Sunday, 25 December 2011

2011

I am always in such a hurry to make plans for the New Year ahead.  I thought it was time to sit down and reflect on my accomplishments from the last year.  We are not always comfortable giving ourselves a pat on the back.  But doing so can be just the boost we need to feel ready to take on a new year, and new goals.

So, in the past year I have done quite a few things, most notably:

1.  Gave birth to my daughter
2.  Gave a fantastic Pirate Party for my son
3.  Embarked on a course
4.  Developed a more regular meditation and prayer practice
5.  Made some significant changes to our diet---for our health
6.  Lost some of the baby weight!
7.  Tried quite a few new foods and recipes (see the rest of this blog!)
8.  Tried out some great new craft projects including nappies, hot water bottle covers and embroidery

As I reflect on each of these in my journal I can pull out how I accomplished it, why I did it, and use these insights in making new goals.  More on those plans later!  But I can also look back to my goals from the last year.  Did I accomplish any of them?  Why or why not?  Did I actually spend time on them or other stuff?  How can I create goals which more accurately reflect me and my needs?  Do I need to change my goals to make them fit into my lifestyle or do I find ways to motivate myself to achieve more?  Lots to think about!

How to use your snow cone maker for good (instead of ...)

I have always wanted a Snoopy Snow Cone machine.  I almost always chose the Snow Cone from the ice cream van.  And I love slushies, slurpees, icees, coollattas, etc.  Except that they are usually so sickeningly sweet.  Even for me.  And believe me I have a sweet tooth.

And so in the intrerests of health I have been avoiding these products for a few years.  My son often asks for these drinks while we are out and I indulge him sometimes with a guilty conscience.  We have been eyeing up snow cone makers for a while and I finally relented when I found a Party Penguin on sale a couple of weeks ago.

They are trickier than they look!  It takes a long while to shave your ice.  Even if you chop it a bit first or leave it out for a few minutes to melt a bit.  When you have a nice little drawer of snow, pop it into your bowl and THEN: 

Now here is where snow cones move into the realm of fantastic.  Delicious.  Healthy. 

Now, you add flavour to your snow with any of the following:
fresh squeezed juice (we chose orange today)
coconut juice
coconut milk mixed with milk
Hindu lemonade

You now have a nice little snack and you have had fun with the kids and you know that you haven't had extra sugar or worse--nasty chemicals, dyes, and artificial flavours. 

The Perfect Christmas?

I think that the Christmases I grew up with were perfect.  Mom made a cooked breakfast of scrambled eggs, homemade hash browns, bacon, and she sprinkled cinnamon in the coffee maker.  We would open presents and stockings, taking turns.  Each present in the stocking was wrapped in paper, adding to the anticipation and excitement.  We then went to Mass where I sang in the choir.  Then off to Dad's house where we had mounds of presents and tons of relatives.  Food, the fire, and family games like Trivial Pursuit kept us entertained for hours. 

My family seems so very far away now that I am living in the UK and they are mostly back in the USA.  Sure, I get a phone call or two, but it isn't quite the same.  It does occur to me that even if I was there, I might not experience Christmas in quite the same way as I did back then.  Holiday treveling, especially with small children might not be so appealing anyway.  Being grown up often means a lot more cooking, cleaning, and paying the enormous bills for it all.  Oh, it is all too easy for me to fall  in the trap of negativity. 

So in planning my perfect Chrsitmas this year, I took a look at what we have.  I have me, a five year old, and an 8 month old baby.  (Daddy is working on the 24 and 25th this year).  I have a few things for our stockings, a great Christmas tree.....and two days on our own, with little interruption. (OK, this seemed a tiny bit depressing a week ago, but today it seems like a nice break from the hustle and bustle).

So here is how we are spending it:

We woke at 6.  Well, my son woke earlier and I distracted him in the kitchen with some breakfast until his father got up for work.  Then we opened our stockings.  I then took a hot bath with scented body wash.  Then I got into clean pajamas and my new slipper socks.  (OK, this is partly for the luxury of spending more time in pajamas, but mostly because I am REALLY behind with the laundry.)

We have been playing really.  Yesterday we made gingerbread and a snowflake garland.  We also tried out our new Party Penguin which makes snow cones.  And tucked into our gingerbread.  I was half intending to go to church, but I had to lend my car to the Other Half since his car wouldn't start.
Simple homemade garland is a fun activity and adds the festive touch!


He has been playing for hours---completely ignoring all of the Christmas movies on the television!

Gingerbread barn and animals

I don't have a great big meal planned.  We don't care for turkey, anyway.  And tomorrow we will have some roast lamb (raised here on the farm), with roasted winter veg.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Waffle Irons Aren't Just for Christmas

I finally did it!  I got a waffle iron.  For the last ten years living in the UK I have really missed waffles.  (You can buy some sweetened, Belgian style waffles in the grocery stores here, but they are nothing like American waffles).  So I have been toying with the idea of making my own for a while now and I have been fighting my tendency to avoid having too many appliances in the house.  But along with my breadmaker and ice cream maker, my waffle iron---in the space of a week--has become a valued member of the clan.

I chose an Andrew James waffle iron off of amazon.co.uk both because of the good reviews and the cheap price tag.  I was expecting American style waffles because some reviewers complained they were too thin.  But these waffles are thinner than American ones and thicker than pizelles or waflle cones.  The iron makes two at a time.  Each waffle is made up of six hearts which make a flower shaped waffle.  Fun, really.

My son proclaimed that he likes waffles more than pancakes!  And tonight I have made a double batch to stick in the fridge and freezer so I have them available to heat up for the next few mornings.  I am tired, but glad to know that I have a quick and healthy breakfast for all of us.  Add some more protein and we are away!

Okay, I haven't done the soaked waffles yet.  I looked at the recipe in a sleepy haze last night.  Not that they are really complicated...but the recipe says to separate the eggs and whip some whites separately,and all of that is a weekend kind of job...

I did, however, spice things up a bit.  So, I used light brown flour---this is similar to chapati flour and is a bit lighter than whole wheat.  As it happens this looks a lot like the flour that mamas in Tanzania grind themselves.  After grinding and sieving, they throw much of the bran to the chickens since humans don't digest it well! 

After making up about half of the waffles, I added some freshly ground anise to the batter.  Yum.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Spirit: Reminders

My son is a very early riser. (I too used to be a morning person before I had children).  So, I often find myself stumbling around a chilly house, getting some breakfast and cartoons for my son before crawling back into bed again for a few more minutes under the duvet.  The other morning he woke at 5:30 am.  So I did the usual and I had only been back in bed for a couple of minutes when I heard my son yelling from downstairs.  When I emerged it was into a pitch black house.  It was still so dark outside that opening the curtains did little to help us find each other in the dark.  We started looking (or more like feeling) in the usual places for torches, only to find a few which did not work.  I was about to look for matches when I remembered that my Other Half had left them out after using the BBQ last weekend. 

We were trying to negotiate each room very carefully because I also knew there were toys everywhere.  My son finally grabbed my phone to get a glimmer of light.  And with that I happened upon a working torch.  As I traipsed up and down switching the circuit breaker, and  looking for the offending appliance which caused our power cut, I had to laugh at myself that I was so ill prepared for such an event.  Between the toys everywhere, the dead batteries, and the lack of available slippers I was feeling rather silly.  And I told myself that I must sort this situation out.  These little things can make a difference.  It was then I heard a clear voice tell me: And you need to attend to your daily healing meditation. 

Just the day before I had been toying with the idea of setting aside an evening each week for a healing ritual and asking people via my blog if they would like me to send distant healing.  This voice seemed to say that healing was something I needed to attend to every day for myself and others.  Just as I intend to be ready with torches in an emergency, I dabble with prayer, healing and meditation when I can "find the time."  But busy family life means that I often only take the time when I am desperate.  When I reach a point of need.  But recharging my batteries is really something that needs to be done more often so I am prepared in a crisis. 

Later that day I realised the importance of the message when I found out that a former colleague of mine, Jude Tebbitt was abducted in Kenya.  I had been following the news story a bit anyway, but was shocked to find it was someone I actually knew.  (This type of thing doesn't happen to someone you know).  And right away I felt that I need to change my ways.  She needed help NOW and couldn't wait until next Monday.  I need healing every day and so does everyone else.  It feeds the soul and meditation helps us find ourselves and our purpose.  Prayer helps us achieve our goals and guides us on our path.

And so I am making more of an effort.  The batteries are in the charger.  We aren't that great at picking up the toys yet, but we are working on it.  And our spiritual practices are developing more and more.  It is important to me that the children are able to grow spiritually as well.  And therefore I need to teach by example.  Just the other night as I was tucking a very tired child into bed, I asked "shall we say our prayers?" and the reply was a sleepy, "no, thanks."  I think that too often I use this same excuse.  My quick thanksgiving prayer and then lights out.  Taking the time for Spirit is essential for wellbeing and needs to be done before the lights go out.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Drain Cleaner

How many times have I struggled to clear blocked drains with long sticks, an old cracked rubber plunger, or waiting until I could get to a shop to get a commercial drain cleaner? Those days are long gone and it was all a lot easier than I could ever imagine.

I have long applauded the amazing abilities of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) separately.  And the two combined make a perfect drain cleaner.  Even for standing water.  You can also use them to "freshen" drains to prevent problems.  Simply place 1/4-1 cup of bicarb and the same again of white vinegar in your sink or drain.  If you can, place the plug in (not for standing water).  Leave until the drain is clear.  You can rinse with a kettle of boiled water if you like.

Note:  Many drains are blocked by an accumulation of grease and then debris which settle in it.  For this reason you might be able to get away with a kettle of boiling water which will melt the grease away.  But the vinegar combo is more effective in the long run.

I have even used this in an outside drain where I was told I would literally need to scoop out the gunk blocking it and then use a commerical product.  Since I couldn't get to the shops for another day I figured I would give my method a go.  Two cups of each and we were away!  And we haven't had a problem since.

How to Get a Deep Massage for Under $1

Yep.  And you don't need to slave over a romantic dinner either!  What you do need is a cheap (clean) tennis ball.  You can get some from a dollar store or similar.  You aren't looking for a good bounce.

Next, you need a soft surface.  Your bed or a sofa are ideal.  Please do not try this on a hard surface such as a floor.  (You can use the technique on a wall.  More on that later). 

Now, lie on your bed and place the tennis ball under your back.  Move gently to massage your muscles.  Please DO NOT place this directly under your spine.  You can make the pressure deeper by pressing yourself more firmly against the ball.  This is particularly effective to break up knots of tension.  Simply place under a knot, press to your comfort level and breathe deeply.  Allow your tension to melt away with each breath.  Remember to use the ball all over your back, hips, bum, and shoulders even if your pain is in one spot. 

Breaking up tension helps restore a healthy blood flow to the area.  You may feel a bit sore for a day or so after a deep massage, but the tension will ease and the area will be able to heal.

Go easy with this technique until you get the hang of it.  Please resist the urge to use more than one tennis ball.  One will do the trick. 

You can easily fit a tennis ball into your suitcase or workbag to help relieve back tension from travelling or deskwork.  You can use your tennis ball against a wall as well. 

Healing Meditation for Sore Muscles

I find this meditation especially helpful for easing tight muscles.  This is one of the only meditations for which I recommend lying on a comfortable bed.  This meditation is done lying down, but is actually a moving meditation.  It involves very gently relaxing and stretching the muscles.  Massage is actually smply stretching the muscles nad this exercise can be just as relaxing as a good massage.  Although you may think you hold tension in a certain area of your body, you may be surprised to find it elsewhere as well.  This is because we tend to "guard" our pain.  We tense the muscles around pain, and they become painful and tense, so we tense more muscles around the pain which become tense and so on.  Treating your whole body for sore muscles is more effective way of managing the pain.

Find a few minutes of the day which are quiet and without interruption.  Late at night works well for this exercise.  Music is entirely optional, and should be calming.  You can dim the lights if you wish.  This technique, like other meditations, improves with practice.  Each time you practice, you will find it easier to remember how to relax your muscles.

1.  Lie comfortably on your back, using pillows to prop your head or knees if necessary.  (This works best without pillows).  Take a deep breath and as you release it allow your body to sink further into your mattress.  With a second deep breath in, gather your distracting thoughts and allow them to flow out as you breath out.  With your third deep breath sink into your supportive mattress...which is connected to your solid bed...which is connected to the solid floor...which is connected to the solid building with foundations deep in the solid earth.

2.  Take a few moments to observe where your tension lies,  Remember to breathe in and out in a calm and relaxed manner.  Now, taking a deep breath in begin to flex and stretch the muscles.  (If you have tension in your back you can start by rolling your shoulders).  When you begin, allow the muscles to flow.  Go where they go and allow them to move and roll, stretch and return.  As you breathe in and out very gently your body will ebb and flow.  Let go.  Allow your body to move continuously in and out, up and down, breathing very gently.  You begin with one muscle....which is connected to another and another and another...flowing, in and out up and down, to the next muscle...and the next....and back again until your whole body is relaxed....continue until the tension has gone....stretching gently as you go....and lie back and breathe...resting in your relaxed state...let it sink in...reconnect with your solid bed connected to the solid building connected to the solid earth.....

3.  Get up slowly from this meditation.  And drink plenty of water.  Repeat this exercise as often as necessary.

On Reincarnation...and Ikea

See, the way reincarnation works is like this.  We are all jollying around on the Other Side doing our stuff, hanging around and soaking up the love and joy.  I mean LOVE.  And joy.  Freedom from fear.  (Because there are only two things in this universe---LOVE and FEAR.  These act as opposites.  We experience one or the other in any given situation).  So there we are.  And yet.  And yet.  There is STILL room to grow, to develop as a spiritual being.  And so we decide to have a jaunt to earth to try another life.  And here is where the whole thing reminds me of a trip to IKEA.

For your first trip to IKEA, you are full of enthusiasm.  You may have a bit of a shopping list because you have been looking at your friends' catalogues for a few years.  You know there are bargains to be had, inexpensive food in the cafe and much of the merchandise is so colourful enough to make your heart sing.  You plot your journey there, plan to stay an hour or so, and make sure to take someone with you.  You want to share the experience for sure.

And when you arrive, the great Blue Warehouse does not disappoint.  The displays are inviting, the staff at the door are friendly, and you can feel the excitement in the air.  IKEA is set up like a long winding path.  You grab your trolley, begin at the beginning and you have to weave your way to the end.  Sure there are a few doorways where you can skip ahead or jump back again, but for the most part they want you to begin in the beginning and end at the end.  (Have you ever seen people with loaded trolleys come back down to the entrance lobby?  They are confused.  Out of place.  And they have to go back and try to figure it out all over again).

As you go around you cannot help but to toss a few more items in the trolley.  Your enthusiasm for what you can fit in your life knows no bounds when faced with such an array of choices.  And since you have driven all this way, you definitely don't want to miss out, to find your self at home wishing you had been bold enough to take the chance.  (And it is actually really very hard to find what you came for).  Two hours in and you are feeling overwhelmed.  After about three hours of navigating you find yourself at the checkout.  At this point, despite all of the hope and promise you came in with, you are losing the will the live.  Exhaustion and doubt set in. 

This is all because a trip to IKEA, like a trip to earth requires a bit more than a bucket of enthusiasm.  It requires planning.  It requires a steady heart and help along the way.  Because over the years trips to IKEA do become better.  Firstly you are more realistic about the length of time it will take.  And you know that one or two stops at the cafe are needed.  (As well as a trip back to test the sofas even though you aren't buying any).  Secondly you get help.  It may seem that the staff are few and far between once you get past the entrance, but you quickly learn to utilise the help available.  The free kids play place, friends, the computers and the staff are all used to your advantage.  Because we cannot go it alone.  

All of this planning does not guarantee success.It does not guarantee freedom from heartbreak (I drove all this way and it is OUT OF STOCK?!?), or  freedom from a few headaches.  And even though you have done the trip before, you can still get overwhelmed, overly enthusiastic, and experience ultimate joy (all in one trip!). 

But fortunately we never go it alone.  We have not only God, but a host of angels and guides to help us along the way.  We have fellow humans to provide support, help to teach us lessons and inspire us to keep going.  They help us on all of our adventures, no matter what.  

Sunday, 28 August 2011

What to Buy for Baby: Top Ten

 Walking into the baby shops can be overwhelming.  You actually need quite a lot of stuff for babies. But just think how much stuff you have.  I bet your closets, drawers, and bathrooms are chock full of stuff.  Your baby won't need that much, but there are a few specialty items you will have to get.  Here are my top ten recommendations:

1.  Baby nail clippers and a foam nail file (found in adult section of the drugstore).  Clippers leave nails too sharp so it is good to file them.  And toenails are best filed because they are hard to cut.  Baby scissors are always too big for nails--good for hair though.
2.  Muslin squares/burp cloths.  You will use several every day for quite a few months.  So buy lots,  Cheap white ones will do.  Buy a dozen if not two .
3.  Flannel blankets, knit blankets, every kind of blanket.  You will get through a few of these each day too, because babies spit up and they smell sour quite quickly.
4.  Clothes---well, this will depend on your washing.  If you have your own washing machine and can use it regularly, then you will need fewer clothes.  If you need to go to the laundromat weekly, then you will need more.  Babies only need sleepsuits, onesies, and a couple of sweaters and hats for the first three months.  You can put your baby is special outfits, but you don't need to.  If it is summer, then your baby will live in the onesies during the day and a sleepsuit at night.  I love handmedowns.  They grow out of clothes so quickly!  If you are buying things I suggest that you wait until your child is born.  Most people who have given me things have given me a pile of stuff with the tags still on they never used because it was the wrong size, season, or surplus to requirements. 
5.  Toiletries---You should not use any lotions, soaps, or wipes on babies until they are three months old.  So in the beginning you need cotton balls and a little bowl for warm water to wash your baby.  If your baby has dry skin you can use a little bit of coconut oil or light olive oil on their skin.  After that, try for the mildest, gentlest products.  I prefer organic, paraben free products.  They don't use much, so even a bottle of organic baby soap is economical.  Babies "should" be washed with a washcloth daily and bathed twice a week until they are crawling.  You can clean their eye area with cotton and boiled-then-cooled water every day.  Their ears clean themselves.  I don't use lotion on kids until they are three or so.  Even after that, olive oil still works nicely.
6.  Somewhere to sleep.  In the UK, it is recommended that your baby sleeps in your room in a cot (crib) for at least 6 months.  Babies like the comfort of being near people and hate the quiet.  You do not need a cradle or small cot by the bed, but they can be handy.  My son slept in my bed for the first year or so.  My daughter likes her cot well enough and I do feel this is the safer option.  Buy three sheets for your cots/cradles, etc.  And a few blankets or sleeping bags.  Babies should not have duvets, pillows or toys in their beds. There is a lot of debate about bumpers.  I didn't use them, but you may want to research that a bit before you decide.
7.  Changing table.  Some people just use a changing mat downstairs.  Or the bed.  I find a changing table is better for your back.  And considering how much poo and pee ends up on my changing mat, I would never change a baby on a carpet or bedspread!  NEVER leave a baby on a changing table EVER!!!
8.  Bottles and breast pump.  I loved Tommee Tippee, but only have four bottles since I breastfed my son.  I will need to pump quite a bit since I will going back to work when my  daughter is 6 months old.  Their manual pump is quite comfortable, but an electric one is useful if you need to pump quite often.  They have covers which fit their bottles, so you can pump milk straight into the bottle, pop the cover on and freeze it.  Make sure to label it though!  Check out your local guidelines for how long you can store breastmilk in the fridge and freezer.  (They change the rules frequently).  I cannot advocate the use of any formula because I haven't used any and I believe any powdered milk product to be bad for any one's health.  (Check out more about this at the Healthy Home Economist.)  You can sterilise bottles, etc in a pot of boiling water, but a steriliser is really handy.  And you can take it with you if you work or travel.
9.  Toys.  You will only need some teething keys or things like that until the baby is about four months old.  Then some rings which link together and attach to the bouncy chair bar and car seats are really great.  Babies can chew on them and not lose them.  Check to see if they can be sterilised though.  
10.  If you believe in using conventional medicine, then you will also need to have on hand some infant paracetamol and ibuprofen.  And some spoons or dispensers.  In the UK these products have guidelines on how to use them, and sometimes doctors will advise you how to use them outside of these guidelines.   You might also want to get some allergy medicine.  Again, you won't be able to use it until the package says you can, but when your child is having an allergic reaction to something you won't have time to run out and buy it.  The only other item I have in my repertoire is the one I use the most:  saline nasal drops.  They are great for clearing out blocked noses.  Generic brands of all of these are exactly the same as the name brand versions (by law), and you can save yourself some money here.  The name brand items may have a different flavour, packaging or spoon with it. 

Monday, 22 August 2011

Best Baby Buys...and the Worst

Kids can be quite expensive what with all of the equipment you need, nappies, clothes and the TOYS which seem to take over the entire house.  When I had my son (nearly five years ago now), I wasn't sure if I was going to have more children.  So I wasn't sure if I wanted to have "investment " pieces to last several kids or just items to hand down.  I think that it is always better to have things which will last---better for the environment--but not always easy on the wallet!  Here are my top buys and the things I wish I had done differently now that my daughter is here.

1.  Nappies--I used a few different types of cloth nappies.  My favourite with my son was Motherease One-Size shaped nappies with different size covers as he grew.  This seemed a more economical choice at the time.  However, I now feel that I might have been better off with a sized, shaped nappy.  It is more expensive to purchase new nappies and new covers every few months, but with two children it is easily cheaper than disposables.  The one-size are too big and bulky on a baby until they are 5 months or more.  Another, cheap option would be to use pre-fold such as Bambino Mio.  I didn't like these with my son because the covers got poo on them all of the time, but buying more covers is easy and still cheaper than disposable.

2.  Swings and Things--I was totally convinced that I needed a swing and found an inexpensive one on sale for about £50.  Well, my son did not care for it much.  I lent it to three other families and their kids had mixed reactions.  When I dusted it off for my daughter the cat peed in it and she has never tried it.  So, it was a bit of a waste.  Many kids love them and I think that before you shell out the cash you might try your child in a friend's swing.  Or borrow one.  They are also quite robust, so you may well get a good one second hand. 
As for bouncy seats.  I didn't have one for my son and wish I did.  He hated being put down, actually, but there are times when you are in the shower, cooking, etc when you need to put the child down.  (I wish I had put him in a wrap sling, but I don't know how I could have stood over a hot stove with him strapped to my chest anyway).  I have borrowed two bouncy seats for my daughter and they are fantastic.  You need to have a place to put a baby down safely in most rooms of your house.  So, either carry a bouncy seat around or have a couple.  The songs and vibrations are not necessary if you are interacting with your child.  The less expensive ones are fine in my opinion.

3.  Clothes--I use used clothes for the most part for the kids.  Babies grow out of clothes every few months, so it is silly to spend much at all.  Everything I use gets passed on to other families when I am finished as well.  You can get used clothes from friends, people you meet at playgroups, or cheaply from charity shops.

4.  Pushchair/Stroller--You can spend as much as you want, but you don't have to spend much.  Here is where it is very good to read reviews on websites!  I do advise people to get one with a large basket to hold our shopping and all of the stuff you have to carry around with you.  So many folks tell me they don't want to carry a lot and then regret it.  My pushchair was part of a travel system with a car seat.  I chose a lovely brown colour suitable for boys and girls.  However, the padding is coming off and I can't fix it.  And part of the car seat is broken, so I have had to borrow one from a friend.  It fits in our pushchair sort of.  So, if I was going to do it over, I would read reviews, choose a travel system, and make sure it has plenty of storage.  I also love my cup holders.

5.  I wish I had bought...  A glider or rocking chair, a Jumperoo (my son loved a friend's), better quality toys (we have a lot of cheap, but broken ones now)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Kitchen Sink Soup

This soup got me through university and is still quite useful when you have a bunch of vegetables hanging around and no inspiration.  I hate wasting food, so when I have bits and pieces leftover, I just throw them in a pot.  There are no fixed rules with this soup.  But here are a few general  guidelines for making a tasty soup.  This freezes really well or lasts two days in the fridge. 

1.  Start by chopping 1-2 onions (any kind) and frying in a little olive oil in a large casserole/soup pot.  Add some chopped garlic.  Then any of the following:  chopped celery, chopped carrot, and chopped (raw) root vegetables--potato, parsnip, etc.  Stir until the veg are softened.
2.  Add some homemade stock.  If you don't have homemade stock, then add a stock cube, gel or liquid with the appropriate amount of liquid. 
3.  Now is the time to add vegetables such as courgettes (zucchini), green beans, peas, corn, etc.  Think non-leafy veg which grow above the ground.  Cook until soft.  Add canned or cooked beans, cooked chicken, meat, seafood.......The last things to go in are spinach, lettuce (yes!--the only way to use up lettuce that I know of), herbs, and cooked leftover veg including potatoes, etc. 
4.  You can season with spices, spice mixtures, herbs, coconut cream or coconut milk.  Taste the soup using a new, clean spoon each time.  If it tastes nice, then eat it.  If not, then add something to give it zing. 
5.  I prefer to use a stick/immersion blender to blitz my soup a bit, but not completely smooth.  Serve with your favourite accompaniments.  (Sourdough bread with butter is our fave.  But you can also use a dollop of pesto, croutons, toasted seeds, or even popcorn sprinkled on top).

(Today's soup was made using:  1 red onion, 1 white onion, 2 cloves garlic, tbsp olive oil, 2 carrots, 1 celery stalk, 1 can of corn, 1 courgette, 1 leftover baked potato, 1/2 head lettuce, 1 tin haricot beans, homemade chicken stock.  We did not need additional flavouring because the stock was made from a roast chicken I made using a wonderful Middle Eastern Spice Blend.  This soup really packed a punch.)

**Please note:  Although this is a great way to use up excess or even old produce, do not use food which is moldy, or lettuce which is brown.   These can be really hazardous to your health.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Coconut Ice Cream

Since dusting off my ice cream maker a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about trying to make some coconut ice cream.  It is hard to find in the shops, and when you do, it is so full of STUFF.  You know what I mean.  Ingredients we can't pronounce.  Although it can be yummy, it often has artificial flavouring as well. So if you are up for a more natural coconut flavour give my version a go. 

You will need:

2 cups of whole milk (or cream if you prefer)
31/2 cup of raw or natural sugar
1 can of coconut milk

1.  Stir the sugar and milk together until the sugar is dissolved.  This will take a few minutes.
2.  Stir the coconut milk in until fully blended.  You can use a stick blender for this.  Taste the mixture if you like.  It should taste a little too sweet, because your final product will taste less sweet than this once frozen.
3.  Pour this mixture into an ice cream maker, or into ice lolly molds.  You can pour it directly into a container and freeze, but the final ice cream will be quite icy. 

Eggy Rice


When we are in a hurry and the fridge is bare, we find ourselves inventing dishes.  Tonight I went for this,a variation on Egg Fried Rice (another quick favourite of mine). 

You will need:

olive oil
leftover rice (any sort)
1-2 eggs per person, beaten
salt and pepper

optional:  chopped onion, and/or other veg

1.  Fry a bit of olive oil in a pan and add the rice to warm up, stirring frequently.  Fry the veg if using.
2.  Add beaten egg.  Stir as you would scrambled eggs for two minutes, then flatten in the pan.  Turn or flip the mixture over and cook until the egg is thoroughly cooked.
3.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve with vegetables if desired.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Ryvita 3 Ways

I have been a big fan of Ryvita for many years, especially the multi-grain variety.  We like them with peanut butter, humus, or dhal, but you can do more with them.  These ideas would work with other crispbreads as well.

Toasted Cheese


Sprinkle with shredded or sliced cheese and place in a hot oven/grill. 
Watch carefully.  They only take about 5 minutes and can burn quickly.

You can add slices of tomato, onion, avocado...before or after cooking.





Pizza




You will need tomato paste and a cheese of your choice.  Salt, pepper, dried herbs, and red pepper flakes are optional.  Assemble your pizzas and cook as above.  If you take the pizzas out while the cheese is melted and the crackers are soft, you can cut them, cool them down and put them in a lunchbox.  But we prefer them hot.




Ryvita with Satay Chicken

I often cheat by using some plain peanut butter with leftover spicy roast chicken.  Simply spread your peanut butter or some satay sauce on the cracker.  Add strips of cooked chicken.  If you have time (which I usually don't) you can add a bit of something fresh and green like shredded lettuce, herbs, or green onion.

I am not including a proper recipe for satay sauce here.  There are plenty on allrecipes.com.  I sometimes make a quick one by placing half a cup of peanut butter, a spoon of a natural brown sugar, and a splash of rice wine vinegar in a pan.  Melt carefully.  Thin with water if necessary and whisk to a smooth sauce.  Remove from the heat and add a splash of soy sauce.  Whisk smooth again.  Serve as above or with a fresh salad and cold roast chicken.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Recipes Using Soaked Grains

Here are my attempts at some "soaked grains" recipes found in the Nourshing Traditions Cookbook, a few other sources, and recipes I have adapted myself.

Soaked Pancakes

Soaked Pancakes

This is my first attempt at soaking flour (if you don't count my disastrous first attempts at making a sourdough starter). 

You will need:

2 cups whole wheat, spelt or kamut flour (preferably freshly ground--mine wasn't)
2 cups yoghurt, kefir, buttermilk, (or water mixed with 2 tbsp whey, vinegar, or lemon juice)--I used organic yoghurt

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp sea salt (preferably unrefined)
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
2 tbsp melted butter


1.  On the first day, stir the flour with your chosen soaking liquid in a large bowl.  Place this in a warm place for 12-24 hours.  (I used plastic wrap over it and placed it in a warm kitchen for about 18 hours). 

2.  When you are ready to cook, mix the rest of the ingredients in.  You can thin the mix with water if necessary.  Cook in a hot frying pan.  Serve with maple syrup, butter and or jam.

My son and I make pancakes most weekends and so he was very excited to hear that we were having them this morning.  That is until he was given the bowl of soaked flour, which had become a bit smelly according to him.  He was no longer enthusiastic and asked if we could make regular pancakes instead.  I told him we could after we finish this batch.  He did help with some of the stirring despite his misgivings. 

Fortunately, he enjoyed the finished pancakes which had a bit more flavour than our usual plain recipe.  We actually add spices most of the time and I might try that next time.  I think the only disadvantages I can think of are the expense of the yoghurt and having to remember to prepare the flour the day before (which isn't arduous).  I plan to use buttermilk leftover from our butter-making when I get around to the butter-making.  Otherwise, water with a bit of vinegar seems a really cheap alternative to organic yoghurt, or when we have run out.

Disclaimer (or I am just an average consumer)

I would like to say that I am just an average mother, worker, woman, consumer.  I have a bachelor's degree, but not in nutrition, finance or art.  And so I am making my decisions based on the little I know, a bit I read, with a dose of practicality mixed in.  This blog is about my experiences and contains only occasional research. 

Do we need to soak our grains or not?

I bet most people reading this will never have heard of soaking your grains anyway.  Apparently many traditional societies worldwide soaked most of their grains, beans, nuts, and some seeds to make them easier to digest and more nutritious by releasing good nutrients.  In some books, plain water is enough, while other folks advocate using yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, or water with lemon or vinegar added.  These products help to start breaking down the difficult-to-digest products.  This makes it easier for you to get the good stuff before it passes through your system.  With all of the new fangle food allergies out there I think that this is worth a look.  If you would like to read more about this you can check out more information on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. 

But there are many people, including "experts" who believe that soaking your grains, etc is unnecessary.  The reasons are that a.  soaking is not enough to get rid of the bad stuff (the one most often cited is called phytic acid) and that only true fermenting will do this, b.  that we get enough nutrients in our diet and so we don't need to free the nutrients from grains (which makes me wonder why we need to eat them if we aren't getting much from them), c. some critics claim that the people who advocate soaking do not have scientific proof of the benefits, and finally d.  there are critics who don't say much of anything substantial at all.  If you would like to read more about this debate check out NutritionDiva and Kitchen Stewardship to get you started.

I think that with all of these diets the average reader gets bombarded with sciencey sounding words.  And if you don't have a very thorough education in this kind of stuff (as I don't), then you can either be won over or left confused (which I am).   But if you have more than a passing interest in trying to get the best nutrition into your family you have to make a decision.  I don't have too much time on my hands (I am actually typing one handed while trying to calm a fussy baby), and so I will take a leap of faith here.  I am trying out a few recipes from the Nourishing Traditions Cookbook.  I am not sure what I am looking for in terms of results, but here I go.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Making the Switch to Whole Foods?

I have been interested in making the switch to whole foods since I read Sugar Blues by William Dufty nearly twenty years ago.  Interested, tried a few times, failed a whole lot, and for the most part felt bad about my diet ever since! 

I have a sweet tooth.  And although I have spent a few years avoiding refined sugars, it has never been a permanent change.  And I suspect it might not ever happen.  I guess I just couldn't imagine not eating wedding cake at my own wedding.  And although I would love to give my children a very healthy diet, I don't want them to go completely berserk at a birthday party at their first taste of refined sugar or, God forbid, sweeteners!

I have been inspired by the Nourishing Traditions way of eating because it might help explain why I did not necessarily enjoy improved health during my ten years as a vegetarian.  The key elements I am taking away from my reading, and introducing into my home are:
  • Whole Foods contain nutrients which are stripped away during processing.  And so I am purchasing unrefined salt, unrefined sugars, and unrefined oils as much as possible.
  • Some whole foods, such as grains, nuts and seeds are not easily digested by humans and therefore require processing.  By processing I do not mean heat and industrial conveyor belts, but fermenting, soaking, and sprouting.  These are time consuming activities, but possibly worth it?
  • You will be hungry until you provide your body with the nutrients it needs.  By eating properly, cravings for sweets and the like diminish naturally. 
Having said all of that, I need to take things slowly.  After reading about the shocking things I am doing to my body by eating too much junk, it is easy to become fanatical, like one who has found a new religion.  But it is not that easy to change from convenience foods to cooking everything--including ketchup--from scratch. 

And so I am working my way through my pantry.  Using up what I have, replacing with whole foods options, and simply not buying the more processed products.  I am not entirely sure where this journey will take me.  We will see how I get on.  And how the family gets on as well!

Vanilla Ice Cream

I purchased cream to make some homemade butter, but decided to make some nice organic ice cream instead.  My son and I had a blast and we know more or less where the ingredients came from.  I would love to try it with raw milk in the Nourishing Traditions style, but we do not have access to it where I live.

You will need:

4 cups whole milk (I used non-homogenized milk)
1-1.5 cups demerara or raw sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups cream

1.  Stir the milk, sugar and vanilla together until the vanilla dissolves.
2.  Stir in the cream and combine well. (I used an immersion blender)
3.  Either pour this mixture into your ice cream maker, or pour into a tub and place in the freezer.  If you do not have an ice cream maker, you can stir the mixture a few times over the next few hours to help make the ice cream creamier.   Otherwise your ice cream will be icy---but still delicious!


I find that this recipe is very rich and you only need a small bowlful at a time--probably a good thing considering the sugar content.

Addendum:

I put my next batch in individual jelly pots with lids to make serving both fun and easy.  You could use any small containers with lids.


Friday, 8 July 2011

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss

?This was my hands down favourite when I was a kid.  I have now introduced my worn copy (with the front cover missing) to my four-year old and he is also having fun exploring the pages.  There is a certain magic about Dr. Seuss books, but this one in particular has great illustrations which you can literally explore for ages--as my son proves every time I try to read it to him. 

In addition to the usual rhymes, there is always a moral to the story.  In this one, a young man meets a wise old man in the desert, who tells him about all sorts of weird and wonderful---and unfortunate creatures that have a much more difficult time of it. 

I will say that this age and older are probably a more suitable audience for the book.  I tried to share it with him a few times in the past, and although there are a lot of fun rhymes, he just wasn't into it a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

My Favourite Eggs

My veg box arrived today.  I am using Riverford Organic these days.  It kind of takes the fun out of it because they tell you ahead of time what is in each box.  My son helped me choose our box this week, which he said had to have spinach, which is part of his favourite meal (fish, sakumawiki and ugali--see recipes for these on the blog). 
But when the spinach arrived today, I just couldn't resist using a few leaves for my lunch!  It is so simple.  Who says healthy has to be complicated?  And I used our new bowl for the first time.  My son painted the inside, my baby's footprints are on the outside, and I did a few spots for fun.


You will need:

Butter or olive oil for frying
half of a spring onion or salad onion (or some regular onion), chopped
handful of fresh spinach, washed
2 eggs, beaten

1.  Fry the onion in some butter until soft.
2.  Add the spinach and stir until wilted.
3.  Add the beaten egg and cook thoroughly.
4.  Serve with salt and pepper to taste.

This may not be glamorous, but it is quick, easy, and full of nutrients. 

Clearing Out

While I was pregnant I really wanted to organise my home in preparation for the new arrival and the change of routine she would bring to our household.  But since I was often quite ill, and usually unrealistic, I did not accomplish nearly as much as I would have liked.  Funnily enough, since she has been born I have really been clearing out tons of stuff.  In my efforts I have found loads of boxes and bags I have stuffed into cupboards, attics, and closets over the years.  I found a huge bag of clothes which I had packed up to give to charity which had been placed in my son's closet.  The plastic bags they were in was starting to decay. 

Since I am housesitting (technically), I actually live in a house with a mixture of our stuff and the owner's (my cousin) stuff. And most of my cousin's stuff is actually stuff which has been here for many, many years.  Like war rations, army tents, dusty books, binoculars in leather cases, and the like.  And I have used this selection of clutter as an excuse not to clear out.  Sure, I got rid of most things which were actually rotten, mouldy, broken, or wouldn't be missed if I donated them the the Village Fete.  And that left a rather large amount of objects still.  And over the last ten years I have managed to accumulate so many of my own things which I have added to the mess (to be frank). 

But now I am having a purge.  I would love to sell some of my stuff, and I might get around to it.  But for the most part I just want it out.  Give everything to charity, the rubbish tip, or the recycling centre.  I can't believe the things I am finding again, and really wondering why I kept some of it.  Especially when someone else could use it.  (And then I will have room to get more stuff!)

Butter

Well, after studying information from the Weston A. Price Foundation, I am trying to review our fats.  I think this is an area where we are not doing too badly but that we need to make a few changes still.  I have long been an advocate of eating real food.  For example, I have always chosen to eat butter, preferably organic, rather than manufactured margarine.  Even these new fangled "heart healthy" spreads do not tempt me.  Firstly because my cholesterol is really quite low, secondly because they do not taste nice, and thirdly because I don't go out of my way to buy overly processed things when something natural will do.  (I do buy processed foods of many kinds, but that is for another day). 

According to the Foundation, however, I "should" be eating lots MORE butter, preferably raw from grass fed cows.  Well, we will see.  I don't have access to raw dairy products at all.  Or I should say that I choose not to buy a pint of milk and have to spend £10, (yes, it is true) to have it delivered.  Weekly.  So until I move or I buy a cow, the raw thing just isn't going to happen.  I do however have a source of dairy products which are not homogenized.  This is a good thing because it is less processing as well as being healthier according to my Nourishing Traditions Cookbook.  This is because homogenizing milk means that after heating through pasteurisation (and killing off helpful enzymes), the milk has the fat removed, then added back in in precise quantities.  The process itself isn't helpful or healthful. 

I have taken the bold step of ordering once again from Riverford Organic once again.  I wrote in another post about my misgivings about their veg and meat box schemes, as well as their dairy products which are not local to me at all.  But in the interests of health I would really like to try out their "healthier" milk products for a while to see if we like them.  I have ordered milk, butter and cream to make our own butter and buttermilk.

A few months ago I started buying whole cow and goats milk products.  Most of these are organic.  But this change to Riverford will ensure everything is organic and I am choosing their whole milk products.  Not sure what to do about goats milk, which we seem to digest more easily though...but I was trying to write about fats....

Nourishing Traditions Cookbook

I have finally got my hands on a copy of this book after months of reading blogs and websites about it.  I am devouring the pages as I breastfeed and I am shocked by much of the information within.  Some of it flies in the face of current healthy guidelines provided by government agencies and nutritionists.  I think that you can't believe everything that you read, and this is no exception, but I also think there is something to this. 

The research and recipes are inspired by traditional diets throughout the world.  The premise is that whole foods are healthier---no surprise there, but that we thrive on fermented foods, animals fats, and raw milk products.  These products, being unrefined still contain natural enzymes and nutrients which are vital for good health and digestion.  The book also suggests that grains, beans, and nuts need to be soaked or sprouted for us to get the benefit--and to remove "toxic" substances. 

If you want a taster of some of the recipes or theories you can find several blogs out there where people have been trying the recipes out.  Two are found below in my favourite websites list---the healthyhomeeconomist.blogspot.com is really informative.

I find that the information can be quite overwhelming at times, but I would like to try to implement some of the practices into our family life.  At this point I would probably say that I won't subscribe to this way of eating 100%.  I can't imagine giving up chocolate for instance.  Or going to somebody's house for dinner and refusing the food because the wheat wasn't ground in their kitchen the day before to be soaked overnight.... We need to live in this world with other people in it.  But I am hoping that even making some small changes might improve our health.

Cod Liver Oil Tastes Awful!

I have been reading a lot about cod liver oil lately.  Especially High Quality Fermented Cod Liver Oil.  There are so many benefits to this supplement, especially its high levels of vitamins A, D as well as DHA and EPA.  The Weston A. Price Foundation recommend that pregnant and nursing mothers consume both liver and cod liver oil.  This is against what experts in both the USA and UK recommend---for pregnant women anyway.  Look at their Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers to find out why Weston A. Price thinks differently.

I did not follow this diet during my two pregnancies or while nursing my son.  But it isn't too late to improve my diet with my daughter who is currently two months old.  And so I thought one easy step to improve my diet would be to add some cod liver oil.  I chose a highly rated brand called Blue Ice Fermented Oil with a Cinnamon Tingle Flavour.  I chose the liquid over capsules in the hopes that I could convince my four year old to have some too.  It is sold in many countries and I purchased mine from http://www.red23.co.uk/ who sell a wide variety of foods and supplements.

But it tastes awful!!!  And when you burp (which happens on occasion) it has an aftertaste.  I was sorely tempted to wash it down with a chocolate bar, a big one, which will do little for my healthy diet efforts. Still this is the best thing for my breastmilk according to the experts, and the bottle was amazingly expensive, so I need to stick with it.  Having said that I just placed an order with http://www.healthspan.co.uk/ to try their less expensive capsules and their St. Clements (lemon and orange) flavour oil.  It has some really good reviews from customers who claim it doesn't have an aftertaste.  Wish me luck.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Bento Accessories

Here are a few Bento Accessories.  There are food picks, sauce pots, small utensils, and reusable baran (which are used to divide different foods).  I had to order these items from the USA because I cannot find a source within the UK.  So far my collection fits nicely into a Lock-n-Lock with a label.  My father just informed me that I get my organising genes from his father.  (I am wondering where I get my procrastinating/messy house genes from!)


Kittens and more Kittens!

So when I last wrote about my kittens I did not mention that I actually had two pregnant cats.  The week before the birth of Ellie's kittens, I noticed that my other cat, Millie was no longer pregnant.  She was roaming around the house and the farm as normal and we could not find kittens anywhere.  After several days of searching I concluded that perhaps she miscarried as she was under a year old.

Well, four weeks later my four year old came running to me complaining that he wanted to pet one of the kittens under the couch.  This was a couch in a room we don't use much.  And sure enough there were four kittens under there!  We just couldn't believe that we never heard them and that we missed out on their growing up. 






Now the kittens are 10 and 11 weeks old.  Four have gone to their new homes.  One will be going soon, and I need to find homes for the other three. 

It has been a pleasure and a bit of a pain taking care of so many kittens.  Everyone told me that the mothers litter train them,  which is not necessarily true.  So there is a lot of cleanup every day.  But they are cute and have provided a good distraction for my son while I am paying attention to the new baby.


Bento Boxes

I have been experimenting with making some Bento style lunches for my four year old.  In the morning rush I have forgotten to take pictures.  I have finally started, but with admittedly boring looking bentos!  Though he ate them, so they are a success in my book!  I have used a box from Lock-n-Lock, which has four individual boxes inside.  They can be removed for cleaning or to change the configuration.


Homemade meatballs, Mini Ham and Cheese Sandwiches, strawberries, Multi-Grain O's, Apple

Actually, he does not like sandwiches.  I know this, but occasionally I try.  I even stumped for some organic ham.  He ate a bit of the bread.  I make the meatballs about once a month and pop them in the freezer.  Then I can take out a few each day to put in his lunchbox or eat in flatbread.


Meatballs, Strawberries, Bread and Butter Sandwiches, Carrots, Ketchup in Mini Sauce Pot
This meal was a success.  He left some of the carrots, but he isn't fond of raw ones anyway.  The Playgroup provides water.  And they have snacks with water or milk twice a day.

I have a selection of boxes, ice packs, lunchboxes, and bento accessories.  These include sauce pots, food picks, mini utensils, and the like.  I am not sure how the Playgroup will react to the food picks and things.  I have placed meat and fruit on straws used as skewers.  Threading meatballs or chunks of sausage with cucumber chunks works well.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Marshmallow Smash

These are like Rice Krsipie Treats with an added kick.  I came up with them a few years ago and they have become a real treat.  The best thing about them is that you can always find something in the cupboard to whip up a batch when you feel like it.  I give guidelines rather than strict amounts.  You can make a small bowl for yourself using a few marshmallows or a whole tray using a bag of marshmallows.

Ingredients:

Marshmallows
Something crunchy like fresh popcorn and/or cereal (rice krispies, cornflakes, cheerios, or similar)
Special Additions:  chocolate chips, broken pretzels, broken cookies, nuts, small sweets (like M&Ms), dried fruit......broken chocolate bars.....

1.  Heat your marshmallows in a large glass bowl in the microwave for 1-2 minutes depending on the power of your microwave.  The marshmallows will puff up.  Remove from the microwave and stir immediately. 
2.  Quickly begin adding the rest of your ingredients stirring rapidly to combine before the marshmallows cool down and begin to set.  Any chocolate you add will melt in the hot mixture.
3.  When you have added as many dry ingredients as you can, you are ready to either serve clumps of the mixture in bowls, or press into a glass rectangular dish to set.  If setting for later, place in a dish, cover, then refrigerate for at least half an hour.  Cut into squares as you would rice krispie treats.


***I believe that you can include this recipe in a Nourishing Traditions style diet if you make your own marshmallows and use the mix before it sets.  And then adding whole foods such as popcorn, carob chips, nuts, and dried fruit.
****You can add a bit of butter to the mix and butter the rectangular baking dish if you like.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Kefir

I have been reading so many good things about drinking kefir that I just had to try it.  Kefir is a type of fermented dairy product, much like yogurt, but with many more probiotics.  This makes it even healthier for you than your average yogurt.  Even folks who have some problems digesting cow's milk (like me) can manage kefir.  You can drink it plain, make it into smoothies, or use it in recipes.



Milk kefir grains can be obtained from friends or from the Internet.  They look a bit like cauliflower or like tapioca.  They are placed in a container of milk and they feed off the milk for the day.  They grow and can be used again and again.  You can use cow, goats, or sheep milk.  Some people also use coconut milk, but this is less successful from what I read, and the grains really need to be fed milk to thrive.  I may try to use coconut milk occasionally once my grains have grown a bit more.

I purchased my grains from Kefirshop in the UK for £12.  I received a very small plastic pouch of grains with a bit of milk and instructions.  I placed them in a jar.  Now, this company suggests that you use plastic in case the whole thing explodes.  But many websites suggest using a glass jar.  To begin with, you need to use only a little milk---200 ml or so until they grow.  It is also a good idea to only drink a small amount to get your body used to it.  So you will increase your consumption over the weeks and the grains will also be producing more for you. 

The most exciting thing for me was to discover that my Other Half loves it.  In fact it is exactly like the fermented milk he grew up drinking in Tanzania.  The fermented milk there is produced slightly differently in that the traditional way is to place the milk in a gourd which hangs in the kitchen.  During the day this gourd is swung about to mix the milk.  In the morning it is emptied, sugar added to the milk, and it is often served with maize porridge.  The gourd is not washed, so the residue from the previous milk helps to ferment the next day's batch.  (This is similar to how yogurt is made).

There is a lot of information about kefir available on the Internet.  One useful site is The Healthy Home Economist.  This includes a video on how to make it.

Vegetable Box Trial 1

I received a medium fruit and veg box, a litre of whole milk, and some meat a couple of weeks ago. The company is Riverford Organics which is a chain of (I think) five farms throughout the country.  I didn't fully realise that this was a chain until they sent me tons of leaflets about themselves with the first boxes.  They also sent some recipe cards to get me started and to tempt me to purchase more produce.  Here is my evaluation: 

Fruit and Veg Box---Well I obviously ordered the wrong one because although I received some really lovely produce (including mushrooms, bananas, and fennel), I did not receive onions, carrots or potatoes.  This came as a bit of a disappointment and now I have to go and purchase these items because I am all out.  Looking through the catalogue I have chosen a smaller veg box for 2-3 people, which has the basics, and a fruit box for next time.  (If there is a next time).  And I might add to my order avocados and lemons.  And make sure they do not ever put in grapefruit, red lettuce, or red cabbage.

Milk---When I ordered this I was thinking that this was from a local farm.  The packaging says it is from Devon which is miles and miles away.  So I am not any better off than ordering organic milk from Ocado in this respect.  However, the milk is non-homogenised.  Some would argue this is healthier, and it is certainly less processed and therefore "greener" in terms of fuel consumption.  I really need to consider this.  It is £.99 a litre.  This is comparable with Ocado prices.

Meat----They insist that you have a minimum order of £25 for meat.  This means that we cannot purchase fresh meat products weekly because we cannot afford to buy this much weekly.  So, we would need to purchase every other week and freeze some.  I am not against freezing meat, but I would find having to defrost meat every day for the second week both a hassle and a potential food hygiene hazard.  So when it arrived:
Firstly, I was actually disappointed to see how commercial the packaging is.  It isn't like my old scheme at all.  My old scheme was a farm which reared and slaughtered their own meat.  All of this meat says it was slaughtered in the UK and the labels, again, say Devon.  I am not better off than using Ocado for meat.  But I might be better off using a different local scheme.  The only thing to save the day is the taste.  The one drawback from my previous scheme was that the chicken and beef all tasted the same---very gamey.  Now some people love it, but I didn't appreciate it.  (Sorry to all food lovers, etc).  So here is our critique of the meat:

Sausages---I chose their regular pork sausages, which are gluten-free.  They are very meaty and way too salty.  I cannot possibly buy them again.  This is not great.  I do love a quality sausage if I am going to eat them.  I will definitely be feeding back to them about this. 

Chicken carcass for soup---I won't critique this for a while because I a put it in the freezer.  I have loads of stock in the freezer at the moment anyway.

Beef bones for stock----I have never made beef stock before, and we don't often have meat on the bone, so it is hard for me to do so.  So I was glad, firstly, to find that they sold bones.  There were a lot, so I put them in two pots.  I think this was a mistake.  Because although the stocks smelled good, they were watery and took a full 24 hours in the bottom of the AGA to make a decent flavour.  This is, of course, down to my skills rather than the bones they provided!

Chicken breasts and cubed beef--these organic meats had a bland flavour much like organic meats you buy from the grocery stores.  Some would complain about this, but I enjoyed it.

So, overall:  I liked the quality of the products except for the sausages.  Everything is a bit pricey, but that is to be expected with organic produce.  I am really wary of the food miles involved with using this company.  After a few weeks I am still really unsure about using them again.  I will be writing to them with this critique and see if they can answer my questions about food miles.  I would rather use a more local farm to support them. 

Birth Plans

During my last pregnancy my carefully planned birth plan went out the window as I went into premature labour and wasn't allowed things like water births, midwife-led units...etc.  And although I am happy to have a healthy son and a healthy me, I admit I was a bit disappointed how it all panned out. 

I so wanted things to be different this time around and thought I would do some research into ways to cope in natural childbirth.  I investigated home births, hiring birthing pools, Hypnobirthing, Natal Hypnotherapy, Active Birth and Homeopathy. 

But the best laid plans can go awry as have mine--again. 

I am not necessarily against medical interventions.  Ideally I could give birth under the moonlight with a wise woman and my mother, but the reality is that I am bit too squeamish--or nervous for that!  I like the security that a hospital provides, especially since I experienced some complications last time and needed to head to the operating theatre shortly after the birth.  I know full well that the glaring lights and strangers in hospital have been proven to slow labour down as soon as a woman walks in the door.  I also know that walking through the door can lead to all sorts of medical interventions which may or may not be needed.  But I can tell you that when a doctor tells you that you need to have some medical intervention in order to save your baby or yourself your ideals fly out the window and you simply want for a healthy baby.  It is all that matters in the whole world at that moment.

A few months ago I was told that a homebirth was not advisable due to the complications I had last time.  I was okay with this.  I did say I was nervous about the idea.  I was told a while back that there was a small chance that I would need a c-section due to a "low-lying placenta,"  which thankfully has corrected itself.  But now I have been told that in order to prevent problems with my baby I may need to be induced in the next few weeks.

This could mean a premature baby.  But apparently this is preferable to the complications which could arise if she stays in much longer.  While I await further testing and decisions, I am filled with worry, but also quite grateful for the advances in medicine which will give us the best possible chance of health for both of us. 

With an induction I can still use my Natal Hypnotherapy and Birth Skills, and Active Birth, as long as the induction is successful.  And I am still holding out hope that everything will be fine and I can go ahead with a completely natural birth.  So all is not "lost."  We will just have to wait and see what happens!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Kittens!

I have been having computer problems and have been missing being able to blog about my adventures of late.  And today I have some very exciting news to share

My cat, Ellie, was meowing rather loudly outside by bedroom door at 5 am this morning.  I knew something was up and followed her.  She led me to the kitchen airing cupboard where I had set up a few blankets and old towels in the hopes of enticing her to give birth there.  When I tried to leave and get a jumper, she followed me and brought me back to the airing cupboard and settled down.  We sat companionably for a five or ten minutes when she started convulsing a bit.  This went on for a bit and I was not sure that anything would really happen.  When I finally saw a shiny black thing coming out I could hardly believe it.  This first birth took the longest and she spent so much time licking the creature within an inch of its life, I thought maybe she only had the one.  They settled in together and I eventually decided to make some breakfast.  I took my tea to the sofa for a rest and checked on her one last time to find another kitten coming out.  The next one came quickly after that.  My son woke up at about 7 am and we watched them for a bit and left them to rest.  After I took a nap we went back to find a fourth kitten.

The first three have colouring and markings just like their mum.  The last one is a bit ginger or grey---it is too soon to tell I think.  More like their aunt.

I had always thought that cats like to give birth in private.  So I feel especially honoured that Ellie actually wanted me there.  She doesn't want me touching them I think.  But it was a very special morning.  They are tucked away and Ellie is getting a bit of sleep as they suckle non stop.  (And I thought newborn babies nursed a lot!).  She has been fed and seems content.


It is difficult to get a good photo in a dark cupboard when they are all tucked up.  But this one got away for a minute so I could get a shot.  He or she welcomed the opportunity to get back to Mum to suckle when I put her back!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Giving Up Commercial Cleaners

Commercial cleaning products can be so beguiling with their fancy packaging, dazzling promises and nowadays, uplifting scents (sometimes).  But they come with a sting in their tail.  So here are my main concerns about commercial cleaning products:

  • They are usually not environmentally friendly due to their excessive packaging, transport costs, and some of the chemicals they contain.  We can now recycle much of the packaging, but not making it and recycling it saves even more energy and resources. 
  • They often contain chemicals, including scents which are hazardous to pets, children, humans, and asthma/allergy sufferers (I have all of these residents in my home).
  • There are cheaper alternatives.  And I like cheaper.
  • Even the so-called eco-friendly cleaners have some of the problems above.
  • I have a natural tendency to rebel against relying on manufacturers for the basics in life.  (I buy packaged foods and things but certainly have the ability to knock out a loaf of bread or biscuits if I want them instead of jumping in the car).
So I have been researching the alternatives.  Searching through the Internet reveals many different recipes and tricks.  I have found that you have to be careful when looking through these.  Some recipes turn out to be quite harsh chemicals, but really cheap to make.  This is fine if it is your only goal.  Some recipes are all natural and organic and very expensive.  This is fine if very natural and organic is your goal.  I am looking for something in between.  Simple, few inexpensive ingredients, and as safe as possible.  I also hate clutter and having  ten different bottles of things hanging around.

So I will be experimenting over the coming months.  I am using up the commercial products we have and replacing them with cheaper, more natural alternatives.

Paper Towel and Disposable Wipes challenge!

I am an addict.  In the last few years and especially the last few months I have become addicted to using baby wipes throughout the house.  I use them to wipe sticky fingers, wipe messy tables, spot clean the floor and walls, and even wash myself if I am in a hurry.

Now one of the ironic things about my addiction is that I wouldn't actually use baby wipes on my son.  I used reusable wipes with a special solution made from essential oils for nappy changing.  I did use baby wipes when out in public with his cloth nappies most of the time for convenience.  I usually used baby flannels to clean him up after meals.  I occasionally bought natural eco- and baby- friendly wipes when I could afford them.  Or just ordinary wipes on sale.  But it is really since my son has been potty trained that I have become wipes mad.  Maybe I am living a busier lifestyle trying to cram in work, childcare and domestic chores...but I want to give up my addiction.  I feel that it isn't great for the environment to use disposable products or ones full of chemicals (like formaldehyde!).  And it isn't great on my wallet either.

I actually haven't been buying paper towels in the last couple of months because I have been cutting back on unnecessary expenses.  I have a number of packets of wipes around--probably in every room and in the car!  Thanks to my recent trip to Costco. 

So I am setting myself a challenge before baby comes along.  For the month of April, I am going to hide the wipes.  I will leave the ones in the car because they are so convenient.  I will not buy paper towels or wipes.  I will get out the flannels, baby flannels, dusters, and cut up some old towels to make some more cleaning cloths.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ocado Delivery! and Vegetable Box Scheme

I am so excited to be getting my groceries delivered again!  Ocado put on a deal where you can get as many mid-week (Tues-Thurs) deliveries you want for £2.99 a month.  Or was it £3.99?  Cheap anyway.  Even if I only use it once or twice a month. 

So the groceries just came and just in time too because we have been running out of basics like eggs and fruit.  I nearly had to give my son ice cream for breakfast!  (He usually refuses oatmeal). 

The funny thing is though, that I actually struggled to fill my basket with £40 worth (the minimum order).  This is because I am trialing a new vegetable box scheme tomorrow.  The company I chose provides fruit, veg, meat, dairy, and pantry items.  So I am trying out their medium fruit and veg box, eggs, milk, chicken, beef, and sausages.  As a result I didn't want to put any of those items in my Ocado delivery.  If the veg box works out well, I may not need Ocado nearly as much.  The veg box scheme people have a minimum order of £25 for their meat products, which is certainly more meat than we eat in a week.  Or rather, more than we can afford in a week.  So I will have to weigh up the pros and cons of local, organic, expensive meat, versus Ocado's meat prices from not so local farms....

I am also thinking about trying a few different veg box schemes over the coming months.  To see which companies, produce, and prices I like the most.  I chose this one to try first because they sell dairy as well.

I am not sure that we will be self-sufficient in veg this year because I am too big and uncomfortable to dig in the garden at the moment, and I don't know how much I will get done with a small baby.  The nice thing about all of these schemes is that you can order for the weeks you want and stop when you need to.

Kitchen Hints

These are some of our top hints for saving money and saving your sanity!

  • Purchase in bulk where possible.  Good places to buy grains, beans, and tins include ethnic shops, Cash and Carry (such as Costco), and larger supermarkets.  I have also found some really good deals online by searching for "bulk whole foods."  You can purchase fresh produce, especially potatoes from farm shops.
  • It may seem counter intuitive to splash out on a lot of storage containers, but they really do help preserve food, and they keep you from losing packets of things at the back of the cupboard.  Glass is an ideal material, but I admit that most of my containers are Lock-n-Lock plastic ones at the moment.  Good places to find food storage containers are those inexpensive shops with loads of plastic items stacked up outside.  Most towns have a shop like this.  This is where I get canning jars, large plastic boxes for pet food and grains, and baskets.  Lakeland has a nice selection of containers including Lock-n-Lock, but if you really want to see a range, search the Internet.

  • Menu plan!  Not only does menu planning make it easier to shop and stay in budget, but it is so much easier to prepare dinner when you don't need to make last minute decisions.
  • Cook once, eat twice (at least).  If you roast chicken on Sunday, use the leftovers for a stir-fry on Monday night, sandwiches on Tuesday, and meanwhile make and freeze stock and chicken soup for later in the month.  Only keep leftovers two days in the fridge for health and safety.  When I make a casserole I make two.  One to eat now, preferably for two days, and one to freeze for later in the month.
  • Freeze bread before it goes off.  Even small crusts can be frozen to make breadcrumbs when you need them.  We don't eat a lot of bread in our house, so we almost always freeze our loaf and take out slices to toast when we want them.  I often buy bread and croissants from the sale rack to freeze.
  • Make and freeze your own muffins.  They are cheaper, healthier, and tastier.  I often have batches of oatmeal, blueberry, and white chocolate cranberry muffins in the freezer ready to defrost for breakfast or the lunchboxes.  Everyone in my house likes different varieties, so I could never get through a dozen of one kind before they go off. 
  • Many dairy products freeze well.   This is useful when you have a carton of cream or milk which is about to go off, but you cannot find the time to use.  I also purchase extras when they are on sale.  If I keep butter, cheese, milk, cream, and yogurt in the freezer I will never be caught out.
  • I find the easiest way to store cheddar is to buy a month's worth, shred it and freeze it.  If you pack this loosely you can easily dig a spoon in to spread over toast or over the top of a casserole.  Parmesan also freezes well once shaved or grated.  I often find these cheeses go off before I can use them up, so this method results in much less waste.
  • Embrace homemade oatmeal.  Oatmeal takes less than five minutes on the stovetop or three minutes in the microwave.  See recipes section for a few ideas.  Why spend money on little packets?  You can add the toppings you like, making it healthy with ground seeds and fruit or indulgent with golden syrup.
  • Use reusable containers for drinks, lunchboxes, leftovers, and food storage.  Disposable bags and wraps really add up over the year and do not do the environment any good--even if you can recycle them.  There are loads of plastic, metal and glass containers on the market these days.  Or save and reuse your glass and plastic containers.
  • Use cloth napkins, washing up cloths, dusters, and towels instead of paper.  They are cheaper and again better for the environment.
  • Give each member of the household a big mug to use.  Each person can use their mug for both hot and cold drinks during the day, washing/rinsing it as needed.  This saves on the washing up and if you find one left where it shouldn't be you know the culprit!
  • We also have bowls and plates which work on the same principle.  You can purchase a set of six different coloured bowls, plates or cups from most grocery stores or IKEA.  This makes it easier to prepare lunches and snacks for picky eaters and know whose plate is whose.
  • Store like things together.  Place baking supplies together in the same cupboard.  Gather small packets of sprinkles, essences, and baking powder in baskets or large tins.  Place all of the baking utensils, measuring cups, etc together in one drawer.

  • Go through your junk drawers to make room in one large drawer.  Fill this drawer with all of your barbecue stuff.  Long utensils, gloves, mesh baskets, plastic plates and even condiments.  These items are always awkward to store anywhere else and really need a home of their own.
  • I love the racks you can get to store chopping boards, pans, and trays.  They don't cost that much and make life so much easier.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle.  And get a good system going to make it easier on yourself.  No great tips---I just think this is important.
  • Save money by buying snacks in large bags and then putting them in smaller snack containers for lunchboxes.  (Reducing the amount of junk food your family eats is also healthy and better for the budget).
  • Don't buy juice.  Okay, I cannot seem to get my family to go with this one either.  Studies have shown that not only is juice really bad for the teeth, but that it does not contain very many nutrients after it has been pasteurised.  We eat loads of fruit in our family, which is healthier as it contains healthy fibre as well.  Our health visitors told us not to give the kids fruit juice or any fizzy colas, etc.  But we didn't listen and so we have an extra unnecessary expense each week.  We do water down our juice with water or sparkling water, which helps a bit.
  • Keep track of your diet for free with Sparkpeople.com.  You can do this on a computer or using a free app for your mobile.  You can input your daily food and they calculate your calorie intake and how much exercise you need to do to achieve your goals.  (Please check their guidelines for use and to see if you agree with their dietary advice before using).
  • Eat fruit and vegetables in season to save money.
  • Use ingredient searches on recipes websites such as allrecipes.com to help you cook from your pantry.
  • Try buying cheaper versions of food and household goods.  Sometimes stores sell their own brands in two versions.  One has plain packaging and one as a picture on it or a pull-top lid.  The products inside are often exactly the same!  Buying the cheaper versions works especially well with items you will be cooking with and some cleaning products.  If you don't like it, go back to your own brand.
  • If you are anything like me and get tempted to throw extras in your trolley, shop online and have your groceries delivered.  I save money on petrol and by sticking to my budget even if I need to pay a bit for delivery.  I am much more disciplined with my budget and I no longer have to deal with toddler tantrums---or Mummy tantrums at the store.  See my post on my favourite UK online delivery service, Ocado.
  • I cannot live without my family calendar.  It has six columns for six people or categories, tear off to do and shopping lists, and comes with stickers to liven things up a bit.  Mine is from OrganisedMum.com, but there are plenty out there if you have a look.  The one advantage to this company is that they make so many different versions.  You could have ones with fewer columns, or a desktop diary version, larger places to write, wipe off sections, shopping lists, party planner books, etc.  So you can really choose which calendar will best suit your family.