Oxfam Unwrapped

It’s that time of year again when thoughts turn to Christmas presents and huge lists of people who you *need* to buy for are written, on my list as ever is the huge number of teachers and teaching assistants involved in looking after my children at school, there is just loads of them! Teachers, teaching assistants, classroom helpers, students who come in every Thursday and Friday, its endless…. so who do you buy the presents for? Even if I bought a cheap present each such as boxes of chocolate, bottles of wine with the quantity of people to buy for the costs still escalate astronomically and I just cannot afford to do it, not with everything else! As for leaving people out and just buying the main person the present, that just seems mean…


So this year we’ve opted for joint presents… one for each child to take into school to give collectively to the staff involved in teaching in their class but we’re not buying chocolates… not because we don’t think they deserve them, more that by the time they’ve eaten their way through 30 boxes each…. it may just get a little blurrrrgh.

So we’ve nipped over to Oxfam Unwrapped and bought them the school supplies gift.  This gift basically provides a child with the supplies they need for school. The Oxfam Unwrapped website shows examples of the gift you’ve chosen actually in action and the huge difference such small gifts can make.

I don’t know how they’ll feel about not getting actual gifts for themselves… I guess I’ll find out if the children start to do *really really badly at school*, hopefully they’ll appreciate the gesture, I know I would, in fact I’ve asked for an Oxfam Unwrapped gift this year too.

So if you’ve not already bought a Christmas gift for your child’s teacher maybe its worth giving this option a thought, it really does make a huge difference and gifts are available from as little as £5.00.

Halloween Cupcakes

The lovely people over at Silver Spoon sent me some Cakecraft products and what better way to use them than baking gorgeous little Halloween cupcakes.  The children had a great time baking these and an even better time decorating them!

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What you need: (makes 12)

  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 4oz self raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavouring
  • 2 tbs milk
  • jam (what ever flavour you like)
  • a selection of Silverspoon Cakecraft decorations – we used black, red and green food colouring and red and black designer icing and ready to roll white icing

What to do:

  1. Cream together the butter and sugar in a bowl
  2. Beat the eggs with the vanilla flavouring and add slowly to the butter and sugar mixture
  3. Add the flour and mix well
  4. Add the milk and mix well
  5. At this stage you could add a couple of drops of food colouring – after all Halloween is the best time of year for eating green food…
  6. Place one spoonful into each cake case (we use silicone cases)
  7. Place a dollop of chosen jam on top of the mixture then top up each cake case with the remaining cake mix
  8. Bake at 190C for approximately 12-15 minutes until cooked and golden brown
  9. Allow to cool thoroughly before decorating

To Decorate:

Pop the cakes from the cases and let your imagination (and particularly your children’s run free) – we opted for ghosts, eyeballs and spider webs

Ghosts – roll out white ready to roll icing, cut into a square and drape over the cup cake (use jam to get the icing to stick to the cake) – using designer icing in black pipe on the faces

Eyeballs – roll out white ready to roll icing, cut into circles and place on top of the cake, using food colouring dye some balls of icing coloured and cut into smaller circles for pupils and iris. Using red designer icing pipe on bloodshot veins

Spiderwebs – using black designer icing pipe onto the cake web shaped patterns – this would also be great on cookies.

With so many different colours and types of cakecraft available from Silverspoon it would be easy to create a whole host of ghouls and scary Halloween themed food.

Child Facts:

  • Activity lasts about 2 hours
  • Cleaning up lasts approximately 6 hours (depending obviously on how much control you have over your children’s behaviour)
  • Children loved to do this – it encourages their creativity, baking skills and for those a little obsessed with educational value – maths and english… (weighing, counting and descriptive words…)
  • Yes they are full of sugar and colours but – Halloween comes but once a year and if you can’t go OTT then when can you?
  • All the food colouring washed off hands, faces and luckily the clothes it landed on :)
  • Perfect little cupcakes for Halloween parties

Frugality Bites – tomato soup

cheapsoupSoup is one of the most frugal meals you can make, it has endless possibilities, it’s filling, it’s easy to make and ideal for using up the last little bits of vegetables left over from the week.

This simple recipe perfect for early Autumn when the opportunity to use up gluts of homegrown tomatoes arises, this makes a lovely light lunch or late supper. I’ve also taken this soup in flasks on autumn picnics with freshly baked and still warm cheese scones to accompany a lovely lunch for a conker hunting type of day.

What you need:

  • 2lb ripe tomatoes
  • 2 carrots – grated
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 onion
  • clove of garlic
  • 2 pints of chicken/vegetable stock (kallo is my favourite)
  • small tub of single cream

What to do:

  1. Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic
  2. Finely slice the celery
  3. Wash and grate the carrot
  4. Add a splash of oil to a large pan and gently fry the onion, garlic, carrot and celery, don’t allow it to brown, just soften
  5. Meanwhile de-seed the tomatoes – you can take the skin off but as the soup is blended it really doesn’t matter.
  6. Chop the tomato flesh and add it to the pan with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper
  7. Add the stock and bring to the boil, turn down the heat to a gentle bubble and cook for about 30 minutes
  8. Blend the soup using either a hand blender or by decanting into the food processor – return it to the pan and add the cream – warm through, check seasoning and serve.

To Serve:

I like tomato soup in mugs, stood in the garden preferably watching a bonfire – that’s just how I am…

Alternatively you could have it in a bowl, dip in some fresh bread or make the gorgeous cheese scones to accompany, pop it in a flask and take it for a picnic or to work as packed lunch… whatever.

Frugality tips – if buying the ingredients especially – visit the supermarket in the evening when the over-ripe fruit & veggies is usually on offer and makes perfect soup. This recipe serves 4-6 people happily. This soup costed in Asda is £3.40 to make with a portion cost of 56p.

Juicy Sausage and Cider Casserole

Simple, juicy and a perfect autumn dinner.

What you need:

  • 12 chipolata sausages (use good ones with high meat content)
  • 3 large carrots
  • 2 large eating apples
  • 1 red onion
  • 400 ml cider (I use Aspall Organic Suffolk Cider because its my favourite)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • Handful of picked fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tsp dried thyme)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 chicken stock cube (I use Kallo)

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Brown the sausages in a frying pan
  3. Whilst they are browning peel and finely slice the carrot and onion
  4. Add the carrot, onion and sausages to an oven proof dish.
  5. Gently heat the cider in a saucepan, dissolve the chicken stock cube, sugar and tomato puree into the warm cider, add a clove of crushed garlic, thyme and season well then warm through.
  6. Pour the cider mixture over the sausages and vegetables and place dish (lid on) into the oven for an hour.
  7. After an hour, stir well and add the peeled diced apples, return to the oven for 30 minutes
  8. If casserole needs thickening do this either with cornflour & water or plain flour mixed into a knob of butter.

download (3)To  Serve:

This is perfect with mustard mash and greens, or a heap of colcannon (recipe from the BBC here) or to save on the washing up a huge oiled skin crispy jacket potato.


Is childhood over entertained?

I recently read an article in the Telegraph about Getting Kids Cooking all about how if you want to get kids really interested in cooking and producing good food you need to take the fun out of it.  Well okay not all the fun, it details how Nigella Lawson was brought up ‘helping’ her mother in the kitchen to do functional food preparation tasks, not thoroughly entertained and overpraised during the construction of the fun formation of food.

And this got me thinking, so much of childhood is now overcomplicated to the extreme by this strange unnecessary notion that children should be entertained at all times  in every aspect of their lives.  It doesn’t just stop with taking on a TV presenter role in the kitchen and turning out a jacket potato fashioned into a boat with vegetable baton men at the helm this need to entertain has infiltrated every aspect of a child’s life.

A simple task such as cleaning teeth is now prolonged to unbearable length because a toothbrush just isn’t a toothbrush anymore it is shaped into an animal – it has plunger feet for inconvenient attatchment to any smooth surface in the bathroom.  Teeth cleaning now takes on epic proportions as a puppet show must be enacted prior even to the application of the toothpaste onto the brush.

A yoghurt.. comes in a highly coloured pot, wrapped in cardboard which doubles as a colouring sheet/educational ABC teaching aid. Eating a yoghurt now requires a box of crayons in addition to a spoon.

School shoes now take an age to put on because they are not just shoes, oh no, they are secret housing for dolls, stickers and cars. Just the simple act of putting on a shoe is now a 20 minute job.

That is just to name a few. It’s not that I want children to be miserable, it’s just I don’t think it did them any harm to just experience life as it was – simply without the ever growing expectation that a task is suddenly going to become entertaining. Life is going to seem like such a surprise as they enter adulthood.

Is the constant expectation of a child to be entertained and the constant demand on a parent to do so just getting a little bit too much? Wouldn’t it be so much more relaxing if firms could take on a ’simply childhood’ approach and produce a few items novelty free? Personally I’d be clamouring at the door to purchase them!

It does children no harm whatsoever to be bored, to experience life in a more simple form – shoe onto foot, toothbrush into mouth. Surely it would enhance their childhood – allow them to be more imaginative without having all the imagining done on their behalf.

And as a parent my life would be so much easier and surely cheaper as I wouldn’t constantly be paying for the unnecessary novelty addition.

Start… stop….start….stop again

Warning – this blog post probably contains too much information…. (for those of you of a sensitive nature…)

The past few days have been more than just a little hard going! I’m so close now to my due date and appear to be in a state of very slow early stop/start labour.  I’ve had contractions everyday, some days for several hours, moving closer together… then stopping again and of course the contractions are mainly at night which is meaning extremely disturbed sleep patterns and general tiresomeness.

I’ve been avidly working through the list of ‘natural labour inducers’ as recommended by errr well just about anybody who comes across me…

Pineapples, orange juice, black coffee, sex, bouncing on a gym ball, rocking on hands and knees, eating curry, drinking raspberry leaf tea, sloshing about in clary sage baths and every other obscure method anyone has mentioned.  I have drawn the line at castor oil, I just cannot bring myself to do it!  As I thought… none of which have actually worked and I remain very much still very very pregnant. All of which are confirming my absolute belief that only time or surgery truly move that baby out!

So with surgery being my last option I’m settling for waiting and waiting and waiting some more, interspersed with the odd bout of scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees.

I saw my midwife today and she assures me I sound well and truly in early labour and that each contraction is doing its job, thinning the cervix… and that the presence of frequent loose bowel movements (TMI) is probably down to prostaglandin’s clearing out the necessary prior to labour… but as I said only time will tell.

And so there you have it, it’s all go, then completely stop, then go again, then stop.  I’m only grateful that I haven’t gone racing down to the delivery suite with my bags on each occasion only to come back with them still packed and the baby unborn… Although at this rate I’ll be so reluctant to go fearing more false alarms I may get my home birth after all!

Things I love

Inspired by the lovely Amy from and 1 more means 4…. and 1 more and the also very lovely Ellen from In a Bun Dance I’m doing a nice positive blog ooozing with things I just love!

So here it is… the things I just love…

  • the smell of rain on hot dusty pavements
  • getting into a bed made up with fresh sheets dried outside on a windy sunny day
  • uncontrollable belly chuckles especially the ones issued by boyo and girly
  • my lovely husband, who I probably don’t tell often enough!
  • going for walks on those freezing winter days with bright sunshine and blue skies
  • scones with jam and clotted cream
  • watching the sea come in on stormy days
  • flying kites
  • having the windows wide open and curtains billowing in the breeze
  • going on heads or tails days out where the toss of a coin decides what, when and where
  • my children when they are fast asleep tucked up in bed
  • Nigella’s tarragon chicken, with big fat chips and honey roast carrots
  • good coffee

Then if I’m feeling a tad materialistic….

  • Diptyque scented candles
  • Apple products
  • Pedlars
  • Selfridges food hall
  • Hunters wellies

So… what are your favourite things?

Pregnancy Diary!

When I was waiting to give birth to jack. I waited in lots of different ways…

Busily occupying myself with insane cleaning/nesting, yes polishing the kettle, wiping window frames and yes even washing dusters?!?!?

Impatiently occupying myself mainly by seething at inanimate objects, cursing and swearing doors which open too slowly, items of furniture suddenly entirely in my way, magazines for being too boring to fill the time it takes to drink a cup of tea…

Patiently and indeed beatifically, poised elegantly upon the sofa, stroking my enormous bump, imagining what the baby will look like, willing things to go well.  Yes okay this state quickly gives way to…

Irrational ranting “when oh when will this baby ever shift it’s bloody heavy head off my bladder and un-impale my heart from it’s feet”?  Shouting bad-temperdley at everyone who is in hearing distance and rambling obscenities like a muttering old drunk.

Sleeplessly due to utter discomfort and many, many trips to the bathroom whilst contemplating seriously that I am actually going to pee myself into a state of dehydration, I mean how, HOW can anyone need to pee upwards of 10 times a night??? HOW?

Painfully yes, today’s turn of events now see me with so much pelvic pressure it actually hurts to walk, to stand, to sit, to lie….

And so.. on the advice of the midwife I’ve taken my paracetamol and shall continue to wait for labour to start….could be a while…. it was 7 days and counting until DUE DATE

National Curry Week and Cobra Beer

download (1)As this week is National Curry Week the people over at Cobra Beer have teamed up with some fabulous curry houses and have come up with some great ‘Br-Indian’ recipes to celebrate, these recipes are a spicy twist on regional favorites.
And after having a good read of the recipes I’m really quite fancying the Indo-Welsh Rarebit…

What you need–

  • 4 x traditional muffins, cut in half
  • 50g soured cream or crème fraiche
  • 250g grated Collier’s Powerful Welsh Cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons Cobra beer
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcester sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1 chopped chilli
  • Coriander (to garnish)

What you do –

1) Preheat the grill to highest heat.
2) Line an oven tray with kitchen foil to catch any cheesy drips (to aid your clean up).
3) Mix the topping ingredients together in a bowl.
4) Toast the muffins on both sides.
5) Spread a generous layer of the topping ingredients on each muffin half.
6) Place on the oven tray and grill until brown and bubbling.
7) Top with Coriander to garnish
8) Enjoy piping hot with ice cold Cobra beer

Followed maybe by a nice Devonshire Cream Chai…

What you need –

The Cream

250 – 300g tub of genuine clotted cream
1 teaspoon finely ground green cardamom seeds
Mix the two together and keep refrigerated until use.
The Scones

  • 450g self raising flour
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 75g margarine
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • Milk
  • Chilli jam

What to do –

1) Mix the flour, sugar, margarine and ginger together till it resembles fine breadcrumbs add enough milk to make a soft dough.

2) Roll out lightly and cut out scones bake in a medium hot oven for 15-20 minutes.

3) Whilst still warm halve, spread generously with the clotted cream and serve with chilli jam and either an Indian fragrant Darjeeling or Assam Indian tea, Cobra or King Cobra – which goes well with any sweet dish.

Based on a Recipe from Tim Flaherty, Southern Cross Tea Rooms.

And lets face it if you’re having a curry based dish then Cobra really does go quite perfectly!

If cooking your own doesn’t really do it for you then you could always take advantage of the Cobra promotion of 2 for 1 curry dishes when you buy a Cobra Beer over on the Cobra website.

For more information on National Curry Week, local curry finders and just why Cobra beer goes so well with a curry head over to the Cobra website. or head over to the facebook page – we love curry

Freebie Friday: My Top Picks Of The Week!

Freebies from Uber, English Heritage, Card Market, Yogaia as well as Bespoke Offers

It’s the season of year when we retreat into our homes and put our social life on hold while we recover from a lavish summer. However, it doesn’t have to be necessarily that way. You can appreciate the Indian Summer with a handful bunch of extraordinary freebies that will assist get out and about for nothing.

familydayoutFree days out

This weekend is Heritage Open Days Weekend. You can get free access to several iconic structures around the UK, and some special occasions as well. You can get stuck into archeological excavations at Oxford, a quiet disco on Hastings Pier, and/ or take a visit anyplace from The National Theater in London to Amberley Castle. The details are provided on the many free stuff sites.

Free greetings card

If you are on O2, there’s a Priority Moments arrangement running until 13 September, enabling you to get a free card (up to an estimation of £1.99) from Card Market. It’s an extraordinary reason to contact another associated loner, and arrange to go out.

Free taxi ride

Uber is putting forth a £15 taxi ride for free. With free stuff destinations. We have realized that in the event that you fill in your details (which will incorporate your credit card) and enter the code LFSUBER you’ll get the free credit. They warn that it is worth doing this sooner rather and later, before the deal runs out.

Free M&S voucher

m-and-s-vouchersIf your closet needs a boost before you go out, you can get your hands on an M&S voucher for free. Bespoke Offers, a shopping service from Barclaycard, is urging individuals to try it, a £10 M&S voucher. In case you need to purchase something on the web, you simply copy the website page link of the item you need, paste it into the search bar on the Bespoke Offers Beat My Price page, and give them 48 hours to locate a better price. If you purchase through the website, they will credit you with the M&S voucher. It is not an awful approach to get something for less – with a freebie on the side.

Free Yoga

If that it is your body that could do with a touch of work before you gain confidence to face the outdoors, many Free Stuff websites have tracked down free live online yoga classes. When you sign up you’ll get seven days of online classes of yoga, pilates, core and barre classes for absolutely nothing at all. You can see the teacher, and if you need to utilize your webcam they can see you and correct your posture – but you don’t need to pick this option. The classes normally cost £9.99 a month, so they’re trusting you’ll continue going when the freebie runs out, however there’s no commitment.

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