Also remember you can watch me on Channel 4 on Superscrimpers on Mondays at 8.30pm most weeks, with household and cooking tips aimed at making everyone’s lives just that little bit easier and cheaper.
Home made BBQ
No BBQ? Don’t worry. If you get hold of a few paving slabs and old bricks, you can improvise. Put down two slabs on the ground, then put three or four layers of bricks on top, wide enough for the grid out of your domestic grill pan (you don’t need mortar for the bricks, or anything like that). Rest your grill pan on top and use logs or BBQ coals to create a fire on the slabs. This is also a good way of making an impromptu fire pit as well. Do be careful around children, however.
No money for garden furniture? Consider laying a couple of pallets down with a mattress on top to make a sunbed, or if you would like to entertain, get hold of an old table, chop the legs down to half the height, and paint it to create a Japanese style table. Your guests can sit on cushions.
Garden and park kit
Create an outdoor play kit so you can relocate to the garden at a moment’s notice, and you don’t have to keep running in and out of the house for things. You might want to include a couple of beach towels, a waterproof picnic rug, suncream, sunglasses, flip flops, a decent novel or magazine, and a swimming nappy for any little ones.
Have a pretty basket or box with all your picnic equipment in, ready to go. Collect things like salt sachets and salad dressing packets so you don’t have to scrabble around much on the day.
Home made ice lollies
Fill your freezer with ice lollies, either made in a special mould or just made in ice cube trays with cocktail sticks stuck into them. Good flavours to try include coke, lemonade, squash, and fruit juices. Adult versions can include tomato juice with a splash of vodka, avocaat, and tonic with a splash of gin.
Holiday at home
If you can’t afford a hotel stay, just pretend. Actually swap bedrooms. The children can move around into each others’ rooms, or even share rooms a la sleepover for a change, with sleeping bags if necessary. If you are lucky enough to have extra space, parents can even sleep in their own guest room, which might even have been prepared specially for the occasion hotel-style. This might involve a bit of decorating or tidying up, fresh flowers, supplies of glossy magazines and upmarket beauty products in sample sized bottles, and a drinks/snacks tray. Failing the presence of a guest room, try upgrading your normal bedroom in the same way.
By popular request, here are two nettle soup recipes for you to make the most of all those lovely vitamins and minerals in the tops of the nettles. Just make sure you are wearing gloves and only remove the young, fresh shoots from the top of each plant, and avoid collecting them from areas that are too near traffic or where they might have been sprayed with pesticides.
1 lb nettle tops or enough freshly picked ones to fill your largest saucepan, pressed down a bit
Tbsp olive oil
1 pint chicken stock
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Dash of creme fraiche
Chop the nettle tops roughly and saute them with the onion, allowing the mixture to sweat in the pan a little. Then pour over the chicken stock (you can also use vegetable stock if you prefer). Cook until the leaves and onion are really soft and then puree the soup in a blender and season with salt and pepper as desired. Add nutmeg to taste. Serve with a cheeky little dash of creme fraiche.
1/2 lb nettle tops
1 lb floury potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
2 oz butter
1 1/2 pints chicken or vegetable stock
4 tbsp double cream
Chop the nettle tops roughly and saute them with the onion, allowing the mixture to sweat in the pan a little as in the previous recipe. Then pour over the chicken stock (again, you can also use vegetable stock if you prefer). Cook until the leaves and onion are really soft and add the potato. Cook until the potato is soft enough to mash into the soup. Strain the soup to remove lumps (a French mouli-legumes is best for this, but if you don’t have one, just strain it through a colander. Don’t use a blender or food processor as it will get gelatinous). Finally stir in the cream and season to taste. Good served with bacon bits sprinkled on top, if you have any.
Someone asked me this week how to help them get rid of their rhinitis (ongoing runny nose) and I suggested that a good first start might be to upgrade their spring cleaning to deal with any potential dust mite problems. Here’s how you do it.
1. Open all the windows.
2. Damp dust all surfaces. One way of doing this is to use a spray bottle of water and an e-cloth, which will work on practically all surfaces if you are careful.
3. Change your hoover bag and hoover every inch of your flooring. Ideally you should use a hoover with a HEPA filter, or buy one as an optional extra. This filters the air so any dust mite poo (for that is the main problem) doesn’t recirculate in your house once you have sucked it up.
4. Wash all your bedding at 60C, or if you can’t, air it outside on a sunny day.
5. Thoroughly hoover your mattress. Sometimes you can buy special attachments for this.
6. Wipe your windowframes down with a dilute solution of bleach and water to remove mould spores (another potential culprit).
6. Leave your windows open as long as you can (at least an hour) after that.
Anyone who has teenagers at home will be aware of the sheer scale of the eating that has to take place during the course of the average day, in order for them to survive. The problem in our household is that quite often this takes place surreptitiously from the biscuit tin. Now biscuits are great if you have one or two of them, now and then, but if you feed your face with them ad infinitum, they will upset your appetite/body chemical balance and consequently reduce the number of more appropriate nutrients you take in during your main meals. Naturally telling teenagers this is a complete waste of breath, because biscuits are a) nice, b) handy and c) easy to pilfer. Hence the tendency to eat too many quick release carbohydrates.
As a way of combatting this, my husband and I recently came up with the idea of having a ‘teen shelf’ in the fridge. We stocked it up with Cheese Strings, Dairylea dippers, chicken drumsticks, dried apple slices, yoghurts, low fat chocolate mousses in little pots, portion sized yoghurt drinks, carrot batons, little packets of olives (my eldest is rather partial to an olive or two) and low fat Sunbite crisps. In some ways this goes against the grain for me, because I am not a great fan of either processed food or excess packaging, being austerity minded, but in this case we wanted to try it as an experiment to see if their eating habits improved.
Now a crucial part of this cunning plan was firstly not informing the teenagers of what we had in store for them, and secondly making sure the packets were opened just a little bit, so it looked like this was unattended food where a little bit of snacking would be fine (despite their food pilfering tendencies, they are paradoxically quite well trained and polite about not opening new packets of food unnecessarily, to avoid waste). Obviously in the case of the yoghurts and dippers we didn’t open the actual pots, but just took the multipacks out of the cardboard sleeve and separated the individual pots. Similarly we split the pack of Cheese Strings into individual mini packets. The olives we left sealed.
This project seemed to be an immediate success. We noticed that the Cheese strings went first, plus some dippers. Great, I thought. Calcium being ingested. Then they moved onto the chicken drumsticks and carrot batons, and one or two low fat mousses disappeared after lunch. Eventually my eldest enquired about whether he might be allowed to take a little pack of olives, and went up to his bedroom with them. The teen shelf is currently pretty empty after a weekend of grazing, but the children ate their normal meals more enthusiastically as well. This was reassuring because usually there is a complete disconnect between the effort made to give them a hearty home cooked meal to counteract the snacking, and their propensity to actually eat the stuff we have bothered to prepare carefullyfor them.
We have kitchen dominion! Now all we have to do is remind them of the delights of the fruit bowl …
Saucepans with burnt on stains – soak in washing soda (aka soda crystals) and hot water, and the burnt offerings just lift off. Incidentally you can also soak stained clothes in soda crystals before washing, use soda crystals to keep drains clear, use them to remove grease when cleaning, and use them to remove moss and algae from patios. They will do practically everything except make you a cup of tea, I imagine.
Houseplants – wipe over with a soft damp cloth. You can also give them a quick hose with a hand shower if they are very dusty. A quick wipe with a cotton wool ball and some milk, mayonnaise or oil will make the leaves shine, but make sure it’s all wiped off properly afterwards, so the plant’s leaves can breathe.
Yellowed linens – boil on the hob in a pan with a bit of biological washing powder or soda crystals in there, and they will come up really white.
Wallpaper with scribbles and stains – take the inside of a large loaf of bread, and knead it into a ball of dough. You can then rub it over the wallpaper and many of these stains will come off. This technique should not be used on flock wallpaper, however.
Wallpaper with dust – if your wallpaper has a velvet flock, you can clean this by hoovering it carefully on the lowest setting, with a pair of old tights tied over the end of your vacuum’s pipe. The tights trick is also a great way of finding earring backs and contact lenses that have been dropped on the floor.
Vintage furniture polish – take a quarter of a pound of beeswax pellets (these can be ordered reasonably cheaply from most chemists, if you ask nicely, or on the internet, or use old beeswax candle shavings) and put them in a large jar with enough turpentine to cover them. Stand it in a pan of hot water, and leave it until the beeswax melts into the turps. Screw the lid tight and use as required. (Do be a bit careful with the turps, as it is inflammable. Traditionally the advice was to leave this mix in a range oven on a low heat overnight, but I’m not advising that on the basis of the fire risk).
Leather balm – mix two parts of linseed oil (flax seed oil) with one part of vinegar, wipe on with a soft cloth, and buff with another cloth. Any spare linseed oil comes in handy to oil wooden doors that are looking a bit dry and neglected. You can also eat flax seed oil, for example in Eastern Europe it is eaten with Quark (curds). Avoid licking your leather furniture after you have cleaned it, though, because that’s just wierd.
Vintage rugs – you can clean these by tipping cool used tea leaves onto them, and then brushing the tea leaves off with a moderately stiff broom. Any dust sticks to the leaves, but this is not suitable for light coloured rugs. For this, you can use fresh grass cuttings instead, unless they are cream or light yellow, in which case you are better leaving them alone or having them professionally cleaned. Fragile rugs can be hoovered gently on the lowest setting as for flock wallpaper (see above).
Lingerie and delicate woollens– Wash by hand in the sink with specialist washing liquid, liquid hand soap or shampoo. Some lingerie can be put into washing machines in a net bag, if you are prepared to risk it.
Stains – There are many specialist products on the market to deal with stains, but if the item is white or very light coloured, and funds are tight, consider using a weak solution of bleach to get rid of things such as tea and puree stains. Otherwise just keep in stock two: one for organic stains (grass, juice, tea, coffee, baby food, sweat and so on) and one for non-organic stains (biro ink, nail varnish, etc).
Whites – These can be bleached by the sun. If you start your washing early in the day, when it promises to be fine weather, you will be able to hang it outside and allow it to be aired very thoroughly whilst benefiting from the sunshine in this way. Plus it always feels virtuous to have a row of sheets flapping in the breeze, and there is the added pleasure of burying your nose in the pile secretly and sniffing it after you’ve brought it indoors (or am I the only one who indulges in this?)
Pressing - Not all items can be ironed in a straightforward manner, or they will rapidly become shiny and shabby. Dark woollen and tailored items (such as formal trousers or a school blazer) should be ironed on the back, or if a crease is required down a sleeve or trouser leg, you should use a pressing cloth. This involves getting a clean tea towel or old cot sheet, soaking it in water and then wringing it out, and then placing it on top of what you want ironed, pressing onto that rather than the garment below. Also be careful with t-shirts with transfers on the front, as these tend to melt when a hot iron is applied.
Shoes – Many fabric shoes such as trainers and plimsolls can be washed in a normal domestic machine if they are placed in a pillowcase or specialist net. Again, there is an element of risk but they nearly always come out looking better than before. Leather shoes should not be washed in a machine, however, as they invariably shrink. Instead, try wiping them over and then using cheap handcream to bring them back to life. This also protects the leather.
Shoe care – Always keep a simple shoe cleaning kit to hand, and have a once-a-week shoe cleaning session. The best polish is the cheap wax in little tubs, and you should also have at least two brushes per colour (one for applying polish and one for removing it) plus a soft duster for buffing to a shine. If you don’t have shoe polish, you can use milk or even old hand cream. It makes sense to keep various pairs of spare laces at home as well, as annoyingly it will always be on days when you are in a hurry that your laces go just before you have to leave for work. If leather shoes get wet, stuff them with newspaper and leave them in a warm room to dry. Do not put them near a direct source of heat, or they will crack and shrink.
Home dry cleaning – If you have a tumble drier, dry clean only clothes can be refreshed and simple spot stain removal can be carried out using special kits available in supermarkets.
Sewing box – At the very least, this should contain white and black thread, a packet of pins, a packet of needles, some safety pins, buttons saved from old outfits, some sewing scissors, and some iron on hemming tape for emergency trouser repairs. Keep one in your clothes cupboard as welll to do simple running repairs upstairs.
Name tapes – If you want to protect your investment in your children’s school uniform, it is vitally important to label everything, and woven name tapes are the best option. Fold each end underneath, oversew with little stitches all the way round, and make sure you do a double stitch at each corner.