Sunday, 31 October 2010

Sunday evening (early)

It feels later. For a start, it's dark, properly dark, not just getting shadowy. Meal time hungers have been out of synch. I think that I will have to battle to stay awake until the 'normal' time - 8:30 is OK for me; 9:30 is getting pretty late! When 9:30 becomes 8:30, there's a struggle. :0)

I got everything finished. The carrots and parsnips are all frozen and bagged. The apple and chilli jelly looks and tastes delicious and set like a dream without any problems, the plum chutney and the hot apple and cranberry sauce are in jars and have been treated with a hot water bath so, hopefully, that will extend their life. There's some really good Christmas pressies there.

A most satisfying day. A very pleasant week, in fact, with lots of fun and some great memories. I wonder if retirement will be like this all the time, or whether I will just get used to it and take it for granted. One of the best things about these breaks, where I can satisfy my nesty, home-making instincts, is the contrast with my normal, everyday life. Without the normal, would the breaks really seem as good?
I guess in about seven years' time I will find out.

Sunday morning

And it's earlier than it feels, thanks to the clocks going back an hour. Some people get a bit stressed about it but, to be honest, it never has bothered me much at all. It's part of tradition in my life. I know people say it would be nice to have the longer evenings but, really, an hour here or there in the middle of winter doesn't make all that much difference. What does count is the number of man hours spent adjusting clocks, not just at home but also for businesses. At school now we have radio controlled clocks in the classrooms so, hopefully, Steve won't have to go round changing each one by hand.

Yesterday felt terribly busy and somewhat disjointed, with a lot going on and not a lot finished. However, the plum ketchup is on the verge of going into jars and I will have a go at using a hot water bath to process them so they keep longer. Then it's on to the last stage of the apple and chilli jelly - the juice has been measured, the sugar and lemon juice added and when I get my act together it will be boiled to setting point and some bits of dried chilli added before pouring it into jars and sealing them. No need to hot water bath them.
Then I can mouli the apple and chilli pulp, add the cranberries, sugar, etc, and make some hot apple and cranberry sauce. I'm going to put this into jars and then hot water bath them in the hopes that its life will be extended, although I am assured by the Cottage Smallholder regulars that it will keep OK.

I didn't get the Christmas carrots and parsnips done, mainly because the large saucepan was in use for other things, so that's another job on the list. It will take no time at all as long as the utensils are there.

And then, just to finish off the day, I MUST print out my planning and get some resources printed out. Mondays are always easy days for me with diary for literacy and swimming in the afternoons, but even so . . .

Oh - and one more thing. I must make my nice little poster for the door saying no trick or threat but have a great evening (or something of the kind). Living so close to the school, I feel that I might be a bit of a target, not in a bad way, but just because the children (and parents) know I'm there, someone they know and, presumably, trust.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Saturday afternoon

As Burns said (albeit more 'Scottishly'), the best laid plans . . .

I decided to make the apple and chilli jelly and the resulting hot cranberry and apple sauce (from the jelly pulp) so posted a few questions and got some very helpful answers on the Cottage Smallholder forum. A great place, by the way - I'm sure many of my readers already know the site, but if you don't, go take a look.

So I walked into the kitchen to be greeted by a bowl of plums. They were on special last week, one pound for a good sized punnet (I bought two), but they weren't all that ripe, so they've been ripening over the week in a bowl. I remembered that I searched for a recipe (how would we manage without Google, eh?) and found one for 'plum chutney' which sounded interesting.

I revisited the recipe today and found that I needed spiced malt vinegar and, guess what, Morrison's didn't have any. Back to Google to find a simple and quick recipe. I'm sure there are better ones, but this only took a few hours. Something learnt is never a waste of time!

So, at this precise moment, the plum chutney is cooling in a pan. I want to check the texture and flavour when it's cold and then, perhaps, adjust. It tastes pretty good warm, I have to say - nice with pork, duck or chicken.

Also I started the chilli apple jelly - it's now dripping through a jelly bag and I will do the rest
at some point - for now the apple/chilly juice will be frozen. Apart from the time factor, I am running out of jars and have found a site that sells glass jars and bottles not too expensively. I'd rather do recycling, but that's rather insecure.

Looks like tomorrow is going to be a busy day too. Shame about school on Monday, isn't it?

Saturday morning

Yesterday was such a useful and productive day. I now have five bottles of spiced apple cordial, copious amounts of spiced apple and cranberry sauce and pre-prepared frozen potatoes for roasting on Christmas Day.

I also have about half the windfalls left, plus a large Bramley cooker that was lurking in the freezer and several ideas about how to use them. The easiest option is to simple core, peel and stew with appropriate spices and sugar. Useful and not terribly exciting.

On the other hand, I have two recipes from the wonderful 'Cottage Smallholder' site, one for hot apple and chili jelly and the other for hot spiced cranberry and apple sauce, made with the pulp from the jelly.

I know which I'd prefer, but I have some anxieties about it. The jelly is simple enough, albeit a two day operation. The sauce looks simple enough until the bit where it says 'process in a hot water bath for ten minutes'. It seems that if you don't do this, the sauce will only keep for a few weeks in the fridge. However, neither recipe says how long the fully processed results last for and I'd like to know as most would be intended for Christmas presents and it's the sort of information one needs to give.

I'll have to post a message and ask, I think.

So, today may be busy or it may not, depending. The other single thing I want to do is prepare more veg for Christmas - more potatoes, carrots and parsnips, all blanched and frozen, ready to pop in the heated fat for roasting. And I guess I ought to think about school at some point too. It would make next Monday morning a whole lot easier!

Friday, 29 October 2010

The story of (half) a bag of windfalls.

This is nicked from Maggie's blog, her 'life cycles' being around joints of meat and well worth a look, especially if you're a foodie. See here:

And here:

Great idea, Maggie, thanks. Being a teacher of littlies, I will call mine a story!

Once upon a time there was a carrier bag with some windfall apples inside. One day . . .

Here's the bag with what I now have left inside, so there's obviously a sequel in the offing here. I needed 1 kg of good apples. I cut out all the bad bits, cut the remainder (most of them, they didn't have a lot of bad bits), core, skin and all, into eighths, more or less, and put them in my biggest saucepan with three litres of water, a stick of cinnamon, some cloves, some juniper berries, some star anise and some root ginger. I roughly chopped the ginger but didn't bother to peel it or anything.

I brought the whole lot to a simmer and let it simmer for about five minutes, covered, then turned off the heat and just left the whole lot to steep overnight.

This morning I strained the lot through a colander covered by a clean muslin. No need to push it through at all, just let it drip, drip, drip. Keep the spiced apple juice for the cordial and also keep the remaining pulp. Separate, of course!

Here's the spiced apple juice.

And here's some of the pulp.

This is where I departed from Elli's recipe (thanks for the permission to post this recipe here, Elli - much appreciated) because my pan was simply not big enough. Elli then adds 2k of sugar and another two litres of water to the sliced apple water, brings it to a boil, stirring, adds more sugar if needed, then pours it into sterilised glass bottles and seals. I anticipate that the only difference will be that mine requires more diluting.

I added some granulated sugar (1k was quite enough) but not the extra water. I brought it slowly to a boil, stirring to help the sugar to dissolve, then let is boil, covered for about ten minutes while I sterilised the bottles. I now save any wine bottles that have screw top lids as they are ideal for this sort of thing. I then used a glass measuring jug and a funnel to pour it into the very hot bottles and sealed immediately, screwing the lids on tight. I also have a couple of bottles with lever lids and I used them too - it looks really nice!

OK, so back to the strained out pulp: remember the pulp? Apple mush and spices. I got out my wonderful mouli thing and pushed the pulp through, removing the spices before when possible.

I ended up with a good bowlful of spicy apple mush . . .

. . . and a small pot of waste, which I chucked. You can see how much from the cinnamon stick.
In the olden days it would probably have been fed to the family pig so there would be no wastage at all, but as I don't have one, the bin ate it instead!

I put the mush into a saucepan and added about two packets of frozen cranberries (courtesy of Sainsbury's, three packets for a fiver),
a few ladlefuls of the cordial (or apple or orange juice would be fine), half a tsp of ground allspice and the rind of two medium sized oranges, and slowly heated it all up, covered so it didn't splat and make a mess. It took a while because at first the cranberries froze the apple mush.
When it was close to boiling, I started adding sugar, stirring to dissolve and tasting after each spoonful. When it tasted 'right', I turned the heat really low, covered it and let it just simmer away for a while. That was basically it.
I will add the port when I heat it up just before serving. Some like port and some don't so I will serve both kinds.
Taken in different light so a different colour from the higher photo. It is, in fact a fairly bright red and I mushed down the cranberries a bit. It's not a 'jelly' because of the apple pulp, but it tastes very delicious. It's now in one larger plastic pot and seven small pots, waiting for me to bag it all up and take it out to the freezer.
The sequel will involve stewing with other fruit and making nice, reasonably healthy puddings for those cold months! To be continued . . .

Friday morning

. . . and it's the last day of the half term break. My goodness, wasn't I tired yesterday evening. I went to bed at about 8:30, I suppose, and woke at 6:30 this morning. That's ten hours of more or less solid sleep - I woke once for the loo but that's all I remember. The tum seems settled again now - it was just residual stuff, made more by the tiredness, I reckon.

Plans for today are minimal. At some point I must look over next week's planning and make sure the resources are there. I'm half way through making some spiced apple cordial, using some apples scrumped from J's garden on Wednesday. Well, I say scrumped, but I did ask her!! There's some apples left over too so I will probably stew them with a variety of other fruit - raspberries, blackberries, sultanas (not all together, I hasten to say) and then freeze (in single portions, needless to add). They're the kind of apples that mush, so perhaps I will make some single portions of spiced apple and cranberry sauce too.
Or, no, scrub all that, first I will make spiced cranberry and apple sauce for Christmas and get that frozen, then see what I have left for the other ideas!
Or no - actually I have plenty of apple mush, nicely spiced, after straining the cordial mix. I will use that for the cranberries.
What a lot of options! Some careful thinking is in order here, to make the most of it all and waste as little as possible.

Did I say minimal planning? Think again, Joy, think again!

Talking of Christmas, I will be getting the potatoes ready for roasting and freezing them today. I've done them this way for the past few years and it works a treat. I peel and par boil them as usual, then drain them really well, steam dry and shake in the pan to ruffle the outsides, dredge in flour, sprinkle over salt and pepper and then open freeze before bagging so that they remain separate. On Christmas morning they can be cooked straight from frozen and it saves so much time. I think I will do the whole bagful; I will then have enough for all the Christmas meals and some for other meals too, before or after the Main Events.

I've tentatively invited L around for a cuppa this afternoon. L was my co-year 1 colleague and has just retired. She was on holiday just before half term: and I'd love to hear all about it and maybe see some photos too. Fingers crossed she can come.

So that's today! I seem to have gone from a not terribly busy day to one filled with purpose. That's great, suits me down to the ground. The more I can prepare for Christmas beforehand, the more time I will have to enjoy the company on the day!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Thursday evening

I was supposed to be going out this evening but am feeling very tired after yesterday and a bit dodgy in the old tum again earlier on. I've sent my apologies because I reckon it's wiser not to go really - I don't want another day like last Saturday. Things seem to have settled now but I'm bone weary.

I had fun with DG this morning. I was 'minding' him and it had to be round here because of the plumber. When the boiler was all fixed and working again, DG came with me to Sainsbury's to do the weekly shop and I bought him some clothes. I haven't bought him clothes for a very long time and it was fun. He's so easy about it, he has no sense of 'designer' or 'fashion', as long as it's comfortable and fits, that's all that matters. We found a winter coat for him, very good value, and some jumpers and a fleece. He was well pleased (and so was DD when we got home).

Now I am appreciating my lovely warm home with its working boiler, hot radiators and tankful of very hot water - I reckon an evening bath is called for to celebrate! If I wait until eight (assuming I stay awake that long) I can go straight to bed afterwards.

Thursday morning

Yesterday was absolutely brilliant. We had a blast.

L and I set off to J's house and we all had a good natter around some coffee. We decided to get a group ticket which covered our train fare and unlimited travel around London for about £11 each. In actual fact, it was a bit more than that for me and less for them because they have golden oldie cards and I don't, but they said to split it equally, which was kind.

Once in London we made our way over to Piccadilly Circus by bus to locate the theatre (dead easy to find). The top of a bus is a great way to see London - the upper levels of the buildings tend to be far more interesting than the ground floor shop/business fronts and we saw some super architecture from many different periods close up. We wandered around to find somewhere for a snack and lit upon this little place down a side road, obviously mostly for take-aways, but with a few chairs and tables. We almost walked past it as it didn't look that bright and shiny - if we had, it would have been a shame and just goes to show appearances aren't everything. They had a myriad of fillings and the choice of rolls, sandwiches, baps and 'torpedoes' plus a small selection of hot meals, and while we sat and ate, they were continually busy filling rolls, etc for many customers. A tiny place but such fresh, delicious food. We had baps and they were huge with a very generous filling (I could only eat about half of mine). That and a good cup of coffee cost a fiver each - brilliant value for the centre of London.
After that we had a stroll around to let everything settle and looked in a few shops. We found one shop that had scarves (those long, wide ones that can be worn many different ways) that were £3.99 or three for a tenner, so we decided we'd get one each. They were beautiful and such choice.

Half an hour later we finally made our choices . . .

We wandered past some posh shops and went into one, which had some amazing clothes in the window: all pretty classic stuff with a modern twist. It would be nice to have enough money to buy some of their stuff (and be the right size to wear it), but it was way beyond our pocket. We had just bought scarves, three for a tenner. In that shop there were cashmere scarves that cost £150 - each!!!
However, the quality of the garments was superb: beautifully cut, assembled and finished and a delight to look at.
What tickled us most was the shop assistants. They weren't rude, but they were keeping a very close eye on us. When we split to look at different racks, assistants hovered, just far enough away not to be intrusive, but near enough to check what we were doing. Very cleverly done. I suppose they'd have to be skilled to work in a place like that with clothes that cost so much.

Then it was off to the theatre and a truly brilliant show. We laughed ourselves silly. So very clever, most original and the timing and miming was superb. If you get the opportunity, go. You won't regret it. '39 steps' at the Criterion. See it!

The theatre itself is lovely. It's underground and was smaller than we expected. The stair walls were beautifully tiled with the names and pictures of famous people from the theatre and music world of the past - Arne, Sullivan, etc . . . It was all delightful with immaculate decor which gave it all a very intimate feel. And - big and - plenty of leg room!! Very comfortable.

After that, we had time to kill as we couldn't use our tickets until after 6:30, so we found a likely looking pub and shared a bottle of wine between the three of us while we chatted about all and sundry. Pleasant.

I wonder what the chances are of meeting someone you know well in London. We were on the 23 bus heading back to Liverpool Street Station when who should get on the same bus but my last born! I'm not sure who had the biggest surprise, him or me, but it was a delightful end to the day for me and totally unexpected. He was out of work a little earlier than usual - had he stuck to his normal hours, our paths wouldn't have crossed.

And so home, with a coffee at Js before L and I drove back to Chelmsford. I rather hit the cheese and biscuits (left over from last weekend) before going to bed, but never mind, it was a nice end to a fantastic day. Back to normal now!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Wednesday morning

And it's London matinee day today. Jackie, Lesley and I are off to see 'Thirty Nine Steps' at the Criterion. Hopefully the weather will be better than yesterday and we can wander a bit in comfort before finding somewhere to have a shack before the performance, which is at 3:00 p.m. Then, of course, we are right slap bang in the middle of the rush hour for getting home, but never mind, it should all be good fun.

Hopefully, the extra I may walk today (weather permitting) should help to burn off a few extra calories. Yes, it was another not terribly healthy day yesterday and, although I'm feeling fine this morning, there's a pound on according to Peeves. I'm not too worried - the loss for the month is very encouraging and, hopefully, by Sunday, that pound will have gone again and maybe another one will have joined it too.

I had a lovely time at DDs yesterday. She'd dug up her tub of potatoes so we had some for dinner and mmmmm, they were delicious. The problem with the oven is that the oven control had broken off when the oven was on, so if she turns the thing on at the mains to use the rings, the oven comes on too. Therefore, it can still be used, just not terribly conveniently. As she was going to get another one reasonably soon, it's not half the annoyance it could have been, thank goodness.

The weather seems to have moderated and it's really not chilly this morning, thank goodness. I'm down here in my nightie with no heating (obviously) and not feeling cold. Hopefully tomorrow morning will be the last morning without any heat and after that things will be repaired. It's the cost that's bothering me rather, with Christmas coming up and so on, but it has to be repaired, there's no two ways about it.

So - today I must get bathed and dressed soon, take the plastics out for recycling, finish the ironing, take dinner out of the freezer in case I need it, get some money out of the machine and be ready to be picked up by 9:30-ish. I'm spoilt today, I don't even have to drive over to Jackie's myself.

And it's about half way through the break!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tuesday morning

And yes, it was pretty cold first thing, but the little fan heater has warmed things up a bit. I think I might go to somewhere like Comet this morning and see if they've got another heater. I am sure they've improved considerably in recent years and equally I am sure that it could be useful in other situations too. I need to check my bank balance and, if I can afford it, I might also look for a little hand held vacuum cleaner as my Dyson really is awkward for cleaning the stairs.

Looking for the little fan heater made me realise how much space I am wasting under the stairs. There's boxes of toys that DG never plays with nowadays and all sorts of bits and bobs, including my sewing machine. I keep promising myself I will start sewing again, but I never seem to get round to it. Maybe I ought to make an effort. I used to be OK with basic sewing (not tailoring though) and made my own curtains, etc. The chair arm covers are in a disgraceful state and I could replace the two worst with some curtain fabric the shop sent when they made up the curtains, as it was the end of the roll. Also, if I could find a basic skirt pattern . . .
Anyway, enough of dreaming - if I clear that cupboard, I'd have some extra space for storage, always a Good Thing. And, luckily, the bin was emptied yesterday.

Finally . . .

See you later!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Monday evening

It's been a fair old day today, one way and another.

I had my bath this morning and the water ran cold rather quickly. Funnee, thought I, that should not have happened. Pottered downstairs to find the boiler as dead as a doornail and far less useful! Changed the fuse. Nothing. Pressed various buttons. Nothing.
Phoned Matt who can't come but he's contacted a fellow plumber who can come on Thursday. It could have been Wednesday but I'm out all day, going to a matinee performance of Thirty Nine Steps at the Criterion.
So I had a rootle in the Black Hole of Calcutta, aka the Cupboard Under The Stairs and found the little hot air blower I bought when the extension was being built and there was no heating for quite a long time. For a little thing it sends out a serious blast of heat. And, of course, the immersion is on too. So I'm lucky and won't get cold.

I went into town and had a lovely time wandering around the shops. I found an absolutely gorgeous skirt in M&S, beautiful fabric, but it was not cheap and, hopefully, I'm just a-passing through and won't be able to wear it for long so not good value. Anyway - far too good for school, which is what I really need skirts for at the moment
I popped into Bon Marche, purely on a whim - it wasn't somewhere I'd planned to go - and in there they had 'sensible' skirts (not wonderful but absolutely fine for school). The price was £15 but it was on BOGOF so I did, twice! Two the size I am now and two the next size down, a black and a grey in each size. Four skirts for £30 - can't be bad, can it? I'm now more or less OK for clothes for the next size down so don't need to worry about needing them and finding all the winter stuff has gone and the spring stuff in on the racks.

Mind you, I could have spent a fortune. All those glorious purples, pinks and lilacs that are in at the moment - they just call out to me. Simply gorgeous,

So, back home and I made some leek and potato soup for lunch, then had a go at those date slices. You know, they are absolutely scrummy and I had to exert loads of self control in order to have just one for dessert.
Easy too. You need a square cake tin, buttered and the oven at 180C. Then you mix 50g wholemeal flour, 50g SK flour and 100g oats together and rub in 100g (ooops) butter. That was a bit messy - the oats made it tricky and maybe next time I'll rub the butter into the flours and then add the oats afterwards. Then you stir in 50g light soft brown sugar.
Then, in a processor, you zizz 200g stoned dates with 2tbsp lemon juice and 3 of hot water until it's all gooey and 'jammy'.
Half the crumble mixture goes in the cake tin, pressed evenly down all over. Then in goes the date mixture, spread over, and finally the rest of the oaty crumble, again, spread evenly over and pressed down. I then cut it into 4 x 4 and baked it in the oven for 30 mins. When it comes out, re-cut and leave to cool in the tin. Mmmmmmmmm.
They will be made again but I think I will try to cut it down to 75g butter. 100g is an awful lot.

I phoned DD to say that I'd need to have DG round here on Thursday morning (I'm looking after him then) and heard that she'd had a bad day with so many things going wrong, including a broken oven!! Just one of those days for the Clark family, it seems!

Monday morning

And all's well. The old tum has settled down, I've regained one of the three pounds of weight Peeves told me I'd lost yesterday and things are passing through at the normal rate again. Phew!

Yesterday was lovely and restful. I managed to get some of the bedroom tidied and sorted out some clothes. I seem to have a lot more tops that I quite realised, but many of them are verging on being too large now and will have to be be recycled soon. The curried squash and lentil soup (which I decided to have, despite the recent tum trouble) was delicious and didn't cause any problems and I remembered and refined an idea for making Christmas cards which I might work on later today.

I like going shopping on the first day of a holiday break - it kind of underlines the freedom for me. Whether I will buy anything is anyone's guess, but that's not the point! So, guess where I'm going at 8:45 this morning! Look out, Chelmsford.

I heard a rumour from DD on Saturday that there's going to be a Hobbycraft opening in Chelmsford. How fantastic is that! At present there's one at Braintree and one at Basildon but both are not so easy to get to and parking is a bit of an issue: at least, it was the time we went to the Basildon one, I haven't been to the Braintree one but I find Braintree hard to get round, not knowing it all that well and I get lost every time I go there.
I love Hobbycraft, they have so many interesting and crafty things. Last year I got some foam Christmas tree shapes really cheaply that the children had great fun decorating and taking home. They also had some foam snowflakes - large ones - that looked great on our scenery for the Christmas Sh0w. It's such a useful place and to have one locally would be great! Fingers crossed.

When I get home I want to have a go at a recipe I found in Olive. It's called 'date slices' and it looks as healthy as these things can be, with wholemeal flour, oats and dates among the ingredients. It's a bit high in butter, but each slice isn't too bad and that sort of thing does keep for a bit longer. I can't find a link, unfortunately, sorry.

After that it will be ironing and continuing to tackle my bedroom. The usual half term stuff, in fact! And maybe I will even get on with sorting out my book shelves, you never know. That would indeed be a miracle!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Curried butternut squash and lentil soup

It was Maggie's fault. She mentioned about a curried soup and I thought 'I can do that' but then found I didn't have all the ingredients, so I did my own thing.

I had a smallish butternut squash. I opened it up, scooped out and discarded the seeds, cut off the peel and divided the slices into chunks. I put the chunks into a poly bag with two onions, quartered, a la Maggie, and then slooshed in some olive oil and squidged it all around until all the chunks were covered. Into a roasting dish it went and into the oven at about 210C for about half an hour or so. When the squash was soft I spooned in some curry powder, stirred it round and then popped it back in the oven for about five or so minutes, to sort of toast the spices.
It all went into a saucepan with some stock (marigold low sodium, as always), some seasonings and about four tbsp of red lentils. I simmered it until the lentils were cooked and then zizzed it all up with my lovely Bamix stick blender. It didn't need any more seasoning, but best to check, in case; and I did need to add some more water.

Most will be frozen as DD and DG aren't coming round to tea now, but I'm keeping a portion out for lunch tomorrow, with a swirl of natural yogurt. It's very smooth and comforting!

Sunday morning

Well, yesterday was something of a dead loss after all! After going a bit over (OK, quite a lot over) with the food on Friday evening, I woke on Saturday feeling pretty yuck. For a while I thought it must be just over indulging on a tum that is no longer used to it, but, as the day went on, it seemed more and more like a wee tummy bug: there were some bugs going around school and some of my children had been complaining of tummy aches, so I could have picked that up, I suppose.

There was no time to rest and relax, or to feel sorry for myself, as things needed doing and the family was due to turn up at various points through the day. That was good - it stopped most of the pity party feelings. However, I do feel diddled now because I didn't eat anything all day yesterday, although, at the time, while they were chomping on Chinese and birthday cake (not together though, you'll be relieved to hear), I wasn't even feeling the least bit resentful, just relieved that I didn't have to and also pleased that we'd not planned a meal out in an expensive restaurant. It's always easier to feel ill at home! I do just hope I haven't passed anything along the family line though - I was very careful, washed my hands a lot, didn't breathe over anything or anyone.

Everyone departs after breakfast so I will have some time to myself, to get things sorted, have a good rest and generally get my act together again. DD and DG will be coming for tea, which will be super, and the leftovers will go into the freezer for another time. I'm always amazed at what good value Chinese take away is - seven people were very well fed with enough of some of the dishes left over to make probably two more meals, all for a few pence over £40.

DG has discovered that he loves Chinese take-away. I lost count of the number of times he went back to the table for more: he never took much at a time, but he certainly maximised his opportunities! I've promised him that next time he comes to stay we'll get Chinese take away! Cheaper than Dominos pizzas!

The main job for today is to get my bedroom sorted. I just threw things in there yesterday instead of clearing them up properly, as I was feeling too rough to do more than cosmetic stuff. I didn't quite fall over anything in the middle of the night, but I did bang my toe! If I get that done really properly, I will count the day well spent.

And now, into the kitchen to get that left over food into freezer containers!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Saturday morning

A bit pushed for time at the moment but just a quick message to apologise for the whinge yesterday evening. Maybe it helped in that I got it out of my system, because I feel a lot happier now!

Back later!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Friday evening

. . . and half term has begun - which is just as well because I find myself very close to the edge. I think waking at three in the morning all week, combined with a few harrassing things at school, is just proving too much and I am pretty ashamed of myself right now. Imagine - a mature woman of 58 not coping. Ridiculous! Tears in the head's office - more ridiculous!!! I am ashamed!!

But half term has begun and I have a fond memory of today. Little Pickle was pretty rude - it looked as it he was being rude to me although he assured me it was an accident and he meant to be rude to , , , {named children} - as if that's any sort of excuse! Then followed a serious talk about kind hands, feet, words and gestures.
Several teaching points later . .
Little Pickle: But I don't have to be kind on the field, do I?

But half term has begun. The house is a right mess and my wonderful and totally efficient parents are arriving at around midday tomorrow. Tomorrow morning will be challenging! Maybe half term hasn't quite started yet.

Friday morning

The last day of the half term! I was sitting in the classroom watching my children watching the B F G and thinking how much they have come on this half term. For example, most of them can independently construct a sentence now and have a good go at writing it down. Most of the 'most' can write more than one connected sentence. Some can write several sentences and some are starting to use full stops to punctuate their sentences. That's super progress from September 3rd!

Personalities have emerged, pecking orders have been established, sort of, but not in tablets of stone, characters have defined themselves through their behaviours, occasionally unfortunately, usually delightfully.

But none of this is set for ever. I have 'groups' for reading, writing, maths and they are always flexible. Extension in one area does not mean extension in another. You can't label these children too rigidly, they continually defy any efforts to put them into a box with a label, and quite right too! It should never be that cut and dried. They are little, but their personalities and abilities are as big as the world and they are developing rapidly. I read somewhere that it was said of William the Conqueror: 'He is little, but he will grow' - and how he grew!! So will my class.

One thing this class isn't doing yet and that's giving me any 'aaaahhhhh' stories. I don't know if it's because I'm missing them or because their quirkiness shows in different ways. I'll have to keep a sharper look out! I'm glad it's half term but I'm going to miss the children so much next week. It'll be a great time, but going back on November 1st will be lovely too. I'm very lucky!!
Photos: The first is a frost touched cosmos taken yesterday morning - the first frost of the year. Those white streaks are the frost.
The white flower seemed to have escaped the frost and, I think, is simply a beautiful flower.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Thursday morning - early

I was right, not that it took many brains to tell. There's a good old frost outside at the moment and I am, yet again, extremely grateful for a good central heating system that can produce warmth at short notice. I'm also glad that, if it had to go wrong, it went wrong a few weeks ago and didn't wait until now!

I've got into an even earlier waking habit this week. Stupid o'clock is ridiculous and I'm glad half term is coming when I can go back to bed at around seven a.m. when I start to feel sleepy and perhaps modify the early sleeping/waking habit, rather than having to set off for school. But today it's a blessing and for the next two days as well) because I have a lot to do and simply don't have enough energy in the evenings.

First on the list is planning next week's food, including the family get together this weekend - not that it will be much of a hassle as I don't have the time for lots of home made stuff. Tomato soup for lunch and a Chinese takeaway constitutes the main part of it and perhaps Sunday dinner - but perhaps not, so I may be left with a big joint that can either be cooked and then made into meals or frozen raw and cooked on another occasion. I also got a bag of potatoes (King Edwards) so that over half term I can prepare and freeze the roast spuds for the Christmas dinner. I've done that several times now and it works a real treat.

Anyway - there's a list of chores so off I go to start reducing the length of it somewhat!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Wednesday evening

And it's so-o-o cold outside. I'm sure there will be a frost tonight and my lovely flowers will be killed off. When I came in from school I had to turn the heating right up and I've only just really thawed out properly.

It's been a long day at school, with staff meeting to end it, but a fairly good day all in. We got a little talk from the head about making sure our work/home life balance was right and not doing things that we could really ask our TAs to do for us. Also about making sure half term truly was a break from work. It was nice of her . . . and a word in season for me too. It's amazing how one can always find more work to do . . .

Things seem to be going round the class right now. Two children had bad tummies on and off and I sneezed thirteen times in a row - something I usually only do when there's a cold in the offing. I'm keeping my fingers crossed although regular readers may just possibly remember that I went down with the Teacher Holiday Cold at the same point last year following what I suspect was a mild dose of flu in the summer holiday, and which kept returning over and over again through most of the winter. We haven't heard much about flu recently - maybe the 'epidemic' is over now.

Two more days at school and it's the end of the first half of the term.
Crabby, edgy, bad tempered and tearful - and that's just the staff!! It has been a heavy half term what with one thing and another and everyone is looking extremely weary and worn at the moment (and dropping like flies with this cold that's doing the rounds). Let's hope it warms up a bit over the break and we get plenty of sunshine.

Reading through what I've typed, it looks like one long moan from start to finish. Never mind, only two . . . I've said that already, haven't I? ;0)

Wednesday morning

Please may I ask for your prayers, good wishes, positive vibes, whichever you feel most comfortable with, for Becky who, I hear, is very, very unwell at present.
You can find her blog here.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Tuesday evening

Today I had warm toes. All day!

Today I forgot to eat my lunch. I remembered just before the children came in and had time to eat the yogurt and fruit. The soup can do tomorrow instead.

Today was dance/exercise after school and I managed to do curl-ups (I think that's what they are called) for all of the two minutes. Still can't hold the plank for more than 20 seconds though! It's a killer!

After the happy weigh in this morning, it's been a good day! Yay!!!

Three more days before half term . . .

Tuesday morning

After suffering cold toes for most of yesterday I have given up the battle. Today I will wear tights. Oh, dear - definitely a sign of winter approaching, having to wear tights. It's been raining too; I hope it's not a miserable indoor play day.

I've just done the necessary with the remains of the chicken from Sunday and, at risk of repeating myself boringly, here's what it produced:
One very good portion for a roast dinner
Four portions for lunches (2 drums and 2 thighs - in the freezer) or two for a dinner
Two portions of white meat slices in stock (freezer)
Five portions of chicken and veg/pulse soup (very meaty and filling, real comfort food - four in freezer)
One portion of chicken bits (from the carcass boiling) in good stock, great for soup, pie, savoury crumble or rice (freezer)
A fair amount of delicious stock which is currently reducing down so it takes less room in the freezer - this will be to add to the turkey gravy at Christmas - you can never have too much what with Boxing Day leftover creations, etc.
I reckon that's a pretty good use of £8.88, which is what it cost - free range, organic, tastes delicious.

Note to self - start a list of Christmas stuff in freezer or half will get forgotten!

Yesterday morning, out on a course, it all started well when I turned up at the wrong place. Well done, Joy! Fortunately, I know where the right place was and arrived before I had missed too much. It was very, very good - an introduction to Autism, run by staff from the local MLD Special School which has an accredited Autism Base as part of the school. It's a superb place, designated as outstanding, and it has done outstanding things for DG, building on the solid foundations DD has given and continues to give him. Anyway - great course and I look forward to hearing it again. All of our LSAs plus our two NQTs will be attending one of two that are being organised just for us as a school, with the added bonus of some observations around their school in the afternoon. As we have a number of children with autism related behaviours and given the undeniable fact that strategies that work for children with autism also benefit lots of other children, it is going to reap dividends in terms of increased understanding and managing skills for us all.

And when I got back to school the supply had gone and left a note which said 'your children are lovely'. Wasn't that nice?

Monday, 18 October 2010


And the start of a new working week. I'm only with my class for three days this week - Friday is SEN, of course, Tuesday morning is PPA and co-ordinators time and this morning I am out to a local school for a Local Delivery Group meeting/training. Given that this afternoon is swimming and Wednesday afternoon is library and then PPA, it doesn't give me an awful lot of teaching time, but we will do what we can as well as we can, as always! The children are, inevitably, slowing down a bit, so less 'academic' stuff and more practical won't be such a bad thing really

The freezer is bulging again now. The chicken and soup mix soup yielded five servings, four of which are being frozen (the last is for my lunch today), there's one portion of tomato soup, two of chicken slices in a good jelly stock, two drumsticks, two thighs and a pot of boiled up carcass to pick over this evening, making at least one more portion for a stir fry or soup and some excellent stock which will be jolly useful for the Christmas gravy! I think I will boil it right down to a very thick mass before freezing. That way it will take up minimal space.

Maybe I'm a bit boring about my freezer, but it's reassuring to know that there's a whole stack of healthy, sensible, good-for-me meals so that when I come in cold and tired after a stressful day, I'm not likely to dive into the nearest take-away for a comfort meal because I have a freezer full of meals that can be reheated and ready within ten minutes (good old microwave). I'm also finding there's a lot more money at the end of each month rather than the other way round. And, of course, the weight should continue to come off. Even if I had two of most of those main meal portions it would not be a disaster.

At the moment, continuing on my own particular 'straight and narrow' is very important to me. I said yesterday that I've been here before - I have, several times. Each time it's all disintegrated in a mess of pigging out and inner self disgust, not the best frame of mind for picking myself up, dusting down and moving on. I really, really don't want it to happen again this time . . .

Photo: The cosmos are still looking pretty. The first frost can't be far away but until then I will continue to enjoy them

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sunday lunchtime

Not long back from a most enjoyable shopping trip.
I got the thermometer probe thingy and it's now being tested on my dinner. In her blog, Diane did warn that it wasn't all that easy to understand the instructions and she was certainly right there, but I think I have set it properly now. It means a late dinner though, it took so long to suss out, but I'll survive!

And I also managed to get some clothes. Suddenly there's an awful lot more choice, although a lot is pretty unsuitable, of course, either for me at my size and/or age, or because of what I need them for - school. However, I managed to find two skirts and a lovely long cardigan. I could have spent a lot longer searching around but time was speeding on . . .

I've tried the raspberry cordial and it's good. The photo is of the mixture simmering in the pan before sieving.

Sunday morning

. . . and a little later than usual. Not that I slept in, dear me, no!
I did stay in bed for an hour, reading, but since then I've been busy in the kitchen finishing sorting out the rest of the mess from yesterday and getting today's stuff done and dusted. I made a fruit salad with blueberries, mango, apple and orange. I was going to also add pineapple and plums but what was left of the pineapple had gone over and ended up on the compost and the plums aren't quite soft enough yet. Still, it's jolly nice (I've just had some on my porridge, with a good dollop of natural yogurt on top) and will do me for a couple of days, I think. The other thing I've done is start boiling up s0me raspberries with sugar, lemon juice and water, to make a raspberry cordial. Not exactly healthy but never mind!

In a little while I will be off into town, as mentioned yesterday, to get the meat thermometer Diane mentioned and to see if Debenhams has any Christmas decorations in. This voucher is burning a hole in my pocket rather, and is certainly making me feel a bit guilty. All those families were kind enough to club together and present me with it and I haven't found anything to spend it on yet. Naughty me!

And then, when I get home, it's straight on with dinner, making immediate use of the thermometer! It's a big chicken: they are nicer than the smaller ones and the free range organic ones do tend to be on the larger side, I find. When I've had my dinner, I will be dealing with the rest. Nice slices to freeze in stock or gravy, chicken drumsticks will do me nicely for a school lunch, more raggedy bits of meat will go in the soup mix soup which will then be frozen and the carcass will then be boiled up and the bones stripped of any remaining meat which can then be frozen in stock until needed for soup or something.. So you see, buying a whole chicken just for me can seem like an extravagant waste at first sight but, used sensibly, it can become quite a frugal (as well as delicious) option.

While in town, I might look at clothes. With the likelihood of shortly being able to get into clothes in the 'normal' range (albeit pretty large still), I need to think ahead a bit. My current selection of skirts and tops will not (I hope) last the winter, so I need to get some stuff just one size smaller so that I'm not in a fix in the new year, when the shops will be getting their spring/early summer clothes onto the racks. It's an interesting though and quite encouraging - fingers crossed that I won't just be wasting my money.

I've been here before, after all.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Saturday evening.

It's been another creative day in the kitchen and this time I've kept up with the tidying up rather better this week too.

I made the tomato soup, all bar adding the milk and bicarb which I will do when I reheat it for tea tomorrow. I made the chicken and soup mix soup apart from adding the chicken (because that isn't cooked yet) and I have to say that for an experiment it tastes very good so far. I then made another batch of balsamic beef and red pepper stew because I ate the last one from the freezer tonight and it's nice - I want to have the option of planning it in. There was a fair bit of butternut squash left over so I roasted it, scraped the flesh away from the skin and mashed it with some philly light. That's six not too large portions, five for the freezer and one for tomorrow. And then, just to cap it all, I made tea loaf - the kind where you have to soak dried fruit in tea and sugar, add egg and self raising flour and then bake in a loaf tin (or two). I was inspired to do this when I remembered some spiced tea Mum brought over when they last came. She doesn't like it and thought I might. It has helped to make a delicious loaf so here's the recipe in case anyone's interested. One can fool oneself that it's healthy because of all the dried fruit and no butter (except the butter you spread on it just before eating it, of course)

Tea loaf

340g/12 oz mixed dried fruit, washed.
229mls/7 1/2 fl oz strained strong cold tea (I used a spiced tea)
115g/4 oz demerara sugar
230g/8 oz self raising flour
1 egg

Place sugar, tea and fruit in a bowl, mix well, cover and leave overnight.
Next day, add flour and egg, mix well and place in 2 lb loaf tin.
Bake at 350 F / 180C for 1 1/4 hours or until well done. If necessary, cover during the last part of baking.
Turn out onto cooling tray.

Freezes well.

I put this mixture into two small loaf tins and they took just an hour to bake.

Saturday morning

I love weekends!

As mentioned yesterday, I found an easy looking recipe for tomato soup on the internet, so I'm giving it a go for lunch. It involves cans of chopped tomatoes, onion, garlic, stock, tomato puree and basil. Oh, and milk and bicarb too - the bicarb is supposed to stop the milk curdling. We will see. I'll probably roast the chopped tomatoes and onions first - I love that roasted flavour - and add some balsamic vinegar too.

And I've just started a sort of thick soup, made with 'soup mix', which is a mixture of lentils, dried peas, pearl barley, etc, onions, a good chicken stock and seasonings, and I will add chunks of chicken from the roast chicken I am having tomorrow. It's an experiment so we will see. The tomato soup is for lunch and maybe tea tomorrow, and the other is really for school lunches and/or for over half term so is destined for the freezer. Both are 'healthy' and don't contain an awful lot of fat. Both will up my fruit and veg. Hopefully, both will taste really good and have that chilly weather comfort factor.

I was going to go into town this morning, but I think I will defer it until tomorrow. I want to go to Lakeland and also to Debenhams, although I think it might be too early to look at the Christmas Decorations they have for sale. I've decided what I will spend some of that gift voucher on. I have a little personal tradition that every year I buy one more decoration for the Christmas Tree. I've seen some lovely things over the years that have just been too expensive to justify buying. However, with a bit of this money, I can get something really lovely (if I see anything suitable in Debenhams, which I do, usually) and then, every year, when I put it on the tree, it will remind me of my lovely class last year. I feel 'good' about doing that.

Apart from the above, the weekend is filled with the usual chores and responsibilities, but nothing else. I have plenty of space for falling asleep on the sofa while reading a book or the paper. Plenty of space for watching rubbish TV (and falling asleep). Plenly of space for starting to plan Christmas and searching for interesting recipes which I might never use but it's fun to find them. Plenty of space to rejoice in the fact that there's five more teaching days and then it's half term and a family get together.

Well, the soup mix soup is on and boiling, the chopped tomatoes are roasting in the oven and smelling lovely and I guess I ought get my act together and have my bath at some point soon. Here's to a good day!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Friday evening

. . . and finally it's the weekend. I can feel the weariness spreading over me like a fog and I'm fighting to stay awake just a little longer before going to bed. I think this is a battle I'm not going to win though.

In the kitchen the new batch of yogurt is slowly making and I have some soup mix soaking overnight. It's really quite chilly outside and ones thoughts turn to hearty soups. I have a jar of chicken stock which I can use as a base and maybe I can add some shreds of the Sunday roast (once it's cooked, that is) I also found a very simple tomato soup recipe for which the comments were very positive, so I'm having a go at that as well.

Thinking back over the day, it's been good. I had a helpful and productive meeting with K and then with a mum and this afternoon a specialist support teacher was in so I spent some time talking to her. And I got a nice note from one of last year's Little Pickles saying ' Dear missis Clarck, I miss you, love from . . .' Seeing as he has received many a good telling off from me in his time, I was rather touched by that.

And now, finally, at last, it's the weekend . . .

Friday morning

. . . and that's parents' evening over and done with until February. It ended up a very pleasant and positive experience indeed. I had several really good talks with parents and everyone seems really pleased with the progress their children have made. There were some very positive comments made about my teaching and how much their children love coming in to school, so 'phew' all round and this blog ought to be called 'Diary of a very happy and satisfied teacher' right now..

I had a very long chat to one set of parents which meant that I wasn't home until after nine. I wasn't the last to go though - as I left, the head was still deep in discussion with who I assume was a parent in her office. I have no idea what time she left but I do hope it wasn't too long afterwards, as she has a fair old journey to get home. It's all right for me, I just have to pop round a few corners and I'm home! We're all going to be very tired today though, and I am thankful that it's SEN time for me. I'm expecting a visit from an external agency for one of my children and am looking forward to some guidance, as the child in question is doing brilliantly well and I need target advice.

The other thing I have today is to sit down with K and gather together resources for another child. I inherited K with the class in September and she (plus my other two LSAs) is an absolute treasure. We work so well together. I was thinking this and about how much I am learning from her and mentioned to her that I think we make a great team and she surprised me by saying, in effect, that she was so happy to be working with me and she was learning so much from seeing me teach. That shocked me but I feel very encouraged that we're both doing our very best and are united in our desire to help and support and in the way we feel it can be done. It must be awful when the teacher and the LSA are trying to pull in different directions. Luckily, I have rarely experienced that.

And so to planning the weekend. I want it to be an easy, breezy weekend with not too much hassle or hard work and with plenty of opportunities to nod off on the sofa. The usual stuff has to be done, of course - washing, tidying, ironing, etc, - and I need to get all the spare beds ready for next weekend, but apart from that, the idea is to take it very easy. I've decided to buy a clever meat thermometer from Lakeland. Diane, in her heart warming 'Good morning, early readers' blog, mentioned it several days ago and I was smitten! I always feel that cooking the Christmas turkey is more than a bit hit and miss, so this might help. I gather it bleeps when the meat reaches the appropriate temperature and is properly cooked. Of course, I will have to test it, so over the next several weekends I will be buying joints of meat (such hardship), which means, in turn, lots of lovely leftovers for other meals and meals for the freezer. I shall start with a chicken, I think, and take it from there.

Talking of the Christmas turkey - it's ordered. I always get them from the famous and highly respected Kelly's of Danbury. After last year's experience and, bearing in mind I will be catering for fewer this Christmas, I have ordered a 7kg one. Last year I ordered an 8kg turkey and they sent a 10k one because all their turkeys had grown exceptionally well. I had to cut off the legs to get the thing into the roasting tin and the hotpot I made last weekend was based on one of them!!

Six school days until half term!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Thursday morning

. . . and yesterday was, as hoped, a nice, gentle, normal day at school. The children were rather nosiy to start with but one look at the sand timer and they settled down magically.

The sand timer is one of my strategies. If necessary, they all sit at the front to 'practise being quiet' for a minute, using the sand timer to time it. Something very clear and visible. As they've wasted working time, they need to pay it back - at playtime. Sometimes now, all I need to do is pick up that sand timer and look and they quieten down. No need to nag, no need to raise my voice to be heard. It's amazing how quickly some of them notice and spread the news.

Today will be nice too. After morning play, one of their Foundation Stage LSAs, who is on maternity leave at present, is coming in to talk about her baby - what she can and cannot do, how she is growing and how to look after her. We're all looking forward to it and, of course, the children will be making a little non-fiction book about the baby next week. That means games has been pushed forward to straight after phonics. After dinner it's maths and then music. All nice and predictable. Shame about parents' evening, but once that's over we can relax. And it *is* nice to meet the parents and chat about their children.

Better go and finish the notes I need for this evening now!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Wednesday morning

I may have been tired yesterday evening, but it took a while to go to sleep and I'm up early as usual. I guess it's just too many thoughts whizzing around in my head right now. I intend to have a nice peaceful weekend (fingers crossed) which will sort me out! And having a nice, normal day today feels wonderful. Family assembly, reading partners, ICT suite, PPA for half an hour - and NO STAFF MEETING!

Thinking very much of those miners as they are brought up from their underground tomb. I hope the world gives them a chance to settle, debrief in a way that works for them and lets them get on with their lives. Their world has changed for ever, not of their making or wish, and it's going to be tough, even without media attention. I hope they're left alone, but I have my doubts!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Tuesday evening

Not long home and munching on a very belated and much needed dinner. It has been a super evening, the parents seemed very pleased with the progress their children are making, both academically and in other areas. It's so nice and so affirming when everyone is pleased.

I was so mortified this morning. I was in the middle of a performance management meeting with one of my team when spit, crackle, the battery in my left hearing aid died the death. Excuse me, said I, I just need to get switched on again, and I rummaged in my bag for my batteries. To no avail. No batteries. Eeek! I NEVER let myself go out without spare batteries. Fortunately I live very close to the school so I whizzed home, switched myself back on and came back to find that A had typed up some of her form, bless her. But how unprofessional of me. I have stacks of the things at home but must have used the last one up last time it needed replacing.

The only comfort is that it would have been worse had it gone in the middle of a meeting with the parents this evening! Thank goodness that didn't happen.

Now I'm so-o-o-o tired, bone weary in fact. Off to bed soon with some magazines to yawn over. Sleep well, everyone.

Tuesday morning

. . . and I'm more or less ready now. I feel as if my feet haven't touched the ground for a few days but the books are ready, the notes have been made, the assessment materials are in order. All I have to do n0w is sort out the reading sheets and put them in the parents evening file. Oh, and stick a few labels in their maths books too. Getting there.

The children are aware that mum and/or dad are coming to see their work and talk to their teacher. Suddenly the work rate has gone up and the behaviour is very 'pleasing'. I don't fool myself that it will last though. Friday is likely to be a 'sit on them hard' sort of day!

It was interesting looking through their books. You forget just how much work they have done in the few weeks of this school year and how much they have come on. Fingers crossed that the parents will be as pleased as I am!

There's not likely to be a blog entry this evening unless my brain is racing around and I need to unwind. Must go now and get sorted for school!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Monday evening

Getting there. Slowly!
It's my own fault, I got behind with sticking their work into their books.

Maybe I will do better in future . . .

Monday morning

In a fair old hurry, so this will be short. Thank goodness I'm an early riser. I get so much more done early morning and today is no exception! Must go and get on . . . see you later, hopefully.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A bit later on

. . . and I have been so-o-o-o busy! Not doing what I am supposed to be doing, of course, but nonetheless, busy!

Yesterday I put some dried peas on to soak overnight so this morning they went into my big pot to boil vigorously for ten minutes and then gently simmer until soft. Because I wanted mushy peas, I added some bicarb to the soaking water. It did smell good although it doesn't taste quite right yet because there's no salt added. So that made nine single portion pots and two larger amounts for ham and pea soup.

And then I went to survey the freezers. I have two, an upright for the meals I make and a chest for everything else. It quickly became obvious that without some reorganising I wasn't going to get the chicken curries, casseroles, turkey hotpots and mushy peas in. So, armed with a black bag, I went out prepared to be ruthless and, yes, there were a very few things that needed chucking, but not all that much; it was just that things had got all higgledy-piggledy over the months. After a jolly good tidy up, moving stuff around, re-bagging other stuff and generally making it all much more organised, I had plenty of room and now all but the peas are freezing down. The peas are chilling first!

I do love cooking for DG. When he was a little laddie, when his autism was having a huge impact on how ability to cope with things, he was very difficult to feed at times. Nothing mixed up at all, separate piles on his plate and woe betide if anything touched anything else. DD has worked long and hard to help him to become more confident and relaxed about foods with some considerable success. The growing smile on his face as I told him we were having chicken casserole, sprouts, broccoli and jacket potato for dinner, followed by yogurt, was a sheer delight and a fitting testimony to my daughter's skill and understanding.

Oh, and I've done some washing and ironing. Avoidance tactics rule, OK?

Sunday morning

Phew, yesterday was busy. Apart from the usual, I made a chicken curry (3 good portions but a bit of a cheat as I used a jar of sauce), made the chicken and tomato casserole for dinner today (at least one portion for the freezer, maybe more depending on how hungry DG is) and then boiled up that turkey leg and made a scrummy turkey hotpot - well, we in the family call it hot pot but it's not the kind with potato on the top, it's a very chunky main course soup, loaded with vegetables and crammed with meat. When I went shopping, the meat bits pot looked good so I got 200g of that as well and popped it in the turkey hotpot. As it was mostly ham, it went very well. So that's another seven meals sorted.

It's a lovely feeling, knowing DG is happily asleep upstairs. As I'm an early to bed person, I went up earlier than him, giving instructions that he was to come up at 9:30. This he did (he's very good with rules) and I turned off my light. A little while later my bedroom door opened and he tiptoed in, sat beside my bed, gave me a big hug, laid his head under my hand for a few minutes and then tiptoed back out again. Aaaahhhhhh - so loving.

Most of today will be taken up with getting ready for parents' evenings. Not terribly exciting but needs to be done.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Saturday morning

. . . and Peeves (Wii balance board - and yes, maybe I am nuts!!) was not happy with me this morning. The reason? I have hit the next target down a wee bit earlier than I ought to have. Poor Peeves is 'worried about my health'.
Slimming wisdom in this country dictates that we can lose a maximum of 2 lbs a week and that, more or less, is what I'm managing, despite the occasional ooops times, although this time I'm a few days early. Peeves reckons that 3 lbs in two weeks is the most I should be losing and he tells me off when I set a target of 8 lbs in a month. I am aware of the 'rebound' effect, having been there before, but I reckon the occasional ooops evening might actually be keeping me on the straight path, occasional being the important word here.

Having said that, it was a struggle in Morrison's after school yesterday. As I had a very short weekly shopping list this week (mostly fruit and veg really), I decided not to trek over to Sainsbury's but to save the petrol. However, I was very, very tired after my waking at stupid o'clock and weary from the meetings at school. Also there's an unfortunate mini-pattern beginning to develop regarding having an ooops on Friday evenings. Perhaps this is just me, but sometimes I get the most overwhelming feeling that I HAVE to, simply MUST, buy stuff like cheese, crisps, wine, sausage rolls - fatty, savoury stuff that does me no good whatsoever and makes me feel like a compost heap the next morning. Somewhat addictive stuff (unhealthy food, not compost). When I went into the shop there was a tremendous battle raging in my head. It was so close and there was a compromise - in the end I only got two packets of those mini rice cakes, one salt and vinegar and one prawn cocktail. Just over 200 calories altogether. It was tricky at the time, but, you know what, I feel great about it now. It wasn't defeat, it was victory with a sensible compromise that really clinched it. Maybe the pattern has been broken.

So, Peeves to the contrary, losing a bit more poundage AND hitting the next target down is a very welcome reward!

On to today - it's going to be a sorting out work, sticking stuff in books day, a writing notes for parents evening day, a getting ready for next week day. And in the evening DG is over again as last week, so that DD can set off nice and early to pick Indie up and bring her home again, hopefully pregnant with lots of pretty, pure bred Tonkinese kittens.
Must make a loaf of bread today - I think DG was a little miffed that he couldn't have toast for breakfast last Sunday, although he was very polite about it.

As well as that, I must make some more oat thins. I've managed to get some more oat bran and I've used up most of the old ryvita now (which is the reason I didn't make any last week).

And finally, I have some chicken pieces to make some sort of casserole with, initially for Sunday dinner tomorrow for me and DG but also with some portions to freeze for the future. I have a jar of some sort of curry sauce and I think I will use that for some of the chicken and do a tomato based stew with the rest. I'll have a wee think about it and see what the brain comes up with. I've also take the remaining turkey leg out to thaw very slowly in the fridge. Long term readers might remember that last Christmas Kellys sent me a Kellybronze turkey which was much larger than I had ordered because their turkeys had grown really well. I had to take off the legs in order to get it into the roasting tin and oven. One leg went home with my brother and the other into the freezer.
I think I will casserole it in some stock and white wine and make some turkey hotpots.

Which reminds me - must check their site to see when I can order the bird for this year.

So another busy and productive weekend coming up. Nice.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Oh, my goodness!

I get to school and get stuff ready for the day for my supply cover. Along comes K, most important person in the school, the school secretary.
'You're in charge today', says she. 'Susannah isn't in, Natalie is on a course and M (KS2 coordinator) is not in on Fridays'.

She was wrong about one thing - M was in school, she had her day off on Tuesday this week. However, as I was out of class and she wasn't, I was accessible.

Nothing much happened, thank goodness. But I was able to hold my meetings in the head's room - oooooh, posh!! I could get used to having a office, I really could, but I don't want any other head-like responsibility, thank you.

Does this fool anyone, I wonder?

I get loads of ads through the door. Most of them see the inside of the recycling paper sack in short order. Just occasionally I look at one.

That was the case with a flyer for a take away Chinese based in the town centre. Quite a nice, glossy leaflet with photos, etc. Free delivery, I noted, how useful, might give it a go sometime and see what it's like. So I read down the info on the first page until I got to the following:
Enjoy 10% off for every pick-up order. And yes, the items were on the expensive side.

I wonder who they think they are fooling!!

Friday morning, very early

It's one minute past stupid o'clock, according to my computer. I've been awake for about half an hour, wide awake, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I'm not an insomniac, honestly, I've had five and a half hour's good sleep, which is not that far off what I need. However, I do have a few things on my mind, not necessarily bad things, just things that are taking up my thoughts.

SEN day today and three meetings scheduled, which is good going, even for me. They should be positive events with good outcomes. In-between them I will be paperworking and assessing. It's a hard life!!

I love the way littlies don't put two and two together and get four. Yesterday it related to taking out the class football, which they're allowed to do only when they can go onto the school field. To be able to go into the field, it has to be dry enough and, unfortunately, with the wet weather we have been having and the lack of warm sunshine, the field is rather muddy-sticky and therefore out of bounds. So no football, a restriction that is felt keenly by all my budding little Beckhams.

Little Pickle: Mrs Clark, is it football day today?
(this is where I should have just said 'no', but I do like to encourage them to use what could be described as Natural Gumption)
Me: What do you think, LP.
LP: (probably thinking 'if I knew, I wouldn't be asking, would I) I don't know, is it?
Me: Look at the grass . . .
LP: (obediently looking at the grass and thinking 'why????')
Me: Well, what do you think?
LP: But can we have the football out?(a kid with a one track mind here)
Me: Can you see anyone else on the grass?
(by now most classes were out and the field was completely empty)
LP: No - but can we play football?
Me: If the grass is wet and there's no-one on the field, the teacher outside has said children can't go on the field.
LP: (thinking about it) But Mrs Clark, can we take the football out
Me (taking a deep breath, carefully and deliberately relaxing and smiling sweetly) No, dear, not today.

Why do I bother, I wonder. I could have drunk my playtime coffee in the time it took to fail to get LP to reason it through.

Nearly the weekend and I have hours before school starts. A good opportunity to do what I neglected earlier on in the week and get next week's planning sorted out, get next week's menus sorted out and make the shopping list. What fun!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Thursday evening

. . . and yes, it was a nice, calm, peaceful day. Good work done, no disasters and everyone was happy. Lovely! But it's hard to believe that in a fortnight it will be half term and the children will be a sixth of the way through their school year. Very scary thought.

Next week is consultation evenings and so I am up to my eyeballs in getting stuff ready. It's always lovely talking to the parents but it does take a tremendous lot of work beforehand. At least it means no staff meeting that week. I sometimes think these evenings have more value than the written reports and they do take up less of our own, personal time too. It also makes us get up to date with filing and recording stuff, never a bad thing. :0)

Right, Nigella Kitchen is just starting so I will send this quickly. I missed it last week and I don't want to miss it this week as well!

Thursday morning

. . .and there's not an awful lot to say really. Hopefully it's just going to be another day, normal, reliable, no major problems . . .

Hope yours is a good one too.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Wednesday evening

For once quite an interesting staff meeting after school today. We've just got our intermediate International School Award (I think that's what it is called) and are going for the advanced award. As part of that we're having a multi cultural week and we were discussing what we could do. Eventually we split up into phases (yrs 5&6, Yrs 3&4 and FS/KS1) to select a country and to decide very roughly how we want to organise it. We (FS/KS1) decided to focus on the Caribbean, as it's bright, colourful, very visual and different. And one of the team can get hold of a steel band that can come and do workshops with each class in turn. We've booked the hall for the day we want and are now looking out for resources, information and ideas. We were all getting quite excited about it by the end after an initial 'oh, no, what now' feeling.

Never a dull moment when you're a teacher!

Wednesday morning

Sorry about the missing post yesterday evening. I was so tired after the dance class I just flopped and rested. Mind you, I did actually manage to stay up until after nine, middle of the night for me, so slept round until four this morning, a great improvement on the last few days. When people comment on my slightly 'odd' sleeping times I have to say that I don't have any less sleep (usually) than others, it's all just earlier than most.

Dance was good - I'm feeling it this morning, so must have worked pretty hard. I'm a right duffer at it, can't remember the steps or routines, but I do try and that's the main thing, isn't it (asks she, hopefully)? Peeves seems to like it too!

It was actually good to make some time to wallow in my current fave cookery book, Nigella's 'Kitchen'. It really is a beautiful book. Firstly, it's substantial. Hardback. Thick. Glossy. All those apart, I'm thoroughly enjoying the contents; it's a truly satisfying experience. She has the knack of communicating her supreme passion for food and for cooking so very effectively, it makes the reader part of the experience, it draws you into her world. I know her descriptions can seem very OTT at times, but they're an important part of the whole experience and they really make me want to cook whatever she is describing. Also, it's a substantial book, as already mentioned, and it's going to be my favourite reading for some time to come. And - just a little, satisfying, 'I know you're going to be reading this over time' touch - there's an attached ribbon to mark the page I am on.

Why, oh why are there so many wonderful recipes around? With only me to cook for it can be hugely frustrating at times. I need a HUGE freezer, I think, then I can have all the fun and not worry about what to do with the results. Wouldn't that be great!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tuesday morning

And here we are again, bright and early, ready for another day. It's a beautiful, clear, chilly early morning with what I presume is Venus shining very brightly and drawing the eye to the exclusion of the other night lights. I've just been out to the freezer to get today's foods out and couldn't stop gazing at her; absolutely beautiful.

I have, sitting on my sofa (because I was too lazy to put it all away last night) a supermarket bag containing one bramley apple, one large carrot, one pear, one cauliflower, one packet of instant custard and one large tin of value pineapple chunks in a light syrup. No, it's not because I'm taking part in Ready, Steady, Cook (wish I was), it's what was needed for the year 1 bit of the Harvest Festival service yesterday. And now the challenge is to use it all up. The carrot is easy enough - I get through carrots by the score. The pear and the apple - well, I will stew the apple and the pear will go into the fruit bowl. The cauliflower is a bit more of a problem, given that I already have a savoy cabbage in the fridge and there's a limit to how much one person can get through. I might make a vegetable curry and, surprise surprise, freeze it in single portions, or I'm sure I have a recipe for cauliflower soup somewhere. Then there's the tin of pineapple - it's unfortunate that they're in syrup and I do just wonder how much actual pineapple there is inside such a large tin, given how ridiculously cheap it was. I will check and, maybe, there's my answer to the cost of pineapple for jam and chutney. You never know. Alternatively, maybe I could stew some of the contents with the apple and maybe I could find a recipe for pineapple muffins or something similar. I have a feeling the syrup will be chucked down the drain.

Today is PPA and I also have a vague feeling that it's also performance management for two of my team in my KS 1 coordinator hour. I was planning to get on with sorting out Whoops-a-Daisy Angel which arrived yesterday and looks much more achievable than Christmas with the Aliens. Nice simple lyrics and a script that will need bulking out rather than reducing down. However, if it's P M I won't have time to work on it today. Never mind, plenty of time (famous last words)!

Off I go now, into the Internet, not for a bear hunt but for a cauliflower recipe hunt and maybe a pineapple muffin hunt. Wish me luck - I may be gone some time.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Monday evening

We were so lucky today. It poured this morning, cleared up just before playtime, the sun came out at lunch time and the walk to St Andrew's and back was perfectly dry. As we got back to school it started drizzling just a little bit. Couldn't have worked better if we tried, assuming it had to rain at some point, of course.

I was so proud of my year ones today. It's the first time they've been to the Harvest Festival as the foundation stage children don't go, and they were amazing. So well behaved and attentive, even if one did fall asleep half way through. And, of course, the walk was extra calories burnt too.

I'm still feeling jolly tired, even after two good nights' sleep, so I reckon I will try to stay awake for another hour and then happily disappear upstairs. The nice thing about living along (one of many nice things) is that one can do this and now worry about putting others out in any way. Sleep early, wake early, no matter. As long as it suits me, that's all there is to it. Lucky me!

There seem to be an awful lot of very large spiders around at the moment. I saw two huge ones on the centre of their massive webs in one of the raised beds in the garden, contemplating the myriad of flies that were firmly caught in the sticky trap. Judging by the number, those spiders are not on any kind of diet! I managed to take a few photos that were in any way clear - most were fuzzy and unrecognisable - and here they are, the first photos posted in ages. I seem to remember that the last photos I posted were spider related - and I'm not at all fond of them either. They are fascinating though.


Thank goodness, I've slept a lot better these last two nights and feel a lot more on top of things as a result. So much so, in fact, that I went for 24 minutes of Wii exercise this morning and started using the function where you programme in your choice of actiities and it runs straight through them without those annoying pauses in-between each one where it tells you how many calories, how much time, etc . . .

It was great having DG to stay and as DD managed to get back before dinnertime, we all ate together. Indie will be staying with the stud for a week so we will be doing exactly the same thing next week, although DD might not want to stay for dinner with a (hopefully) newly preggy Indigo in the car. We will see.

I got the orange pineapple chutney made. It tasted rather good straight from the pan and the dates had disintegrated, giving the whole thing an interesting texture. If I do it again, I will have more sultanas and add some apple, I think, as it's very heavy on pineapple and they are expensive.

Despite the throat, the aches and the tiredness, it's been a good weekend. The freezer is now full again and I should have enough soups to last me for a good month or so, given that I don't have soup every day.

Today is another rather disrupted day. Violins this morning and we're all walking to St Andrews for our Harvest Festival in the afternoon, weather permitting. If it rains, we will all have to squash into the school hall and the patents won't be able to attend: there's barely enough room in the hall for all the children and staff, let alone parents as well. There will be time for a proper maths lesson and that's about it, once I've added Reading Revelry, phonics and assembly into the equation. The walking will be great exercise though! Must remember to record it.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Bacon and pea soup

This is for my friend, Julia, and anyone else who is interested. I'm sorry that the amounts are vague - that's soup for you. I hope it all makes sense.

About half a packet of dried split peas
Some butter
Some smoked bacon lardons or smoked streaky bacon(not too fatty) , chopped very, very small (I used my mini-chopper). Lardons in Sainsbury's are sold in small twin packs and I used both packs.
2 shallots, chopped small
1 carrot, chopped small
squeeze of garlic
Marigold low sodium vegetable bouillon
chopped mint, fresh, if possible.
salt and pepper

Soak the dried peas in plenty of water overnight.

Heat the butter in a large pan and add the bacon. Fry, stirring frequently, for about five minutes, then add the garlic, onion and carrot and continue frying and stirring for about five minutes more.

Drain the peas and add them to the pot with some boiling water. Don't add too much at first, you can always add more later if necessary. Spoon in some Marigold bouillon to taste. Again, you can add more later. Add pepper but not salt, as the bacon and stock might be salty enough. Pop in the mint leaves and stir it all well.

Bring to a good boil and boil vigorously for ten minutes or so, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary, until the peas are soft (over an hour).

Turn off the heat, go in with the stick blender and zizz until it is the desired consistency - not too thick and not too thin. Alternatively, use a blender. Add more water/stock powder/salt to taste.

Reheat to boiling and add a gloop of yogurt or cream if wanted. I rarely bother, it's nice on its own!

It freezes well.

Sunday morning

All those idiotically early mornings caught up with me yesterday. Food wise it was a disaster, but in other ways it was also a bit muddled.

I went off to Sainsbury's to do the weekly shopping and, to my delight, it was 25% off clothes. I could have bought loads but decided to be kind to my bank account so just bought a plain jumper and a really nice long cardigan, no buttons, which will be great for those cold days of winter.

When I got home I popped in to Morrison's to get some more cheap glasses (tumblers and wine) and asked for some cash as well, as I'd forgotten at Sainsbury's. Because I got chatting to the assistant, we both forgot about my cash (which I needed, in part, to pay George) so I went straight back as soon as I realised. Of course and quite rightly, they didn't take my word for it, they had to exchange the cash box at the cash register, count what was in it and check against the till information, a manoeuvre which seemed to take for ever. I sat in the shop, saying hi to the many people walking past who were known to me, wondering if I would be home in time for George's arrival and then whether the staff would find an imbalance at all and think I was trying it on! You know how one's imagination goes at times. Of course, they did find the £15 and brought it to me with an apology, which was nice.

Back at home, the minestrone, which had been slowly simmering on the lowest heat of my gentlest ring, was ready and tasted great. So then I set to making the Best Ever Chicken Balti, which I'd seen mentioned in one of the Weight Loss Resources boards. It is a brilliant recipe. Very simple not too long in the making and, most importantly, absolutely delicious. I changed a few bits, of course. I used chicken thighs instead of breast, for the better flavour, I used more yogurt than it asked for, I added lime juice and chopped red pepper and I tried weight watchers thick cream instead of ordinary single cream (naughty), but not as much of it as the recipe said. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes spicy food. You can find the recipe here.

After lunch, it all caught up with me. I had been intending to make pineapple chutney, but kept falling asleep on the sofa. I was well out of it. Also, the slightly dry and tingling throat sensation intensified and I realised that I'd fallen a victim to the cold that's going around school at the moment. Darn it!! And I ate way, way, way too much. I could blame the tiredness and the imminent cold, but I won't. I just ate too much, darn it!

Then DD phoned to ask if I could have DG overnight and tomorrow morning rather than all day tomorrow. Now, DG may have taken a lot of looking after when he was younger, but now, at twelve and a half, he is generally a most amicable, well behaved, polite young man and great company, so I was pleased to agree with this. He's asleep at the moment but should be stirring soon and is looking for a good long time playing on my Wii. I can make the chutney as he plays.

That's about it really. The coldy feeling is growing; the aches are just knocking at the door, so I will greet them with some paracetamol or something similar - no point struggling - and set to preparing the pineapples. I got two more, still on special, yesterday, so there will be plenty. Hopefully, a productive day! And I hear a bang from upstairs which means DG is stirring so better go!