Thursday, 31 January 2013

Help Your Family Thrive by Using Your Whole Brain

Reviewer Katja, 39, from N Yorks

Book reviewed The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Proven Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind  by Dr Daniel J Siegel and Dr Tina Payne Bryson (£12.99, Robinson)

Parenting style: I am strict, but fun and approachable. 

What does "whole brain" mean to you? Using all aspects of the brain – integrating the left side and the right side. To explain the difference simply: the left brain cares about the letter of the law, and the right brain cares about the spirit of the law. The goal is to avoid living in an emotional desert (left brain) or an emotional flood (right brain).

Would you say you are more of a left or right brain person? I think I have left brain tendencies as I am more logic-based than creativity-based.

How did you feel about using the ideas in book? Very positive. The chapter called "Mindsight" particularly resonated with me. There’s a Wheel of Awareness concept where the authors discuss that the difficult thoughts and feelings which give us trouble (as children and adults) are “simply different aspects of our selves” and we don’t have to focus all our attention on them. “The fears and worries are part of us but they don’t represent the totality of our being.”

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Five Mummy-saving Resources

1. Low Cost Living - Live Better, Spend Less by John Harrison. A thorough, yet realistic, appraisal of how you can save money in virtually every area of daily life. Includes recipes and how-to's for a whole variety of home-related projects, from brewing your own beer and draught-proofing your house to keeping bees and haybox cooking. Applicable to both countrysidees and urbanists (I may have made those two words up), and encouraging to everyone. 

2. Make and Mend - a Guide to Recycling Clothes and Fabrics by Peacock and Tickner. Teaches you how to get the most from every scrap of material you have, whether it is a pair of worn-out jeans or a shrunk cardigan. The authors show you how to repair clothes, disguise stains, revamp items and re-shape them. Or if the garment is beyond the pale, follow the instructions to transform it into something useful for your home - a Raindrop window blind for example, an apron made from a skirt, or a Superhero Cape.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A Guesswork Patchwork Pot Holder

Not only has our wood-burner brought a a real warm heart to the homestead, it has brought along rather a lot of assorted paraphernalia too. Logs and offcuts stacked up either side of the stove accompanied by buckets of (smoke-free) coal, fire-lighters, cook's matches, various cast ironware and pot holders congregating in a homely way.

Like everything else that hangs around in the vicinity of the wood-burner, the pot holders get the odd streak of soot and ash, and after a few days they begin to look somewhat forlorn. Following the adage "one to wash and one to wear", I have decided to make several pot holders as, since we use the stove-top to heat water, soup and so on, we are stuck if they are all in the washing machine. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Jazz up January - Guest post by L Tarry

We can’t wait for Twelfth Night, but once the last pine needle has been swept up and all the tinsel and lights are back in the attic, the house can look as cold and empty as the bleak landscape outside. In the past this was the time for poring over glossy holiday brochures in search of summer sun, but in these days of the last minute short break and internet booking even this pleasure has been lost. So, perhaps we need to cheer ourselves up by brightening our homes.
Think Colour
Haven’t we all been (Beeny?) conned into bland beige interiors? Okay they may be fine on bright summer days but come winter they do not deliver much comfort or joy! One advantage of the recession is that we no longer have to live in a neutral environment so as not to deter potential purchasers of our property, because guess what, we will not be selling it! The backlash is well and truly underway.  Creams and taupes are passé; today the accent is on colour, warm vibrant colour, even neon and bright metallics. From top of the range to B and Q you will find brightness everywhere. So unleash your creativity and indulge in the paint box of delights now available. Wallpaper also goes from strength to strength. There are fabulous designs, textures  and colours out there. So if you have not tried an accent wall yet, now is the time to experiment.
Think Light
Mirrors are fantastic allies here. They create more light and double the space as well as fulfilling their actual function. They will lighten the gloomiest alcove or make a big statement on any wall. Venetian, gold, ornate, unframed, geometrically shaped or just simply wacky. ….you will be spoiled for choice. You could take it one step further and invest in some beautiful mirrored furniture to brighten up your bedroom.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Living in the Wrong Era or the Wrong Area?

When you read that I have only used a tumble drier once in the past six months, that whenever possible I heat only one room in the house, and I enjoy making pan holders out of old school sweaters, I appreciate that you may conclude I live in the wrong decade. 

I am grateful to all my followers who carry on reading about my Home Front lifestyle, whether they wouldn't dream of wearing a headscarf and a pinny or, in fact, have gone the whole hog and keep chickens in their back yard. And perhaps, when you read about the woodburning stove, the Sheila Maid clothes airer and my penchant for time alone, you may think you're reading the ramblings of a country gal.

I'm a townie. 

Look, here's the view from our front window. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Holy Grail Cooking #3 : Toad in the Hole with Onion Gravy

This is the third in the series of Mumtopian recipes - ones which are that holy grail of family cuisine: easy, quick, cheap and tasty. 

The King is not mad-keen on sausages but when combined with Yorkshire Pudding and onion gravy, he acquiesces. Prima is a big fan of Yorkshire Pudding as well and Secundus loves sausages, so this meal, which is based on recipes found in Eat Well Spend Less by Sarah Flowers (£9.99, How to Books) has been a success so far. I do extra Yorkshire as it is so filling and I love it!

Feel free to adjust according to what is in your cupboard and fridge / what is in season/ what your budget allows. 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

5 Ways to Avoid Recipe Overload

Maybe on paper you know all there is to know about meal planning, but something’s still stopping you from putting the theory into practice. Meanwhile, you’re still facing the daily “What’s For Dinner, Mum?” stress-out at 4.30pm or spending more money than you need on fast foods, pre-prepared dishes, and trips to the nearest take-away.

What’s holding you back from making a meal plan? The answer could be that you aren’t taking your personality into account. Are you an Architect, a Strategist, and Enthusiast or an Intuitive? Once you’ve answered Revamp Professional Organisers’ Meal Planning questionnaire here, you’ll be able to identify your personality type and work with it, setting up your pantry, fridge and freezer to suit you.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

12 steps to 31 Days of Nothing

Here’s a list of 12 things that have helped me stick to 31 Days of Nothing. Which ones would work for your family?

1. Have the central heating on as little as possible, and heat the house using the woodburner instead (ours is a Yeoman Exe). When the radiators ARE on, keep the thermostat down. Wear a headscarf, slippers, wrist-warmers etc to keep warm in the house. Gather in one room and heat that one, not the whole house.

2. Whenever possible, walk or bike instead of driving, and combine errands to avoid wasted journeys.

3. Stop impulse and recreational shopping. Think very carefully about any purchases and compare prices. 

4. Do your own beauty treatments, hair-cuts, manicures and pedicures. Make your own beauty products such as body scrubs, liquid soap.

5. Avoid magazines; they just make you want to buy stuff.

6. Send husband to work and children to school with packed lunches.

7.Use femme cup or hand-made menstrual pads, rather than disposable sanitary products.

8. Hang clothes to dry on a hanging airer, or outside, rather than using the tumble dryer.

9. Plan menus. Rather than buying fast food, make your own.

10. Use the woodburner to heat water and cook food when possible, for example jacket potatoes, stock.

11. Buy second-hand or salvage unwanted items. If you are buying new, make sure you are paying with gift vouchers, amazon vouchers etc. 

12. Gain perspective by learning about Austerity and the Home Front.

The areas I need to improve on are:
1. Keeping total grocery bill below £40 - currently it is about £50 all in, per week, including delivery.

2. Avoiding shop-bought treats such as Cadbury's twirls and do home-baking instead.

3. No alcoholic drinks if socialising with friends. A standard G and T can be as much as £4.05! 

4. Although I have paid for them using amazon vouchers or Love2Shop vouchers, I have spent a lot on books this month already! 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mummy, why are there jackets in the stove?

Jacket potatoes are a healthy and versatile meal but because they require cooking for a long time in the oven, they are less frugal they you might expect. I know you can do them much quicker in the microwave but I find them less tasty that way (and we don't own a microwave). 

For the last two weeks, we have been putting our jackets in the stove and allowing the heat to cook them very slowly and, essentially, for free. Although we have cooked jacket potatoes in a camp-fire before, we found that using the bottom of the stove got even better results.

Sustainable Sewing : Fabric Stash First, Sewing Patterns Second

It's all too tempting to spot a fabulous fabric, snap it up at the dressmaking shop, and then store it for six months, wondering what you're actually going to do with it. On my homestead, this seems to happen an awful lot with fat quarters - so pretty, not too pricey..., look, Russian dolls! Cherries! etc etc - which stare balefully at me every time I open my sewing box.

In addition, rifling through a pattern book, discovering The World's Darling-est Sailor Dress, and scooting out to spend a fortune on the appropriate vintage-style fabric, then somehow not quite getting round to starting the project is surely not something just I am guilty of.

What we need is to change our approach; we need to look through our fabric stash FIRST and our sewing patterns SECOND. What material have we already got and how can we best use it, are the questions we need to ask ourselves. To that end, here are some resources (follow the links to find tutorials and inspiration) and projects I've found really useful in helping me use up the fabric I've already got.

1. Winter warmers. It was Amanda Blake Soule who inspired me to make hats out of re-purposed materials. Those described in her book, Handmade Home ($21.95, Trumpeter) are made out of adult-sized, slightly felted, sweaters or ponchos; alternatively you could use fleece material, as I did when I made Secundus'. Prima's, shown here, was made out of a too-small woollen cape with tassles and finished off with a pale blue felt heart. With only a few seams, and using a very forgiving fabric, plus the templates found in Handmade Home, this is a project suitable for beginners, and you get a real cozy feeling on completion! 

Monday, 21 January 2013

Five Simple Pastimes for Poorly Kids

Our whole family was, like many of you and yours, struck down with a flu-type virus over Christmas. With a houseful of ill people, all anyone wants to do, of course, is get better. But this can take time, and there is often a difficult period when children are too ill to do much but don't want to stay in bed or on the sofa all day. Playing outside is out of the question, but we all feel cooped up and frustrated. Further problems arise when parents are poorly at the same time and finding it hard to keep everyone occupied, at their different stages of illness. 

Here are some simple things to do when you or your children are under the weather, which worked well for us this Winter-time.

Mosaics. The Sticky Mosaics Wild Horses Kit was a gift from Father Christmas to Prima, but I understand it is also available from an American company called The Orb Factory. This was an extremely popular gift and appealed to both Prima and her brother. 

At first glance, it looks like the kind of craft kit which is great in theory but almost impossible to do in practise. However, with over 20 years of industry experience, The Orb Factory is well-known for its Sticky Mosaics®, and with good reason. Neither fiddly nor frustrating, they are well thought-out, kid-friendly jewel-by-number kits featuring glittering pictures, funky jewellery boxes and more, which not only give kids a mess-free, fun way to pass the time, but also result in a very satisfying piece of wall art. A Pre-school line, and Tween accessories kits are also available. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Liquid Soap for Pioneers and Little Boys

"I haven't washed my hands, Mummy," Secundus cheerfully confided in me on his way down from the bathroom, "because I don't like that watery soap." Cue : me dashing upstairs to tip away my experimental handwash and re-fill the dispenser with Actual Hand Soap from (gasp) A Shop.

This had been an attempt to use up a) the little bits of soap that had sat mournfully in a jar under the sink for rather too long and b) our over-large collection of shower gel. But the consistency was unimpressive. Realising, as I turned out the cupboard looking for Proper Liquid Soap, that we had run out (which was what prompted the failed Soap Mix in the first place), I filled the dispenser with undiluted body wash as a short-term measure and beckoned Secundus back to the bathroom.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Salvage Puts a Spring in My Step

It's not every day I return home from dropping the children off at school with a kettle under one arm and a toaster under the other. But today I entered a new phase of frugality.

No, not shoplifting.


Today's the day when this neighbourhood puts its wheelie bins out for the council to collect its household waste. Christmas trees, golf clubs and step machines are propped up hopefully against said wheelie bins and steadfastly ignored by the men driving the refuse lorry. This morning Prima spotted a microwave oven on the pavement and was amused by its apparently circular door. 

Turning the corner onto the next street, we noticed a kettle and a toaster, both with their instruction booklets, marked "working", nestled forlornly between a lamp-post and a bin. Clearly, the owners wanted rid of them, either via the bin-men (who would refuse to pick them up since they weren't inside a wheelie bin), or by other means. "If they are still there on the way home," I remarked to myself, thinking of our stained off-white plastic kettle,  which cost less than a jumbo-sized jar of Marmite, "I'll 'ave 'em."

They were still there.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Holy Grail Cooking #2 : Beef and Ale Pasties

This is the second in the series of Mumtopian recipes - ones which are that holy grail of family cuisine: easy, quick, cheap and tasty. This recipe is based on two recipes I found in How to Cook Your Favourite Takeaways at Home by Carolyn Humphries (£9.99, How To Books), and serves four generously. We eat it with boiled potatoes and baked beans. Any pasties that aren't eaten can be frozen for another day.

Feel free to adjust according to what is in your cupboard and fridge / what is in season/ what your budget allows. I have called this recipe Beef and Ale Pasties, as Beef and Bitter just sounds unpleasant.

From the store cupboard: 
Cooking oil, 1 tbsp
Corn flour, to thicken your sauce
300 ml bitter, ale or stout. I chose the cheapest bitter that Asda does, as it seems a waste to cook with a real ale like Hobgoblin. At £1 or four 440ml cans, Smartprice bitter (2%) is cheaper than milk. That's the world we live in, folks.
300 ml Beef stock. I used an oxo cube but it would probably be cheaper and healthier to make your own stock
Bay leaf
Worcestershire sauce, I tbsp
Salt and pepper

Vixen or Victory: What Vintage Are You?

Answer the fun quiz questions below and find out your Vintage type. 

All you all about the spirit or the style?

1. You've got half a day to yourself, which you decide to spend on a craft project. What are you most likely to choose?
a) A mother-of-pearl lampshade
b) A pocket-and-feather quilt
c) Rosette bunting
d) Pot-holders from scraps of material

2. What's your drink of choice?
a) whisky sour or basic gimlet
b) beer
c) lemon drop champagne punch, the devil drinks martini or mulled white wine sangria
d) tea or coffee

3. With whom do you most identity?
a) Carmen Miranda
b) Winston Churchill
c) Alice in Wonderland
d) Nella Last

4. You are planning a picnic with family and friends. What do you pack in your picnic basket?
a) Pea and salmon quiche, rhubarb cooler in a jar and Summer shandy
b) Ask everyone to bring a dish and have a potluck picnic
c) Rosemary scones with cheddar cheese, butter and walnut tarts, and watermelon and canteloupe jelly
d) Leftovers

5. Tell me about your headgear. What do you wear on your head?
a) a natty cat ears turban
b) a headscarf
c) a sequin snood
d) Anything to keep me warm

6. What's your attitude to "Make Do and Mend"?
a) I like buying pieces from salvage merchants, second-hand shops and vintage markets
b) I'm frugal in every aspect of my life, it's second nature
c) Pre-loved things are fine, but they have to look good
d) I like the creative challenge of re-purposing objects

7. For you, a real man is...
a) a cigar-smoking poker player
b) a farmer: practical, good with his hands
c) a dab hand at the foxtrot and mixing cocktails
d) a soldier: brave and protective

8. History is all about...
a) playing let's pretend
b) learning from the mistakes of the past
c) bringing old-fashioned glamour into everyday life
d) honouring the past and the people that lived then

IF YOU ANSWERED MAINLY a) and/or c) are Vixen Vintage.

For you, Vintage is all about the style. You like to look the part and have a strong eye for detail. You know the difference between the Cheesecake and the Beehive. You are outgoing and love to be the centre of attention. Hosting themed tea parties is your cup of tea. You are happy to spend money and time to create the right look, and you may be a bit of a hoarder. Posts like Lindy Hop onto the Vintage Bandwagon are the the kind of thing you like to read in Mumtopia.

You'd love The Vintage Tea Party Year by Angel Adoree (£20, Octopus Books). It is the most beautiful book, like a treasury of children's stories, exquisitely illustrated, with twelve chapters to help you select the best foods, drinks and décor for any vintage-themed event you care to name. Whether you want to hang up the bunting and fly the Union Flag at a street party, hold a baby shower, or a gentlemen's card night, The Vintage Tea Party Year offers a little escapism by transporting you to a time when life was simply steeped in glamour and decadence. Perfect for Vixens like you! 

IF YOU ANSWERED MAINLY b) and/or d) are Victory Vintage

For you, Vintage is all about the spirit. You are keen to re-discover the skills of the past and learn from history. Posts like Don't You Know There's a War On are you kind of thing. Frugal is your middle name and you are resourceful and creative. You are the first to admit that you don't belong in this decade. Although you are happy to dress accordingly, you tend to create your own style rather than adhere religiously to the right kind of nylons. Practicality is more important than authenticity. 

You would be very much at home on the Wartime Farm. Accompanying the popular TV series, Wartime Farm by Ginn, Goodman and Langlands (£20, Octopus Books), looks at the way agriculture was dramatically changed in order to produce more food for the British public during the Second World War, how people were mobilised for the war effort - from Land Girls to POWs, and what life in the wartime kitchen and garden was like, from digging for Victory to making the most of rations. Not only does it provide historical detail and practical information, Wartime Farm gives us a taste of the spirit of World War Two. Just right for Victory Vintage girls like you! 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Live Well for Less #3 : One Night in Heaven

One night in a top-notch hotel is worth four in a mediocre Bed and Breakfast. If your other half's birthday is coming up, or you have any reason to celebrate, see if you can negotiate with grandparents to babysit a whole night on some non-descript day like Tuesday. 

Avoid Valentine's Day, bank holidays etc. if you want a good deal; you need to pick times when the hotel will be quiet. We had one Wednesday night in our nearest Malmaison (half-an-hour's train ride) to celebrate the King's birthday last March.  When checking in, we made it known it was the King's birthday and got a free room upgrade! Book a posh room last-minute or using any special offers your favourite hotels are running (check on their website and sign up to their mailing list to receive details of these).

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Stove-top Stock

I have just run out of stock cubes and I vowed to myself at the beginning of the 31 Days of Nothing challenge that I would begin making my own version instead of adding them to my shopping list.

I was pleased to read in Sarah Flowers' Slow Cook Fast Food that there "really is no recipe for stock - anything goes", as this freed me up to simply experiment. Since The Confident Mom's Weekly Household Planner stipulated that the bottom of the fridge was to be cleaned today, this was an excellent opportunity to "raid the vegetable drawer and pull out any food that is no longer suitable for fresh vegetable dishes", as Flowers suggests.

Had I not read Slow Cook Fast Food, I would not have known that anything from the brassica family (cauliflower, broccoli etc) is not suitable for stock-making, as it will make the stock smell; otherwise I would have added red cabbage. Read more about Slow Cook Fast Food here.

How I make vegetable stock:

Monday, 14 January 2013

DIY Proper Coffee Body Scrub

Something pretty rare occurred on Saturday night. If I were in the habit of glamning things up so my life looks better than yours, I'd say we had a Dinner Party. A select gathering of friends, four-to-five courses, scintillating conversation, and table decorations. They'd be pinned on Pinterest.

But you know me.

This is Mumtopia. We do things a bit differently and we celebrate that fact. The King likes cooking, in fact it was he who invited Mr and Mrs St.John, and had made fish pie earlier in the day. The fire was glowing and the Ikea fairy lights that had rescued our Christmas tree were now a little feature, in a wide glass vase. I wasn't even wearing a jeans, and had picked a black and brown Laura Ashley shirt dress I got for £6 from our local charity shop. We had a bowl of thick crisps and some honey-roasted cashew nuts as nibbles, and Mrs St.John had promised to bring a pudding. A lemon had been sliced in anticipation of G and Ts, and a bottle of white was chilling.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Laundry Soap and Bacterial Soup

I’ve just come inside from hanging the washing to dry in the garden and immediately put the washing machine on again. Nothing particularly earth-shattering about that, readers, but, a) there are no clothes in said washing machine, b) it is set at 90 degrees Centigrade and c) I’ve poured bleach into it.

No, it hasn’t all gone horribly wrong on the homestead. It’s time for A Maintenance Wash. This is something we’re supposed to do on a monthly basis, according to detergent manufacturers and washing machine manufacturers, but usually I forget, because it isn’t listed on the Sacred To Do List that is otherwise known as the Confident Mom’s Weekly Planner. Instead, I do a maintenance wash when the washing machine starts to have a bad odour or leave specks of grime (which I suspect could be mould) on the otherwise clean laundry.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Live Well for Less #2 : Film fanatic?

We don't have a television, have never had Sky, Virgin Media, or cable of any kind, and yet we have access to at least 5500 watch-online films and programmes, including the third season of Downton Abbey

We're subscribers to Lovefilm, so I can regularly get my Sean Bean/ Russell Crowe/ Benedict Cumberbatch (et al) fix for only £4.99 a month. Lovefilm is a great way to watch what you want, when you want to watch it, rather than the old-style Wait for a Random DVD Off Your Wish List to Arrive Through the Post and Then Get Round to Feeling like Watching It system. Per view, it is cheaper than renting DVDs from the library, and WAY more affordable than going to the cinema, plus no babysitter is required. To sign up to Lovefilm, click here.  

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Live Well for Less #1 : Takeaways

There are plenty of ways you can save money every week without having to resort to bread and water, and hairshirts. As with diets, exercise regimes and any new year's resolutions, if you are unrealistically harsh with your penny pinching methods, it's unlikely you'll stick to your new-found frugality for more than a week or two. In this series, I am sharing with Mumtopia readers some of the ways our family lives well for less. Everyone has a different idea as to what constitutes a luxury, of course; feel free to add your own frugal treats and tips in the comments below.

Hearth & Soul HopThere's nothing I like more on a Friday night than falling asleep in front of Inspector Morse with a pizza on my lap, but those days are a distant memory. We've since become parents/ healthier/ more broke, so takeaways aren't often an option, but How to Cook Your Favourite Takeaways at Home (Carolyn Humphries, £9.99, How to Books) has been a real money - and waistline - saver. The only thing I would change are the black-and-white photos, which make everything look a little school dinner-ish, but the recipes are easy to follow and there are lots of tips about kitchen hygiene, stocking your store cupboard and how to cut corners to speed things up.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Five Ways to Stockpile Supplies Successfully

1. Keep focussed on why you are stockpiling. Tabitha Philen, author of Advanced Penny Pinching ($5.99, available here), began stockpiling non-perishable items when they were on special offer, in a bid to save money and thus pay off the debts she and her husband had accumulated. Perhaps you are saving up in order to re-train, or perhaps you need to get the money together for a deposit on a house. 

I choose to be frugal partly because it is the way I was brought up but mainly because it enables us to live on one income. Being careful with our finances means I can be a stay-at-home mum while the King works full time. We have everything we need and we shop according to the income that we have coming in. Stockpiling is an excellent way to trim your grocery budget, whatever your reason for doing so.  

2. Stockpile the right things at the right price. Philen recommends non-perishable items like toilet roll, kitchen roll, cleaners, canned food, condiments, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and so on. Her e-book includes tips on how to put together a list of groceries to stockpile and printable worksheets to enable you to keep on top of your supplies, as well as one to record best prices you find. 

Most importantly, don't go stockpiling pineapples or deli ham, even if it IS BOGOF or superbly reduced, unless you are certain you will eat it all before it goes off. Before you plan your menu or write your shopping list, get in the habit of checking your stockpile; these cut-price items are there to be used, not for interior decoration! 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Pulling Yourself Together with Clean Mama

After the paralysing, demotivational No Man's Land between Christmas and New Year, I really have no more excuses but to get on with my New Year's Resolutions. The King vows to get his accounts in order on a regular basis instead of leaving it to the last minute. Cagey plans to eat more least on week-days. Mrs Forward plans for it not to rain quite so much! Me, I have begun the 31 Days of Nothing challenge and that's enough boxes to tick for the time being. Essentially, I'm fortunate enough to be pretty content with my life at the moment, so I resolve to keep on doing what works.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Holy Grail Cooking #1 Black-eyed Bean Chilli

I've been asked by a number of readers to include some Mumtopian recipes - ones which are that holy grail of family cuisine: easy, quick, cheap and tasty. It is quite difficult to find dishes which tick all the above boxes, and I have to admit, I don't cook from scratch every day. This recipe is based on one I found in Slow Cook Fast Food by Sarah Flower (£8.99, How To Books), and serves four.

I have picked a vegetarian dish for reasons of economy. Feel free to adjust according to what is in your cupboard and fridge / what is in season. This chill can be served with sour cream and rice or tortillas, as Flowers suggests, or with jacket potatoes. My kids will probably not eat this, I have to say; they will have baked beans and grated cheese with their jacket potatoes, which I am cooking (for about five hours) wrapped in foil in the ash box under my woodburner.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Be Smug and Counter-Culture with 31 Days of Nothing

I love a challenge, and self-imposed frugality is right up there on my hot list, so when I came across "31 Days of Nothing" last night, I was so excited. This is a brilliant opportunity to take stock after Christmas and to avoid getting sucked in to the January Sales. Not that we went overboard this season, with our Make Do and Mend tree, and £5 limit on purchased gifts, but I was certainly tempted to cheer myself up with a bit of retail therapy once the kids had gone back to school, especially since we have all been ill for the past week. I had giftcards and I wasn't afraid to use 'em.

Instead I'm reining in the household budget and seeing what creative alternatives we can come up with. Taking my inspiration from Learning the Frugal Life and all my Home Front resources, I am delighted to be taking at least a month off the consumerist misery-go-round. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Five Ways to Simple Meal Planning

1. Decide whether you are going to plan your meals weekly, monthly or fortnightly. Merissa Alink, of Little House Living, is The Word on Meal Planning and her e-book Meal Planning Made Simple will help you work out what's best for your family. People like me who live in an urban environment and shop at least once a week will probably pick weekly meal planning, but if you have more room to store food, a very hectic schedule, a long drive to the shops, or would like the challenge of a day or half-day spent cooking and baking each month, you may find you are suited to fortnightly or monthly planning.

2. Give each day of the week a rough heading. Alink has Meatless Monday (Paul McCartney will be pleased), Pasta Tuesday and so on. This means you are going to be eating a different kind of meal each day of the week and won't find yourself tucking into mince three days' running. One of Alink's many excellent ideas is the inclusion of a Leftovers Day - perhaps the last day of the week - which is a great way to ensure that food waste is kept to a minimum, and also means you're not cooking a meal from scratch every day. Alink serves her leftovers "buffet-style" so everyone can help themselves, and this is something I intend to do too.

3. Stay seasonal. Eating seasonally will enable you to get fresh food at a good price and to vary your diet throughout the year. Alink's e-book includes a printable chart, showing what food is in season each month, which is now stuck up on my kitchen cupboard. Make sure you have access to this kind of information when you are planning your meals and writing your shopping list. 
4. Bite the bullet : try a Baking/ Cooking Day. Until I read Meal Planning Made Simple, the very concept of a whole day's cooking or baking would have made me shudder. However, Alink talks her readers through this in such an encouraging way that I felt inspired to follow her example once the children have gone back to school. I like the fact that money can be saved by getting your oven to do "double duty" and cook a number of dishes simultaneously, plus cooking in bulk will probably mean less time spent overall in food prep and dish-washing. 

Alink includes a good range of recipes which can be added to your menu repertoire - all of which are made from scratch and inexpensive ingredients but are still likely to be popular with your family - like homemade tortillas and chicken nuggets. There are also plenty of tips and printables to help you get to grips with pantry stocking, canning and using your freezer most efficiently. 

5. Get your own copy of Meal Planning Made Simple. It takes all the mystery out of menus and facilitates family food like nothing else! Download a copy for the special price of $3.99 by using the code MEALPLAN here.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Welcome to 2013

Wishing all my readers a very happy and Mumtopian year ahead. Thank you to all the companies who have sponsored posts and giveaways. An especially warm welcome to all my new followers - lovely to have you on board. 

Remember to check out the special offers and giveaways here and look out for more to come soon. Perhaps you would like to be featured in Mumtopia or write a guest post this year.  I'm always on the look out for things that make life easier, better, or cheaper for mums, so if you have a product or service that my readership needs to know about please do email me. 

In case you missed them first time round, here is a top ten of my favourite posts of 2012. Click on the links to read the whole shebang.
  •  Fly Lady? Pah "I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen off that bandwagon. I know it all starts with shining your sink but, for me, it ended with shining your sink too, and then after a while I didn't even bother to do that any more."
  • Emergency Stockings on a Shoe-string "No, I am not dyeing my legs with cold, strong tea and painting seems down the back with eyebrow pencil like they did in the War. I am talking about a Christmas Stocking Emergency which has just occurred chez Bayne."
  • When Secundus Followed Daddy "Saturday morning. Already, readers, you know what that's like in our house. This time was a little different - the kids didn't wake up til 8.15, and we had croissants for breakfast. Perhaps that lulled us into a false sense of security."
  • When Secundus Made Me a Card "Unlike Prima, Secundus did not want play on his own or get dressed. To show this, he opened the kitchen door, slammed it, opened it, slammed it. Telling him this was rude and dangerous (a killer combination if ever I heard one) I stated he would have to go to his room if he did it again. He stamped upstairs."
  • Pants or Handkerchief? " I smile at the other parents hotfooting it out of the school playground, including the dad of Prima’s good friend Future Actor, who approaches the gateway. “Hi” I say, sniffily, but brightly, so he doesn’t think I am hungover. To prove that I have hayfever I wipe my nose delicately on my handkerchief."
  • Main Breadwinners, I Salute You "If I have learned anything in my nearly twelve years of married life with the King, it is that more often than I might expect, I need say nothing."
  • Creating My Own Loop "I realised I was out of the loop when I read on Facebook about Honey Boo Boo some months ago and neither knew nor cared what anyone was talking about. “Meh, I’m out of the loop,” I thought. “I’ll create my own.”"
  • A Terribly Middle-Class Fadge "I had a really successful wartime-style cookery drive yesterday (yes, a "cookery drive" equals "A Meal"), inspired by a cutting from “Food Facts no.432” which was written by the Ministry of Health in the late 40s/ early 50s when rationing was still in place in the UK."
  • Don't You Know There's a War On? "We all have our own battles to fight. You know who or what your enemy is. It might be depression that's got a firm headlock on your life. Perhaps addictions run through your family tree like Dutch Elm Disease."
Happy New Year!
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