Thursday, 29 November 2012

This week: gingerbread men

It's been quite a busy week with birthday party organising and getting some Christmas shopping done and posted off to our far away family members. However, this morning my son and I made gingerbread men. I was given a gingerbread man cutter last Christmas and am ashamed to say, this was my first time to use it!

Of course they are easy and fun to make. I used a Mary Berry recipe but reduced the amount of sugar and substituted golden syrup for agave. They turned out well. We didn't ice them or make them look more like men but ate them as they were. The thought occured that they would make a cute little Christmas gift from your children, if they were decorated, put into a clear cellophane bag and tied with some pretty ribbon.

Short and sweet today but hopefully my next post will be more substantial!
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Friday, 23 November 2012

This week: Thanksgiving

As I am married to an American, Thanksgiving is something we celebrate each year. Yesterday I was busy in the kitchen making a big meal for us all to enjoy together. Turkey is traditional and my husband cooked some and then I made a couple of extra vegetable dishes for me, as the vegetarian in the family.

I cooked our sweet potatoes a bit differently to usual and tried this recipe for pecan crusted sweet potato - it was really good. I also made this quick and easy warming onion and white bean bake. For dessert, I made my husband's favourite pumpkin pie and then I also made a pecan pie for the first time. We had another part-American family come over and join us for dessert, we weren't just being gluttonous!

This was the first year when our son could tell us what he was thankful for (something you typically do at the dinner table) and it made it all the more special. He said some sweet things about his mummy, daddy and baby sister, mentioned his nursery and friends and a final addition to his list of things he was thankful for was....dancing!

If you celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, I hope you had a lovely time and do share any noteworthy dishes you cooked or particularly enjoyable moments from the day in the comments.
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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Healthy family eating on the cheap

Articles like this one in the Guardian depress me with reports of the nation's bad eating habits due to suffering family finances. Apparently, fruit and vegetable consumption has decreased, most significantly amongst poorest consumers while "consumption of high-fat and processed foods such as instant noodles, coated chicken, meat balls, tinned pies, baked beans, pizza and fried food has grown among households with an income of less than £25,000 a year".

I'll be honest, I do spend quite a lot of money on food and am fortunate and thankful that we have the funds to allow me to buy good quality produce for our family. However, a lot of the meals I cook are very inexpensive and being vegetarian, are based around vegetables. I can see the attraction of grabbing something ready-made when it's there on the shelf with it's cheap price tag or maybe on special offer but it's definitely a false economy when you consider the impact it will have on your family's health.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for healthy family eating on the cheap:

Eat seasonal fruit and veg - it will be cheaper than out-of-season produce that has been shipped in.
If you're after convenience, buy frozen veg - it is usually fast-frozen in a fresh state to conserve nutrients.
Keep in some tinned pulses - these are ideal for adding into any number of meals to bulk them out with something nutritious.
Meal plan - taking some time to plan your meals for the week ahead will reduce your likelihood for impulse food purchases during the week.

Some quick healthy meal ideas:

Soup - use up any vegetables you have lying around with a quick soup. Serve over a baked potato or just with some bread for a warming supper.
Stews - similar to the soup but more substantial. Add barley, beans, rice etc and keep your veg chunky.
Pies - not with pastry but with mashed potato toppings, like shepherds pie or cottage pie are an easy one dish meal to make and filling to eat. As a vegetarian, I make mine with whatever veg is in season and add some lentils.
Pasta bakes - you could do a macaroni cheese with some vegetables added in (mushrooms, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach all work well) or a tomato based sauce with aubergines, courgettes, peppers baked in the oven with cheese and breadcrumbs on top
Rice dishes - stir frys work with lots of different vegetables and are very quick to throw together. A hearty meat or bean chilli is another tasty, low-cost option.

It really doesn't need to be expensive to eat healthily. I haven't mentioned fruit but of course that too is an inexpensive way to have tasty snacks and puddings, or added in with a bowl of breakfast cereal or porridge.

Neither does it need to be time-consuming to put together a healthy family meal. The convenience of a shop-bought ready meal is not worth the sacrifice in ingredients. Sure, it's fine on the odd occasion but they shouldn't form a significant part of your regular meals. Even if you don't like cooking, there's no skill needed in chopping some veg and putting it in a pan to cook as the basis for a soup, casserole or whatever.

What would you add to the lists above, either ways to eat on the cheap or recipe ideas for economical family meals?

Friday, 16 November 2012

This week: party politics

I'm talking birthday party invitation etiquette today. My son has his fourth birthday party coming up in a couple of weeks so I have been organising it a bit ahead of time to try and minimise the chaos nearer the date!

I got his invitations written and taken to nursery to be handed out to the children we have invited. I was a bit unsure about how to deal with the invites at nursery. I know some people invite the whole class but for two reasons we didn't want to do that. One is for the practical reason that we decided to do the party at home and don't have the space to comfortably accommodate 24 children. The second reason is that my son simply isn't 'friends' with everyone in the class and I would even go so far as to say there are a couple of children he's not especially fond of and so why would we invite everyone just to be polite?

We had been invited to another boy's party from nursery a month or so ago and I knew his mother had not invited the whole class either. She and I were chatting about it one day walking to nursery and both of us had had an awkward situation as a result! She had a mum come up to her (whose child had not been invited) and ask about the party, claiming her invite had been mislaid. I had a slightly embarassing situaton where a mum and her daughter came up to my son and I and very publicly thanked us for the party invitation. Meanwhile, right behind her watching and listening was a mum and daughter who had not been invited! I felt a bit uncomfortable!

Later talking with my husband, he reminded me that at my son's previous nursery a mum had told me she was arranging her son's party on the day of my son's birthday, offering me the chance to reschedule! I had no reason to do my son's birthday celebration on any other day, as his birthday last year fell conveniently on a Saturday. I wasn't concerned about other children from my son's class not being able to attend as at that stage, he had a nice circle of local friends. Whilst a little ruffled at the way this mum had presented the matter to me, I certainly didn't hold it against her!

Back to this year's birthday party and my son has chosen a few friends from his class. We invited a few more people than our ideal number, assuming a couple wouldn't be able to make it but it's looking like they are all coming! My son's excited and is definitely more involved in the planning this year than ever before, which makes it fun for me.

What is your general policy on birthday party invites? Do you invite the whole class if they are at nursery/school? Do you select just a few close friends?
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Monday, 12 November 2012

Rainy day rocket

We had a rainy Saturday morning this past weekend and not much going on. I'd been thinking about making a rocket with an empty kitchen roll I'd put aside and my son was keen on the idea too. It's a very easy creation to put together, using the following:
  • 1 kitchen roll tube
  • red crepe paper (a streamer roll is ideal)
  • 1 sheet of A4 paper in any colour
  • stapler
  • glue
  • paints
  • string
 Your child paints the kitchen roll tube in whatever colours and patterns they like. If you wanted to avoid paint in the house, you could cut up coloured paper for them to stick around instead, then decorate with stickers or drawings. Leave to dry if painted.

Meanwhile, help your child to cut strips of red crepe paper which will form the whooshing fire coming out the bottom of the rocket.

Take your A4 sheet of coloured paper and wrap from the edges to form a cone shape. Leave a tiny hole in the pointy peak. Staple in place and trim off the edge. Take a piece of string and push through the tiny gap you left and stick inside the cone with tape. This will form the top pointy bit to your rocket and the string will allow the rocket to be flown around by your child.

Once the tube is dry, staple in the strips of crepe paper around the inside edge of the bottom of the tube. Glue around the top edge of the tube and push on your paper cone. Hold firmly in place for a few minutes (ideally a couple of hours) to allow the cone and tube to stick together properly.

That's it, your rocket is ready for lift-off!

Friday, 9 November 2012

This week: chocolate beetroot brownies

I've shared the beetroot cake recipe I like to make with you before but as more beetroot came in our weekly organic vegetable box this past week, I took the opportunity to try something different. I'd had my eye on this chocolate beetroot brownie recipe for some time and with a friend coming over one day, I felt  this was the week to give it a go.

They turned out great! This is definitely my new favourite way to use up the beetroot, although aside from the beetroot, it's a completely unhealthy recipe with chocolate, sugar and butter galore! The making of them was enjoyable, especially pouring the pretty pink pureed beetroot mixture into the chocolate and combining the two together.

As brownies are never healthy anyway, if you feel like making some one day and happen to have some beetroot around, I'd definitely recommend you making these. I meant to take a photo of mine but somehow they got cut into slices and sampled before I got a chance!
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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The fickle world of toddler friendships

It's rather sweet when your toddler starts taking an interest in friends and friendship. Suddenly the little people you've been having them play around begin to matter and to get seen in a new light. If my memory serves me right, it was when my son turned three that the concept of friends first made an appearance and as he gets close to his fourth birthday, it has really gained in significance for him.

Early on, when my son was getting to grips with the idea of friendship, he would talk about it in a broad sense so as we were getting ready to go to the park, my son would say, "I hope we see some friends there". Sometimes he would talk to random children in the park who we didn't know and later when recounting our outing to daddy, those children would be referred to as 'friends'.

Many months later, we've entered 'best friend' territory. I've generally noticed that little girls (and from a younger age) are really into 'best friends' but boys are too apparently. BFs can change from day to day, hour to hour even. Usually said person is "my best friend in the whole world".

As a parent, it's both touching and humourous to observe a toddler's foray into friendship. Last week for example, a little girl in my son's nursery class came over to play. These two play together at nursery a fair bit and we've taken them to playgroups where they have played really nicely together too. Before she came over, my son told me, "Mary's* my best friend in the whole world. It's so exciting she's coming to our house".

Well it didn't take long before his poor world was shattered. Mary* was not in good form. She didn't want to play with him, she pushed him, knocked over his drink and it all ended in tears! Needless to say, the play date was not the joy my son had forseen and best friends they were no more.

As adults we have the experience to know that sometimes friends do disappoint us or fail to live up to our expectations. Thankfully the high drama has phased out and we tend not to take things so personally. I think it's safe to say the friendships dramas will be few and far between with a son. Boys seem to just get on with it. Girls on the other hand....!

Watching my son develop a sense of friendship, identifying people he likes to spend time with and wants to invite to his birthday party, I feel a sense of pride that he's grasping a new social side to his being. I also recognise that it's a sign of him growing up and increasing his independence - one of those bittersweet parenting moments.

How does your toddler interact with their little friends? Is there anything you notice in particular about their choice of friendships or behaviour towards their friends?

*name has been changed
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Thursday, 1 November 2012

How do you ration sweet treats?

If you went trick or treating last night with your children, you probably have a stash of sweet treats at home now. My son was over the moon at the bucket full of goodies he got given and is excited to get to devour them. My husband and I had a brief chat about how we would spread them out and I thought it would be interesting to hear how you do it in your families too.

We decided our son should get to have a few in the immediate couple of days after Halloween while the excitement and memories are still fresh. After that, we will leave it a few days in-between. We don't give him chocolate and sweets on a regular basis so this is a lot of sugar for him. We want a balance between letting him enjoy the sweet treats and not overloading him or getting him too used to having them so often.

As a side note, we had a great time trick or treating for the first time. My son loved being out after dinner, in the dark. He thought it was great knocking on doors and shouting out 'trick or treat', or 'Happy Halloween!'. Back home he got to greet trick or treaters who came to our house and hold out our bowl of treats.

Back to the sweet treats, how do you do it with your children? Do you ration them or let them get stuck in and eat them all up? Do you use them as a bribe for good behaviour?
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