5 Ways to Save Time with a Newborn

Laurence loves to wax lyrical about the Jetson future to which we’re headed.
Just the other day he was telling me: “Soon, your smartphone or tablet is going to link up with the contents of your kitchen cupboards and tell you what’s in there.”
“But why would I want that?” I argued, “Shouldn’t I just get off my lazy arse and go see what’s in them?”
“What if it were me ordering groceries at work?” he countered.
Obstinate, I huffed: “Just wait until you get home. That’s all.” Then I went off on one about how I’m the one who does the shopping anyway.
Of course, he’s right. It would be faster, more convenient, more efficient. It’s like me arguing when we first got married that dishwashers were pointless and lazy, and now I never want to live without one.

On the countdown to having a new baby in the house, we’re thinking more and more about how we can save time on the less than thrilling tasks so we can generally have a less stressful time postnatally.

1. Batch cook and freeze
I told myself way back when that I was going to do this but I’ve surprised myself by actually doing it! A few times that I’ve cooked recently, I’ve made enough for that night’s dinner and an extra dinner as well as for Laurence’s work lunch the day following each. It’s definitely been something of a domestic triumph for me. Well, a bit less triumphant when we’ve ended up defrosting a meal because I’ve not cooked out of pregnancy exhaustion or forgotten to do the shopping but still, we currently have a freezer full of wholesome yum!


2. Make the most of apps
As you can probably tell from the opening to this post, I’m a bit of app-phobic but that’s something I’ve had to get past because having an iPhone has genuinely made my life easier, especially since I recently upgraded to the 5C and added an iPad to my contract. I try not to spend too much time looking at screens when Talitha’s around (I’m better some times than other times) but doing something really quickly on there allows me to return my full attention to what we’re doing and be really present with her.

So I was intrigued to hear about Hive Active Heating™. It combines a wireless thermostat, a hub plugged into your broadband and a receiver installed close to your boiler, letting your control and monitor your home’s heating through an app on your iPhone or android. So if you’re stuck on the sofa with a baby or left the house in a mad rush with your children (why does it always feel like a mad rush – is that just me?) you can easily manage your heating control and hot water schedule.

3. Organise your baby zones

I totally underestimated how stuck I was going to be breastfeeding a newborn last time around, even more so when our specific problems arose, and I just didn’t prepare. The result was that everything felt wildly chaotic. I was always going upstairs or downstairs for something or other or just going without. If it was something for the baby, it got done. So, nappies yes. But if it was for me. Well, it felt too much. So, I ate barely anything all day long.

While I’m sure slings will help a lot this time as I’m now a confident babywearer, I still expect a bit of not being able to move around so easily. So I’ve been busy gathering one-handed snacks. My nappy station is sorted. I sussed this one a couple of years ago with Talitha’s nappies in our old place but you might still find our nappy station video interesting. I’ve also set up a nappy station downstairs in a box that Talitha can reach. Also within reach are her puzzles, toys, crayons and other quiet activities. We’ve moved the rocking chair downstairs and it has great pockets on the arms for storing water bottles and snacks, which we’ll be sharing. I also have a little basket upstairs for water bottles and snacks should we end up up there and needing them.

4. Quick tidying solutions

I still have a way to go on this but I’ve got so much better at keeping the house tidy recently. I mean, I don’t panic every time someone wants to come over and visit! Sadly, I’m scared that this is all about to fall apart. So, I’ve been putting together a little plan of action. Forget the first few weeks. Whatever happens, happens. But after that, I’ll have a very simple cleaning rota which includes the bare minimum of what needs to happen for the house to be habitable and hospitable. I’m thinking of setting the egg timer for 20-30 mins and just kicking the day’s tasks in. I also fully intend to use the trick where you gather the mess all into a laundry basket and banish it behind a closed door!

Toddler chores

5. Get your children involved

OK, I realise this sounds like the opposite of saving time but bear with me. We’ve been including Talitha in household tasks for a while now. When she was crawling, it was putting the contents of the veg box away. Now, she feeds the cats among other things. Yes, it means these tasks take much longer and don’t get done as well as I’d like but to her, it’s play and so it means that we’re getting two things done at once. We’re passing time together enjoyably while getting through things that need to be done every day. So, it is efficient. We plan to keep this up when the baby comes as I know it will make such a difference to her and to me.

Over to you, any other time saving solutions to throw my way?

This post was commissioned by Hive

Finding out what kind of cook I am

So, I took this test yesterday which said it would tell me what kind of cook I was. I was pretty sure it was going to come up with: the lazy kind but with aspirations. Although, how lazy can you be when you’re trying to work your way around food intolerances in a British diet traditionally sandwiched with wheat and smothered in dairy? And I do like the odd bit of entertaining, it must be admitted. But there are days when the lead up to supper time is a dark period of despair.

I wasn’t surprised then, when the quiz decided that I was a “Flexi Bex” as in, I can bring out the fancy food when I’m ready but I spend a lot of the time just getting us fed, no fuss. I can go with that. I think I am pretty resourceful – especially when we get to the end of the month with little to nothing in our bank account! The result did make me think I’d like to push myself a bit more in terms of creativity, though. Maybe in the latter quarter of this year when the baby might be starting baby led weaning.

Take it and tell me what you got. I’d love to know. Hoping you’re not going to come back and tell me that with different answers I could have had “Sexy Bex”.

In Association with Leisure

Make Dhal: thrifty, yummy, practically perfect

I probably cook dhal once a week. We all love it. It’s yummy, uncomplicated quick as anything and costs literally pence to make, especially if you buy your lentils, turmeric and cumin from Indian grocers. I always stock up over on Stapleton Road here in Bristol. Red or yellow – they’ll both do the trick.

Oh, I mustn’t forget to mention, dhal is healthy too! Provided you go easy on the oil and salt (I sometimes make a mistake with the latter as we like salty food). It’s also gluten-free and dairy-free, obviously, which is pretty important ’round these parts.

I’ve had a few conversations with people lately who’ve said they’re unsure about making dhal so I thought I’d remove the mystery around this simplest of foods and share how I bosh it together for 6-8 helpings, depending on how thin I make it. There really is no fancy foodie trick here.

What you need
1 cup of lentils (red or yellow)
1 tsp turmeric
4 cloves of garlic – crushed
sunflower or olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin

What you do
Wash and drain 1 cup of lentils. Set lentils in 2 cups of water to boil. When the water begins to simmer, mix in 1 teaspoon of turmeric and two crushed cloves of garlic. Lower the heat if the pot begins to boil over. Spoon off the white stuff at the top if you like but I don’t always bother if there’s not much, having rinsed the lentils beforehand. When the lentils are soft (this will take mere minutes), remove the pot from the heat. In a separate pan, fry remaining garlic in sunflower or olive oil, mixing in 1 teaspoon of ground cumin. When the garlic begins to brown, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the lentil contents into the pan and mix to combine everything. If you think your dhal is a bit thick (thinner is better, really) then just add some hot water. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Serve with rice.

Make dhal - thrifty, yummy, perfect

Gluten-free, Dairy-free Trinidad Christmas Black Cake

In a way, Christmas started a month ago for us when we soaked the fruits for our Trinidad black cake. I’ve looked at lots of recipes for inspiration over the years but needed to use things that were readily available to us and to make it both wheat and dairy-free. I thought I might as well make it gluten-free altogether. The result is a cake that is lighter than your usual Caribbean black cake but I like that. All the flavours come through without feeling it’s too rich to handle.

What we used (Makes three cakes):
400g dates
150g mixed peel
400g currants
400g raisins
200g sultanas
200glace cherries
1 bottle dark rum
1 bottle cherry brandy
3 tbsp Angostura bitters
2 grated lemon peels (lime is more traditional, lemon is what I had)
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
400g gluten-free plain flour mix
10 large free range eggs
2 cups olive oil
2 cups dark muscovado sugar
2 cups browning (made with this method)

Mix the fruits together in a large bowl, mix in the liquors, soak overnight or months in advance.

Soak and blend fruits for Trinidad black cake - Christmas cake

When you are ready to make your cake, blend the drenched fruits until the are a chunky paste.

Soaked and blended fruits for Trinidad black cake

I agonised over what to replace the butter with. I considered replacing it with goat’s butter as it’s the one dairy item Laurence can tolerate but, man, it’s expensive and I rather fancied making this cake entirely dairy-free. So, I settled on olive oil, terrified as I submitted the fruits I’d lovingly soaked to an experiment. But – you know what? – it worked! As I said at the start, it makes it a bit lighter and that’s turned out to be quite a nice thing.

Blend the olive oil and muscovado sugar until it’s, well, creamy-ish. Beat in eggs gradually. Add vanilla essence and grated lemon peel. Combine the cinnamon, baking powder and gluten-free plain flour mix and fold gradually into the wet mixture. Thoroughly mix in your blended fruits and browning.

Line your baking tins with baking paper. Pour the boozy goodness into the pans and get them into the oven for a bake at 120C in a pre-heated oven for about 4 hours. Check it at 3 hours, though. A chopstick (or whatever) through the middle should come out clean.

Feed the beast! Pour on the alcohol! Some people chuck a whole bottle of dark rum over this baby in the course of many hours. I admit I was a bit lame this year and settled for a few tablespoons when they had just come out of the oven. I’m not tolerating alcohol well at the moment (some weird pregnancy thing, I guess) and black cakes I’ve made in the past have made people feel a wee bit tipsy. I may well drizzle on a little more before icing it though.

Gluten-free dairy-free Trinidad black cake - Christmas cake recipe

Which brings me to icing. It’s not a Trini tradition to ice Christmas black cake unless it’s being made for a wedding but Laurence loves Christmas cake with icing so we’re making a compromise. I’ve bought some marzipan and ready-made royal icing so will be brave and give those a go. I’ll update this post with the results later. The marzipan goes on tomorrow.

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Making heart ornaments – Crafternoon Tea with Shloer

Did you see that episode of Dragon’s Den where the charming people from The Makery were seeking investment? I fell in love with their craft business and wanted to go visit it in Bath but never got around to it. What a treat, then, to be invited to a crafting session with them at a “crafternoon” tea organised by Shloer yesterday.

The Greenway Hotel and Spa
Can you spot the bloggers’ children? Talitha and Purple Mum‘s Wonder Girl pose without us even asking.

Bloggers and children gathered at The Greenway Hotel and Spa for an afternoon of making, munching and Shloer tasting. I’m pretty pleased simply to have found a festive non-alcoholic drink that won’t make me feel like I’m missing out over the holiday season. The Shloer Celebration White Bubbly is the first cold beverage I’ve had since falling pregnant that’s felt like a grown-up drink. I didn’t grow up in a drinking house so I’m well acquainted with sparkling juice drinks and have generally found them wanting (to put it mildly) but I would honestly, happily, recommend this one.

Schloer Celebrations

When The Makery revealed the materials we’d be working with – quirky patterns, stylish ribbons, cheerful buttons – audible delight lilted through the room. We were going to make heart ornaments.

Fabrics from The Makery

Ribbons from The Makery

First we traced heart shapes onto the fabrics.

Make a heart ornament - trace the shape

Talitha joined in where she could and found other ways of entertaining herself for the grown-up bits.

His name is Fred
The children were given these dolls. Hers is called Fred. She insisted that he’s a baby and that he be tucked into bed with her last night.

Having gathered materials and planned the ornament, it was sewing time.

Materials for making a heart ornament

Notches needed to be cut going around the heart to ensure a smoother shape.

Cut notches into hearts

Talitha enjoyed stuffing it. It’s now hanging in our kitchen. I kind of wish I’d made it more festive but she still claims “It’s Christmas!” So who am I to disagree?

Stuffing the heart

We also blind tasted four of the options for next season’s limited edition Shloer flavours. I was pretty awful at guessing what any of them were. Maybe I’m just not a creature of change but I much prefer the flavours I’m already familiar with.

Crafternoon Tea with Schloer

I’m just stoked to have found Shloer Celebrations, particularly the White Bubbly. I was given a bottle to take away so I’ll be sinking that when everyone else is hitting the booze this Christmas. At £2.99 a bottle, I won’t mind buying me some more.

Rice Crispy Cake: gluten-free not guilt-free

Something with this much sugar in it is probably the last thing we need in our lives right now but what’s a little sweet now and then? Talitha only eats a couple of bites of this rice crispy cake at a time, anyway (strange child) and seemed to enjoy making it more than anything else (though she did scarf quite a few sultanas and rice crisps in the process!). I find it useful for self-medicating after she’s gone to bed. What’s more, it’s gluten-free which means we can all eat it. It does contain goat’s butter, which seems to be the only dairy that Laurence can tolerate, my lovely, sensitive man.

Rice crispy cake recipe

A friend made a similar cake for her daughter’s birthday recently and, having not had one since I was a teen, I thought I’d give it a go. I added oats and sultanas to ours.

What we used:

3oz goat’s butter (I’m sure it’ll work just fine with a non-dairy spread or even olive oil too)
100g dark dairy-free chocolate
100g marshmallows
100g oats (use gluten-free oats if you really need to be gluten-free)
100g rice crispies
75g sultanas

Melting chocolate and marshmallows for rice crispy cake

Talitha helped me measure it all out, occasionally giving in to temptation. Then I melted the butter, chocolate and marshmallows over a gentle heat.

Mixing ingredients for rice crispy cake

Once melted, we combined it with the dry ingredients until it was, in Talitha’s words “Yuck!” and pressed it into two baking trays at a shallow height.

Pat rice crispy mix into baking pans

Into the refrigerator they went and out they came as a little post-lunch treat.

Rice Crispy Cake - enjoy with someone you love

Link up your recipe of the week

It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas…already

The Christmas thing seems to be happening for us so much earlier this year. Usually I’d blame it on commercialism and certainly it was weird walking into The Co-operative today and seeing all the merry banners. However, other markers are ushering us into the season sooner than I expected.

In an attempt to make this the year I don’t get ulcers stressing over last minute Christmas presents and the state of our bank account, I’ve been shopping gradually and putting things aside. Talitha’s presents are all done now, except for the stocking fillers, which we’re saying are from Santa.

Soaking fruits for black cake

Which brings us to a question we’ve not really asked ourselves before. What are we going to say about good ol’ St Nick? Do we pretend he’s real but be visibly half-serious? Do we go all in for it? Do we ignore it altogether? I’d love to know what other families, of any faith or none, do.

Certainly, whenever the subject of Christmas comes up – and it does because of all this flipping point of sale marketing everywhere – I say that Christmas is coming and that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. I tell her that we celebrate Christmas to thank God for Jesus and to remember that He will come again.

I guess that’s the other reason why Christmas feels like it’s entering our lives so early this year. I didn’t grow up with Advent at all. I think maybe it was considered a Roman Catholic and Anglican thing and we weren’t either. Yet I’ve come to really appreciate it in the years I’ve lived in England. It’s a beautiful way of preparing our hearts for Christmas. So, this year I’m making an Advent calendar and preparing little activities that point to Jesus throughout the month because, for us, Christmas is about so much more than warm feelings of togetherness.

Not that those feelings are being neglected either. I really want this to be a special time for our family and for our children to grow up with traditions that they remember, like the tree going up in early December.

Pouring rum over fruits for black cake

So, I’ve already started one tradition I hope to commit to in years to come. Today, Talitha and I soaked the fruits for our Trini Christmas black cake. Dates, currants, raisins, sultanas, mixed peel, cherries and almonds, soaked in Angostura bitters, cherry brandy and dark rum. I felt more than a little odd popping into The Co-op for rum in the middle of the day. I felt even weirder letting my two-year-old pour all the alcohol into the fruit! We’ll let that soak for a month and hopefully let that be our November tradition.

Fruits soaking for black cake

Has Christmas started inching it’s way into your life yet or is it still very firmly ages away?