Friday, October 31, 2008

Winter Sun in Cyprus

We sat outside until the sun sank into the sea today, savouring every last moment of our last full day here in Cyprus and drinking the pistachio milkshakes which have replaced our customary afternoon cup of tea. They are delicious concoctions, served icy cold in tall glasses. Even as a light breeze began to blow in from the sea, we sat under the palm trees, relaxing. We don’t leave until after 3pm tomorrow, but there is something special about that last full day.

It’s been a lovely day again today. We visited the spa again, Guy having a massage and me, a facial. The therapist also massaged special “pink hair and scalp” mud into my hair which despite how it sounds, actually made my hair softer than it has been in years. After two such treatments in three days, my hair is so shiny I can hardly believe it. (Of course, I have washed the mud out!) And as for my skin, it’s glowing. For the rest of the day, we strolled along the beach, sunned ourselves by the pool and just relaxed. It was wonderful.

So here I am in the lounge again, with a glass of champagne in my hand this time, looking forward to another lovely meal at Ristorante Bacco. Guy is just about to check us in for our flight tomorrow. It’s been a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pistachios in Paphos

This red wine at 6.30pm in the lounge thing is becoming a not unpleasant habit! It has been another beautiful day in Cyprus, and the sunset a couple of hours ago was breathtaking. Today we went for a walk after breakfast, following the path along the public beach all the way into the harbour at Paphos. The path is very well made, and quite beautiful, with bits of marble scattered in amongst broken pieces of concrete. It’s very artistic, and also quite comfortable to walk on as the whole is quite smooth, despite the fact it is an amalgamation of broken bits and pieces.

Sadly we were unable to find the mosaics, and the most stunning sight in the harbour was the old castle. Other than that Paphos is very much a seaside town, like any seaside town in Europe really. I was curiously disappointed. Cyprus is a staggeringly beautiful country with lovely friendly people, but in my experiences it is definitely a place where you find a good hotel and just stay there! The bits in between the more luxurious hotels are very run down and touristy. Also, most of the taxis are quite old (neither of the two we have been in have had a full set of working seat belts) and driven by people who seem to be in a huge hurry to meet their Maker. The hire car we rented last time we were here was nearly falling apart as well. So it is one of those places where you need to find a lovely hotel where you are well catered for just enjoy the beach, pools and restaurants. I think we will be staying put for the rest of the week.

I was in the spa again this afternoon, this time for a manicure and pedicure. My feet were smoothed, buffed, massaged, and at one point even encased in hot paraffin. They came out baby soft and really feeling comfortable. My finger and toe nails are now a beautiful shade of red and I feel very pampered indeed.

The 21st Century Husband and Teenager met me after my pampering and we went up to the lounge to have a cup of tea, and some delicious baklava, along with some pistachio biscuits. I am in pistachio heaven here, and it reminds me so much of Dad. He’d buy the bags of pistachios back in the day when the shells used to be tinted red, and we’d sit and eat them, our pink stained fingers giving away the fact that we had been snacking before dinner. The pistachios here are just as delicious if not more so as they grow here, as do dates. This morning I tasted fresh dates for the first time, their skins firm and brown, not wrinkled and dry. They were quite exquisite, juicy and delightful, but I still love the dried ones too.

We are finding that our week is flying by far too quickly, with only three days of our holiday remaining. It is doing us so much good though. For the first time in years I do not feel tired during the day. I did not realise how much of a toll all the stress, late nights and travelling had taken. But now I am rested, sleeping over eight hours a night and sometimes even napping beside the pool as well. I feel really content and full of energy. I even look more relaxed and my skin is glowing. I’m so grateful for this break, it is just what we needed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Day in Paradise

Once again I am sitting in the bar drinking a lovely glass of red wine, reflecting on a day during which my biggest decision was whether to have a walk or a snooze after lunch! The weather has been gorgeous, sunny and very hot in the morning so we went out to sun ourselves by the pool immediately after breakfast. We’ve been absolutely religious about sunscreen so we are all developing a nice colour. All, that is, except the 21st Century Teenager, who has, perhaps sensibly, decided his fair skin means he needs to seek our shade at all times. After the many sunburns of my youth I am thanking my lucky stars I have such a sensible son.

At 12.30 the 21st Century Husband and I went off to the spa, where we had treatments booked. Sadly you have to be 16 to go into the spa, so the 21st Century Teenager was left out, but he amused himself in the sunshine with his friends. Guy had a hot stone massage which totally invigorated him. I had a back treatment and facial and am so mellow I am practically horizontal. It was a fantastic treatment, including a head massage with a special ESPA pink hair and scalp mud that has left my hair baby soft. My skin is glowing as well. So Guy and I are booked in again on Friday for some more pampering.

Today was a public holiday in Cyprus so we stuck close to the hotel, but tomorrow we plan a walk into Paphos. Apparently you can get to the harbour by walking along the seaside , you just turn left as you walk down to the beach. I’m excited to see some of the local area, including the mosaics which are some of the best preserved in the world.

This break is doing us all a power of good and I am so grateful for it!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Relaxing in Cyprus

Cyprus is lovely, very warm and mostly sunny. We are all feeling very relaxed, not surprising considering we are in such a lovely hotel, where virtually our every need is catered for! We are in a gated complex, but apparently Paphos itself is only a fifteen minute walk or a five minute taxi ride. We will probably check that out on Wednesday as we are going to spend part of tomorrow in the spa being pampered.

I’m surprised by how much I am sleeping actually. I keep nodding off in the sunshine when we are sitting by the pool (thankfully I am using SPF factor 50 so I’m not getting sunburned!). I guess the exhaustion of the last year has finally caught up with me, but I am so grateful to have the chance to rest and recover in such beautiful surroundings. It’s lovely to see the 21st Century Husband and the 21st Century Teenager relaxing so much as well.

Our biggest decision seems to be what to have for dinner. The hotel has seven restaurants so we are spoiled for choice. One of my favourite things is the breakfast – they have an omelette station where you can have your omelette made to order by a very jovial chef who shakes your hand, and after the first morning, addresses you by name! It’s a huge hotel, so how he does it, I do not know!!

Dinner last night was a bit disappointing. They do like to serve buffets here, but food is very expensive and I rankle at being asked to pay the equivalent of $60 to serve myself from a buffet! We are trying one of the other restaurants tonight, where the food is served to your table, despite urgings to come to the Cyprus evening in the same restaurant as last night. Even the temptation of music and dancing will not lure me back to the Limoniera buffet!

Lunches have been very nice in the Mediterranea Restaurant. You eat outside and much of the food is cooked on a giant barbeque. Today we watched, fascinated, as entire sea bass were cooked whole over the flames. Being unable to face a whole fish, I decided to go for the chicken kebab, which was really delicious.

So I’m sitting here in the Occidental Lounge Café, drinking a glass of wine, relaxing and enjoying the ambiance. I have to confess, all three of us are working on our computers, but that is the 21st Century Family for you! The hotel must be used to it, as here in the café there are power points in the floor to plug your computer into, and we certainly are not the only ones using them. What a change from family holidays of yesteryear!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ready for the Off

Well, we are all sitting here ready to set off for our holiday. This is very unusual for us – normally any departure involves frazzled people rushing round at the last minute, and sometimes even shouting. But today is different. I think it is also because we are all keenly aware of how desperately each of us needs this break and none of us wants to upset each other! It may also be because our flight doesn’t leave until 8.30pm tonight, and even though we have to get all the way to Gatwick, we’ve still got plenty of time to drop my car off at the garage. (It’s still making a bit of a noise on the left hand side.)

I do find it funny that now we live close to Heathrow, a lot of our flights seem to go from Gatwick. It seems very strange, but then we have started to go to some different places lately. Our New York flights at New Year are from Heathrow though.

It’s been a very relaxing morning actually. I even managed to make a batch of muffins, accomplishing the double purpose of a) appearing to be a domestic goddess even under busy circumstances and b) using up the last of the eggs before we go away. Not only that, but I’ve stashed the six muffins we didn’t eat in the freezer for us to have when we get back home. Oh, and the kitchen is all tidy and spotless too. It’s a level of organisation I rarely manage and I’m basking in the glow of my accomplishment.

And I have to say I just can’t wait to get to Cyprus. It’s a five hour flight and we arrive in the early hours of tomorrow morning so it could be a bit of an endurance test, but we are sitting in the comfy seats on the plane so it shouldn’t be too bad. I’m going to try to keep my blog updated whilst I’m away so barring any technical hitches, there should be regular posts. Watch this space!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The End of Life as We Know It? Probably Not.

Back in March of 2007, after a long weekend trip my husband and I made to Canada to help my parents through a difficult period in their lives health-wise (my father had just been discharged from hospital again after a bout of heart failure), I wrote the following:

“It does put me in mind of the old Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) saying. At times, as a family, we stretch ourselves in terms of time, and sometimes even in terms of finances, to do things we want to do and go places we want to go. I find it hard to regret any of that in the current climate of my parents’ lives. It makes me ever more determined to create a life full of experiences, much more so than a life full of things. This is not to imply that my parents ever created a life full of things. As children of the war years, they were incredibly frugal, but always utterly generous with anyone who needed help of any kind. They often put their dreams on hold though and I wish they had not done that. I do feel a sense of the need to do things now whilst I am fit and well, rather than to wait for the life in the glossy pictures promised me in the advertisements for retirement investments. Now is all any of us really have, and we really do need to seize the day. Although I urge everyone to provide adequately for their retirement, especially if you want to spend it somewhere nice!

I do not mean that in a depressing way, but more in a kind of victorious throw back your shoulders and stand in the wind way. No matter where we are in our lives, no matter what is happening, we truly need to make the most of every moment, even every second. We have to step outside our comfort zone and reject any delay of our dreams, embracing the now whilst facing ourselves firmly in the direction of a positive future. The past is gone, and we cannot waste time lamenting it nor praising ourselves for it. Every moment is a new beginning and it is never over until the fat lady sings. Seize the day and never surrender, that should be every 21st Century Housewife’s mantra!”

Even today, I firmly agree with what I said eighteen months ago and I still believe that Carpe Diem is the only way to go. Even in these days of economic uncertainty (or “meltdown” as the press insist on calling it), I think we need to realise that everything will work out in the end. For better or worse, we will come through these tough economic times and we will move forward. Life will go on, and we will get through this. I’m not saying we should rush out and spend willy nilly, but I do think that the panic the press are inciting is counterproductive. It’s creating so much negative energy and such a sense of lack, when we actually live in a very abundant world, particularly here in the west. Even when times are tough economically, it’s imperative that we think, breathe and speak abundance. Our brains only believe what we accept as truth. Therefore if you look for abundance and bounty in your life, you will find it. Equally, if you look for lack, you will find that too. I much prefer to look for the former.

I’m certainly no Pollyanna, but I firmly believe it is time for us all to start looking at the positive side of things. We can’t allow ourselves to be swayed by the evening news, who often take already fragile statistics, artificially project them forwards and come out with a picture that is very alarming indeed. Anyone can do that by manipulating statistics. Heaven forbid they admit that they just don’t know what will happen next. One would assume, from the “failing housing market” that no houses are selling – but I see “sold” signs on houses every day. And if the value of your property has dropped, it is only a problem if you need to sell it now. On the flip side, if you are looking for a mortgage, interest rates are dropping - so that is actually good news. For some, this might even be a time when they can hop on to the property ladder when before inflated prices made that impossible. Prices of large goods, like cars, are dropping and the deals being offered by car showrooms are getting better by the day. Equally, if you hold shares, it’s only a problem if you need to sell them now. If you don’t, just hang on. If what goes up must come down, so it follows that the opposite of that must also be true. Desperate times call, not for desperate measures as has always been suggested, but rather for well thought out, carefully executed measures. We must step back, get some perspective and refuse to allow ourselves to be drawn into the rising panic.

I know that some people have suffered true financial hardship at the hands of this recession and I feel desperately sorry for them. But when one door closes, another one always opens and things will work out for them. This too shall pass, and a brighter tomorrow will follow. The key is to stay positive. Like attracts like. Positive thoughts attract positive events, and negative thoughts, well, it’s not rocket science.

In the meantime, what we need is a bit of faith and optimism to ride out this rather torrential storm in a teacup. The sun still shines, we still laugh, we still experience joy, we still breathe. It is “never over till the fat lady sings” and quite frankly, I haven’t heard even so much as a whisper out of her.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Just ticking along...

It’s been a busy week so far, but today was a lovely break in the middle. My dear friend Lel came up for the day and we had a wonderful time just chatting, having lunch and a good old gossip. It was a brilliant “girly” day and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m so grateful to have such wonderful friends.

I’ve been working very hard with my personal trainer, Pilates instructor and yoga teacher over the past weeks to get in really good shape for our holiday. I’m packing the suitcases now and I have to say I cannot wait to get to Cyprus and just chill out for a week. Alex has been going through more nonsense and bullying at school, and it is all getting a bit much. A break will do us all good.

I’ve said it before but I will say it again, exercise makes such a difference in one’s life. Whether it is walking, running, Pilates, Yoga or cycling, being active is key to getting the most out of life. I’m really blessed to be able to have access to the professional teachers that I do, but anyone can incorporate more exercise into their life on one level or another. It helps you keep fit in both body and mind. Exercise has helped me to deal with the grief over losing my parents and to cope with what has been a very stressful year. Yoga has been marvellous for that as well. I have not had a cold in months, I feel fit and well (if a bit stiff once in a while!) and I recovered from an injury to my back a few months ago with lightening speed. If someone asked me what one thing they could do to improve their life, the first thing I would suggest is exercise.

I’ve been working hard on my writing and have been rewarded with more attention from various publications which is wonderful. It’s encouraging me to have a go at finally finishing my manuscript for 21st Century Housewife. The draft has been sitting there for ages and I must get down to finishing it. I sent myself the first draft and secured the copyright almost five years ago! But it isn’t going to finish writing itself nor will it send itself to a publisher. It’s time for me to focus and get it done! I think I’ll take my computer on holiday with me….

Monday, October 20, 2008

Another Publication!

It’s been a wonderful day so far, made even more wonderful by the fact that “To Foie Gras or Not to Foie Gras” from my Blog Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife's Kitchen has been published by the Chicago Sun Times. To see it, please click here . This is its second publication; Reuters published it last week.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Who Pressed the Fast Forward Button?

This week has passed by in a whirlwind. It honestly feels as if someone has pressed the “fast forward” button. Thankfully as we approach yet another weekend, I feel as I might nearly have located the “pause” button.

In some ways, it was great to have the time fly by this week. The 21st Century Husband was away for three days, and I never complain if time flies until he gets back. But now he has returned from his business trip, I’m pleased that we have a fairly relaxing weekend to look forward to. I can’t say it will be a quiet weekend, as we’ve got quite a lot going on (Alex is playing first trumpet in a concert, I need to get the flowerbeds ready for the winter before the weeds actually form a civilisation and take over the garden, there’s still unpacking to do from our move, etc), but at least it should be relaxing.

I must admit, life has been anything but relaxing for the past couple of weeks. Almost all of the very little time I have spent with the 21st Century Husband has been shared with work. Everywhere we have gone, even when we have tried to squeeze in some family time, it has come with us. Now despite rather damning evidence to the contrary, I’m not complaining. We have a wonderful lifestyle and work is very much its raison d’être. We even have a much needed holiday to Cyprus coming up in the half term break and that is only a week away. But therein lies the rub. Without the career, there would be no lovely holidays – and so any discontent I might dare to voice is rendered mute by the fact that the medicine (the holiday) is made possible by the very poison (the very nature of my husband’s job) which creates the need for it. How’s that for philosophical on a Friday afternoon?!

I have to admit I’m getting the holiday feeling a bit early though. The weather here has been beautiful – mostly sunny and warm in fact. If it weren’t for the gorgeous coloured leaves you would think it was springtime. So today I turned an errand I had to run to the local post office in Purley-on-Thames into lovely stroll in the sunshine. Once I’d completed my errand, I carried on walking down to Mapleduram Lock. It was a brilliant walk, during which I met lots of people and animals out enjoying the weather.


Here is one of them in the photo on the left. One of the fields I walk through often has cows in it, and they are very friendly souls. This one even lifted her head up to be photographed!









We are so blessed to have scenery like this on our doorstep. It makes going for a walk a pleasure!









After the 21st Century Teenager got home from school we headed off into town to do some shopping. Sorry, I need to clarify that – as I am constantly being reminded “town” means London and what I mean here is Reading town centre, not London-town! Anyway, it was a very successful expedition. We were actually only after a black shirt for the aforementioned teenager, but spent a very pleasant couple of hours having coffee and shopping. We came home with rather more than just a shirt! It was a very successful afternoon.

And so the weekend begins. Wishing you a good one!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Monday in Canada, a time when friends and families gather to give thanks for the harvest, and all the good things in their lives. As we do not get a Thanksgiving holiday Monday here in England (or indeed an official Thanksgiving at all), the 21st Century Housewife and family celebrated with Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. We had a really lovely time.

I feel very disloyal admitting it, but growing up in Canada, I always thought that Americans had it right when it came to celebrating Thanksgiving. Although the holiday weekend was a big deal in Canada, we only got one day off school, not two. We did have big family dinners, but it seemed to me that the ones in America looked much more exciting. We had parades as well, but who could compete with the spectacular balloons of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York?

As a result, I never felt that passionately about Canadian Thanksgiving. As the Canadian ancestors in my family tree travelled to America on the Mayflower (but later fled to Canada as United Empire Loyalists), I liked the pilgrim story. It was much more interesting than dusty old explorers Martin Frobisher and Samuel de Champlain celebrating with the Indians. This opinion made me very unpopular with patriotic teachers in primary school. I did love the family get-togethers and Thanksgiving food, and of course, I was grateful for all the blessings I had, but it wasn’t until I left Canada in 1989, that I suddenly realised how much I loved Thanksgiving.

I came to this realisation because Thanksgiving just didn’t seem to exist here in England. The first year I lived here, the second Monday in October came and went, and no mention was made of Thanksgiving. As my fiancées family had lived in the States for several years I nurtured the faint hope that they might celebrate Thanksgiving in November, but that didn’t materialise either. I never said anything, because I was at the point in my life where I didn’t want to stand out. I was the new kid on the block – okay I was the immigrant – and hated to mention anything that made me seem any more foreign than I already felt.

But as a married woman two years later, I decided that we would celebrate Thanksgiving, and we would celebrate it the second Monday in October just as my family always had. Unfortunately I had no idea just how difficult that was going to be.

My first stop was, of course, the grocery store. Finding the usual Thanksgiving ingredients seemed like it would be fairly easy in Autumnal England. Potatoes were readily available, and vegetables of every description lined the shelves of the produce department. It was not until I got to the meat department that my problems began. I looked everywhere for a turkey but there was none to be found. I went to the butcher counter to ask the man himself. After I made my request, the butcher looked at me as though I had asked for something very exotic, like maybe ostrich or boar.

“Turkeys?” he asked.

“Yes, please, “ I replied.

“You won’t find fresh turkeys this time of year, only at Christmas. You might find a frozen one though”. He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

Three grocery stores later and I was still in the same boat. No one had fresh turkey and the frozen ones were clearly left over from Christmas 1985 (this was 1991), totally frosted up and unappetising. There wasn’t a Butterball turkey – a very popular brand of frozen turkeys in North America - to be found. You should have seen the butcher’s face in the store where I asked for those! “Butter’s in the dairy section,” was only the beginning.

In the end all I had for my first Thanksgiving dinner in England was some potatoes, vegetables and some very dodgy looking packaged stuffing. Not only that, but my request for cranberry sauce had been met with utter confusion. Ocean Spray wouldn’t make it over here for several years after that.

So in the end I cooked a chicken. The stuffing tasted rather strange to me and without the cranberry sauce, well, as far as I was concerned, it could have been any old Sunday lunch. It was very disappointing.

Over the years I coped by either arranging to be in Canada for Thanksgiving or by smuggling jars of cranberry sauce and packages of Stove Top stuffing back in my luggage after our Canadian summer vacations. But if it was Thanksgiving in England, it was always chicken.

The past five or six years have been so chaotic for us I hardly even thought about making Thanksgiving dinner, except the times we were in Canada with my Dad and Mom. But their deaths eleven and ten months ago respectively suddenly made me crave the Thanksgiving tradition again. It was important to me to celebrate not only Thanksgiving itself, but also the happy memories I have of them at Thanksgiving.

This time, cooking Thanksgiving dinner was a little different. I still had to cook chicken, but the rest of the ingredients were much easier. I managed to find a supplier of Stove Top stuffing here in England. Okay, it makes my hair curl paying the equivalent seven dollars for something I could have bought for $1.99 in Canada, but for a treat, it’s worth it. And I found proper Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce here too. We finally got Ocean Spray products about seven years ago, but this year I even found the sauce with whole berries like I used to buy in Canada – oh joy! And my son helped me make the dinner. While he peeled parsnips I shared my secrets for a homemade Butterball. If you buy a big chicken, lift the skin up off the breast and slide a few pieces of butter in underneath you get an effect not unlike a Butterball turkey. I also showed him how to make a pumpkin pie using Libby’s Tinned Pumpkin – in my opinion, the only way to go. But that’s a story for another day.

And when we sat down to steaming plates heaving with juicy chicken (which I insisted on referring to as turkey), stuffing, mashed potatoes, roast parsnips, leeks and gravy it was with glad and thankful hearts. We rejoiced in our blessings, toasted absent friends and family, talked about happy memories and celebrated Thanksgiving as never before. It was wonderful.

And I’m pleased to report that a visit to Marks and Spencer today revealed that they have begun to stock half turkey breasts this time of year. How long can it be before we have a real whole turkey for Thanksgiving? Heck, maybe I can even persuade more British folks to start celebrating a traditional Thanksgiving. Churchgoers already celebrate Harvest Sunday in October at church services so it wouldn’t’ be that big a stretch to get to a proper Thanksgiving dinner. It may sound far fetched, but you never know!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Saving Money The 21st Century Housewife's Way

Well, after yesterday’s excitement it has been hard to settle back down to domestic matters, but with a whole day blocked out of my diary to spend at home, I really have no excuse not to. It’s a rare day that finds me in the house for its entirety, and this makes it a situation I look forward to, particularly if it is on a Friday. It means I can potter round getting ready for the weekend, and if I’m really lucky, I may even fit in some time to bake.

Mind you today I kind of have to bake as I have a dozen eggs to use up in the next three days. This is not my fault, rather it is the fault of someone I am very cross with at Abel and Cole, who have today delivered to me eggs with only three days left to run before the Best Before. After all the recommendations I have given them (both verbally and on this website) this is really not on and I am very cross indeed. Who on earth can easily use up a dozen eggs in three days, particularly when there are only three of us in the family? Good grief! Not to mention that this means I will now need to go out and buy eggs for next week, when I thought I was going to have enough without doing that. It totally defeats the purpose of having things delivered when I have to go out and buy things I was expecting to receive. Hopefully Ocado, the grocery delivery people who are arriving later, will do better. The last few deliveries I have had from them have been absolutely excellent. It took them a while to get it right, with problems with packing and things being broken (although admittedly I still do not order eggs from them!), but I think they have just about got it totally sorted now.

It’s good having groceries delivered, although I must admit sometimes I do want to hand pick things for myself, but not only does delivery save the environment, I find it prevents me from buying a lot of things I do not need, and forgetting things that I do. This is particularly the case with Ocado, where I can go back and edit my order up to the day before if I find I have forgotten something. Shopping is such a challenge these days. I find it hard to believe but my grocery bill has doubled in this last year. And that calculation does not factor in paper goods (like paper towels, toilet roll etc) nor cleaning products as I buy those in bulk at a warehouse store, nor alcohol, which I usually buy there as well or in any case, separately from my groceries. I know the world economy is under terrible pressure but how is a housewife to save money without compromising on quality or style?

Here are some of my top ideas.

1. Consider using a grocery delivery service with on-line ordering. Sitting at your computer with a cup of coffee, it is a lot easier and less stressful to choose exactly what you need and not overbuy. The kitchen cupboards are not that far away, so you can always nip and check what you really do have in there. You can even plan your menus around what is on special offer. I tend to keep my recipe notebook beside me so that I can check what is on special offer and then find a recipe to build round it. Online shopping means that menu planning and shopping can become one exercise and that, in itself, cannot help but save both time and money.

2. Now is the time to clear your kitchen cupboards (throwing out that nutmeg from 1995) and see what is really in there. You can then build up a good supply of basics so that you can make things from scratch instead of using ready made products. For example you can make a delicious salad dressing from oil, vinegar, mustard and sugar that costs pennies, as opposed to buying a ready prepared dressing that costs pounds. For more ideas like this one, see my entry from last Friday, 3rd October – Great Taste on a Budget the 21st Century Housewife’s Way - on my other blog on Blogger.com, Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife.blogspot.com.

3. Eat meat free evening meals at least three or four times per week. The cost of meat has gone up so astronomically, now is a great time to explore vegetarian recipes like the pasta bakes and gratins that can be so comforting at this time of year. I’ll be including even more of these on the Recipe of the Week page on this site and also on my recipes blog (see link above) in the near future so do keep having a look. There are quite a few vegetarian options in both locations already. Eggs are a great source of protein as well (although admittedly this weekend I have a surfeit of them!) and can be the centre of many meals – not just breakfast or brunch.

4. Do not – repeat do not – go shopping when you are hungry or feeling low. You will attempt to feed both body and soul by filling your cart to the brim with things you do not need. Supermarkets, for all their protesting about trying to save us money in this tight economy, are in the business of making money and they know all too well the tricks to entice you into buying things you could probably do without.

5. Really check the savings before you pick up those “buy one get one free” offers – or my personal top hate – “buy two get one free” offers. Often the price has been hyper-inflated to cover the cost of the second (or third) item anyway, and you could probably find it cheaper elsewhere. With the buy two get one free offers you often end up something you won’t even be able to use up in time anyway. Who (except those with very large families) needs three loaves of bread or three bags of potatoes at one time?

6. Easy on the freezer – it can actually cost you money rather than saving it for you. When we moved I got rid of my big free standing freezer and now have a smaller –what I would describe as “half sized” – freezer which is literally half the size of my previous model. It has saved me so much money, not to mention angst at having to throw away the things that hide at the back of the freezer until they are so frost bitten you don’t want to eat them anyway. It also stops me buying massive quantities of Hagen Daz or Ben and Jerry’s ice creams when they are on buy two get one free! An idea that helps my pocket and my waistline – excellent!

7. If you can, and you have the storage space, consider joining a warehouse store for purchases of paper goods, cleaning products, wine, beer, pop etc. My membership at Costco costs under £40 per year and yet it saves me at least £200 in that same amount of time just on every day purchases. If storage space is short, consider taking a friend with you (most cards allow you to take a guest) and split your purchases so that you each get half the number of items (and half the expense!).

8. Try to bake some of your own cakes, cookies etc. Homemade versions almost always cost less than the pre-packaged ones and they definitely taste better. Plus you know exactly what is in them, and can even adjust the amount of sugar you use. I find a small reduction in the amount called for in most cakes and cookies really is not noticeable at all and makes for much healthier treats. Plus baking is fun, and a great way to involve your kids in the kitchen.

These are just a few ideas to help you tackle the rising costs of living in these alarming times. If you have any tips to share with other readers, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at the usual address – april@21stcenturyhousewife.com . These may be challenging times, but there is no need to compromise on taste, quality or style if you economise the 21st Century Housewife’s way.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Another Great Day for the 21st Century Housewife!

It's been a great day. One of my blog entries from my other blog "Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife's Kitchen" has been picked up and published by Reuters on their website. If you would like to read "To Foie Gras or Not to Foie Gras", please click here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Weekend Again and a Great Start to the Week

Friday night was my in-laws’ anniversary so the 21st Century Husband and I met at Bromley South Station (he drove from work, I took the train from home) and went to visit them. My mother-in-law didn’t know we were coming so was very surprised and pleased. My sister and brother-in-law came too, and we all went out for a lovely meal at Zi Theresa in Elmer’s End. That’s everyone (except me, I took the picture!) in the photo at left. I’ve talked about Zi Theresa in my blog before. It’s a really good Italian restaurant with friendly staff and wonderful food. I highly recommend their crab and mango salad to start, it’s delicious, although I do wish there were not quite as many pieces of shell in it (I got three in my portion). My main course of veal with olives was beautifully cooked and seasoned. Everyone enjoyed their meals and the company was super too. We had a great evening.

Saturday we went to Oxford to visit my cousins Brenda, Jamie and Laura. My cousin Heather was there. She is the only one of the cousins still here visiting from Canada. I’ve so enjoyed the last few weeks with some of my family being over. We had a really fun evening and enjoyed celebrating Heather’s birthday. That’s her at left with Laura. It was so nice to get together again.

It’s wonderful actually as from where we live now we can drive to Oxford on the back roads through the Chilterns and it only takes about half an hour to forty minutes. I love the drive as well, especially going over the old toll bridge at Pangbourne into Whitchurch. I found a really brilliant website done by Woodlands Junior School with some photographs of the bridge and interesting facts about Pangbourne and Whitchurch. To see it, click here. It’s an excellent site, especially considering it was done by a junior school. Well done to Woodlands!

So it was a really nice weekend actually, although Sunday was a bit stressful. We decided to bring in some of the boxes from the garage that we have not unpacked yet from our move almost a year ago. Well, the very idea we still have boxes, compounded by the fact that the garage is a mess and very dusty and exacerbated by all the memories emptying boxes pulls up in me making me very emotional, led to a rather stressful afternoon. Although there were some fantastic moments, including finding an audio tape of Guy’s Grandad Pip’s voice and a video tape made from a cine film which included moving pictures of my Grandma Killingback – who died before I was born – and also of me aged three dressed in one of my favourite dresses ever (to this day!) made by my wonderful Aunt Irene. There was also footage of me attempting escape from a playpen which was quite funny as my legs were just that little bit too short! The trouble was we had a choir programme on in the background and suddenly Aled Jones was singing The Unicorn Song by the Irish Rovers with some very talented children. Dad used to sing that song to me when he was carrying me to bed when I was very little indeed (around the time the films I just mentioned were taken actually) and also to Alex at the same age. I listened as far as “There were green alligators…” and fell completely to pieces. It was the first time I have really been able to cry properly since Mom and Dad passed away. I was so busy coping most of the time I just swallowed my tears which is, I can assure you from bitter experience, extremely unhealthy. Sadly it didn’t make for the best Sunday evening, but hey, I’m human and I think I was due a little cry after being brave for all this time.

Thankfully Monday evening was a lot more fun. The Reading Comedy Festival is on this week and next so we headed to The Hexagon to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform “The Bible”. We’ve seen them perform “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)” and “Completely Hollywood” (also abridged) and roared with laughter. However, I was a bit nervous about “The Bible” as we are Christians, but I need not have been. As usual, they were side achingly funny and although I’m sure some might take offense at their portrayal of the Word of God, we took none at all as we realised they were only having fun – and frankly their Biblical knowledge would put many people’s to shame! It was a super show and a really fun evening. I even escaped having to cook as we grabbed a quick dinner at Ask Restaurant round the corner from Broad Street Mall. I had a delicious pizza, Guy had a calzone that tasted heavenly (he shared!) and Alex had spaghetti con polpette (that’s meatballs to you and me) which he thoroughly enjoyed. The service was quick and efficient too, just what we needed. It was a great start to the week.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Home, Sweet Home


It’s hard for me to think of an item of furniture or object in our home that does not have some meaning for me. Many of the things I grew up with, as a lot of what we have belonged to my parents, and before them to others in our family who went before. There is usually a story attached to them and they remind me of people I love. We’ve been given a lot of beautiful things as gifts too. And when we purchase something, a lot of thought goes into it. For example, when my son started piano lessons eight years ago, we decided to buy a restored piano. In the end, the one we found (or perhaps it found us) was over 100 years old, and had recently been rescued. It’s a gorgeous inlaid walnut piece that had actually been painted over with black paint in order to make it look more modern. Restored to its former glory by a gentleman who was in his nineties, you can even see where the candelabra used to go before electricity. It’s become virtually a member of the family, and I swear sometimes I can even see the shadows of the folks who used to gather round it for sing a longs and imagine it glowing in the candlelight. No matter what we buy, however large or small, I like it to have meaning, so that one day when it gets passed to my son he’ll know the story behind it. I was so lucky that my parents gave us a lot of things we have whilst they were still living and actually got to see them in our home when they visited. It gave them great pleasure to see us enjoying things they had used and loved throughout their lives. I hope to have that same pleasure when I pass things to Alex.

When we went into Pangbourne with my cousins on Saturday, there was an antiques fair in the village hall. I enjoy going round antiques fairs, although I rarely get a chance to do it. I’m not quick to purchase, but I do enjoy looking at all the curious and beautiful old items for sale. This time, an item found us and has spent this last week settling into our home. It wasn’t a big purchase, but it means a lot to me.

As we wandered through the fair, past the various stalls, the 21st Century Husband came over to me and motioned for me to look across the room. There it was, a beautiful blue jug just sitting on a table asking to be taken home. It was so pretty I was worried it would be expensive, but when I walked over I saw that the price tag only said £12.50 (which is about $25). Still, it seemed a bit of an indulgence when I have so many other lovely things, so I tried to walk away from it. The owner of the stall explained it was Grimwade’s Byzanta Ware and that it probably dated from the 1950’s. It looked very art deco in style to me so I wondered if perhaps she was dating it a little late. Far from perfect, the inside had obviously held flowers or liquid as there was definitely some water damage. But it was just so pretty, and the fact that my husband had pointed it out to me because he thought I would like it made me feel quite connected to it. I wandered away, only for the stall owner to suggest that perhaps £10 was a better price for it. Clearly it was meant to be.

So I brought it home. It found its way almost immediately into our dining room, where its colour perfectly sets off our curtains and frankly I feel like we’ve had it for years. It’s the first purchase I have made since we moved into our home last year that I have felt this connected with. It’s all part of the settling in process, which to my great relief, seems to finally be happening. So much happened over the last year that sometimes it felt like my head was spinning. But it’s not anymore. In fact, the last few weeks things have been almost back to normal. At least, that is, normal for us, which I’m told by my friends is actually pretty busy for anyone else. But we like it that way. Regardless, it’s really good to feel we are finally home. Just like the blue jug is.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Adding a Bit of Glamour to the Weekly Shop


I love fashion, and one of my biggest weaknesses is designer handbags. Dior, Vuitton and Ferregamo bags have all made their way into my closet over the years. I love my handbags, and would never part with them. From my first investment purchase of a Ferregamo bag almost a decade ago, to my classic black quilted patent Lady Dior bag purchased on a shopping spree at Harrods (the first of several Dior bags, much to the 21st Century Husband’s dismay!) to the Louis Vuitton Speedy Bag that Guy and Alex bought me for my birthday one year in Paris, each one of my bags has a story. Deciding which handbag to use is something that really gives me a lift even on a dull day.

So imagine my excitement when I found out that a designer was making shopping bags to carry your groceries in! Not only that, but all the profits from the bag go to charity. Well done Cath Kidston! Although I know she is not in the same league as Dior and Vuitton, I do love her designs , and what a wonderful thing to do. Not only that, but the bag is totally environmentally friendly as it is made out of recycled plastic bottles. It’s so pretty and does not feel in the least bit plastic, so I cannot figure out how they’ve done it, but never mind. Working in partnership with Tesco, Kidston is raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care and doing her bit for the environment at the same time. Apparently, over the next few months a total of six designs will be available, all priced at a very affordable £3.50. I’ve bought a number of the one at left, and have been giving them to people when I take hostess gifts to lunches or dinner parties, and I’ve also used my own bag to carry things to Pilates and the gym. At this rate, I’ll be popping into every Tesco’s I can just to find the other designs! (My local Tesco just has the one pictured at the moment. ) To find out more about these lovely bags, click here.

What a wonderful idea – helping the environment, a worthy charity and adding a bit of glamour to the weekly shop, all the same time. Again, well done to Cath Kidston and company, and also to Tesco’s. It’s nice to be able to praise a supermarket for a change!