Tuesday, 28 January 2014

"New" house

I promised my grandparents some house photos months ago (are you sensing a certain theme here?) but kept thinking, "I'll take some when that bit's organised" or "when it's tidy" or "when we've got those shelves up".  Finally yesterday I decided it was about as good as it's going to get.

So: pretty standard front view.  Useful garage for stashing stuff in (and Graham's just got a chin-up bar and dartboard in there) and huge driveway.


Welcome!  I think... Not sure what that expression's about!


The hallway leads through to the living room on your right...


...which is nice and long, so we've partitioned off a toy section, which is not normally so tidy...


...and also off the hallway is the kitchen to your left.  The floor and counters have the curious property of really not showing dirt, which is useful to an extent, but quite disconcerting as well.  I always feel like I'm cleaning blind.


Looking the other way, through to the dining room and with the utility room, downstairs toilet and door to garage off to the right.


Toby wanted to be in the dining room photos, but he always pulls the worst faces he can think of for the camera right now!  This is looking through from the kitchen, and that door at the end goes back into the hallway again, right by the front door.


I've got my books and piano out after almost a year in boxes.  Feels good!


The utility room, which is perpetually full of washing.


And our spacious and amazingly well-kept (by the previous owners, I mean!) back garden.  I haven't been out there much lately, but I notice some bulbs are coming up, so it should gain a bit more colour soon.

Up the stairs we go, and, anticlockwise from right, it's the master bedroom...


...the spare bedroom, with sofa-bed made up in case we have to call the neighbours in the night when the baby starts arriving.  There's a desk back there behind the door, too - it's a decent-size room.


The room that is, really, going to be ready for the baby, just as soon as I put the curtains up and move those boxes out...


...the bathroom.  Not much to say about a bathroom...


...and last but not least, Toby's room.  The front windows, including his, have a view of the cooling towers from a now-disused power station (which sounds appalling, but actually they're strangely atmospheric).  For the first few weeks after we moved in, he would wake up, look out of the window, and announce, "Mum!  Dad!  There are five cooling towers!"  Now we've moved on to the more mundane shout of, "I want breakfaaast!"

Here endeth the virtual tour; but if you're in the area, you're very welcome to come and see it in reality.  Sorry it took so long, Grandma and Grandpa!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Advent and Christmas photos

I know, I know.  Waaay too late really.  But you want to know what I was doing when I wasn't writing Advent blogs, don't you?

 We had an Advent candle on the dinner table every night, and said a prayer together (which after ten days Toby could recite along with us; we were quite impressed).  Also Toby had an Advent calendar.  Yay, chocolate!

 We paid a visit to a Christmas fair in Matlock, about 45 minutes north of here.  Lots of handmade stuff to buy, and Toby got his first ride on a roundabout.  He rang that train bell all the way round!


 We put our Christmas lights up, and had many evening walks around the village admiring other people's.  This is Findern village church looking very atmospheric.


 We made and decorated a Christmas cake.  I kept things simple and used coloured fondant and cookie cutters, which was dead easy and meant Toby could help.  We made gingerbread cookies with the same cutters, and stuck fondant on top of those too.

 We attended our first ever Christingle service at the local church on Christmas Eve.  Everyone gets an orange with a candle and other things stuck in it, to symbolise Jesus as the light of the world.  And then everyone prays hard that their kid isn't the one to set themselves or anyone else on fire.

 We made Christmas crackers.  This was one of those "fun family activities" that I thought would be really nice, and instead turned into a "it's Christmas Eve and we still haven't made those stupid crackers!" activity, where Mum and Dad were grimly assembling the things while Toby got bored and started trying to shred all the components.

 We put our (rather large) presents underneath our (rather small) Christmas tree.

 We ate cranberry orange muffins, ham and eggs for Christmas morning breakfast.

We opened presents, of course!  This is the first year that Toby has been old enough to be excited about the whole thing, and it was great.

 Hand-knitted mittens and scarf from my mother-in-law!

 For some reason Graham got lots of beer.

 We ate Christmas dinner.  I think Toby enjoyed his Christmas pudding and custard, don't you?

And we had some friends over for Christmas tea.  Next day, it was off to see Graham's parents for a few days, and back just in time for my parents to come visit.  Busy but fun!

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Potato pancakes

I had a birthday recently, and my parents' present this year was a couple of cookbooks to add to my collection.  They are both collections of vegetarian recipes, and manage to incorporate things I would actually cook, which are also slightly different to what I cook all the time.  Cottage pie?  Sure.  Indian spiced vegetarian cottage pie?  Now that sounds interesting.




So the other day I was feeling adventurous, and came across a recipe for potato pancakes with spiced beetroot in the Accidental Vegetarian.  Is it me, or has beetroot become fashionable all of a sudden?  I can't remember when I last ate beetroot, never mind cooked with it.  In my head it was firmly tucked away with other weird muddy knobbly vegetables like celeriac and artichokes, that you've vaguely heard of but wouldn't have a clue what to do with.  And then suddenly you pick up a supermarket magazine and the cover story is something like, 10 best things to do with beetroot!

Anyway, the beetroot?  All well and good.  Turns out you can pick up a packet of it for about 80p, all ready-cooked and peeled and everything.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as Toby is fond of saying.

The potato pancakes?  Well, have you had those moments where you're halfway through some process and it's taken twice as long as you thought already and you wonder why you ever started?  Yeeaaahhh.  One of those.

Boil potatoes.  Yup.  Easy enough.  Pass through potato ricer or sieve.  Umm, I'm sure a potato ricer is very useful and all, but it's not something I've ever felt led to spend money on.  Until now, when I'm discovering exactly how tedious it is to try and push potatoes through a sieve.  Jesus talked about camels going through the eye of a needle; I could give him another illustration if he needed it.  Not being a chef, he probably never even considered that anyone might be dumb enough to want to sieve a potato.  (Although - how dumb do you have to be to want to get a camel through a needle, either?)

After much bashing and scraping, I gave up and tossed the rest of the potato into the mixing bowl.  If I mix it with the electric mixer, that'll work, won't it?  Add the flour.  Add the milk, gradually.  Aaagghhh!  The mixture's not only clogging up the beaters, it's creeeeeping up the stems and... quick!  Turn the mixer off before it becomes completely engulfed in mashed potato!  Drat.  Drat drat drat drat.

Scrape it all off.  Resort to spatula for mixing.  Wonder how there got to be bits of potato stuff all over the floor, the tiles, the fruit bowl and the pot of baking powder.  Look guiltily at watch and realise the boy should have got up from his nap twenty minutes ago, but hey, he's still sleeping and I. will. not. let. this. beat. me.  Somehow, this bowl of lumpy oatmeal slop is going to turn into pancakes.

Heat up frying pan.  Realise that the recipe's "large spoonful" equates to about a half-cup measure.  In what world is that a large spoonful?  Pour in the mixture.  Spread it out...

You know what?  Somehow, it did turn into pancakes.  They weren't bad, either, and the recipe made lots, so I have some in the freezer that I can pull out and serve without the two hours of crazy mess-making work.  Even Toby ate them (and appears to like beetroot, of all things) and he is being incredibly fussy about eating dinner right now.

Lest you think it was a completely happy ending... Toby still wasn't up when Graham got home from work, which is far too late, and he'd napped so long he woke up wet and incredibly cranky, and I felt like a horrible mum, and... oh yes, it was all fun and games for a few minutes.

But look!  I tried a new recipe!  I didn't get a photo of the beetroot version, and it really wasn't as photogenic as the beautiful picture in the book, anyway.  So here's the breakfast incarnation.  Greek yoghurt, fresh pineapple and a drizzle of maple syrup.  Mmmmm.


Anyone have a potato ricer they want to give me?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Toddler Food

Some months ago I asked for blog post suggestions, and my friend Claire wondered if I'd write about recipes for toddlers.  It's been in the back of my mind since then, and I thought I'd better get on with it before her little boy ceases to be a toddler!  These are not so much recipes as suggestions, though, since once we got past the pureed veg stage, Toby pretty much ate some version of what we ate.

Look at that beautifully healthy plate of food!  (Did he eat any of it?  I forget.)

So, the most important thing: GET AN ICE CUBE TRAY!  Or rather, several.  With ice cube trays, ziplock bags and a microwave, you can produce entire toddler meals in thirty seconds flat, and this will probably save your life.  Believe me, there is hardly anything you can't freeze in an ice cube tray.  Start with the aforementioned pureed veg, then move on to pureed meals, then pretty much anything that doesn't have large chunks in.  Bolognaise (spaghetti) sauce, lentil curry, chicken casserole, mild chilli con carne, vegetable tagine...

...or sausage stew.


Of course, you need starch too.  Mashed potato is the obvious one, and always a winner.  Rice and small pasta shapes work as well; just pack them into the cubes and pour water over to cover.  The only snag is you have to defrost them separately and drain the water off before you add them to the main course.

Once frozen, pop the little blocks out, bag them up neatly, put them back in the freezer, and smile a smug super-mummy smile.  Then, when the howling starts, calmly pick out a couple cubes of beef stew, a couple more of mash, nuke for a few seconds, stir well, and watch your lovingly-prepared instant meal get spread all over the highchair.  Or, as may occasionally be the case, mostly reach the mouth.

The variation on this, when they're a bit older, is freezing chunks on a foil-lined tray.  I mostly did cooked veg - carrots, sweet potato and so on - but it would probably work for diced cooked meat, too.  Bag up and defrost as before.

Carrot slices for freezing.  Quite artistic, too, don't you think?
And finally, if there's one recommendation I have to make for toddler food, it's this: canned refried beans.  Don't be put off; they do look and smell alarmingly like cat food.  And it may not be something you'd usually buy.  But get a can and a packet of tortillas.  Spread a few spoonfuls of beans on one tortilla, top with grated cheese, and another tortilla, and dry-fry or put in a panini press (I loooove my panini press!) until the cheese melts.  Cut into manageable pieces and present to toddler.  An Indian friend of mine recently came for lunch with her one-year-old, who apparently is generally very suspicious of anything that's not rice and curry.  You would not believe how quickly he hoovered up one of these!


If you need something a bit more portable, I used to spread the cold beans on a bit of bread or tortilla as a sandwich for Toby, and that always went down well too.  And guess what?  Yes, you can freeze the rest of the can in an ice cube tray!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Merry Christmas!

And a happy new year!

Toby as a snowflake for his first nativity play, refusing to pull any kind of sensible face!

Or Happy Twelfth Night, or Happy Epiphany, if Christmas and New Year seem like an aeon ago already.  Here, January 6th coincided nicely with Graham going back to work and Toby going back to preschool.  At least, I thought it did until I turned up at the village hall to find no one else there, and discovered I had missed a letter saying there was an inset day today.  Once I'd got over my initial panic that maybe he didn't start till next Monday, it was actually quite nice to have him around for an extra day.  He had to come to the doctor's with me, but he thought that was fantastic because there's a train set in the waiting room, and I was only getting a flu jab so it didn't take long.

I'm really glad so many of you enjoyed the Advent postings!  Your appreciative comments certainly kept me going.  I'm going to tell you now, though:  I am not a daily blogger!  I made it through, but only by reducing housework and many other things to bare subsistence levels, which is not a recipe for happiness in the long term.  And it takes up a lot of brain space, too!

Interestingly, it was probably more useful for those of you who read it than it was for me.  I was always thinking a day or two ahead, working out when to fit in the writing time, and focusing on how the different entries balanced each other.  Some of the actual writing was very satisfying (the Desiring poem was a highlight for me), some was fun (Thirsting, for example) and some was just hard slog (I think Travailing got re-written about three times).  So the experience for me was akin to hosting a party; I was too busy greeting people, topping up their drinks and making sure the sausage rolls were hot to completely relax and enjoy myself.  But it was generally enjoyable and I'm happy that everyone else had a good time!

Well, consider that to be the "making of" documentary on the Advent DVD.  And a bit of a kick-start so that I don't still have the Christmas Day post topping my blog at the end of January!  Having said that daily blogging is far too much, I really would like to manage once or twice weekly, so watch this space and feel free to nag me on Facebook if nothing has happened for a while.

And finally, something I didn't know: traditionally the upcoming moveable feasts of the church year were proclaimed on Epiphany.  So here you go - your handy guide to when Easter falls in 2014.

Epiphany Proclamation

(Seriously, we don't get Pancake Day till March?  What's that all about?)