A clean house is all in your head

I am not a fan of cleaning, and I’m not particularly good at it. I wouldn’t normally remember to wipe down skirting boards or move things to clean behind them. I struggle to find a way of keeping my house in a vaguely respectable state without spending too much of my valuable time on it. When I google for tricks and shortcuts, I mostly find overly ambitious cleaning rotas that make me feel like lying down in a darkened room.

I did try getting a cleaner, but she was never any more thorough than I would be – and sometimes less so – so I didn’t really feel it was worth the money or the loss of privacy.

So I was back to square one in trying to stem the rising tide of chaos in my home. I will never have an immaculate show home, nor do I particularly want one, but I have found that I feel happier if my house is hoovered and my bathroom smells clean. The other annoying things about life are less annoying when your surroundings are pleasant. It can actually have a pretty profound effect on my state of mind.

The problem is I’m kind of busy. I work, I have 2 small children that leave chaos in their wake, I blog, I have a social life, and I even exercise. Where does cleaning fit into this?

I can proudly announce that after years of struggle (and basically inexcusable years of having a much messier house before I had children), I have figured out how to keep vaguely on top of the cleaning. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s working for me. I’ve found by changing the way I think about cleaning, I can be much better at it.

So here are the things that have helped me, in case they might help you too:

You don’t have to do it all at once

I used to plan to “clean the house” as if it were one big job. And because I grouped a large set of tasks together into one, the enormity of the task simply grew in my mind. I would get all stressed thinking about all the cleaning I had to do. I would need to have a cup of tea and a nap to prepare myself for the arduous task. I would end up procrastinating all day and never do any cleaning.

So, I don’t “clean the house” anymore. I do discrete cleaning tasks, as and when I can. If I have a few spare minutes, I run the hoover around just the downstairs, or I’ll pop upstairs and clean the bathroom surfaces. Sometimes I’ll then feel like doing more, and sometimes I won’t. You can prioritise the tasks that need doing, and do just one at a time, when you have time. I’ve actually found this approach saves me from utter boredom sometimes. When I pick up my phone to scroll Facebook for the 27th time in a day, I decide to get out the Mr Sheen instead.

You don’t need to have a set routine

I used to think I needed to hoover the whole house and clean the bathroom every week, and tidy and dust and mop etc etc etc. Now, I clean things when they start to look dirty. I am not a pre-emptive cleaner. If it is dirty, I clean it. If not, then it can wait until later.

You also don’t need to try and work out which cleaning tasks you do on certain days. This helps some people, and I see a lot of these lists around the internet, but for if you’re a cleaning slacker like me, it might just make you feel a bit stressed. Do the task that you dislike the least first. It’s better than doing nothing.

Seize the day

Sometimes you’re not particularly busy and you notice that something is looking a bit mucky. Why not just quickly wipe it down right this minute? It will only take 5 minutes, but if you put off a small task like that or add it to your burgeoning list of tasks to do later, it will just get bigger (in your head at least).

Get a cordless hoover if you can

If you can afford a cordless hoover, it’s a total game changer. Sometimes getting out “the big hoover”, dragging it around and plugging it in is too much for me. I just whip out the cordless and hoover up a few Cheerios when I need to.

It’s totally okay to clean with wet wipes

Sometimes your sink is all full of toothpaste smears but you’re not going downstairs to dig out cif and a sponge, and then moving all your stuff off the edges of the sink. Grab a wet wipe and wipe that baby down. It’s not a thorough clean, but you’ll feel better if your sink looks clean.

Share the load

If you share your home with other adults, they should be pulling their weight with the housework. If you don’t, it’s a bit trickier – but never be ashamed to accept help where it is offered.

My husband and I have specific tasks and areas of the house that are “our responsibility”. These have been agreed based on mutual preferences. It takes a lot of pressure off to know that there are some things I don’t ever have to do! However, if I have a spare moment, then I don’t hesitate to do one of “his” tasks … and he helps me with mine too. That’s teamwork.

When the kids are old enough, I hope to get them to share the load as well. Their future housemates or partners will thank me!

Life is more important

Don’t mentally beat yourself up if you don’t manage to do any cleaning when you’d hoped to. Time with friends and family, and even with yourself, is more important.

If you have any children under 2, pat yourself on the back if you manage to do any cleaning at all. If you don’t, still pat yourself on the back, because you’re doing a great job ignoring those dastardly cobwebs.

On your deathbed, you are not going to look back and wish you’d had a cleaner house. You’ll be glad you cuddled your kids, your partner and/or your pets, and drank wine (or tea) with your friends.

What is your approach to fitting house cleaning into your busy lifestyle? Did you let it grow into a monster job in your head like me? Do you think the bitesize approach will work?

 

Mission Mindfulness
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An evening of chocolate and alcohol

My blogger life has reached its pinnacle. Last night, Red Letter Days invited me along to a chocolate making workshop with MyChocolate. That’s right … someone plied me with both alcohol and chocolate in return for my blogging and social skillz. I’m not sure it’s actually going to get any better than this.

I’ve always rather liked the Red Letter Days concept. Many years ago, I used it to buy my boyfriend (now husband) a flying lesson. I’m not saying the gift had a direct connection to our eventual marriage, but it was a great way of getting an unusual present for someone who didn’t need more stuff. At the time, my boyfriend lived in a shared flat where his bedroom was basically the pantry. It was just off the kitchen, and only big enough for a mattress and nothing else. The first night I stayed over, I had to leave my shoes outside the room because there was no room for them inside the room. Then all of his flatmates teased him. So he really didn’t want more stuff. But I digress… you wanted to hear about the chocolate and alcohol, right?

The first thing we did was learn how to make chocolate martinis. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever had one before because I’m a bit of a traditionalist. If I’m somewhere that has martinis, I tend to get one “shaken not stirred” or, if I want to go crazy, I get a “dirty” one. I thought a chocolate martini sounded a bit sickly, but it wasn’t at all. The one we made had a perfect chocolate to sweetness to alcohol balance. And, she taught us how to make cool squiggles on the martini glass.

After drinking the martini, they decided to test our fine motor skills by allowing us to design our own chocolate button. You choose either a dark or milk chocolate mixture and smooth it into a shape you’d like, then take the other type of chocolate and make pretty designs and squiggles. Here’s the one the instructor made:

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You were also allowed to add flavouring to your chocolate button. I was very inspired and decided to make a mint-flavoured leaf. It was going to be beautiful and delicate. I’m not sure if I can blame my martini for the result:

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At best, it’s a giant chocolate apostrophe. Let’s not say what it is “at worst”. Moving swiftly on…

Next, we learned how to make a chocolate ganache, stick it in a piping bag, and then pipe it out to make the beginnings of chocolate truffles. It’s the first time anyone has successfully taught me how to use a piping bag, and a bit of a revelation really. I’m going to try it out at home sometime soon.

We then got to have some prosecco and taste some different types of chocolate while our lovely and knowledgeable instructor taught us about the history of chocolate and the “proper” way to taste it. I failed to take a picture of the prosecco because I was too busy necking it … but here is the chocolate.

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Did you know that chocolate has over 400 distinct flavour notes? That’s (apparently) loads more than wine. We had to sniff the chocolate, feel the way it snaps when we break it, and then allow it to dissolve slowly on the tongue. It all made me feel very cultured.

All of this was a clever way of distracting us while our previously piped chocolate ganache set. It all looked like little poos on the paper, as you can see below. We then had to roll and shape them into something prettier using cocoa powder.

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After that, we could dip them in chocolate again and get creative with all sorts of decorations such as strawberry curls, honeycomb and sea salt.

A chocolate martini and two proseccos in, combined with my natural lack of fine motor skills, resulted in these lovely truffles.

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But it’s okay, because they gave us a bag to hide them in and take them home. The pizza box housed my beautiful “mint leaf”. At least I know how to curl a ribbon.

The verdict? I am rubbish at making food look beautiful, but I had a wonderful time. Also, I ate the entire bag of the truffles that I made, just now whilst writing this blog post. They weren’t much to look at, but they were delicious. Just like many things in this world.

I heartily recommend Red Letter Days and this chocolate workshop in particular. It would be fabulous for a party, a date, a good night out with your friends or even a work do. One of the best things about it was that it incorporated a bit of team work and got me chatting with the other bloggers there, even though I didn’t know them beforehand.

Thank you to Red Letter Days for inviting me along to this experience free of charge.

Mission Mindfulness

Easy Pesto Pasta recipe

When I was growing up, my dad was in charge of dinner once in a while, and his go-to was pesto. I have a special place on my palate for this style of pesto, and when I have a bit of fresh basil to use, I make a batch of pesto to keep in the fridge. I use the pesto in my spag bol, or as a spread on a cold chicken sandwich, but most especially for the fastest midweek dinner.

The pesto I make has walnuts, which may turn off a few due to taste or allergy, but you can substitute a nice hard, Italian cheese for the nuts if you prefer. Pine nuts are more traditional, but I find them expensive and less versatile than the walnuts, which also find their way into baked goods in my house. You can also add more olive oil than the recipe calls for to taste, but I usually add olive oil to the dish I’m using the pesto to flavour, so I use just enough to blend and preserve.

If you don’t fancy making the pesto from scratch, you can always tear in basil leaves and crush fresh garlic for the pasta recipe, and it’s still flavorful and quick. My kids aren’t the biggest fans of this pasta if it isn’t angel hair and the garlic is overpowering, but they never notice when it’s in the spag bol!  This dish takes all of 15 minutes, the longest step really is waiting for the water to boil. You can even make the pesto in the food processor while you wait for the water and then pasta. So quick, and so tasty!

You’ll need:

Pesto (food processor to a paste)

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons (or two cloves) fresh peeled garlic
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pasta

  • Angel Hair pasta (or spaghetti) to serve four (one handful usually does the trick)
  • ½ cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup sweet peas (again, frozen)
  • ½ cup rough chopped walnuts
  • 1-2 tablespoons pesto from above batch (or a handful of basil leaves and a bit of garlic)
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan or preferred hard cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

Using a food processor, blend the basil leaves, garlic cloves and olive oil until smooth.

Add the walnuts and salt, and any more olive oil to keep the mixture smooth up to an additional tablespoon. The pesto paste should not clump up, but remain semi-liquid.

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Using a medium saucepan, bring 6+ cups of water to a boil for the pasta.

Break the pasta in half and add to the boiling water. Add salt and oil if you choose, but I usually don’t bother.

While the pasta cooks, scrape the pesto into an airtight container; this will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks!

Drain the pasta in the sink and return the pan to the cook top with a medium heat.

Add the onions, peas and oil and thaw/lightly fry the onions and peas.

Add the pesto you’ve created and the additional walnut pieces and stir into the onions and peas. This allows the garlic to fry off lightly before adding the pasta.

Return the pasta to the pan and toss lightly. You can also pour the pasta and sauce into a large serving bowl for tossing, it may provide more space for evenly coating the pesto.

Remove from the heat and either in the pot or bowl, add the cheese and toss again.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving. Enjoy!

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Regrets, fear and the comfort zone

Have you done things in your past that you regret? I’m sure many people have. I’ve done a few stupid things, but I’m not sure if I entirely regret them. I feel like some of the ridiculous pickles I’ve been in through naivety (or pure stupidity) are actually sort of fun looking back on. Wouldn’t it be boring if we didn’t have any embarrassing stories to tell our friends?

So I don’t really regret things I have done. But I do have regrets. I regret the things I haven’t done. I regret that first day of high school when I was too scared to go and talk to a boy I really wanted to talk to. I regret the camping trip during which I was too scared to try white water rafting, and so I stayed behind and missed out. I regret not making the most of a summer fling when I was young, just because I knew it didn’t have a long-term future. These are just some of the small things that I’m willing to share with the internet.

What my regrets amount to are that I regret letting fear hold me back from making the most out of life. There are times when fear is sensible – when there is an actual likelihood that something will harm us. In that case, fear does us a service. But in many cases, it simply holds us back.

Maybe you’d like to change jobs, or even careers, but you’re afraid to move on. At your current job, you feel safe – you know where you stand. What if you changed jobs and then it didn’t work out?

Maybe you’re stuck in an unhappy relationship, but you’re afraid of the upheaval that ending that relationship would cause.

I’m not saying these things are simple to face. Making a huge life change requires thought and planning. But fear alone should not be the reason we don’t do things.

Maybe you’d like to do something just a little bit physically scary (like white water rafting), but you feel anxious about it. Maybe you’d like to do something a little bit socially/mentally scary (like going on a date or giving a presentation), but you are scared of it going wrong.

It is scary leaving our comfort zone. It is hard to do things that might be difficult and scary but necessary. Or to do things that are just a little bit risky, either physically, socially or mentally, but could result in huge payoffs.

As I look back at my life, I see that fear of leaving my comfort zone has never served me well. When I did do things I was scared to do (like moving countries, taking a risk on a relationship, having babies, putting myself in any situation where I was under scrutiny), I was almost without exception glad that I did. When I let fear hold me back, I later felt sorry about missing out.

So the next time you have an opportunity that you are afraid of taking … the next time you face a difficult choice … or if you simply feel unhappy with where you are right now, ask yourself: Is it only fear of the unknown that is holding me back? And if the answer is yes, throw your fear in the bin and break out of that comfort zone.

Mission Mindfulness

 

Sometimes when you’re hunting for unicorns, life gives you a goat

I took my eldest to see Despicable Me 3 recently. I thought it was brilliant – all of the 80s jokes were perfectly pitched to those of us who are now parents today. But there was also a sweet moment that stuck with me. **(Slight) spoiler follows**

At one point, Agnes, Gru’s youngest daughter, goes hunting for unicorns. She lays out a bunch of sweets and waits for hours in the woods until, sure enough, a fluffy one-horned beast appears. She brings it home and Gru is forced to inform her that it is merely a goat who lost one of his horns. He says tenderly, “Life is just like that sometimes. We’re hoping for a unicorn and we get a goat.”

And I thought, wow man that’s deep. Am I right? Think about it. Unicorns are the ultimate in awesome, sweet mythical beast. They are pure, fluffy and, apparently, poop rainbows. Why wouldn’t you want a unicorn? Goats, however, keep it real. They definitely don’t poop rainbows, they eat everything (and I mean everything) that they can get their mucky teeth into, and nobody likes it when you play the goat – even worse if you get their goat.

So, when you’re hoping for mythical perfection, you get real life. We can learn something here from Agnes’s response to Gru’s disappointing revelation (and forgive me if this is a slight misquote): “Well then he’s the best goat in the whole world!”

So, she didn’t get what she wanted. She got something that was less than her ideal fantasy of a mythical beast. But she saw the good in it and was grateful for what she had.

I can think of a lot of times in my life when I was hunting unicorns and got a goat.

I was going to be a famous musical theatre star but instead I have an office job. I was going to drive a Ferrari but instead I have a Hyundai. I was going to marry Robert Downey Jr but instead I married an IT consultant from Yorkshire. I was going to have a boy and a girl but I ended up with two boys. I was going to have ab muscles that you can see, but I never have and (I’m pretty sure) never will.

These were the dreams of an immature and inexperienced girl. They might have meant a lot to me at some point, and they served their purpose in keeping me motivated, but they were never really the right things for me. They were unicorns. My goats are much, much better.

Musical theatre would have been a hard life. Constant rehearsals, pressure to look a certain way, working late nights, moving from town to town all the time. It must be hard to start a family with a lifestyle like that. My office job is challenging without being overwhelming, has predictable hours with lots of holiday, and my colleagues accept me for who I am.

Ferraris are extremely impractical on British roads, would not fit all of my shopping, and with my driving skills it probably would have been totalled in the first month I owned it anyway. My Hyundai can totally cope with being rubbed up against a bush from time to time, and it can fit the spoils from a trip to Costco in the back.

Robert Downey Jr has bounced back from his drug problems thankfully, but I’m not so sure he’d be a nurturing life partner, and is really too old for me anyway. My husband cooks, cleans, changes nappies, listens to me spout rubbish all the time and basically puts up with me doing whatever I fancy. Who could ask for more?

Lots of people have a dream “gender pattern” for their future children, but us parents learn that that’s a load of rubbish. My two boys are everything I really wanted. They cuddle me and give me an excuse to watch kid’s movies and play with toys. They are smart and funny and have totally unique personalities. I did grieve briefly for not being able to buy pretty dresses and fix my daughter’s hair like having a real-life doll, but pretty dresses look hard to put on wiggly legs and I’m sure I’d be rubbish at combing the knots out of long hair.

Now I’m not going to try and feed you a line of effluvia about how chiselled abs are not actually all they’re cracked up to be. I can’t think of any reason rock hard abs would be bad. But we live in the real world. And in the real world, my love of donuts was never going to mesh with the visible ab muscles goal. And I’m okay with that. I don’t want to miss out on any food pleasures for flat ab pleasures. Anyway, I totally do sit-ups from time to time, so I’m pretty sure my abs are actually rock hard (underneath the layer of fat).

So there you go. My unicorns all turned into goats. And my goats are pretty awesome.

Now, I would like to recognise that sometimes life gives you a lot worse than goats. It might give you a stinking, partially decomposed and maggot infested ex-goat. I’ve had a few ex-goats in my time and things can be really, really hard. It takes time to move on from ex-goats, and sometimes a part of you never fully heals from the worst life has to dish out.

But maybe even on our darkest days we can remember the little things that we are still grateful for. If we can remember that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we expect, but that they can still turn out pretty good, then there is always hope, and something to look forward to.

Two Tiny Hands

4 things I learned from 1 year of blogging

Sometime around the end of July, the one-year anniversary of me starting this blog quietly passed. This blog was originally inspired by a holiday that I wanted to write about. A year later, it was ignored because of another holiday, which I should probably write about at some point.

I often see other bloggers writing something about their blogging anniversary (blogiversary??), and I’m not usually one to avoid a good bandwagon tbh. However, I think the sort of things I want to say might be a little bit different.

Until last week, I hadn’t blogged in about a month. I was unsure whether I was done with blogging, or I just needed a break. All I knew was that I really just needed to chill out and watch Netflix in the evening, and to never ignore my kids at the weekend so I could (just quickly) join a linky. I also had some other stuff going on in my life that distracted me from blogging, which I’m not sharing publicly yet … but watch this space (however I can tell you now that it’s nothing to do with having more babies – that’s what people always think when you say you have a secret).

So I had my break and I enjoyed it, but then last week I had a really stressful day. So to stop me mulling over the stressful thing, I went ahead and wrote a little blog post. It brought home to me the real reasons I blog – reasons that I hope I’ll remember as I continue to blog – reasons that might even keep me blogging for a long time yet.

I don’t need to be the best

When I first started blogging, I knew absolutely nothing about the world of blogging. I was just going to write down some stuff on the internet that I thought a few other people might find interesting. Then, I got sucked into the world of stats and leaderboards and follower numbers and branding collaborations. I got a little ambitious and competitive. I got a little obsessed.

What many people who don’t blog don’t know is that nobody gets to be a famous blogger, or a blogger who makes their living from blogging, without having a killer combination of hard work, talent and luck.

I do not need to compete with the famous bloggers, the well-paid bloggers, or even the ones who I personally think are just awesome and wish I could be more like. I don’t have to publish consistently or have beautiful social media feeds unless that’s what want. I can just blog because it relaxes me and because it helps me think things through. My blog is about me, and if anyone else is interested or thinks it’s good, then that’s a bonus.

I don’t need to get paid

Making a living from blogging or getting occasional paid blogging opportunities or product reviews are totally awesome. I’ve dabbled in this a little bit. I may or may not continue doing so. It’s kind of cool, but usually the time and effort I put into a review or sponsored post is not worth the money or “free” thing I got.

Occasionally, there have been a few experiences I’ve had because of blogging that money actually couldn’t buy. I’m grateful for these. But if they never happened again, I would still be happy about my little blog.

Blogging is about people

The best, best thing about blogging is people, in a couple different ways.

First of all, any blogger worth his or her corner of the internet engages with other blogs. We don’t all have endless time to read and comment on other blogs, but really a good blogger ought to have a few other blogs they read. Blogging isn’t just a broadcast … it’s a community. And if you read other blogs, you will be learning new things, and often these things are about people, and you will learn interesting things about people who are different to you. This expands your horizons.

Second, blogging really does help you make new friends. I have made at least one proper, meet-up in person friend through blogging, and have several other acquaintances who I really like. There are lots of bad things on the internet, but blogging has an amazing knack for helping you meet like-minded people.

Blogging is healthy

Ok, so there is the risk that you get obsessed with social media and you never look away from a screen again. But the act of actually blogging – writing something about your life that you have thought about – mitigates against that.

Blogging encourages introspection, but it also requires you to think about how to write about your introspection in a way that engages others. For me, blogging has helped me avoid negative thoughts about myself and instead think about how I can be my best self. This process is what I like to share on my blog.

So what next?

A lot of people talk about their future goals for their blog on these sort of posts, and sometimes those include getting to a certain follower milestone or something measurable like that. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve been to some mindfulness talks and I now prefer to set intentions. So here are mine:

  • To stay true to myself in all ways, including with my blog.
  • If I don’t feel like blogging, I’m not gonna blog. So you know what’s happening when I don’t post for a while.
  • But temporary breaks don’t mean I need to shut down the whole thing.
  • Carry on nurturing the community I’ve become a part of by joining in on social media and reading other blogs when I can.
  • Carry on balancing introspection with things that might be useful to others – this is, after all, a public place.

What do you think? Has your blogging journey taken you to places you didn’t expect? Did you go down a road that you later decided wasn’t right for you? What’s good and what’s not so good about being a blogger?

Tired of deciding what to cook?

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“I’m just buying loads of food and hoping it might arrange itself into a meal like monkeys writing Shakespeare.”

That’s my creative caption for the featured photo. Are you tired of deciding what to cook for your family week after week? Are you stuck in a rut, cooking the same things every week? Are you tired of buying expensive ingredients to try something new, only to have your kids reject it?

I know I am. In my house, I’m responsible for cooking 3 days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My husband does the other days, and he is a much more creative and resourceful cook. Moreover, he doesn’t get quite so cross about the soul-destroying experience of slaving over a hot stove to produce something the kids won’t even eat.

So from a combination of being busy with work and a general sense of ennui, I rely on the same old failsafes every week. And even I’m getting tired of it.

I do “Freezer Food Monday”, which is fish fingers or previously frozen Richmond sausages, accompanied by potato waffles and frozen peas (I do cook the peas; I don’t serve them frozen. I’m not that bad). Come on, don’t judge me … it’s Monday and I can’t be bothered. If we’re all very lucky, we had a roast chicken on Sunday and instead of freezer food I mix the leftover chicken with a jar of Korma curry sauce.

We then have “Mince Wednesday”. My kids are mad for mince, so I might as well be the one to cook it for them. I usually do a mild chilli con carne (the Hairy Bikers one is best) or a spag bol. But I get so bored and think there must be some more ways to serve the mince.

The week is rounded off by Pizza Friday. Usually it’s one of those ones they make for you in Morrisons. Sometimes we get one delivered or even occasionally go out for one. When the day is very special, I buy the pizza bases and other ingredients and we build our own. I’m quite happy with Pizza Friday, actually. I’m sure I read somewhere that a pizza each week keeps you on fleek. Although I am over the age of 30 so I don’t actually know what that means.

In any case, I really would like – for my own sanity if not for the sake of expanding my children’s tastebud horizons – to try some other stuff. But the problem for me is that the stakes (and the price of the steaks) are too high. I don’t want to make things that require a lot of effort and expensive ingredients, only to have my kids reject it.

This very website actually has some great family-friendly recipes to try out if you’re in a rut (written by a mate of mine, not me, in case you didn’t realise I had a reclusive guest poster). But another cool idea is to try out new recipe subscription service, Mum’s Meal Planner. This is a small business venture by a normal mum named Becky, who felt just the same about the difficulty of getting meal inspiration.

The way her service works is you pay £2.50 per month, and she sends you a weekly email with a whole week worth of meals (and 2 substitutes on the list if you really don’t like some of the main options). This is accompanied by a full shopping list that will cover everything for the week and use all of the ingredients without excess waste.

I’ve been getting her emails for a while now and I’m really impressed by the variety of easy recipes that keep things a bit fresh, along with the convenient shopping list. As I don’t cook every day of the week, I don’t use all of the recipes, but I enjoy getting some options each week to choose from. It’s fantastic that they’re all easy to follow even for those among us (like me) who have the bare minimum of culinary skills.

For this “Mince Wednesday”, I tried doing her cottage pie and beans recipe. There is minimal chopping and throwing the can of beans in adds loads of flavour and bulk with a minimum of effort. It tasted just as good as the much more labour-intensive cottage pie we usually make. It had a bit less depth of flavour (because our usual one has wine and worcestershire sauce in it), but that’s all well and good when you’re feeding children (the culinary cretins). My husband and I both really enjoyed it.

Sadly, my kids basically still didn’t eat it. But I didn’t mind so much because the expense and effort was low. Normally, when I worked so hard on a meal and my kids don’t eat it, I’m all like:

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But I didn’t feel that way today because the meal was low effort. I just shrugged and cracked open a beer. I’m looking forward to trying more of Becky’s meals. I’m sure my kids will find one or two they might deign to eat.

Becky subscribed me to her service for free for a short time so I could evaluate the service, but this is my honest opinion. I just like helping out small businesses. 

Mission Mindfulness

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Creamy mushroom & green bean pork steaks recipe

It’s hard to get kids to eat more mature meals – grown-up dinners that appeal to the adults – so I wasn’t sure how to serve my children some gorgeous pork loin steaks that were making my mouth water. I decided to go for a tried and true recipe I grew up with, pork chops with cream of mushroom soup. Of course, not content to just dump the contents of the tin onto some fried chops, I created this recipe, which went down a treat. Using my cast iron pans makes colouring the meat really easily, but if you don’t have one, just leave the meat alone for several minutes to sear the colour onto it in any deep frying pan. I was really surprised at how keen the kids were once the chops were in bite-sized pieces and swirled into the mash.

You can choose to make your mash anyway that suits, but this recipe offers a microwave shortcut that shaves time and clean up in half. Peeling the skins once the whole potatoes have been cooked is much easier, and you don’t have to worry about a pot adding to the steam in your kitchen in the summer.

I used a teaspoon of bacon fat I had saved in my fridge to fry off the steaks, but a bit of veg oil will do the trick if you don’t have lard on hand. I happened to have it after a bacon-heavy brunch, but I must admit it adds a lovely depth of flavor to the pork and onions. You can keep it basic, or add more of your own flare to this dish, so I hope you’ll find inspiration in this ramped-up old standard that takes less than 30 minutes.

Creamy mushroom & green bean pork steaks recipe

You’ll need:

  • 4–6 pork loin steaks or pork chops (depending on the thickness of the steak)
  • 2–3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon garlic granules/powder
  • 1 teaspoon bacon fat or veg oil
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 2 cups chopped green beans (again, frozen is so easy)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 8oz (small) tin cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (optional)
  • ¼ cup single cream or half & half (optional)
  • 4 large baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • ½–1 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

At least one hour prior, but preferably the night before, place your steaks or chops into a plastic bag to marinate in the Worcestershire and garlic.

 

Pork steaks marinating

Bring a nice deep frying pan to a medium-high heat with either the lard or oil to fry off the steaks. Try not to move them so you get a lovely, deep colour on both sides.

Pork steaks browning

Add the frozen onions after both sides have some colour, and allow them to create a bit of liquid for clearing the fried bits off of the bottom of the pan.

Pork and onions.jpg

Add the green beans and mix into the onions. You can add up to one cup of water to help if needed.

Stir the liquid created with the dried oregano before adding the tin of soup.

Stack the steaks to one side whilst you incorporate the soup and the onion and green bean sauce.

Add another splash of water if you want a thinner sauce, but it will reduce as you decrease the heat to medium-low.

Allow the sauce to come to a slight bubble over the steaks, for about ten minutes to keep the steaks tender.

While the pork is finishing and the sauce is reducing, scrub a few good-sized potatoes and poke them each in several places before placing on a microwave safe plate.

Microwave on high (or use the “baked potato” setting) for 8–12 minutes, or until they’re all soft to the touch.

Once the potatoes are all cooked through, roll them in your hands with an oven glove to loosen the potato inside. Allow the potato to cool slightly before peeling away the skins by hand.

Add the butter and milk, salt and pepper, and mash together with a fork. Reheat if necessary before serving.

As the sauce for the pork reduces, add salt and pepper to taste. Optional additions are a bit of cream and dried tarragon right at the end, which I find add a richness and aromatic quality. I mix them in right before I turn off the heat.

Serve the steaks with the mash, and drench them both in the gorgeous sauce and beans. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Forkful of pork and mash

Grilled Salmon and Sweet Corn recipe

Summer is upon us, and in full on heatwave mode! The sunshiny days are glorious, but they don’t inspire a love for slaving over an even hotter stove. In protest, I take to the grill and opt to BBQ nearly everything that requires cooking. Fresh ears of half-husked sweet corn are plentiful in the grocery, and I keep my eye open for the sales of fresh fish and grillables. I recently saw a stellar deal on salmon fillets, so decided to grill the fish in a bid to tempt my children. They aren’t the most adventurous eaters, so when my 6yo proclaimed he loves salmon and wants it every night, I figured I had better share the recipe!

summer deals!.jpg

You’ll need:

  • Approximately 2.2kg/1lb fresh, skin-on salmon fillet
  • 2–3 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh is best, but I tend to use the plastic squeezy type for ease)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh pressed garlic (I keep a jar in the fridge)
  • 1 cup fresh chopped coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1+ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3–4 ears half-husked sweet corn on the cob
  • Optional bag of mixed greens for a quick bed of salad
  • Optional 1 cup of white rice for a bed of rice (I tend to have leftover rice in my fridge, but you can make it while the fish is grilling if you like)

The method:

Using a large sheet of aluminium foil, lay your salmon fillet skin down onto the centre of the foil.

Using a small bowl, combine the lemon, coriander, garlic, cumin and salt before spreading the mixture on top of the salmon.

Salmon ready for the grill.jpg

Loosely cover the fish with the foil and seal the strip with a bit of crimping at the top and sides. Your salmon parcel is ready to marinate for about 15 minutes, while you get the grill ready (you can also use the oven at 200C/400F).

Salmon parcel.jpg

Using another sheet of foil, cover the grill and place the corn cobs husk up so the kernels are against the foil. This helps to steam the corn in the radiant heat and lessens the risk of burning.

Corn ready for the grill.jpg

After the corn has been on the grill for about 10 minutes, add the salmon parcel and reduce the heat to a medium flame/setting. Be sure to place the fish skin down, the top/opening of your foil parcel up and ready to open.

After 10–15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet, you should open the parcel and allow the steam to escape. Check the centre to ensure the fish is fully cooked before removing from the grill. You shouldn’t need to have the fish on the grill for more than 20 minutes total.

If you’ve put the corn on before the fish, these should finish at the same time. Pierce a kernel beneath the husk to be sure it’s cooked through; it should squirt a bit of corn juice at you if it’s finished.

Corn and salmon on the grill.jpg

Clear off the husks once the corn is cooked and cooled slightly. Serve on the cob or sliced off into kernels.

The skin of the salmon may well be stuck to the foil, so if you’re a fan of the skin, I suggest oiling the foil and fish on the skin side when preparing. I love that the skin stays in place while I serve the flesh, but it’s my preference.

With the salmon and corn slightly cooled, you can enjoy these over a salad, with some steamed rice, or with a bit of mashed potato to your tastes. I serve the kids with flaked salmon and sliced corn mixed into rice, but my husband and I prefer to have a big salad. The flavor of the salmon with the coriander is so fresh and earthy, it’s just about my favourite summer treat.  Enjoy!

Kids plate salmon and corn.jpg

Teaching your kids kindness

My eldest son is 5 and what I have realised is that teaching him to be kind is not always easy. It teaches you a lot about human nature to have children. Although they are loving and innocent, they also can be very selfish. Which of course in terms of our evolutionary psychology makes perfect sense. Survival of the fittest! Look after number 1!

I have to work very hard to teach him how to be considerate of others feelings. I don’t feel I can offer him rewards for being kind and considerate, because then he would do it for the wrong reason. I have to teach him that the feeling of being kind to others is enough.

My main strategy is to praise him profusely whenever I see him being kind. I try to notice when he shares something, or comforts his little brother when he cries. I also try to chat with him when I see someone else doing something kind, and explain why it was a nice thing to do.

So I was very interested when a small start-up company offered to send me some of their Good Egg cards. These cards have a series of good deeds on them, and you can set yourself the challenge of doing as many as possible. They are aimed at older children (13+), and some of them are a bit silly, but I found them quite useful as a conversation starter with my 5 year old. He loves playing with cards, so I let him pick a card out of the deck at random and then we had a chat about the good deed on the card.

The first card he picked said you should give blood. Obviously my 5yo is too young to be donating blood, but it was an interesting topic to discuss with him. I explained why people need to receive blood, why it is important that people donate blood when they can, and how the process works.

Another card says to take your old books to a charity shop. So I was able to chat with him about how charity shops work and why it is nice to let others have things that you no longer need. On top of teaching about kindness, it was also a useful way of increasing his general understanding of the world.

The way in which we all function in society is dependent upon an understanding of how our actions affect the people around us. Unfortunately, in the real world, not everyone remembers that – even sometimes those people who have quite a lot of power to change the world for the better. Remembering to teach our children kindness is one way that parents can make their small contribution, in the hope that the next generation will seek to help instead of win.

I receive the cards for the purposes of review but all opinions and thoughts are my own.