Monday, 30 April 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the post-marathon edition

So, we are post-marathon. Husband ran the Greater Manchester Marathon yesterday in shocking conditions in 4:37, seven minutes faster than he ran his first one last year. He reckons he could have shaved off 15 to 20 minutes off that time if the wind hadn't been so bad, which would have been great. In fact, he went through a half marathon in 2:07 which displays how well he was doing until he hit the really hard bit. We're all so proud of him, Missy Woo drew him a picture with the words "Winner" along the top and she's desperate to take his medal into school.

Onto this week. It's a mixed week - I have cake club tomorrow night so I will mostly not be eating for a day before or after and husband has a meeting and possible social event on Thursday. Plus, it's our wedding anniversary on Saturday so will probably be going out on Saturday as a family as we are a bit short on babysitters at the moment. We have, therefore, a few old faves to make to use up freezer stocks and a couple of new things to try.

Onto our plan.

Monday - Turkey and cranberry meatloaf (from My Daddy Cooks)
Tuesday - Pizza
Wednesday - Lamb coconut and mango pilau
Thursday - Sandwiches (possibly pizza if Missy Woo's friend comes for tea)
Friday - Sticky chicken wings - without the noodles!
Saturday - keeping free
Sunday - Roast vegetable and goats cheese penne (also from My Daddy Cooks)

So, what are you having this week? Mrs M has more Meal Planning Monday entries on her linky.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Cake of the week - A (Blackpool) football cake

This is one of those cakes that I thought up at the last minute. As I mentioned last week, it was husband's birthday on Tuesday and needed to make a cake. I decided I was going to cover it and do some design but I wasn't really sure what.

Suddenly I thought that perhaps I could make a Blackpool cake - for which I'd need tangerine (bright orange in other words) sugar paste. As I am not good at piping or intricate designs, I struggled as to what to do when I came up with the idea of using hexagonal tiles to make it look like a football, allowing some of the tangerine shine through.

All I had to do was make it. The cake was actually chocolate, from Ruth's recipe. As I have her book, I was so glad to see she's included a scaleable version of it in her new book with different quantities and cooking times for different sized tins because sometimes, you just don't have the right sized tin. I make this recipe a lot now; it's easy and it never lets me down.

Having made it and left it to cool on Monday afternoon, I decided I had better get it covered with sugarpaste that evening as I wouldn't have too much time to do cake decorating the next day. I am so glad I did as it then took me most of the rest of the evening. First, I had to colour my sugarpaste. This proved to be way harder than I thought and however much I added, it never seemed to reach the required shade, even when wrapping it and leaving for 10 mins to let the colour develop, as Ruth advises. And trying to work it in to the paste was harder work than kneading bread dough! Eventually, I gave up and settled for a pale orange colour - or maybe it's more peach. Lesson learned - bright colours need huge amounts of food colour.

Then I followed Ruth's instructions for covering the cake with sugarpaste. I now know that the secret is keeping the sugarpaste quite thick as this makes it easier to handle. After a big deep breath, I got it on the cake without rips or holes, and it looked pretty good. Result! By this time, it was past midnight but I thought I had better plough on.

The hexagonal tiles were a challenge. I would have preferred a hexagonal cutter but had no time to get one so I scaled a hexagon to the size I wanted, printed it out then once cut out, used it as a template to cut around, having rolled out some black and white sugarpaste. I placed the tiles gently on the top of the cake to figure out the pattern and after a few goes, I came up with a pattern I was happy with and I brushed where I was sticking each tile with a little water to stick them to the cake. By the time I'd finished, it was way past 1am and my kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it. According to Helen, that's early for cake makers! I left everything as I was very tired by then, but I went to bed with a sense of achievement that it looked quite good. And it tasted nice too!

What do you think?

Linking up with Helen's Cake of the Week feature.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A round of thank yous

Photo credit - q83
I've got a mounting list of thank yous I need to say so I'm putting it right in just one post.

First off, Warner Brothers sent us a lovely box full of Easter films for the family which arrived on Easter Saturday. They included films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as some Bugs Bunny and Yogi Bear cartoons. Warner Brothers kindly sent us some mini eggs too but they were gone in about 5 seconds flat so they never even made the photograph! Missy Woo was entranced by Willy Wonka when we had a "cinema night" and I was marvelling at the fact that the children in the film are now all in their 50s! The films certainly kept the children amused during the school holidays, so a huge thank you to them. 

Next, Kellogg's sent me a box of their new cereal Mini Max to try. They're baked wholegrain squares, very similar to another brand which shall remain nameless (because I don't buy that brand), with sugar frosting on the top. The children loved them, although cheekily complained they weren't the chocolate version. The disappointing thing is that I noticed they contain beef gelatine and therefore are not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. I am guessing this has caught a few people out as it's not something you usually check for and it seems strange they can't find a suitable alternative. It doesn't affect us though and the children are delighted with them, so thank you to Kellogg's, mostly from Monkey and Missy Woo. 

Finally, I met the lovely Ruth from The Pink Whisk last week for coffee. She brought along a little present for me - a signed copy of her new book, The Busy Girl's Guide to Cake Decorating which is fab. I've already used some of the instructions to help me make my husband's birthday cake; her chocolate cake recipe has become my go to recipe for that and the book includes quantities and cooking times for different size tins. I know she won't expect me to blog about it but I am anyway because I love the book (especially the dolls throughout the book!) and Ruth is a lovely person who I'm proud to call a friend. So thanks to Ruth and I hope the book sells loads. 

Thank you again to one and all for the lovely things you sent me. 

(I was sent or given the above items as stated in the post. I have not been paid further for mentioning any of these products in this post. I have not been told what to write and all words and opinions are my own. I have included links out of courtesy.) 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

My tips for saving money on your food shopping

This is a sponsored post.

Every penny counts for us at the moment. We are lucky in that a lot of our outgoings are not huge but I have to be careful and to cut costs where I can so that we can eat well for less. Over the last couple of years, I have got it down to the fine art. I thought I would share my tips for saving money on your food shopping.

1. Meal plan and write a list before you go shopping. I would say that, wouldn't I? But trust me, knowing what you're going to cook and only buying what you need saves a fortune because you waste much less. I start by checking what's left in the cupboards, fridge and freezer, add recipes that will use them to my meal plan, then write a list of things to buy that I don't have already. Then I add regulars in, like bread, butter, milk, yogurts etc.

2. Use vouchers where you can. The supermarkets are fighting for your business at the moment and often have money off vouchers which they'll give you when you shop or via post or email. Consider which is going going to give you the cheapest shop. I mean, I noticed Tesco offering £10 vouchers for an £80 shop - I rarely spend £80 in one shop so that's no use to me - I would have to buy extra to get the discount. I've been getting £6 off a £30 shop which is more useful; it brings my bill down to around £40, sometimes less, whereas the Tesco offer would mean my bill is £70.

3. Don't shop in a rush, and don't shop hungry. Most of us are short of time, but try not to do a shop that is the equivalent of a trolley dash. Grabbing the first thing you see doesn't give you time to compare different brands and work out the cheapest deal. I check everything I buy to check it offers best value, depending on how much I have to buy and how fast we use it. It's also a well known fact that you buy more when hungry. If you do have to shop straight after work and you're hungry, try to have a snack before you go. Stay away from the supermarket if you're ravenous.

4. Try buying cheaper ranges. Go on, give them a try. Often value ranges are exceptionally cheap and the quality is not always as bad as you think. Try them and see what you think. If it is not for you, then fair enough, but if you like it, you will save money and not notice the difference. Ranges are really variable and it all comes down to personal taste.

5. Use multibuy bargains advisedly. If the cheapest way is to buy items in multibuy bargain formats, stop and think. It's fine if you're going to use them all before it goes off, but if not, you'll be wasting money. Also, some multibuy offers aren't huge - saving 10p for buying 2 is nothing - and you could still save more buying a different brand.

6. Go for reduced price bargains but only if you can use them. I love bargains but only if they work for me. It's very tempting to buy something that's slashed in price because it's reaching its use by or best before date - but not if you can't use it before it goes off. I get round this by freezing as much as I can - especially useful for bakery items, meat and fish. If not, make sure you eat it quickly. Don't get carried away by those yellow labels - some supermarkets actually take very little off the original price in the hope that you'll buy it, then reduce it more as the day goes on. The best time for the best bargains is tends to be after 8pm in 24 hour supermarkets, especially on Mondays and Thursdays. If it's been reduced by little, it's probably worth spending the extra money to buy the item full price.

7. Consider joining warehouse shopping clubs for bulk purchases. We are Costco members which costs £30 per year but we easily save more than that on our food shopping and for items like kitchen rolls, it's fabulous. You have to keep your shopping head on and know what you are buying is a bargain as some aren't that much cheaper than the supermarket - and own brands can work out cheaper, but you will find some gems. For example, coconut milk is around £1.99 a tin at the moment, yet I bought a case of 6 for £4.39 last week, saving me over £8.50.

8. Don't waste food. Once you get your food home, store it properly, and bringing items with shorter dates to the front so they get used first. Use up leftovers - some recipes naturally seem to make more than the usual "Serves 4" given, so they often become lunches for me and husband - but make sure you cool leftovers quickly and refrigerate (or freeze), then reheat thoroughly. I'm a bit funny about rice so I am always wary of keeping it and it is one thing you need to be really careful about but most other things I will happily reuse. I also store sliced bread in the freezer as it can go off quickly and is mostly used for toast. Slices even defrost quickly if I want to make sandwiches.

Those are my tips. Happy saving! Don't forget also that My Family Club has a shopping section where you can find all the best discounts and offers, and you can sign up for a weekly email newsletter with the latest tips and offers. And if you have a great moneysaving tip, you could win an iPad by entering their competition here.

What tips do you have for saving money on your food shopping?

(I have been paid a fee to write this and a previous post, as well as mention them on social media. I have not been told what to write and all words and opinions are my own.)

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

So what can you do if you don't get the primary school you wanted?

Photo credit - msegura
All throughout April, parents of children who are due to start school in the next academic year have been nervously waiting to find out which school has a place for their child. By the end of this week, I think pretty much everyone in England should know their fate.

Whatever you read, the majority of parents do get a place for their child at their first choice school. It varies a lot according to the local situation but most areas have sufficient places.

But what if you don't? Although it didn't happen to me, I can imagine it's pretty gut-wrenching and upsetting to find that you haven't got the school you wanted. It can feel like the end of the world, probably made even worse by others getting what they want.

It isn't the end of the world. There are various things you can do. Please remember I write this as a parent and it is stuff I learned from the experiences of others I know who went through similar. It's just suggestions and tips. Always check local arrangements with your local authority.

Do you appeal?

Most people's reaction  is to consider an appeal. Others are likely to recommend it, and it seems like your opportunity to put your case. However, you do need to think carefully before you appeal as it is not straightforward at all. What complicates it is the law says that infant class sizes (basically, the first 3 years in school) cannot be greater than 30. If a school is already full and classes are already 30, an appeal is likely to fail although there are a few exceptions that will override the law. These require you to prove that you would have got a place if the admissions process was properly implemented - in other words, they made a mistake at some point, or that you would have got a place if the admissions process had followed the School Admissions Code. The other exception is that refusing you a place was not a decision that a "reasonable authority" would have made. All of these require some effort and can be quite hard to prove unless you are sure a mistake has been made. It is possible to do, but the hearing might not be until the summer, and the result not known for a few days after that. If you can prove your case, they will have to award you a place, even if the infant class size is exceeded.

The decision whether to appeal is very personal. Many decide to appeal, then find out what's involved and withdraw. What does happen is that the admissions body will send you all the information relating to your appeal before the hearing which gives you time to prepare your case or decide whether to take it further. At a hearing, the admissions body will be given chance to state why they didn't give you a place, then it will be your turn to do the same. Your case will need to concentrate on the decision to refuse you a place. Personal circumstances (unless this is something you were relying on in your original application) will not be taken into account. I can ramble on about this for hours so if you want to know more, please do get in touch with me.

Is there anything else you can do if you decide not to appeal?

The first thing to remember is that you do not have to accept the place you've been offered if you really don't want it. The local authority will provide you with a list of schools who do have places available. It's also worth contacting the school(s) that didn't offer you a place and ask for your child to be placed on their waiting list - there will be a lot of movement as people decide they don't need the place,  move areas or even emigrate. The school will place you in the list according to the same admissions criteria, but they will also be able to tell you what position in the list you hold. Most schools will operate waiting lists until the start of the school year but some keep them for longer.

Even if you are putting in an appeal, it is worth putting in some effort to go and see other schools, whether that is the school you've been offered or others that you've been told have places available. Because there may be a number of parents in the same position, you'll probably be given a deadline to express a preference for another school and then you will be told if you have a place. Having a place sorted out is a good insurance policy if your appeal is not successful, and it's worth noting that doing so will not affect your appeal. It may mean that your child starts settling in sessions at a school they ultimately don't attend but it is probably better than not doing so.

If none of these avenues provide any joy, you may take the ultimate sanction of not accepting a place anywhere. Remember that, in England at least, no child has to attend school until the term after they turn 5. Even with the oldest children in the year born between September and December, that means they don't have to go to school until January. A January to April child wouldn't have to start school until after the Easter holidays and any child younger than that wouldn't have to start school until the start of Year 1 (although they will miss Reception altogether if this is the case). In that time, it is very likely that a place will become available at a school that suits you. Alternatively, you may decide to home educate which is another topic in itself. I know little about it but people like Jax who home educates her children know a lot more than me.

If your child does start at a school that you're not totally happy with, remember that nothing is forever.You may begin to feel very differently about a school once your child is a pupil there, especially if they settle in well, are happy and seem to be doing well. Places at other schools can become available at any time so even after a school stops operating a waiting list, they may still contact you to ask if you want a place or you can keep in touch with them. The decision to move a child is another personal choice and will very much depend on the child. Generally speaking, younger children seem to adapt better than older ones, but if your child took a while to settle at school and is now happy, you may feel that it's not worth the upheaval of moving them again.

What if you're applying next year and this post terrifies you?

For a start, don't panic. As I said at the start, the majority of parents get their first choice; many more get one of their top choices and are happy with what they are offered. There are a few things you can do to improve your chances of getting a fair outcome. Take care because you will hear a lot of anecdotes from parents of older children of what worked for them but things are very different now (and anyway, they may have worked for them than for the reason they suggest).

First, use all your preferences when applying. Some people still believe that only applying for one school will guarantee them a place. Some thinks it underlines how much they want that school and that the local council will HAVE to give them that school. This is not the case. If you only apply for one school, you'll be treated the same as other parents. If there is no place available for you, the council will find you a place at the nearest available school, which could be a long way from home if places are at a premium, or it might not be a school you're happy with. The way to have some control over your destiny is to apply for as many as you're allowed - the minimum is usually 3 but some areas allow more choices to be made.

Secondly, talk to the schools and understand their admissions policies. Most voluntary aided faith schools (and academies) will have their own admissions criteria which are different to community and voluntary controlled schools. Faith schools usually give top priority to those who attend a local church regularly or those who have their children baptised. If you haven't looked already, it may already be too late to start attending church as the qualification period usually ends in the September before you apply. It may not be a problem but a school will be able to give you an idea how likely it is you could get a place without it. Personally I wouldn't attend church for this reason, and if you're the same, this may affect your decision whether to apply to such a school if it is usually oversubscribed. Also, if your local authority operates catchment areas, understand how they affect you and your choices - applying to an oversubscribed school from out of catchment may be risky and may become even harder when it comes to applying for younger siblings, especially if they are not given priority over children in catchment area.

Next, don't discount any school until you have seen it for yourself. I can't stress this enough - only you know what suits your child and no-one else can judge if a school is right for them. Keep an open mind throughout.

Finally, don't panic. If it doesn't work out for you, then come back to this post next year.

My final thought is this - everything will turn out alright in the end. If it's not alright, it's not the end. Not getting the place you'd hoped for is not the end. It's just the start.

Good luck!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the birthday / marathon edition!

So, this week is a strange combination and there is not a lot of fancy cooking going on here. Tomorrow is my husband's birthday and then, on Sunday, he's running the Greater Manchester Marathon so he has requested carby things at the end of the week. We've decided we're going out to eat after that, and on his birthday, we're going out for lunch so evening meal will be snacks for us and something quick and easy for the children. In other words, don't expect this to be the most inspiring menu plan I've ever done. I have most things in at the moment so don't really need to do a big shop this week. Always a bonus when you've had birthday presents to buy (not going to reveal what they are in case someone reads this post - and he does occasionally, to check what's for tea!).

Monday -  home made burgers and wedges
Tuesday - beans on toast or something for the children
Wednesday - Jacket spuds filled with quorn chilli or bolognese
Thursday - Sandwiches
Friday - Slow cooker risotto of some sort
Saturday - Squash, ricotta and sage pasta bake
Sunday - marathon day, keeping free.

It will be back to normal next week. Well, kind of - I'm not actually sure there is a normal in this house! Don't forget to check out the other entries to Meal Planning Monday over at  Mrs M's place. And how about you tell me what delights you're having this week. It has to be more inspirational than my plan.

Have a great week, all.

Friday, 20 April 2012

A trio of cheesy grins

Do you remember a few weeks ago, I wrote about going in to school to have school dinner with the children for Mother's Day? Well, I forgot to share this picture, taken on my phone at the lunch by another mum, my friend Tracy and given a bit of a fancy edit by me.

I dunno where the children get those cheesy grins from! Do you think they were excited?

This is one of the last photographs I have of Missy Woo with her front baby teeth, and my hair is shorter now. This photo is already a memory to keep and to treasure, remembering times past.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

How do you teach children to stand up for themselves?

Photo credit - lusi
Since Monkey was small, we have taught him to walk away from trouble. To be fair to him, unless it's his sister, if another child has hit him, or snatched a toy from him, he's stood there and look mystified but as the time for him to start school approached, we made sure he knew that retaliation was not good.

He's never had a problem at school. There have been the odd occasion when a child has hit him but all he has done is tell the nearest appropriate adult and it hasn't been repeated. The school stress their zero tolerance for bullying and I know he feels comfortable telling me there's been a problem or telling a member of staff at school.

But lately, I've been wondering - at what point do I teach him to stand up for himself and to do that without resorting to physical violence? Over the last year, I've noticed that there is an older boy who lives nearby that makes him feel very uncomfortable and whilst not actually bullying him, has hit other children that he knows and has been nasty to him. Most of the time, he has avoided him and told me about any problems he's had with him. Until now, I've told him to stay away.

But last week during the holidays, he went to the park around the corner with Missy Woo and this boy was there. The boy asked him who his girlfriend was. Instead of saying, "She's my sister," and carry on normally, he came home again.

At some point, I think he will probably have to be able to stand his ground, and learn when to do that and when to walk away. I don't want him to be cowed by any type of bully, be that physical or verbal and yes, it is probably right to walk away from someone who is being, or threatening to be, violent but not to someone who's just being mean. When should that be, and how do I start to teach him that skill or wisdom to know the difference between the two? My worry is that school is so supportive about dealing with bullying behaviour that they don't really know how to deal with it when it crops up in other situations. Not that I want him to be bullied; I just need to teach him how to handle himself without having to raise his fists. I don't want him to get in trouble - he probably won't but it's always a risk - and I don't want him to get a reputation with other children or their parents.

Do you have any advice for me? How have you dealt with this tricky area of parenting? How best can I support him - and ultimately, Missy Woo too? I'd love you to share your collective wisdom with me. Please do so in the comments below because I am sure I am not the only parent bothered by this. Thank you. 

MAD Blog Awards 2012*Edit* If you've enjoyed this post and others on my blog, would you like to nominate me for a MAD Blog Award? Nominations close this week and I've already been nominated in a few categories, although I'm probably a best fit for the Schooldays and Family Life categories. If you would like to nominate me, click on the badge and fill out the form on the Nominate page. Thank you and thanks for all the lovely nominations so far.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the My Family Club edition

This is a sponsored post. 

This week, I am doing something different again. I was approached to talk about a brand and I said yes because I took a look and liked what I saw. My Family Club is a website that wants to help parents save money and time, and from today, is starting an ad campaign coming to a TV near you.

When I first looked at the site, I noticed that it had a kitchen section. There are meal plans and a wealth of recipes that are easy to make and on your pocket. So, as I've done this sort of thing before, I decided to plan a week of meals from the site to test them out. None of the meal plans were completely right for me, so I picked out my favourites from their recipe section and made my own plan.

Here, then, is our week in meals. Two things I noticed when doing my plan - one was that the recipe section wasn't easily searchable nor the recipes grouped logically so you had to click through all the recipes to find your favourites. The other was that the butternut squash, bacon and mushroom lasagne recipe says that it is a "vegetarian" alternative, which made me laugh. Surely not?

Monday - Sesame chicken with rice
Tuesday - Butternut squash, bacon and mushroom lasagne
Wednesday - Bean burgers and paprika chips
Thursday - Sandwiches as usual
Friday - Shepherd's pie with a twist
Saturday - keeping free, although it's likely to be tapas.
Sunday -  Cheese and ham pancakes

If proof were needed that these are easy on the pocket, I bought all the ingredients in an online shop last night and I struggled to get my bill over £40, even with me stocking up the house after the school holidays, and trust me, I have run out of  most staples.  Admittedly, I do seem to be very well stocked in my store cupboard at the moment and have some chicken in the freezer. I bought some extra treats to take it over the minimum order value.

How about you take a look at My Family Club yourself? If you join as a member (which is free), you can get access to special offers and participate in the community section, asking and answering questions. There is also currently a competition to win an iPad and iPod bundle on there to enter when you give them your best money saving tip.

And of course, this is still a Meal Planning Monday post, so don't forget to tell me what you are eating this week, and to visit Mrs M who hosts the Meal Planning Monday linky.

(I have been paid a fee to write this post as well as to post a small number of sponsored tweets. I was asked to include links in this post, mentioning My Family Club but all words and opinions are my own. )

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Thai fish pie - family style

This sounds mad, doesn't it? I first saw it on one of the last episodes of Something for the Weekend and thought I had to give it a go. Unfortunately, on looking at the recipe, I realised I would have to adapt it if I were to make it for all of us as it had fresh chillies in it. With this adaptation in mind, I set about buying the ingredients - and discovered that monkfish was not only difficult to find, it was damned expensive. There were various things about the recipe that I felt weren't quite right (you can tell it was written by a chef rather than a food writer) - like I'm still not sure if it was a typo that 200g butter would be added to the mash. So I've done my own version based on this.

I still add a bit of chilli powder to this, but if you want, you can leave it out. However, I like that it leaves a little bit of warmth at the back of your mouth, just enough for you to know it's there but not enough to have Monkey and Missy Woo grabbing drinks and complaining "It's too spicy." They love this, as do I. If you do want it really spicy, just add some fresh chopped chilli in step 2.

The important ingredients are the lemongrass and the kaffir lime leaves, as they really add flavour. Both are easily bought from supermarkets these days - make sure you buy fresh, not dried, lemongrass.

Thai Fish Pie
Serves 4-6

700g sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
200g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tbsp vegetable
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 stalk lemongrass, bruised (just bash it with the handle of a knife)
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp mild chilli powder (optional)
400ml coconut milk
100ml milk
400g white fish, cut into chunks
200g salmon, skin removed and cut into chunks
200g peeled prawns, preferably king or jumbo size, either raw or cooked
25g butter, plus a knob of butter for the mash
25g flour
100g frozen peas
1 lime, juice and zest
fish sauce (optional)

1. First, place the sweet potato and potato into a pan of hot water, cover and bring to the boil. Simmer until soft. Drain.

2. Whilst the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, garlic, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Cook over a medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add the chilli powder, if using, stir and cook for a couple more minutes. Add both milks. If using light coconut milk, turn the heat right down immediately. If you have time, turn the heat off and leave to stand for a while to infuse.

3. Add the white fish and salmon to the pan. If you're worried about the coconut milk splitting, turn the heat off and allow the fish to poach using residual heat, otherwise keep the heat down as low as possible. After about 3/4 minutes, add the prawns if they are raw. They will turn pink when they are cooked.

4. Using a slotted spoon, lift the fish out of the pan and place in your dish, putting the poaching liquor to one side. Your dish needs to be about 25cm x 25cm although I tend to use a small lasagne dish. Scatter over the peas.  Turn the oven onto 200 C /400F / Gas 6.

5. When the potatoes are done, mash them with a knob of butter. I also tend to add a squeeze of lime juice to cut the sweetness. Season. Take the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves out of the poaching liquor before you make the sauce.

6. In another pan, melt the 25g butter, add the flour, and cook for a minute. Add the poaching liquor a bit at a time, whisking constantly. Once it's all added, squeeze in the rest of the juice of the lime and add the zest, bring it up to the boil then simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Season to taste - I tend to do this with a dash of fish sauce, but you can use salt and pepper if you like.

7. Pour the sauce over the fish and peas. Scoop the mash over the fish and rough up the surface in whatever way you choose; I tend to use the back of a spoon. Cook in the oven for 25 minutes. If you like a crispy top (don't we all?), place it under a hot grill for a few minutes.

You can serve with some stir fried greens if you like but it's fine just as it is, and leftovers also reheat well.

Friday, 13 April 2012

School holidays - a break for who again?

Planning how to drive me mad next
Much as it's nice not to have to dash around at 8.30am and 3.20pm every weekday during the school holidays,  we're reaching that point where we've been in each other's company a little too much. Little niggles between the children that started as storms in a teacup are beginning to escalate into major fallouts, constant requests for squash/chocolate/ice-cream/more chocolate/toys, and a desire to make every day special (because of course, it is a holiday) and therefore resisting the usual routine of bedtimes, meals and everyday life. They all conspire to ensure we begin to grate on each other a bit. I know it's a break for the children, but not so much for me.

Thankfully, the weather hasn't been as bad as expected this week, if you ignore Monday when it rained all day and I spent most of the day cleaning the house with, or more accurately, in spite of their help. This means the children can play out with their friends on our road or the next road. Although I seem to spend some days shouting "Door!" every ten minutes as they fling it open wide to return for drinks/meals/toilet visits or deposit sporting equipment as they change games or playmates, I quite enjoy the breaks; they're like little oases of peace, punctuated by a child bursting through the door.

I realised yesterday that the children have begun to figure this out for themselves that I might actually enjoy this. The children were trying to decide what to do when Monkey turned to me and said, "We're going outside, Mummy. We'll leave you in peace," and went out of the door, taking Missy Woo with him.

Is it wrong I went straight to make a coffee?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Doing housework with your children - some dos and don'ts


Give them a duster and polish when they say they want to do the dusting whilst you're still doing the kitchen. You'll love it when they come back 15 minutes later with a now empty can of polish and two sodden dusters.

Allow them to have a go at vacuuming upstairs whilst you continue downstairs. They won't make the spare room a worse mess at all trying to get it out. Their screams and giggles will suggest they're having a great time, not trying to administer death by suction.

Actually check what they have claimed to have done. Their attention spans are short and so the fourth room they claim to have dusted might still be quite dusty. Or not dusted at all.

Give them different jobs to do. One can be happily assigned to asking constant questions, whilst the other can be assigned to mucking up the task in hand. This will ensure the chores will get done in half the time. Or maybe twice.


Set a time limit for finishing the job. Housework is a good way to fill a whole rainy day and keep your children amused.

Supervise them too closely as this will give them a sense of independence. Also known as slacking off what you've just asked them to do.

Offer bribes to get them to help you. Children are usually willing participants. Oh, but there is chocolate. (Don't mention it's their own Easter eggs...)

Forget to have a plentiful supply of tea, coffee and biscuits. For you. (Oh, and wine in the fridge for later.)

And finally...

DO worry if they simultaneously go quiet for more than 30 seconds and a television, smartphone or computer is not involved. (This applies to all parenting, not just housework!)

Photo credit - lusi

Monday, 9 April 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the post-Easter edition!

Hope you had a lovely Easter and aren't too sick from chocolate overload. We've had a quiet one thanks to work (husband's not mine!) but we've another week of school holidays to go. This week is a mix of things I wanted to try making or am trying to perfect - you might have seen the Thai fish pie a few weeks back; well, I'm trying out my own version of it that is a) cheaper b) healthier and c) more family friendly - ie not as hot and more acceptable to children's palates. When I get it right, I'll blog the recipe

Here's our week.

Monday -  Garlic mushroom and turkey bake
Tuesday - Mushroom stroganoff
Wednesday - Bolognese bake
Thursday - Vegetarian sausage, butternut squash and pepper stew
Friday - Thai fish pie
Saturday - Lemon spiced chicken with chickpeas
Sunday - keeping free

And don't forget that you can find more Meal Planning Monday entries at Mrs M's place but before you go, take a few minutes to tell me what you're having this week.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

LifeCircle 2012 - Dealing with your comfort zone

Life Circle Hello, and welcome back to LifeCircle 2012. Do you remember a while back when I got you to do something out of your comfort zone? Well, I promised a follow-up task to it but I needed to give you a while to complete it again. I was going to set this before the Easter holidays started but as you know, I was running late with the last one.

So now I'm going to set you almost the same task but this time, I'm going to share with you some techniques for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone so that maybe, you can push yourself a bit further and make some really radical changes.

The first step to dealing with a problem is to admit you have one. If you are stuck in a particular area because of fear (it's usually fear that holds us back), admitting it to yourself and the reasons for those feelings has to come first. Sometimes, we do not admit those things even to ourselves; we hide fears even from ourselves. Instead, we procrastinate and find other reasons not to tackle a project now. Acknowledging to yourself that you are scared and why you have those fears will make it easier to tackle them. You don't have to admit them publicly if you don't want - although I often think it helps to share a problem - but do at least write down your fears. The act of committing them to paper or a screen crystallises them and trying to explain them, even to yourself, helps you to understand them. Recognising the fears will help you to overcome them. Keep your plans realistic though (remember SMART?).

Of course, once you have admitted that there is a problem, you need a plan to deal with it. Think of ways to overcome what is stopping you - whether that is smaller tasks to build up to a bigger one, or practice runs of a bigger task. Even just opening yourself up to something by offering to do it is a good start. Then, recognise when those fears kick in and analyse them. If the fears amount to not being good enough or clever enough or similar, then realise they are serving no other purpose than to hold you back. Some fears are there to protect you but many others aren't. Think carefully which ones are holding you back. If you come up with an action that genuinely scares you, write it down. Commit to it! Facing fears is a great way to overcome them.

And then, another good way to stretch your comfort zone is push it all the time. Try doing something scary, however small, every single day. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to do the bigger scarier tasks.

The fear that is most likely to hold us back is that of failure. This is a tough one because everyone has to accept that we will fail at something sometimes. No-one can guarantee success. Try to change your point of view - accept you will fail but that not trying is more a failure, and so is giving up. Failure is not the problem, and we need to accept it as a part of everyday life.

It's important to focus on what you CAN do rather than what you can't. If you want to run a marathon, focus on what you can do and how you can get there. If you think that you can't run a marathon, then you won't. If you accept that you can run a mile, you can work on a plan to reach your goal. Try to learn from others who have done it before; don't be afraid to take advice or input from others; people are generally helpful and supportive and0 learning from their mistakes will save you time and energy.

Finally, go easy on yourself. If pushing out of your comfort zone stresses you, give yourself some small rewards or treats to look after yourself. If you have to abandon your task because your fears overwhelm you, don't beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself, analyse it some more and have another go. Have a reward in mind for when you do achieve it and enjoy it with impunity.

Now I've told you all this, here's the task. Look back at everything you've done so far and try to identify an area of your life that is holding you back but dealing with it scares you. Work through why that is and make a plan to deal with it. Set yourself a substantial task related to this area to complete within a month, and then tackle it, bearing in mind the points I've made above. Tackle it in any way you want. If you want to start by doing something scary every day and make the tasks bigger, then do so, but remember your overall goal is to tackle something that you think has previously held you back.

When you've done all that, you need to blog about it and come back here to link up when I post the linky. That will be Thursday 27th April and the link will then stay open until 10th May. That gives you 3-4 weeks to play with.

Enjoy your Easter holiday and I'll see you at the end of April.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Missy Woo's Spring makeover

I never realised how much Missy Woo considered that her long hair was part of her identity, until it was suggested to her that it be cut off (not by me). A case of lice that wouldn't go because of all that hair - lots of fine hair that hid the little beggars.

Missy Woo was horrified by the thought of being short-haired. "That's for boys," she declared and was visibly upset. I checked with my hairdresser who confirmed that cutting it short wouldn't solve the problem anyway. She also has a double crown which needs longer hair to stop her having the cute but babyish quiff she had in the first year of her life. I got uber-thorough with the head lice treatment and finally got rid.

Still, her hair was becoming a nuisance to manage. She was forever getting food in it and it was a nuisance to look after. I managed to convince her that cutting a good couple of inches off wouldn't make her look like a boy, and it would be easier to keep tidy. So, the first day of the holidays, off we trotted to the salon, something Missy Woo considers a big treat. Nothing to do with the drink and sweets she gets. Oh no.

Someone looks rather pleased with her new haircut, doesn't she? Long enough to look girly, but easier to manage.

Don't tell her the stylist actually took nearer 3 inches off the length. Funnily enough, her head feels lighter. 

And then, just to up the cute factor, the second of her two top front teeth came out.

A smile that says "Yay, the tooth fairy is coming!" 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Testing and tuition - is it right for small children?

Holiday homework. It seems wrong but that's what we've got for Monkey - 3 books to read, some maths and some words. Oh yes, of course, it's SATs next term. Until now, the teacher has not been very pushy about their SATs but a note in his bag says she doesn't want them to be rusty when they return. I know that SATs are marked by the school these days but personally I'm uncomfortable with testing children as young as 6 - well, at least to make a big deal of it anyway. When you hear of parents issuing "incentives" to children of that age to "do well" in them, I feel that something is wrong.

Last week, I was offered some tuition for the children in return for a review. They hadn't got the ages of my children wrong, their tuition is aimed at 5 - 14 year olds; basically, from the moment they enter school through until high school. This was mentioned in association with issues of children worrying about tests or exams or to improve their confidence.

Firstly, I find it extremely sad that young children could be worried about tests or exams. The pressure to do well in them can only be external at that age - what child understands what a standard is? KS1 SATs results are not published nor are they externally marked  (KS1 is Key Stage 1, which ends by the end of the school year in which they turn 7, just in case you didn't know). Doing well in SATs is great, but nor is doing badly a huge problem. School have underplayed the tests so far but I understand that they have an interest in the children doing well, because that is how they are judged by others, which can affect how many children come to the school and ultimately, how much money they get. I feel lucky that I believe that at our school, they just want the children to achieve what they are capable of, rather than pushing them to over-achieve.

As for confidence, you may remember I blogged about this problem with Missy Woo six months ago although it seems like longer. We overcame it by speaking with the teacher who came up with some new approaches which worked a treat, but also by giving her a boost at home. Since then, she's just got better as she's realised she can read and it's been beautiful to observe. I'm sure many children need a confidence boost from time to time and I suspect most problems can be solved by giving the children help, love and support, with parents working with the teachers. Does extra tuition need to be part of the solution? I doubt it.

You may say that I'm lucky in that I don't need tuition for my children. I'm not worried about SATs. Perversely, Monkey seems to enjoy tests and treats them as a challenge, which is great. He knows we expect him to try his best, rather than set a standard to live up to that he doesn't understand. All he cares about is what reading level he is on compared to his friends.

Would I consider tuition at his age if he wasn't doing well? No. To me, that suggests that parents aren't happy with their child's progress and don't feel that school can resolve them, which is equally sad. I'd like to think that I'd be working with school in that position and discussing it with the teachers. If you can't, that's a pretty fundamental problem that I don't believe extra tuition alone can solve. I don't blame the people offering tuition; they are only offering a service because there is a demand.

Of course, as well as SATs this year for year 2, Missy Woo in year 1 will be subjected to a  new phonics test in June. She will still be 5 when she is tested and as one of the first pupils to take this test, no-one really knows what to expect, although it is believed to be quite rigorous. I hope she will take this in her stride as she is much less confident about tests than her brother but her overall reading is already ahead of what is expected of her age. No-one yet knows what happens if children don't reach the expected standard, something two thirds of pupils failed to do in pilot tests.

As I said in my polite refusal of the review of tuition, I don't believe in pushing my children hard, so the maths sheets will get done as a very low key activity as and when it suits; this is a holiday after all. For all the testing that children are facing next term, I think it's far more important for them to have a love of learning and reading at their age than them to achieve a standard set by someone else.

Isn't that what school is about?

What do you think? Is your child facing a test next term in year 1 or year 2? How has school approached these tests and what preparations are you aware of? Is your child worried about these tests and if so, why or how do they feel worried? Would you consider, or have you considered, tuition for a child aged 5 to 7? If so, why? Do please have your say below. 

Photo credit beni_bb

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Giving credit where it's due - how to make things right the right way

Back: Danny Ward, Alex Smithies & Alan Lee.
Front: Jordan Rhodes & two new signings
A while back, I experienced what it was like when the reaction to a blog post goes almost viral. Everyone reads it, it gets talked about,  passed around and causes a bit of a stir. That post was my review of the family facilities at Huddersfield Town. The home fans very quickly picked up on it and soon, thanks to Twitter, it had come to the attention of their commercial director Sean Jarvis, who promptly invited me to a meeting to discuss my experiences. In the meantime, the local paper even published a story about it!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the Easter edition

Oh yes. It seems about a month since our last holiday but Easter is this week! Husband is off this week but we're not planning to do much - and he's working bank shifts on the bank holidays to earn money to pay for our summer holiday. I've picked out a few new things to try - they seem vaguely summery actually, even though it looks like a wet - and cold - start to the week. Damn.

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