20 parenting moments I don’t want to forget

20 parenting moments I don't want to forget

I’ve been talking a lot about some the harder parts of parenting, so I’m trying to add a few happy posts to balance it all out. To quasi-quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, I would like to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.

Obi Wan Kenobi

Sure, I still have to wipe a lot of bottoms and noses and clean up the odd bit of sick. Yes, it’s true that they both wake up multiple times every night and I am always tired. But there are some wonderful things happening right now, and some things that happened not too long ago that I want to hold in my heart forever.

I wish I could bottle these things and save them for later when they’re long gone. There are hundreds of photos and videos, but some moments can’t be captured by a camera.

So here is my list of 20 early years parenting moments that I don’t want to forget:

  1. When one of them sits on my lap and I bury my face in his hair. The smell of the baby shampoo and the soft texture of the babyish hair (never mind the possibility of the odd nit).
  2. The half-a-minute each day when my boys show their brotherly love for each other – a shy little cuddle, sharing a bit of food, or playing nicely without it ending in a screamfest.
  3. The way my toddler dances with pure joy to any music at all. Even the ring of a mobile phone.
  4. All four of us snuggling in bed together in the early hours of the morning.
  5. The way my eldest never stops talking and loves to explain how things work (putting his own fanciful take on it, of course).
  6. Hugging both of them on the sofa and watching kid’s movies on lazy Sunday afternoons.
  7. The snorty mcsnuffles sound my youngest makes while contentedly sucking his dummy.
  8. The day each of them first gripped my finger with their tiny hands when they were newborns.
  9. The feeling of having them fall asleep in my arms.
  10. My toddler’s hilarious forays into talking (yelling ‘caaat’ at the cat and saying ‘beep’ while touching your nose), which he refuses to perform while the camera is recording.
  11. Watching CBeebies. My eldest is starting to move on to CBBC and I’m really going to miss Mister Maker and Iggle Piggle.
  12. The way my boys cuddle their soft toys. We grow up to think boys aren’t as sentimental as girls but that is not how it begins.
  13. Getting to choose what clothes they wear every day.
  14. Reading them stories. My eldest is starting to read the stories to me now, which is also nice, but I was loving the sound of my own voice. 😉
  15. Holding their little hands. Having them not be ashamed to hold my hand anytime in public.
  16. Having them jump into my arms when I pick them up from childcare/school.
  17. Answering endless “why” questions.
  18. The way they play so happily together when they’re in the bath. I often dread bathtime, but someday they’ll be too big for bathtime together with mummy presiding.
  19. The way my eldest says “I love you mummy”. And I say “I love you too”. Then he says, “That’s great.”
  20. Singing them to sleep.

What are your favourite moments with your children? If you could bottle one thing from their early years, what would it be?

Obi-Wan photo by Wacko Photographer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Diary of an imperfect mum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Tammymum
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Parenting skills I didn’t know I needed

I’ve got a little bit of blogger’s block. I’ve been trying to think of something vaguely funny to write to offset some of my serious posts. It occurred to me that there are all sorts of parenting “soft skills” that nobody talks about. Those little things you do all the time when you have kids, but you never ever did before you had kids. Nor did you ever anticipate that you would need to do such things.

parenting-skills

 

  1. Scraping toothpaste off of things (e.g. the sink, my bra, the cat)
  2. Jumping over toddler gates in the middle of the night (because those things are impossible to open when you’re half asleep)
  3. Explaining why you shouldn’t rest your penis on the sink (But why, mummy? I love to put it there!)
  4. Explaining why you shouldn’t put your finger up your bum (You shouldn’t, right?)
  5. Explaining why you shouldn’t put your finger up the cat’s bum (that poor cat)
  6. Defrosting and cooking sausages (the only thing they’re guaranteed to eat)
  7. Cutting teensy tiny nails without drawing blood
  8. Distinguishing poop from chocolate (harder than you might think)
  9. Cleaning crayon off of windows (impossible)
  10. Phonics (those things m-m-m-make no ssss-sense to me)
  11. Extricating back-arching toddlers from narrow behind-the-sofa hiding places
  12. Cleaning up a poonami without smearing it all over the wall
  13. Using a screwdriver to replace musical mobile batteries at 4am
  14. Carrying a handbag, changing bag, shopping and a wriggling toddler at the same time
  15. Carrying tired preschooler up hills at speed to reach toilet in time
  16. Secret kitchen biscuit consumption whilst preparing fruit for children
  17. Never leaving the house without snacks and wet wipes
  18. Not getting stuck when fetching children off playground/soft play equipment
  19. Oceans of patience and self-control
  20. Remembering to get lots of cuddles before they turn into stinky teenagers

Can you relate to any of these? What are your unexpected parenting skills?

Tammymum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Casting call: Actors needed to play the role of parent

This post might be controversial. Maybe people will totally judge me over it. But I am over worrying about being judged … and this post explains one of the reasons why.

Picture this:

You’re in the park and your son is playing confidently on the equipment designed for his age group. You’re chilling on a bench nearby – maybe you even check your phone. Another mum turns up and is keeping close to her son as he climbs the stairs, and she always catches him at the bottom of the slide. All the time she is talking to him loudly in a conversational tone, loudly encouraging him to continue being totally awesome at playing in the park.

What do you do?

If the answer is carrying on doing what you’re doing, then well done. You may be immune to the scourge of acting like a parent.

But you know what I’ve been known to do? I start copying the other mum I see at the park. I go and stand near where my son is playing, talking to him and stuff. Because I (almost subconsciously) worry that the other mum will judge me if I don’t.

I react to my instinct that in public I must parent in a way that other people – especially other parents – will approve of.

Do you ever change your natural parenting behaviour when you’re in public? Do you start acting like you think other people want you to? Some examples I see and/or do every day:

  • Correcting my children loudly when they misbehave in public, so that others know that I’m not letting them get away with it. But NEVER shouting.
  • Being excessively involved in my children’s play when I have an audience.
  • Acting more attentive than normal in making sure my child doesn’t fall over or otherwise sustain an injury. Hovering. Otherwise someone might think I am neglectful.
  • NEVER leaving my children alone in the car, not even for a moment while I put my trolley in the trolley park. Even if this means dangerously carrying armfuls of groceries along with a child and any number of other items.
  • Making loud comments about limiting screen time when they play with their tablets in public.
  • Worrying about whether others will approve of what food I feed my children. Making excuses for biscuits.

The parenting performance

I am perfectly happy with my parenting techniques that I use in private. There’s nothing wrong with them. And yet I almost compulsively adjust them in response to what I perceive as other people’s expectations. I’d be surprised to hear that I’m the only one.

Modern-day parenting is full of the expectation of being present and accounted for. “Helicopter parenting” is the fashion. We make sure our children are well-behaved and polite, are fed healthy food, play with educational toys, bathe regularly, brush their teeth, and are never put in harm’s way. Of course we do those things. I can’t speak for others, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s totally insecure about this. I know I’m doing the right things, but I am so worried that other people think I’m doing it wrong.

And so my public parenting has become a performance. I feel as though every time I go in public, I’m walking onto the parenting stage.

I’m so over it

Is it all in my head? I don’t think so, actually. I’ve been known to judge other parents. I’ve heard other parents judging other parents. I’m almost certain that people sometimes judge me.

It’s human nature to be judgemental. We can’t judge people for being judgers because that just creates a big ugly judge-y snowball.

What we need – what I need – is confidence. Most parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have. We need to believe this about ourselves. Letting go of our parenting insecurities will make us happier – and happy parents raise happy children.

Parenting is hard enough without worrying about what other people think. So the next time you’re at the park – go ahead and hover if it makes you happy. But not because you think that the mum over there checking her phone thinks you should.

A Mum Track Mind
Quite Frankly She Said Sunday Best
My Petit Canard

Chinese take-away pork & green beans recipe

We’re all so temped by take-away food – the ease, convenience and speed, and the taste! Over the years, I’ve lived with people from a lot of different cultural backgrounds. East Asians, Pakistani, Greek, Italian and English tastes have now fused with my own and had a major impact on my cooking.

Anyone that’s been following this recipe blog will remember the Tandoori Chicken and Dahl recipe I shared, fine-tuned with tips from a Pakistani friend of mine. The dish I’m sharing in this post was learned from my wonderful Chinese housemate – and like most of mine, it’s one that you can make your own in no time. The recipe I’m sharing here is one variation, and it can easily incorporate more or different veg, Quorn or ground turkey.

This is a super-fast, kid-friendly meal that’s also gluten free. It can be vegetarian if you prefer to stir-fry tofu or Quorn. My hubby always goes for seconds on this one, and there’s just so much less oil, MSG and other restaurant add-ins. Trust me: try this and you won’t even miss the local Chinese.

You’ll need:

  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 tsp Chinese five spice (or your own with clove, anise and black pepper at least)
  • 2 cups topped and tailed green beans (fresh is quicker, but frozen is fine)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Oyster sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (we use gluten free)
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp or one cube concentrated chicken stock
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Optional sweet chilli sauce (for grown-ups and adventurous kids)
  • 1-2 cups white rice (gauge your family’s love of rice)
  • Chicken or veg stock in the rice (optional)
  • 1 tsp of Chinese five spice in the rice (optional)
  • 1 cup frozen peas in the rice (optional)

Chinese stir fry ingredients

The method:

If you’re lucky enough to own a rice cooker, by all means use it, and well done you. I am a sad sap and have no such luxury, so with this recipe I get the rice started first, in a pot, on the stove. I add a bit of chicken (or veg) stock, a dash of Chinese Five Spice and some frozen peas to the water, bring it to the boil and add the rice. Some rice cookers are cool with spices and stock, but if you’re not sure, maybe just make plain white rice, and the stir fry will still be amazing.

Mix the Oyster and Hoisin sauce with the five spice and onion powder and set aside.

If you’re using frozen green beans (they’re already topped/tailed/halved!), I recommend starting with the beans in the wok with the sesame oil. Toss the beans around to lightly coat with the oil, and then turn the heat to high. If the beans are fresh, add them after the meat has begun to brown.

Rice and stir fry on the stoveOn a high heat, keep the beans from sitting in one spot for too long while they thaw a bit. Once they’ve started to soften, they should only take 2-3 minutes.

Add the ground pork and break it up in the wok. Be sure the sesame oil is in the wok if you’ve not added the beans yet.

Add your pre-mixed sauces and spices (Oyster, Hoisin, five spice and onion powder). Mix it into the meat as you’re breaking up the mince. The benefit of pre-mixing the sauces and dry spice is these can all be added in one swift motion, allowing you to continue stirring and breaking up the meat.

Once the mince is broken into nice small bits and all coated with the sauce, stop stirring for about a minute or two (phew!) to allow some colour to brown onto the meat. It won’t take long, maybe five minutes, to partially brown the meat.

Pork and beans in the wokIf you’ve chosen fresh beans, now’s the time to toss those beauties in. Stir them frequently for about 3 minutes.

The liquid that’s created from the beans and meat is now perfect for mixing the chicken stock concentrate into. I use a liquid concentrate, and it mixes right in. If you prefer to use dry stock, I suggest you crush it and add a splash of water to dissolve it first.

Allow the mixture to reduce slightly for about 3-5 minutes, and check that your beans are soft enough for the kids. Total time from turning on the wok shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes.

The rice should be ready now (either method usually takes about 20 minutes) so give it a little fluff.

Serve your pork and green beans over rice and enjoy! I love adding sweet chilli sauce (or just chilli flake if I’m watching my sugar) to this dish to add a bit of fire.

Go on, give your Chinese Five Spice an adventure outside of the cupboard, try cooking with Oyster sauce if you haven’t, and for sure add the Sweet Chilli sauce if you want to liven it up. The Hoisin sauce adds a sweetness kids love, and the addition of peas and five spice to the rice makes the whole meal feel exotic and special.

Best of all, it’s delicious and healthy!

Kids portions of minced pork and green bean stir-fry

Sparkly Mummy

Blog Toast Tuesday: 20 September 2016

Welcome back to #blogtoast Tuesday, my weekly feature where I offer a congratulatory toast to two blogs that I like. Virtual booze does not have the same effect as real booze, but perhaps my modest praise can take the edge off your day in much the same way.

The Unsung Mum: For the underestimated and unacknowledged rad mum

I’m realising that my very favourite blogs are funny and poignant ones that highlight the hard bits of parenting with a self-deprecating sense of humour, and try to make us all feel better about ourselves. The Unsung Mum is doing this right.

Her posts are written in the third person and feature hilarious illustrations that appear to have been drawn in Microsoft Paint or suchlike. They are usefully labelled in case you are in any doubt about (for example) which bits of a picture are shit and which bits are chocolate.

I particularly enjoyed “How to rid yourself of the mothers’ group Twatty McTroll Face“, about those women both online and IRL who make you feel bad because you use disposable nappies and don’t make your own hummus – and how we can defeat them.

Her most recent post, “The Unsung Mum and the PND disaster” describes the things that went through her head when she suffered with PND. I relate to a lot of it, but also appreciate her very wise statement that PND comes in many different shapes and sizes. The most important bit is how she says it was a friend that helped her the most, telling her “it’s okay not to be okay”. It’s a good reminder of what we should all tell our friends sometimes when we think they might need it.

Our Rach Blogs

In a Twitter conversation recently, Rach told me that people don’t like her (her exact words: “I’m like thrush”). Based on how interesting her blog is, I find this hard to believe. But then again, people don’t like me either. And I only sometimes like people.

There are lots of things I like about this blog, and as one of its features is Top 10 lists, I’m going to be all thematic & shit and list the reasons I like her blog. I’m only doing 5 though (I don’t have time/too lazy to do 10).

  1. She writes feminist stuff. Her recent post, “What do you mean you don’t want kids?” was brilliant. Nobody thinks being childless or choosing childlessness makes a man less of a person, so why are people always implying that about women?
  2. She questions everyday bullshit. I like this one where she wonders why we always say sorry to each other for stupid things like pressing the same lift button at the same time. I’m not British-born so I work harder than anyone to say sorry all the time (to prove my Britishness), but maybe I should stop that.
  3. She writes about mental health and PND awareness, a topic that is also close to my heart.
  4. She is a good writer. Every post unfolds just like you’re reading a really good column in a really good newspaper.
  5. She covers an eclectic range of topics. I’ve read a lot of advice in the blogging world that says you need to make sure you stick to a niche, but I’m sceptical about that. It’s my blog and I’m going to write what I want. I’m glad she does that too.

Please do join me in toasting the best blogs by tweeting your favourite this week with the hashtag: #blogtoast (and if you mention @themumreviews I will retweet you – it’s win/win!) – or let me know just what you think of me in the comments!

A Shrek Adventure with my big boy

Earlier this week I took my son on a day out in London on his last day before starting school. It was such a treat to go to London with just one child who doesn’t need a pushchair, bibs, bottles, purees or any other heavy equipment in order to enjoy the day.

The main attraction of the day was our trip to Shrek’s Adventure, and I thought I’d write a little review in case you’ve been wondering whether it was worth a trip.

The background

As you may know, the Shrek franchise is part of the DreamWorks film company. They are your leading alternative to Disney movies, and they do it well. I have loved Shrek since the first movie came out in 2001 – well before my kids were even a glimmer in my eye. I love the moral that you don’t need to be beautiful or popular to be a hero. And the snappy one-liners.

That must be Lord Farquaad’s castle … Do you think he’s maybe compensating for something?

Other DreamWorks films include Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and (more recent but less well known) Home. All of them have great modern soundtracks and clever dialogue that the parents can enjoy too. One of my favourite ever film lines is from Kung Fu Panda:

There is no charge for awesomeness. Or attractiveness.

So this was one of those days out that was (selfishly?) just as much about me as it was about my son. I was giggling like a little girl the whole time.

The practical stuff

It is a bit expensive, but you can save money if you book in advance online. The online price is £18.90 per adult and £15.30 per child. shrek portraitThis is about on a par with other London attractions though, and well worth it considering the quality of the show.

I highly recommend booking well in advance if you’re going during half-term or other busy times. I had tried to go last half-term and there were no tickets available when I went online to book the day before. However, today, as some kids were already back to school, it was virtually empty – which was awesome.

It’s in a great location on the South Bank, close to Waterloo Station and next to other attractions such as Sea Life, the London Dungeons and the London Eye. If you want to see more than one thing, you can save money buying combi tickets.

The best bits

I obviously won’t give away all the details, as that would ruin the fun, but here are a few of our favourite bits.

The show starts out with a 4D bus ride. In case you’re unfamiliar with 4D, that’s where, on top of the film being in 3D, they do other stuff to make the environment seem realistic, like squirt water at you if you’re being splashed in the film. It wasn’t just any bus ride – it flies through the air from London to the Kingdom of Far Far Away. My son thought it was the coolest thing ever.

Rather than landing in Far Far Away, you crash there – for reasons I’ll keep a surprise – and then you are sent on a quest to find a way back home to London. Obviously, well-known characters from the Shrek franchise will be there to help or hinder you.

You wander through a series of realistic fairytale sets, and actors play the Shrek characters. There is also a bit of direct audience participation, and it’s all very silly with lots of gross-out humour. It really is entertainment for the whole family.  It’s a little piece of theme park magic.

At the enPhoto with Shrekd of your quest, you get to meet a real live Shrek and take pictures with him using your own camera. This is so nice because it would be very easy for a place like this to insist the only photos you get are the ones they try to sell you.

The staff were so lovely as well. When we got to the Shrek photo opportunity bit, my phone (which I’d turned off because I <always> follow the rules) was taking AGES to boot up. I went to the end of the photo queue and it was still booting when I got to the front. The woman working there let me stand off to the side for as long as it took (it must have been at least 15 minutes), and then come back when I was ready, so we wouldn’t miss out. This was beyond the call of duty and I really appreciated it.

While we were waiting, a giant King Julien (from Madagascar) had a dance party with my son.

I like to move it, move it!

After we finally got our Shrek photo, we came out into an area that had loads of bits from the other Dreamworks movies, with cool things you could pose with for photos, and a Kung Fu Panda computer game. We stayed in this area for ages and, again, no one rushed us along, which was great.

kung-fu-pandaFinally, we came out into the bit where they try to sell you pictures they took of you during the show. These had been taken in front of a green screen and they were actually really good quality. I have to admit to being suckered in.

We got a ‘Far Far Away travel journal’ with all of our pictures in, and stories and activities related to the movies. It also came with a keyring and magnet with our pictures in, and you are able to download the photos for use online. It was £25, but it was a really special day and I’m happy with spending this for the memories. My son has wanted to read his travel journal before bed every night.

The verdict

I think this is the most exotic adventure you can have with a young child in London. The website says children under 6 might be too afraid at this attraction, but my son is 4 and is very sensitive, and he was totally fine. It’s definitely worth a visit if you like theme parks, Dreamworks movies and/or adventure!

For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a sponsored review. I paid my own way!

The Pramshed

Not feeling sad on my son’s first day at school

I can’t resist jumping on the bandwagon and writing a starting school post. My big boy started school today. I expected to feel a bit sad because my baby is growing up, but I didn’t really feel sad at all. I’m wondering if I’m feeling the wrong thing!

We’re used to being apart. He’s been going to a childminder, nursery or preschool pretty regularly since he was 10 months old. So actually, for us, school is going to make very little difference to how much time we spend together. I felt so many things today, but none of them were sad.

More than anything, I felt proud. Proud as he ran away from me towards the school gates, full of confidence and excitement about his new adventure – not the least bit scared.

I felt excited. I’m so excited to face all of the new challenges ahead.

I felt geeky – because I’m totally looking forward to helping him with his homework.

I felt insecure. I want the other parents and the teachers and school staff to like me!

I felt worried. Will my son behave? Will he make friends? Will he be happy at this school?

I felt guilty – because I didn’t feel sad at all. I’ve got free childcare and a new way to relate to my son.

Babies are cute and cuddly, but I wanted to have kids because I’m just a big kid myself. I remember the kid stuff: kid’s films, kid’s food, kid’s games – lots of silly stuff. Now my eldest is in school, he will start enjoying things that I can still enjoy myself. If that is a little bit selfish, then you can judge me all you please.

As it turns out, my son was perfectly happy about his school day. He wouldn’t tell me much about it though. He said it was a secret.

His teacher told me that his behaviour was “challenging”. He needs to work on sharing and doing what he’s told. I’ve never been very good at doing what I was told either. But I won’t let him get away with it. He can be better than me.

We rounded off the day by dancing like total goofballs in the living room to some of our favourite songs. We left the curtains open so any passerby could witness our foolishness.

The baby days are gone for my big boy, but the fun has just begun.

My Random Musings

Easy Cheesy Chilli con Carne

I’m a sucker for a good chilli, not too beany, full of flavour and options for serving. You can serve this in a bowl with toppings, in a wrap, over corn chips, in a taco salad or just over a bit of white rice. I’ve adapted this recipe as a quick, midweek, family meal that can be used in different ways over a couple of days.

I tend to make my own chilli powder (little dash of this, little dash of that, into the pot), but you can use your favourite pre-mix from a packet.You can save your family from anti-caking agents and colours by using your own spice mix, so I’ve provided my mix below. Please feel free to stick to your own methods though, if you prefer to use a little veg oil when browning and a packet of chilli spice mix – no judgement here!Spices for chilli

I use frozen veg (F) and tins, even squeezy tubes of coriander if I don’t have time to chop. There are a couple of ingredients that are optional, mostly because they may not be readily available in the UK. That being said, before I left, places like Tesco and Sainsbury’s were offering decent Mexican food selections, so you may luck out!

As with most of my recipes, I like to be in control of oil, salt, sugar and additives, so I’ll offer tips to avoid packet mixes and too much of the yuck that comes with ready meals. If you can get your hands on a nice, deep, non-stick pot, you won’t need oil for browning the beef.

My kids love this dish in a tortilla wrap with cheese; my husband and I prefer to dash some hot sauce in our bowl of chilli and top it with cheese and crème fraîche, or soured cream, and a handful of corn chips. It’s also awesome on a jacket potato, and who doesn’t love a homemade chilli dog?

You’ll need:

  • 1lb minced beef (half a kilo or so). Vegetarians could use Quorn or just extra beans.
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (F)
  • 1 TB chopped/minced garlic (I buy massive jars to keep in the fridge)
  • 1 small tin (7oz/198g) diced green chilies, mild and fire roasted if you can find them (OPTIONAL) (I used to just hand chop long green chilies that I found at my local high street market)
  • 1-2 TB chilli spice mix (I use dry cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, garlic, chipotle chilli – you may find peri peri easier to find – and cinnamon)
  • 1.5 tins of crushed tomato (A tin is usually 400g. In the US, I use 3 8oz tins)
  • 1 cube dry beef stock or 1 TB concentrated beef stock (Knorr have fab little jelly pots of beef stock that work well)
  • 1 cup shredded/grated carrot
  • 1 small tin cannellini beans (That’s about 200g or 8oz. You could use a large 400g tin if you like lots of beans. If you prefer kidney beans, go for it, but I’m not a fan of the skins on them)
  • 2 heaped tsp cane sugar
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh coriander/cilantro (seems like a lot, but really it’s just two handfuls. Alternatively, use 1 TB of squeezy tube or a large chunk of frozen chopped)
  • 1-2 TB refried beans from a tin
  • Dash of Worcestershire Sauce (OPTIONAL at the end)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (or more!). I prefer non-greasy cheeses like double Gloucester or Red Leicestershire as a topping.
  • A few TB crème fraîche or soured cream (OPTIONAL topping, but so delicious, it’s worth a try)
  • Salted corn tortilla chips (Optional, but yummy)
  • 2-4 flour tortillas (Optional, if your kids like a wrap, like mine. You can use white rice if you prefer, and you can make a pot while the chilli is cooking)

The method:

I use a deep, non-stick pot for this dish, and keep the lid handy. It’s like a camel – it will spit!

Spread the chopped onion across the bottom of the pot over a high heat. If using frozen, add the onions before turning on the heat, and then go about gathering your other ingredients so they thaw a bit.

Add the minced beef and garlic, and give it all a good mix to combine. You won’t need oil if you’re using a non-stick base.

If you’ve managed to find some mild green chilies, now is the time to add these beauties – for depth of flavour, not heat.

Chilli mince cooking
There’s something really satisfying about browning meat.

If you want to make your own spice mix, put them all together is a little dish as follows, in order of quantity (but adjust to your own taste): Almost 1 tsp cumin, then slightly less paprika, oregano, garlic, a tiny dash of chipotle chille (or peri-peri if you like) and an even tinier dash of cinnamon. The cinnamon really goes a long way, so tread lightly.

As everything starts heating up and producing liquid (try to go for low-fat content beef), add the spice mix you’ve just made or your packet mix.

As the onions, beef and minced garlic brown up, and the dry spices dry up the liquid, stir pretty continuously (especially if you haven’t used oil). Have your tins of tomato at the ready to dump in, and reduce the temp before burning.

Add the tomato and reduce the heat to medium. Give the mixture a good stir and cover it. Mind the spitting!

Add the dry, crushed stock cube or concentrated stock (no water added), drained can of cannellini beans and the shredded carrot.

Sprinkle in the sugar (to taste, but man that’s a lot of tomato, so be generous, it’s still less than ready made), a splash of water (only about a ¼ cup), give the mixture a good last stir, reduce the heat to med-low and cover.

If you have fresh coriander, give it a good rinse, remove the lower stalks, but don’t worry about the upper stalks between leaves. I roll up the coriander in a little sausage before finely chopping along the tube for a rough chop in seconds. The upper stalks will add flavour without being stringy, so don’t worry about separating leaves from the stalk.

chopping coriander
You don’t need to take the leaves off the stalks when preparing coriander.

Add the coriander/cilantro and mix in well before re-covering.

The carrots will soften, the tomato will mellow and the beans will virtually disappear over the next ten minutes. Keep the kettle handy in case you feel like another drop of water will help soften the carrots or prevent bottom sticking, but try not add too much.

After about 15 minutes, the chilli will have reduced a bit, but it’s still likely to be a bit more liquid than we’d like. This is where the refried beans come in. Stir in the refried beans a little at a time to help thicken the mixture, mellow the tomato and spices, and add fibre.

Give it a little taste and add salt and pepper if you like. Again, it’s a lot of tomato, so salt is likely necessary, but remember, it’s also in the beef stock and refried beans. I add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt at this point, and give it good stir. There’s something about the Worcester that brings out the beef!

This chilli can carry on cooking, unattended, on very low heat, until you’re ready to eat, but it’ll be ready in half an hour, no problem.

In a cereal/salad sized bowl, mix the following:

  • 2 scoops (about 1 cup) of the chilli from the pot
  • A generous handful (about ½ cup) shredded cheese
  • 1 tsp crème fresh or soured cream

This instantlyHand holding tortilla chip with dip cools the chilli, mellows any spices they may be adverse to, and makes a handy all-in-one burrito filler that avoids the cheese falling out! Spread the mixture onto a tortilla, wrap it up and cut (or don’t) depending on your kid’s fondness for forks. If there’s a little left over, it’s perfect for dipping tortilla chips for mom bites.

My hubby and I have a bowl of chilli with a handful of cheese, dab of crème fraîche and some crunched up tortilla chips on top. Great for next day lunches over a jacket potato or with a salad. We’ve even made nachos with tortilla chips and cheese for a heavenly snack. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Sparkly Mummy

A magical (and affordable) day out at Priory Farm

There are only a few days left of the summer holidays, and I’ve noticed that all the days out and extra childcare that summer entails are taking their toll on my wallet. When I had a chance to take my older son out last week, I was keen to find somewhere with free or very cheap admission.

We ended up at Priory Farm near Redhill, Surrey. If the weather is nice and your budget is tight, you can’t really beat this place for a day out in the Southeast.

We went on a weekday and arrived about 10am. At this time we had no trouble finding an excellent parking space, but there were absolutely loads available.

Just next to the car park is this huge pirate ship where the kids can play.

Pirate ship playground at Priory FarmThere is a coffee kiosk in the area and picnic benches so that parents can watch their kids play from a civilised distance whilst imbibing caffeine and/or cake. It also sells ice cream, in case you need to bribe your kids to leave the pirate ship.

My 4 year old had no trouble safely climbing around the ship on his own. A toddler would need closer supervision.

Right next to this play area is the entrance to the main attraction – the Discovery Walk. The Discovery Walk showcases the natural beauty of this property, set as it is with views over the Downs. But it offers more than just trees and flowers. Throughout the trail there are many things to climb, tunnels to explore and secrets to discover.

Before you start

The admission price is a very reasonable £2.50pp, which includes a treasure hunt for the kids. The standard treasure hunt features nature facts, but there are also themed hunts throughout the year. The one we did was all about the Olympics. Each stop on the hunt had a trivia question to answer (with some pretty obvious clues to help younger ones figure it out), along with a hint about how to find the next question. The price included a prize at the end, which was a small bag of sweets and a plastic gold medal like the ones you get at sport days. In my opinion, this place is very good value for money.

For an extra £1, you can get a bag of fish food, which I highly recommend, for reasons I’ll explain later.

I should also mention that the trail is relatively buggy-friendly (although I wouldn’t attempt it as the lone adult – better to have at least one friend to join you if you’re pushing a buggy as well as chasing after a child).

Highlights of the Discovery Walk

The first stop on the trail is this pretty little garden.

Wendy's garden at Priory Farm

After you leave the little garden, you turn the corner, and the next thing you see is a beautiful field of wildflowers. You walk past that to discover a teepee with a drum inside. Plan to spend a rather long time listening to your children banging the drum.

When you’ve managed to tear the kids away from the drum, you will encounter one of the absolute highlights of the park: a maze made of sunflowers instead of hedges. I’m a complete sucker for mazes of any type, but this one takes the biscuit. In this maze, on this day, I took probably one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken.

Sunflower
I totally put this on Instagram.

The maze has fun little hints to help you through, and spinners to help you choose your direction. My son loved this and felt a sense of achievement when we found our way out. It isn’t so big that you will be lost for an onerous amount of time.

After you leave the sunflower maze, there is a gentle hill to climb. This is the first time you’ll encounter one of these little balance beams.

Balance beam at Priory Farm

There are lots of little things like this to climb throughout the trail. They are great because it means you never have a long walk without encountering something that keeps the kids interested.

At the top of the hill, you will enter a little wood, in which the trees are labelled with their names (very educational), and there are many secrets to discover. They’ve built lots of little houses made of sticks, which may or may not be inhabited by faeries. I won’t ruin it by telling you all the details, but here is an example of one of the least elaborate ones. Faery house at Priory FarmThe trail through the woods leads you to an abandoned quarry, which contains some more surprises, and then you are invited to climb out of the quarry using a wooden climbing wall. There is a trail round if you can’t or don’t want to climb. I went ahead and climbed straight up, no doubt looking super mature and dignified as I did.

At the top of the hill, there are further things to climb, ways to make loud noises, secret tunnels to navigate, circles of standing stones, and more. Word to the wise: the tunnels might be very muddy on the bottom, even if the weather has been dry. My son could walk at full height through them but I had to maintain an awkward crouch in order to avoid getting filthy. Ouch, my aching middle-aged back! In retrospect, my son probably could have managed in there on his own, but just be prepared for possible crouching or extremely muddy knees if you need to retrieve your children from the tunnel.

Another real highlight for me was the Labyrinth. This bit is not buggy-friendly, or suitable for anyone who can’t balance or climb things. But it is totally worth it. Legend says that a dragon resides within.

The Labyrinth releases you into a beautiful fruit orchard. Look at the size of those plums!PlumsYou then make your way down a gentle slope to the fish pond. Here is where your fish food purchase comes into its own. The pond is well-stocked with fish and they are the greediest creatures you’ve ever seen. There are also lots of greedy ducks. The fish climb on top of each other, and the ducks climb on top of the fish as they all compete for a bit of your fish food. This is truly a spectacle to thrill kids and adults alike. I took some pictures but they just don’t do it justice – you need to see for yourself.

There are a few more surprises on the short walk after the fish pond, before you come to the exit of the Discovery Walk. It took us just over an hour, despite one of us having little legs. My son was having so much fun that he didn’t once complain about his little legs being tired (a complaint that happens for much shorter distances when he’s bored).

If you have more time…

There are loads of other things to do on this property that we didn’t have time for on this day. You can race rubber ducks down a little waterway. You can visit the garden centre and eat lunch at the cafe there, which has a large playground attached to it. And you could pop across the road to check out the Farm Shop.

The verdict

The fun we had at this attraction easily rivals that we’ve had at farm parks which charge four times more for entry. It is a unique place which has clearly had a huge amount of effort and love put into it. The result is a truly magical day out, with new things to discover around every corner.

Cuddle Fairy

Blog Toast Tuesday: 30 August 2016

My favourite blogs of the week

Ouch, my brain hurts.

So as to avoid divorce proceedings, I promised my husband I would leave off blog writing for the bank holiday weekend. This blog has been going for just over a month now and it has changed our lifestyle a bit, due my burgeoning obsession with it. I needed to take some time off and give my full attention to the family for a few days. But getting back to writing after a short break is hurting my brain. Is it really that easy to get rusty?

Good thing I can fall back on #blogtoast Tuesday, my weekly feature in which I review a few blogs I’ve enjoyed over the past week. I get to write about what other people are writing without thinking of anything original. So here are three of my favourite blogs this week.

Katie at The Squirmy Popple

It’s probably because in her day job she’s an expert at writing stuff for the web, but everything about her blog makes me want to keep reading it. The look of her site is attractive, but simple and clean. Her writing voice is funny, clear and honest. She knows just what she’s doing, and she does it in a way that isn’t intimidating (really fancy-looking blogs about amazing Pinterest-worthy lifestyles make me stare at my toy-strewn lounge in despair). I relate to her – and not just because my snooping on her About page revealed she’s another American expat in the UK, just like me. A few recent highlights on her blog:

Claudia at Dr Mummykins

She is a qualified doctor and blogs about children’s health issues that all parents are likely to encounter. Her posts are short and easy to understand – no medical jargon. She offers useful tips on how to deal with common health related problems, such as when your toddler refuses to take medicine. All of this is delivered with a fair dose of humour as well. I loved her post on how to spot whether your child has shoved something up his nose. Mine shoved a pea up there once and required general anaesthetic to get it out. She also debunks lots of health-related myths, such as that you always need to lower a fever.

Cécile at The Frenchie Mummy

I feel as though I hardly need to feature her because she is popping up everywhere, and everyone loves what she’s doing. Her writing is interspersed with French words and phrases, and I love that I can hear a French accent in my head as I’m reading. She writes authentically about a range of topics, from the funny (Help! I am dying!), to the heartrending (How I miserably failed at being a strong mum yesterday), to the ones that have you nodding along because you’ve experienced the same thing (Am I still a cool cat?). She will not be a petit poisson in the blogging world for long.

Please do join me in toasting the best blogs by tweeting your favourite this week with the hashtag: #blogtoast (and if you @themumreviews I will retweet you – it’s win/win!) – or let me know just what you think of me in the comments!