29 November 2011

Easy Risotto

I don't usually share recipes here on Baby Baby, but I thought I'd make an exception for this this one. It is such an easy meal to cook and it's risotto. You don't often hear the words easy and risotto in the same sentence, but I can assure you anyone can cook this.

I probably make my Easy Risotto once a week. There is a little preparation required, but then you can pretty much just leave it to cook. No standing over a hot pan ladling in the stock. Only one pan to wash up. Most importantly my children eat every last bit of it. Andy and I love it too.

Olive oil, 1 good glug
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced (or use Gia's cheaty garlic)
Dried mixed herbs, 1 shake
2 sticks of celery, chopped
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped
250g arborio rice
900ml chicken stock (if you haven't got 'real' stock, use 2 chicken oxo cubes in 900ml boiling water)
Leftover roast chicken (sorry, I didn't weigh this!)
50g grated Parmesan
Ground black pepper

Heat the oil and add the onion. Fry for a few minutes until soft. Add the celery, garlic and mixed herbs and fry for a minute or two

Add the butternut squash

Once that is coated in oil, add the rice and give the pan a good stir

Add all of the stock, stir well and bring to the boil

Once your risotto is boiling, turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes.

Stir every now and again, just to make sure the bottom of the risotto isn't burning.

After the 30 minutes, add the roast chicken and the parmesan. Season with black pepper. Stir thoroughly and leave to cook for a further 10 minutes.

That's it!

You can substitute the cooked chicken for fresh cubed chicken breast or thigh fillets. If you do this, just add the chicken with the vegetables at the beginning of cooking. Alternatively, leave out the chicken altogether and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock and you have a delicious vegetarian supper.

You can use any vegetables you like. I had celery and butternut squash knocking around, but runner beans, carrots, courgettes and peppers all work well.

If you are cooking this for adults you can throw in a glass of white wine before you add the stock, just let it cook for a few minutes before you add the stock.


I got the inspiration for this recipe from the Oven-Baked Risotto in Nick Coffer's book, My Daddy Cooks. This is the recipe book that I use the most (and I'm not just saying that because Nick is my friend, it really is full of straightforward family cooking). Nick also blogs and is on the radio too.


This is my entry to The Gallery, the theme this week is The Kitchen.


Win an HTC Wildfire S Smartphone

This competition is now closed.

The winner, selected using Random.org, is comment number 1.

Congratulations to Kat from Housewife Confidential!

I will contact you to arrange delivery of your prizes.


Would you like to win an HTC Wildfire S Smartphone on T-Mobile worth £239?

Would you also like to win a cute Playskool Lullaby Gloworm worth £11?

Of course you would! That's £250 worth of prizes to one Baby Baby reader.

I feel like Ant and Dec on Saturday Night Takeaway. Do you remember when you could win the ads?

That's what we're doing here. The HTC Wildfire and the Gloworm are both featured in the Littlewoods Christmas advert:

How to enter:

  • Leave a comment telling me what you would buy me for Christmas from Littlewoods.com. Please include your Twitter ID or email address so that I can contact you should you win.
  • For an additional bonus entry, send the following tweet and leave a second comment to say that you have done so:

"#WIN HTC Wildfire S Smartphone with @sandycalico & @littlewoods http://sandycalico.blogspot.com/2011/11/win-htc-wildfire-s-smartphone.html"

Terms and Conditions:

  • UK only
  • One entry plus one possible bonus entry per reader
  • Competition closes at 6pm on Friday 9th December 2011
  • Winner will be selected, using Random.org at 8pm on Friday 9th December 2011
  • I will then notify the winner via Twitter or email, asking for your address
  • If the winner does not supply their address within 7 days, the prize will be re-drawn
  • Littlewoods.com will send out your prizes, all being well, in time for Christmas

Good luck!

ThePrizeFinder - UK Competitions

25 November 2011

Cotton Wool

There's not enough cotton wool in the world to protect my children from the world.

I know this.

I also know that I should be preparing them for the world. I need to create a safe and loving environment that allows them the freedom to explore. One day, in the blinking of an eye, they will be grown ups. They will see or experience sex, bullying, love, death, hate, poverty, war, beauty, famine, rock music and alcohol. They will have their hearts broken and mine will break for them.

This is all way in the future, of course. Right now they are still my gentle little boys, aged 3 and 4. Their world is full of cuddles and toys. They play with crayons, cars, jigsaw puzzles, Orchard Toys games, hobby horses, Duplo, toy food and teddy bears in trolleys, train sets, Happyland figures and books. They watch an hour of CBeebies every day. They have never seen an advert (unless we're at Grandma and Grandad's and Sky Sports is on, then Grandma usually turns over and checks the cricket score), they have never seen the news. I won't even let them watch Cars2 as one of the characters is called 'McMissile'. They've never seen a gun.

They go to the nursery at a primary school every afternoon. I chat to the other mums about Christmas. They mention Ben 10 (not on CBeebies, no idea), Batman (er, Kapow! Thwak!) and Imaginext. I google Imaginext. There is a dinosaur, wearing armour, shooting missiles from its backpack. I don't like the look of it, but does it matter? I just don't know how to ease Presely and Cash into this world, with its hard edges and robot police.

When do I start to introduce the notion that some people aren't very nice? How do I burst their rosy, cosy bubble? Am I doing them a disservice by mollycoddling them?


24 November 2011

Advanced Squirrel Spotting

There are three squirrels in this photograph. Can you spot them all?

Aw, go on, humour me.

We've been on almost constant squirrel watch for weeks now.

The boys found some oak trees at nursery and - quite literally - filled their boots and pockets with acorns on a daily basis for about a month. They came home from nursery and spent twenty minutes filling Tupperware pots. We then deposited the acorns under the ash tree in our garden.

Then we waited. Soon enough, a squirrel arrived. He must have thought all his birthdays had come at once. He then spent all day every day squirrelling the acorns away. I expect we'll find plenty of sapling oaks popping up next year as a result.

Our squirrel friend had the run of the garden for a few weeks and then another squirrel turned up and then another. He now has to share his nuts. There's a lot of squirrelly shouting.

So now we have three squirrels to watch. This week they all appeared together, at the same time. I caught them on camera. I won't make Wildlife Photographer of the Year, but I'm still proud.

They stayed still long enough for me to zoom in on each of them.

Why yes, of course you can see the close-ups. I thought you'd never ask.

There was one of the side fence:

One on the bird box:

And finally, one on the first branch up on the left:


20 November 2011

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Fairy invited me to a Clean Your Own pop-up restaurant at the OXO Tower in London's South Bank on Saturday. Michelin starred chef Michael Caines was cooking lunch.


There was a catch though, I had to wash up afterwards. Turns out it was a small price to pay.

Here is the menu:

I chose the lamb. It was amazing.

As was the shepherd's pie,

and the veg.

For dessert I had the apple plate. The apple mousse, in particular, was out of this world.

Here I am with Michael Caines:

Here he is with Luschka from Diary of a First Child:

It was lovely spending the day with Luschka and her adorable daughter, along with Domestic Goddesque, Mellow Mummy and Jamie from The Life and Times of a Househusband and their lovely families.

Here is Jamie demonstrating his househusbandly skills in the Clean Your Own challenge. He took 16 seconds to wash up.

I managed to wash up in 15 seconds and won a year's supply of Fairy Platinum washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets. Go me! Actually, go Fairy. The sink was full of washing up liquid. All I had to do was agitate each item and it was clean.

Huge thanks to Fairy for inviting me, it was a super day.

Before heading home I met up with The Moiderer for coffee. I've known her online for ages so it was great to finally meet. She'd had a tricky day, but I hope I was a reasonable distraction. I think we could have talked for hours without either of us pausing for breath!



14 November 2011

My Top 5 Books of 2011

These are my top 5 6 books of 2011, in no particular order.

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver
This book is so beautifully written that I feel illiterate by comparison. I felt bereft when it ended.

Cold Light - Jenn Ashworth
A wonderfully chilling story. A bleak, but stunningly written, slice of awkward teenage life. I still feel unsettled by it.

How To Be A Woman - Caitlin Moran
I haven't finished this yet, but it easily makes it into my Top 5. Guffaw out loud funny, but also wise and makes you go RAWR in agreement.

If Morning Ever Comes - Anne Tyler
I love it when I discover a book by the mighty Anne Tyler that I haven't read before. She is my favourite author. I also read The Clock Winder and Noah's Compass this year, both fantastic. Her characters are so full and engaging you get drawn into their lives, even though they are all quirky and all live in Baltimore.

The Starting School Survival Guide - Sarah Ebner
This is an invaluable guide, especially if you are pretty clueless about schools these days. When I were a lad you went to the local primary. How times have changed.

The Hand That First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell (Not pictured)
As I was writing this post I remembered this amazing book. It wasn't in my 'have read' pile, I must have given it to someone. This book made me gasp out loud, twice. Fabulous.

What are your top books of 2011?

Any recommendations for me?

I can't let my 'to read' pile dwindle to single figures, I get jittery.



On Friday, after I dropped the boys at Nursery, I went to Hobbycraft for a mooch around. I fancied a crafty hobby. I don't want to spend every evening at the laptop and I can never find anything I want to watch on the box. Lately I've been going to bed very early to read, but that's quite anti-social.

I thought I'd have a go at knitting - as you do - and bought some knitting needles and a cheap ball of wool.

It's a long time since I knat knitted anything. I was trying to remember the last time and I think it's when I was seven or eight years old.

It took me a while to remember how to cast on, but once I figured it out I was away. After thirty-odd years I was knitting again. It was like riding a woolly bike. I'll see how far I get with my scarf. If I lose interest it may turn into a teddy blanket. I never really had the patience to learn how to follow a pattern and I suspect I  haven't changed.

The main thing I remember knitting when I was a child was string dishcloths. You read correctly. String dishcloths. It was for my knitting badge in the Brownies.

I remember feeling entirely under-whelmed by the Brownies. I was expecting to be a Pixie or a Sprite and go on camping trips. The reality was that I was a Gnome. A GNOME - the shame! The closest I got to the great outdoors was cleaning Mrs Simpson's front step for the housework badge.

Two exciting things happened when I was in the Brownies. Firstly, a dog came into the church hall one day and weed on the floor. Secondly, a few weeks later, I weed on the floor. We were doing prayers at the end and I didn't think I was allowed to go to the loo at that point. Let's face it though, a precedent had been set.

I stuck it out until my Brownie uniform, once a dress that fell below the knees, was so short it was almost indecent.

This is my post for The Gallery.
The theme this week was to take a photograph on 11.11.11.


11 November 2011

Why are you wearing a poppy, Mummy?

My children are three and four. I don't want them to know about war yet. They will find out soon enough. They will learn one day about genocide, the Holocaust, horrific atrocities, the awfulness of war and man's inhumanity to man. Alongside this they will also learn about bravery, self-sacrifice and heroism. Most of all I want them to learn about the people.

The soldier in the trenches, the war poet, the land-girl, the code-breaker, the pilot, the submariner, the Home-Guard, the Resistance, the medic, the prisoner of war, the girl who wrote a diary, the man with the medals (my Grandad), the boy bounced out of his bed when the Luftwaffe bombed the railway line near his house (my Dad), the Captain in the South Atlantic, the Squaddie in Afghanistan, the peace-keeper, the politician and their mothers.

So when I was asked the question 'Why are you buying a poppy, Mummy?', I thought for a moment, brushed away a tear and answered, 'To remember some people'.

Lest we forget.

1 November 2011

Reasons to Love Living in Milton Keynes #4

There are more than twenty parks in Milton Keynes. One of them is at Furzton Lake.

We took the boys there recently. They enjoyed feeding the ducks and the geese:

We loved the Triple Star Head sculpture by Paul Neagu:

When we were looking for a house in Milton Keynes, we wondered what it would be like to live at Furzton. Homes with a lake view come at a hefty premium. As we walked round the lake though, we thought that the residents must get fed up with people walking, running and cycling past their back gardens.

We were proud of the boys as they walked most of the 2.2km around the lake. We only had to carry them on the final stretch. We rewarded ourselves with a treat from the ice-cream van. Lovely.

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