Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Yes, I do still have children!

One day soon, I will explain this picture. 
It's occurred to me that I haven't really written a post about the children in a while. No particular reason, I just don't have a lot that's new to say about them. They still amuse and frustrate me in equal measure. They drive me bonkers, but are just as likely to stop what they are doing and come and give me a hug.

Both are still doing well at school. Monkey got re-elected to School Council and he didn't even get to use this manifesto promise. Apparently, in the end, they just asked each class to vote for whoever they wanted so I'm proud he got chosen again. Missy Woo wasn't impressed though as she didn't - although she came 3rd last year and got put on school council because one of the children left school. Missy Woo gets some extra attention with her maths because she is doing so well with it. She's now learning the recorder with one of the teaching assistants in a lunchtime session. As you can imagine, this marries well with Monkey's ukulele. Music practice has been relegated to their rooms or I will go slowly mad.

Monkey also joined the school book club which also takes place at lunchtime. This is for the KS2 children so he's one of the youngest in the group. However, I'm not sure how much of this decision is swayed by the fact that he gets a biscuit. Yes, my son is that swayed by food. The book is a David Walliams and he does seem to like it.

Out of school, Monkey seems to have fallen seriously out of love with playing football. He's been going to the FA skills course for two years but it's a faff to get there on time and he tells me he's bored so he's stopping at Christmas - if I can get him to go to the last two as he keeps coming out of school and saying he doesn't want to go. We've decided he can do swimming lessons instead, and he went for a trial lesson on Sunday morning. As we were waiting for the previous class to finish, he confessed to me that he was "a little bit nervous" (later he told me that he was "petrified") but he needn't have worried. He seemed to spend the whole of the half hour lesson with a huge grin on his face as the group was smaller than usual and he seemed to be the best at what the teacher asked them to do.

Missy Woo still loves her dancing, although came out one day with a "sad face" because she couldn't do something in ballet. It turns out that her teacher is trying to prepare them for an exam early next year and she struggles with doing one thing. I had to give her a little pep talk about how she needs to practice things to get better at them and that the teacher still thinks she's a great dancer. She just  needs a little confidence boost every now and then. I can really see now that she has lessons in the way she holds her limbs if she does a little dance move.

They still fight, but equally, they drive me mad by getting the giggles together.They are thick as thieves sometimes but they are just as likely to be outraged if one of them gets something the other one doesn't. Monkey is the main culprit at this - he'll go to tea at a friend's house and have treats galore but complain if in the meantime, I have taken Missy Woo somewhere or let her have a sweet.

And there was me saying I didn't have much to say about them! They are growing every day but still not reached the age where they sleep in of a morning. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that phase!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the almost December edition!

Almost December. Well, it will be by the weekend. I'm still keeping the shopping down but I have done a shop already. I lasted 13 days between big shops by the way! I only had a Saturday night delivery because I had a discount code from Ocado and it was cheaper for delivery than Sunday.

I've picked out a couple of new things to make this week but I'm still trying to be vaguely frugal and not buying too much so that the freezer level keeps dropping. I'm using up some things in my freezer and fridge and I'm making lasagne again because, well, everyone really enjoyed it. Friday is being kept free because my good friend Lynne is finally getting married and we're all going to the party in the evening and I'm going for the day. On Thursday, we not only have dance lessons, we also have a meeting afterwards at school so that makes that afternoon and evening a little chaotic.

Here we go.

Monday - Slow cooker vegetable hotpot (my own recipe)
Tuesday - Paprika chicken
Wednesday - Lasagne
Thursday -  Bean burgers
Friday - keeping free
Saturday - Sweet and sour pork
Sunday - keeping free

Don't forget Mrs M has the Meal Planning Monday linky.  And tell me what you're having this week.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Tots100 Swagbucks Christmas Challenge - a call to arms!

Every now and then, I agree to get involved in something on this blog and then think, "Uh oh, what have I let myself in for?" Today is one such day; I'm sure I'll be fine but I need your help. Read on!

I am one of the twelve bloggers who has agreed to take part in the Swagbucks Christmas challenge on Tots100. The challenge is to see which blogger has earned the most points between now and 14th December and the person with the most points will win a £250 gift card.

Swagbucks is pretty new to this country but has been around in the US for about 5 years. You may have signed up to similar schemes in the past (I know I have) - it's an online loyalty scheme. It lets you, the user, earn points - or Swag bucks, as they are known, surprisingly - by doing the sort of thing you'd normally do online - watch videos, play games, searching, looking at and buying products. You can then trade your Swagbucks for items from the Swag Store or gift cards to be used at online retailers.

Over the next three weeks, I'll be posting about how I'm getting along with the challenge and providing you with tips to boost your own Swagbucks haul.  This is where I need your help. Everyone who signs up for Swagbucks using my referral link earns me Swagbucks. Not only that, when they start earning Swagbucks, I do too - so this is how it differs from previous loyalty schemes that I have used, which can be quite slow to accumulate a decent balance. So, if you'd like to earn some Swagbucks and help me at the same time, just click here and get registering.

My current balance is 39 points, which is, to be quite frank, pitiful. This is why I need you all to sign up via the link above. I promise you that it's easy and it's free, it's safe and it's legal. And who doesn't want to score some free stuff at this time of year? The potential to earn more points just from doing your Christmas shopping has got to be huge. Saving money as you shop has got to be a good thing at the most expensive time of year.

Keep your eyes peeled for more updates on here, Twitter and Facebook over the course of the challenge.

(As part of this challenge, I will be given extra points to boost my balance.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

OK, so who wants to win chocolate?

I thought that would grab your attention. One of the self-imposed rules I have for this blog is never turn down  offers of chocolate. Not usually for me, although I quite like chocolate, but husband loves his chocolate and obviously, Monkey and Missy Woo do too.

Luckily, a very nice lady regularly offers me the chance to try Hotel Chocolat products and we love their products. Obviously, with Christmas around the corner, this time we are looking at gifts for the festive season.

And boy, this one would make a special gift!

This is a chocolate wreath, known as the Purist wreath. A whole chocolate wreath, studded with almonds, hazelnuts, and jumbo golden raisins. The chocolate itself is 70% dark chocolate - my favourite sort - which is made from cocoa from a single estate in Ecuador. And it's solid; boy is it solid! Total weight is 450g and you need a knife (or a clean hammer!) to cut or chop it. This made it very chunky and crunchy to eat.

The chocolate is as rich as you would expect dark chocolate to be. Being quite chunky, we found it quite satisfying and rich to eat so we didn't gorge on chocolate. A box of chocolates would have lasted much less - we actually made it last several days without even trying. The children didn't really like the almonds but I loved all the nuts.

This would be a special gift for a lover of real good quality chocolate. It's quite expensive at £25 but if you can't afford that, there's a smaller one available for £9.

However, I'm giving you a chance to win one of your very own wreaths, worth £25 if you enter my little competition. It's been so long since I last ran a competition on here, I've almost forgotten what to do! To enter, just follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below. The competition closes at midnight on Thursday 29th November, so get entering.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Slow cooking made better - a Morphy Richards Innovators review

As you may have noticed from reading this blog, I do like my slow cooker. I bought one two or three years ago when I needed to cut back on the food budget. Over time, I've used it many times, all year around, and got to understand how to get the best out of it.

When I became a Morphy Richards Innovator earlier this year, however, I was hoping to get to try a better slow cooker because there was one thing that I didn't like about it. The pot. Most slow cookers, you see, have a ceramic pot so you can't put it on the hob if you want to brown any meat first - which isn't necessary but I do find it helpful and anyway, lots of recipes suggest. So, instead of your lovely simple one pot cooking, you have to get another pan and use that. It sounds a small thing, but really, the easier you can make slow cooking, the better.

When the email arrived offering me the chance to review one of their Sear and Stew slow cookers, I couldn't reply fast enough to say "Yes!". This slow cooker has a removable pot that is metal, and non stick, so it will go on your hob for the browning bit, then you can pop the pan straight into the slow cooker and leave it to do its magic.

What was even nicer was the cooker comes in different colours, and as I'm having a phase of choosing red things in a kind of retro 80s way, I went for that model.

My first impression when it arrived was how light it is. That is another benefit of having a metal pot - for the same strength, you can have a lighter and thinner pot. This means that it also takes a lot less space in my cupboard for a similar capacity pot - 3.5l if you're interested, which is about right for a family of four people.

I've used it a few times now and I love it! Obviously, being covered in non-stick stuff (that is a technical term), you have to use only plastic utensils, although you can easily buy spare pots if you scratch it to death. The only downside is the pot has no handles attached to it so you have to remember to pick it up with oven gloves and be careful with positioning on the ring. But it is pretty stable and it's a minor issue, plus I can't see how you'd get round it.

Its only other difference to my old cooker is that it has 3 heat settings - low, medium and high which I like as sometimes the high setting can cook a little bit too fast, especially if like me, you don't put your slow cooker on until after 9am and want it to cook for less time but not be overdone by tea time.

Apart from that, it's similar to my other slow cooker. What I have found when using it is that things stick to the sides less (of course, it's non-stick) and cooks quite fast compared to the directions in the recipe.

Talking of recipes, I have a little one for you. It's an adaptation of a family favourite recipe that I used to cook in the oven so I adapted it for use in my slow cooker and made it with chicken. This takes minutes in the morning although I guess you could get the first part done the night before and then just put it in the slow cooker in the morning. You have to add rice near the end but you could have it ready weighed out, tip it in as soon as you get home, and leave it to finish off. This goes well with some ready made poppadums and maybe some mango chutney. Feel free to add in nuts, raisins or other sambal ingredients before serving. You can use fresh mango if you like, but for complete ease, I buy those tubs of fresh mango in juice so there is no peeling and chopping. Do as you feel best - neither is right or wrong. Buy different heats of curry powder or chilli to make it as hot as you wish. As the children eat this (and love it!), I go for mild.

One word on rice. Don't overcook it or it goes to mush. A tip I can pass on is to use brown rice as it holds its shape a lot better. It might be a bit firm but it cooks as quickly.

I've made this with chicken pieces as chopped chicken breast can go a bit dry in the slow cooker.

Slow cooker chicken, coconut and mango pilau
Serves 6

6 chicken pieces, with or without skin
2 onions, halved and sliced
2 gloves garlic, crushed (or equivalent amount of frozen or lazy garlic)
3 tbsp curry powder, any strength you like
1 tsp mild chilli powder, or 1 fresh red chilli, sliced and deseeded
400ml can coconut milk, full or reduced fat
400ml chicken stock
400g brown basmati or easy cook rice
1 pot of fresh mango slices or 1 medium mango, peeled, stoned and sliced
Coriander (optional)
Flaked or chopped nuts (optional, to serve)

1. Heat your pot (or separate pan) on a high heat and add the chicken pieces. You won't need any oil unless you are using skinless pieces, in which case, add 1tbsp oil. Brown for about 5 minutes on both sides, turning a couple of times. Lift out the pieces and place on a plate.

2. Add the onions to the pan, and fry in the fat rendered from the chicken for about 5 minutes, until it softens and starts to colour around the edges. Add the garlic, curry and chilli powder to the pan and cook for a further minute to release the aromas of the spices.

3. Tip the chicken back into the pan and stir to coat them with spices for a minute or two. Pour in the coconut milk, stir, then add in the chicken stock (you can make it from a cube or you can use fresh). Bring the pan to the boil, then transfer to the slow cooker. If your pot is not suitable for hob use, then pour the contents into  the pot in the slow cooker at this stage. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for about 4 hours.

4. An hour before you want to eat, add the rice to the pan and stir to combine. Turn your cooker up to high if it's not already and leave until the rice is done. When it is done, turn the cooker off and leave it to stand for 10 minutes. Chop the coriander, if using, and stir in this, the mango and any other ingredients you want to add just before serving. Serve, with poppadoms if you like.

If you fancy buying one of these fabulous Sear and Stew Slow Cookers from, the good news is I have a code SC0123BLOG that will get you 30% off any of models 48701, 48702 and 48703 - that's over £10 off, making it even better value. Two of the models are out of stock at the moment, they are selling that well. However, you can sign up for an email alert when it comes back into stock, if you must have the red version like me, for example.

If you're interested, I have a few more slow cooker recipes on my blog that you can find on my Recipes page . The sausages in onion gravy post is the second most read post on this blog!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the no-shop/low-shop edition!

As you may have seen me mention last week, the fridge and freezers in our house seem to be overflowing with food so I'm going to try to avoid doing a big shop this week and use some of the things lurking away in them. The meal plan I've chosen therefore is based on leftovers (as we had roast pork yesterday), one meal carried over from last week after last week's plan got rejigged  as Monkey went out for tea on a different day and didn't want to miss the chicken pilau, and meals based on meats or veg that we already have. Out of the whole plan, the only thing I am going to have to buy is courgettes and possibly some mushrooms - Monkey wanted to have curry this weekend and asked for it to be courgette, mushroom and potato (I know!). And for the first time in ages, we have different meals for the children and the grown ups - just because I have two portion meals in the freezer!

Don't expect any culinary novelties - I didn't want anything requiring special ingredients. Here we are.

Monday - Shredded pork with homemade barbeque sauce sandwiches with bubble and squeak cakes
Tuesday - Slow cooker chicken and mango pilau
Wednesday - Bangers and mash
Thursday - Lasagne with garlic bread
Friday - Breaded chicken steak with oven chips for the kids, casserole for the grown ups
Saturday - Courgette, mushroom and potato curry (based on this recipe)
Sunday - keeping free

This might make a bit of a dent in my freezer capacity but there will still be plenty in there. And I'll have saved a few pennies for Christmas!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Seasons Greetings?

Yes, yes, yes - the dreaded C word again. I'm sure if you're trying to be organised and have a horror of December shopping, you'll be getting presents bought now. The less organised of you will be leaving it a bit last minute. And in the name of helping out the second of those two groups of people, we have been madly testing something that might appeal.

A hamper.

From Interflora.

Yes, Interflora now deliver gifts as well as flowers and have recently launched their Christmas Gifts section. There are some eye popping hampers there but we got to try something slightly smaller - our hamper was appropriately named Seasons Greetings.This can be delivered next day so it's perfect for the leave-it-until-the-last-minute brigade.

The box turned up and it looks a lot smaller than I imagined a £50 hamper would. There was a nice range of products included - wine, biscuits, crisps, cake, mince pie, chocolates, jam, chutney etc. The reason for the small box soon became apparent - everything, apart from the full sized bottle of wine and the pack of chocolate covered brownies (which are actually biscuits!), seems to be smaller than you'd expect. The jam and the chutney jars are around a quarter of the size of standard jar, there are only 3 mince pies in the pack, and a 125g box of chocolates does NOT go far in this house, let me tell you.

We have been personfully testing as many of the different products over the past few days as we can. The chocolate covered brownies were the biggest hit. I liked the mini ciabattas (which are little biscuits) and the crisps and shortbread were as nice as you would expect. There wasn't anything we've disliked. There just wasn't a lot of it.

Therein lies my problem with it. As value for money, I feel it could be a lot better. You could buy full sized packs of similar quality products in the supermarket for about half the price. Yes, the basket is nice - but it can't be that much. This is definitely a product of convenience rather than value. Well, to me anyway. You might feel differently about that, especially if it means you don't have to dash round shops in December, you don't have to do the wrapping, and you don't have to deliver it to the intended recipients. It would suit a couple rather than a family. That, or you're to expect the chocolate to disappear in a flash, she typed, looking pointedly at small children and husband.

Would you send a hamper for Christmas?

(Interflora sent me a Seasons Greetings hamper to try. All opinions are my own)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Corned beef and lentil soup

This recipe (see also Cowboy corned beef 'n' beans pie for details) takes a lentil and bacon/pea and ham soup and gives it a twist. Instead of using cured pork products, I'm using beef instead! I figured it would work well. If you happen to Google corned beef soup, you get a lot of American recipes using the fresh cured product so this product is made for the tinned version instead. It has a slight spice kick to it, but not too hot that the children will turn their noses up to it. Mine won't anyway. Anyway, this is another really easy store cupboard recipe that will fill you up and warm you up on a cold winter's day. No need for tinned stuff.

Corned beef and lentil soup
Serves 6


2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
About half a 340g tin corned beef, cut into 1cm cubes
2 carrots, chopped quite small
4 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mild chilli powder (or hot if you dare or 1 fresh chilli, chopped and deseeded)
2 litres beef stock
500g split red lentils, rinsed and picked over

1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan, and add the onion and carrots, cooking for 5 minutes to soften over a medium heat, then adding half of the corned beef cubes to the pan. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring as little as possible so that the corned beef gets some crisp and colour.

2. Add the garlic, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder, and cook for another 2 minutes until you can smell the spices. Pour in the stock and add the lentils. Cover and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer for about 20 minutes. The lentils will lose their shape and look pale yellow when properly cooked.

3. While the soup is cooking, heat the rest of the oil in a small frying pan and cook the rest of cubed corned beef until crispy. Serve the soup sprinkled with the cubes of corned beef sprinkled on top and with some nice crusty bread.

(I was asked by Princes to develop some recipes using corned beef and they sent me 6 tins and an apron for this purpose.)

Cowboy Corned Beef 'n' Beans Pie!

Princes have asked me to come up with some recipes using corned beef as it's more frequently used for sandwiches. Obviously, the standard recipe is corned beef hash but as they already have that recipe on their site, I thought I'd think of something else and came up with a pie. If you look about, a lot of people call a potato topped pie a hash too but to me, a "proper" hash sees all the chopped ingredients (hash comes from the French "hacher" to chop) all fried together, and usually topped with some kind of egg.

The other thing that corned beef goes really well with baked beans. I thought I would combine all three elements here to make an easy, but yummy winter family dish which is pretty cheap to make too.

Cowboy Corned Beef 'n' Beans Pie
Serves 6


1kg white potatoes (starchy rather than waxy), peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
340g can corned beef, cut into 1-2cm cubes
1 tbsp dijon mustard (or whichever mustard you prefer)
1 tbsp dark muscovado sugar or molasses
1 tbsp tomato ketchup or tomato puree
420g tin baked beans
400g tin chopped tomatoes
50g grated cheddar (optional)

1. Place the potato chunks into a large saucepan, cover with cold water, cover and bring to the boil, then simmer until they are soft enough to mash.

2. In a medium pan or frying pan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for around 5 minutes until softened and colouring at the edges. Add the corned beef, turn up the heat and cook for a further couple of minutes. Try not to stir and turn the beef too much as you want to try and get a colour to the beef. Add the mustard, sugar, and tomato ketchup or puree and give everything a quick stir, then add the beans and the tomatoes. Have a good scrape around the pan so that anything that has stuck to the bottom lifts off and adds flavour to the mix. Season to taste. Pour into a large ovenproof dish - I tend to use a deep lasagne dish.

3. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. When the potatoes are done, drain the potatoes and mash them with whatever you choose to mash with - I used a knob of butter and enough semi-skimmed milk to stop the mash being too stiff but at the same time, not too runny.  Top the corned beef mixture with the mash, ensuring that it is well covered.

4. Place in the oven and cook for about 30 mins, until the top goes slightly brown. If you are using cheese, scatter it over halfway through cooking and if you need to brown the cheddar, finish off for a couple of minutes under a hot grill. Serve - a good dash of ketchup, brown sauce or even barbecue sauce goes well with it. (Actually, if you want the whole pie to have more of a barbecue flavour, add some to the mixture in place of the ketchup in step 2.)

See my other post for my corned beef and lentil soup!

(Princes sent me 6 tins of corned beef and an apron so that I can create some recipes using their products. I have not been paid further for writing this post.)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the Nearly New Sale edition!

Yes, it's that week. The week when I'm busy as anything. Way too much going on and Saturday is a day when I walk miles. I've done *counts on fingers* 14 nearly new sales in my time, mostly handling the money. Since stepping down as the branch's treasurer, I've always helped count the money, which is good as this weekend, I'm counting the money again and running the show as the current treasurer can't make it as she's away on a course. Saturday after a Nearly New Sale is always Chinese. Always.

The rest of the week is going to be kept as simple as possible as I also have a governor's meeting on Tuesday night and Friday, I will be helping to set up the hall for the sale. Although I went shopping with Monkey yesterday and there is food everywhere. Perhaps I will be having a "no shop" meal plan next week!

Eyes down, look in here we go.

Monday - Lazy cheesy vegetable hotpot
Tuesday - Spicy bean burgers
Wednesday - Slow cooker chicken and mango pilaf (recipe coming up)
Thursday - Red lentil, chickpea and chilli soup
Friday - Slow cooker barbecue ribs
Saturday - Chinese
Sunday - Roast pork etc.

And that's your lot. And before you go, two things. First, bob over to Mrs M's to check out everyone else's meal plans. Second, if you are in the Lancashire area, bob on over to our sale on Saturday, which is at St Michael's High School in Chorley, 12 noon start or 11.30 if you are an NCT member and can show your card. £1 entry, bargains galore.

Say hi if you see me, I'll be the one dashing around looking a bit stressed, but visualising my Chinese in the evening!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Five truths about eating that will help you be successful at losing weight

I've posted about losing weight in the past but suffice to say that the last year has not gone well for me. One thing threw me off track and it took me a very very long time to get my frame of mind back in the right place. But it is now, and a change of gym with the associated changes in routine that has created can only be a good thing and I feel I'm heading in the right direction. For me, I have gone back to basics and do things that I know work.

There are a lot of column inches written in newspapers and online about diets that is complete and utter baloney. So, today, I thought I would write down a few things I have learned over time that help me be successful and stay successful. I'm not promising diet miracles, but develop these as good habits and you will be on the way to success. And it takes time to develop good habits - at least 3 weeks.

1. Exercise alone will not help you lose weight if your diet is not right.

Ask any personal trainer, and they will tell you that you can never outrun or outpump your mouth. You can't hope to lose weight if your diet is not right, partly because exercising makes you hungry, which makes you eat more. Unless you are planning to exercise all day every day, and let's face it, who has time to do that unless you are an elite athlete? Pay closer attention to what you are eating, combine with exercise and you'll be much more successful.

Talking of which....

2. Tracking what you eat really helps you cut down.

However you do it, writing down everything you eat is a sobering experience. When it's written down in black and white, it will look a lot. Add in the calories and you have a powerful tool on your hands. Before smartphones, I used to sit there working it all out. Now, I use a site called My Fitness Pal to track it all as it has a lot of common foods in and you can add your own. It tells me how many calories I can have to achieve the progress I want and I can add exercise in to give me more calories to eat. I can add foods I've eaten from my smartphone, my iPad and my laptop so I can add it quickly anywhere. It's tough at first (see below) but after a while, it becomes a habit. It means weighing some things but that's not a bad thing. The minute you stop weighing and guessing portion sizes, you automatically eat more. Weigh and record. It's the way to go.

3. You will feel hungry. At first. 

You're trying to change habits, eat healthier, lose weight. Change is not always easy. Particularly if you are eating fewer calories, your body is used to getting more so you will, at first, feel hungry as your body demands the calories it's used to. But do not fear, this is not your life for evermore. If you tough it out for a week or two, sticking to roughly the same calorie level on most days, you'll suddenly find that you're not quite so hungry after all and that you are happily living on fewer calories. It's the initial hump you have to get over. The answer is to accept you will feel hungry, but also make sure you're drinking enough water - our brains can sometimes mistake thirst for hunger. And some very low calorie snack ideas if it becomes too much.

This fact is one of the reasons that the 5:2 diet doesn't work for me -  I never quite get over the hunger of the "fast days" and really, it's miserable being very hungry a whole day at a time. I managed for the first couple of weeks but then I started to dread fast days.

Which leads me to:

4. Learn what foods help to keep you filled up for longer.

There are a few types of food that do work to keep you feeling sated and warding off the hunger pangs which is useful in the early days in particular.

They are:

- protein, particularly lean ones (so lean meats, fish, low fat dairy, beans and pulses, etc)

- fibre (so beans, wholemeal bread or anything wholemeal, vegetables)

- soup of any sort; apparently the same meal pureed into soup stays in your stomach longer than the individual ingredients eaten as usual.

Out of that, you might be able to spot that things like beans on wholemeal toast, any soup with meat and beans, and a nice bowl of porridge are all good for hungry tummies and usually, quite diet friendly.

And finally...

5. Don't starve yourself totally.

You still need to eat enough, so your body gets nutrients and your metabolism stays as close to its current level as possible. If you go on one of these very low calorie diets, your body will adapt so that your metabolism drops (by losing muscle, which burns calories even when you're sleeping), so you need fewer calories and your weight loss slows down - and worse, if you go back to eating normally, you'll regain the weight quicker than you lost it in the first place.

It's also worth noting that if you have a few really strict days, the odd day off is not such a bad thing as it tricks the body into keeping your metabolism the same as before. Bodybuilders, on very strict diets pre competition to lose as much fat from their body as possible, still have one totally unrestricted treat meal each week.

Diets that promise massive weight loss in a short space of time are diets that should make you very suspicious. After an initial drop, you should really aim to lose no more than 1lb of fat per week, maybe two at a push. I've got MyFitnessPal set up to tell me what I need to eat to lose a pound a week. Anymore is just depressing.

Dieting is not all about eating certain foods in a particular order or whatever fad is in this week, it's about eating healthily in a way that you can sustain for a long time because, unless you are just losing a pound or two, it's for the long haul.

(This includes a personal recommendation for My Fitness Pal. I have not been paid for this post - I just think it's a fab tool.)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Yes, it's November so I can mention the C word!

I made Christmas cakes on Sunday. Yes, cakes. I'm not really a domestic goddess, I made baked bean tin Christmas cakes from this post by Jules. Actually, it was a bit of a long process. First, I bought the fruit and started soaking it a couple of weeks ago, in brandy.

We also had to eat our way through 12 little baked bean tins. The children enjoyed this challenge, discovering new flavours of pasta and beans with sausages, but not Dora the Explorer pasta. I'm not daft, it would cost me a fortune as small tins of beans and pasta seem to cost approximately twice as much as large tins.

Once washed out and all the ingredients purchased, I set aside Sunday afternoon to do this. Jules warns in her post that lining the tins is fiddly and boy, she is not wrong. I started at about half past two and even with Missy Woo "helping" me, I didn't finish lining the tins until 4.45 - at which point, I thought I had better make tea for everyone then get on with the actual mixing and baking. (Do as Jules says if you do this - buy paperclips to hold the paper in place, it really helps.

The recipe is quite generous in amounts. That or I've got small tins! I tried not to overload the tins but went back round to fill them nicely. And finally, just before the Strictly dance-off, the tins finally reached the oven. Interestingly, the cake mixture rises quite a bit - which surprised me as the flour is plain and there is no baking powder added either, so it must be the eggs or something. I placed whole almonds on the top of a few cakes before I put the cakes in the oven, so that they can be left plain as not everyone likes marzipan and icing.

Once cooked, I left them to cool and they were still warm at midnight. I was therefore removing them from tins at 1am, before putting them into storage boxes. These are being saved for Christmas presents, some for teachers, some for family and I'll get the kids to help me decorate them.

Also, on the theme of Christmas preparations, I have damson vodka hiding in the airing cupboard, and some recipes ready to hand to make in the run up to Christmas. And yes, I've bought some presents with some to buy but that's boring. I like making Christmas presents for people to eat.

How about you?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Meal Planning Monday - the 5th of November edition

Corny but true;  I can't believe how fast this year is going, particularly so since September. Half term has been and gone, although the children have an extra day off today and go back tomorrow so we have one more day free of routine then it's back to normal. Well, kind of. Husband has the evening off tomorrow as he's got a meeting, the children and I are going to see the Cbeebies pantomime being filmed on Wednesday after school and Missy Woo has a friend coming for tea on Friday. Consequently, she has chosen tea - and reminded me that she's been asking me for chicken nuggets for a few weeks and I've not been able to fit them into the plan so this is being rectified this week. I've chosen the rest.

Talking of which...

Monday - Sandwiches (no, we are not going out to see fireworks. Tried that Saturday and Missy Woo didn't like the noise!)
Tuesday - Sausages in onion gravy, yorkshires, mash and broccoli
Wednesday - Sandwiches again (I'll be on a train, OK??!)
Thursday - Minced beef and sweet potato stew
Friday - Chicken nuggets, chips, carrot and cucumber sticks, tomatoes
Saturday - Roast cauliflower and hazelnut pilaf
Sunday - keeping free (though roast pork is a possibility)

That is our week, full of warming hearty food again. What are you having? Why don't you tell me, then head over to Mrs M's where the rest of the week's meal plans can be found.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Half term snow fun with the snow Scrooge (me)

I am not good with snow and ice. It's one of the reasons I loathe and detest winter. If I think it's going to snow, I am very on edge. I am not overly happy about it, unless I don't have to go anywhere and can stay close to home. I have never been skiing. Hardly surprising, isn't it?

Poor husband quite enjoys boarding. We have the Chill Factor-e fairly nearby, which is the UK’s longest indoor skiing and snowboarding slope. It opened when the children were quite small and we've been inside. Husband has been there by himself to go boarding but as you can tell it's not my thing!

The children love snow, as children do. It's just me that's the snow Scrooge. You'd think living on a hill as we do would be great for snowplay but the last few winters have been too much and the best they could manage is snowball fighting and the odd snowman.

Receiving an invitation to come and try out some of the activities at Chill Factor-e's bloggers' party was therefore an exciting prospect for everyone else, and as it fell in half term, it meant something to do for the kids, and as husband works evenings, he could come along for the trip.

On arrival, we were taken to a big changing room and got changed into our ski clothing, helmet and boots, which was fun with other bloggers and their families. We were taken onto the nursery slopes to have a go at two different activities, tubing and sledging.

Before long, I got told I was going tubing. Tubing involves sliding down a slope in a big rubber ring. I watched the children going down in the rings and was not convinced. They seemed to enjoy it, I wasn't sure I did. Eventually, it was my turn. I sat in my ring and someone pushed me down the hill. I can't really tell you what it was like as I closed my eyes and they stayed closed until I came to a stop but I basically slid down the slope, and up again at the end, before the stop finally came. I stood up and could hardly feel my legs. That was my activity for the day, I just spent the rest of the time taking photos. Missy Woo didn't really like the tubing because she couldn't control the speed but Monkey, adrenaline junkie that he is, loved every second of it. To be fair, most people did.

We soon moved on the sledging. Missy Woo loved this much more as she could control the speed with her legs. The only problem the children had was if they put the sledges down too heavily, the sledge would set off by itself down the slope. Husband tried the luge as well - Monkey wanted to try it but had so much fun sledging, he ran out of time to try it.

After our activities and divesting ourselves of all the snowkit, we repaired to the bar, where the children ate copious amounts of pizza and chips with the friends they'd made on the slopes. They had to make more pizza , and more chips - clearly, playing on the snow is hungry work.

Apart from the activities on the lower slopes, there is a lot going on there - including extreme sledging on the main slope, and the world's first snow-sphereing ride, Avalanche. It's nice and if you like that sort of thing, you are spoiled for choice. My one issue is with the price - I know it's manufactured snow and the costs must be high but the total cost for a family day out is huge. Their group "Big Family Day Out" for a family of four can cost from £112 up to £200. And that's before you've bought food, petrol, etc.

I knew that they did children's parties and that they were expensive. We were told that they were relaunching the parties and I saw signs offering party packages from £9 per head, which is a lot more reasonable. However, on investigating it further, that only applies to snowplay parties for infants under 2. The cheapest package for snowplay parties cost £15.50 per head, and the cheapest party with food cost £17 per head, and I just don't think that is competitive. Yes, some people will pay those prices but in the competitive market that is children's parties, there are cheaper alternatives that people will use because they can't afford it. It's a shame really, but it all adds to the image that skiing and boarding is an activity that is for people with money. I am probably being churlish here - tell me if I am, I don't mind - but I can't afford those prices and I'd have to consider alternatives (I don't think I spent £200 in total on birthday parties this year).

Still, we did have a lovely time. Well, I did if you didn't force me to slide down a slope on a rubber ring and the others enjoyed the activities as you can probably tell from the photo of Monkey above. Sadly, it won't be an experience we will be repeating shortly as the price prohibits that if you are on the budget. Therein lies the problem with Chill Factor-e - great idea, way too expensive for the mass market.

(Chill Factor-e invited us to try the activities as above, and provided us with free clothing and boot hire for the duration of the session, and lunch afterwards. I have not been paid further for this post. All opinions are my own.)
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