Saturday, January 28, 2017

An idiots guide to yoghurt making

I did it - I made yoghurt! And it was pretty good too. It was so cheap and easy, I don't know why we don't all do it. Perhaps because we've forgotten how. So, I'm going to teach you all. I'm not going to give you a recipe. Instead, I'm going to teach you the science so you can play around and work out your own method that suits you.

First, you need milk. The milk needs to be free of any bad bacteria that could interfere with the reaction. To achieve this you have two options:

1. Take a litre of milk from the fridge and heat it to almost boiling point (just as it starts to bubble), then let it cool to below 46C (any hotter and your yoghurt culture will die when mixed in.)
2. Cheat and use a carton of UHT milk (you'll probably need to mix in half a cup of milk powder as a thickener.)

Next, you'll need 2-3 tablespoons of live bio yoghurt. To begin with, you'll need to buy a pot, but once you've started making your own, just save a couple of spoonfuls from your most recent batch.

Mix the yoghurt with a litre of milk and then it's time for the magic. To make the magic happen your mixture needs to be kept at a constant temperature of 43-46C (110-115F) for around 8-10 hours. There are many ways to do this - in your oven, a slow cooker, using heat mats. I use an easiyo yoghurt maker for mine which is basically a glorified thermos flask. The longer you leave your mixture at this temperature, the thicker and tangier it will be.

Once your yoghurt has thickened, take it out of the heat and cool in the fridge for at least 3 hours before eating. To make it thicker you can either add milk powder to the mixture or drain it through a muslin or cheesecloth at the end. If you put yoghurt in a cheesecloth and let it hang to drain for a whole day, you'll end up with cream cheese! And it's worth catching the liquid that drains out of it (whey) as it can be saved and used for other recipes such as probiotic lemonade.

So, there it is - a magical method for making a never ending supply of yoghurt. Enjoy!

The unlikely art of hospitality

A while ago my husband and I were discussing what gifts we would like God to help us grow in and we both said hospitality. Back then I think I imagined this would look something like me learning to cook like Mary Berry and host elegant dinner parties with wine and beautiful homemade desserts in my spotless home. Oh, how wrong I was!! So, from what I've learned so far, what does good hospitality look like?

- it's being willing to be vulnerable and invite people round even though my house isn't perfect/I haven't cooked from scratch/I don't know them that well.

- it's deliberately not cleaning my house before my friends with kids come round cos I don't want them to feel like they're the only mama who can't keep their house spotless while looking after kids.

- it's having friends round to drink wine out of disposable cups in our pajamas cos I'm too tired to do much (even wash wine glasses) but don't want to miss the opportunity to connect with friends.

- it's not letting the fact we don't have enough chairs or cutlery or space prevent me from inviting friends to come for a very loud, very simple meal with kids all over the place.

- it's inviting the people that need it most instead of the people I like most or get along with easiest or are most like me.

Ultimately, good hospitality is about being willing to share our homes and lives with people and to be vulnerable enough to show them the real me, not a persona I put on especially for guests.

God has also shown me the power of receiving hospitality but I'll save that story for another day!

Everybody was stomach flu fighting....

So far 2017 in our household has mostly consisted of at least one person under quarantine due to norovirus! We're over it now but still feeling a bit fragile - my eldest has even developed secondary lactose intolerance while he recovers.

So, this mama bear has been hunting down ways to get her bear cubs back to full health and I've found some real gems that I want to share. In fact, what I've discovered is likely to transform how our family eats. (Don't you just love how God brings good things out of bad?!). I've discovered all kinds of more traditional ways to cook that are so much healthier than the processed stuff we buy (and cheaper too!). It makes me wish I'd known my grandmothers and learned to cook from them. And it makes me wonder if our more "developed" western culture has actually taken massive steps backwards in how we approach food and food preparation.

What did I find?

BONE BROTH - ever wonder why people talk about giving chicken soup to someone who is sick? This is why. It's really simple to make and has loads of health benefits, including healing your gut after a sickness bug. I've been to the butcher to get some bones and they're currently simmering in my slow cooker with some onions and a carrot. Maybe in a future post I'll share my results and any tips.

LACTO-FERMENTATION - lacto what?! Sounds like a science experiment I know. Basically, it's the process used to make yoghurt but can also be used to make all kinds of other probiotic foods too (like probiotic lemonade, saukraut, mayonnaise, chutneys, ketchup - yes, healthy ketchup!)

So now I'm all excited to try these new recipes. I'm excited by how simple they are, excited to see the health benefits and excited how much money we will save by making things at home. This week I'm going to be making yoghurt, cream cheese and lemonade. I'll let you know how it goes and plan on posting my idiots guide to yoghurt making in the near future. Watch this space!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When I am weak, then I am strong

When you're a stay at home mom, there's no such thing as calling in sick. In our modern culture where extended family often live miles away, if you've got a migraine, flu, sick bug - you just gotta keep going!

For the first 3.5 years of my parenting adventure our nearest family were 4-5 hours away and so I've got used to just gritting my teeth and getting on with it. Though I love my kids and we have a lot of fun together, it often felt like I was treading water - you know what I mean mommas?

But recently everything changed. To cut a long story short, we moved to a great new house the other side of town.......and then my parents moved here THE SAME STREET! Now I have help on call pretty much whenever I need. Thing is though, it feels kinda weird. I've got so used to being self sufficient that I'm not good at asking for, or accepting help.

For example, this afternoon as my eldest got home from preschool I was starting to get a headache. Headaches and energetic toddlers do not mix. Mum was already at mine, little J had already asked to go to grandmas and yet I was resistant to the idea of sending the kids round for the afternoon. As I thought about my friend who was home alone with 3 kids while sick earlier in the week, it somehow seemed unfair that I should be able to pass on my parenting responsibilities for a few hours. I thought I should be able to suck it up and keep going. I thought that I was somehow less of a parent for taking help.

But then I stopped myself. And then I remembered my Bible study from a few days ago. The prayer at the end of the study really nailed me:

"Lord, I confess my overconfidence. I don't feel like a sheep that needs a shepherd to do absolutely everything for it, but I, my great shepherd, are my only security. I put myself in your hands. Amen"

(Taken from "my rock, my refuge" by Tim Keller - highly recommend it)

What a self reliant fool I am. How silly to not take help when it's available. How proud am I to think I should, or even can, do it all alone. Thank you, Father, for reminding me how weak I am and how much I need You.

What is even more foolish than not accepting help from friends and family, is not accepting help from our Heavenly Father. The creator of the universe is there to answer our call, to provide for our needs (Philippians 4:19), to carry our burdens (Matthew 11:28-29). All the riches of heaven are at my disposal through Jesus but still I try to do it myself. What a fool I am.

So my encouragement to you, and to myself, is to ask for help. Ask for help from friends - they'll appreciate being needed and it will no doubt bring you closer. God put them in your life to bless you and to grow you together.

And definitely ask for help from God because we are designed to live in dependence on Him. Every day ask him for all you need - grace, wisdom, patience, courage, faith, endurance, health, strength, the right words, forgiveness, restoration, finances, joy......whatever it is you need, He can richly supply.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The perils of being a new momma

The other day I was discussing with friends the benefits of pushchairs versus baby wearing and it made me think back to how daunting it all seemed as a new mum. Cue flashback sequence......

So, you decide to take bubba out in the pushchair for the first time and head for town. You soon discover what a nightmare it is to try to maneuver around a large proportion of high street shops. In Next you misjudge the steering, hit a gondola that happens to have wheels on it and inadvertently end up rearranging the store - oops! Another store has aisles so tight you end up just giving up and leaving.

You need a quick toilet stop and suddenly it dawns on you that you can't use just any bathroom (unless you plan on abandoning your pushchair outside the cubicle where anyone could steal your wallet, or child, or both). You start racking your brains to remember where there's a baby changing type bathroom and then remember the mall has some extra large cubicles designed for pushchairs. You reach the bathroom and, when your turn in the queue arrives, you head for the pushchair friendly cubicle at the far end. Whoever designed it really didn't think things through. Yes, the door opens outwards so you can get your pushchair out, but it opens right onto a sink! So you have to fight your way in and out past strangers trying to wash their hands who make no effort to help prop the door open so you can steer the pushchair in and instead just watch you struggle. Thanks a lot.

Next you decide to head to the supermarket to pick up just a couple of items. As soon as you arrive you come across your first challenge - how are you going to carry everything? Pushing a pushchair and a trolley at the same time is physically impossible so a basket will have to do. You begin to grab bread, milk, cheese, yoghurt......and as the basket gets heavier you struggle to carry it and push baby too. So you resort to trying to balance it on top of the pushchair but it's too heavy and nearly breaks the darn hood! Plan B - abandon the shopping basket and balance items on the hood and by baby's feet. Decide to leave without half your shopping list as you can't balance anything else.

After all that stress you decide it's time for a tea break, so head for your favourite cafe. You stand in the queue and order your coffee and cake and then when it arrives on a tray you realise you have no idea how you're gonna carry the tray and push the kid. Do you leave the kid at the till while you take your drink to a table? Or leave the tray, find a seat, park the kid and return to retrieve your drink? Oh, and the only seats are upstairs and there's no lift......great.

Baby number two and you decide to take bubba out in the baby carrier instead. Previous experience has taught you that high street carriers are not the most comfortable for these journeys as baby's legs hang down and hit your thighs with every step. Very annoying! Instead, you've discovered the wonderful world of Tula's, Connecta's and such like. You stroll into town with baby comfortably nuzzled in the carrier, her legs wrapped nicely round your waist and head on your chest - like a portable cuddle. You had a little trouble deciding what bag to take in order to be most comfortable and end up borrowing hubby's rucksack - perfect.

You move around shops and squeeze through crowds with ease - success. Time for a bathroom stop and you head for a normal bathroom - hooray! Oh, but what to do with baby while you pee? Take the carrier off and lay her on the floor? But can still undo your jeans with the carrier on.....and pee while still wearing little miss A. Another success for baby wearing.

The supermarket trip is also easier as you have hands free to carry a basket or push a trolley. Baby is much closer to the action and enjoys trying to reach out and do her own bits of shopping. Thankfully while front carrying its easy to see what she's up to but previous experience with her older brother has taught you never to trust a quiet toddler in a back carry! You load up and head to the checkout, this time with everything on your list. You pack all the items into your rucksack as the checkout lady coos over your cute little one grinning from the carrier. As you put the rucksack on your back you find yourself wishing you hadn't bought potatoes and remembering how useful the pushchair is for hanging bags of shopping from.

Time for a well earned coffee and by this time baby is tired and has fallen asleep on you. You order your coffee and cake and easily carry your tray to a table on the first floor. As you sink into an armchair in a corner the only problem you have is how to eat cake without getting crumbs in the hair of the child who is still fast asleep on you. Meh - a few crumbs won't hurt ;)

Today's little treasures

I'll be honest, I've been slightly dreading the school holidays. I love my kids but the thought of seven whole weeks with nothing planned seemed a bit daunting. Usually our days are pretty mapped out for us; baby group on Monday morning, preschool Tuesday through Thursday mornings, mommas bible study on Wednesday mornings, baby group Friday morning, another baby group on Saturday morning and church on Sunday. So you can see why to me the holidays seemed like a big gaping chasm!

Well, we're only on day one so I don't want to get too cocky too soon but I am already starting to realise it's maybe not so bad. I'm discovering that little J has an amazing imagination and when I give him space without any plans he comes up with some great ideas for how to spend our days. I'm also realising how easy it is to let days pass by and not notice or appreciate the little treasures in each day. So here I am going to catalogue some of the treasures I'm grateful for today:

1. Days when the kids make all the plans. Today little J took me for a walk to the local pet shop and then to the park. His little sister loved the animals (and loved trying to eat sand at the park). On the way home he pretended to be an explorer in the jungle and then that we were being chased by elephants and had to run home. (Prizes for guessing which episode of charlie and Lola inspired him ha ha.)

2. Reduced price food. We stopped by Asda garage on the way home to get naan bread and instead found reduced price flatbreads and reduced cake too! 23p angel cake is hard to say no to ;)

3. Boston tea party. This great cafe chain has just opened up near our house and we went for a quick drink. I've been missing grandmas lemonade since getting back from America so was excited to see they sell lemonade and ice tea, not to mention the cheapest cream tea in town.

4. Tiger. No, not the animal, a new shop that has opened in the mall. It's full of all kinds of bizarre things, many of which will provide hours of fun over the holidays. Today I got a kite for little J and a ball for little miss A that is full of glitter that moves around as you roll it. I've also got my eye on their paper dolls with stickers for a later date. Go check it out and if you're a child of the 80's like me you may discover some of your teenage years hiding in there!

What are you thankful for today?

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. Psalm 9:1

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Feeding time at the zoo

 Our family are at a stage where, when it comes to dinner, it's difficult to balance everyone's needs. The kids need to eat early to get to bed, I prefer to eat later without kids interrupting and hubby may or may not even be home for dinner if he's working a late shift. Add to that the fact that little miss A is still on a low salt and low sugar diet, hubby is a raging carnivore and little J would live off pasta if he could and you'll see it's far from straight forward.

This week I feel like I'm finally getting the hang of it thanks to my slow cooker and some great one pot meals. I love that the slow cooker allows me to throw dinner together while little J is at preschool and little miss A is napping and by the time the kids need dinner it's ready and waiting, still hot when me and hubby want to eat and even produces enough leftovers for hubby to take to work on a late shift.

So far this week I've used the slow cooker to make chilli con carne, an amazing beef stroganoff and a chicken and sweet potato curry. Another favourite of mine is Dr pepper stew and another day when I have more time I'll share the recipe with you.

Today I want to share with you a great easy recipe that doesn't even need a slow cooker. The ingredients are simple and the prep work was so easy I was able to chop the veg while the kids ate their dinner.

Quick chicken casserole

Grab yourself a good size casserole dish and then add:

4/5 new potatoes, halved
2 carrots, sliced
3 shallots, quartered
4 chicken pieces (thighs, legs, breast...whatever you prefer)
500ml chicken stock (I use boots baby stock cubes - suitable from 7 months and great flavour)

Place the casserole dish on the hob and simmer for 20 mins. Add a cup of frozen peas and simmer for another 5-10 mins. Finally, add some tarragon and stir in 1-2 tablespoons of creme fraiche.

Hey presto, dinner is ready!

I was able to leave dinner to cook while I got the kids in bed and have it ready just as soon as hubby and I were ready to eat. There was just enough leftover to save some for little J to eat the next day and purée some for little miss A. Best of all, only one dirty dish! Everyone's a winner :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Easter for dummies

I've been trying to work out how to explain Easter to my 2 year old. When we went on an Easter egg hunt the other day he insisted on calling it an Easter bear hunt (can you guess what his favourite book is?). So we need to start with the basics and keep it simple!

I tried talking to him about Jesus taking our punishment the other day and thought I was using terms he would understand but he got distracted and quickly stopped listening. It dawned on me that I was still trying to go too deep and explain the "why" and "how" behind Easter when really he just needs to know the basic "what". I sat down and started to try to write about the events of Easter in its most basic form. Here's what I've got so far:

1. Jesus is God's son - I figured telling him who this Jesus bloke is was a good place to start
2. Jesus came to tell people about God - I could give a list of all Jesus came to do (preaching, healing, miracles, to forgive and rescue us etc etc) but this seemed like a simple way of summing that up.
3. Some people didn't like Jesus and wanted him to go away - I was going to put "and they killed him" but didn't want little J to think that killing people if you don't like them is a legitimate option haha
4. Jesus died on a cross - at a later date I can add that he did it to rescue us
5. Jesus came back to life - at a later date I can add that it was part of God's rescue plan to fix everything.
6. Jesus is in heaven now with his daddy and he can live in our hearts too if we ask him

So there we go, that's my toddler friendly Easter story. If you're looking for ideas for activities to do with little ones at Easter take a look at this post

Happy Easter!!!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Modern day sabbath

I am officially rubbish at resting. I have a tendency to think "I'll just get all the chores done and then I'll rest". But when you're a mum of two small kids your work is never done. Even as I sit here now trying to relax I'm still thinking of all the other jobs I need to do over the next few days.

The other day I read a great article about the concept of having a sabbath and it really challenged and inspired me. The Bible says that rest is important - if the creator of the universe needed a day off, how much more do we mere mortals need a break?! God has our best interests at heart and knows how vital rest is for not only our physical but also emotional well being.

So here I am preparing for our first proper sabbath. We have chosen a Saturday this week as hubby isn't working and Sunday's are always busy with church activities. The dishes are all done and put away, laundry is all done, toys tidied up and bins taken out. There are now no chores left to do that can't wait until Sunday. Tomorrow morning we will quickly chuck a chilli in the slow cooker (or maybe just decide to get take away) and then we will be all set to sit back and enjoy our day together.

The plan is to spend the day enjoying time together as family with no chores, no dishes, no cooking, no checking emails, no doing the tesco order or online banking - just me and my family enjoying each other and enjoying God.

I'll let you know how it goes but I have a feeling it's going to be rather freeing!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I am NOT superwoman!

As a mum there is no such thing as a day off. You can't just call in sick one day - the kids still need you. So when you feel sick, or just down right exhausted, all you can do is dig down deep and find some kind of reserve of strength and keep pushing through.

And that's ok if you just have to push through that one day, but what if every day is an uphill struggle and you are continuously pushing yourself to your limits? That is where I found myself several weeks ago, in the middle of a week where hubby worked far too many hours and I tried to stretch myself way too thin and please too many people. Instead of asking for help I just tried to grit my teeth and keep going cos that's what mum's do, right? Part way through the week I reached my limit and my body told me in no uncertain terms that I had pushed things waaaaaay too far!

As mum's we love to talk about the cute things our little darlings have done, the funny things they said, their achievements, all the high points of parenting. It's great to share and celebrate those things together but I don't think it's very helpful if that's all we ever talk about.

How often do we talk about the low points - dragging a screaming toddler down the street as they have a tantrum, screaming "shut up" at your crying newborn cos the sleep deprivation has got the better of you, losing your cool and smacking your child, caving in and resorting to bribery and doing all kinds of things you swore you would never do?

I love my kids and we have so many great moments together but there are some days (many days!) when I find myself counting down the hours until bedtime. I wish that wasn't the case but, instead of allowing myself to feel guilty over that fact, I've just come to accept that is the season we're in right now.

As a mum it's so easy to carry around feelings of guilt that we don't always enjoy our kids, shame at our failings and feelings of inadequacy as we compare ourselves with others.

I often look at other mum's and think "how do they do it?" - they seem to have it all together and make it look effortless. But then I thought to myself, I wonder if others view me that way too? I think in reality we are all a bit like ducks - calm on the surface but paddling frantically unseen by others.

As mum's we are used to having to put on a brave face and just keep going - a bit too used to it. I think it's unhelpful and puts undue pressure on all of us to attain some kind of superwoman standard.

So I'm pledging to be more real and honest about my parenting experience. Sure, I'll still share stories of the good times and the cute things, but I'm going to stop holding back about the tough times. I hope by sharing my struggles it will give others the courage to share theirs too and that we will stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and others.

One of the best pieces of advice I've been given since having my second child is to accept help - ask for it even. It's ok to admit you can't do it alone! I've found it so humbling and character building to accept help and admit I can't do it all and it's brought me closer to people as I have opened up or reached out for help.

Isn't it great how God uses the challenges of life to help us grow in both character and relationship with Him and others?

And finally friends, remember:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 
2 Corinthians 12:9