Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Gathering Storm

I, like most of the population of southern England, am living in an area covered by the Amber Wind Warning, ready for the storm on Sunday/Monday.

Is it just me, or do the words "Amber" and "Wind" just bring to mind baked beans? It's probably just me, isn't it?

Anyway, enough with the childish fart-gags and on to business. Yes, we have an Amber Wind Warning and a Yellow Rain Warning here. I am hoping the Met Office is wrong for two reasons:
  1. I Don't want a tree through my roof on Sunday night
  2. I have just booked three tickets to see Despicable Me 2 (Carrot-Girl's first trip to the pictures!) on Monday morning - now if you are a fan of the Kermode & Mayo Film Review Show (and if you aren't, you should be) you'll now totally understand why I'm sniggering about fart jokes while I'm writing this, as their commentary about DM2 included an actually Minion's Fart Gun in the studio

But, this is meant to be a serious post! Enough with the Fart Gun!

Last time we had a major storm in the UK was 1987 and the thing that made it so devastating was the time of year it happened - mid-late October - because the trees were all still in leaf. And it's now late October and the trees are all still in leaf.
This is the view from the back windows of my house

And this is the view from the front:

Pretty tree infested. So I am taking some steps to get prepared and I thought it might help to share them. Please add your own in the comments box below.
  1. Charge your phones
  2. Have you got wireless landline phones? They won't work if the power goes off, so, if you have one, dig out your old plug-in phone from the loft/cupboard under the stairs and check it still works
  3. Check your torches and get spare batteries. Carrot-Man is a sucker for those Gazillion-Candle-Power-Mega-Torches, so his job today will be to find them and charge them
  4. Got a battery-powered radio? Dig it out, check it works and buy spare batteries. If the power goes off, there's no TV or plug-in radios
  5. Candles & matches
  6. Longlife milk
  7. Cadbury's Chocolate Fingers (or is that just me?)
  8. Blankets - two reasons: a) No power, no central heating b) no power, the freezer goes off, so you can wrap it in blankets to keep the cold in for longer & stop your food going off. Once the power is off, don't open the freezer door.
  9. Emergency numbers. The Red Cross has a great downloadable Home Emergency Contacts & References Sheet. I've just printed it off and will be filling it all in.
  10. The Red Cross also have a great section on How To Prepare of Emergencies. All excellent advice
  11. Follow your local police, the Met Office & local BBC on twitter for immediate updates (assuming you have power or charged up smartphone)
  12. Put away all your garden furniture and dismantle your garden trampoline and any other kids toys
That should get us started. In the meantime, I am hoping the wind blows hard-ish for the next 48 hours and blows a lot of the leaves off the trees before the storm arrives, as I really don't want to miss Despicable Me 2!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Fabulous Fish Pie

I've been a bad blogger this last week, life has got in the way - manic crocheting, birthday partying & busy at work too.

Anyway, back to blogging this week and I'm having a go at a completion, taking part in the #MarisPiperBritMums Challenge with

Given that I am a Carb-o-Holic a recipe using potatoes is easy for me. I count crisps as one of my 5-a-Day and can't imagine a meal without carbs in some form or another (guilty secret - a chip butty, with proper chip shop chips, now that's heavenly).

But, this isn't a recipe for the perfect chip butty (although that blog post may come one day), but for Fabulous Fish Pie.

Most of the ingredients are interchangeable - it's a great way of clearing out the bottom of the fridge.

Here's the basic recipe:

450g maris piper potatoes
3 eggs
320g fish pieces
1 onion, chopped
100g mushrooms
1 courgette
A carrot or two
250g crème fraiche
1 tbsp. mustard (I like either Dijon or wholegrain, but any will do)
Olive oil

I buy "fish pie mix" in the supermarket - they're often in the 3 for £10 deals in Sainsbury's or Tesco and they freeze really well.

You can swap things in and out depending on what you've got - use spring onions instead of normal onions, add a handful of peas, some veg left over from a roast dinner, stuff in the bottom of the fridge that's only got a day or two left in it.

Here's what you do:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200c
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut to an even size. Boil for 10 minutes, then drain and leave to cool a bit
  3. Hard boil the eggs (10 minutes) then cool them in a bowl of cold water
  4. When you can handle them, grate them on the large-hole bit of your grater
  5. Grease your casserole/lasagna/whatever dish and put the fish in the bottom.
  6. Then add chopped onion, sliced eggs, sliced mushrooms, carrots, courgette & anything else you are using
  7. Mix the crème fraiche and the mustard together in a bowl, then spread over the pie contents
  8. Top with the grated potato, sprinkle (I was going to say "Drizzle" but that always sounds a bit poncey to me) a bit of olive oil over the top then grate some black pepper
  9. Bung in the oven for about 30 mins

And this is what you should end up with. The cooking time is a bit variable, as it depends on your dish. A deep casserole will take longer than a shallow lasagna dish. I poke it with a metal skewer after about 25 minutes, then about every 10-15 minutes after that. Touch the skewer to your lip and when you burn yourself, it's done.

A lovely one-pot meal, not too much washing up and it re-heats really well too (this recipe serves 4, so we often have it two nights running.

So, what do you reckon? A winning dish?

Friday, 11 October 2013


I love sausages, I really do <insert your own joke here>

I love them fried, grilled, hot, cold, in a sandwich (oh, yeah! On shop-bought sliced bread, with lots of butter), in a casserole or stolen off Carrot-Girl's plate, when she's not looking (you snooze, you loose when it comes to sausages).

I think it is genetic. Apparently as a child and teenager my Dad (that would make him Carrot-Dad, I guess) lived off sausages and his mum (Carrot-Nanny) was a soft touch and indulged him.

Then he met my Mum, got married and found she wasn't willing to cook sausages seven days a week, so learnt to eat other food (and I will tell you about her speciality - Crispy Lasagna - another time).

Anyway, I often make a sausage and onion casserole, but felt the need to stretch my sausage-based repertoire, so here is a wonderful new* recipe: Sausage, Apple & Cranberry Casserole.

* Well, I say new, it's adapted from one I found online. You might call that plagiarism, I call it "Paying Homage".

Here's what I used:

  • As many sausages as you need. I like three per person
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 apples, peeled and sliced - doesn't matter what sort, these are windfalls from a box outside a house I cycle past on the way to Carrot-Girl's school
  • 2 tbsp. cranberry sauce
  • 2 tbsp. mustard - I like wholegrain best for cooking, I love adding a bit of texture
  • About 150-200ml chicken stock (use 1 cube)

And here's what to do:
  1. Put the slow cooker on to warm up (or cook the casserole in the oven for 1-1.5 hours)
  2. Brown the sausages - no need to add oil
  3. Remove sausages (leave the fat) then soften the onion
  4. Make the stock with boiling water, then add the cranberry sauce and mustard. Give it a good stir
  5. Put half the onions in the slow cooker, then half the apples, then the sausages, then the rest of the onions, then the rest of the apple
  6. Pour over the stock mix
  7. Leave to cook for 4-6 hours

Serve with Delia-Mash, which I blogged about a week or so ago and a glass of red wine

It tastes really good. Half way through eating it, I texted my Dad "I have invested a new sausage dish!!!". I swear the phone was ringing within 10 seconds of me hitting "send". You see, he might eat normal, grown-up food now, but inside, his genes are saying "Feed me Sausages!!"

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Earning through Surveys

Let's be honest from the outset, you are never going to make your fortune this way, plus, it can be a bit tedious.

However, I think it's worthwhile if you've got a bit of patience and a bit of free time. And sometimes they send you free stuff to test too, which is much more fun.

I am with two survey companies, Ipsos Mori and One Poll.

Ipsos Mori do much longer surveys; they usually start at around 15 minutes and can be as long as 30 minutes, but are pretty well rewarded. You earn points for every survey you complete plus a smaller number of compensation-points for surveys you try and complete, but for which you don't meet the criteria.

For every 1,380 point you earn, you can claim an Amazon or John Lewis voucher worth £10.00 or you can choose to make a £10.00 donation to various charities.

The sort of things I have answered questions on recently include:
  • Going to the cinema
  • Condoms
  • Stain removal products
I always choose the Amazon voucher, then either treat myself or save them up and use them to buy presents.
With One Poll you earn cash, but it does take a long time to earn £40.00, which is their minimum payout. One the plus side, the surveys are very quick (usually less an a minute) but you probably only earn 10p-15p for each of them.
As examples, I have answered surveys with One Poll on the following topics recent:
  • Giving to charity
  • Preferred colour of credit cards (that was a weird one!)
  • Children's homework
They are so quick, they can be done whilst you are at work, on hold, waiting to be put through to someone you don't actually want to talk to.
Allegedly. Obviously, when I am at work my attention is 100% on the job <whistles to herself whilst looking a bit shifty>
And the free stuff? Well, that doesn't happen all the time, but once in a while you answer a survey and at the end, they ask if you'll test the stuff you've just answered the questions on. I always say yes, and at present am testing a big pot of Vanish Stain Remover, which is great, as I would probably have bought some, or an equivalent brand, anyway.
So how can you sign up to do this too? Most survey companies don't advertise for participants, they want existing member to refer people (and the referrers earn points for referring people too - Win-Win!).
If you've like to join Ipsos and/or One Poll (you can leave at any time and they don't send you spam) pop your name and email address in the "Contact Me" box on the top right of this page and I'll set up a referral for you. Don't worry, your name and email address won't appear on this blog anywhere, and I won't pass it on to anyone else.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Rum (or whatever) Baked Bananas

One of on constant and on-going aims in life is "To Have Less Stuff". I'm not a minimalist, I'm not even close, but I love finishing something up, especially if it's not something I am going to have to replace.
Which is why I love this recipe.
Right, let's talk about drinks cabinets. Are you like me and have a drinks cabinet full of fairly random spirits that almost never get drunk (I drink gin, but that's pretty much it on the spirit front), but which have been acquired:
The Carrot-Towers Drinks Cabinet - I have drunk all the gin :-(
  • As gifts (please, can people stop buying Carrot-Man bottles of whisky)
  • Because they tasted nice on holiday (why does a lurid orange liqueur in a weird bottle taste fabulous on holiday but like cough mixture when you get it home?)
  • For totally unknown reasons (yes, stone-effect bottle whose label has fallen off, I am looking at you here)
So, a recipe which uses up some of that whilst impressing your guests AND being cheap And being easy! Well, what's not to like?
The recipe is based on one in Clare Connery's Store Cupboard Cookery book and is easy adapt, depending what you've got in the house. It serves four.
  1. 4 bananas
  2. 25g sugar, brown is best. Honey would probably be good too
  3. Grated rind and juice of an orange (or just a glug of orange juice and some candied peel, if that's what you have to hand
  4. 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  5. 4 tbsp spirit or liqueur of your choice. I used some Dark Rum (& finished the bottle! Hurrah! and some Bacardi Coconut Rum - it was a present, honest)
  6. Some dessicated coconut
My tiles are awful, I know, I'm sorry

  • Peel bananas and cut in half longways
  • Place in a shallow dish (the only banana sized dish I have is a loaf tin, which worked brilliantly)
  • Put everything else, except the coconut, in a small saucepan and heat up gentle until the sugar melts
  • Pour over bananas

  • Cover in foil

  • Bake in oven at 190c (ish) for 15 minutes (ish)

  • Plate up and sprinkle with dessicated coconut
  • Serve alone or with ice cream (I also served with shots of the coconut rum)
Yum! I wish I'd make double the amount!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Ta-Dah! Crocheted Baby Converse

I have been a rubbish blogger this week. A combination of being back at work and having a week full of stuff to do in the evenings means all the posts I planned have slipped away from my.

However, I have got a Ta-Dah! moment, as I have finished a couple of pairs of Baby Converse Trainers:

What do you think? I am rather chuffed!

Lo-Rise style in blue

And Hi-Rise style in red
The pattern for the blue pair came from the truly marvellous Loopy Sue on Ravelry and the pattern for the red pair came from Mollie Makes magazine, issue 31.
Weirdly, the Mollie Makes magazine arrived in the post the day after I'd finished the blue pair. Spooooooky!
They are fairly easy to make, I'd say fine for an ambitious beginner or an intermediate crochet-er. They are great for using up left over bits of wool. The Loopy Sue pattern gives details of exactly how much wool you'll need. I think her pattern is a bit harder to follow, but there's not much in it.
Top tip for the easily bored: Make one sole, then the other sole. Then do the next stage on each shoe, then the next. 'Cos, if you're like me, by the time you've finished one shoe completely you'll have found another pattern that you absolutely MUST start Right Now, and the other shoe will never get made.
Oh, and it makes for more even tension too.
So, what to do with them? Well, Carrot-Girl's feet are way too big, so I am going to try and sell them. I've listed them on my local Facebook Baby & Toddler Selling Page for £10.00 per pair.
What do you think? Too much? Too little? Aggghhh! I'll let you know if they sell