Stop press – completely free children’s meals in Debenhams!

Until 27th April, you can feed your kids in Debenhams for free (no adult purchase necessary).

More details here:

Welcome to the Miele Silence Plus S8390 vacuum cleaner box opening. Oh Yes.

At 7.30am this morning (that’s 0830h German efficiency time) I opened the door to take delivery of a free vacuum cleaner from the people at Miele. Mainly to amuse my teenage offspring, in a cool-ironic-parent fashion, I thought we ought to have what is known in the trade as a ‘box opening’ post. Normally this is what young men in t-shirts do when they take delivery of a new games console or smartphone ahead of the pack. Whereas in previous generations they might have been marching around a square doing National Service, or hefting an axe down a coal mine, now they spend their time sharing their experiences of gadgets with other young men in similar t-shirts. Indeed, to achieve a proper box opening, an entire day of their lives is invariably spent opening said box and fully evaluating the contents, whilst filming it for posterity on YouTube. A distinctive feature of the box opening is the improvised narrative, recorded in a lugubrious semi-monotone, disguising their insane excitement at the new and shiny gadget. Fortunately, today you will be spared such a narrative.

2014-04-16 08.50.13-2

2014-04-16 08.22.39

Very long cable, pole and pipe all cut down workload.

So what do we have? Well , the outside of the box has lots of shiny pictures promoting the features. Most of the little pictures make sense, and paint a picture of a brighter, cleaner domestic world if you only buy their vacuum. One of the pictures remains elusive though – something called ‘Dynamic Drive’ with a red arrow pointing up and down, which doesn’t appear to correspond to any part of the vacuum I can see.


2014-04-16 08.50.23Suddenly I notice that my son has put his fingers on his lips in an imitation of the cherubic unisex child on the box. A feature of this product is supposed to be that it is so quiet, you should be able to vacuum while your children sleep. As an experienced parent, I hope you will not attempt this too often, as my position is that when children sleep, parents should generally also be resting (or at least having a sit down with a cup of tea and a fondant fancy). However I accept occasionally there may be a need for running the vacuum around – for example if a visit from one’s mother-in-law is imminent. But I do think the Miele chaps have missed a marketing trick here. The main reason for making a vacuum quiet is because an unreasonable proportion of children are terrified of the noise they usually make, and anything to calm the situation down can only be a good thing in terms of flogging the product to parents. (Of course, the reason the vacuum is so quiet is apparently because they have redesigned the motor so it uses less than half of the wattage of many of their other products, which also saves energy).

Upon opening the box to a mental, if not literal, fanfare, I find a smaller box with pipes and accessories.

2014-04-16 07.41.23I am pleased to see that there is a telescopic pole, which makes hoovering a lot simpler for anyone over 5 foot 4, and allows remotes cobwebs in the corner of ceilings to be dealt with effectively, if one is trying to avoid a Dickensian ‘Miss Faversham’ domestic chic.  Accessories are the normal ones – upholstery tool, crevice nozzle (Ooh, Matron!) and a dusting brush. We also have instructions and an invitation to pay for a 10 year warranty for £50. As Miele vacuums are nigh on indestructible unless you go berserk with the annual Christmas tree needle offensive (as I found out to my cost in the past), I am not sure I will need to do this. In fact the people at Miele have calculated that if you hoover for an average of 45 minutes a week, this beast will last 20 years.  (Worryingly such a statistic also indicates that the average woman will spend something like a total of 15 weeks hoovering during their lives unless they live in a equality-minded household where they share the task. A better reason for feminism I do not know).

2014-04-16 07.41.41The main brush is quite clever and has different setting for carpets and hard floors, that you adjust with your feet  as you shift from one surface to another. Retro fitting accessories from earlier vacuums is possible, so from time to time, I will probably be using my well loved Miele turbo brush, the Ferrari of vacuum accessories. Being a bit of a housekeeping nerd (WHO KNEW?) I also have a mattress attachment and an extra long crevice nozzle that I bought from Miele in the past, which I use periodically. (These people take hygiene seriously. I noted with amusement when I ordered my bits and pieces that they also supply attachments so you can vacuum your computer, car, or even horse, repeat horse. Sadly they don’t seem to do attachments for vacuuming children yet).  The main brush clips onto the body of the vacuum for storage, and the other accessories sit inside it so they are readily to hand as you pootle about with the vacuum.

Another significant feature is that this vacuum has a HEPA filter. This stands for High Energy Particulate Air, and is a medical grade filter which in this case removes dust and pollen from the air. If you have an asthmatic in the family, or someone with a serious allergy to pollen, a HEPA filter will make a lot of difference to your symptoms. You will need to change this every few months, depending on how often you vacuum.

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All the accessories fit inside the lid.

Is this vacuum a good Austerity purchase? It’s actually quite expensive in the first instance (around £250), but it did win a Which? best buy award, as it’s clearly a highly effective and well engineered vacuum. The low energy quiet was unnerving to us at first, as we are used to associating dramatic motor noise with effective suction, but it was clear to us it worked well on linoleum, wooden floors and carpets, and on the quiet setting it really was, well, quiet. So if you have a family house, and an allergy sufferer in the family, the Miele Silence Plus S8390 may well be worth saving up for.

Weekly cleaning schedule

The following grid lays out a typical cleaning schedule for a family with a couple of school-aged children once again, with one parent around for an hour or two during the day and able to do some cleaning.






1. Remove bedclothes and put clean ones on
2. Wash  bedclothes (take them out of the tumble drier as soon as they are ready, and fold them, to reduce ironing time) 

- wash whites at 60C with whites washing powder and fabric conditioner

- wash light coloureds at 40C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

- wash dark coloureds at 30C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

Note: All laundry can be done at 30C if there are no stains, to be more environmentally friendly.

3. Put away  bedclothes neatly in airing cupboard
4. Dust and vacuum bedrooms, including underneath and behind beds
5. Vacuum mattresses once every month or two to prevent dust mite building up
6. Launder duvets and pillows at least once a year, preferably on a hot summer’s day when you can get it all outside to dry easily
7. Empty bedroom bins
1. Dust and vacuum living room (including windowsills, sofas, tables, TV unit, and tops of cupboards)
2. Throw away any dead flowers and water plants
3. Tidy toys, bookshelves and insides of cupboards as necessary
Big clean of family bathroom and downstairs WC
- clean bath, toilet, sinks
- clean shower, shower screen and mirrors
- clean taps (using descaler if necessary)
- make sure there is spare toilet roll and soap
- change towels and flannels and launder old ones
- dust tops of cabinets
- hoover and mop floors
- empty bins
1. Wash your clothes – to prevent a washing mountain, only get as much washing going in one day as you can wash, dry, fold/iron and put away that day, or at the very latest the next.
2. Take everything out of the tumble drier as soon as it is ready, and fold it all, straightaway to reduce ironing time to practically zero) 

- wash whites at 60C with whites washing powder and fabric conditioner

- wash light coloureds at 40C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner, Consider using colour catcher sheets for mixed washes.

- wash dark coloureds at 30C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

Note: All laundry can be done at 30C if there are no stains, to be more environmentally friendly.

3. Big clean of kitchen
- clean oven using cream cleanser on washing up sponge (if reasonable) or oven cleaning gel (if bad)
- clean hob with cream cleanser, or use a special blade if it is ceramic
- wipe extractor fan with cream cleanser on washing up sponge, and rinse off
- Wipe worktops and tiles, including behind toaster, microwave, kettle, etc.
- Hoover bits off floor and then mop
- Polish sink and taps, using descaler if necessary
- Empty bin, wipe down outside and put in new bin bag
- clean tops of cupboard and light switches at least twice a year
1. Wash, dry and put away children’s clothes
2. Do any mending that’s needed
3. Iron some of the children’s clothes if necessary and make sure there is enough uniform ready for next week.

Weekend Cook Fest 2

Lemon roasted chicken, chicken risotto, chicken soup



  • 5 lb/2.5kg chicken (largest one you can find)
  • 3 large onions
  • 2 lemons
  • Herbs
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • Bundle fresh or dried herbs
  • Bay leaf
  • Swede
  • 1 oz porcini mushrooms
  • 2 oz grated parmesan
  • 7 oz risotto rice
  • Swede
  • 1 oz vermicelli or stellini pasta.


Technique and organisation:


STEP 1 – Roasted lemon chicken

Take a normal roasting chicken, put a peeled onion in thecavity along with a lemon cut into quarters, squeeze the juice of a lemon over the top, rub softened butter on the breast, and sprinkle with dried herbs (preferably lemon thyme) and freshly ground black pepper. Roast according to weight (20 minutes a pound plus 20 minutes in a hot oven), until the bones easily come away from the body and the juices run clear or straw-coloured. Serve for Sunday lunch.


STEP 2 – Chicken stock

After lunch, take all the remaining chicken off the bone, including the little patches underneath, and reserve the meat. Put the carcass into a large saucepan with 3 pints water, a chopped carrot, some chopped celery, some fresh or dried herbs and a bay leaf tied in a little bundle, and a peeled onion cut into quarters. Seasin with salt and pepper. Boil this up for about an hour to make a stock, skimming any foam as necessary. When it starts to taste good, strain, cool and put into the fridge (it also freezes well, incidentally). You need at least two pints (1 litre) stock for the following two recipes.


STEP 3 – Chicken risotto

To make the risotto, an hour before you would like to eat it, soak a 1 oz packet of porcini mushrooms in water according to the instructions on the packet. When the mushrooms are soft, strain and reserve the liquor. Then fry 7 oz of risotto rice in a large, deep frying pan in a little sunflower oil, until the rice is glistening and coated. Pour in a mixture of 2/3 chicken stock and 1/3 mushroom liquor little by little, allowing each bit to be absorbed before adding more. In total you should have added 1-1.5 pints liquid. Once the rice is cooked, and all the  liquid has been absorbed, toss in about 4oz of chicken pieces, the chopped porcini mushrooms, and about 2oz grated parmesan. You can also add a handful or two of frozen peas if you like, and a slug of white wine. Heat through thoroughly and then serve immediately.


STEP 4  – Chicken soup

For the chicken soup, just before you would like to eat it once again, finely chop an onion and fry in a little olive oil until transparent. Add 3 sliced carrots, 2-3 sliced celery sticks, and some small cubes of swede, and some crushed garlic to taste, and sweat the vegetables for a few minutes until they start to soften. Then add 2 pints of chicken stock and any remaining cooked chicken pieces you have to hand (if there’s none left, just use vegetables). Cook for about 20 minutes before adding the pasta, wait until the pasta is soft to the bite, and then serve immediately.  You can puree the soup with a hand blender for a more sophisticated presentation.


Vintage Spring Cleaning Tips


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).

Cheap cinema trips and home made popcorn

Image courtesy of worradmu, freedigitalimages. net

Image courtesy of worradmu, freedigitalimages. net

It’s the Easter school holidays, and given the rather uninspiring weather, I imagine many people will be off to the cinema at some point. If you are on a very tight budget but still trying to entertain your offspring, here are a few tips to make the most out of your visit without breaking the bank.





Tickets. If you are a member of the Tesco Clubcard scheme, it is possible to cash in some of your hard-earned points in order to get free cinema tickets, for Cineworld, Movie House and Odeon cinemas. In the case of Cineworld and Odeon, these vouchers are sent by email so can be almost instant. The link is here: if one of you receives Disability Living Allowance, Attendance Allowance, or Personal Independence Payments, you can apply for a Cinema Exhibitors’ Association card for £5 for a year, that allows a carer (which can be anyone) to accompany you for free.

Snacks. No, your eyes will still work if you resist the temptation to chomp away on food during a film, and yes, you can spend something in the region of £4 a person on corn syrup filled processed rubbish or an overpriced bottle of water and a bag of fruit gums (shame on you, chain cinemas!). But consider trying the following, being  aware (of course) that it’s not fair to make a mess of the cinema’s upholstery or leave your rubbish behind if you are doing this (that’s their argument for discouraging people from taking in their own food, which is fair enough up to a point).

- Avoid the fizzy drinks and fill up a sports bottle with water or juice instead – incidentally diluted juice is better for your teeth and health in general than the full-on kind.

- Alternatively as a middle road solution, let your children choose cartons of drink with straws from a supermarket in advance of the trip.

- Take your own sweets or crisps with you, or even better, dried fruit (you can even make this in the oven yourself by slicing pineapple, apples, mango or similar and baking them overnight at a very low heat). That latter tip is for those people whose children will not be mortified by thrift in a public place, however. We don’t want children feeling they must do a consumer walk of shame at all times.

-  In the past I have created little packs with a drink, small packet of Haribo sweets, and some home made popcorn for kids to enjoy at their own pace during the film.

And now for my home made popcorn recipe.


Heat about 50g of maize (popcorn kernels) in a microwave on full for 4 minutes in a Pyrex or ceramic dish with a lid on the top (use a plate if you don’t have a proper lid).

Approximately  50g of maize kernels just covers the bottom of this Pyrex dish.

Approximately 50g of maize kernels just covers the bottom of this Pyrex dish.








Tip into a large mixing bowl.

Popcorn ready in the largest mixing bowl I possess. 50g of maize feeds about 1 adult.

Popcorn ready in the largest mixing bowl I possess. 50g of maize feeds about 1 adult.












Heat up 50g of butter over a low heat until it is melted, then pour into a little dish (in the pictures below I am using a repurposed heat proof glass dish that came with a ready made dessert).

Heat up 50g of butter over a low heat. Do not allow it to go brown.

Heat up 50g of butter over a low heat. Do not allow it to go brown.












Let the butter stand for 30 minutes – you are basically making clarified butter here. Skim off the foam from the top, and just spoon the clear liquid over the popcorn. Leave the milk solids behind.

Clarified butter immediately after heating. It is not ready yet.

Clarified butter immediately after heating. It is not ready yet.










Clarified butter has been left to stand for 30 minutes. You should just be able to see the thin layer of milk solids at the bottom. You will discard these.

Clarified butter has been left to stand for 30 minutes. You should just be able to see the thin layer of milk solids at the bottom. You will discard these.













With your hand, toss the popcorn in the melted clarified butter, and then add a couple of tablespoons of caster sugar before tossing again.

Decant into self-sealing food bags to take with you (discreetly, please).

Popcorn in self-seal bags for transport.

Popcorn in self-seal bags for transport.




The Weekend Cook Fest

An alternative to cooking every day is to ensconce yourself in the kitchen for a few hours at the weekend while the rest of the family is busy, or while the roast is cooking, for example, and prepare several dishes at once that can take the pressure off the rest of the week. It can also be a more economical way of making the most of your ingredients. To that end, I am introducing a number of different weekend batch cooking projects that you can work on with the radio on in the background, a cup of decent coffee by your side, and hopefully any offspring taken outside for a bit of a walk and a play by someone else, to come back rosy cheeked and fresh faced to gobble up all your food with gusto.

Bolognaise sauce, lasagne, chili con carne


  • 3 lbs mince
  • 3 large onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tins chopped tomatoes
  • Herbs
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • Packet no-soak lasagne sheets
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2 oz flour
  • Pint of milk
  • 2 oz strong-tasting cheese (Gruyere or Parmesan)
  • Tin red kidney beans
  • Pinch chilli pepper

Technique and organisation

STEP 1 Bolognaise

Chop 3 onions and fry up in a little sunflower oil in a large deep pan, until they are transparent. Add 3 lbs best mince, and cook until the meat is browned. Then add 3 tins of chopped tomatoes and three crushed cloves of garlic, as well as a dash of Worcestershire Sauce and any herbs you have to hand, such as thyme, basil or oregano.  You can also add a slug of red wine if you have a bottle open. Allow to simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the meat has taken on the flavour of the seasoning, and it is reasonably thick. Set aside about a third of this mixure for bolognaise sauce, allow to cool and put into the fridge.  On the day, serve with pasta or rice.

STEP 2 – Lasagne

You will need to set aside another third of the sauce for this. Get a baking dish, or deep baking tray, and lay out a layer of no-soak lasagne sheets in the bottom, pour a layer of the sauce over it, top with another layer of no-soak lasagne sheets, and so on, carrying on until you have more or less reached 4/5 of the way up the dish.  Now you need to make a white sauce for the top. To do this melt 1 tbsp of butter in a milk pan and when it is liquid add about the same amount of plain flour. Taking the pan off the heat, beat them both together frantically to make a paste. Return the pan to the heat. Add a pint of milk little by little, beating with a wooden spoon as you go along, until you get a smooth sauce. If it goes lumpy, beat it aggressively with a whisk, or if the situation is very desperate, put it in a blender for a few moments. Once the white sauce is ready, use it to pour on top of the lasagne, and grate a bit of parmesan or gruyere cheese over the top. Allow to cool and putinto the fridge covered with cling film. On the day, heat for 20 minutes in a hot oven, until the centre is hot and the top browned. Serve with a side salad and/or garlic bread.

STEP 3 – Chili con carne

Add a tin of red kidney beans to the remaining 1/3 of the sauce, and a pinch or two of chilli powder (as much as you will all be comfortable with). Allow to cool and put into the fridge. On the day, heat thoroughly and serve with rice or tortillas.

Image: Suat Eman /


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