Thursday, 28 October 2010

The car in front is a Toyota

Imagine the scene. A man has to drive his wife to the train station before he carries on to work. He's not late, but he is impatient to get her dropped off and get on his way. His route takes him down a country B road, past a school, but it's really early in the morning, there are no children about. He drives along, oblivious to his speed.

He starts to quickly catch the car in front. It's a woman driving, really slowly, she probably can't see over the steering wheel. Oh look, she's got glasses on, probably can't see the road. He can't overtake her. "I know, I'll drive really close to her, make her hurry up a bit."

The bespectacled woman looks in her rear-view mirror. She comments to her husband, who she's also driving to the station: "There's some bloke driving really close behind me, he looks mad!"She checks the speedometer. "Well, I'm doing 33 mph; I'm not going any faster, I'm in a 30 zone. He can just wait".

Man behind is really cross now. Woman is laughing "He's really cross! I'm going to annoy him and drive perfectly all the way to the station".

Which I did.

I didn't realise he was also going to the station though. I actually start to get worried when he followed me into the station car park. At one point I even told my husband he might have to fight for my honour.

My husband laughed: "He just gave you a really dirty look as he drove away".

Perfect. Mission to annoy accomplished.

The morals

1) Don't speed, especially in a school zone. Have you heard of holiday clubs?
2) Don't drive close to my tail. I will antagonise you until you crack.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Spooky cakes

It's half term this week and I'm in need of ideas to keep my children entertained. One of my favourite things to do with them is baking. It's not too messy, quick, and simple, with yummy end products!

With Halloween coming at the end of half term, we decided to make fairy cakes and decorate them spookily. We first made chocolate buns according to this recipe from my mother-in-law.

Chocolate sponge pudding cake

6oz butter, sugar, & self-raising flour
3 eggs
2oz cocoa
Milk
Vanilla extract

Cream butter & sugar together, gradually add beaten eggs. Sift flour and cocoa and fold in with 2 drops vanilla. Add 1 tbsp milk (or more) to get a batter that drops off the spoon. Either cook in a greased tin or spoon into muffin or fairy cake cases. Cook at 180 degrees for 15 mins (buns) or 25 mins (large cake). A large cake might need longer than this time, but if sponge springs back when pressed it is done.

We left the buns to cool, then made some glacé icing with 250g icing sugar and a couple of tbsps of water. We coated each bun and left to set.

With icing pens we decorated the buns with spooky designs (or rather I did and the kids ate taster buns!).







Now all that's left to do is settle down with a cup of tea and my own taster bun!

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

How to get a good night's sleep

Sorry, I'm not about to tell you all the secret to waking alert and refreshed. I don't know the correct number of hours sleep we need, what time is best to get into bed, or how soft the mattress should be. What I do know is a little trick I've developed to stop my kids waking in the night.

Dream wees.

Yes, you read right. If you have kids you will know, they wee in the night, they get upset, and they need changing. Not too bad with a little one in nappies, but for a toilet-trained toddler out of nappies, or lazy 5-year-old who refuses to get out of bed, it can mean new sheets and night clothes, and perhaps an extra bedtime companion if they won't settle in their room again.

For the past few weeks I've been woken every night by a small child needing a wee, in some cases, already having done a wee and coming to tell me. Not great at 1 am! My eldest is the worst; he won't get out of bed (despite leaving his door open and lights on) but will holler for me until I wake up and go to him. But I decided I had to do something after my daughter got out of bed sleepily to go to the toilet and managed to trap her thumb in her bedroom door, requiring a trip to A&E at 1 am.

I was chatting to some friends a few months ago now, and they mentioned "dream wees". A similar technique to "dream feeding", in which you part-wake a sleeping baby to feed him or her before you go to bed, thereby ensuring the baby doesn't wake hungry until a decent time in the morning!

So I took action. Just before I go to bed, I go and get my children out of bed and put them on the toilet. They are usually asleep or dozing. I gently ask them to "do a wee for mummy", repeating if necessary, until they go. Then, it's back to bed, tucked in tight, and they are back to sleep straightaway.

Bonuses are, no waking for me, no waking for them, a good night's sleep for everyone, and we're all happy! Bob's your uncle. Downsides are when I can't get their pyjamas back on and they wake up...it's only happened once!

A week into my new night time routine and we've had no wet beds, no waking at midnight, and no hollering for mum. Tried and tested, and highly recommended for all mums and dads.

So, time to sign off and make my kids dream about weeing.

"I do it all myself"

There's a theme prevalent in our house at the moment. My 2-year-old daughter has developed an independent streak.

When she goes for a wee, I offer to undress her ("no mummy!"), put her on the toilet ("I do it!"), or wipe her ("No! I do it all myself"). OK, suit yourself!

Choosing clothes to wear, combing her hair, brushing her teeth. All jobs she'd rather do herself. And I love to encourage her because, in the end, that's how she'll learn. But part of me feels sad to be losing my baby, she's growing up so quickly.

There are other times I'd rather she slowed down and let me help her, and not for selfish reasons. Clearing away the dinner plates, putting rubbish in the bin, cleaning and tidying the house, she loves to help me with all these chores (mostly without being told), but she ends up making more work!

And there is nothing worse than being in a rush for the school run and having to wait for her to attempt to put her shoes on before she pleads "mummy, you do it". Actually, there's nothing better than that.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Working with steam

This weekend another big event in Stotfold's year is taking place at Stotfold Mill. The working steam weekend is a chance to see firsthand how steam power really helped industry.






The main attraction is the steam-powered machinery, which is used to thresh wheat for the mill.





The thresher shakes the wheat to separate the grains, which fall into bags. Some grain is taken to the mill to be ground into flour (the mill is open too this weekend) and some is sold for chicken feed!

The straw passes to the rear of the thresher, where it is moved by hand onto a baler. This machine is powered by a diesel engine on a tractor.








The wheat was grown in a field adjoining the mill and was cut several weeks previously by steam powered machinery and by hand.



Other industries are represented this weekend. A popular machine is the plank cutter, which (as expected) cuts tree trunks into planks. A stone crusher was also in use, producing aggregate that a steamroller was pressing to create a road in the field.









We finally went to see the horses that were ploughing the field in which the wheat had been grown.








Slow work, and hard labour for the two men controlling the horses and plough.

On the walk home some Morris dancers were performing outside the mill. The kids were enthralled.




The working steam weekend is on today and Sunday, 10.30 am to 5.00 pm. £2 for adults, £1 per child 5 and over.




A horsedrawn fire truck passed us on the way home.

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Sunday, 3 October 2010

Lamb in a Chicken Brick

I tweeted earlier this week about the gift my husband brought home from work, a Chicken Brick. For all those who immediately asked what on earth it was, it's a terracotta pot to cook meat joints in.







I said I would let my Twitter followers know how I got on on Sunday. Sadly, I bought a lamb joint before I knew about the brick, so I've had to improvise.

First, the brick needs to be soaked for at least 10 mins to avoid cracking the pot. I soaked it for 30 mins since it's the first time I'm using it, and I gave it a scrub with a brush (don't use detergent on it).







While the brick was soaking I searched for a suitable recipe and found one for lamb braised with vegetables (http://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/recipes/show/55-boned-and-rolled-leg-of-lamb). This suits me best because the joint I have only weighs 600g and it ideally needs to be 1.5kg (the brick needs to be full).

After 30 mins I removed the two halves of the brick from the water and rubbed the inside of both with a cut clove of garlic. This should improve the flavour. I placed chopped carrots, swede, and celery in the base of the brick together with 300ml of veg stock and popped the lamb on top. The lamb was rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Two sprigs of rosemary went on top to be showy and the prep is done.







Put the top on the brick and place in a COLD oven set to 250 degrees C (500F, gas mark 9). A 1.5kg joint should take 1hr30 so I'll check the lamb after 1hr.

We are at 30 mins to go now, I'm starting to smell the lamb cooking. Yum.

An hour is up and I checked the lamb.





The lamb is just cooked, but it's not as brown as I like, so it's back in the hot oven in a dish for 10 mins. I think I used too much stock (although the veg is cooked beautifully).

I don't think the lamb joint I had was very suitable, a half leg would be better. But a CHICKEN would be even better LOL. So next week I shall buy a 1.5kg chicken to test it properly!

The ultimate test is taste, and as my daughter accurately exclaimed, "Nom nom nom".





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