planning

How much are you planning to spend on Christmas this year?

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Morning has broken

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The ‘habit of schooling’ our society has developed over the last 150 years means that we send nearly all our children to school for 190 days a year. This brings with it a degree of domestic mayhem every morning, and this post is designed to help you conquer this disorder. In terms of time management, allow yourself about at the very least 30-60 minutes in total for all the jobs listed below, depending on family size, age of children, and how well everyone is trained to assist. So just to reiterate, if you work outside the home, you will need to plan for at least an hour in total of bustling activity to get everybody up, dressed and out, on condition that school bags, uniforms, briefcases and packed lunches have been prepared the night before. Therefore for most people, if they get up around 7-7.30am, that will fit in with most day to day commitments during the week, whilst allowing time for a well planned start to the day. Therefore that may be something to aim for in the first instance, while you are getting used to an organised regime. (I’d be interested to know how long you spend getting out the house in the mornings – look in the Polls category on the right hand side of the screen to vote on how much time you spend on this).

  • Make sure family members open their bedroom windows when they get up, and throw back the bedclothes to air. (10 seconds)
  • Once you are washed and dressed, go straight downstairs to set the table very simply and make breakfast (porridge and toast is best if you are on a budget, along with juice or milk for the children and tea/coffee for adults). This job could also be done the night before. Bread rolls and spreadable butter are probably the laziest option if you really aren’t a morning person. (5-10 minutes plus eating time)
  • After breakfast, clear the dishes (use a tray to speed this process up, and also at the same time send someone around the house to collect waif and stray mugs and so on from the previous evening ), stack dishes ready for loading into dishwasher, wipe table and sweep under table if necessary. (5-10 minutes)
  • Next load or unload dishwasher as necessary, or do washing up and put away most or all dishes (if you are going to be out at work all day and only coming back just before supper, you might want to recycle some of the clean dishes immediately so you can leave the table set ready for the next meal, as they do in hotels and restaurants). (5-10 minutes)
  • Wipe kitchen sink or kitchen worktop as necessary. (1 minute)
  • Next empty kitchen bin if necessary, and put in new bin bag, wipe bin if it needs it. (3-5 minutes depending on the state of bin, but probably not every day)
  • Make children’s beds (preferably with their help). (5-10 minutes if it’s just duvets)
  • Make own bed and hang up errant clothes. (5-10 minutes)
  • Clean and tidy bathroom as necessary (eg hang up towels, check there is enough toilet roll and soap). (2 minutes)
  • Close bedroom windows, finally remember to lock up everything if you are going out – OK, I know I’m sounding like a mother of four now. (5 minutes)

Image: healingdream / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Weekly food spend poll

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Holiday poll 2014

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Do you want to ride your bicycle?

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Here’s a simple check list for getting your bike up and running now it’s the better weather.

You will need

A pump that actually fits your tyres. This might have a little tube thing that comes out of the end and screws onto both  the wheel and the pump, in which case it’s designed for a Schrader valve. If you need to screw the pump straight onto the wheel, and there’s no removable tube thing,  it’s called a Presta valve. Some pumps will have an adaptor so they can be used for both types of valve. Keep it handy in your hallway or garage.

Some WD40 spray oil in a can, or cycle oil.

Batteries for your lights.

A cycle tool or set of hex keys and spanners to fit your bike.

A bucket of warm water, a cleaning cloth, non stick pan scrub and some Cif.

How to do it

1. Wipe down the main areas of your bike with the Cif to remove any mud. Avoid cleaning the chain. Rinse, and polish dry.

2. Tighten up anything that appears to be rattling, reposition anything that seems to be rubbing on things that it shouldn’t. For example, if your brakes are squeaky, it may be that they have got knocked and just easing them to a central position will solve the problem, adjusting the brake pads carefully so they don’t touch the rim of the wheel when in motion, but are near enough to do so if you decide to brake. If your mud guards are rattling, again, ease them into a central position or tighten up any nuts. If your seat or handlebars don’t feel completely secure, a couple of twists with a spanner should do it.

3. Pump up your tyres so you can only just press your thumb into the top where the tread is once they are fully inflated. Don’t overfill them, otherwise the inner tube will burst. If you underinflate them, you will wear the inner tube out.  Get into the habit of pumping them up at least two to three times a week for optimum performance. Carry a small pump with you when cycling for emergencies.

4. Replace the batteries in your lights so they are ready for use and don’t run out unexpectedly.

5. Give the chain a couple of drops of oil, or a spray or two of WD40. You might also do this for your bicycle lock.

Organising family cycling – top tips

Make sure everyone has a parcel carrier and/or a basket so they can carry their own gear, however young they are. Even our smallest child has a basket on the front of his Postman Pat tricycle for his cagoule and teddy.

Teach children independence by getting them to lock up their bikes safely and securely (so they don’t fall over or get knocked) whenever they park them, and attaching the locks to holders on their bikes when they are riding them. Combination locks can be a little unreliable but are easy for children to use, and can be complemented with an adult D-lock on family trips, when you can lock several bikes together.

Have a box with spare pumps, light, batteries and basic repair kit readily to hand, so you can easily repair things if you are in a hurry. There’s nothing worse than embarking on the school run only to realise someone has a flat tyre, but that another family member has lost the only pump.

Make friends with your local bike repair person so they are more willing to mend a flat tyre for you in a hurry.

Children always need to wear helmets, even on bike paths, as they come off more often and hit their heads, and their skulls are soft. Adults need to wear helmets in traffic, or when doing sports cycling, or if unsteady, but statistically are more likely to break an arm or a leg in other cycling accidents, so strictly speaking have more of a choice in whether a helmet is truly necessary for them, depending on a risk assessment of the cycling conditions. Keep your family cycle helmets on a shelf in a row or hanging from a row of hooks, so they are easily accessible.

Image courtesy of http://www.metalcowboy.com/presskit.shtml

Weekend Cook Fest 2

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Lemon roasted chicken, chicken risotto, chicken soup

 

Ingedients:

  • 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.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Weekend Cook Fest

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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

Ingredients:

  • 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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net