29 April 2013

Recipe for Cheat's Treacle Sponge Pudding



There's something so warming and comforting about a sticky sweet treacle sponge.

I love baking, but I haven't got the time or inclination to steam a sponge pudding. You have to steam it for hours, watching so that doesn't boil dry. No, not my idea of baking fun - but oh the oozing golden syrup and the warm sponge. There has to be a better way...

... and there is. I give you is my mother-in-law's recipe for a cheat's treacle sponge pudding. It is easy peasy. In fact it's so simple you'll wonder why you didn't think of it.



Ingredients 

2 eggs (weigh them in their shells, this will be the weight you use for the next three ingredients)
Butter
Caster sugar
Self-raising flour (or plain flour and 1tsp baking powder)
Milk, 1-2 tbsps
Golden syrup, 150-200ml (less than half a tin)



Method 

Heat the oven to 180/gas 4.

Make an all-in-one sponge batter by whisking the eggs, butter, sugar, flour and milk for a couple of minutes.

Pour the golden syrup into the bottom of a heatproof serving dish.

Carefully spoon the cake batter over the syrup. I use two spoons; one to scoop, one to push off (as if adding mashed potato to a cottage pie). Smooth the top with the back of a spoon. 



Bake for 35-45 minutes, until a knife inserted into the centre of the sponge comes out clear.

Allow to cool a little.

Serve with custard.

You can substitute the golden syrup for a generous layer of jam if you like. 





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Four Wonderful Ways to Celebrate Global Love Day

Today's blog post is brought to you in association with Hallmark.

Love, and being loved, is such an important part of our lives that sometimes it’s easy to take it all for granted. It’s for this reason that an annual symbolic event, known as Global Love Day has been established, as a day on which we can remind ourselves of how crucial it is to celebrate love and be compassionate to one another – as well as being compassionate to ourselves too.

Taking place on May 1st every year, Global Love Day is intended to bring individuals and communities together across the world to embrace love and be caring, not just on that particular day but throughout the whole year. There are innumerable ways in which you can honour in Global Love Day on a personal level that are sure to put a smile on someone’s face, but here are four simple yet wonderful ways that you can take part.

Hug It Out

Sometimes we all just need a good hug, and on Global Love Day, try to be a little more generous with your hugs than usual. You might not know that hugging helps to release the ‘bonding’ hormone oxytocin, which not only helps to increase feelings of love, trust and happiness, but has been proven to relieve pain and help wounds to heal faster – so make Global Love Day your reason to start sharing more cuddles.

Offer Some Kind Words

Actions may speak louder than words, but on Global Love Day, don’t forget to say some nice things too. Complement a co-worker on their great project, remind your partner how much they mean to you, call your parents for a chat or just tell your friend how great their outfit looks, and you’ll put a spring in their step that will last the whole day through. You can even share some lovely words with friends and family that aren’t close by thanks to personalised greeting cards from Hallmark which say what’s in your heart when you can’t be there to do it in person.

Give a Little Love
Whether you already give to your favourite charities, or have been looking for a reason to begin, donating in the name of Global Love Day couldn’t be more within the spirit of the occasion. You can make a private donation to the charity of your choice, or even better organise a fundraising event in your office or among your friends. Selling cupcakes or cookies, wearing costumes for the day or even setting up a small crafts stall are all easy ways to collect some cash for a worthwhile cause on Global Love Day.

Make a Meal of It
When was the last time that you spent time with your neighbours? Today’s busy lifestyles often mean that we don’t cross paths with our neighbours, and much less become friends with them, so take Global Love Day as a reason to change that. Invite your nearest neighbours over for a cuppa, or even dinner, and if you have any elderly neighbours that might not be able to make it over, deliver it to their door. It’s a tasty and thoughtful gesture that’s sure to get everyone talking.


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26 April 2013

Five Things


I've adopted a new life rule.

As I recover  - s l o w l y - from pneumonia, I have had to learn to NOT do stuff. I physically have been unable to clean, tidy, cook or even stand for long periods. I have found it difficult to adjust to this temporary way of being. As I discover that I have a little more energy I have been pottering, doing little bits. This is where my new rule comes in.

I do five things.

I limit myself to doing things in fives.

If I see the huge pile of robot spare parts (that's empty boxes, yogurt pots and loo rolls, if you're over five years old), I pick up five things and put them in the recycling. That's it. Just five. Then I go and sit down.

If I'm in the lounge and see toy cars on the floor, I pick up five and put them in the car box. Just five. No more. Then I sit down.

If I see the boys' school uniform scattered where they left if, I pick up five things and put them in the laundry backet.

Each time I see mess I attack it five things at a time. Over a day I can make the house a little tidier. Breaking tasks down into achievable chunks is working for me right now. I can fit in bits and pieces while I'm waiting for the kettle to boil and I feel better for it.

As I get my strength back I'm going to stick to my five things approach. The thought of sorting out the toy mountain or tidying the spare room fill me with dread, but not if I tackle it five things at a time.



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15 April 2013

Reading


As I recover - ever so slowly - from pneumonia, I have to sit for long periods. I simply don't have the energy to do much else. Early on, when I first came out of hospital, I couldn't concentrate on anything. Flicking through social media was all I could manage. Now I can concentrate I've turned away from the laptop and have been doing a lot of reading. I wanted to share a few good books (not The Good Book) with you, because I'm kind like that.

All book images have been shamelessly nicked from the almighty Amazon.



I recently finished The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler. I have loved all of her novels, but this one has really got under my skin. She has again floored me with her ability to express thoughts and actions. That unconscious gesture you use to emphasise your own self-importance, for example? She sees it. Nothing escapes her.





I also enjoyed Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess). I liked this so much more than I thought I would. I didn't buy it. It was in the Mumsnet Blogfest goody bag. Jenny was a fantastic speaker there (via G+), but I've never been blown away by her blog. This memoir completely grabbed me and I laughed and cried my way through it.





I've happily made my way through all of the novels by Maggie O'Farrell. She is a stunning writer. The Hand That First Held Mine is an amazing piece of work. It made me exclaim out loud while I was reading it. I'm looking forward to reading her new novel, Instructions for a Heatwave.





I'm also making my way through Jojo Moyes' back catalogue. She is a talented storyteller. The Girl You Left Behind is enthralling. The Horse Dancer and The Last Letter From Your Lover are slow-burning and (not in a Mills and Boon way) romantic. If it's a wham-bam, in your face, awesome read you're after then pick up Me Before You. You won't be able to put it down. It makes me happy that she has been so prolific.

I also read Secrets by Freya North. Not my usual choice, but my mum gave it to me, her friend gave it to her... I read the first (pretty filthy) sex scene and cringed. MY MUM READ THIS and recommended it to me. I don't want to know that my mum read this filth and liked it. LA LA LA. Sorry, Freya, I'd rather have a cup of tea.



I enjoyed The Twilight Saga. There, I said it. Stephenie Meyer can tell a story. The Host is a page-turning body-snatching sci-fi yarn. Not my usual choice of novel, but I thought it was pretty good.




Finally, I'm currently reading Atonement by Ian McEwan. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize twelve years ago. Adapted into a successful film. Why hadn't I read this before? Of course I'm rectifying that now. It's an incredibly evocative piece of writing, full of brooding foreboding. I'm going to finish reading it before I publish this post to avoid spoilers. You wouldn't do that to me, would you? Then I am going to hit publish, before I read something else and have to tell you about it.

I get the jitters if my 'to read' pile is lower than a metre high. Currently in the pile: Khaled Hosseini, Kate Atkinson, Tim Atkinson, Rachael Lucas, Melanie Clegg, Helen McGinn, Marian Keyes and Helen Dunmore...

What have you read lately that you loved? Do let me know.



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9 April 2013

Nitty Nora Head Explorer...

...or everything you wanted to know about treating head lice but were afraid to google.



Are you scratching your head yet?

As a child I used to dread seeing the nit nurse at school. Luckily I never had nits, but I'm pretty squeamish about bugs and mini-beasts and have always been filled with horror at the thought of having something living in my hair.

My children started school in September. We've received the school's nit letter a couple of times and looked at the boys' heads, but didn't really know what to look for.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed Presley and Cash scratching their heads. I had a look in their hair and saw little creatures scurrying about. I said to Andy 'they've got nits' in a voice that was an octave higher than normal.

Action stations. Operation Louse was about to begin. At my command, unleash the conditioner...

I'd never dared to google head lice. I didn't want to see the magnified images. This meant I wasn't really sure what we were dealing with. After a bit of trial and error AND FINDING EGGS IN MY OWN HAIR - ON MOTHER'S DAY - thanks, kids, I now have the answers.

First, get yourself a Nit Kit

Nit Kit
Normal comb
Nitty Gritty NitFree Comb
Conditioner
Water
Zapinator (Boots Electronic Head Lice Comb)*

Operation Louse

Know your enemy
Head lice are dark brown insects that you can easily see scurrying around your child's head. They can not jump, but can crawl from head to head and this is how they are spread. They lay small brown eggs on the hair shaft, close to the scalp. One single louse can lay plenty of eggs. These eggs hatch after about a week and become head lice. The white or transparent nit is the empty egg that stays stuck to the hair.

Attack
The only way to get rid of head lice, eggs and nits is to painstakingly comb them out using a decent nit comb. We recommend the Nitty Gritty NitFree Comb (£10 from chemists and supermarkets). You can do the combing in the bath, but it takes a long time - particularly the first time - and your child may get cold. What we do is put a towel around our child's shoulders. Spray their hair with water (we use a plant mist spray). Cover their hair with a generous splodge of conditioner. Comb their hair with a normal comb first to remove any knots. Then use the nit comb. Comb the hair, section by section, ensuring the comb touches the scalp each time. After each comb through wipe the comb on a kitchen towel. You will easily see any lice, eggs or nits in the white conditioner. Keep doing this until you've got every single spec out. Add more conditioner if you need to. Rinse the remaining conditioner out when you've finished.

Defend
Every afternoon, after school, comb their hair with the Boots Electronic Head Lice Comb. We call it the Zapitnator. This will kill any live head lice, but will not remove eggs or nits. If they've picked up any new lousy companions this will get rid of them, but you will then need to repeat the attack phase to remove any eggs and nits.

You should repeat the attack phase every couple of days until their hair is completely clear - treat the whole family, not just the children. After that you should do a weekly check. This can easily be done by combing through conditioner after a hair wash. If EVERYONE did this we could wave goodbye to head lice. Sadly, not everyone is as vigilant as us. Thank goodness the Nitty Gritty comb has a lifetime guarantee.

There are shampoos and sprays available that claim to kill head lice and eggs or prevent them crawling onto your head. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that they don't work. We haven't tried them, but you would still need to comb out the dead lice and nits anyway. We have managed without them.


For more nitty resources I recommend these posts from Mari's World and Actually Mummy.



* I received the Zapinator in a Cybermummy 2011 goody bag.


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6 April 2013

Reasons to Love Living in Milton Keynes #7: Milton Keynes Museum


Milton Keynes may be a new city* but it was made up of several existing Buckinghamshire towns and many villages and hamlets. Make no mistake, there is history here. There is plenty to fill a local museum. Milton Keynes encompasses a Roman Road (Watling Street), the Grand Union canal and a Victorian railway line.

The main exhibits in Milton Keynes Museum relate to farming, transport and life in Victorian and Edwardian times. There is also a fantastic new communication exhibit where all of the telephones are connected and in working order. There's even a police call box, but sadly it's not bigger on the inside.

Presley, 5, and Cash, 4, loved the Victorian school


They also enjoyed making some toast over an open fire with the enthusiastic museum guides

We all enjoyed exhibits we could touch


I was glad some things were behind glass


The museum is situated on a farm and the exhibits are in both the farm house and outbuildings. There is plenty of room for children to run around outside and the obligatory tea room and shop. We spent a happy half-day there and will be going back.



*Milton Keynes is not officially a city, but MKers MKites residents of MK call it a city. So there.


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Top 10 Car Cleaning Tips from Febreze


Dear Sandy, Would you like Febreze to clean your car for free?
Dear PR, Yes.



Febreze, Febreze, Febreze, you bring back memoreze....

Another lifetime ago I went out a lot. I'd mostly go to the pub after work and stay there. When I got home I'd take my suit off, hang it up and spray it with Febreze. The next morning I'd have a Berocca and put my suit back on; all pub smells gone.

Nowadays I'm more likely to spray my coat if I've been cooking something pungent. My coat hangs in the hall. The hall is next to the kitchen. I should shut the kitchen door, but I don't. Hence a quick spray with Febreze. I also use it to freshen up cushions and curtains, but had never thought of using it in the car. It works on upholstery, so why not spray the seats?

Before the Febrezers turned up I quickly emptied my car. I took away one bag of rubbish and one bag of CD's. I was ashamed of the state of my car. It was dusty and muddy - that was just the interior. I was amazed when the Febrezers said that my car was one of the cleanest they'd seen. Quite frankly, the mind boggles.

Here are my before and after photographs:



Here are the photographs the PR took of the back seats. Before: oh the shame:


After: ah, that's better:


Thank you, Febrezers.

Here are top ten car cleaning tips from Febreze:

SPICK AND SPAN INTERIORS

1. Vigorously brush your carpets with a hard brush before vacuuming to ensure all dirt, dust and debris is removed.

2. Remove any sources of odour (e.g. litter, mud, dog hair) from the interior and spray the car seats with Febreze Fabric Refresher.

3. Clean the dashboard using a soft-bristle toothbrush with cleaning fluid in a circular motion to get into all the grooves.

4. Use a large soft paintbrush to dust the interior trim, around the steering wheel and clean the air vents.

5. Keep the air feeling fresh with a Febreze Car Air Freshener that will last up to 60 days and includes a fragrance intensity control for when you need an extra boost of freshness.


 SHINY ON THE OUTSIDE

1. Always wait for your car to cool down before you wash it to avoid soapy smears and deposits.

2. Clean your car from the top down to avoid dirty water dripping on to the areas you have just cleaned.

3. Roll the windows down when you clean them so you can reach the top edges.

4. Avoid leaving your car to dry in the air as you risk smears – use a good microfibre cloth to dry off the excess moisture.

5. Remember to clean your wheels and tyres after you’ve washed the rest of your car using fresh cleaning solution – this is because dirt lodged in the wheels may contain small stones/debris picked up from the road that could damage the paintwork.


Disclosure: Febreze cleaned my car inside and out and left me a selection of Febreze products.

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2 April 2013

Playing Hooky

Throughout my life I'd always maintained that wasn't crafty or artistic. I'm guessing this belief came from being told I was no good at art at school. At my middle school I'd spend hours on my art homework only to be told my drawing was poor. I'm showing my age now, but I wasn't put in for O-level art, I had to do the CSE. When you're young and impressionable and someone tells you something about yourself - true or otherwise - it sticks. You believe it and you tell yourself it's true. It then becomes self-perpetuating.

I broke out of this negative self-talk a few years ago when I decided to make my own wedding stationery. I made the invitations, table plan, favours and thank you cards. I think the push came from seeing the price of printed stationery and wanting to save money. I enjoyed the process and I still make all my own cards.

I've tried knitting, but it didn't grab me. I sew occasionally and half-heartedly, but now I think I've found my crafty calling...


Last year I taught myself to crochet.

It wasn't particularly easy, but now I've picked it up I can't put it down.

It's almost as if some pretty yarn has my name all over it...



I taught myself from books (Stitch by Stitch and Cute and Easy Crochet). I also took advice from friends (thank you, Mummy Limited, Lindy and Kelly). It all finally clicked though when I watched the super simple and straightforward tutorial videos on Red Ted Art.




Now I have the confidence to attempt anything. I can't explain how overjoyed I was to complete my first granny square.






My favourite patterns and tutorials are on the beautiful Attic 24 blog.

I've mostly worked on small projects for the boys. Each of their teddies needs its own blanket, so I've been able to attempt different stitches and techniques. These small projects are perfect for an evening of crochet.



My current project is a little larger. I'm working on an enormous granny blanket. It's a simple (Attic 24, of course) design of treble clusters. This is my sampler.



I've only completed eighteen (very long) rows of the big one so far. It may be some time before I finish it as I am easily distracted by smaller projects, like these sunflowers that I made in memory of a dear friend.



I'm loving the warmth, calm and softness of just sitting and hooking.

I'm enjoying being arty and crafty. I can do it. This makes me happy.



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