Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Of mice and beds

Under the bed?

Delia suggests storing the Christmas pudding there, if it's a cool bedroom. Coolness certainly  isn't a problem here. After our brush with expensive energy bills earlier in the year, we've only had the heating on for a couple of hours this Autumn, just to check it still works. But previously it has been known for there to be both mice and dust under the bed, so I'll stick with the kitchen cupboard for my pudding.

From the frugal point of view, I was pleased to hear that beds are the in thing. For once I can consider myself 'on trend' because I'm extremely fond of mine. Especially at the moment, when it feels as if the sensible thing to do would be to hibernate. According to discussion on BBC Radio 4, many people who work from home are actually working from bed, because energy bills are rising, and bed is the warmest place to be. Consequently there's a high demand for ipad bedstands and things to lean on and rest gadgets on (go and check Amazon if you don't believe me). And the 'onesie' (which is probably as close to wearing a bed as you can get) is reputed to be top of everyone's Christmas list (but definitely not mine). 

One Direction in their onesies.

Although I don't work from home, so am not to be found reclining under the duvet during the day, I've always liked Billy Connolly's advice in his Desiderata at the end of his autobiography*: "Let your bed become to you what the Pole Star was to sailors of old… look forward to it."

Charity shop bedding as featured on a recycling
blogpost on the blog earlier in the year

And whilst I appreciate my 'rescue' mattress and my charity shop duvet cover, a blog post on the Tiny Buddha blog this week, got me thinking about gratitude for my bed from a whole new angle...the people who mined the ore, logged the trees for the slats, designed the frame, drove it to the shop, made the pillows, sewed the sheets...the list is endless.

Lastly, and still on the subject of beds, the Doctors on Goodnight Britain, BBC 1's show about problem sleepers, agree with Everyday Life On A Shoestring; screen time and use of electronic gadgets before bedtime can interfere with sleep. (All those homeworkers on laptops in bed, take note!)

Night! Night!

Do you love your bed? Do you work in bed? Or store your Christmas pudding under the bed?!

* Other stuff I like from Billy's Desiderata (without the sweary bits)

Have lots of long lie-ins.
Wear sturdy socks
Never eat food that comes in a bucket.
If you don’t know how to meditate at least try to spend some time every day just sitting.
Play the banjo.
Eat plenty of liquorice allsorts.
Marry somebody you like.
Avoid bigots of all descriptions.
Clean your teeth and keep the company of people who will tell you when there’s spinach on them.

Avoid people who know the answer.
Keep the company of people who are trying to understand the question.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Stirred, not Shaken

Stir-up Sunday, the last before Advent, and we're all stirred up.

This year it's Delia's Christmas pudding recipe. Traditionally there are supposed to be thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and the twelve Apostles, but Delia's recipe comes in at nineteen, and by the time we'd missed out a couple of ingredients and used mixed fruit instead of some of the separate dried fruits, we counted sixteen in ours.

We all had a stir and a wish. There was some geographical debate - you're supposed to stir East to West (the direction in which the Wise Men travelled). Is North where the top of the bowl is, or should the bowl be orientated so that it's pointing North? And when you're standing in our kitchen where is North anyway?

And I found it necessary to keep topping up my glass of Guinness (a vital Christmas pudding ingredient), through the pudding making process, purely in the interests of preventing food waste you understand...

The Collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, gives Stir-up Sunday its name and served as a reminder to church goers to get the pudding ready so it had time to mature before Christmas.

'Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,
the wills of thy faithful people, that they plenteously bringing forth
the fruit of good works,
may be of thee plenteously rewarded.'

Delia's Traditional Christmas Pudding

40z/110g shredded suet
2 oz/50g self-raising flour
4 oz/110g white bread crumbs
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cinnamon
8oz/225g dark brown sugar
4 oz/110g sultanas
4 oz/110g raisins
10oz/275g currants
1 oz mixed candied peel
1 oz/ 25g almonds, skinned and chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
grated zest 1/2 orange
grated zest 1/2 lemon
2 eggs
2 1/2 fluid oz/75 ml barley wine
2 1/2 fluid oz/ 75 ml stout
2 tablespoons rum

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the rum, wine, stout and beaten eggs. Leave overnight. Pack in a pudding basin and wrap with two layers greaseproof paper and a layer of foil. Steam for 8 hours. Re-wrap with fresh paper and foil. On Christmas day, steam the pudding again for a couple of hours.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Food Waste Friday - Odds and Sods

A few things escaped my notice this week. Having somehow accrued a mountain of carrots, I was intent on making sure they didn't end up appearing on the blog dressed in mould. I froze some, with half an eye on the Christmas dinner, and made a Crecy Plate Pie from the Cranks recipe book.

A combination of dingy evening light and the speed with which a family of four can polish off a pie, mean that there are no pie photographs, so I'm going to save the recipe and a homage to Cranks, for another time.

The pie filling is virtually all carrot, so there should have been no reason for any ensuing mouldiness, but there's always one that slips through the net. Though I have a strong constitution where mouldy carrots are concerned, even I couldn't bring myself to do anything with this one, barely even recognisable as a carrot:

There was more food waste:

A ready meal salvaged from Mother-in-Law but then forgotten about, half a little pot of yogurt awaiting the next yogurt-making experiment (I've just about given up for the moment, especially as the weather is hardly conducive to eating bowlfuls of cold yogurt), and one piece of chicken adobo from last week. Odds and sods. 

Often I find it easy to build an entire meal around a small amount of leftovers, but not in the case of this lot. Roll on a new week!

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

How to make a 'good enough' Roman day outfit (on a shoestring of course)!

Life imitating art? Or the law of karma? The day after writing the blog post about the Bayeux Tapestry homework project, where I may have given the impression that the making of themed costumes is not one of my favourite tasks, Son brought home a letter.

It said something along the lines of: 

"Year 5 will be having a super fun Roman day on the x November. 
So that you have oodles of time to prepare your child's brilliantly fantastic costume 
and because we know that you will want to spend all of half term sorting it out, 
we are giving you plenty of notice.

Fast forward to the night before x November. No Roman costume. Son and I have been locked in a stalemate for two weeks. 

Son: Roman Gladiator! 
Me: No, toga made from an old sheet!
Son: Roman Gladiator!
Me: No, toga made from an old sheet!
Repeat ad infinitum.

The advantage of this approach is that when you're down to the wire, creativity sometimes triumphs, using what you've got.

Within an hour and a half of frenzied activity, the Roman Gladiator outfit had taken shape.

A helmet had been fashioned out of an old piece of cardboard, and covered with silver foil. We found some feathers left from one of the infamous Easter bonnet projects and made a plume.

An old grey pyjama top and the rest of the Christmas scarf (that had already been massacred for Harold's chainmail in the Bayeux Tapestry project) did the job as armour.

My best red Christmas napkins were sewn onto the bottom of the armour for the 'skirt'!

Son painted up a shield on more old cardboard and Husband helped him attach it to an old toy wooden shield.

In all honesty it was not the same as the version we could have bought for £15. There were better costumes walking into school on x November. But I'd be surprised if any of them had involved four people working to get the darn thing made in time.

Childs Roman Gladiator Costume
£15 costume from the Online Joke Shop

And I'm sure no Roman mother worth her salt, would have been using a hairdryer to get the PVA glue on her son's helmet to dry (I know, I know, it doesn't work) on the morning of the day she sent him in to battle. Or ironing his red skirt, whilst he was wearing it, begging her to be careful where she put the iron.

But it was good enough. And sometimes good enough is fine. I'm going to remember that this Christmas.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Calling Mrs Armstrong...

There were two winners in the recent Chocolate giveaway. I'm hoping Sue at the Quince Tree has eaten all of her Fry's Chocolate Creams by now, and I'm also hoping Mrs Armstrong is still reading the blog, because she was a winner too, and I'd love for her to claim her prize.

The fact that she may have missed the blog post announcing her success, has provided the opportunity for a really tough experiment in self-discipline amongst all family members here.

Her chocolate bars have been sitting in the cupboard for nearly a month now, and I've lost count of the times I've heard any of the following:

"Have you written on your blog to Mrs Armstrong yet?"

"Do you think Mrs Armstrong still wants the chocolate?"

"Is it OK if I open this?"

and Husband likes to see my response when he rustles any packet in the vicinity of the chocolate bars..."Noooooo!"

I have to confess that I may, just may, have delayed this blog post, in order to test them all a teeny bit more!

I've nearly caved in and tucked into the choccy bars myself, but one of the stories I remember from my childhood, possibly from Listen With Mother, is the story of the chocolate kittens. 

The details have become blurred over the passage of time, but it involved a little girl who bought a box of chocolate kittens for a present for someone, and ended up eating them herself. First she had one, then just one more, and finally she decided she might as well eat the whole box. I recall that she felt a little poorly, knew she had done wrong, and there was trouble the next day! I know that Mrs Armstrong's Fry's Chocolate Creams could easily go that way, so I'm not going to risk the guilt, the tummy ache, or if I did need to buy a replacement, the chance that the special 4 pack offer has ended!

Interesting as it would be to see just how long we could hold out, and who would be the first person in the family to crack, I think this chocolate deserves its rightful home.

Mrs Armstrong, if you're reading, pop me an email with your address, and your treats will be on their way!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Food Waste Friday - Runny stuff, runny stuff, everywhere.

Honesty is the best policy, right?

Well, you know last week's porridge cake? It became chicken food in the end. To see it leaving the house was a weight (quite literally) off my mind. That was until I pulled out one of the freezer drawers and remembered I'd frozen a quarter of it...What a nice Christmas treat that will be for some poor unsuspecting guests.

There is other food waste this week, but it's accounted for.

Yet more runny yogurt!

More runny yogurt. I still haven't cracked yogurt making yet, despite buying a food thermometer. But at least the latest batch is not curdled and lumpy.

Lovely Grey Day wrote a great blog post about using up sour milk in scones, which provided just the inspiration needed for using up some of the failed yogurt. It went into a big scone round, which vanished so quickly that there wasn't time for a photo. 

Chutney run-off.

The unexpected byproduct of chutney making was also a jar of runny stuff. Three lovely jars of chutney and one jar of chutney liquid. Just right for putting into a Chicken Adobo. 

Chicken Adobo, chutney included!

This is one of our favourite chicken dishes that we have adopted from my Philippine sister-in-law. You could also do a vegetarian version with tofu, although we have never tried this. It is easy peasy and very delicious and Katy at the Non Consumer Advocate agrees, as she did a post about it in 2011. I thought Sister-in-Law might shudder at the idea of adding runny chutney, but when I re-read a Chicken Adobo advisory email from my brother in which he mentions his 'secret ingredient' (brown sugar), chutney in Chicken Adobo is not such a bad idea after all! The recipe is below, with additional notes from Brother!

Unripe mangoes.

Finally, for the last two weeks we have had two very hard mangoes sitting around, which are unlikely to ripen. I don't want them to be food waste, so I'm hoping Sister-in-Law will have some ideas for a food save, although I suspect unripe mangoes may be a rare occurrence in the Philippines. If any of you have any ideas please share!

Chicken Adobo Recipe

4 - 5 lbs chicken thighs or drumsticks (I never use that much)

1/2 cup white vinegar (my Brother insists it must be palm vinegar; that's hard to come by in Wiltshire - rice vinegar is more readily available)
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 tsp black pepper
3 bay leaves

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Cover and marinate the chicken for 1-3 hours. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer until sauce is reduced and thickened, and chicken is tender, about 20 more minutes. Serve with steamed rice.

Notes from Brother: " Our secret ingredient is a teaspoon or two of unrefined brown sugar. And my method now, after years of fine tuning, is a bit different. When I'm ready to cook I take the chicken out of the marinade and brown it off first in a bit of oil. (You could fry onions at this stage too). Seems to make it less likely to have any pinky bits of chicken next to the bone. Then pour over the marinade and bring to the boil and simmer etc. We probably use more vinegar and soy sauce than your recipe and add water too as we like it really liquidy.

Vegetables are not really authentic but some people put in potatoes and M also likes to add a few hard boiled eggs when serving.  I think it's fair to say that although it's the national dish of the Philippines everyone there cooks it in their own way, some regions even have coconut milk and chillis. So, hey, you've got to find your own way guys. 
M is a big fan of the 'market manila' blog and here's his recipe for pork adobo ... but maybe 3 hours on a wood fire is asking a bit much for a busy mum! "

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

In praise of the unintentional and reasons to go on a night walk

There's much to be said for the intentional life - living consciously, mindfully or however you choose to term it. But sometimes everything goes topsy turvy so all you can do is try and be mindful of the unintentional and go with the flow.

That was our weekend. Nothing turned out as planned, but the unanticipated was just as enjoyable. There was a last minute invitation to a free music event to hear a band. A BT engineer arrived to fix our dodgy phone and internet connection at the same time as old friends on their way home to Scotland caught wind of the porridge cake and made an unexpected visit. My quick grocery shop turned into a major family outing, with a lot of time spent choosing items for the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. And the carefully nurtured slow cooked Christmas chutney, went on a real go slow and wouldn't chutnify when it was supposed to.

All weekend I'd promised myself and the children we'd go for a walk, when all of a sudden it was Sunday evening and it was getting dimpsy.

No we didn't take sparklers on our walk;
but I haven't got many night time photos so this one will have to do!

There was nothing for it but to leave the vinegary house, step outside and instead of berating ourselves for having left it all weekend, turn our belated walk in the dark into a night walk with intention!

Our top 10 reasons to go for a walk in the dark:
  • In the part of the globe that we inhabit there's not much light at this time of the year, and the daylight can disappear before you know it, so make the best of a bad job and get out there!
  • When you can't see, your sense of hearing is intensified. Even something as simple as the sound of your own footsteps is more magical in the dark.
  • My kids will go out for a walk much more willingly if there's a bit of an adventure involved, and the darkness provides that extra frisson of excitement!
  • Dodging potholes and puddles is more of a game when you're not sure where they are.
  • You get to see familiar surroundings from a completely different perspective.
  • If you set off in the twilight, even after sunset, you'll see the sky change quite dramatically.
  • How dark is your dark? Are there street lights? Are there stars?
  • You can have a lot of fun with a torch, even a small one.
  • Nosy parkers can take a sneaky peak into the domestic lives of others, if their lights are on and they haven't drawn their curtains yet.
  • And of course a cosy house is so much cosier when you come back inside from the dark!
It goes without saying that if you are going out for a walk in the dark, remember to choose your route wisely and stay safe!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Food Waste Friday - Goldilocks might like this one!

Son has been busy in the kitchen this week, so there's been some unusual food waste.

Porridge cake! Delicious or what!

He's working on his Chef's badge at Cubs, and although most of the serious graft is done at Cubs, he's been motivated to get cooking at home. It's not as if he hasn't ever been allowed in the kitchen before, but he's bravely trying some recipes unaided which results in some minor culinary mishaps. Simple things like cracking an egg can be challenging to the inexperienced hand; raw egg appeared on the floor so was put to use conditioning the wooden floorboards.

The biggest error of judgement came when the little lad got up before the rest of us and kindly decided he'd cook porridge for our breakfast. He heaped four cereal bowls with porridge oats, tipped them into a pan, added some milk and I came downstairs to find him grappling manfully with a huge glutinous mass. 

My food saving skills are not at their best at 7.15am but when I revisited the disaster zone after work, my initial idea for a food rescue was flapjack. Margarine and syrup were melted and the soggy oats added, but the mixture was gloopy rather than flapjacky. Quick rethink...a sort of Parkin type affair (for a recipe try Sue at The Quince Tree's; click here.) In went an egg and some flour.

It all looked so promising when it came out of the oven, even though we'd run out of ginger so it was a cinnamon parkin instead.  Icing made the whole thing look even more attractive.

Final evaluation? It won't be a recipe that I'm recommending anyone to follow due to its intense stodginess, unless they're undertaking an extreme sporting activity such as trekking to the South Pole, in which case it might be the ideal low GI dose of calories and carbohydrate. Please feel free to email me if this is the case! I had one piece and needed to go for a walk around the block before I could contemplate doing anything else. Husband also had one slice and announced he wouldn't be requiring an evening meal. Son ate some, and declared it delicious, but I think this was just to deflect attention from the fact that he had caused the whole oaty mess in the first place.

A few more pieces have been eaten, more out of sheer disbelief that any cake could be quite so dense than for the love of porridge cake, and it will put in an appearance at Sunday lunch tomorrow with stewed apples and custard, but we really won't be sorry to see the back of this food save!

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Wombles are tidy and Wombles are clean!

One aspect of the simple life with which we continually struggle, is attaining a simplified, tidy, decluttered living space. Although we are a fairly non-acquisitive bunch, and don't possess a lot of techno-kit, gizmos and gadgets, we still have more than our fair share of stuff. We're good at wombling* secondhand items, and have a reluctance to throw things away if there's the slightest chance of them ending up in landfill.

Add to that the fact that housework is pretty low on my priority list, and I'm a perennially slow declutterer, we frequently end up with areas like this kitchen cupboard:

When there's an avalanche of bottles, flasks, ice cube trays and random lids every time you go to open the cupboard, it can't be ignored any more.

That's better! And it wasn't even that painful. All done and dusted in 20 minutes. A lot of plastic lids that had lost their plastic boxes, and old egg boxes were recycled and it's amazing what a bit of rearranging can achieve. But I couldn't bring myself to recycle those lovely little shallow cardboard boxes (bottom shelf, under the margarine tubs that I keep for freezing oddments, and there are 15 more behind the pile that are visible in the photo!). 

They arrive in the veg box filled with mushrooms, tomatoes, grapes and plums etc. I just know they are waiting to be used for something really useful...planting seeds? Peppermint cream packaging?

What would you use them for?!

* For those of you who don't know the Wombles they "are fictional pointy-nosed, furry creatures that live in burrows, where they aim to help the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in creative ways. Wombles were created by author Elisabeth Beresford, and originally appeared in a series of children's novels from 1968. Although Wombles supposedly live in every country in the world, Beresford's stories are concerned with the lives of the inhabitants of the burrow on Wimbledon Common in London, England.
The characters became nationally famous in the UK in the mid 1970s as a result of a very popular BBC children's television show using stop motion animation. A number of spin-off novelty songs also became hits in the British music charts. The Wombles (band) was the brainchild of British music writer and composer Mike Batt.
The Womble motto is "Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish." This green message was a reflection of the growing ecology movement of the 1970s." (source: Wikipedia)

The Wombling Song:

Sunday, 4 November 2012

If you go down to the woods today...

When it comes to trees we're very lucky. Although we live in a medium-sized market town, they are all around us. Our hedge is full of hazel and ash, we have apple trees on the allotment, ornamental cherries align the cricket pitch up the road, and huge copper beeches stand next to the railway line. The surrounding countryside is predominantly rural too; agricultural but with pockets of woodland here and there. 

We appreciate the trees on our doorstep but sometimes we yearn for more. This year more than ever; 2012 is the year we fought off the UK government's plans to sell off our public woodlands and forests, and we are more aware than ever of the vulnerability of our trees. Conkers have been in short supply due to irregular weather patterns and pests, and ash die back is big news at the moment.

The woodland we found not so far from home, provided an hour and a half's walk
without seeing another soul.

Given our rural surroundings it's not as easy to find an accessible woodland on our doorstep as you would think. There are the big players, Westonbirt Arboretum and the Savernake Forest, but they are both about 35 minutes drive from here. There are also plenty of smaller woodlands much closer, but you could walk through them in the blink of an eye and they do not always have public access. Thanks to the Ordnance Survey Map of our area, we eventually found a meaty one the size of my little finger (on the map), with a footpath looping around it and an Iron Age fort in the middle. It really is worth knowing how to read a map, in order to find free tree treasures on your doorstep! (Refresh your map reading skills here!)

Balancing on a log with a catapault in your hand is harder than you think!
You need a sister to hold onto.

One of the attractions of the Westonbirt Arboretum (other than a greater variety of species) might be the outdoor play trail, but what is a wood if not nature's very own playground? On our walk we found conkers (yes, at last!), balanced and climbed on logs, found sticks to make catapaulty things (Son carries an old shoe lace at all times for accessorising sticks), had an ongoing competition to find the biggest and scrunchiest pile of leaves, made walking staffs, found badger holes, brushed up our tree identification (mostly beech and hazel), and guessed how old the biggest trees were. Who needs to pay to go round an outdoor play trail?!

Have you been down to the woods this year?

Friday, 2 November 2012

Food Waste Friday - Halloween

We were away for a few days at the start of the week and the waste got a bit out of control with no chickens or compost bin to fill.

Fast forward to the end of the week and we were back on track, making use of our pumpkin wastage.

Spicy pumpkin soup and roasted pumpkin seeds. It's hard to go wrong with pumpkin soup and it was delicious, but we all agreed that whilst the olive oil and soy sauce part of the roasted pumpkin seed recipe was tasty, the seeds themselves were nigh on indigestible. I battled on when everyone else had given up in the name of zero food waste, but even I had to admit defeat, and they were eventually composted.

This year was the wettest Hallowe'en we've known; only one group of trick or treaters arrived at the doorstep, so we have sweetie wastage too. The kids are taking care of that though.

Everyday Life On A Shoestring's use what you've got and make it up as you go along Pumpkin Soup Recipe


The scoopings out of two medium sized pumpkins
A couple of mediuim sized onions
A couple of potatoes
2 tsp veg bouillon powder
1 - 2 tsp medium curry powder to your own taste

Put all the vegetables, bouillon powder and spices in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for approx half an hour. Blend the soup and serve. 

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it.