Thursday, 27 January 2011

Growing Heirloom Varieties

If you are getting ready to sit down with a few seed catalogues right about now, then you might want to consider growing some heirloom varieties this year.

What are heirloom plants?  They are plants grown from freely pollinated and collected seeds.  Basically they are old varieties, usually at least fifty years old.  Most modern seeds we find in the shops and catalogues today are hybrid varieties.  This means they have been chosen, bred, and packaged up to deliver disease resistant, productive, and uniform produce.  This seems like a great idea, but we are also at risk of losing out on our biodiversity, and some great tasting vegetables! 

One of the nice things about growing heirloom varieties is that you can save the seed produced at the then end of the season to grow the same crop again the following year.  This is a very economical way to grow your own!

If this has peaked your interest check out some of the following:

Why buy heirloom seeds?
Growing Heirloom Varieties

UK Sites
Real Seeds--this is one of my favourites!  Lots of seeds, info on how to grow and save seeds.
Vegetable Seed Store
Garden Organic--this organisation has tons of information as well as organic seeds, and some heirloom varieties
ThomasEtty--sells heritage seeds
Allotments UK--a wealth of information on growing your own

USA Sites
(I cannot vouch for any of these companies.  I just did a quick Internet search.)
Seeds Trust
Seed Savers
Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom Acres Seeds
Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds

Packing for Hospital

I can remember clearly someone warning me to pack my bag early because she had a premature (and thankfully healthy) baby.  So I started on my bag when I was 8 months pregnant.  But I couldn't put everything in because I was still using my pajamas, big dark underwear, and my toothbrush.  Well when my waters broke at 36.5 weeks it was a mad scramble to get everything ready and into the car! 

In our ante-natal classes, the midwife told us that we would only need one day's worth of items.  I was in hospital for seven days altogether and had to not only ask my partner to bring items, but I had to ask a friend to purchase the car seat, more maternity pads, more underwear and pajamas (since mine were in the wash). 

So I am going to do a proper job of it this time.

There isn't much storage space in hospitals and you will likely get moved around a time or two.  So you actually need to have two or maybe three bags for your average labour.  You will need one bag for labour.  The other bag can contain items if you need to stay longer.  This second bag and the car seat can be kept in the car.  Then send your birth partner out for them when needed.  (If you don't have a car, you will still need a car seat if you are using a taxi to get home.  But you will also have to lug everything with you).

Labour bag:

Hand held notes and Birth Plan
Phone and charger
Music--ipod, cds or tapes

Lip balm
Hair scrunchies
Comfy clothes to go home in (or you can wear what you wore to come in)
Snacks for you and birth partners:  juice boxes, nuts, cereal bars, biscuits
Entertainment:  newspaper, magazines, etc---birth partner might get bored with long waits
Massage balm/oil
slippers/slip on shoes
maternity pads
Nursing bra
Dark, cheap or disposable underwear

Sleepsuits x 2
Vests x 2
Nappies x 5
(you are advised against using baby lotions, soaps, powders and wipes for the first three months due to baby's delicate skin)

Nightdress---using the hospital gown for labour means less laundry for you when you get home
Makeup---I hear this is important to lots of women....
Flannel/wash cloths

Check with your hospital about:

Cotton wool

After-birth Bag

Pack light and ask someone to take away your dirty laundry each day and bring you more items.

toothbrush and toothpaste
soap, shampoo, conditioner
lip balm
makeup (optional)
antibacterial wipes
witch hazel---to soothe your sore bits
nipple cream
maternity pads

or button down nightdress (if breastfeeding)
dark, cheap or disposable underwear
Nursing Bra
Breast pads
slippers/slip on shoes
cardigan or robe
notebook and pen
comfy clothes


Searching for PUL

I have been having a look around the Internet for PUL fabric--or similar-- to make some cloth nappy covers, wet bags, and cloth sanitary ware.  But most of the sources which come up while doing a search seem to be out of business or out of stock!  I guess I was hoping to have some really cute prints as well. 

My mother in the USA has offered to do some sewing but the choices and patterns are so limited.  Looks like I am back to buying from regular sites.  They have a higher quality product than I can make and great designs.

I will have a go at some cloth nappies to fit my newborn though!  I will just buy the covers. 

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Dear God,
my desire, my priority is inner peace.  I want the experience of love.  I don't know what would bring that to me.  I leave the results of this situation in your hands.  I trust your will.  May your will be done.  Amen.
                                                                                                            --Marianne Williamson,
                                                                                                               A Return to Love

Donating Sanitary Protection

All over the world there are girls who miss a week of school each month because they cannot afford sanitary protection.  Women can also miss out on income if they cannot manage their monthly bleed.  Check out this article about girls from Zimbabwe here.

Here is how you can help, whether your sew, purchase goods to send, donate materials, or money. have loads of information, organisations to donate to and patterns
Project Thrive--US based charity, includes information on their work, as well as patterns for pads and wet bags
Sister Hope--this woman has not only distributed pads to schoolgirls in Uganda, but has created a business for women in Uganda to make pads for girls and bags for the rest of us to buy

Homemade Sanitary Pads

I have been using cloth menstrual pads for many years, but they can be quite expensive to purchase.  Of course you can make them yourself and there are a large number of patterns on the Internet. 

Here are a few good websites to check out:

Ask Pauline---she has a great list of sites and patterns she has researched

And if you are making some anyway, check out my post on donating sanitary pads to women and girls all over the world who cannot afford sanitary protection.

Good thing I am skint...

because I have been looking at the Babykind website researching the new nappy systems out there.  A lot has changed over the last four years!  I am so confused about what to get to augment my favourite motherease nappies...(if you read my post on cloth nappies you will know I started using cloth nappies when my son was a month old and didn't get on with my first set, so I need to get something to fit my baby for the first couple of months).

And while I was there I was searching around the site because it has been  a while.  So now I feel I want one of their new wetbags, their changing bag/baby carrier (check it out), fairtrade dolls (can't find mixed race dolls easily for my kids), babybits to make my own wipes solution, natural nappy rash creams and soaps, and cleansing pads.  I was planning to buy more of their cloth menstrual pads, but have thankfully decided to make my own. 

It is really too bad that we don't have baby showers in the UK!

Donating Goods to Charity

There isn't much that can beat the feeling of donating clothes, books, and home goods to charity.  I love decluttering, reusing, recycling, and if it can make some money for a charity at the same time I think we all end up winners! 

I do sometimes wonder if they can really use my stuff though.  Am I making a difference or do they just toss it when it doesn't sell.  Well, most charity shops in the UK can at least sell all unsold textiles (you can donate your real old rags, for this reason), and earn money that way too.  The textiles are sold to companies which can sort and use them in a variety of ways.  This means that even if no one wants to buy your out of fashion garments they won't end up in a landfill.  Another win-win, if you ask me.

And check this out.  Next time you donate in a UK charity shop, they might ask you if you want to Gift Aid your donation.  If you are a UK taxpayer you can sign a form stating that you want the charity to receive the full amount on the goods they sold, rather than having to pay the taxman.  When I signed up to the scheme at the British Heart Foundation a few months back, they gave me a card with a unique reference number.  A couple of weeks ago they sent me an e-mail to tell me that so far my goods have earned them £37!  And here I was wondering if I was making a difference....

Donate your Hair

In terms of ease, this is a great way to do your bit for someone who has lost their hair due to cancer or alopecia.  A quick Internet search can provide you with a number of charities willing to take hair which they send off to make wigs.  Some charities specialise in giving wigs to children, some to women with cancer, and some have a mix of recipients.  You can choose a charity to match your sentiments as well as your hair.  There are a few which will take dyed hair, and some will take shorter hair as well. 

Here is a woman who has done some research on a few different charities when she chose to donate her hair a few years back How to choose

It has been a while since I had a haircut, and so I have plenty of hair to donate.  This is good, because most charities require at least 8 inches, and most require 10 inches of clean, undyed hair.

Here is one of the charities I am considering donating to:

In the USA you can try:

LocksofLove (my sister grows and donates her hair here every year!)

But there are plenty of places out there!

Fish Fight

Have you signed up yet?

So it is estimated that North Sea fishermen are discarding half of their catch (dead) due to a combination of our taste in fish and the current EU rules on fishing quotas.  There must be a better solution to feed us and actually help create sustainable fishing.

According to the website:

"We need to diversify our fish eating habits, and we need to change policy so that it works for fish, fishermen, and consumers."

Check it out at

The website lists a few ways to help including signing the petition to be presented to EU parliament, writing letters to your MP, and choosing different varieties of fish.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Usborne Christmas Baking Book

We love this book and have blogged about some of our endeavours already.  We especially love the gingerbread houses and Christmas cupcakes which are flavoured with clementines.  There are a number of Christmassy recipes, but many could be used all year around.  My son especially likes that he has his own cookbook to look through.

He received this for his fourth birthday, and so he still needs an adult to help him with reading, etc.  But there are many large, clear photographs, which helps both of us get through the recipes!  I will definitely look for more of their books in the future.

Thanks Auntie H!!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Choosing Raised Beds

Deciding to use raised beds in my garden,despite taking ten years of humming and hawing over it, was easy compared to choosing which system to go with!

The things that I need to consider include:
  • price (!)
  • price over time/how long they will last
  • ease of assembly
  • material
  • size
And I am trying to decide between these UK products:

These are made of 98% recycled plastic.  They say they will not break.  They will last for ages.  They come in five colours (I am favouring black).  There are a large number of size variations available and hoops/netting as well.  The sets can be stacked to make deeper beds,which is what I am looking for.  If I move I can pick them up and take them with me.  I would imagine they would have some resale value if needed.  These are less expensive than many of the wooden and plastic systems out there.  The company is well established, so if I like them, it is likely I can add to my collection year after year.  I am not 100% sure I want plastic in my garden.  But I believe that a product which will last for ages is good for the environment.

Wooden Systems

You can make your own fairly inexpensively with treated or untreated timber.  Or you can look at some of these sites for their ready to build sets.

Harrod Horticultural  I am looking at their "allotment" series, which is a value range.
Recycle Works  Their beds slot together easily and they have good prices.
Green Fingers  These folks have a bewildering array of beds available!

Make sure to look for FSC-accredited wood.  All of these companies have a wide variety of types, sizes, and price ranges.  Wooden beds which have been treated have some risk of leaching chemicals into the crops, supposedly.  The untreated versions would rot within a few years.  These systems can cost about the same as the plastic system above, but may only be guaranteed up to five years.  Wood looks nice....

I have considered trialing a couple of different kinds.  I will be pouring over these websites for the next few weeks and wrestle with my budget a bit...and let you know what I have decided.

Raised Beds

Using raised beds can have a lot of benefits in the vegetable garden.  Raised beds mean less digging because you do not walk on, and compact the soil.  They result in better water retention, and temperature being slightly above the ground.  For some, high beds are easier to reach.   Raised bed gardeners also use close planting methods, which means less weeding, and a better use of space.  Raised beds are great for both small and large gardens as well.

I have used raised beds growing up with great success.  Here on the farm I have made some beds using some old bricks.  But I am really struggling to grow decent crops with the soil here.  It is really free-draining.  Too free-draining.  And despite years of adding manure and compost I just cannot get more than a few nice vegetables each year! 

And I have decided to bite the bullet and order a raised bed system.  I have been avoiding it for many years to protect my budget, but I have had enough.  Since I have some really awful pernicious weeds---the only thing that seems to thrive here, I will be choosing a deep bed and using weed proof cloth as well.

I intend to fill the bed with compost, topsoil, and manure.  An expensive way to go, but I would like to prove to myself that my poor yield is due to awful soil rather than my poor gardening skills!  I will start with one or two beds this year as an experiment.  I will try out some of my old beds as well and compare.  If it works I will get more beds for next year.

Listening Meditation

This is another Mindfulness Meditation.  It can truly be done anywhere! 

To begin:

Settle your self and if sitting, place your feet flat on the floor.  Uncross your arms and place them gently in your lap.  Close your eyes or gaze softly at the floor in front of you.  Sit with an upright, yet relaxed spine.  Now bring your attention to the solid chair beneath you...the solid floor beneath your feet...connected to the solid building...with its foundations deep in the solid earth...........

Now turn your attention to the noises around you.  Listen to everything in the room...outside the room....without judgement....simply allow all of the sounds around you to register....acknowledge and accept each sound.......if you find yourself distracted by thoughts, return to your listening......take note of each noise inside the room......and outside the in this moment in time..........allow other thoughts to float can think about them is the time to simply listen.........(continue as long as you like).

To end this meditation, focus your attention once again on the floor beneath your feet, feeling the solid floor, connected to the solid building, with its foundations deep in the solid earth.  Now focus your attention on the solid chair beneath you.  And when you are ready slowly open your eyes.  Rub your hands and face.

Take note of how you feel and your observations during the meditation.

Prayer for Healers

Dear God,

Thank you for all of the gifts you have given me, but most of all, the gift of life, the gift of healing, and the gift of your awesome love.  I ask for your continued guidance and protection so that I might use these gifts to do your will.

Children's Prayer of Thanksgiving

Dear God,

Thank you for today.  Thank you for Mummy, thank you for Daddy, thank you for my sisters, thank you for my kittens, thank you for (insert anything or anyone here).  Thank you for everyone, and thanks to everybody.  Amen.

Tips for Meditation Practice

There are many types of meditation, but these tips will help you begin practicing some of the exercises I have included here.
  • For a truly relaxing meditation it is helpful to have a comfortable chair (or floor mat), soft lighting, soft music perhaps, minimum noise, and no interruptions.
  • BUT, they are not necessary.  With some practice it is entirely possible to practice Mindfulness Meditation in a noisy place, or even the bus stop.
  • Falling asleep IS OK if sleep is what you need.
  • Begin and end each meditation with the "grounding" exercise provided.  This is helpful for centring and balance.  In energy terms it is not safe to remain "floaty" all day.
  • Drink plenty of water before and especially afterwards.
  • Meditation can sometimes bring up emotions, so keep this in mind when interacting with others for the rest of the day.  If you are feeling emotional, either positive or negative, it may be helpful to find someone to talk to.
  • Meditation can take practice.  Start with short exercises and build up gradually.
  • It can be helpful to have someone read the directions to you.  Or record yourself!
  • It goes without saying that alcohol, illicit drugs and meditation do not mix.  A gentle diet is also helpful, but not necessary.  Do keep up with the water as above, though.
  • There are no hard and fast rules for how long or how often you should meditate.  Use quick meditations when you feel like it.  Meditate for ten minutes a day or per week or per month.  Any meditation is helpful and more is great.  But don't get hung up on amounts.  (I do not believe in "should!")
  • During meditation, resting your hands down on your thighs can be calming.  And turning them upwards on your lap can be energizing.

The Breath

This is a Mindfulness Meditation.  It can be done for three minutes for a quick meditation, or increased to 20, 40, 60 minutes or more with practice.

To begin:

Sit comfortably with an upright, yet relaxed spine.  Put your feet flat on the floor, and rest your hands gently in your lap.  You can close your eyes, or, if you prefer, softly gaze at the floor in front of you.

Now, focus your attention on the chair beneath you...the solid chair.  Now your feet on the solid floor..which is connected to the solid building....with its solid foundations deep in the solid earth.

Now, turn your attention to your breath.  Do not try to change your breath in any way.  Simply notice your breath as you breathe in and as you breathe you breathe in, say to yourself "in" or "one" and as you breathe out say in your mind "out" or "two."  Keep repeating this as you breathe in and as you breathe out.  Focus on each breath, without judgement, simply notice as you breathe in and as you breathe out.  If you become distracted by thoughts or noises, simply allow them to float by, without can think about them later...for now focus on your can continue this for as long as you like).

When preparing to end the meditation, bring your focus back to the floor beneath your feet...the solid floor...connected to the solid building..........with its foundations deep in the solid bring your attention to the solid chair beneath you.....and the room around you......and when you are ready, open your eyes.  Gently rub your hands, arms and face.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

French Toast

French Toast is a very popular breakfast food in the United States.  Some folks in the UK like this dish which they call Eggy Bread.  Eggy Bread is usually savoury, seasoned with salt and pepper.  French Toast is spiced with cinnamon.  I prefer to use nutmeg.

It is best to use older bread for this dish.  Any bread will do.  Any milk will do as well.  I lived off of this during my university years.  It was Ezekiel bread and soy milk in those days!

You will need:

Two slices of bread per person
1 egg for 3-5 slices, 2 eggs for more
Half a mug of milk, or more as needed
Pinch of nutmeg (or cinnamon or pepper)

To serve:  maple syrup and butter, or cinnamon sugar, or jam

  1. Break the egg(s) into a shallow dish, such as a pie pan.  Beat well.
  2. Add milk, spice and mix well.
  3. Soak each slice of bread in egg mixture.
  4. Fry in a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Or fry in oil/butter if you prefer.
  5. The toast should be browned slightly on each side and cooked through.
  6. Serve warm.
Hints:  This is a great recipe for almost stale bread.  If I have too much bread I make extras and pop in the fridge for the next morning too.  A great time saver!  They also freeze well.  For a variation, serve a fried egg on top instead of syrup.

Venturing into the world of Ebay

A few years ago I purchased some cloth nappies from Ebay, and I have thought about selling on there ever since.  Something makes me nervous.  Will it be worth it?  How do you calculate postage?  How could I possibly package up breakables??

Well I think it is high time I found out.  I have been toying with the idea of a car boot sale for ages, but it isn't car boot sale season.  And quite frankly I have not had a sale for many years now.  So why not have a go at Ebay? 

Today I had a look around at similar items.  And I read the directions.  I will need some good photos and good descriptions.  I also need to weigh the items to come up with postage fees.  I am still nervous, but I am determined.  My goal for the next week is to locate and list three items from my house.  A good start I think.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Temptations again.

I am discovering just how much mood can affect my shopping.  I have for the most part been able to follow my goals for this month regarding menu planning and spending less.  I have been cooking from the pantry shelves and the freezer and made some really lovely meals, too.  I have spent much less than half of my usual spend so far.

But yesterday I was having a rough day.  I had two different doctor appointments, it was pouring rain, and parking was terrible both times.  I was tired, hungry, nauseous, and generally fed up.  (Though the appointments themselves went really well).  I was so tempted to walk into a grocery store and just fill my cart with custard, cake, soup, breads, chicken, fresh fruit, cookies, tea, and ingredients to make lovely roast dinners and more cakes.

Fortunately I live miles from a grocery store, and so my budget was saved.  I did stop at the petrol station for some petrol.  I purchased a half price pack of cake and some sour sweets---the only thing I have found to help with pregnancy nausea. 

I arrived home and enjoyed my treats--though they would have been nicer with a cup of tea.  And I remembered back to the last time I bought things when I didn't intend to.  It was when I was having a really bad day and had to go to another hospital appointment.  I wrote about it a few weeks ago.  I didn't want to get out of bed that day.  And on the way to my appointment I told myself I would go to the shop, find something I could eat and drink and a magazine. 

So I either have to decide that my budget can handle this or I need to make sure I take time to do some cheaper relaxation and pleasure activities.  And since my budget can't handle this, meditation it is!  And I went to the library and grabbed five, yes five novels.  Nothing like a stack of pleasure to make you feel spoiled. 

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Farm Gathering

Everyone from the farm gathered here for dinner last night.  We even had family from America.  I had 11 people altogether.  And I didn't have to cook!  (Much.)  I made the Indian chicken I made last week.  And others made salad, a spicy rice stir fry and we had a delicious chocolate orange gateau from Tescos. 

I really wanted to take photos and copy the recipe for the stir fry.  But after tidying up and preparing the chicken, this pregnant lady needed to put her feet up!  I will try to get the recipe another time.  Unfortuantely we all stayed up way too late and I am quite bleary eyed his morning.  And no, I did not have any alcohol.  Our pancakes were a bit lumpy this morning!

And what is even better news is that my neighbours gave me a bag of girls clothes!  They are having a second girl a month or so before me, but they have so many. They are lovely and I am excited about all of the little dresses and things.  It is still hard to imagine that I will have this little bundle in a few months time!  (Even though she is kicking me day and night!)

Friday, 14 January 2011

A Return to Love

I thought I had read this books many years ago, but must have read some of her other works.  I am a big Marianne Williamson fan.  I am looking forward to hearing her on  I think she has a new programme on Tuesdays. 

This book draws on her experiences studying and teaching on A Course In Miracles.  This is a modern evolution of Christianity and has many fans.  While many of the ideas are different from the lessons we grew up with, they really appeal to me.

I have picked this up several times over the last year.  I re-read sections and get more out of it each time.  I am fascinated by many of the concepts:  God is love.  Fear is hell.  We come here to learn lessons and return to love.

I like how this book goes over some of they key points from a Course in Miracles, but in simpler terms.  I think that both books are very powerful and have the potential to not only alter your thinking, but alter the way you live--and enjoy your life. 

I think that what people gain from the book is quite personal, and I would like to blog on my gains at some point.  I think that I will be reading some sections again and using some of the ideas in my journaling and meditation practices this year.  And I would love to hear from others what they think about the book.

Square Foot Gardening

This is one of my favourite gardening books.  It is amazing how much you can grow in such a small space.  Mel Batholomew also gives such great tips for keeping seeds year after year, and watering etc. 

I find it much easier to grow vegetables in beds instead of huge rows.  With this method you grow what you need rather than simply emptying a seed packet down a long row, only to have to thin out later.  So this method is less waste, less weeding, and there is less waste with the produce at the end.  (Let's face it, summer squashes don't freeze that well).  The other great advantage is that there is no annual digging involved!  If you don't walk all over your vegetable patch, and compact the earth, there is no reason to dig it. 

If you are new to gardening or trying to grow in a very small space,this is a very helpful book.  And if you want to expand, you can do that easily too by creating more beds!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Kids Kitchen

I created this kitchen using a few old bedside tables.  The wooden ones needed to be sanded down and painted.  The middle one was already white.  A friend of mine painted stove burners on the top of hers.  I decided to use black paper circles and clear contact paper (also called sticky back plastic).

 I also created an "oven," and dials.

 My cooker/stove is called "Hotspot" and the fridge is called "Frigi," which means "fridge" in Swahili.

The trickiest bit was the sink.  I asked a friend for help.  He used a jigsaw to cut out a hole which would fit the basin I had.  He also found an old spigot in his workshop and attached it with No More Nails I think.  I was going to use a pipe or a block of wood until he found that.  You can get spigots in places like Wilkinsons where they sell wine making equipment.

I haven't quite finished the knobs on the stove top.  I have collected 6 bottle caps from soda water and intend to fix them on with nuts and bolts, so they turn.  Of course I have been planning to attach them for two years now.

I think this cost about £10 for the paint.  I had the bedside tables already, looking old and worn.  Oh, and £1 for contact paper which looks like a wood countertop. 

Numberjacks Biscuits

My 4-year old is becoming a dab hand at the computer these days!  He likes playing the games on Cbeebies.  This morning he found a recipe for Numberjacks biscuits, and of course he wanted to make them.  This fit perfectly in with my plan because we are having some houseguests this afternoon, and a few biscuits are always useful to have on hand.

This recipe is another gingerbread/spicy biscuit type.  Yum!  We don't have number cutters, so we made all sorts of fun shapes.  As usual we skipped the icing, since I have a household of icing-haters (Shame). 

It is a great site for many games, colouring sheets, songs, and recipes:

Numberjacks Biscuits

Pantry Staples

Everybody has their favourite pantry items.  The ones you reach for again and again to make a meal in an instant.  My cupboards are full of spices--usually big jars of whole spices I buy in Asian shops.  I have loads of soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, vinegars, and the like.  Of course your spices and sauces will depend a lot on what kind of cuisines you like, but as for the rest, I cannot live without:

  1. Basmati Rice
  2. Red lentils
  3. Popcorn
  4. Flour (several kinds)
  5. Pesto
  6. Tin Tomatoes
  7. Stock or Knorr Stock "pot"
  8. Soup Mix (a plain mix of lentils and grains)
  9. Beans
  10. Noodles--rice or soba

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Lunchbox woes

So my son is an ok eater at home, but is very picky about his lunchbox.  He attends Playgroup twice a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  And most of his lunch comes home with him at the end of the day.  The school has one of those policies that they won't throw anything away---I guess so you can see what your child ate.  But they also don't help him put it all back together so the lunchbox becomes a big mess of pretzels covered with half a yogurt, and sandwich all smushed together. 

My son does not care for typical lunchbox foods such as sandwiches, deli meats (which is just as well as we don't have these in the house usually), cheese, and even normal snacks.  He will occasionally eat some pasta with pesto sauce.  And once I think I am on to a winner he comes home the next week with a lunchbox full of pesto pasta.  He will sometimes have an apple, sometimes Japanese rice crackers, sometimes a yogurt, and other days they go untouched.  (I am sure he would eat cake, chocolate, biscuits or crisps, but the school frowns on these items.)

I did have one failsafe item.  He would always come home with an empty sandwich box when I made his one and only sure fire winner.  This consists of a small tortilla, some cooked chicken, and shredded carrots.  Some lettuce could be included in season.  No other sauces, veg, etc is allowed.  And all year I have been making this sandwich when I have the right ingredients in stock.  And all year I have very happily opened his lunchbox to find it empty.  It warms the heart. 

Until yesterday, the 11 of January 2011.  When I discovered an almost complete sandwich.  There had been a few nibbles.  But it sat there, heavy taunting me.  The food waste (since I am pregnant I wasn't willing to eat it now that the ice pack had defrosted), my poor son who was telling me he was starving, and the lost confidence in being able to feed my son really got to me.  (Pregnant=emotional).  He had even helped me shred the carrot! 

I look longingly at the bento boxes on and other sites.  But I know that he just won't eat what is in them.  Not the proper food anyway.  No peanut butter sandwiches, cute cheese cut outs.  A few grapes, yes, but no grilled chicken with a little sauce pot to dip it in. 

Thanks to Jamie Oliver we don't need to worry about our school dinners.  So bring on Reception class!  I can't wait until September!


Just as soon as you resolve to do something, fate sends temptation your way.  So I decide I need to cut back on spending and then received five sale catalogues through the door.  Actually that wasn't so bad.  I can resist clothes from Lands End because they don't do maternity.  (But I am worried that if Cox & Cox are selling things cheaply does that mean they won't stock them anymore??? Then I could miss out completely on some things I have been eyeing up).

But here was my dilemma for yesterday.  I phoned Ocado to make sure they don't renew my Delivery Pass.  The one which gives me unlimited delivery for a year, but costs £109 right now.  And the lady on the phone quite happily stopped the renewal.  But then she asked me if I wanted to have unlimited delivery for £3.99 per month.  This is the new deal.. I said, that I was cancelling because I was told I would have to pay £109.  She said, that was if I renewed automatically.  Now I am both confused why they would happily charge me so much when they have a deal on, but also I am not sure if I should sign up to the new programme. 

I said that I would need to think about it and now I can't find this offer on the website to think it through further.  The thing is, that if you cough up £50 on your credit card and then don't pay it off for several months, then you are not only not saving, but losing out big time.  So be strong.  Say no.  Walk away. 

Monday, 10 January 2011

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

Next time you find a great deal on bananas you can slice them up and freeze them for this drink.

I tend to "wing it" with smoothies.  I pop some fruit in and then add enough yoghurt or other liquid to reach the consistency I like on the day.   So these amounts are approximate.

Two small bananas or one large one, sliced and frozen
Milk (cow, soy, whatever)--start with a cup and add as needed
One Tablespoon smooth peanut butter (preferably natural)

  1. Pop all of these in a blender. 
  2. Blend until smooth, adding more liquid if necessary
  3. Drink

Mosaic Star--Craft Gallery

I love this star.  A friend gave it to us and it takes pride of place on our mantle.  I especially like homemade gifts and ones from the heart.


This project is so simple, yet so effective.  Pick your favourite quote, print it out in an interesting font and colour.  Mount in a nice frame.  When I get stressed this reminder helps me stop and put things in perspective.

Patchwork Heart Picture

You can make your own art at a fraction of the cost.  You will need for this project:

Picture frame with mount (this one is from IKEA for about £16)
Scraps of red paper from magazines, cards, etc.  (or colour of your choice)
Spray mount (optional)
Masking tape
White card larger than the centre mount
Two pieces of white paper or card, cut to fit the size of the centre square

  1. Begin by cutting all of the red paper into approximately one inch squares.  They can be a bit rustic if you like.  For the best effect choose papers of different textures.  I found some shiny card, some dark red with ridges, thin construction paper, and a variety of shades from magazines.  (This process took me a few weeks to find enough squares).
  2. Take one of the white pieces of paper or card and begin to glue the squares on in rows.  They can overlap slightly.  Try to fill the paper as much as possible.  Allow to dry thoroughly. 

3.  Taking the other white piece of paper, cut out a heart shape:  Fold the white paper in half, then cut a half heart.  Unfold to reveal the whole heart.  Place it in frame to make sure you like it.

4.  Place the heart on the patchwork squares and VERY CAREFULLY cut out.

5.  Next, mount your patchwork heart onto the card, ensuring it fits into the mount nicely.  (I find this to be the hardest bit).  Secure the card to the back of the mount with tape. 
6.  Try this in the frame to make sure it fits well.  When it is just right, close the frame.

Friend for Dinner

I have been having a bit of a rough pregnancy and so it is especially nice to have a friend come round to visit and to cook together.  OK, well maybe I did more cooking and my friend (and follower) Vicki did more playing with my 4 year old!  But every little helps as they say.

We made Madhur Jaffrey's Whole Chicken wrapped in foil.  I wish I had more photos.  We were having too much fun gobbling it down and playing with new Christmas toys.  It is somewhat unusual to find Indian recipes for whole chicken because like in much of the world, Indians often cut up meats and cook them on stovetops in casseroles or on the grill.

This chicken was marinated in a spicy yoghurt mixture for a few hours.  Well I did an hour because I ran out of time.  Then smothered in another onion spice paste.  The list of ingredients looks long, but it is mostly spices and very easy to put together.  What's more, it tasted DELICIOUS!  I really need to do it more often.  I served it with plain steamed vegetables and some small potatoes.  Although I love every vegetable dish I have cooked from this book, I ran out of energy and onions! 

This is the first Indian cookbook I have owned.  I have one more now from another author. I am tempted to put more of Madhur's books on my wish list.  Making spice pastes and measuring out a few extra ingredients might take a few extra minutes, but the flavours are amazing.  And they are certainly cheaper and healthier than getting a takeaway.  I use this book most often to make an interesting vegetable dish to serve with a plain roast chicken.  I have only ever received compliments!

Artwork by Vicki, mostly.


Although I would say that I am fairly good with money, I have found in the past when I try to be really strict with it I fail miserably.  I feel blessed with simple tastes and by this simple fact alone have managed to save for things when I needed them, because it sure wasn't my will power!

I think that just like dieting, setting strict limits on spending can have a negative effect on the psyche.  Sure, I have a few days of optimism, until I hit the grocery store and end up spending another £60 at the till.  My two areas of overspending are on groceries and stuff for the kids (dvds, toys, books).  And so to help me get into the right mindset for the next few months I am undertaking an exercise in abundance.

I am almost embarrassed to admit just how much food we already have in the house.  Especially when I know there are so many people out there who don't have much.  And to sit and complain seems a bit strange.  But I guess this may be the point of the exercise.  I am imagining my pantry now and I am going to list all of the things I can make with the ingredients on hand.

  • Pancakes
  • Bread
  • Muffins---oatmeal, blueberry
  • Cottage Pie
  • Turkey meatloaf
  • Turkey and Apple Sausages
  • Pasta with pesto or tomato sauce
  • 1/4 of a lamb in the freezer can make many dishes
  • Chicken stir fry, and chicken soup from yesterday's roast chicken
  • sukumawiki
  • ugali, rice, semolina, barley, quinoa, bulghur wheat
  • oatmeal
  • Sushi
  • Apple crumble
  • Apple pie
  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Clam chowder
  • Frittatta
  • Cheese sandwiches
  • Bread and Butter Pudding
  • Ice Cream Sundaes
  • Cereal
  • Potato Latkes
  • Sweet Potato Oven chips
  • Zege
  • Bean Soups
  • A number of vegetable dishes
  • Kebab with flatbread and veg and meat
  • Samosas
Now I won't make all of these right away and there are plenty more things I could add--especially if I dig to the bottom of my chest freezer.  But I do feel reassured that I can feed my family this week without stepping foot in a shop.  And probably next week too.  (Though I think I will venture out to buy milk, eggs, and onions when I run out).

Sunday, 9 January 2011


I like to delude myself that I don't really need much.  I am relatively frugal because needs must, but in truth I am probably as materialistic as the next person.  I think that if only I had the perfect set of kitchen tools, or organic underwear my life would be ordered and complete.  I believe that once I make the next purchase I will turn into a domestic goddess and keep the living room spotless just so I can house said object.  If I can but have beautiful objects I would of course appreciate them, take care of them, and not need anything else.

So here are a few things I am convinced I need.

  • A whole new wardrobe.  I am sold on Gok Wan's idea that we only need 24 key pieces.  And my key pieces would be organic, fairtrade and/or vintage.  Plus organic undies, pajamas, and yoga pants.  (I would probably keep my Shetland wool cardigan which belonged to my grandmother).
  • New dishes.  I technically have enough dishes to feed quite a few guests--although I don't have a table which will fit quite a few guests.  But over the years my dishes have by way of breakages become a mix and match set.  Need?  No.  Want?  Yes!
  • Books.  Well there are always more than a few books on my amazon wish list!
  • Greenhouse, Chicken Coop and Chickens, oh and a new wheelbarrow
  • More memory for my computer (enough to house all of my music and films)
  • New winter coat, jacket and snow boots

Moral dilemnas Part 1

We are bombarded with messages of what we should and shouldn't eat these days.  From studies touting cholesterol reducing margarine, to companies claiming their vegetables are picked and frozen quicker, it can be a challenge to decide who to believe.  Just some of the things I have been looking at in the last few days have told me that I need to do the following--or my health is at stake:
  • Eat 5 fruit and veg a day
  • Eat only low fat dairy products
  • Eat only raw, full fat dairy products
  • Eat lots of meat
  • Try to eat meat free several times per week
  • Eat only new age margarine and sparingly
  • Eat only natural oils such as butter, coconut oil, and cold pressed olive oil
  • Take supplements
  • Supplements are not necessary
I already knew that my diet isn't perfect before I got scared to death by the above statements and their accompanying research studies.  I eat sweet treats, lots of fruit and veg, a mix of grains (including white bread sometimes, shock horror!), some chicken, fish, meat, eggs....  And I think I kinda do ok. 

Ideally I would take the time to eat a whole foods diet.  We try to grow our own and buy locally when we can.  I go for Fairtrade items regularly (but not always), and buy free range when our budget does not stretch to organic.  We work hard to reduce waste and compost as much as we can.

I would love to grow more, raise chickens, goats and bees.  And I hope to manage some of these things soon.  But at the moment it is difficult to fit them in to my current lifestyle.  In addition, it is difficult to know what to grow, and eat when faced with all of the decisions outlined above. 

Saturday, 8 January 2011

An oldie but goodie

One of the items I lugged across the Atlantic was my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  I have the 1996 edition.

It was a gift from my mother and it is in regular use in my house, especially when I am missing some of my favourite American recipes.  Although touted as a basic cookbook  (---it will tell you how to make cakes, muffins, pies, soups, roasts, etc), it has some really modern and interesting items too. 

The recipes which get used the most in our house include:

Busy-Day  Cake with Broiled Coconut Topping.  In fact if I have friends over for a barbecue or party they demand it!  It is super quick because it is made in one bowl and you can do it with only one measuring cup and one measuring spoon if you want to.  My other favourite cake in here is the Hot Milk Sponge.  I used to make it a lot in college using whole wheat flour and it was always wonderful!

Wild Rice Stuffing  This is a very different stuffing and the only one we ever have in our house.

There are also a number of grain casseroles and salads we like a lot, such as Mixed Grain Casserole and Cabbage Rolls with Bulgar and Vegetables.  It is hard to find them elsewhere.  I am constantly using the recipes for Puffed Oven Pancake, Baking Powder Biscuits and Muffins.  You can make many muffin variations.  I change the type of flour I use sometimes and add fresh, frozen or dried fruits as well as oatmeal.

Ads and Vegetable boxes

Well one of the rules is that I am not allowed to click on the ads on my own site.  But they are so tempting since they are mostly related to what I write about.  Like this morning when I logged on and saw the ad for  They have such good looking goodies and I will likely try some when I have finished with my being really frugal and eating from my cupboards experiment.

I am on the lookout for a new vegetable box scheme.  I am hoping since my last search that more have popped up in my community!  I actually really liked the one I used to use.  They had veg, meat, eggs, and some fish.  They made their own sausages and cured their own bacon.  But I had a few problems.  One was that I was really hoping to find one which sold dairy products.  And after a year or two eating their products I got really tired of eating their meats!  They were lovely organic, free range cows and chickens they raised themselves.  (They do pork as well, but we don't care for pork).  But they tasted so gamey to me.  Now this would appeal to a lot of folks I know, but not to me I am afraid.  So I have been heading to the grocery stores and farm shops for meat more recently.

I do try to grow a lot of my own vegetables, and so cancelled my box a couple of years ago.  But I have been having so many problems with my soil that my yield has been very poor in the last few years.  (More of that in later posts).  So I might peruse the web this morning in search of something new.  Or have a look at my old scheme and see what they are offering these days.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

If I won the lottery...

What would I do with the money?

Well that depends on what I have won.

If I win £20 I will buy food or something essential.  If I won a million, I would start with a haircut.  Then a house.  (Large enough to fit the family, a large vegetable garden, chickens, and possibly two goats...)  If I won two million I would be able to make a major career change!!

I dream of having a home of my own, one with central heat (preferably a ground source heat pump and small wind turbine).  Sure I would like a new car and in an ideal world I would have an indoor swimming pool, housekeeper, and regular massages.  But my true dreams are these:  To create a therapeutic community for people with mental health problems and to build a medical clinic in Africa.

There are some fantastic sheltered work programmes for individuals with mental health needs.  They are holistic, teach job skills, provide group therapy, and a temporary home for people to find their feet.  I would house the community on a farm with a whole foods diet, art workshops, and living accommodation. 

I have been wanting to do some aid work in Africa for some time now.  And lately I have been thinking a lot about medical centres.  Maybe because I am pregnant.  And I can't stop thinking about my friend's stories from her time volunteering in Zambia a few years ago.  She described working in the birthing centre and I can't get these images out of my mind.  I have been reading about natural childbirth and hypnotherapy techniques and can't help but think that they could be used more liberally throughout the world.  But especially in traditional and remote societies.  We often see images of people suffering from AIDS, malaria, and other illnesses as well.  And sometimes it doesn't take much to help.

To fund these various projects I would create a Charitable Foundation, called Heartbeat.  Or something like that if the name is already taken.  I would have to hire some people to handle things like publicity, money, fundraising....because while I have a bit of a head for numbers, I am more of a doer I think. 

What would you do with a big win?

One of those days!

I am having one of those days when all of my resolutions have gone out the window and I would rather be in bed.  This pregnancy has done a number on me and I do get days when I really just want to curl up in bed with some magazines and nourishing broth.

After spending the early morning trying to convince my 4 year old to watch cartoons and let Mummy sleep in a bit longer (and failing miserably). Then I had a go at my Other Half who was having a lie in.  I stumbled out of bed to fight with my Internet banking (I had forgotten my password and am now locked out).  Then I struggled with a few call centres trying to pay my bills, which was also fruitless since I seem to have forgotten a few more passwords and "special reminders." 

Then I spent a few hours in the hospital to see the specialists about Baby #2, only to have my blood pressure checked and given three more appointments with three different departments.  I spent money in the shop on a drink, snack, magazine (research of course), and lottery tickets.  Then £3 on parking. 

Came home to take a nap and woke up to find my son already gone to bed. 

So no quality family meals, spent money, didn't pay money to my credit card, and very little joy. 

The good news is that my new magazine outlines 4 weeks to the new you.  So when I can get my glasses fixed (which broke yesterday), and can think straight I might have a go.  Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


We have created a New Year's Resolution for 2011 to pay off our credit card debts.

A quick look over our income and outgoings tells me that we will have to make a few drastic changes in order to achieve this goal.  At the moment this is roughly what we look like:


  • One full-time salary
  • Plus overtime shifts on occasion
  • One part-time salary, reduced a bit by long term illness
  • Expecting some money back from a Payment Protection Insurance Claim

  • Food
  • Petrol
  • Utilities
  • Council Tax
  • Entertainment
  • Child Maintenance
  • Childcare
  • (We housesit, so do not have rent or mortgage)
Upcoming expenses:
  • MOT both cars next month
  • Tax Disc for one car next month
  • Haircut---would like one since it has been two years and I have split ends
  • Tax disc for one car in June
  • Items for new baby May onwards


  • Two Credit cards
  • One overdraft
  • Two outstanding loans

Oca, oca ocado, ocado, ocado

I have been having the most wonderful love affair with Ocado.  For over a year now I have had my groceries delivered to my door, by nice drivers, on time and what's more--with very few "substitutions."  (I have had two very poor experiences with Sainsburys deliveries and Tesco won't deliver to me because I live on a farm.  I am not a farmer, but that does not matter to them.)  Yes, I prefer our local farm shops and our meat and vegetable box delivery scheme, but they don't sell everything.  So needs must.

But they are too expensive, you say?  No, they have Tesco price match, Waitrose brand products, Ocado brand products, and deals all of the time.  Plus, when I go to the grocery store I end up putting tons in my trolley.  Online, I can take them out if I go over budget---much harder to do at the till with a toddler.  I have actually been able to reduce my grocery spending over the last year using ocado.

I want to pick out  my own stuff you say!  Well, I don't with a toddler.  Any trip to our Tesco Extra means 20 minutes in the toy aisle and then a frantic look around for what I want.  I can never remember what I want by then, and always leave disappointed. (I do like Tescos, but on my own, or with a lot of leisure time to explore the toys!)

Actually I am sometimes disappointed with the produce from ocado, but I do pop into other store occasionally.  (The produce is usually very good quality, but your avocados might not be as ripe as when you pick it out yourself. ) I also purchase cheap toilet paper elsewhere, because we need the really cheap stuff because we have very old drains which can't cope with puppies and teddy bears.

I don't want to pay for dellivery, you say!  Well, the nearest supermarket is 20 minutes away from me, and with the money I save by not putting extras in my trolley, I can afford the delivery.  Plus I have a trick.  They offer a annual delivery pass for about £110 or so.  I wait until they have an insanely good offer like last year when I got the delivery pass for £59.  You can then have as many deliveries as you like for the price. 

Having said all of that, I have to make some dramatic cuts to my spending and so I need to cancel my ocado for a few months.  My free delivery pass is expired.  And with a minimum spend of £40 per delivery I cannot manage this amount for a while.  I need to be extra frugal if I am going to meet my financial goals this year.  So it is farewell and not good-bye.  We will meet again one day.

Budget Cuts

So it is time to face up to the fact that we cannot manage to get out of debt or save up for the future without some really dramatic changes to our spending habits.  I believe that even a few months of cutting back will have its rewards. 

There isn't actually much we can do about some of our direct debits without cutting off the phone altogether.  Tempting sometimes, but I have only just started my blog and would like to keep broadband if possible.  So the areas we will target are food, petrol, and entertainment.

We are dividing our goal into monthly and three monthly segments We have already decided that we do not need to purchase the following for the next three months:  clothes, books, going out, and we will reduce eating out too.  That was the easy part!  We don't eat out much, we have enough clothes for a little while, and we have an inexpensive on demand tv service which gives us movies and tv at our convenience.  (We are considering cutting the tv service, but when the nation goes digital we will not have any tv whatsoever except for on demand---because we have an ancient aerial hanging off the house which will not pick up the digital signal.)

I would like some maternity clothes, but can manage on what I have and make a skirt if necessary.  And I insist that the family gets to eat from the major food groups each day.  I will have to compromise on our food choices, but all of our meat and eggs have to be at least free range as usual.  I am afraid fairtrade may go out the window for a month or two.  But we will do our best.

So here are a few of the ideas we have been discussing to try to cut our spending over the coming months.  I will let you know which ones worked for us when we have tried them out.

  1. For January, cut on food bills by eating from the pantry and freezer, setting an extremely low budget, and using store reward vouchers to pay for food.  (I usually save them up for gifts and treats).
  2. Pay money towards the credit card on the first of the month, so I cannot spend it.
  3. Take out cash for food and petrol and make it last the month.  The amount will vary each month according to what is in our pantry already.
  4. Declare one car off road to defer having to get a tax disc and MOT until we have saved up for it.  (This will work better if I am still off sick---but I hope to feel better soon).
  5. If I do return to work, take up some freinds' offers of childcare to save some costs of the childminder.  (I would offer to barter, but it is illegal to provide childcare "for reward" in this country unless you are fully registered.)
  6. Cut down on extra car trips to save petrol.
  7. Other Half will do some overtime shifts and sign up to do some agency work on his spare weekends to bring in more money.
  8. I will start doing some craft projects to sell at a craft fair in July.
  9. We will gather items which are suitable for a car boot sale in the spring.  (Years worth of boys clothes come to mind---since I am having a girl this time.)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Eating in Tanzania

Tanzania is a place where many cultures have come together.  Over the centuries there have been many Arab traders and Indian settlers who have mixed with the native Africans to create some wonderful foods.  Food really does vary by region, from plain boiled meats and vegetables in Arusha to spicy curries and fish in the coastal regions like Dar es salam. 

Like much of Africa, people in Tanzania often eat their family meals in the communal style.  There are a few rules to follow:

  1. Meals are eaten in the living room on a mattress (mkeka) on the floor.
  2. Small families can share one plate.
  3. Large families are divided, with males, females, and children having different plates. 
  4. Very small children eat with their mothers.  Babies are fed from the communal plate by the mother. 
  5. People eat with their right hands only (because the left hand is used in the toilet).  If you only remember one thing, remember this!  You will have your fellow diners suddenly wash their hands and refuse more food if you breach this rule.
  6. The shared plate will have stew, meat, salad, or fish along with little piles of salt to dip your meat in.  These foods can be eaten by hand or scooped up with chapati, rice or ugali (maize meal).
  7. Meals begin with a bowl of warm water being passed around to clean your right hand.  It often has some lemon juice or a slice of lemon in it.
  8. You can make a small ball of rice or ugali .  Then pinch the ball slightly and use this to scoop up food.

Then place this in your mouth.  It is important to not let your fingers touch your mouth at all.  This can be messy to start with, but with practice gets easier. 

 9.  At the end of the meal everyone washes their hands again.  (For large groups the bowl is quite big). 
10.  Everyone then thanks the mother for the food.  (This really means that you are thanking the father for providing the food as well. )


Ugali, fried tilapia, sukumawiki

Ugali is a staple starchy food much like potato or pasta in other cultures.  Ugali is made from maize flour and is used in many parts of Africa.  It is has many names, such as sadza in Zimbabwe.  In some parts of Africa semolina (made from wheat) is used in a similar way.  Ugali is usually prepared with water and is very plain.  It is served with stews or other wet foods.  It is eaten with your hands and can take some practice!  Make a small ball of ugali in your right (always the right!) hand,  flatten it slightly and use this to scoop your stew.

Meals are always served with a bowl of warm water, perhaps with a slice of lemon.  This is passed around to wash your right hand before and after the meal.  I have a friend from Zimbabwe who comes around with a bowl and a pitcher of warm, lemony water which she pours over your hand.  A lovely ritual.

You will need:
fine white maize
wooden spoon

  1. Fill half of a medium size pan with water and bring to the boil.

2.  Take a few spoonfuls of boiled water and add to 1/4 cup of maize in a bowl.  Mix with additional cold water and stir until the maize is smooth.  .

Add back to the pan and stir almost constantly to prevent lumps on the bottom of the pan.  Boil and stir for a further few minutes until the mixture boils.

3.  Next, add one cup of maize and begin to stir quite vigorously.  It is quite like mashing potatoes.  You are looking to smooth out any lumps quite quickly.  If it is still quite wet you can add another 1/4 cup of maize.  When it is smooth it is ready to be moved to a burner with low heat.  Place a lid on it and leave it for ten minutes.  You can check on it and give it a stir a few times. 

4.  The ugali is then emptied out onto the serving plate.  It is quite firm at this stage, and stands up on its own in a mound. 

Ugali, fried tilapia, and sukumawiki

Traditional "Mwiko" which is a flat wooden spoon used to make ugali.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Flavourful Fish

This is my favourite way to cook just about any kind of fish.  Steaming the fish in the microwave is not only quick, but healthy too.

You will need:

Fillet of fish per person
one small tomato, sliced
1/4onion sliced
bay leaf
Salmon seasoning (optional)

glass dish or silicone fish steamer
plastic wrap (if using glass dish), or tight fitting lid

  1. Place the slices of onion and tomato on the bottom of your glass dish, making them as flat as possible.
  2. Place fillets of fish on top of the vegetables.
  3. Add a bay leaf and some peppercorns and seasoning if using.
  4. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and microwave for a minute and a half. 
  5. Check to see if fish is cooked through.  Add more time, half a minute at a time, depending on the power of your microwave.  You may need more time if you are doing two or more fillets at once.  Many microwaves have automatic "fish" settings these days which will take this guesswork out for you.  (One salmon fillet in my microwave takes 1.5 minutes).  You want fish which is opaque through.  Since it is steamed it should also be moist.
  6. Be careful when checking and serving because the steam is hot!
  7. Serve with ugali, rice or new potatoes and vegetables.

New Year's Resolutions 2011 Part 5: First Goal

Using my goal writing tips I will work on my first goal:

Creating a Family Meal Routine

  1. We would like to develop a way to plan our menus and set times for our meals.  Initially we would like to try to have Breakfast at 6 am,  Snack at 10:00, Lunch at Noon, Snack at 3:00 pm, and Dinner at 6 pm.  I hope to have a workable routine in place by March.
  2. Now   Our meals follow this schedule much of the time, but not all of the time.  Strengths  We have two adult cooks, I have time to menu plan and shop, we are motivated to try this, our work schedules are planned in advance which allows us to plan who will cook when, we have been experimenting with freezing meals, we have a number of quick meals in our repertoire  Weaknesses  Our 4 year-old often wakes at 5 am, although our work schedules are planned in advance they are not always convenient, our kitchen is cold and uncomfortable in winter (so we eat in the living room often), our son is becoming a picky eater lately---maybe because of haphazard meals in the living room with distractions, we have two very different eating traditions (the African way of eating 2 meals a day, on the floor, with a communal plate, with our hands, and the English style of eating 3 meals a day, at the table with a knife and fork), different food preferences (i.e. spicy vs. plain)  Research/Help  We could explore more quick recipes as well as meals we can freeze in advance
  3. For this week, I will plan the menu on paper.  I will focus on quick and easy rather than cordon bleu because I would like to work on the times of meals.  Both adults are off work this week and so I hope this will make our task easier.
  4. I plan to evaluate how we are doing on Thursday, when I will make the new menu and shopping list.  We will have groceries delivered next Friday as usual.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


Sukumawiki means "push the week" in Swahili.  It refers to a vegetable dish you have to resort to when there is no money left for meat and all you have is greens from your garden.  Since greens are one of the things I can actually manage to grow successfully in my garden we eat this weekly.  We use any kind of greens, like cabbage, Swiss Chard, and spinach.  We often use frozen spinach in the winter months. 

This makes up part of one of our favourite meals: fish, ugali and sukumawiki.  It is actually my son's favourite meal.  We eat it at least weekly and I am always amazed at how such a picky eater gobbles down spinach and fish!

You will need:

Small onion
Cumin seeds
2 Tomatoes, chopped (optional)
Greens, chopped and washed--leave wet
  1. Slice and fry the onion in a little bit of oil in a large frying pan until quite soft.
  2. Add cumin seeds to toast lightly.
  3. Add tomatoes if using and stir for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add greens and allow to wilt.  Stir as needed until the greens are all wilted and the ingredients are well mixed.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve on its own or as a side dish to meat, chicken or fish.

Rice and Beans (Wali Maharage)

This is roughly based on East African flavours.  And is flexible enough to be adapted to what you have on hand.  For instance, we almost always have carrots in ours, which would not be traditional.  We eat this once or twice a week.  It is inexpensive, yet full of flavour and protein.  For a heartier meal, this can be served with spicy fried prawns (shrimp) or some grilled meat.  In Tanzania this might be eaten with your hands, but you can use a spoon!

For the Rice:

The rule in our house, according to my Other Half, is that the rice needs to be basmati and preferably Tilda brand.  (I prefer brown rice, but we have to compromise on occasion).  You can actually serve the beans with plain rice of any type if you prefer.  But we always like to spice things up a bit.

  1. Measure out your rice per person and rinse in a sieve or bowl of cold water. 
  2. Boil your kettle.
  3. Toast your spices in a dry saucepan for a few minutes.  Choose any combination of the following: 3-4 cloves, 3-4 cardamon pods, chunk cinnamon bark, some cumin seeds.  We usually stick to two spices. The spices should start smelling nice, but not burn.
  4. Add the rice and boiled water.  Cook rice according to the package instructions. Some people add extra water and sieve later.  Some people follow the package instructions and measure the exact amount of water, which is then absorbed by the rice.   
  5. If you are feeding this rice to children, try to remove the spices from the rice or their portions.  You can warn the adults there are spices in the dish.

For the Beans:

Tin of beans, (any kind, but we love pinto beans), rinsed and drained
small tin of chopped tomatoes, or 2-3 small fresh ones
1/2 tin coconut milk
sweet/bell pepper
hot chilli (optional--since I don't like chilli, we leave it out and people can add hot sauce afterwards)

You can add other vegetables if you like.  We like mushrooms or green beans in this dish as well when we have them or they need using up!

  1. Chop the onion and fry in a saucepan in a little bit of oil.  When soft, add chopped carrot and pepper, and any other vegetables, including chilli, if using.  Fry for 3-5 minutes to soften the vegetables.
  2. Add the beans and the small tin of tomatoes with their juice and continue to cook over medium heat for ten minutes.
  3. Add about half a tin of coconut milk and simmer for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, just to heat through.  If you heat the coconut milk too long it will separate.
  4. The vegetables and beans should be both hot and tender.
  5. Serve with rice.
  6. This keeps well for the next day as well. (Cook once, eat twice!)