Monday 29 April 2013

17/52 A Portrait a Week

Both crouching and both studying!
Coco - making a mini habitat for some woodlouse with her friend Sam.
Henry - sorting out the shells from the stones in the garden.

Last week I liked seeing this little chap teddy-wearing, and to discover a new blog.

Doing the 52 Project as started by Jodi at Che & Fidel

I must say I'm starting to struggle a bit with this project trying to take a different and interesting portrait of each of my children every week. I thought the spring weather would bring more opportunities to get some candid photos of the children doing what they do but that doesn't seem to have happened.
We are having quite a funny time after we pick up Coco from school, sometimes we head straight to the park and I don't really feel like taking my camera, or we have a tired/moody girl on our hands and come straight home and Coco makes herself endless snacks which seem to end up merging into supper. Henry is very keen to play with her, having missed her all day but she can be quite nasty to him (especially if she thinks I'm not looking) and then I have to talk to her and she'll get cross with me.
If we have friends over then she can flip into being over-excited and just silly, which grates on my nerves so then I'm snappy... I'm feeling on edge just thinking about it. It seems impossible to keep both Henry and Coco happy at the moment.
The knock-on effect for the 52 project is I'm ending up taking all my photos at home and I don't seem to be able to get much variety... Or as soon as I get my camera out to take a photo of one child then the other kicks off. I need to get more imaginative... or just start taking my camera out more and leaving the hefty nappy bag at home instead (asking for trouble!)?
Maybe I should use getting the photos as an excuse for us to do some more different things after school. I guess that would be the best outcome.
If you are doing this project how are you managing it?

Thursday 25 April 2013

Me & Cooking

**OK this is not the sort of post I normally do - but it's been sitting in my drafts for a couple of weeks and I think it may end up being useful to someone out there (probably just me, when I try to remember where I found the recipes that I link to) - so I'm going with it anyway... it's a cooking/recipes/menu planning special!

One of the most frustrating things about being an an accidental stay at home mum is having to cook, what feels like, all the time.

I used to like cooking, mainly because I like the eating bit. I really love food. I'd get in from work with a bag of ingredients, have a drink, music turned up (or maybe a bit of radio 4...) and cook a meal.
Then I met Hugh, who is frankly a better cook than me (he would kindly say 'different, not better' I expect) and it was more tempting to drink the wine, listen to the music and watch him cook than do it myself.

Now I'm at home I tend to feel like I should be the one cooking, but the cooking no longer feels like a leisurely pursuit, but more of a chore, with Henry round my ankles pulling at my clothes and Coco moaning that she doesn't want to have whatever it is that I'm slaving away to make - half the time I'm hungry when cooking too, never good for my mood so I'm adding to the unhappy mix behaving like a half-starved crazy woman.
Sometimes I do just give up and Hugh will get home to me polishing off the left-overs of some thrown together at the last minute meal (pasta pesto most likely) and complaining that we've got no food, or I'm too tired to cook... and too tired to even think about cooking. What a lucky man he is.

So I need to get my cooking mojo back (and my shopping one too, but that is for another day). Lia at Dizzy Loves Icy seems to love cooking and it's making me a little jealous! Lia's photos of all her prepped ingredients are so mouth-watering (it's very annoying that most of the time I'm reading her blog at about 11pm, the last time that I feel like suddenly cooking up a meal) but it is inspiring. Her recipes look like the type of things you cook when you LOVE cooking... I really want to love, or at least like, cooking again, because for all my hatred of cooking I still spend a good deal of time in the kitchen making dodgy meals that I don't really actually fancy eating.

SO... A couple of weeks ago (for what ended up being a bit of a one-off week) I decided to get in control and make an extra effort to make some GOOD meals. And you know what? It was great and I kind of did enjoy it.
I just need to doing that every week, which feels like a lot of work.

But anyway, here's what I/we did.

Day 1. Roast Chicken
We cooked a VERY* large roast chicken with roast potatoes and all the trimmings. Always goes down well.
*it needed to be large as the 'leftovers' are used in all the following meals...

Day 2. Tacos - as inspired by Lia over at Dizzy Loves Icy (of course!)
I made a big batch of Lia's spicy sauce. Before we added some left over roast chicken I filled a couple of pots for the freezer so next time we have left over roast chicken we can have an almost ready made meal of tacos again.
Coco and Henry had a milder version of the sauce before the chipotles en adobo had been added to spice things up.
We had lots of avocado and tomato and salad on the side to give us a good amount of veg with this meal.
I stocked up on Mexican ingredients at The Cool Chili Co at Borough market (as shown here).

Day 3. Mushroom risotto
I'd kind of fallen out of love with risotto - but made with a good chicken stock from our roast chicken and lots of garlic and mushrooms this was pretty good - and a hit with the small people too.
This risotto recipe that my friend Annabel made a few times while she was staying with us is a good one.  

Day 4. Piri Piri Chicken
A spicy one for grown ups only (I think the children had pasta this evening... or maybe seconds of risotto, I can't remember). We have got rather addicted to Jamie Oliver's 30 minute (ahem) Piri Piri Chicken recipe - the sweet potato mash with lots of herbs and feta cheese is delicious, pretty healthy and also popular with children so we make sure there are left-overs for them.
Using left over roast chicken works too and saves on cooking time.

Day 5. Curry and Rice
This was a bit of a left-field success story. I wanted to make a mild curry that Coco and Henry would like. I found the recipe on a forum here -  it sounded good so I went with it, I'm so pleased I did as it's sure to be repeated

1 onion
3 carrots (and I'm sure you could put in lots of other veg if you wanted)
1 tbs mild curry powder
4 tbs red lentils
1 can of coconut milk

1. Fry the carrots and onion in olive oil over a medium heat until they start to soften.
2. Add the curry powder and cook for anther couple of minutes
3. Pour in the lentils and enough boiling water to cover what's in the pan. Cook over a low heat for about 1/2 an hour, stirring every now and again, if the mixture looks a bit dry add some more water.
4. When the lentils are soft stir in a can of coconut milk.
5. Leave it to cool for a bit then blend until smooth with a hand blender or in a food processor.
6. Add the left over chicken or veg or prawns to make your final curry.

This recipe makes quite a lot of sauce so, again I used some and froze a couple of pots for another day, we do love leftovers in this house.
Hugh and I actually also defrosted some more spicy aubergine curry from the freezer that we added to this meal. He has a thing about always having more than one curry. We had lots of cucumber raita and popadoms to pimp it all up too.

So there you have it, a week of suppers for a family of four -
And now I'm feeling really hungry.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Who's Afraid of Messy Play?

Who's afraid of messy play? Well, frankly, I am.
The house gets messy enough without the play being officially deemed messy - ie involving sand or water or (horror) both.
Coco went to nursery from when she was 10 months old, so I relieved myself of any obligation to let her do messy play at home. Judging by the state of her clothes when I picked her up on my way home from work she had plenty of exposure to paint, play-doh, sand and other sticky substances. 

But poor Henry is deprived (in a very middle-class sense of the word).
His messy play boils down to, play doh, helping with cooking (when I'm feeling adventurous) and water play. Oh, and he has used paint, um, a handful of times.

He often gets the paints out of the cupboard and brings them to me hopefully and it's a constant battle to keep him away from the sink. So the other day I let this happen (and I admit, it's not that messy... but surely it's all about the potential)?

I put some tiny specks of gel food colouring  (as purchased for the making of a rainbow cake many moons ago) into milk bottles, so that as Henry filled them with water they made coloured water.

And that was pretty much it!
I just gave him more and more containers... and occasionally topped up the food coloring, but as it was gel it didn't always totally dilute, so actually lasted quite well.

We did a bit of colour mixing too which amused Henry no end. He kept saying "What's 'appening!?"
And it was fun, fun for Henry and fun for me to watch (just a bit tricky to photograph well).

Some food colouring, some bottles and tubs, and a very happy boy.

I need to let go and go with the (potential) mess more often.
And of course, hooray for sunshine, now this can all happen outside again.

Monday 22 April 2013

16/52 A Portrait a Week

Henry - playing with his Automoblox (really good toy cars that can be taken apart and mixed up - we got ours from Go Great Toys). When Henry gets into the zone of playing with something it's lovely to watch. He put together three cars and announced it was now a train.

Coco - Her hair is getting longer and she wants to wear plaits all the time now. Two plaits, like Pippi Longstocking.

Doing the 52 Project as started by Jodi at Che & Fidel

Friday 19 April 2013

A Really Good Day

Is it true in life that the really good days are often the spontaneous, unplanned ones? Certainly the best day of the Easter holidays took me a little by surprise.

I'd arranged to take Henry and Coco to my Mum and Dads to stay the night, but the end of the holidays were looming and I had really really wanted to fit in a visit to the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery too...

It occurred to me at some point between sleep and waking that I could  take them on the way to my parents house, ie, go into central London and then out again on the train, rather than driving as I normally do.

Coco woke up complaining of a sore throat, so the plan was nearly shelved, but post breakfast she was bounding around as normal, so a speedy decision was made to just do it. I ready in record time packing the most efficient little rucksack of clothes for them - remembering teddy and gwaint (Henry's name for the old grobag that has become his significant object). I do pride myself of thrifty packing although I could have been even more efficient as it turns out Coco managed to wear the same thing for the entire time she was with my parents and her spare clothes came back clean.

We tubed it along to Waterloo - bloomin' Westminster station lifts are out and Coco has recently developed a very un-London like fear of escalators, so that was a bit hairy, but I think we did enough escalators to calm her fears.
At Waterloo we had a quick detour to our friends house to deliver a present for her teeny-tiny newborn baby - and have a very brief slightly chaos-causing visit.
Then we got down to the river and the sun came out.

Due to the lateness of decision making and departures I decided we should really have lunch before the exhibition so we boarded a plane and went to Mexico. Well, we pretended to board a plane and we went to Wahacca.

It's great going to places that are staffed by young and most likely child-free people sometimes as in some cases they have much more patience with your kids than you do.
Henry demolished a cheese and mushroom quesadilla (although he very carefully removed all of the sweetcorn, which is strange as he loves corn on the cob). Coco who is working on an attempt for the Guinness Book of World Records to be the s-l-o-w-e-s-t eater didn't even start on her main course until I'd ordered pudding and it was sitting on the table, but I didn't care too much as I was enjoying my food and the view and the fact that I wasn't the one that was going to have to clear up all the mess they were making.

And so to the actual exhibition.
As soon as we walked in they were captivated, we managed to look at everything and although I probably did have to say 'don't touch' to Henry about 1000 times they were surprisingly well behaved, mainly as they were just enjoying themselves. For once I didn't actually break into a sweat while visiting a gallery with children in tow.
There are lots of rooms to explore which meant there was a whole voyage of discovery about the show and their reactions to the artworks were beautiful and insightful at times.
Henry and I had a second visit to the exhibition on Wednesday with Culture Baby and one of the revelations in my second visit was that Jim Campbell's piece, a beautiful seemingly random collection of suspended little dot lights actually contained an animation of people. This was interesting to me as on my first visit Coco had informed me that her favourite piece was this one - and she referred to it as "the one with dotty people" - I hadn't even spotted the people.

After the gallery we made our way up to Kings Cross to catch our train. They were zonked, but still managed to keep it together. Coco fell asleep and Henry kept turning and stroking her top saying 'it's alright Coco'. Too cute.

My Dad was there to meet us at the station and with the excitement of seeing him and cake on arrival Coco soon perked up again.

After a reviving cup of tea I caught the next train back to London feeling all loved-up about my family, I would have sat on my phone instagramming the whole day, except lucky for instagram my phone was dead. I headed straight to Soho where I met Hugh after work and we went and had a very civilised dinner at Arbutus (which gets top marks from me) before heading home to bed... and a lie in the next morning.

Yep, days like that don't come around that often. It was a good one.

A side note on camera's...
All the photos above were taken on my pocketable Panasonic Lumix camera which we are currently looking to upgrade.
When I'm out with both children, buggy, scooters etc etc I rarely want to take along my DSLR but I do want a really decent alternative... anyone out there got a good compact camera that they love, is reliable, takes good low light shots and is fast to shoot? I'm quite taken with the Fujifilm x20 and the man in John Lewis (who has got to be trusted, right?) has suggested the Sony DSC RX100. So it's looking like one of these at the moment... Opinions are very welcome, thank you!

Thursday 18 April 2013

A Catch Up

Hello blog, it's been a while.
Here's a bit of what we've been up to.

1. Taking a family portrait in the back of a black cab.
Probably the first family portrait we've taken since I made a resolution to take more back in January

2. Photos from our imaginary trip to Japan (but in actual fact a visit to the Kyoto garden in Holland Park, followed by a failed attempt to get Sushi. Long story).

3. Creepy crawlies at the Chelsea Physic Garden. It turns out the Physic garden (a tongue twister that I keep calling the Chiswick Psychic garden by accident) has some very good kids activities on over holidays.

4. You didn't think it's been hot enough to put your cossie on in the garden did you? Well it hasn't - and no this photo was not even taken on 'freak Sunday'. Note Henry is still in cords and a jumper. Mad daughter.

5. Getting serious about stickers - although I'm slightly appalled at the gender stereotypes that are being played out in this photo. Please Usborne, love your sticker books, but a bit of imagination maybe, the dolly dressing up ones are loved by Coco and despised by me.

6. Pond dipping at our local nature reserve. I grew up in the 'country' and I can't remember ever doing this. Check out those newts!

7. She's getting bigger, new bike, with gears (both me and Lou were raving about Islabikes on instagram the other day - they cost a lot but are worth it if your children do a lot of cycling and they hold their value very well). So now Coco has gears and it's speeding up the school run a bit, but it's now too big to go in the back of the car which means on days like today when it decided to pour down at 3pm me and Henry have no choice but to don our wet weather clothes and get on the bike. Up sides and down sides.

8. Working on her book about her that I made her for Christmas.

9. The morning after a huge sort out and tidy up of the toy cupboard (by me) the game involved getting everything out and swapping all the boxes around.

Monday 8 April 2013

Boy loves Fire (rather worryingly)

When we were staying with Hugh's family at the weekend his brother made a fire in the garden and Henry was very interested.
He will tell anyone who listens, and even those who won't that the fire is 'Hot!'
But he still insists on messing himself.

Sunday 7 April 2013

14/52 A Portrait a Week

Coco - Concentrating. I love to see her get so absorbed in doing something. She loves glue.
Henry - You can just see one of his dimples in this photo, is he being gentle with the cat or about to poke her eye? You never can quite tell how it's going to play out (and yet she sits there).
Taking part in Jodi's 52 project.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Making Eggs

It started with a purchase on a whim in the supermarket. A £5 yellow silicone egg mould.
Then another £4.50 later enough chocolate to melt and fill our soon-to be home made eggs.

I got some very scecpital looks from Hugh, among others, but making our own easter eggs was actually surprisingly easy.

As with most things I/we make nowadays, it happened late at night - not the best time to take arty photos I'm afraid the whole task was much more suited to Mr Cook/Science (Hugh) who faffed around with melting the chocolate to just the right temperature (not too hot being the important bit to remember here - gloopier chocolate is easier to handle) he also had the mould sitting in a tray of ice and water helping the cooling process along a bit.
I had the task of taking the halves out of the mould, which considering they almost popped out was very satisfying.

We experimented with some malteser linings... then each egg got a few mini eggs before the sides were sealed together by melting the edges a tiny bit on a hot baking tray.

I was in charge of packaging - this is a re-purposed decorative box of tea, although browsing the internet yesterday I noticed this Mr Printables egg box which I wish I'd seen this time last week (have you discovered Mr Printables yet? It's ace).

Coco performed the necessary hunt, complete with written clues that she had to read and decipher (we are mean like that) and then she got to devour her egg... over a few days naturally!

And of course to get the maximum value from the £5 egg mould I must now use it every year hence forth, better bookmark that Mr Printables egg packaging afterall...

Tuesday 2 April 2013

13/52 A Portrait a Week

A pair of phone photos this week - taken during the nine plus hours that we spent on trains last week (yep, slumming it in first class).

Both Henry and Coco are very good travelers, with a little help from a bag of activities, books the ipad and snowy vistas... oh, and food on tap.

Taking part in Jodi's 52 project.