Blog Toast Tuesday: 16 August 2016

I was rather excited and flattered the other day when another blog featured me! I thought it was such a lovely idea that I am going to copy her (because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery). I’m going to make up my own hashtag for it (why not, right?), and anyone who wants to copy me is perfectly welcome to.

So from now on, every Tuesday I’ll be featuring 3 blogs that I’ve enjoyed over the past week. I’m calling it #blogtoast. Because I’m toasting your efforts, get it? And I like wine.

cars&cooking – From the kitchen to the racetrack and back again

This is the lovely blog that featured me and gave me the idea. The blog does what it says on the tin – shares a great variety of recipes and some very good writing about motor racing. It’s not the typical “mum blog”, but she is a mum, and I think it’s great that she just focuses on what she loves. The recipes she shares are all the sorts of things I (with my limited cooking skills) would like to try, and they sound child-friendly too. First on my list is the Chicken with lemon and caper butter. I had a good chuckle about getting rid of my aggression by pounding the chicken flat.

Siena Says – Lifestyle, Family, Writing and Chocolate

I discovered this one just today whilst participating in this week’s Big Pink Link. Siena says she tried to make her blog like a magazine she would like to read, and she’s certainly made it like a magazine would like to read. She’s got a beautiful layout and a nice spread of topics, with her main menu headings being lifestyle, parenting and opinion. Her conversational writing style makes you want to be her mate and she throws in humour and brutal honesty in equal measure. One of my favourite bits of her linked post, ‘7 Things Primary School Mums Should Know‘ was the point that ‘all school administration staff are trained at the “Had an accident/Life Insurance/PPI Claim School of Texting”‘. That’s already been happening to me with my son’s preschool!

notaneffingfairytale – Because life is no fairytale. Let’s laugh at it together

This was also on the Big Pink Link but I had seen it before. I knew it would be just my sort of thing as soon as I saw her Twitter avatar featuring a drunken Snow White. To me that said ‘escapism’ and ‘drinking’, which are two of my favourite things. Her writing is absolutely hysterical because she is not afraid to ‘go there’. Her linked post was ‘The (embarrassingly) long list of men I would leave my husband for‘ in which it’s not all about looks but she comes up with a rather interesting way to silence David Beckham. I also deeply enjoyed (and related to) ‘Toilets I Have Fallen Down Around The World and Other Travel Injuries‘. It’s not a blog you should read if you’re easily shocked or prim and proper, but if that’s the case you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog either.

What are some of your favourite blogs that you’ve discovered this week? Drop me a comment or stick it up on Twitter, mentioning @themumreviews and #blogtoast, and I’ll RT.

Mummascribbles

Reasons my mum is crying

A child’s musing on those moments when mum loses her sh*t.

I’m sure pretty much everyone knows and loves the famous blog, ‘Reasons my son is crying‘. It pokes fun of the very many things a typical young child might have a bit of a tantrum over. An example from my own 4-year-old today:

4yo (observing as I begin to apply sunscreen to  his 1yo brother): The sunscreen says “kids” on it.

Me: That’s right. Good reading.

4yo: But my brother’s a toddler. Not a kid.

Me (continuing with sunscreen application): Not all kids are toddlers. But all toddlers are kids.

4yo (high-pitched; distressed): NOOOOOOO! My brother needs TODDLER SUNSCREEN! I’m the kid. The kids sunscreen is only for meeeeee!

So, yeah, that happens. And it’s pretty funny when viewed in hindsight. But what about when you’re right there in the moment? Sometimes, don’t you just feel like lying down on the floor, going stiff as a board and refusing to move, a la toddler? Or just having a good old cry? Well, I do. And it got me thinking of what my sons must think of me, when I’ve lost it and cried in front of them. Some examples from my own experiences:

Newborn baby be all like:

My mum keeps shoving her boobs in my face. They are all hard and huge. And she is DOING IT WRONG. I am not having any of that milk until she ups her game a bit.

Wait? Now she’s crying? WTF, I’m the one who’s starving here!

Six month old be all like:

Mum has been IGNORING me all day. She keeps going into the kitchen and turning on some machine that’s really noisy. Now, she puts me in this highchair and starts waving a spoon full of orange mush at me. I don’t think so! I’m going to wave my hands wildly and knock the spoon of mush down her shirt.

She’s crying again. She tried to poison me and SHE’S the one who’s crying!

Nine month old be all like:

I’m tired of this sleeping at nighttime stuff. It is so last month. I’m going to just rest for short 45 minute intervals and then wake up and scream for mum. She loves giving me cuddles in the middle of the night.

3 hours later…

I just had to scream for TEN WHOLE MINUTES before Mum came to cuddle me this time. She’s biting her lower lip and begging me to go to sleep, tears streaming down her face. I don’t know what her problem is. I thought we were having fun, seeing each other all night.

18-month-old be all like:

I’m finished eating and no longer require this plate in front of me, still half-full of food. I shall toss it across the room in the manner of a medieval king.

Hey, why is mum shouting just because there are some baked beans in her hair? I put baked beans in my hair all the time!

2-year-old be all like:

These playgroups are kind of cool. Hey, wait a minute! Some kid is trying to play with the same plastic kitchen as me! I’m going to hit him repeatedly with this small metal pan until he goes away. What? Now mum is trying to drag me away from this usurper. I will go stiff as a board so she can’t move me until I’m ready to go. Uh oh, woman is tearing up again. Maybe if I scream a little louder in this public place she will learn to respect my boundaries.

4-year-old be all like:

It’s getting late and I’m actually quite tired. I’m going to give Mummy a big cuddle and tell her that I love her before I go to sleep. Wait…is she crying again?

Is it just me or have you experienced these sorts of moments? What are the reasons your kids’ mum is crying?

The Diary of an 'Ordinary' Mum

Easy Cottage Pie (with a twist) Recipe

Great for kids and busy mums

The Mum Reviews says:

It looks like a lot of ingredients but many are optional and you can just throw everything in! You don’t even need to put it in the oven if you’re short on time. I love the funky mash with added sour cream and cheese.

What you need

  • 6 white potatoes (Maris Piper is good if you’re in the UK)
  • 1 sweet potato (optional)
  • Approx 500g / 1-1.5lb mince (that’s ground beef in the USA)
  • 1 cup onion, chopped (or 1 medium onion)
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped (about 1 medium carrot)
  • Oregano & Thyme (or mixed Italian Seasoning)
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Beef stock
  • Garlic, fresh, dried or minced (optional)
  • 1 tsp tomato paste (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (85g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) milk or cream (half & half is also an option in the USA)
  • Corn starch
  • Salt & pepper

Method

SpicesPreheat the oven to 375F/180C (however as you’ll see later, using the oven is optional! You could also just use the grill to crisp up the top).

Bring a big pot of water to boil and peel and cube 6 white potatoes for mash. I sometimes add one sweet potato to the mash, but cook it whole in the
microwave for 4 minutes or so rather than boil.

You can save time and peel only spotty bits of skin for a rustic mash too. Or, for a real shortcut, you can use ready mash; some chiller section mash only has milk, butter, cream and potatoes, so isn’t too guilt ridden.

While the potatoes boil, start browning the ground/minced beef. I use higher fat beef to avoid the need to add extra Cottage Pie filling on the hoboil.

Add the chopped onion (you can buy frozen pre-chopped onion for convenience). You can also replace some of the chopped onions with a handful of pearl onions, which sweeten up nicely.

Add healthy dashes of pepper, salt, oregano and thyme (or Italian seasoning), Worcestershire sauce and beef stock (I use 1 cube or 1 tsp of the jar of concentrated stock). You should add as much or as little as you like to taste, but I do use a lot of dry spice to flavour the meat while frying it off. You can also add about 1 clove of garlic or 1 tsp of dried/ready minced garlic (to taste) at this point too.

I try not to stir too much so the meat browns nicely, but if the dry spice starts to burn, add a touch more Worcestershire or water.

When the meat is brown and the onions are soft, add about ½ cup water and about 1 cup chopped carrots (I get the julienned carrots Shredded carrotsand chop them a little smaller, but you could leave them big if you prefer).

Add the frozen peas (you can add extra if they like peas – go for it!) and tomato paste (optional). Stir well and allow peas to thaw completely. Add a bit more water if the mixture is dry, but no more than ¼ cup.

Adding frozen peas to cottage pieAdd 1 or 2 tsp corn starch a little at a time, using a fork to mix it in; try shaking it in off the fork to avoid too much clumping.

Cover and reduce heat to simmer until the gravy thickens a bit. Add a dash of salt or more Worcestershire sauce to taste.

Your potatoes should be done by now (cubed ones take about 15 minutes). Drain potatoes and add ¼ cup butter (or olive oil if you prefer) to the pot and dump the potatoes back in. Add ¼ cup (or more) sour cream and smash it all together. Add milk (or cream/half  & half if you’re feeling indulgent) as you mix (up to 1/2 cup), until you’ve reached your desired thickness. Salt and pepper to taste.

For extra flavour, add a bit of shredded cheese to the mash.

Pour the meat mixture into a baking pan. Cover with mash, sprinkle with more shredded cheese for extra texture, and bake for 15-20 minutes to crisp up the top.

It’s advisable to put the pie onto another baking tray to catch any bubbly juices. Yum!

A few other tips…

In the pictures, I’ve made a two “grown up” or four toddler portion pie. I save the meat mixture to have over jacket/baked potatoes with salad in the summer if I don’t want to have the oven on too long. You can also avoid using the oven altogether if you want to simply layer the mash onto the meat in the pan and allow the sauce to simmer beneath it for a few minutes. Fast family favourites aren’t always about presentation! When my kids were younger, I made sure to make the carrots nice and small, and usually skinned the potatoes properly, but now that they’re older, it’s not necessary. There are a lot of ‘to taste’ measures here, so don’t be afraid to just toss a dash of this and that in – it’ll be a dish you make your own in no time.

Petite Pudding

Introducing The Mum Recipes

Fast, family-friendly food

The Mum Reviews says:

I’m not the best cook, and when I do make an effort, my kids are usually not impressed. So when my best friend suggested she might join me in the blogosphere, I bit her hand off. Because she CAN cook. Her kids even eat it. And it’s got vegetables! So she needs to share her secrets with the rest of us. In this post she introduces herself. Head on over to our About page for more about us, and watch this space for The Mum Recipes first recipe, Easy Cottage Pie.

Like a lot of mums these days, I try to balance my desire to feed my children healthy foods and my often overwhelming ennui. I make the effort to cook at least three times a week, and by cook, I mean something more challenging than hot dogs, baked beans and sweet potato mash. Perhaps it’s because I truly love to cook, but I suspect a lot of it is I find it a legitimate reason to tell my children to “get out of the kitchen!” for a much needed moment by the end of the day. It’s because I’m sometimes horrified when I have the spare moment to inspect an ingredients label on pre-made ready-meals, and realise my kids don’t actually like them when I’ve tried in a moment of weakness. What I’ve learned is to find a balance between the convenience foods available and making healthy meals.

I thought it might make cooking easier for some of the time-strapped mums out there that have all the best intentions, really want their children to prefer home-cooked meals to take-aways, but haven’t had the time to experiment like I have. I’m a stay-at-home mum with two small children (5 and 3) and a gluten-intolerant husband, so I’m no stranger to catering specialty meals. I did, however, make a rule a long time ago that my children were going to eat grown-up food. Nothing too spicy, no chillies just yet, but plenty of spice is a must. I used a food processor to liquefy spag-bol, lentils with rice, cottage pie, etc. As a result, my kids are pretty accustomed to garlic, onion and dry spices in most dishes. They don’t, however, realise just how many vegetables end up in their favourites.

In this blog, I’d like to introduce some tried and tested recipes, not just by my family, but recipes I’ve been asked again and again to share. I use frozen veg when I need to, I don’t mess around with name brands when generic will do, and I’m always looking for the easiest, quickest result for dinner time chaos. I hope you find the tips and recipes I’ll share here help ease the stress of cooking healthy, yummy meals.

Garlic & chilli heaven on the Isle of Wight

Breathing fire and smelling like a dragon

That’s right. We devoted an entire day of our holiday to two of my very favourite ingredients. Both of my pregnancies had me fairly obsessed with garlic and chilli, to the point that I carried a bottle of Tabasco in my handbag and used half the bottle of garlic piri-piri sauce every time I went to Nandos (which was a lot).

So you can imagine my excitement to find that The Garlic Farm and House of Chilli were within a short drive of one another. We also accidentally discovered some other fun stuff at Holliers Park, where House of Chilli was based.

House of Chilli

This place is a shop, a tourist attraction and a way of life all rolled up into one. Their homepage says their aim is “not just to help the hardened chilliheads feel the burn, but to offer a rangehouse of chilli of products suited to all tastes”. The walls of the rather large shop were lined with chilli-based sauces beyond what you’ve ever imagined.

The main attraction of the shop is their extensive tasting table. The large table in the middle of the shop had about 20 different things to taste, including salad dressing, mayonnaise, pickles, chutneys and salsas. The mechanism for transferring condiment to mouth were some rather lovely tiny pieces of tortilla. I tried everything. My favourite was the Chip Shop Curry Sauce.

There was also a smaller table with an actual health warning on it. About 5 sauces that are not for chilli rookies, arranged in order of hotness. I managed two of the milder ones and was temporarily deprived of the ability to speak (a very rare occurrence). Husband tried the hottest one and he was stoned on chilli endorphins for the next half hour.

It was also a child-friendly shop with a great big chalkboard at the back where they could draw and a reading area with some children’s books. There was an ice cream machine as well, although that may have been more for those adults who go a little too far with the chilli samples.

Holliers Park

Husband was suffering some serious chilli intoxication after leaving the chilli shop, so we decided to have a nose round the other shops on the property while he sobered up.

First we popped into Island Artisan. I groaned on the way in, expecting it to contain a variety of generic tourist tat. Boy was I wrong. This was a real hub of unusual artisan goods with a number of artists in residence who you could watch in action. steampunk hats

One man had lost many abilities due to suffering a stroke but had found new purpose in doing pyrography. I was very tempted to buy his portrayal of the Lady of the Lake bestowing Excalibur upon King Arthur. I also really wanted to buy one of the steampunk hats. I’m sure those would have multiple uses, mostly involving alcohol consumption. But my house is really small and my two little monkeys are the reason why we can’t have nice things.

There was loads of other cool stuff there and, thoughtfully, they provided toys and colouring to keep the kids busy while the parents nose around.

All of that hankering after hats began to work up a thirst, and it was simply not an option to ignore the property’s Victory Tearooms. “It’s a double-decker bus cafe!” shouted Eldest Victory Tea Rooms on the Isle of Wightin amazement. And right he was – it was a massive double-decker bus filled with wartime memorabilia. You order downstairs from two cheerful women in 1940s attire, and your order is delivered via dumbwaiter to the top deck of the bus.

The service was a little bit slow to us mainland Southerners, but then there seemed to be a general lack of rush across the whole island. We kept reminding each other that we should try to enjoy the island pace of life. And in any case, where else can you eat tea and cake whilst pretending to drive the bus? Cafes don’t get much more fun than this.

The Garlic Farm

The Garlic FarmAnd so, having tired of driving the bus, we proceeded to The Garlic Farm to have our lunch.

The restaurant has a nice atmosphere but a very small menu. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a larger choice of garlic-related main courses on the menu. Many of the more unique garlicky dishes were part of overpriced sampler platters.

I had the roasted garlic starter, which involves spreading soft, massive garlic cloves on slices of bread. I’ve seen this executed much better. There was not enough bread and the butter was cold, so I couldn’t spread it. The garlic also wasn’t as flavourful as I was expecting. Perhaps it was not the correct breed of garlic.

I enjoyed my main more: a flatbread spread with pesto and piled with a collection of roasted vegetables. The pesto transformed the dish from dull vegetarian option to delicious and the sweet, succulent tomatoes upstaged the other vegetables. I did not eat the ill-considered giant wedges of barely-cooked red onion.

Husband had a sandwich with smoked salmon, cream cheese, garlic puree and some other stuff. He said it wasn’t too bad but that it was weird that it was served hot. Warm sheets of smoked salmon just aren’t really a thing, as far as I know.

The kids menu was large and provided in the form of an activity/colouring sheet, which was nice. But the kids didn’t really eat the food. Not even Youngest, who eats everything.

So, I was a little disappointed with the restaurant and think they could up their game there, but the rest of the farm was brilliant. Especially considering that admission and parking are free.

TOP TIP: Despite my moaning about “not enough garlic”, I really wouldn’t recommend going to the The Garlic Farm restaurant if you’re planning a date, a business meeting, or to take public transport. The garlic smell emitted from our mouths (and other places, perhaps) was truly offensive for at least the next 24 hours. It’s a good thing we didn’t have any guests in our caravan.

Besides the shop (where we bought the pesto from my flatbread and a massive braid of garlic), there was a large room where you could taste the wares, an education room hosting arts & crafts for children, a cafe and an ice cream stand.

Wildflowers at The Garlic FarmWhat we enjoyed most was the walk around the farm. There were beautiful fields of wildflowers and rows of different types of garlic with descriptions for each. I had no idea there was such a wide variety of garlic breeds for all around the world.

You could then proceed to take a nature walk through woods and fields, where you may see some cows. The website had implied there was a variety of other animals, but we couldn’t spot them. It was a very hot day so perhaps they were wiser than us and off keeping cool somewhere.

The farm was also a prehistoric settlement and you can see some artefacts that have been found there in the education room.

TOP TIP: If you’re with the kids, remember to get a map before starting the nature walk (I didn’t), and make sure you only attempt “very short nature walk” or “short nature walk”. We did the latter and it was still a big ask for Eldest. At one point, I told him to go have a rest on a random bench, but when he did, it fell over on top of him! So do test any benches before attempting to sit on them.

The walk ended in a grassy area with a children’s playhouse and some free-range chickens. I was a little bit scared that the chickens would attack, so we didn’t stay long.

I like to review stuff

On a recent holiday to the Isle of Wight, I was sat somewhere being bored. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing at the time, but it was probably while waiting for my children to do something. They like to take their time.

And then I started thinking about the holiday itself, and what I liked and disliked about it. I realised I had a lot of opinions and advice based on those opinions. And then I remembered that before I went on holiday I spent quite a lot of time trying to see what opinions other people had about things I was going to do on holiday.

And then I had an epiphany: I actually really, really like to review stuff. I spent some time as the editor of the arts & entertainment section of my university’s newspaper, so I’m not entirely new to reviewing stuff. But since then, my reviews have been confined to chats with my husband and friends, or the occasional TripAdvisor or Facebook review.

So I thought I’d have a go at telling the world my opinions about interesting things I’ve done. A lot of the things I review will be useful for people with young families. But I will also review the grownup things I (very occasionally) do.

I never thought I would be the sort of person to write a blog. But hopefully someone will find it useful. And if not, at least I will have a record of lots of things I’ve done and what I thought about them.

Watch this space for my first two review posts, which will be about our Isle of Wight holiday (which was mostly not boring – when I wasn’t waiting for my children to do stuff).