Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas *Competition*

Have you heard that the Ideal Home Show is launching a special Christmas event this year? No? I hadn't either until today, but now that I have, and especially now that I've got tickets to go, I'm very excited about it.
I love Christmas planning. Sometimes I wonder whether I love the Christmas planning more than I love the actual day? It's a close run thing, certainly. I love planning the gifts, spend evenings leafing through my Christmas cookery books and can't wait for the special edition Radio Times, so that I can set the TV recorder!
This special Christmas version of the Ideal Home Show is being held at Event City, Manchester, which is just perfect, as I can use the excuse to go and see my brother and his fiancée in the same trip. The event runs from Friday 14th to Sunday 16th November and with over 300 exhibitors, I'm pretty sure I'll have Christmas all tied up in one day!
There will be plenty of celebrities knocking around the show too. I'd especially love to bump in to lovely Gino D'Acampo or Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen!
The parts of the show I'm looking forward to most are:
The Christmas Theatre sponsored by Gocompare.com – Hourly sessions on things like making Christmas cards, wreaths, decorations and more. Right up my street!
The Christmas Champagne Bar sponsored by Hydropool - Say no more!
The Christmas Food and Drink Theatre sponsored by Regina - Featuring top chefs and live cookery demonstrations. Brilliant.
The Greg Wallace Christmas Restaurant - Traditional Christmas Lunch with a twist. Yum!
The Christmas Bandstand - With a range of musical styles from gospel and children's choirs to bands and solo artists, I reckon we will spend a fair bit of time here. I'm taking my girls with me and they love live music!
The Christmas Room Sets with intu Trafford Centre - top brands have designed 8 room sets, and I'll be interested to see what they came up with, and get some inspiration for my own decorations.

If all of that has whet your fancy, you can get more info and book tickets at www.idealhomemanchester.com. Adult tickets are £12 in advance BUT, I've been given a pair of tickets to give away to one of my lovely blog readers. Just enter the competition below.








Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Sisterhood of the World

My lovely friend Lucy over at Mrs Bishops Bakes and Banter tagged me in a bloggy question swap this morning. I was inspired by her questions, so thought I'd jump right in and answer them straight away.

1. What is your signature bake?

Well, this has changed recently, as has all of my baking and cooking, due to my diagnosis with Coeliac disease, four months ago. I am still really finding my feet with Gluten Free baking and there have certainly been some disasters, but I would say that there has been one resounding post GF success: Nigella's Flourless Chocolate and Lime cake with Margerita Cream. Oh my goodness, it is to die for! I think I have made it four times since my diagnosis and it is quite firmly my 'go to' cake for impressing people! It's so incredibly easy to make, and any leftover cream makes amazing ice cream, just shoved in the freezer.

2. If you had to choose only one film to watch for the rest of time, and no others, what would you choose?

My favourite film of all time: Forrest Gump. I love Tom Hanks in anything he's been in, but this is my favourite. I just think it's so clever the way they weaved in so much history.


3. What is your favourite home cooked dinner, and why?

Hands down, a good old roast dinner, with all the trimmings. I very rarely order a roast dinner when eating out, because I don't want to be disappointed. If I do say so myself, I make a mean roast dinner!

4. Do you have a favourite artist or piece of artwork?

Well, this a difficult one. I'm not really 'in to' art. That's not to say I don't appreciate it, I do, but I just like a nice picture on the wall. I don't remember who painted what, or spend time analysing a piece. I am more drawn to certain subjects or styles of art though, of course. I generally like papercut styles, art relating to the sea, or cows. I know, the cow thing is random, but I think they are beautiful looking creatures, with a really comical look about them. I'd just like to reassure you though, that I do not have a single picture of a cow in my house. I have often thought of having one large cow canvas in our kitchen, but I'm not some crazy lady that collects everything to do with cows!!

Oh, I've lied, there is one ... This photograph from our wedding weekend. I love it.

Slightly off topic, but while I was looking for that photograph, I found another from that day that I also love, and have to show you.

We had such a laugh with these pictures. This isn't our actual wedding day. I had a proper dress for the real day, but this was the day we signed the papers. I really must write a post about our wedding sometime.

5. What's your tipple of choice?

I love a nice glass of prosecco and wine in general. Cocktails wise, I can't resist a good mojito. Just last week, I went to a wine tasting event and discovered this little gem. It is delicious. If you're a Bedford resident, I implore you to head over to The Blue Glass in St Cuthberts Street and procure yourself a bottle. While you are there, talk to John, who is lovely and will help you find your perfect tipple.

6. Do you collect anything?

Not in terms of a proper 'collection', no. I always wanted to collect things as a child. My problem was, and still is, I generally don't maintain interest in one thing long enough to ever create a collection! My husband would tell you that I collect hobbies, and I have to agree. I am always starting something new, but never really stick at anything with quite the level of enthusiasm I had at the beginning. I think it's probably the learning and equipment gathering at the beginning that I enjoy, before moving on to the next thing!

7. What are you reading at the moment?

Following on from the last question, you won't be surprised to know that I generally have a number of books on the go at any one time. I don't get much time for reading these days, but the books I am currently part way through are:

Toast

Wheat Belly

Get Your Shit Together

As well as an undefined number of craft and cookery books that are in permanent rotation on our coffee table.

8. Do you have a dream job? Or are you lucky enough to already do your dream job?

I've had the same dream job for most of my adult life. It changes slightly over time, depending on my circumstances, but is always along the lines of running some kind of small holding, somewhere picturesque, with a lovely cafe, craft workshops, little shop, petting zoo (where we might rescue the odd abandoned waif or stray), beautiful guest accommodation and maybe a camping field. It may take retirement or a lottery win to make this happen, but hopefully I'll get there someday.

9. What is your favourite item of clothing in your current wardrobe and why?

I'm having something of an image crisis at the moment, so I'm not especially keen on anything in my current wardrobe (taking that to mean clothes that fit!) except my blue DM wedge boots, which are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned. I love my green Coco dress, but I've gained weight since making it, so I'm not really wearing it at the moment.

10. Who is your most embarrassing celebrity crush? (Let's face it girls, we're never too old for a crush!)

I have had a crush on Jon Bon Jovi since I was about 14. If ever I met him in real life it would probably be a huge let down. He's probably really short or something. And if he wasn't wearing leather trousers, I'd be really disappointed.

I don't think you could call this a crush exactly, but I have some weird kind of love for John Barrowman, especially as Captain Jack!

I do love a bit of Nick Knowles too. He's just the right mix of sensitive, caring, a bit craggy looking and blokey. Who doesn't love the 'rough guy in a designer suit' look?

Are they embarrassing enough? Because if you need embarrassing, I've got one last one for you. Mr Bloom! If you haven't got pre-school kids, you probably don't know who I'm talking about, but I know I'm not the only mum with a thing for Mr Bloom (see the Guardian's discussion on the subject, here). It's got to be the character though. The real life actor that plays him is probably a perfectly lovely man, but if he's not wearing Mr Bloom's wellies and hat, I'm not interested.

 

Thanks Lucy for the fun questions. I'm now supposed to tag 10 bloggers and ask my own 10 questions, but Lucy has already tagged most of the bloggers I would, so I'm going to open this up to my lovely readers. I would love to learn more about you. Please answer the questions above and link to your blog post, or leave your answers in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Hello again!

Oooooh ... It's been so long since I wrote anything in this here little blog. I've been writing, just not finishing. I've been crafting, cooking, doing all the other things I talk about on here, just not sharing. Naughty me! I'll write properly this week, I promise. For now, a recap of our summer, in pictures.

 

I started making fabric pictures. This was commissioned as a wedding gift.

Others just drew on walls. This was a summer-long installation at our favourite museum, The Higgins, in Bedford.

We went to festivals. This was the Legends of Rugby festival. It rained. A lot. But we had a fab time.

I crafted, and listened to TED talks!

We found Gluten Free fish and chips in Christchurch.
And then fed them to the ducks!!

We foraged for samphire and developed foodie children.

I searched for the perfect Gluten Free scone recipe. Nope, still not found it.

We fell absolutely, completely in love. With Nigella's Chocolate and Lime cake with Margherita cream.

I made many macarons. Mostly coloured blue, at the request of a certain 'Frozen' obsessed little girl.

And then that little girl turned 4! (There will be a whole post about the Frozen party!)

There was fun in the sun, with time away in our caravan. The small one rode ponies and donkeys.

The big one learnt fencing and archery.

The small one finally learnt to walk, and they both spent a lot of time on scooters. (Dressed as Elsa and Anna from Frozen)

 

So there we are. Our summer in a nutshell. Now that we're all caught up, normal blogging can resume .......

 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Ugg Foods Gluten Free Muffins - GF Product Review

Back at the end of May, I had the unpleasant experience of a gastroscopy, which is basically a tube fed down my throat and all the way to my intestines, so that a biopsy could be taken, to confirm Coeliac disease. This was not a pleasant experience at all. I can honestly say that I'd rather go through labour again than have another gastroscopy without sedation, despite the fact the whole procedure took less than 10 minutes. (Although to be fair, my second labour only took 25 minutes!!)

 

Anyway, I digress. Although I haven't had the official biopsy result yet, the doctor saw plenty enough damage to my insides to confirm the Coeliac disease diagnosis and I've been eating gluten free ever since (with a couple of little mishaps, which I'll talk about another time)

 

The day of the biopsy, I felt pretty sorry for myself. The gastroscopy had been horrible and I felt sore. Then I came home and there on the kitchen counter, was the remains of my husbands birthday cake, in all it's gluten-laden glory!!

 

I was tempted to postpone the start of my gluten-free life. Especially since it was my birthday the following week and we were going away for a week in our caravan. Starting GF right away would likely mean no fish and chips whilst holidaying at the seaside. Could I handle that yet? But, I've been feeling pretty rubbish and am eager to get better. A quick poll of my Facebook friends revealed they all thought the same: don't delay feeling better! So, I served up the rest of that birthday cake to the husband and kids and sulked a bit.

 

I've got amazing friends and neighbours. I already know that, but the fact was reinforced when, next time I went out the front door, I found these on my doorstep:

One of my lovely neighbours, who knows an awful lot about nutrition, had left two gluten free ready mixes from Ugg Foods for me. I was so touched. Thanks so much Sheila!!

With all the kerfuffle of birthdays and holidays, I didn't get around to making them right away, but I did this week, and I thought I'd tell you all about them.

I tried the Chia Seed Muffins pack first. I had never heard of Chia Seeds before, but an article on Huffpost revealed that they are full of healthy things like calcium, manganese, phosphorus and healthy omega 3 fats.

The mix was incredibly easy to put together. I whisked together almond milk, eggs and oil and then poured the contents of the packet in. Give it a stir, let it sit for a couple of minutes to thicken, then pour into cupcake cases. Easy.

I found that my cakes needed quite a lot longer in the oven than suggested on the pack, so use your own judgement to decide when they are done. Mine also remained quite flat, not risen, as in the picture on the packet.

Texture wise, they were similar to a poppy seed muffin, due to the chia seeds, but I'd say they were a bit grainier. They felt a little bit greasy on the top, which I have found to be the case quite often with gluten free cakes and biscuits, even shop bought ones.

They tasted great though. I could taste the almond milk, which was good for me, as I love almonds. I wouldn't say they taste quite as good as a great big 'Starbucks style' muffin, but then you don't have to feel guilty about eating them, they are doing you good, full of good nutritious things, and still taste like a treat with your cuppa.

I haven't made the other mix up yet, but I'll let you know when I do.

If you fancy a gluten free, dairy free, paleo friendly, healthy treat, I definitely reccommend giving these a try. A pack in your cupboard, ready for when you need a treat, would definitely help with the 'why has everything I want to eat got gluten in it?" moments!

You can check out Ugg Foods here. There's a ton of information on nutrition on their site, and some yummy looking recipes, which are all gluten and dairy free, paleo and nutritious, so well worth a look.

Before I go, check out my beautiful cake forks. They are from Laguiole and I love them. I love the little bee logo and the beautiful coloured handles. Someday I will treat myself to a full set of this cutlery!!

TTFN!

 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Tired Mummy Survival Tips

 

I'm sitting in my car, in a lay-by, less than half a mile from my house, with my one year old asleep in the back. There's 40 minutes until I have to collect the three year old from nursery, which is about 2 minutes away. I daren't try to go home, because the small one will wake up as I lift her from the car, so I'm taking my 40 minutes peace right here.

This got me thinking about how long I've spent in lay-bys in the last 3 years. Maybe longer, because I sure used to take a nap when I was pregnant and still driving all over the country for my job. It adds up to a lot of time! When I was pregnant with number two, and my then 18 month old had stopped taking any naps other than car naps, it was almost every day!

Those lay-by naps have been an important part of my survival strategy for the last few years. I don't think you've known tired until you've known mum-tired. Pregnancy, new baby, teething baby, pregnancy, non sleeping baby, night terrors, anaemia, I don't think I've had a good nights sleep in over 4 years. Here, just in case it helps you, is how I survive.

Always be ready for the nap.

If, like mine, your kids no longer nap particularly regularly, you need to be prepared to use the unexpected nap when it happens. At home, there's always something to be done as soon as you get that chance, but don't waste it. Do something you can't do with them awake. Even if it's just sit down and drink a cup of tea while it's actually still hot!

Out and about, it's a bit more tricky, but I've learned to be prepared so that I can still take advantage. As soon as I notice that they've both fallen asleep in the car, I pull over in the next layby. Honestly. Then lock all the doors, grab something soft from the back (there are always cushions and blankets in our car, but a coat or soft toy will do), make yourself comfy and take a nap. Or at least close your eyes for a bit.

If we are out and about walking, or in town, and they both fall asleep in the buggy, I head for the nearest cafe or park and sit for a bit. I've got the kindle app on my phone, so I've always got something to read, or I could write a blog post of course! I've usually got a little pouch somewhere in my bag, just makeup bag sized, containing a little hand sewing project. I am always ready to seize the opportunity for a few minutes 'me' time.

Always have coffee.

Ok, not always, but if I'm going out for long enough that I think there might be a chance they will fall asleep, I often pack a coffee. I've got one of these one cup flasks that seals tight, so it can get thrown into my bag without leaking, you drink straight from it and it keeps a cup of coffee perfectly warm enough for a good 4 hours or so.

 

Get out of the house every day.

There are days when I just can't face the thought of cleaning the high chair, and the floor underneath it, even once, never mind 3-4 times in a day! On those days, while the kids have their breakfast, I make us a packed lunch and a flask of coffee and we head out. Often, I'm not even sure where we are going - just so long as I don't have to clean up afterwards. Last year, we had an annual pass to Woburn Safari Park, which I highly reccommend, if you are nearby. They put the pass in the name of the toddler, and then any adult can get in with them for free. That meant it was a good place for Daddy to take them at the weekend too, to give me a break. If you've got a pass, you don't mind if the animals are all hiding, or it rains, or your toddler has pee'd in her sixth pair of pants that day and is now wearing her younger sisters leggings, which only reach her knees, in the dead of winter, and the little one is wearing nothing but a nappy from the waist down, and lots of blankets, and therefore you have to come home after half an hour. (totally happened)

Now that the weather is getting better, I will start doing this again, because the supreme benefit of a picnic lunch is that you leave the crumbs behind you. Plus, it gives me an excuse to get one of these. How cute??

 

Surround yourself with good friends.

I have such a fantastic support network of friends. I am fortunate that we are all of the 'we are in it together, let's support each other' mentality and not the 'competitive, super judgemental mom' mentality. If you've got any of those in your circle of friends, ditch them. Immediately. Seriously, this job is hard. You don't need 'friends' that make you feel like you're making a hash of it.

The more the merrier.

For some reason, I find a house full of kids easier to deal with sometimes than just my two. That does not mean there will be more added to our family. No thank you. But invite other kids around and usually, their mums come too, so you can have a natter, and the kids play together and demand less of your attention. In theory, anyway.

Always have music.

Never underestimate the power of music. If my kids are getting kranky in the car, playing the 'In The Night Garden' soundtrack completely calms them down. If you can't bear plinky-plonky lullabies, search for 'Rockabye Baby' on iTunes. They do lullaby versions of all the artists you love, so that at least you can sing along.

If it's not calming, but entertaining they need, a quick game of musical statues or bumps can come from nowhere, if you've got their favourite tunes in a playlist. Of course, they love songs from their favourite films (we must listen to Pharrell's Happy, from Despicable Me, at least 4 times a day) but also britpop and rock anthems, that they can shout along to, or bizarrely, Lola seems to love dance music (which neither Joe or I have ever been particularly in to, so goodness knows where that comes from).

 

Always have distractions.

If we are out for the day, or going anywhere I might want the girls to be quiet for a bit, I make sure we have distractions with us. This is obvious, you always take a toy, or a colouring book or something, but keep your eyes out for little things to stash away as surprises for these times. A rummage around in the bottom of my changing bag can usually result in some stickers - useful as prizes for the musical statues, or a 'see who can be quiet the longest' competition, but I also have a stash at home of little 'stocking stuffer' type things, that I've picked up on sale, or in a charity shop or something, so that I've got something to reward good behaviour with!!

Always have snacks.

Goes without saying. Kids are hungry constantly. The very second that my kids realise they are hungry, they get incredibly kranky. Healthy snacks, especially tiny ones that take ages to eat, like yoghurt raisins, have saved me from more tantrums than I care to think about.

 

So that's about it I think. My little saviours. I am sure you've tried most of these already, but even if I've suggested one new thing, or reminded you of something you used to do, I might have saved you from at least one headache!

What are your top survival tips? Got any new ones for me? I'd love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Cartref Campsite, Shrewsbury

Last weekend, despite the fact that it had rained pretty relentlessly all week, we decided to take the caravan to Cartref Campsite, which is just outside Shrewsbury, in Shropshire.

My parents have a caravan on a season pitch just a few miles away, and my brother and his new fiancée decided to come and join us at Cartref, in a tent.

The owners at Cartref were lovely. They called us as we were on our way up on Friday, to find out what time we would be arriving, so that they could be there to help us pitch, if we needed it. They had had a lot of rain over the last week, so the grassy areas of the site were wet and springy underfoot, with the odd muddy patch. Apparently it had been much worse. The owners had a tractor at the ready, to help anyone that was struggling, but our mover coped very well on its own.

The site is very well maintained, with well cut grass and hedges between each pitch, even the tent pitches. There was a field for dog walking, with a play area for children in the middle.

If you haven't got a dog to take away with you, why not take your cat? We would have done just that, if I hadn't just caught movement in the corner of my eye, as I did my last check of the van before heading off.

That's our idiot cat, Purdey, who's obviously decided that the caravan is a good place to go and hide, for a bit of peace and quiet!

But anyway, back to the site. It was basic in terms of amenities - the wash block was clean enough, but was of the 'just a curtain between the shower and your dry clothes, so everything ends up wet' variety. If you use your own loo and shower though, everything else was lovely. You do need to use your car to get anywhere and there was no shop on site, so it's certainly not a 'pitch up and don't leave the site until it's time to go home' kind of site, but it was ideal for what we wanted and we will certainly be back.

 

GF Recipe: Quick Fennel Flatbreads

 

A week in to my Gluten Free lifestyle, and I don't think I've managed a fully gluten-free day yet. I've not deliberately eaten any gluten, but I keep making little mistakes. It's becoming apparent already that rather than keep the rest of the household eating normally and store my gluten-free food seperately, I will need to make my kitchen gluten-free. Probably with the exception of a few things for the kids, purely because otherwise our food bill will bankrupt us! It's awful that I need to think like this, because of the extortionate cost of gluten-free food, but that's another rant for another day.

I need to make packed lunches for the girls at least two days a week and there's no getting away from the fact that sandwiches are by far the easiest food for this. Shop bought gluten-free bread is expensive and homemade bread is not normally great for kids lunchbox style sandwiches, so my way around this is to buy a sliced loaf, make the whole thing up into sandwiches in one go, and then freeze them. I can clean up thoroughly afterwards and remove all traces of gluten and the ready source of sandwiches saves me from the possibility of another episode like this. I can take them straight out of the freezer in the morning and they are defrosted and ready to eat by lunchtime. (Great tip for those of you that take sandwiches to work and end up eating them by 10 am too!)

I haven't gad a go at gluten free bread, loaf-style yet, but yesterday, while warming some nice homemade veggie soup from the freezer (what a picture of domestic bliss and preparedness I paint. Oh, how I wish it was so all of the time!) I felt like I needed something to dunk in it.

My usual quick google search, followed by a combination of recipes, produced these:

They were really easy to make, and perfect to dunk into houmous, or to eat with the curry we had for tea later. They don't keep very well - they go quite hard and dry, but would probably perk up if sprinkled with water and flashed under the grill, as you would naan breads.

It doesn't matter that they don't keep though, because they took seconds to make. They would be great for the kids to make and are perfect for those 'dammit, ran out of bread' moments.

 

Quick Fennel Flatbreads

 

Ingredients:

200g self raising flour (I used GF, obviously)

150g natural yoghurt

1 tbsp milk or water

Salt and pepper

I added a tablespoon on fennel seeds, but you could omit these, or swap them for anything you like: poppy or sesame seeds, cumin, herbs, a smidge of paprika - whatever you fancy.

 

Method:

Heat your grill to high and dust a baking sheet with flour

Stir the dry ingredients together in a bowl

Add the wet ingredients and stir to form a dough

Divide into four balls. Flatten into round discs and place them on the baking tray, sprinkled with a bit more flour

Grill for 3-5 minutes each side, until golden and puffy

Dunk into soup, or dip of your choice.

Yum!