Friday, April 30, 2010

Delicious Low Cal Lunches for Busy Moms

CSN Stores are giving one lucky reader a $25 gift certificate good for use on any one of their 200 plus web stores - including their fantastic baby and nursery shop and their cookware shop -  So if you live in North America, just email with the word 'Cribs' in the subject line and you’ll be entered to win.  For more details, please click here.  
And now for the recipes!  So many moms I talk to say they are too busy for lunch or that they skip this important meal because they are dieting, but there is an easy way to have a nourishing and delicious lunch that is low in calories* and easy to make.
The average white pitta bread only has about 147 calories and their crunchy pocket style makes them just right for all sorts of lovely fillings. These make a great light lunch - really satisfying but low in fat and calories.  They also travel well wrapped in Saran wrap or aluminum foil in an insulated lunch box if you are eating on the run - or having a picnic in the sunshine with your little ones.  By the way, most kids love to eat pitta breads - I used to call them pitta pockets when my son was little - they are a bit of fun and they make a great change from ordinary bread.  
* Do check the mayonnaise you are using though as some “light”versions are actually low in fat but high in calories, and some “low cal” versions are actually quite high in fat.  I use Hellmann’s Extra Light for this recipe.
Each of these recipes serves one adult or two little ones (most kids will only eat half a pitta sandwich), but it’s very easy to multiply the quantities to serve more.    
Chicken Salad Pittas
1 pitta bread, cut in half and toasted if you like
half a chicken breast, cut in small cubes
a small handful of lettuce, finely shredded
3 or 4 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 to 3 teaspoons low calories or light mayonnaise
½ teaspoon freshly chopped chives
salt and pepper, optional
a pinch of curry powder, optional
Mix the chicken, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise together in a small bowl.  Add the chives, salt and pepper to taste, and curry powder if you like it.   Use the mixture to stuff both halves of the pitta.  
Waldorf Salad Pitta
1 pitta bread, cut in half and toasted if you like
half a chicken breast, cut in small cubes
one quarter to one half a small apple, peeled, cored and cut in small pieces
1 small handful of lettuce, finely shredded
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
3 or 4 walnuts, finely chopped
2 to 3 teaspoons low calorie or light mayonnaise
Mix the chicken, apple, lettuce, celery, walnuts and mayonnaise in a small bowl.  Use the mixture to stuff both halves of the pitta.  
Egg Salad Pitta
1 pitta bread, cut in half and toasted if you like
1 large hard boiled egg, chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon chopped red pepper
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
2 to 3 teaspoons low calorie or light mayonnaise 
a pinch of curry powder (or more or less to taste but please don't leave it out!)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the egg, red pepper, celery and mayonnaise together in a bowl.   Add the curry powder and salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix.  Use the mixture to stuff both halves of the pitta.  
Tuna Salad Pitta
1 pitta bread, cut in half and toasted if you like
¼ cup canned tuna, drained
1 teaspoon chopped red pepper
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
a small handful of lettuce, finely shredded
2 to 3 teaspoons mayonnaise 
a squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix together the tuna, red pepper, celery, lettuce, mayonnaise and lemon.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in.    Use the mixture to stuff both halves of the pitta.
So as you can see there is no longer any good reason to skip lunch - in fact there are at least four good reasons not to!  
I’m linking up today to Friday Food at Momtrends, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s Blog, and Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum.  Do go and visit for some great recipe ideas!  
Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Oh To Be in England, Now that April's There"

The wonderful poet Robert Browning was right, April really is one of the most beautiful months of the year in England. British weather is notoriously mercurial - you don’t get to be a “green and pleasant land” without a lot of rain - but somehow this one month has a quality all its own. For a moment we forget our often rainy, disappointing summers and our dank, grey autumns and winters, and just revel in the glory of a British spring.

Yesterday evening my son and I walked through some wonderful countryside, not even ten minutes’ walk from our home, past fields of flowers and calves, down to the Thames. On our way we stumbled on this house, which looks pretty ordinary most of the year (and does not usually have a boarded up window I hasten to add!), but that right now is transformed by the riot of Wisteria blooming on its face. Gorgeous.

The daffodils that bloomed everywhere here - even along the sides of the roads - are just beginning to fade, exactly in time to make room for the bluebells. Most days the sky is an ethereal shade of blue, and even the spring rain has a different quality to it - a fresh smell and a lightness the rain never has at any other time of year.

We never know what summer will bring - long, hot summers are few and far between here - but April truly is a wonderful month to be in England.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gift Certificate Giveaway!

Although my own “baby” is now seventeen years old and the days of cribs and layettes have long gone, a couple of my friends have recently become grandmas and I find myself shopping for baby things more often than I ever would have imagined. It’s no secret I love shopping, but I’m always happy to get a little help with the cost - like the gift certificate the nice folks at CSN Stores are offering one lucky reader.

This $25 gift certificate can be used towards purchases on or on any of CSN’s other online stores - including

To be entered to win, just send an email to with the word “Cribs” in the subject line. (Please note this competition is only open to readers with a postal address in North America.) Closing date for this competition is midnight EST on Wednesday 12th May. I’ll draw the lucky winner’s email on May 13th and announce it here.

Don’t delay - get those entries in today! And good luck everyone!!

Waste Not, Want Not

It’s hard to believe, but despite all the articles in the media and awareness campaigns, we are still throwing away literally tons of food in the United Kingdom, North America and other prosperous countries worldwide. In fact, the Love Food Hate Waste campaign estimates that households in the United Kingdom alone throw away over eight tons of food every year. This is costing individual UK households upwards of £400 per year as we literally throw money in the garbage. But even more shocking than these statistics is the fact is that most of the food we throw away could probably be eaten.

Up until very recently, we have been encouraged by politicians and supermarkets to believe that vegetables and fruit need to be shiny and perfect to be edible. In fact, it is not that long ago that it was actually illegal to sell “irregularly shaped vegetables” in the European Union. That’s right, crooked cucumbers were not allowed! While the generation before us existed on wartime rations and would never have turned down a bruised banana, we grew up believing that nearly all apples were the same size and that beauty really was only skin deep.

An added complication is that the pace of life has changed radically over the last forty or so years. In these busy post-modern days, schedules are erratic, shopping is done in a rush and most people barely have time to cook food at home, let alone make menu plans. We overbuy “just in case”, get confused by use-by and sell-by dates, don’t realize that it is okay to use things that don’t look perfect anymore and lack the knowledge and the time to do things with them.

I have an vegetable box delivered once a week by Abel & Cole, an organic food delivery company, and their accompanying weekly leaflets are always interesting. Last week the leaflet detailed an event some of the staff from Abel & Cole attended hosted by a young group called This is Rubbish. The event included a supper called “Down to Earth Dining” which Abel & Cole reported included “a delicious gazpacho, roast carrot and cumin pate, a hearty hot pot and a refreshing fruit salad, all made with food destined for the bin.” This is not the first time This is Rubbish have done something similar. Last December they held an event in Trafalgar Square in London where they fed people with food that would otherwise have been thrown away. In the end, they fed five thousand people that day. Seriously.

Your food does not have to look perfect to be delicious, and except in the case of things like meat, dairy products, fish and other very perishable items, best before dates are just a guide. Bread is okay for toasting until it develops mould, and if you catch it in time, bread that is a little dry cut in cubes and toasted in the oven makes great croutons. Bruised bananas can be used in cakes and smoothies (and can even be frozen for use in baking and drinks at a later date), and there is no such thing as an out of date apple. Slightly soft peppers, courgettes (zucchini) and onions taste lovely roasted (as do their fresher counterparts!) and you can make soup from almost anything. Most Fridays, before my organic vegetable box arrives, I can be found making soup from any vegetables that are left over from the week before.

There are plenty of things you can do with fruit and vegetables that are slightly past their best. Here are two recipes just to get you started. The first is my soup recipe - great for using up slightly soft carrots and wilty cauliflower - and the second is a wonderful recipe for courgette pesto created by Rachel de Thample at Abel & Cole. It goes without saying that if the courgettes are a little soft, they are still okay!

The 21st Century Housewife’s Bottom of the Fridge Soup

2 tablespoons oil or butter
1 or 2 onions, finely chopped
about 3 to 4 cups of leftover vegetables, peeled and chopped
(carrots, parsnips, leeks, broccoli, cauliflower – whatever you’ve got)
about 2 to 3 litres (that’s about 4 or 5 pints) vegetable stock
(made from a cube is absolutely fine)
fresh or dried herbs and spices
(Try oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, coriander and/or parsley depending on the vegetables you are using. I also like to add curry powder to some vegetable soups, especially those with parsnips and root vegetables in them.)
salt and pepper to taste
(If you have used stock cubes you may find you don’t need any more salt.)
milk or cream (optional)

Heat the oil or melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes until it has begun to soften. Stir in the vegetables. Lower the heat as much as you can, pop a lid on, and let the vegetables sweat for ten minutes. (Keep checking and stirring to make sure they do not burn or stick.)

Remove the lid, increase the heat back to medium and add the stock, herbs and seasoning. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for at least twenty minutes or up to forty minutes, stirring occasionally. At this point the vegetables should be very soft.

Remove the pan from the heat and cool a little bit. Puree the soup with a blender (liquidizer), hand blender or food processor until smooth. At this point the soup can be cooled completely and refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for up to two months. (Thaw before reheating.)

To serve, thoroughly reheat the soup over medium heat and add a bit of milk or cream if you like. If the soup is really too thick, you can add some boiling water as well as or instead of all milk/cream.

Here’s Rachel’s easy to make and absolutely delicious 'Hey Presto, Courgette Pesto'.

Pasta (penne works well here)
Garlic, peeled and finely chopped
A courgette or two
A lemon
Fresh mint leaves (or any soft, green herb like bail, chives, chervil or a combo)
Toasted pinenuts
A smallish red chilli (or you could use chilli flakes, a splash of Tabasco or even chilli powder)
Olive oil
Frehly grated parmesan or a soft crumbly goat’s cheese
Sea salt and black pepper

Cook up a batch of pasta. Drain. Add a splash of olive oil, garlic, the juice and zest from the lemon. Season with sea salt and a good bit of black pepper.

Coarsely grate the courgette into the pasta. Add the chili punch (finely chopped red chili or an alternative – this wakes the courgette up a bit). Fold it all through.

Pile onto plates. Drizzle a touch more olive oil over the top. Then, top with the cheese and tart it up with some mint or other herby leaves and toasted pinenuts. Dive in!

And there you have it. These recipes prove that there is no reason to be afraid to use up past their best fruit and vegetables. Not only will you be giving your taste buds a treat, you will be helping the environment and your budget!

Rachel de Thample’s recipe used with permission.
Abel & Cole deliver organic fruit, vegetables, meat and more throughout selected areas of England.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Beef and Black Bean Stir Fry

Whenever I have an authentic beef and black bean stir fry in a Chinese restaurant, it always seems to be served with green peppers. Now while sweet green peppers can be lovely, and no one can argue that the green of the peppers juxtaposes beautifully with the inky blackness of the bean sauce, I like a larger variety of vegetables with my stir fry. So recently I decided to experiment with a good black bean sauce, a nice piece of steak, and some of my favourite stir fry vegetables.

It’s integral you start with a good black bean sauce. Although I appreciate it would be more authentic to make my own, life is just too short! Sharwoods and Amoy make good ones, as does my favorite UK supermarket, Waitrose. I used their own-brand black bean sauce for this recipe.

I had a sirloin steak in the freezer, so I used that, but cheaper cuts like rump or minute steak work beautifully too. When I want to stir fry frozen beef, I just let it thaw just a bit before slicing it in ribbons. It’s so much easier to cut meat when it is a little bit frozen, and this in turn helps it to thaw more quickly. When I’m making a beef stir fry I cook the beef separately at the last minute and then add it to the vegetables afterwards. I find that in the case of beef stir fries, the vegetables need a bit more cooking than the beef, which is best if it is served when it is still a little bit pink.

I always like to choose my stir fry vegetables based on their colours as this makes the finished dish look so much prettier. This time I chose carrots, snow peas and red and yellow peppers, deciding to dispense entirely with the green ones. I like the look and taste of onion with black bean sauce so used both slices of red onion and spring onions (scallions). The layers of flavour this created were wonderful, but you can use whatever assortment of vegetables you enjoy - although I would encourage you to include peppers of some sort and also onions and scallions.

Stir fry is very often served with rice, but I usually serve it with noodles, mainly because we love them. My recipe might not be totally authentic, but it sure is delicious!

Serves 3 to 4 adults.

3 to 4 ‘nests’ of dried Chinese noodles
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon sesame oil
half a medium red onion, finely sliced
3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal, or cut in thin matchsticks (if you have the time!)
1 red pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 good handful of snow peas
1 bunch of spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced
half a pound of steak, very thinly sliced
1/2 to 3/4 cup good ready made black bean sauce

Heat one tablespoon of sesame oil in a large non-stick frying pan or wok. Add the red onion, carrots and peppers and stir fry for two to three minutes. Now add the snow peas and scallions.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package directions. Heat one teaspoon of sesame oil in a smaller non-stick frying pan. Lightly fry the slices of steak for about two minutes. Remember to keep stirring the vegetables in the other pan!

When the noodles are done, drain them in a sieve and divide between three to four plates. Add the cooked steak to the vegetables and add enough black bean sauce to just coat the ingredients. Stir and warm through.

Divide the stir fry between the plates, serving it over the noodles.

I’m linking this post up to Tasty Tuesday at Beauty and Bedlam, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed with Grace and Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Household Tips

It’s Homemaker Monday over at 11th Heaven’s Homemaking Haven, so in honour of that I have posted twelve of my favourite household tips here today and linked up. Do go along and visit. And for more tips from me, please click here.

1) It’s a pain trying to keep the doors of shower cubicles spot free, but if you keep a window cleaning squeegee in your showers it becomes really easy.  If everyone runs the squeegee over the doors when they have finished showering, it will look much nicer and be so much easier to clean! 

2) I don’t like using chemicals around the home, particularly when it comes to de-scaling the kettle.  So I put about ¼ cup of plain white vinegar in bottom of the kettle, top it up with cold water and then boil it.  Then I empty the kettle and rinse it thoroughly.  Next I fill the kettle with clean water, bring it to the boil, empty and rinse it.  Then I repeat this process a couple of times just to avoid any residual vinegar taste.   If for any reason your kettle is not sparkling at this point, simply repeat the whole process one more time.  You will end up with a lovely scale free kettle without the use of harmful chemicals. 

3) If you have an old battery operated or rechargeable electric toothbrush (the whole unit, not just the brush), it is great to use for cleaning those tricky places on the stove, hob, cupboards or just about anywhere.  It can also be used to remove lime scale on sinks, especially round the taps.  I have one I keep charged up all the time and just keep replacing the brush with ones we have finished with. 

4) A fifty / fifty mix of water and plain vinegar in an atomiser bottle (like you would use to spray plants) makes a great window and glass cleaner.  A fifty / fifty mix of water and surgical spirit/rubbing alcohol in an atomiser bottle makes a super disinfectant for door handles.  Spray and wipe off with a damp cloth.
5) Do try some of the environmentally friendly cleaners available today.  Many of them are just as good, if not better than, chemical cleaners. I particularly like the Ecover hard surface cleaners. Another one of my favourites is Method Tub + Tile Spray which has a really gorgeous spa-like scent.

6) Lemons are incredibly versatile in the kitchen and not just for cooking and eating.  A leftover half lemon placed in the cutlery tray of your dishwasher during the load freshens and makes your dishes sparkle (only use each half once though!).   If you have been chopping something smelly like garlic, rub some lemon over your hands before washing and then wash in warm, soapy water for hands without any lingering traces of odour.  Of course, don’t do this if you have any hangnails or broken skin – ouch!  Lemon can also be used to freshen chopping boards before washing in warm, soapy water too.  And if you are washing dishes by hand, a few slices of lemon in the washing water really helps cut grease and make the dishes sparkle.

7) Although I would never recommend freezing a whole lemon, parts thereof can be frozen very effectively so that you always have this very handy fruit on hand.  The zest of unwaxed lemons can be grated and frozen in small containers, and the juice can be frozen separately in ice cube trays.  Unwaxed lemons can be sliced and frozen for use in cold drinks.  I slice the lemons medium thick, then cut the slices in half and freeze on a flat tray.  Once they are frozen you can remove them from the tray and place in a freezer bag.  Pop them frozen in a glass and you have instant “ice and a slice” for your gin and tonic, lemonade or ice tea!

8) I have a terrible habit of not washing my flower vases properly and then they end up stained.  To make them sparkle again, simply fill them with warm water and add a tablespoon or two of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda).  Leave to soak for about ten minutes and then wipe round the inside with a paper towel to remove any stubborn stuck on bits.   Now rinse the vase with warm water.  In my experience, this leaves me with a sparkling clean vase.  This works particularly well on crystal and glass. 
9) When I buy flowers in the grocery store, I sometimes find on returning home that one or two of the flowers have bent stems.  They have not actually broken through, but are sadly drooping or listing to one side.  Provided that the stem is still intact, most fairly firm stems can be straightened up again almost invisibly if you use clear Scotch Magic Tape.  Just take a piece about an inch long and wrap it round the stem.  In most cases it will support the flower enough to keep it totally upright and the repair is virtually undetectable. 

10) Roses in bouquets often wilt at different speeds, and by the time you have removed the few that are wilting, suddenly your bouquet looks less very Spartan and less than gorgeous.  Instead of leaving it like that – or discarding roses that are still okay - take the roses which are still looking good and cut the stems quite short.  Arrange them, tightly packed together in a clean jam jar – such as one of the ones from Bonne Maman or Roses marmalade. The effect is quite spectacular.  If you only have one or two roses that are still looking good, cut the stems very short, leaving only about an inch.  Half fill a crystal brandy glass (snifter) with water and then pop the rose in.  My Mom used to do this and it always looked gorgeous.  Two or three of these arranged on a mantle are just gorgeous.

11) A tip from a reader in Grimsby - “If you are arranging flowers, particularly lilies, and you find some pollen has fallen on to your clothes, do not wipe it away.  Instead take a piece of sellotape (Scotch tape), and gently lift the pollen off the clothing.” By coincidence, I was able to test this tip out late last week, and it does work.  In fact, it saved my favourite sweater from certain ruin.  Thank you dear reader!

12) The florists at The Green Parlour in Pangbourne shared this tip with me. Apparently bacteria in flower vases can actually shorten the life of your blooms. It’s important to disinfect vases regularly, but you have to be careful not to leave any disinfectant in the vases as this could damage your blooms as well. Spray a tiny spritz of Dettox spray or put the tiniest drop of Lysol in your vases, swish round with some water, and rinse really thoroughly. Your vases will look better, and your flowers will last longer.

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Strawberry and Macadamia Nut Salad

I’m so pleased that spring is well and truly here in England. The flowers are out and I’ve even got bluebells (one of the later bloomers in terms of English spring flowers) in my garden now. Now the clocks have gone forward it stays lighter longer and it’s a great time for easy and delicious meatless recipes.

I have been making a lot of salads recently, both complete dinner salads and side salads. Inspired by a couple of recipes my cousin Esther makes, I got a bit creative the other night and used strawberries in a savoury side salad. It was delicious. If you wanted to make it a main meal, you just need to up the quantities a bit and serve it with some nice hot crusty rolls. Mixing fruit and nuts together with salad leaves can make for great meals and side dishes, and provided you go easy on the dressing and don’t use too many nuts, they are a very healthy choice as well.

I bought a ready-made speciality aged balsamic vinegar dressing from a local grocery store, but any good balsamic dressing would be fine. You can even make one yourself using 2 to 3 tablespoons each of olive oil and good aged balsamic vinegar plus 1 tablespoon of honey shaken together.

Strawberry and Macadamia Nut Salad
Serves 3 - 4

About four to five cups mixed salad leaves (I used a bag of mixed salad and added about a cup of torn iceberg lettuce)
10 - 12 large strawberries, washed and sliced in about four slices each
2 handfuls of macadamia nuts
3 - 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar dressing

Toss everything together in a salad bowl. It’s nice to hold back a couple of strawberries and a few nuts just to decorate the top of the salad.

I’m linking this post up to Meatless Monday at Hey What’s For Dinner Mom? Do go along and visit for some great vegetarian recipes. I’ve also linked up to Mouthwatering Mondays at A Southern Fairytale where you can find even more great recipes!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Catching up by the Thames on Friday

After being stranded in Greece by the flight restrictions imposed in northern European airspace after the volcanic eruptions in Iceland last week, my son and his group finally arrived home at 4am Friday morning. Over a two and a half day period they travelled by bus from Athens to Patmos, by boat from Patmos to Ancona in Italy and then onward by bus to Calais in France. They then got a ferry to Dover and a bus back home to Berkshire.

After he got some much needed rest, we went for a walk in the countryside and he told me about his trip. It was a gorgeous day, hot and sunny with a light breeze and it was beautiful down by the river.

It was one of those times I will remember forever. The older our children get, the less time we get to spend with them - and long walks in the countryside with them are few and far between! Not only that, but despite all my worries, it seems that the experience of being stranded was a really good one. Not only did he get to see a lot more than they had planned to, but he grew as a person. And although I would never have admitted it, I think it was a good experience for me too - I certainly learned an important lesson in patience!

Day of Rest?

It was just typical that the one day we have to sleep in this week, both my husband and I would wake up at 7.15am. Seriously considering trying to get back to sleep again, I was less than thrilled when my husband started to detail his plans for the day, which included either clearing out the study in preparation for our new furniture or clearing out the garage - whichever I felt was the best idea. At 7.15am on a Sunday morning before I had even seen a cup of coffee, neither sounded very good. But in the end we settled on moving one piece of furniture from the study up to our son’s room and then working on the garage, in particular moving things into our new shed. It’s a cute little shed, not very big, but just right for our garden tools, Wellington boots and things like that. It fits in perfectly just behind the back of the garage.

After twenty-one years (and four gardens) spent resisting a shed, I must admit I am quite fond of this little guy. It’s meant we can finally get a bit more of a handle on tidying the garage.

And that is what we spent most of the rest of the day doing. Three trips to the dump/recycling centre later, things are looking a lot better in there - although I am not quite ready to share photos yet!!

When things got a bit dusty in the garage, I retreated to the garden and managed to get some more plants in. I’m really pleased with how things are shaping up. It’s a big space, so I’m working on small sections a bit at a time, hoping that eventually they will all join up into one beautiful garden!

I got to work on another section yesterday, planting three peony plants and two pretty clematis. I got the peonies from Crocus. I ordered them a week ago Friday and they arrived on my doorstep last Monday. I was seriously impressed. They were beautifully packed and in great condition, and kept really well in their pots until I got a chance to plant them today. I’m ordering a couple more.

This is not my first attempt at growing peonies. I’ve tried in three different gardens but before I have only managed a few blooms on each plant. These plants look really strong though and one already has lots of buds on it. I felt a bit emotional planting these as peonies remind me of my Mom (who would have been 83 on Tuesday), and these are the first peonies I have planted in this, my first garden since she died. We had several beautiful peony plants in garden of the first house I lived in as a child and every June there would be an absolute riot of pink and cerise flowers which I absolutely loved. And each year Mom and I would pick some, wrap them carefully in wet tissue and drive to Stoney Creek, Ontario to put them on my Grandma’s grave. Although it was a sad errand, I enjoyed that time with my Mom so much. Peonies have been my favourite flower ever since then.

I did manage to get back into the garage eventually to help with the last few bits of tiding up. My husband did an amazing job of sorting things out in there - there is only just a bit more left to do now. We were so pleased with all our hard work we rewarded ourselves with a well deserved rest on the patio with a nice cold drink!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cookies

Macadamia nuts are wonderful all by themselves, but combined with white chocolate chunks they are quite simply ambrosial. In fact, my son said these were the best cookies I have ever made. I took that as a huge compliment, as he has been eating my cookies for over seventeen years!

I won’t try to tell you that cookies are good for you (that would be fibbing), but macadamia nuts can be. Although they are high in fat, they do contain the highest amount of beneficial monounsaturated fats of any nut. They are also low in carbohydrates and a good source of protein and calcium. So don’t feel too guilty when you reach for your second (or third) cookie warm from the oven!!

This recipe makes about five dozen cookies.

1⅓ cups soft unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar (not packed)
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
pinch of salt
about 1 cup of white chocolate chunks (or chips)
½ to ¾ cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
Lightly grease baking sheets with butter or line with some greaseproof paper.  Heat the oven to 350ºF or 170ºC (160ºC fan oven). 
Cream together the butter and the sugars.  Add the egg and vanilla and stir in.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add to the butter mixture and mix well. Gently fold in the white chocolate chunks or chips and the macadamia nuts.
Drop the mixture by teaspoons onto the prepared baking sheets. (Or use my trick - a mini ice cream scoop works brilliantly!) You may need to bake the cookies in more than one batch.  Bake for 9 to 12 minutes until lightly brown.  It is worth keeping an eye on them first time as all ovens vary.  The cookies should still be soft, but will get firmer as they cool.  Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on them for about five minutes so they firm up a bit.  Carefully remove the cookies from the baking sheets and place on wire racks to cool. 
These are delicious warm, but they will keep for up to three days in a sealed container at room temperature. Another option is to just bake half the recipe, and then cover the cookie dough and store in the fridge for up to three days. Allow the dough to warm a bit before you attempt to bake, then simply drop by teaspoons as before, bake and enjoy!

I’m linking up today to Friday Food at Momtrends, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s Blog and Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum. Do go and visit for some great recipe ideas!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the first Earth Day. Our environment is something we tend to take for granted, but in reality we are utterly dependent on it. The fact that bees are disappearing, our climate is changing and resources are becoming more and more scarce is not something we can ignore. If we do, where will we be in another forty years time?

It’s easy to point fingers when it comes to environmental issues, and I have always felt that the fact my family and I fly a lot (out of necessity and choice - my extended family live abroad and I want to see the world), meant that I could hardly count myself as environmentally friendly. Indeed when I have put environmentally friendly tips up on the site before, readers have pointed this out. However one environmental campaigner I met put things in perspective. She explained that we all, out of necessity or choice, do things that might not benefit the environment. But it isn’t all or nothing when it comes to looking after this world. As she pointed out, I might fly a lot, but if I recycle, use energy saving bulbs and am aware of my energy use I am doing more than some people who don’t fly at all and do none of those things. And this is the point of my post for Earth Day. Even if you only do a little, do something. Even just one action can make a difference because if we all do something it obviously accomplishes a heck of a lot more than everyone just doing nothing. You don’t have to become someone who you are not, or change your whole life - but where you are today you can do things that will make a real difference.

Here are just a few of the things I do to help the environment. Most of them are things you could probably do too.

1. Recycle as much as I can.
I’m lucky to have curb-side recycling collection of many things in my area, but I also recycle anything else I possibly can, taking it to the recycling centre when I have enough (hopefully on the way to somewhere else so as not to waste a trip). In this house we recycle glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, garden waste, tetra-pac containers, clothing, shoes, printer cartridges and water filter cartridges. Items we no longer use we take to charity shops.

2. Buy carefully in the grocery store & not be tempted by things I won’t be able to use up.
Throwing away food does not make economic or environmental sense - and even if you got it on sale, if you throw it away, it’s throwing money - as well as resources - in the garbage. I make every attempt to buy just what I need, and not be tempted by “multi-buys” I can’t use in time. I use leftover or “past their best” vegetables to make yummy soups and my “bottom of the fridge” stir fries are famous.

3. Plan my car journeys so I accomplish as much as possible in as short a distance as possible.

4. Have an organic vegetable and fruit box delivered weekly.
This saves food miles and organic food production is not as hard on the environment. Oh, and the produce tastes amazing.

5. Grow some of my own vegetables as organically as possible.
I now have two raised vegetable beds that I am growing vegetables and herbs in. It won’t be enough for us to live on, but it will reduce what I have to buy and transport, and therefore my carbon footprint. Even if you only have a window-box you can grow salad leaves and herbs. Every little bit helps. I’ve also used plants that bees like in my flower garden to try to support local bee colonies.

6. Use coffee grounds as fertilizer in the garden.
They also repel slugs without harming the environment.

7. Support local farmer’s markets.

8. Use only energy saving lightbulbs.

9. Turn electrical items off standby when I am not using them.

10. Limit my use of my tumble dryer.
I love my tumble dryer - it makes clothes so soft and crease-free, and towels are just not the same dried outside. But at least three or four times a week I hang a couple loads of washing outside to dry, thus reducing my carbon footprint. (Choose the loads carefully because if you have to crank up the iron to de-crease things hung outside, it might have been better to tumble dry them in the first place. )

11. Use environmentally friendly cleaners in my home, and use natural products like vinegar, lemon and baking soda for cleaning.
Ecover and Method make some excellent, effective environmental cleaning products. I also use vinegar to de-scale kettles, wash floors and clean glass. Baking soda mixed with water is fantastic for cleaning out the fridge and making drains smell nice.

12. Think about my impact on the environment every day.
I make a concentrated effort to think about what I am doing to help (or hinder) the environment every day, not just on Earth Day. By recycling and using re-usable products (like drink containers) every day, using a water filter instead of buying bottled water wherever possible and making intelligent choices about what I buy, consume and throw away, I can make a difference.

It really isn’t all or nothing when it comes to the environment. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, just doing what you can to help save our planet can make a difference both today, and more importantly, tomorrow.

Check out the Earth Day website by clicking here or if you are a blogger join in the Bloggers Unite event for Earth Day by clicking here. And if times are very good in your house, check out Christie's “A Bid to Save the Earth” featuring donations of works by Jenny Holzer, Damien Hirst, Alan Sonsfist and Annie Leibovitz amongst others and the Silent Auction being held now until May 6th, featuring everything from works of art to a round of golf with Bill Clinton or dinner with Sigourney Weaver.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nigella Lawson's New iPhone App

Nigella Lawson has launched her very own iPhone app – the Nigella Quick Collection. Being a huge fan, I downloaded it as soon as I heard about it and I am so glad I did. I think it is the most useful app on my iPhone so far – and it is incredibly user-friendly.

Nigella introduced her app at an event yesterday evening at the Apple Store in London’s Regent Street. She is quoted as saying , “I am iPhone-obsessed and app-addicted anyway, so feel particularly excited about my own ‘Nigellapp’. This really feels like an application that is comfortable to use, either to inspire after a long day or give general and specific cooking tips. I am very proud of this gorgeous little greed-gadget.”

Frankly, she should be. As well as recipes from her best selling books, there are new recipe videos exclusive to the app. Other video clips include “how to” demonstrations of skills from deseeding a pomegranate to choosing chorizo. Nigella also gives audio tips within the written recipes. If you need inspiration, you can browse the recipes by mood or the contents of your fridge.

To make life easy, you can add the ingredients from a recipe to a shopping list with the touch of a button. You can also add other items to your list simply by typing them in. This clever app then categorises your added ingredients into sections – pasta goes under ‘storecupboard’ for instance and eggs under ‘dairy’, making shopping a breeze. It’s also fantastic to use in the kitchen as there are no worries about getting your iPod touch or iPhone sticky because the app has voice control. This means you can ‘turn’ the virtual pages of the recipe by saying “forwards” or “backwards”. I have to confess, I had a lot of fun playing with that feature!

I’ve downloaded a lot of apps in my time, and I am seriously impressed with this one. It’s well organised, easy to use and very, very useful. Well done to Nigella and her team for creating this fabulous little “greed gadget” – I think it’s my favourite app so far!

Disclosure: This is my independent, unbiased opinion and no payment or promotional consideration has been received for this post.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Back sometime between 234 BC and 149 BC Cato the Elder, a very successful Roman statesman said, “Patience is the greatest of all virtues.” Unfortunately I tend to lean more towards Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to patience. She is quoted as saying, “I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.” Sadly, that statement describes me to a T.

I have been extraordinarily impatient these last few days. Since last Thursday most of Europe’s airspace has been closed due to the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, making travel difficult, if not impossible. While my husband and I were some of the lucky ones who made it home on the last flight from Madrid Wednesday night last week, our son in Greece was not so lucky. Due to fly home Saturday, he was still with a group from college in Athens this morning.

So over these last few days I have tried every possible means to either get him back (or closer to) home or failing that to get my husband and I somehow closer to him so we could meet halfway and bring him home. All of these attempts proved utterly fruitless. I also knew in my heart that the best thing was for our son to stay with his group, but I railed against the situation, fighting something I was powerless to fight and feeling frustrated with God that He wouldn’t let me fix the situation my way.

I was so relieved when arrangements for the group were finally made for a journey back via sea and road. My heart lifted this morning when I heard the optimism in our son’s voice on the phone, especially when he told me they having quite a good time, and that they were learning loads. They had seen extra museums and historical sites and the teachers had held revision classes. As it is an Ancient History trip, they had even held a class on the Athenian beaches where the great philosopher Plato taught his students - writing in the sand as he did to illustrate their points. That is one seriously evocative lesson.

This morning they began their long journey home on a bus to Patras where they will get a boat to Ancona in Italy. From there they will travel via Turin to Calais, by boat to Dover and then by bus, arriving home sometime in the early hours of Friday morning.

Just as I was about to walk into the grocery store about lunchtime today, my cell phone rang. It was my son. “We’ve stopped in Corinth,” he said. “It’s beautiful. I’m walking in the footsteps of St Paul.” I was thrilled that he called, and touched that he thought to share the experience of being in a place I have yet to visit and really want to see one day. I reminded my son that his Dad and I had used a Bible reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians at our wedding and also when we renewed our vows nine years ago. We chatted briefly and he said, “see you soon” which made me feel very happy indeed.

As I hung up I was reminded of the words in the reading from our wedding - 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 - particularly the first three words of verse 4.

“Love is patient.”

And in that moment I fully understood. I’m not in control of my son’s journey or when he will get home (no matter how hard I might try to be!). Being patient is not a choice, it is a lesson. You either accept the lesson or you fight against it. And I think I’m done fighting now.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Risotto Primavera

This is a wonderful recipe for this time of year, and with the exception of the asparagus, you may well have most of the ingredients to hand already. It’s great for vegetarians as it is totally meat free. (Just remember that if you are catering for strict vegetarians you need to be sure to use vegetarian cheese.) Speaking of cheese, you can use whatever kind you wish, from Gruyere to Parmesan. However, for me, the sharp tang of cheddar cheese against the soft creamy bite of the rice and gently cooked spring vegetables really make this dish. It’s a bit unexpected to use cheddar in Italian cooking, but the results are fantastic.

Risotto is definitely a hands on dish, something that has to be watched and stirred almost constantly. The finished dish is well worth the effort though and like Nigella Lawson, I do highly recommend the benefits of a little mindless repetitive stirring, particularly if you are feeling stressed(which I am this week with my son still stuck in Athens due to the volcanic ash cloud over Europe). Stirring is bizarrely reassuring, plus you get to serve and eat delicious comfort food as a result of your labours. So it is a good deal all round!

Risotto can be made into a great meatless dish, which is why I am linking up to Meatless Monday at Hey What’s For Dinner Mom? I’m also linking up to Homemaker Mondays at 11th Heaven’s Homemaking Haven.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
320 grams of risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
1 glass dry white wine
1 litre of vegetable stock (I made mine from cubes)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup of frozen peas
a couple of good handfuls of asparagus spears, each one cut in two to three pieces and lightly steamed for two to three minutes
1 handful of grated cheddar cheese

Take the peas out of the freezer, measure out one cupful and leave them on the side to thaw out a bit. Heat the oil over medium heat in a saute pan or fairly deep frying pan (in a pinch you can use a large saucepan for this as well). Gently saute the onion until it is beginning to soften, but not brown. Stir in the risotto rice until it is well mixed with the onion and coated with oil.

Pour in the glass of wine and stir gently until it is absorbed. Now you can begin adding the stock, a few ladles full at a time, stirring each one in until it is absorbed. This will take at least fifteen to twenty minutes. Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat too much, you have to be patient with this dish. When cooking risotto the burner should never be turned up beyond medium heat.

As soon as the last ladleful of stock has been absorbed, turn the heat back a bit and stir in the cheese and the frozen peas until the cheese has melted. After a couple of minutes gently stir in the already steamed asparagus.

That’s it, you are good to go. This is not the most calorie conscious suggestion I have ever made, but we love this served with fresh bread or hot rolls in our house. However, if you are being healthy, a crisp fresh salad makes a great side dish. Having said that, risotto is perfectly fine eaten all by itself from a bowl while you are curled up in front of the television, yet it’s also good enough to serve at the most formal dinner party as a starter (in which case this would serve six easily). I hope you enjoy it as much as we do in our house!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I took the photograph above because I wanted to show the brilliant blue sky - even now just an hour or so before sunset - and say something along the lines of “see, you can’t see any volcanic ash here”. But then I really looked into the distance and saw it on the horizon. Just under the blue, between the roof of the house behind us and the trees, you can see a haze that isn’t normally there. It’s the fallout from the ash cloud that is causing all the chaos here.

Most of Northern Europe is pretty much a no fly zone and has been since Thursday morning. The timing isn’t good. Europe is just at the end of the Easter Holidays, prime travelling time for families, and this is the weekend most people return home in time for the schools re-opening on Monday. But most people are going nowhere fast. One of them is our son, stuck in Greece with a group from his college. He is one of thousands of people unable to travel home - some of whom are sleeping in airports with absolutely nowhere else to go. Thank God my son’s group have found accommodation in Athens, but the latest word is that they can’t expect to be home anytime before next Wednesday.

It’s a very weird feeling because there is absolutely nothing I can do to get him home any faster. We are the sort of folks who, when faced with a crisis, rush into action and get round the problem. For example, we were once stuck in Nice due to industrial action by our airline. We hired a car, drove all across France, got the ferry to England and a lift to our car which was waiting at the airport. But not only is it much more sensible for him to stay with his group, most trains and ferries are fully booked - so much so they are telling people without pre-booked tickets to stay away. To read the latest report from the BBC (at time of writing) click here. It gives you a better idea of what the effect of this seemingly innocuous event is really like.

So our son is having an extended holiday in Athens - not a completely bad thing, except in terms of having enough clean clothes and cash - but very worrying when you are a mum at home waiting for his return. And from our son’s point of view, even when it comes to holidays you can have too much of a good thing!

But while this cloud might not have a silver lining, it sure is giving us some amazing sunsets. We have not had anything quite this spectacular where I live, but check out the gorgeous photographs of the volcanic sunsets Europe is seeing on Flickr by clicking here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Cod with White Wine and Shrimp Sauce

The beauty of this dish is that it uses frozen white fish fillets and frozen cooked shrimp, so you may already have the ingredients on hand. The cod loins I buy can be cooked from frozen so that makes it even easier, but do thaw your fish first if the package recommends it. Of course, fresh fish fillets work fine too. They just won’t need to be cooked for quite as long. I like to serve this dish on a bed of roasted vegetable rice, but it would be equally nice served on a bed of couscous or with a side of potatoes. If you want to make it really special, use sparkling wine or champagne in the sauce instead of white wine.

To serve four people you need:-

4 fillets of white fish (cod loin works well), thawed if necessary
about 12 to 16 large frozen cooked shrimp, thawed
4 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons butter
2 generous tablespoons flour
½ cup white wine
about 1 to 1½ cups of milk
½ teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon lemon juice

enough rice to serve four
plus roasted vegetables to mix in with it if you like or just add some cooked frozen peas to the rice for color.

Place each piece of fish in a large square of aluminum foil and top with 1 teaspoon butter. Seal the foil into packages and place on a baking sheet. Bake at about 375℉ for about fifteen to twenty minutes until the fish is done and flakes easily with a fork. (Thawed or fresh fish will take less time than fish cooked from frozen.)

Meanwhile, melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two. Gradually add the white wine, whisking as you add it. Gradually add the milk, a bit at at time, whisking after each addition until you get a nice consistency and medium thickness.

Pop the shrimp in the sauce and heat through, adding a bit more milk if you need to in order to keep a nice consistency. Add the tarragon and lemon juice and stir through. Taste, and add a bit of salt and pepper if necessary.

Remove the white fish from the aluminum foil parcel and place each piece on a plate on a bed of rice and vegetables. Serve the white wine and shrimp sauce on top, making sure each person gets about three or four of the large shrimp.

I’m linking up again today to Friday Food at Momtrends, The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, Food on Fridays at Ann Kroeker’s Blog, Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum. I’m also linking to Friday Firsts at Dinner at Christina’s as this is a new recipe which I just developed this week and this is the first time I am sharing it. And for the first time I am linking up to It's A Hodgepodge Friday at It's a Hodgepodge Life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gorgeous, Sunny Madrid

We arrived in Madrid early this afternoon after a slightly delayed, but all round pretty comfortable journey. You fly in over some amazing scenery and some very awesome mountains before the scene becomes altogether more flat as you fly into into Madrid Barajas airport. After an incredibly long walk out of the airport via baggage claim - where we waited for our luggage for over forty minutes (!) we hopped into a very Zen taxi with all sorts of little Budda statues, bells and chimes stuck on to the ceiling. The driver was very sensible and the music coming through the stereo was kind of otherworldly and dreamy. Although I’m very much a Christian, I did find it terribly relaxing, and it was probably the most peaceful taxi journey from any airport to a hotel we have had anywhere in the world. We got settled into our hotel and then had a fabulous walk in the sunshine through some lovely boulevards, past the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol and the Teatro Reale up to the beautiful Palacio Real. I’m loving our hotel, the gorgeous and historic Ritz on the Paseo del Prado which first opened it’s doors in 1910. For the past hour or so, I’ve been chilling out, resting my sore feet and finishing off my blog post on The 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen about our fantastic meal yesterday at Jamie’s Kitchen, newly opened in Reading. To see it, please click here

I have to go get dressed for dinner, so I’ll leave you with a couple photos of our gorgeous room.

There’s a lovely sitting area which I cannot photograph at the moment as the sun is streaming in through the windows (not that I’m complaining!) but you can kind of see part of it reflected in the photo below, and a couple huge closets. This is just one of them - the one with the mirrored doors beside it is big enough for two people to walk into. (Please don’t ask me how I know that!!)

Our room overlooks a beautiful courtyard and it is incredibly quiet considering we are in the centre of the city.

All in all, I’m incredibly impressed. Sadly, no promotional consideration has been received from the Ritz Madrid but I’m enjoying myself so much here I’m happy to share my experience!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Very Busy Week

photograph © Alexander J J Harris

The title of this post says it all, and some of what we have done has been seriously fun. I’ve had so many things to blog about and so little time!

Meanwhile, our house sitters have arrived and my husband and I are just finishing packing our bags for our trip to Madrid tomorrow. Our son left for his college trip to Greece at 5am this morning. We had to get up at 3.45 am to get him to the bus that was taking the students to the airport. That was seriously early for someone who is Not A Morning Person!

I’m looking forward to blogging from Madrid over the next few days both here and on Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen. Hopefully I will also be able to post some of the wonderful photos my son took of some of the people and places we visited over the Easter week. We even managed to get to Windsor, home of the amazing Windsor Castle - and we caught up with two old friends as well.

Please watch this space, and meanwhile I hope everything is going well in your corner of the world!

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Friday Recipe Swaps

I've linked up to the Friday Recipe Swaps this week via my Recipe of the Week page on my main site. Please click here to see this week's recipe and for links to all the Friday recipe swap websites.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ecover Giveaway Winner

There were 350 entries to the Ecover giveaway and the winner chosen by random number generator this morning was Saba Irshad, entry number 238.

Please email me on Saba so I can arrange for Ecover to send the prize directly to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered and don’t worry if you didn’t win this time, there will be another giveaway soon!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

My Grandma's Trifle

I’m linking this post from my main site up to Mouthwatering Monday at A Southern Fairytale, Tasty Tuesday at Beauty and Bedlam, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at Blessed with Grace and Tuesdays at the Table at All the Small Stuff. Do go along and visit them for some more great recipe ideas. Oh, and don’t forget to enter the Ecover Big Green Spring Clean Giveaway by sending an email to if you live in the UK - tomorrow is the last day for entries!

On to my recipe! My Grandma’s trifle has been on this site before as a Recipe of the Week back in February 2008, but as part of my Family Food History and Recipe Project I have been playing around with the recipe a little bit and I think Grandma would be pleased with this revised version. It makes a gorgeous dessert, easily serves a crowd, and is a snap to put together. I took it to my husband’s parent’s house for dessert at Easter lunch this year. Sadly my mother-in-law is in hospital at the moment, but I made up an individual serving for her in one of those small thermos pots and took it in when we visited after lunch. I have always wondered what the trifle would be like without the alcohol, and as she was in hospital I left it out. She said she really enjoyed it, so do feel free to leave out the sherry if you like. I have served this to kids with the sherry in it with no ill effects, but if you are concerned, just make two smaller trifles - one with alcohol and one without.

All you need is a pretty bowl (or bowls) and the following ingredients:-
(Please bear in mind these are estimates as quantities will vary with the size of the bowl you choose.)

2 large jelly rolls (also called roulade or Swiss roll), sliced in roughly half inch slices (my jelly rolls were 11 inches long, but you can always use more of the shorter ones)
3½ to 4 cups (about 1½ pints) custard, freshly made and still warm
(made with custard powder like Harry Horne’s or Bird’s)
½ to ¾ cup sherry
2 cups sliced strawberries plus more for garnish
2 cups whipping cream
2 generous tablespoons sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
a handful of toasted almonds

Arrange slices of jelly roll along the bottom and up the sides of a glass bowl so it looks pretty. Pour a layer of warm custard over top. Add another layer of jelly roll slices over the custard. Using a spoon, sprinkle the jelly roll with about one third of the sherry and then cover with strawberries. It should look something like this:-

Add another layer of jelly roll and sprinkle some more sherry over the top so it looks like this:-

Follow with another layer of strawberries and one more of custard. Cover the custard with more jelly roll slices. (You might want to slice the jelly roll a bit thinner for this layer if there is the bowl is getting a bit full.)
Sprinkle with sherry and pour over a final layer of custard, being careful to leave room at the top of the bowl for the whipped cream.

Let the trifle cool down and place in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.

A few hours before serving, whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over top of the custard. Garnish with strawberries and toasted almonds. Keep in the fridge until you serve it. Leftovers (if you have any!) will keep for about a day in the fridge.