying, and just a little bit indulgent without going overboard, it’s perfect for a snack or afternoon tea, or even for breakfast if you fancy it, and it’s easy to whip up in no time. This one’s actually a lot of fun to do with the kids, especially when you let them mash up the bananas.

Banana Bread
Makes 1 small loaf yielding 12 slices

Ingredients:

  • 3 small bananas
  • 40g honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g margerine/butter
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice

Directions:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  • Mash the bananas till they’re all fluffy, then add the honey and eggs and mix well.
  • Add the margerine/butter and mix well.
  • Stir in the flour and mixed spice.
  • Line or lightly grease a 1lb loaf tin and pour in the batter.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until the banana loaf is golden and cooked through.
  • Slice into 12 equal portions and keep in an air-tight container.

It’s easy to double up the quantities if you want to make a larger loaf, or more than one loaf or to partially adjust them to fit however many bananas you have left to use up.It has very little fat in it and if you need gluten free, just substitute an alternative flour and raising agent.

Go, quickly, go to your kitchen and grab those bananas – you could be enjoying a delicious slice in little over half an hour!
That said, it’s now 9.45pm and I have some in the oven right now, so we can have some for breakfast tomorrow. I can hardly wait!

 

(2015) 52 things in 52 weeks update


52 things in 52 weeksI won’t promise to do a monthly update, as life often gets in the way of such things, but here we are at the end of January and I find myself with a few minutes to spare, so I’ll do a quick round-up of how my challenges are going so far.

Surprisingly, I have now completed TEN of the 52 challenges:

2. Watch 5 films nominated for awards in the 87th Academy Awards
I’ve actually now watched seven films this year that have been nominated for various Oscars, and several of the films I watched last year have also been nominated for Academy Awards. You can check out all the films I’ve seen HERE (and there are sometimes links to reviews I’ve written if you click on them!)

4. Post predictions of Oscar winners
Click the link above to be taken to my predictions post.

8. Apply to be a giver for World Book Night (fourth year running!)
I actually applied at the tail end of last year as I didn’t want to risk being late, so I started the year with one challenge completed. A teensy bit of a cheat, perhaps, but for a good reason. I really hope to get chosen again as I love taking part in this!

9. Drink no alcohol for 4 weeks (28 / 28)
Not one drop of alcohol has passed my lips during the whole month of January. It wasn’t particularly difficult, as I’m not really a big drinker, but I do tend to have a few drinks over the course of the festive period, and I have occasionally been tempted to crack open one of the bottles left over from the end of last year!

32. Make a summer holidays bucket list
You can see my list for this summer HERE. It’ll be a work in progress, as I’m sure I’ll hear of various events being held locally nearer to the summer holidays.

35. Make a family photo book/album of last year’s (2014) pictures
My photo book arrived a couple of weeks ago and I love it! It’s sitting with the previous two on the shelf in the living room. If you’d like to make one, I highly recommend Vistaprint – it’s a very easy to use system and a very professional finish.

39. Not shout at my kids for 4 weeks straight (28 / 28)
This was perhaps the most challenging of my challenges. I’m not a partiularly angry person, but I do have a six year old son who likes to push the boundaries! Nevertheless, I have managed not to shout at my kids all month, and I intend to continue as long as possible, I have raised my voice to call out to them from another room or over some distance, but I have not raised my voice in anger. I may have lowered my voice and spoken slightly forcibly through gritted teeth once or twice, but I have not shouted, and of that I am incredibly proud. I have once or twice gone into another room (or even a cupboard) and given out a short, sharp scream to vent some frustrations, but never in the same room as my children. And it hasn’t gone un-noticed. Tadpole has commented on it several times and seems quite pleased. We’re also trying to work on how he vents and expresses himself, so hopefully we will soon have a harmonious and peaceful home where nobody shouts. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

43. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 15 months (10 January)
We made it past this milestone and he’s still going strong. Honestly, Choochie is a total boob-monster! He no longer nurses at night, but wakes around 4.30am for a feed and a cuddle, then a couple of times through the day he climbs up on my knee for his Milkies, but mostly when he’s feeling tired and wants to nap. He does, however, usually stop before he falls asleep and will now go to bed while still awake and settle himself down. He’s also started sleeping a little bit longer (most of the time, anyway), which is making a huge difference to me and my quality of sleep!

48. Make / contribute three items for charity (3 / 3)
I’ve actually made about 40 items now! I’m taking part in the Be Aware, Make a Square charity drive to raise awareness and money for a meningitis charity. The squares will be made into various items which will be auctioned off.

52. Make a new list of 52 things in 52 weeks for 2016
I’ve already made my list! It won’t be posted until the end of the year, so I may well tweak it a little bit, but it’s got 52 challenges on it ready to go!

I also have quite a few challenges ongoing and partially completed:

1. Watch 52 films in 52 weeks (17 / 52)
5. Read 2 books each month (2 / 24)
18. Lose 14lbs (9 / 14)
27. Split all my coppers between Tadpole’s and Choochie’s piggy banks each month (1/12)
28. Save all £2 coins into the Xmas fund each month (1/12)
29. Save all silver up to the value of 20p into the Xmas fund each month (1/12)
30. Put aside £2 for each challenge completed into Xmas fund (£20/£104)
31. Save £10 per week (£50 / £520)
34. Visit family in Scotland
36. Take the kids to the library once a month (1 / 12)
41. Share a photo of my kids and me each month (1 / 12) (see the photos HERE)
44. Continue breastfeeding Choochie to the age of 18 months (10 April)
45. Write 12 letters (total, between them) to my various pen pals (3 / 12)
49. Make six gifts /Xmas decorations (3 / 6)
50. Release twelve new cross stitch charts (1 / 12)

And these ones will be started in February:

10. Eat no chocolate for 4 weeks (0 / 28)
11. Drink a green smoothie every day for 4 weeks (0 / 28)
16. Try out 6 recipes I’ve never tried before (0/6)
17. Try 6 foods I’ve never tried before (0 / 6)

So, quite a lot of progress made, and I’m well on my way towards fulfilling my list of challenges!