Friday, 31 December 2010

Cloth Nappies

Now cloth nappies are not for everyone.  But they have quite a few advantages.  They are cheaper, kinder to baby's skin, they don't leak (mine anyway), and they don't fill the landfills.  Their disadvantages include lots of washing, they are a bit fiddly when out and about, and they use up water, soap and electricity.  They can also be a bit bulky looking compared to today's disposables, but I think they are cute.  (Disposables also use electricity to produce, travel and store in the shops, but you aren't paying their electric bill directly).

I knew that I wanted to try cloth, but admit I was really naive going into it.  In point of fact I had planned to do some research on the subject, but my son made an early appearance.  I hadn't even purchased the car seat yet when my waters broke.  (I had to get money from the cash machine in the hospital lobby and phoned my friend to pick it up from Babies-R-Us.  I couldn't remember the name of it but gave her a description of it!)

Back to nappies.  At the time the only ones I found in the shops were Bambino Mio and Kushies at Babies-R-Us. And I knew you could get muslin squares and terries at Mothercare and Boots.  (It did not occur to me that there were hundreds of brands available on the internet.  I was just starting out in this business.)  I chose Bambino Mio because they were cheaper and they dry more quickly. 

Bambino Mio are called pre-folds.  They have a rectangle of fabric which is folded and then covered with a waterproof cover.  The covers come in several sizes, so they fit the baby really well and are comfortable.  Forget the plastic pants of your childhood.  These are soft with velcro fastenings.  I was very quickly very disappointed with my purchase.  Maybe it was my poor folding technique, but I always found baby poo on the covers.  While you are meant to be able to use a cover through a few changes, I had to change the cover each time.  With only a few covers in the pack, I would run out before the end of the day and had to resort to disposables to get me through until I could wash and dry the nappies.  Even drying them on the AGA took  half the day or more.

When I complained to a new friend, she told me about Motherease.  I quickly went online and ordered some.  I also ordered some Wonderoos and some Kushies from e-Bay.  I later tried terries and muslins with nappy nippas.  I had one Motherease all in one.  And I bought one fleece nappy which was a homemade one,off e-Bay.

I have Motherease one-size shaped nappies with covers which come in different sizes.  The nappies are terry and mine have a stay-dry lining.  The nappies have snaps which adjust so you can fit them on a newborn or a toddler.  The covers have several snaps so they adjust around the baby's legs and waist, which makes them last for ages before you need to change sizes.  They are quite bulky on a baby I must admit.  But they never leak.  Ever.  And when the baby gets older you can add a snap in liner to absorb more urine.  I know people who have used these for four kids or more and so they last forever---although the cute designs on the covers do fade with time.

The Kushies from e-Bay were good, but I was expecting to have the all in ones.  Where the ones I won were just shaped inners.  I still liked them a lot, and used them with my Motherease covers.

The Wonderoos were a disaster for me.  I now know that I might have been washing them all wrong.  The other nappies could take a higher temperature wash.  I needed it to get rid of odours.  But these do not like to be washed above 40C apparently.  They also don't like too much soap or fabric conditioner, but no nappies do.  It reduces absorbency.  So my Wonderoos which were supposed to be this amazing, adjustable, birth to potty pocket nappy leaked all of the time.  I will try again with my daughter and see if I can make them work.  A pocket nappy is a shaped cover with a lining, and a pocket to place a thick pad in.

I found the Motherease all-in-one was not absorbent enough.  The fleece one I purchased both leaked and the velcro came undone.  I would find it slipping halfway down my son's trousers.  And terries were absorbent enough, but I couldn't find a neat fold I liked and the nippas came undone and scratched my son a time or two.  With all of these you will find many people who just love them, but these are my experiences.

For my daughter I would like to try adding some new ones to my collection because I think the Motherease will be too big on a newborn.  I have been researching my options and will outline them in a new post.

Using cloth nappies:

(There is a ton of info on the internet about using nappies.  And websites often have tips and advice services.  One of my favourite websites is Babykind.)

  • Assemble the nappies when you put them away to make it easier for you, and especially other caregivers to grab one
  • Keep a small basin nearby to drop the nappy in when you take it off.  Then finish the nappy change, and deal with the basin at your leisure.
  • Use flushable liners for ease of dealing with poopy nappies.  If they are wet you can wash them about three times to resuse them.
  • Do not flush the flushable liners if you have old drains---we made this mistake and it only took a few weeks of doing so to block up 4 metres of drainpipe
  • Once you have removed the poo in the toilet or rubbish, then place the nappy in a dry bucket with lid. Plan to wash every 2-3 days.
  • Do not buy an expensive nappy bucket from a nappy website!  You can get one for under £4 from your local discount store---you know the shops where you see piles of plastic bins and things outside.
  • If you are going to use cloth nappies, then use cloth wipes too.  You can use warm water, make a solution of wash using water and essential oils, or my preference is to use Baby Bits from Babykind.  They are tiny morsels of soap whihc you dissolve in a wipes box.  Then place your wipes in the box.  They need to be changed every few days.  
  • Buy the cheapest cloth wipes you can find.  But go for ones which have at least one side of terry, the other smooth if possible.  The terry really gets the gunk.  Or buy and cut up some cheap flannels. 
  • Use a gentle detergent.  If the nappies are really dirty, put them through a pre-wash.  If they become really smelly then put them in a really hot wash once in a while.  Some people wash wet and poo nappies separately.  I haven't tried that.  Some people soak smelly nappies in water and essential oil (lavender or tea tree). 
  • Above all read the washing instructions which come with your nappies.  They sometimes have different temperature requirements, etc.
  • Shaped nappies last longer and are a good investment if you are going to have more children or sell them used afterwards.  All in ones are easy to use, but sometimes wear out after a few years.  But you are still likely to save money of you buy two sets, depending on brand.  Do you research and read as many reviews as you can.

New Year's Resolutions 2011 Part 3

I have decided to work on three major goals for this year.  Two of them are family goals and one of them is more personal.

They are:

Create a routine around family meals

I work a regular schedule and my Other Half works shift work.  He is also African, and while I am sure there are millions of Africans who embrace routine, the one I live with is the laid back, eat dinner at 3 or 7 or 10 pm because "routine" is a foreign word kind of guy.  This doesn't quite suit the rest of us, and so we will attempt to schedule our meals from now on. 

Pay off our credit card debt

The word "debt" has always been a scary word and I have avoided it like the plague.  Until I was out of work for over a year.  Even then we managed very carefully until I got a job.  Then a few months into my job, wham!  A huge car repair bill, then new glasses, a few more expenses and we have never recovered. 

Cultivate joy in every day

I have days when I get frustrated that I am not living my dream of white picket fences and I really wish I could be a stay at home mother/domestic goddess.  Well with my inability to keep a neat house and our current finances these dreams are not going to happen.  But I realise I can take charge and still enjoy every day.  I can still bake cookies and make quilts if I stop moaning and start doing.  At least I hope so.  And bubble bath does not cost the Earth!

New Year's Resolutions 2011 Part 1

I have been writing in my journal for many years now.  I always liked this time of year when I would fill my journal with my hopes and resolutions for the years ahead.  I would list all sorts of goals from eating well and exercise, to making 12 quilts, reading 52 books, traveling to 3 new lists would take pages to write and I began each year with such anticipation for the wonderful things to come. 

Only, my resolutions would usually last less than a week.  (I often managed the 52 books).  But I created way too many goals for myself without any real plans on how to carry them out.  I spent year after year eating the same way, exercising (or not) the same way, and feeling bad about myself.  And so I decided to spend a few years refusing to create resolutions. 

The break has helped me in a few ways.  I have been focusing more on the everyday, appreciating the moment, and counting up my accomplishments.  I have been reading books on positive thinking and embracing the notion that I am doing the best I can at this moment in time.

I feel I am ready to make resolutions again and have asked my Other Half to join me in creating some family resolutions this year.  I would like to take the lessons I have learned into this next year. I would like to create goals which are achievable and really benefit my family.  So I have a plan......

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Homemade Baby Food

There are many advantages to making your own baby food.  First and foremost you know exactly what your baby is eating.  It is much cheaper than food in jars, even on sale.  And it tastes so much better.  I have no idea why jarred carrots should taste different to mine, but they do.

The disadvantages include the fact that it takes a bit of your time and your baby just might reject the jar of food you try to feed him or her when you are out and about.  (My son had a few jarred foods I could rely on for him to gobble down whilst out).

If you cook already, it really isn't that much of a problem to make extra for the baby.  To begin with babies start with rice cereal or something similar.  But shortly after this you can start single vegetable purees.  My doctor told me to start with vegetables.  She told me that babies always like fruit, but if you give them apple first, they may prefer the sweetness and reject peas. Most people agree: start with carrots.

You need to gather some equipment:

Ice cube trays
plastic freezer bags
or plastic food containers
mini food processor

I find it easier to either fit the cooking into my nightly meal prep or find a bit of time each week to dedicate to the task.

When you have a bunch of carrots on hand, steam or boil them until tender.  Pop them in the mini food processor.  (I have an attachment for my stick blender).  Puree using a bit of the cooking liquid if need be.  In a few months you will be blending this leaving a few chunks.  Put the puree in the ice cube tray.  Let this cool and cover in plastic wrap.  Freeze until firm.  Pop the carrot cubes out and put them in a plastic bag or box with lid.  And back into the freezer.

Repeat this process with spinach, butternut squash, sweet potato, peas, apple, pear, peaches, green beans, and parsnips.  Not all at once!  Just as and when you can put a pot on the stove. 

I have a small drawer in the freezer where I have my baby food cubes.  When I want to rustle up a baby dinner I grab two carrot cubes and one spinach.  Or one apple, one green bean, and one courgette.  Or whatever appeals. 

Some baby books recommend trying one food at a time for three days.  And some baby books say to never feed a baby the same thing within three days.  You can read up on all of that and make your decisions.  I know there are a lot of allergies out there.  I even know of a child who is allergic to onions and leeks.  But most babies are not allergic to peas and carrots. (Fruit allergies are the next big thing I hear). 

As your baby grows, you need to make sure your foods are lumpier and before you know it you will simply be mashing what you are cooking for your dinner----before you add salt to the recipe. 

This is just a taster.  If making your own really appeals then you can get some good books out there.  Annabel Karmel's books will become your bibles.  But there are loads of baby food books out there with great ideas for weaning, toddler meals, and family meals to appeal to adults too.


I love breastfeeding!  I think that it is utterly amazing.  Next to pregnancy and childbirth it must be the most miraculous thing that we are actually created to feed babies!  What engineering.  I know there are lots of folks out there who can't or choose not to for many reasons.  In this life we have to do what we have to do.  And that is okay by me.  But I am feel very fortunate that I was able to breastfeed my son and I hope to be able to do the same with my daughter.

Although I was keen to breastfeed my son, and attended the lecture on it during my antenatal classes, I was surprised to find that it was quite difficult at first.  Firstly because my son was in the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) for three days, and the nursery nurses kept feeding him formula through a tube in his nose despite the fact that I was meant to try feeding him first.  Then I found the whole process quite painful.  Both the latching on bit and the "letdown."  The breastfeeding video we saw in class told us that if it was painful then we were doing it wrong!!  So I panicked a little until a proper lactation nurse came by and told me that it was nonsense.  So after a few more days we started to get the hang of it and were allowed home.

At home the midwife came and told me that it takes six weeks to become an expert.  This helped me keep going because it was still quite painful.  The nipple creams helped with the sore nipples, but this letdown pain was hard to bear at times.  But sure enough within weeks we were flying.

I was feeding "on demand,"  and my son was demanding!  Sometimes I think I was feeding every hour.  I was producing tons of milk and leaking everywhere!  I slept with several layers of towels under me at night.  But that phase passed as well.  I thought I would continue for a year if I could.  I am lactose intolerant, so I worried whether my son could have milk.  And I really didn't want to mess around with formula if I didn't have to.  Traipsing around in the middle of the night making and heating bottles is not my idea of fun!

When I returned to work (when my son was a year old) I did indeed find I was able to continue breastfeeding morning and evening.  And he was eating food, yoghurt and sometimes milk in between.  I intended to stop feeding about then, but soon left that job and found myself home with him again. I breastfed him until he was just over two years old, which is recommended by the World Health Organisation. 

The way I got him to stop was by enlisting his father's help.  My son would come in to my bed each morning for a feed.  Then we would head downstairs for a banana, then cereal and Cebeebies.  So for one week I asked for help.  Daddy was to bring him down, feed him breakfast and otherwise distract him.  Worked like a charm.  The after work feed ended about the same time by simply telling him that I didn't have any milk anymore.  He did ask to check.  He wanted to see there wasn't any milk, but believed me when I was persistent.

I am not sure that I will feed my daughter for so long.  I really hadn't intended to go so long with my son.  I will be returning to work after about six months maternity leave this time around.  So I am not sure how I will manage that, pumping, etc.  I will have to consider this when the time comes.  I know that I will not be able to pump at work.  (Although it is law in this country that employees are allowed breaks and the space to pump while at work).  There is just no private place in which to do it.  Even the toilets would not be private enough and they are hardly appropriate places anyway.  So we will see.

Sick Babies

Chances are that your baby is gong to come down with a high fever after the doctors office is closed.  You will then stay up half the night trying to get your baby to swallow some vile children's paracetamol.  At least half of it will end up down their sleepsuit.  Then you get to worry about how much ended up on the jumper and  how much in the baby.  If you give the baby more, you could overdose the poor child.  If you don't give enough untold things will happen because you haven't reduced the fever. 

In the morning, when you have gotten through all of that, the two of you head to the doctor.  You are all bleary eyed and worried.  Your baby is bright as a button.  The doctor will tell you to keep giving the meds (and you still have no clue how) until the fever is gone and that your baby is fine.  For a crazy moment you wish your baby would cry or something so you don't seem like a first class idiot. 

In truth, the doctors will always say that they  are always happy to see you when you are worried about your child.  And even though they may see plenty of cases where they simply say keep doing what you are doing, they also get cases of more severe problems.  With some illnesses like meningitis and urine infections you really need a doctor to diagnose and provide immediate medical care.  In fact if you suspect meningitis you need to go to a hospital quite urgently.  It is well worth having a family medical book.  And keep the phone numbers for NHS Direct and out of hours medical care handy.  I phone them a few times a year at least.

In the first year of my son's life he went through at least a bottle of children's meds, albeit some of it just landed down his pajamas.  He had various fevers and teething pains, usually while his father was at work or out of town, etc!! It took another three years to get through the next bottle.  Partly because as he got older he was better able to refuse the stuff!!  Eventually they learn to tell you what is hurting them--which isn't as reassuring as it sounds!  You still have no idea what to do if they have a pain in their side....or their jaw...or any of the other weird and wonderful things they come up with.  But it all does get easier with experience.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Bolognese (sort of) and chapati

When my lovely Other Half moved to the UK he learned to love Sunday Roast Dinners and Arsenal football.  But there are some things he just doesn't do.  Like sandwiches.  And pasta.  And so he has invented a new dish for us.  He uses an adaptation of my brother in law's bolognese recipe (the best I have ever had) and some traditional foods from his native Tanzania.  The basic bolognese has two secret ingredients:  Smoked paprika, and fried mushrooms, added just at the end.  I am not sure where my brother in law discovered the recipe, so I cannot credit anyone else.

Following my cook once, eat twice philosophy, we try to make enough to have two meals or more.  The flavours are really nice the next day as well.  And this freezes well.
You will need:

1 onion
1 crushed garlic clove
500 g Mince--beef, turkey, or even cooked lentils
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Season-all, or to taste
1-2 tsp Mixed dried Italian herbs
2 tins chopped tomatoes (you could use a jar of pasta sauce if you are in a hurry)
2 cups stock or stock cube--to match your meat (beef, chicken, etc)
4-5 mushrooms
3/4 cup peas
chapatis--homemade or store bought

1.  Fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until softened. 
2.  Add mince and stir until browned.
3.  Add spices and herbs and stir for another minute.

4.  Add tomatoes or sauce.
Note:  You could simmer this for 10-20 minutes and then move to step 6 if you are in a hurry.
5.  Add stock and let simmer or place in a low oven or crock pot for 30 -60 minutes.  You can leave this longer.  The longer the better.
6.  Slice and fry the mushrooms.
7.  Place the peas in a large mug with some warm water from the kettle.  Microwave for 1-1.5 minutes.

8.  Before serving add the peas and mushrooms to the meat.

9.  Warm the chapatis either wrapped in foil in the oven or one at a time in a frying pan.  You can warm them dry or with a bit of butter until soft, but not crispy.

The meat is eaten with the chapati, rather than utensils.  You simply rip pieces of the bread and use them to scoop up the sauce.  It does takes practice!


When you don't have central heat you rely on your fire for heat from October to May (at least).  We use firelighters a lot and try to buy the "natural" ones which don't have chemicals.  They are perfectly safe for a child to pick up by accident.  Or I make my own.  I once saw similar ones in a catalogue.  They wanted £12 for them I think!  Mine are free. 

When I lived in America I would make firelighters using dryer lint, candle wax, and pine cones.  We don't have a dryer (or lint), or pine cones here on the farm.  So I gather old candle stubs, bits of shredded paper or cardboard, and sometimes spices. 

This is not one for the kiddies!  Unless they have adult supervision.


You will need:

egg carton (cardboard)
piece of foil
bits of cotton wool, dryer fluff, or similar
shredded paper, card
dried citrus peel or herbs (optional)
old candles
tin can

1.  Cut off the top of the egg carton and place the bottom on the foil.  The foil will prevent any wax from dripping on your table.
2.  Fill the egg cups with bits of paper, cotton, peel, etc. 
3.  Place old candles, chopped up in the tin can.  Place the can in a pan of water and put on medium heat.  Watch carefully to make sure the wax melts, but does not catch fire.  (I actually place the wax in an old foil tray in the bottom of the AGA and check on it often instead.) 
4.  Using an oven glove or pot holder, carefully pour the melted wax into the egg cups.  Use only a little in each cup to bind the bits together.  If you overfill the cups, the wax will melt through the cardboard carton onto our foil.  You could light a candle and let it drip over the egg cups, but I have found this method to take a very long time!

5. Leave the egg carton to harden and cut apart with scissors.  They are not necessarily beautiful, but they are effective.

6.  You can save any unused wax in the tin for next time.  And then collect bits of old candles in it.

Blueberry Muffins--Yum

Made them with dried blueberries and still great. It is great to have some time off work to bake with my 4 year old.


Zege means "concrete" in Swahili.  But please don't let the name put you off!.  Zege is very popular bar food or as a snack at home. Traditionally it is made by making fresh chips (French fries), but we use oven chips for ease.  Although zege is cosidered a snack, it is very filling.  So concrete refers to both its looks when it comes out of the pan and the filling feeling in your stomach.  We usually eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.


Oven chips---4-5 per person
1-2 eggs per person
salt and pepper
ketchup to serve

1.  Cook the oven chips according to the package directions. 
2.  When ready, put them in a large frying pan with a bit of oil.
3.  Beat eggs, add pepper, and add to the pan.
4.  Cook over a medium heat until the eggs are cooked through, flipping over to ensure they are done.  The zege will brown lightly on each side.
5.  Cut into pieces, split among the plates and serve with ketchup.  Add salt if desired.

Optional:  We sometimes add cooked chicken pieces to the pan along with the eggs.  In Tanzania zege is sometimes served with kebab as well.

Bloomin' Pregnancy

I definitely ordered a healthy, stress-free pregnancy this time around.  And I am usually happy with Amazon's service, but I will definitely be filling out my customer feedback form!!!

My younger brother and sisters used to watch Perfect Strangers on TGIF.  I had to babysit so many Fridays and had to sit through many episodes.  There is only one episode which sticks out in my mind and probably will forever.  The main characters were two cousins who lived together and evetually married the two women who lived upstairs.  When the women became pregnant, one of them bloomed.  She glowed.  She was happy and carefree.   The other woman was miserable.  She was grumpy and couldn't understand why she had such a rough time while her friend was cheery.  I was a teenager and right then and there I decided that if I ever became pregnant I would have the glowing version for sure. 

Before my first pregnancy I bought in to the Hollywood version of pregnancy.  The above episode was one of the few negative portrayals of pregnancy I had ever seen.  I think for most of us, pregnancy looks like this:

A busy, working woman unknowingly becomes pregnant and carries on symptom free until she starts throwing up in the mornings.  Unconcerend she carries on with her day job until a colleague makes a joke about pregnancy.  After a bit of shock and/or excitement, she carries on, eventually becoming ravenously hungry and eating out the house until she becomes so big that she has a bit of backache.  Then one day when she is shopping, or in the middle of an argument with her husband, her waters gush all over the floor.  Then there is a mad dash to the hospital where she screams a lot until a beatiful baby is delivered and all is forgotten.

Overall, pregnancy looks to be ok.  Shopping for baby stuff is fun, morning sickness isn't too disruptive, and your skin glows.  Labour is scarey and treated like an emergency situation, but the lead up can be quite pleasant.

When I started reading pregnancy books during my first pregnancy I was shocked to find what I had in store.  My favourite was The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy.  I was told to expect nausea all day, piles, backache, peeing a lot, acne, lack of appetite, and long labours unlike the Hollywood version. 

Even so when I became pregnant with my son I was not quite prepared for 8 months of nausea, cramping, bleeding, peeing ALL of the time, loose ligaments causing backache, heartburn, inability to sleep through the night (despite constant fatigue during the day), and premature labour.

Despite my strong love for my son and the inevitable feeling that "it was all worth it in the end," it took several years before I was willing to try it again.  I did some research this time.  I took heart in the fact that I knew people who were sick for the first pregnancy and not for the second.  I bought lots of vitamins and read about healthy diets preventing nausea. 

When I felt armed and ready I decided to go for it and became pregnant within the week.  I went off coffee straight away, and everything started smelling strong.  I fell asleep on the couch at the drop of a hat.  I felt these were good signs and took my pregnancy test.  Positive.  Yeah!  And beyond fatigue no symptoms.  I told work at 6-7 weeks and filled out my risk assessment.  And I was feeling ok.  And then it hit.  Nausea.  It is constant, unrelenting, and debilitiating.  I am at week 20 and it has eased only slightly.

I have tried ginger, peppermint, sea bands, dry crackers, eating small meals frequently, B6, magnesium, taking prenatals, not taking prenatals, eating fruit and veg, ginger ale, lemonade, resting, going out to distract myself, meditation, postiive thinking, and prayer.  I would like try homeopathy and accupuncture, but my wages have taken a hit since being off sick for so long and I cannot afford them now.

I still live in hope that it will clear up this time.  That I will feel better soon and start to bloom.  There are some days I even feel that it is happening, but then I end up in bed for the next two.  Oh, well.  It is worth it in the end!!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Spicy Pancakes

We love pancakes for breakfast and have them most Sundays.  Here in the UK thin, crepe style pancakes are popular.  I grew up having the traditional thicker, American pancakes.  I actually prefer the thinner version, but we make a variety.  Sometimes it just depends on my 4 year old and how much flour he puts in.  We eyeball the amounts because we do it a lot.

I love pancakes with lemon juice and sugar.  My son prefers a fake maple syrup called Mrs. Butterworths which I picked up in a shop which sells American stuff.  A while ago I decided to stir things up a bit so we started adding spices.

I use a great new pan I bought at Lakeland which has a granite like surface.  You don't need any oil, but I now put some in the batter.  No one is allowed to use this pan for anything else.  I was really tired of finding my pancake pan smelling like onions or spicy fried fish.  So this one is strictly off limits!

Pancake batter:

Makes 4-6 depending on size

Take one large mug of flour
the same mug of milk
an egg
pinch of salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cardamon
2 teaspoons of oil

Stir well to remove lumps.  Fry in a non-stick pan.  Use a bit of oil if necessary to prevent sticking.

Use self-rising flour if you prefer thicker, fluffier pancakes.  If you prefer thinner ones, add more milk.  I sometimes adjust the batter after my first pancake depending on what I want on the day.  The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Cook once, Eat Twice: Beef

I  grew up with a healthy appreciation for leftovers.  My father has an impressive collection of Tupperware, Rubbermaid, and margarine tubs.  I go more for a mixture of ice cream tubs and Lock-n-Lock.  I have also fallen in love with these pyrex glass baking dishes which come with plastic lids.  I fill them with macaroni and cheese, shepherd's pie, and chicken casseroles, then pop them in the freezer.  When I get home from work I can take one out and stick it in the oven for half an hour (plastic lid off of course).  My mother has some which have a glass lid and a plastic lid.  I can't find them in the UK, but continue to look.  They are also great for brownies and marshmallow crispy treats.


I love to cook once and use the ingredients for several meals.  I especially like it when I can use the ingredients and make new meals, not just reheating my roast dinner.  I am always on the search for ideas on how to spread my Sunday roast dinner over a few days.  It saves time and money.  Yesterday silverside beef joints were half price, which is even better!!

Roast Beef and Cottage Pie

Since I am starting with silverside, which is a leaner roast, I prefer to slow roast or braise it in the lower AGA (or low oven) for most of the day.  If I had a nice roast I would rub it all over with ground allspice and roast it at high heat as normal.

Back to my braise. I have a 2 kg joint which I coat in flour and fry to brown on all sides.  Remove the roast from the pan. 

Add to the pan: (the amounts are optional based on what you have lying around)
sliced onions
sliced carrot (and other root veg if you have any)
two beef stock cubes or beef stock
fried onions or dried French onion soup mix (optional)
bay leaf
ground allspice (or any other spices you prefer---garam masala, cardamom, turmeric, and chillis work well)

Stir and place the joint on top.  Add enough boiled water to come halfway up the side of the meat.  Bring to a boil and cook covered for an hour on the stovetop or in the top roasting oven of the AGA.  Most recipes for slow cooking will skip this step.  I find the meat is not cooked through unless I do this.  But you could try to put it straight into the low temperature oven from the boil.

Move to the bottom oven or a low oven and cook for 4-6 hours at 150C/300F/Gas 2.  I check on this occasionally, especially since it is a large joint.  It may need a longer cooking time.  You can cook this at a higher temperature for a shorter time.  The theory is that the meat will be be more moist and tender if you cook it slowly over the day.  We really do whichever one is more convenient on the day.


Carrots and broccoli:

You will need enough carrots for two meals now.  And enough broccoli for one meal.  (I prefer peas in the cottage pie, which I will get to later).

Slice carrots and place in the bottom of the saucepan.  Just cover with cold water.  Cut up fresh broccoli and place on top of carrots.  Cover with lid.  When cooking, the carrots will boil and the broccoli will steam.  Cooking them together saves the washing up and space on the stovetop.

Mashed Potatoes:

You will need enough for 2-3 meals.  Peel and cut potatoes into chunks.  Boil in water until cooked through.  Drain well.  Add pepper, butter, milk and a bit of salt.  (You can use sour cream or cream cheese or grated cheddar if you like.)  Mash.  Serve some with your dinner and leave the rest to cool down.

Peas (for pie):  I take a large mug, fill it with frozen petit pois and some hot water from the kettle.  Pop in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.  Drain. 

Yorkshire Pudding

OK, so I cheat and buy them half the time.   If I am roasting things in the AGA and using it to make veg, etc, the temperature drops too low to make a decent job of it.   The AGA also cooks everything unevenly.  I need to turn things around halfway through cooking to prevent burning.  And you aren't meant to open the door when you make Yorkshire pudding.  Even after nearly ten years I still haven't quite got the hang of the AGA.  When I have a regular oven I promise faithfully to make my own.  Otherwise any standard recipe will do.  I have never in my life had any Yorkshire Puddings which could compare to my Aunt Kate's.  She uses the beef dripping of course.  (She is the only person I know who can also make delicious brussel sprouts).  There is a farm shop near us which have really nice ones also with beef dripping.  Or I use Aunt Bessie's. 


You can make a nice gravy simply by using the cooking liquid from the braised meat.

You will need some of it for the pie later as well. 

When the meat is cooked through you can remove it from the pot and serve with carrots, broccoli, mash, Yorkshires, and gravy.

Cottage pie

Slice up the leftover meat and chop into small pieces.  Layer on the bottom of one or two glass baking dishes.  (Since I have started with a large joint and I am only feeding three people today, I can make two pies).  Drip some of the cooking liquid or gravy over the meat.  Next add a layer of peas and then one of carrots.  Spread mashed potato on top.  Making sure the pie is cool, you can now seal it with its lid, or with plastic wrap and then foil.  Place in the freezer or fridge if you want this the next day. 

To reheat, place in the oven for 20-30 minutes for the refirgerated one and 30-40 minutes for the frozen one.  Make sure that the centre is piping hot before serving! 


OK, I love pressies.  Who doesn't?  Here are a few crafty presents I received for Christmas from my friends J and D.


Two handpainted mugs filled with homemade sweets!!  (Half of the sweets seem to be gone already).  Fudge, coconut ice, salted caramel candy (?) and cute little peppermint creams.  Yum.


Christmas Morning Crafts

We have opened our stockings, had our breakfast and Other Half is tucked away in bed until it is time for our dinner and his night shift tonight.

So my son and I are having an unconventional Christmas I guess.  In that it is much like any other day.  But he received a lovely selection of craft items from our friends. So we had a go.  A big thanks to j and d. 

Robot and Alien

Hand Embroidered Cushion---Craft Gallery

I have always loved this saying.  My step-mother has it on a plaque in her house.  I embroidered it free style.  I made this using scraps and fabric from my quilting stash. The cream fabric in the middle is from an old wool blanket.  (You will see bits of it cropping up in several projects).  The pillow is an inexpensive one from IKEA.  I always like picking them up there because they are cheaper, covered and better quality than the ones I can find in the shops near me.  (Considering my interest in crafting, it is really unfortunate that I do not have any good craft stores near by.)  The backing matches the red in the house.

I think that I will be putting this in a frame on the wall soon because it gets quite a bit of wear and tear with my son jumping on the couch.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Brick Doorstop Craft Project

This project was completely free.  If you use an old brick, try to give it a brush or scrub.

You will need:

  • Brick
  • Bubble Wrap and packing tape
  • Fabric--preferably thick (I used an old wool blanket)
  • Small scraps and buttons for decoration
  • Fusible web
  • glue gun or fabric glue
  • Floss, or thread (cotton)
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Iron

  1. Start by wrapping your brick with bubble wrap twice over and securing with tape. 
  2. Lay out your fabric and place the brick on top.  Measure out enough fabric to cover the sides.  You can cut some of the corners away to make it easier to sew later.  And cut another piece just larger than the brick to act as the bottom.  See picture.

3.  If you want to applique your decorations to the front now is the time to do it.  If you are using fusible web and/or glue, you can do it now or after you have sewn the fabric to the brick (making sure not to melt the plastic underneath with the iron).  Line the fabric carefully on the brick before you start to make sure your design is in the middle.  I chose hearts with buttons for my first.  I would like to do a row of houses or beach huts for my next one.  If using fusible web, follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

4.  Next, sew the fabric on the brick.  I used coloured embroidery floss on mine.  I really like the rustic, homemade look on mine and so I don't worry how neat it is.  It does however need to be sturdy enough to withstand a bashing as kids and pets walk into it or kick into place.

Additional thoughts:  For my next one I will definitely use some darker colours.  This gets knocked about and dirty as we use it every day.  This has been in place for about six months.  The buttons have come off and had to be replaced because I used glue.  I am not sure if the kids or the cats are to blame!  I will sew buttons from now on.  I am really looking forward to doing another.

Christmas Decorations 2010

I can remember going through a phase as a teenager when I thought holiday decorations were clutter.  A waste of time, money and space.  What was I thinking?  I love my tree.  It is a fake one.  I can put it up when I want and keep it up as long as I want and we have relatively few dropped needles.  I also like that it does not go to waste.  Even with shredding schemes popping up around the country I can't help but feel that real trees waste money and I hate chopping trees down.  But to each their own.

My living room already has touches of red and green, so these Christmas decorations fit right in.  I use a plaid ribbon as a garland.  It is cheaper and sturdier.  My son helped me with the decorations this year and since we have put it up the cats remove ornaments almost daily.  So we get a new tree every day as we redecorate it.

I put the stockings on the stairs because we have to use our fireplaces every day.

A medieval style trencher I purchased at an English Civil War Re-enactment a few years ago.  I fill it with baubles from Poundland.  I usually pop a glass bowl of floating candles in the middle.  But I find candles and kids don't mix all that well.

I made this as a baby quilt a few years ago.  I found a new use for it instead.

My friend brought me this lovely wooden bowl from Zambia.  It sits in my living room year round and gets the festive touch from baubles.


My Swahili dictionary tells me that Maandazi means "confectionary," but they really resemble donuts or Italian zeppole. They are fried balls of dough which are then eaten plain or doused in sugar.

They are sold on the streets in Tanzania every morning.  There are probably as many variations as women in East Africa.  I have heard of coconut versions and you can use a variety of spices or leave them plain.  Some people make the dough with yeast and some are are a more simple egg and flour mix.  I have included two recipes here.

For a time we ate these about once a week, but when I returned to work I found that they were a bit too time consuming to fit in.  We try to have them on special occasions now.  Bring your appetite because they do not keep well.

Maandazi #1

Makes 8

8 oz flour
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon easy blend yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or mix of ground cardamom and cinnamon
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 oz warm water

oil for frying

By Hand
Mix all dry ingredients well and add wet ingredients until dough forms.  Knead well.  Place in a bowl and let rise for an hour.  Knead out briefly and cut into 8 pieces.  They can be balls, squares or diamonds.  Squash them a bit with your hand.  Let rise again for 30 minutes.  Fry in deep or shallow oil based on your preference. The oil should be hot and bubbling, but not spitting.  They are ready when they are as brown as an onion skin.

Drain on paper towel.  And then, if desired pop into a bag or plastic box with lid with sugar.  Give it a good shake.  I sometimes add some cinnamon to the sugar on special occasions.  Serve warm.  They lose their vitality after a few hours.  Serve with strong coffee or chai (see recipe for chai under Drinks).

By Breadmaker
I actually pop everything in the breadmaker and set it to dough.  Then take out the dough, knead, divide, let rise and fry as above.  The beauty of this is that since you need to let it rise for an hour, you can set the breadmaker to do all of the work while you are still in bed.  Then get up, roll out 8 balls, and let them rise as I make chai and fruit salad.

Maandazi #
This recipe is taken from the book, "Best of Regional African Cooking," by Harva Hachten

Makes 2 dozen

1 cup flour
1 1/4 teaspoons powder
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup water

Sift flour and powder together.  Add sugar and salt.  Stir in egg and water to form dough.  You can add more water if you need to.  Knead dough until smooth and let rise for 30 minutes covered by a towel.  Cut into squares.  Fry in shallow or deep oil until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.  Sprinkle with sugar if desired.

Frugal tip:

If you choose to fry in deep oil you can save the oil and use it 3 times.  I always use an empty oil bottle and label it.  My house rule is that if it is used for fish then it needs to be discarded.  We don't deep fry anything besides maandazi in our house, but just occasionally someone will come along and do this.  And maandazi fried in fish oil is not very nice for breakfast.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

It's a Girl

I had my twenty week scan today and found out that I am having a girl.  I was so convinced that I was having a boy this time.  Mostly because I have a boy, so it is easier to imagine!  It was so amazing watching her suck her thumb.  And looking at the different organs, watching her kick.  Here in the UK we usually get two scans.  One at twelve weeks and one at about twenty weeks to check for possible problems.  And it was such a relief to hear the sonographer say that the baby looks good!

So I might have some shopping to do!  I have been saving all of my son's clothes and toys.  Many of his clothes were handmedowns from my nephews.  They have been such a relief to a cash strapped mother.  I have had a few offers of some more handmedowns if I have a girl and I am very willing to accept.  I know mothers who want to have a few new things or some things they have chosen themself. That is not me.  I am too practical to turn down items and I have been fortunate in receiving nice things so far.  Now I need to head to the attics to go through my boxes of boy things, see if I can use any for a girl, and pass on my boy stuff to the charity shops.  I will have a quick check with my friends, but I don't know anyone who is having a boy any time soon.  It will give me some time to enjoy one of my favourite pasttimes---decluttering!  I have been so diligent saving these items (and lending them out, getting them back, packing away again in labelled boxes).  But now I can pass them on---another favourite pasttime.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Cupcake Making

Both my son and Other Half do not like icing.  And I was completely out of icing sugar anyway.  So we just made a few leaves. They both took off the leaves before eating as well!  When I asked my son how they tasted he said, "perfect."

Cupcakes and Chai

We made some gorgeous cupcakes today which were flavoured with clementine juice.  I wasn't so sure how they would turn out, but they are some of the best we have made lately.  It is 10:45 and half of them are gone already. Again we used my son's new Christmas Baking Book from Usborne.  I am sure you could get similar results from adding grated clementine rind to your cupcake recipe.  When the cakes come out, spoon clementine juice over the cakes while they are still warm.  Ice when cool.

OH and I are having them with a cup of chai.

Our cheat's chai:

In your teapot, pop in a few regular English tea bags
8 cardamom pods
4 pieces of cinnamon bark (or one stick, broken)
a few cloves
optional: grated ginger, peppercorns, bay leaf

1-2 tablespoons of sugar, preferably demerara or similar

Boil the water, fill the teapot 1/2-3/4 full and let this steep for a good few minutes.
Heat a large mug of milk in the microwave for a minute.
Add to teapot and let steep until the tea tastes spicy and sweet
Adjust ingredients to suit your taste.

There are many variations on ingredients and methods, and we have tried many.  This is not as authentic, true, but is quick and easy and is great on a cold day.

I am still learning how to use the different tools on here, so I think I will try to post the photos from this morning's cooking session in a slide show. Wish me luck.

Christmas Food

So you can see from yesterday's post that the traditional Christmas foods have very little to do with my love of the holiday.  But I feel a bit left out not having our own traditions.  So I am on a mission to find some. 

I have always been fascinated by gingerbread houses and have only made them from kits.  We bought a simple one from IKEA last year, which was easy for a 3 year old to use with my help.  But became stale quite quickly.

A few weeks ago I finally made a batch of the most delicious gingerbread for my son's birthday party.  I had the kids make mini gingerbread houses and it was a big hit.

The recipe came from Usborne's Christmas Baking Book.  It was a gift from his aunt for his birthday.  It was good timing.  I had chosen another to make that morning, but when he opened his gift I had a quick look through.  It does not require chilling, so a real timesaver, and is lovely and cakey gingerbread.

Monday, 20 December 2010

I love Christmas!!

I feel so bad for people who do not enjoy this time of year.  I truly enjoy every bit of it.  My Christmases do not resemble my childhood ones very much.  We are very often quite alone because we live so far from family and for many of the last few years my other half has had to work on or around the day.  But I still find it magical no matter who I am with.

Starting in November and sometimes October I start to think about my tree.  I start humming Christmas music and think about how I will design a few homemeade cards.  I start to feel warm all over and smile a whole lot.  I cannot wait until the 1st December when I can get the decorations out, blare the Christmas music and start addressing Christmas cards in front of the fire.

At Mom's we always had Christmas stockings as well as stacks of presents.  She often woke early to make us a platter of scrambled eggs, and if we were lucky homemade hash browns.  She would put cinnamon in the coffee filter which made the whole house smell gorgeous.

As a child we usually celebrated with at least 18 people at the dinner table.  Stacks and stacks of presents were all over the living room.  If Dad was hosting, my step-mother would insist on having her traditional English Christmas dinner.  There is nothing about this meal I like.  Turkey (too dry), frozen and overcooked brussels, creamed onions, frozen turnips, and mashed potato.  Ok, I liked the mash.  But still I loved pulling Christmas crackers and waited patiently until dessert was served.  People would bring different things for this. Pumpkin pie was my favourite.

In our house now we always do stockings.  We do not exchange any presents with anyone else anymore--which I am both glad and sad about at the same time.  We have scrambled eggs, croissants, orange juice, and coffee for breakfast.  Fortunately my other half also shares my dislike for turkey so we usually opt for beef.  And a small trifle.  Neither of us like mince pies, Christmas pudding or Christmas cake.  Just simple, just us, taking time out of our busy working lives to enjoy our family.  If we are lucky we celebrate with friends as well.  I look forward to a future with bigger gatherings again.  But in the meantime we are blessed to be able to truly enjoy the season.  Maybe boosted by warm memories of singing in the church choir, family gatherings, and eggnog.  Maybe just blessed with the miracle of the season.