My Happy Boys on Holiday

 

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This is a food blog so most of my posts are in some way food related. However, this is nothing about food at all! I just couldn’t resist sharing these pictures of my boys with my followers on here. 

I posted earlier that we went away for a short break at Pine Lake Resort in Carnforth and I wrote a review of the Lakes Bistro at the resort. We also enjoyed swimming, crazy golf, and the amusement arcade at Pine Lake. One the first day we took a trip out to Morecambe and then visited Williamson Park in Lancaster on the second day. 

We had a great time spending time together as a family away from all the stresses and strains of life. You can see that Nathan, Alfie and Freddie had fun from the photographs. 

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Developments in My Garden- A Space for All the Family

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A few months ago, I wrote about starting a small herb garden in my garden and attempting to grow a few fruit and vegetables, too. I only wish that I had some before photographs to show you of how my back garden looked before. It was all concreted over with a few overgrown shrubs in the borders. There wasn’t a proper area to play for my children and it generally looked unkempt. My amazing partner has completely transformed the space.

He removed all the overgrown shrubs and created proper borders with raised wooden areas in one corner and around the tree. He then added canes and built boxes in which I could grow herbs. I have parsley, coriander, mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, strawberries, peas, and tomatoes growing at the moment. I have used all of these in my cooking. 

He created a play area for the children by designing and building a climbing frame with a den and monkey bars. Below this, he added astroturf and rubber matting for safety. There is even a ramp from the decking to the play area for them to play on their scooters, bikes, and skateboards. They play on it every single night after school and all day at the weekends. 

So that we could all eat outside together as a family, he created a small decking area with a fence and dining set just out from our conservatory. We have already eaten in this space many times as there has been fantastic weather in the UK in recent months. As a freelance writer who works from home, I have also started using this as what I call my ‘afternoon office’, which means I take my laptop outside with me to work. 

The garden is a practical space for my partner and my eldest son, too. Nathan, my eldest son, is a bicycle, car, and motorcycle fanatic and loves to tinker with parts while my partner does odd jobs for people and enjoy building things out of wooden pallets. He has made two separate sheds for each of their hobbies and built a small playhouse for my younger boys from the side of one shed.

The photos show the amazing work he has done and they do not do justice to how hard he has worked or the fantastic transformation he has made of such a small space. Thank you Mike x.

The Things My Children Observe and Learn in the Kitchen

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I love cooking with my children, even though it is something I have been criticized for in the past. In my opinion, cooking is also a great way of teaching your children a variety of new skills. Spending time with them in the kitchen is a great way for them to observe and learn and is also something that they enjoy!

The most obvious skill they learn is how to cook. It astounds me how many people reach adulthood without having learned to cook because nobody taught them when they were growing up. Not everyone is going to become a brilliant cook, but there are basic skills that everyone should learn so they can make themselves a simple, healthy, and nutritious meal.

There are many other skills that children can learn in the kitchen. For example, the whole process of cooking is quite scientific and reading instructions from an ingredient packet or recipe book is an easy way to get them reading without them noticing. There are some great opportunities to teach them math skills, too. Measuring, temperature, and counting all come into preparing food at some stage.

More important than any educational lesson I can teach my children in the kitchen is the value of spending time together as a family. Meal times are family times in my house and this goes from the meal preparation to dining together. It is the only time of the day when we are all in the same room and it is when we share the events of our days. 

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Written in response to the prompt ‘observe’.

RECIPE: Macaroni Cheese

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The other day, my eldest son was supposed to make macaroni cheese in his food tech lesson. According to his version of events, the teacher told him to just throw all the ingredients together in a pan and the result was raw pasta and a coagulated burnt mixture at the bottom of the pan. I am sure that the teacher did not tell him to do this, but she had a class of 30+ teens to deal with in her class, so may not have had the time to spend teaching him how to do it properly.

I decided to teach him how to do it properly, making a rue for a cheese sauce and the order in which you add the ingredients. I think it is important to get children involved in cooking as it is an important life skill for them to learn. I suppose there are many variations on how to macaroni cheese, but this is how I have taught my son to make it using just pasta and a basic cheese sauce. Here is a simple recipe for macaroni cheese.

Ingredients for Macaroni Cheese

  • 18 oz/ 500 g dried pasta (macaroni or a similar variety of pasta)
  • 1 oz/ 25 g butter
  • 1 oz/ 25 g plain flour
  • 3 oz/ 80 g cheese for the sauce
  • 2 oz/ 50g cheese for the topping
  • 600 ml/ 1-pint milk
  • 2 tsp English mustard (optional)
  • White pepper and salt

How to Make Macaroni Cheese

  1. Measure your ingredients first and preheat the oven to 180C/ gas mark 4.
  2. Cook the pasta in a saucepan according to pack instructions. I would remove a few minutes from the cooking time so it is al dente as the pasta will continue to cook in the cheese sauce. 
  3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan over a low heat. 
  4. Sieve the flour into the melted butter and stir.
  5. Cook for two minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and add the milk a little at a time continuously stirring until you have created a smooth sauce.
  7. Season with the salt and white pepper, add the mustard (optional) and stir through.
  8. Simmer gently over a low heat for approximately eight minutes.
  9. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.
  10. Drain the pasta when cooked and transfer to either a large ovenproof dish or individual ovenproof dishes.
  11. Using a ladle, spoon over the cheese sauce evenly.
  12. Sprinkle your remaining cheese over the top of the dishes. 
  13. Transfer to the oven and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden and bubbling.
  14. If you have cooked one large macaroni cheese, spoon onto plates. If you have cooked individual portions, transfer the individual bowls to plates. 
  15. Serve with salad, vegetables, or garlic bread. 

A Glimmer of Hope for My Kitchen Garden

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Something that I have always dreamed of is a kitchen garden. I love cooking with fresh ingredients and what better way than growing your own food? I also think it is a fantastic way of teaching children about food, getting them involved in both gardening and cooking, and doing something outdoors as a family. I love the idea of walking out into the garden and selecting your ingredients to create a meal.

My back garden is more of a yard than a garden. It is mainly concrete with a few borders that for a long time were massively overgrown with shrubs and brambles. I was a single working parent for a lot of years and felt overwhelmed at the thought of transforming the garden into a more usable space. My efforts at growing food in the past have only extended to a few tomato plants and some potted herbs in the conservatory. The only other food picked from my garden is blackberries from an accidentally grown bramble. 

Now that my partner has moved in with us, I have a glimmer of hope for getting the kitchen garden I have always wanted. He is a passionate gardener and a master of making useful items out of scraps of wood. He has completely cleared the space and built wooden troughs around the borders and created large wooden planters. He has built a decking section for us to eat on and put up some handmade trellises and crossed canes for growing climbing plants. 

We have worked out a plan together for where we are going to plant different vegetables and herbs and to which sections we will add herbs. So far, we have only planted some peas and tomatoes, but we are keen to get going and excited about getting the children involved.

Over the next few months, there will probably be several posts about our gardening adventures and the meals I have created from our mini-harvests.

Written in response to the Daily Prompt ‘Glimmer’ on The Daily Post.

House Porn and Kitchen Envy

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in property and interior design. I watch various house programs on television and would sit up looking at property websites during my pregnancies when I couldn’t sleep. I call this house porn. For me, one of the most important rooms in the house is the kitchen. This is certainly where I spend the most of my time. 

Unfortunately, I am not mad keen on my kitchen. I liked it when I first moved into the house, but it is tired and dated now. The kitchen is an L-shape and is almost like two connected galley kitchens. One end of the kitchen was once an outhouse that was knocked through and had the floor raised. I had a new kitchen fitted when I first moved in and I was really proud of it at that time. It has plenty of workspace and storage, so it is completely functional.

Sadly, wear and tear has kicked in as a consequence of various kitchen accidents and living with four children. My other issue is the lack of natural light. Where there was once a large window, I had an extension built for a fourth bedroom when I was pregnant with my last child and I had to say goodbye to my window. Now, the only natural light comes from the kitchen door and a smaller internal window between the kitchen and the conservatory. 

This is now leading to a bad case of kitchen envy. I can’t watch the television without craving somebody else’s kitchen and I spent a whole afternoon in Housing Units in Manchester wandering around looking at the kitchens and dining sets. Unfortunately, financial constraints, minimal time available and a complete lack of capability to do the job myself mean that I will have to satisfy my desire for a new kitchen with house porn and kitchen envy for now.

The images are just some of the kitchens that I wish I had and are free to use and share commercially. 

Occasional Kitchen Disasters

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I think people assume because I write a food blog and because I have a past working in catering that everything always runs smoothly in my kitchen. However, that is not the case at all. 

My main problem is a lack of focus and concentration. I can cook restaurant standard food when I stand and concentrate on what I am doing. Unfortunately, there are many distractions around me. I work from home and I have four children. That usually means that I am making the evening meal while trying to help with homework, find missing items of uniform and answering work-related emails. I also live in a one-hundred-year-old house that needed a lot of work when I bought it and seem to have lived in a building site for most of the past ten years while jobs are completed. 

The result of all these distractions when I am cooking leads to many accidents. I wander off to deal with a situation and come back to a pan boiling over or mashed potatoes stuck to the bottom of the pan. I have also set countless things on fire over the years. fortunately, I am not phased as putting these out!

My biggest issue is toast. This may seem odd as I cook plenty of dishes that include lots of ingredients and can balance herbs and spices perfectly. I can make delicious sauces and cook meat to perfection. Yet, toast is beyond me. It is standard practice in my house for the first lot of toast I cook to get thrown in the bin after a bout of cremation. It usually happens because I think I have a few minutes spare to do something else and forget that I have put the toast under the grill in the first place. If you are reading this and wondering why I don’t just make toast in a toaster, it is because I set the toaster on fire!

Focusing is something I am working on in the kitchen!