Friday, 30 April 2010

General Election: Confused.com?


I don't know about anyone else but as time marches on towards the election next week I'm still no closer to deciding which way I am going to vote. In fact, the more I read or watch about it, the more confused I get. It doesn't help that I am not keen on any of the potential leaders and neither do I firmly agree with any one party's policies.

One thing is certain, I will vote. It's something I am passionate about and it's also important to me that my children grow up knowing the importance of exercising their right to vote, more so as a female as it was a long hard battle to gain the right. I don't think anybody should take it for granted and the poor turn-out figures every time there is an election, general or otherwise, always gets me a little angry. People are happy to sit and moan about the government but not actually take ten minutes out of their day to put a cross on a piece of paper?

I could witter on about all the main issues however in the interest of keeping this blog post relatively short, I'll stick to four issues that directly affect me. That's not to say the others don't, of course they do however these are probably the ones I am most interested in. I've also gone a step further and included the Green Party along with the three main parties as people seem to really rate them.

The stand out issues for me are family, education and health. The economy is another huge issue for all of us but perhaps that deserves it's own blog post. Lets compare the policies of the parties.

Family

Conservative
  • End tax credits for families earning over £50,000
  • Let parents share maternity leave
  • Recognise marriage in the tax system by allowing adults who are married or in a civil partnership to transfer up to £750 of their tax-free personal allowance to their spouse, as long as the higher-income member of the couple is a basic-rate taxpayer
  • End government contributions to Child Trust Funds for all but the poorest third of families and families with disabled children
  • End the "couple penalty" for all couples in the tax credit system
  • Re-focus SureStart on the "neediest" families
  • Provide 4,200 more health visitors
  • Support free nursery care for pre-school children, from a range of private and public providers
  • Extend the right to request flexible working to every parent with a child under the age of 18.
Labour
  • Reject Conservative plans to "recognise" marriage in the tax system
  • Protect the Child Trust Fund
  • Aim to end child poverty by 2020
  • Increase free nursery hours to 15 hours a week for three- and four-year-olds
  • Provide nursery places for 20,000 two-year-olds in the most deprived areas by 2012
  • Provide two extra outreach workers for 1,500 SureStart community support centres in most disadvantaged areas
  • Fund two parenting advisers in every local authority
  • Pioneer mutual federations running groups of local children's centres
  • Guarantee primary school pupils childcare from 8am until 6pm in term-time at school to help working parents
  • Double paid paternity leave to four weeks
  • Continue to provide nine months of paid maternity leave, but no extension to 12 months
  • Allow mothers to share maternity leave with fathers after six months
  • Give parents of one- and two-year-olds an extra £4 a week in Child Tax Credit for each child from 2012.
Liberal Democrats
  • Allow parents to share maternity leave, and extend it to 18 months when resources allow
  • Give fathers the right to time off for ante-natal appointments
  • Extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just parents and carers
  • Fix the payments of tax credits for six months at a time so that payments are stable and predictable
  • "restrict" tax credits to "those who need them most"
  • End government payments into Child Trust Funds
  • Maintain the commitment to end child poverty in the UK by 2020.
Green Party
  • Scrap child tax credits, but double child benefit
  • Spend £1bn a year on enhancing and expanding Sure Start Children’s Centres
  • Introduce more generous maternity and paternity leave
  • Work towards a 35-hour working week
  • Open up full civil marriage to same-sex partners
  • Ensure legal parity for parents and those wishing to become parents regardless of sexual orientation
  • Oppose all opt-outs from equality and anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations.
My thoughts on the above? I think the Green Party are in cloud cuckoo land. I support the Liberal Democrat's stance on Child Trust Funds - a complete waste of time, effort and money. Ours are worth hardly anything, they decrease every year and I am so glad we never topped them up. A very irresponsible initiative I think. I also agree with giving fathers time off for appointments however I do not agree in extending maternity leave. Labour's policies - they want to stick with the CTF but as above, I think it should go. Increase free nursery hours to 15 per week, my son is getting that from September anyhow so I am a little confused by that one. I'm happy with their maternity leave arrangements but a bit indifferent about paternity leave. I'm just not sure it's wholly necessary. I like the childcare for pre and after school, that would certainly help out a lot of people but there is a lot of things that just sound like job creation which is what Labour are good at - like the parenting advisers and mutual federations. I don't agree with the Conservative's policy of ending tax credits for those earning over £50,000. I don't think a household earning over £50k is always particularly comfortable? Especially when you add in the cost of houses, the cost of living these days and childcare. I really don't think we need thousands more health visitors? Most people I know have found them next to useless and I don't think there is any need to extend flexible working for parents of children under 18.

Education

Conservative
  • Allow charities, parent and teacher groups, and co-operatives to establish Academies - schools which are state funded but independent of local authority control
  • Allow every existing school - including primaries - to seek Academy status
  • Force schools that are in special measures for more than a year to be taken over immediately by a successful Academy provider
  • Give local parents the chance to take over schools threatened by closure
  • Create a Pupil Premium, giving more money to schools that teach the poorest children
  • Raise teacher training entry requirements
  • Allow state schools to offer the same international exams as private schools
  • Keep Key Stage 2 tests but make them more rigorous
  • Make it easier for teachers to use "reasonable force" to deal with violence
  • Give head teachers power to pay "good" teachers more
  • Scrap exclusions appeals process
  • Create 10,000 extra university places in 2010 and 400,000 work pairing, apprenticeship, college and training places over two years
  • Give bonuses for early repayment of student loans
  • Consider forthcoming findings of Browne Review of higher education funding.
Labour
  • Increase "frontline" spending on Sure Start, childcare, schools and 16-19 learning, but at a slower rate than in recent years
  • Continue roll-out of Academies independent of local authority control
  • Increase free nursery hours to 15 hours a week fro three- and four-year-olds
  • Give pupils legal guarantees of a quality education, including extra maths and English tuition for all 7 to 11 year olds who fall behind
  • Introduce "licence to practice" for teachers
  • Offer £10,000 'golden handcuffs' to attract the best teachers to the "most challenging" schools
  • Give parents the power to trigger a ballot on whether to bring in new leadership team from a proven provider if they are unhappy with their school's performance
  • Encourage schools to pool budgets in school chains, allowing stronger schools to raise standards in weaker schools
  • Introduce school "report cards", which would rate schools on a wide range of data, including exam performance, behaviour and parents' and children's views of a school
  • Introduce Local Pupil Premium, forcing local authorities to pass on extra funding to schools teaching the poorest pupils
  • Reject a return to the 11-plus
  • Give all secondary school pupils a "Personal Tutor of Studies"
  • Compulsory sex and relationship education for secondary school pupils
  • Guarantee a place in education or training for all 16 and 17 year olds
  • Expand apprenticeships by up to 70,000 a year
  • Retain tuition fees for higher education, and consider Lord Browne's forthcoming higher education funding review.
Liberal Democrats
  • Replace Academies with "Sponsor Managed Schools", to be run by educational charities and private providers, but under local authority control, not Whitehall
  • Provide £2.5bn for a "Pupil Premium" for schools teaching the poorest pupils
  • Replace National Curriculum with a Minimum Curriculum Entitlement to allow teachers more flexibility
  • Create a General Diploma made up of GCSEs, A-Levels and vocational qualifications
  • "scale back" Key Stage 2 tests at age 11
  • Create an Education Standards Authority to monitor school standards independent of government
  • Increase apprenticeship numbers, and places on university and vocational higher education courses
  • Scrap the target of 50% of young people attending university
  • Scrap university tuition fees over six years
  • Guarantee Special Educational Needs (SEN) assessments for all 5-year-olds.
Green Party
  • Spend £500 million on 15,000 more teachers to get class sizes down to an average of 20 pupils within five years
  • Abolish SATs and league tables
  • Establish a system of self-evaluation for schools, monitored by local education authorities
  • Create a programme for private schools to "assimilate voluntarily" into the state sector, removing their charitable status
  • Give children with disabilities and special educational needs the opportunity to attend their local school
  • Require all schools to embrace a multi-faith perspective
  • Abolish the Academy Schools programme
  • Provide free school meals for all
  • Expand pre-school provision
  • "phase in" the abolition of university tuition fees and provide students with grants for living expenses.
Again I'm not sure that the Green Party are quite on the same planet. Forcing all schools to be multi-faith? Reducing class sizes to 20 - just where are they going to get the £500 million for that? I have similar views on the Liberal Democrats - I'm not sure why ALL children would need SEN assessments? I don't find much to disagree or agree with on Labour's policies, there is nothing radical there but the Conservatives leave me baffled in some areas. I'm not sure why schools that teach poorer children need more money? Perhaps I am missing something.

Health

Conservative
  • Increase health spending in real terms every year to 2015
  • Replace 'process' targets, such as maximum time before seeing a cancer specialist, with 'outcome' targets, such as number of people dying from cancer
  • Ensure all hospitals become Foundation Trusts
  • Put performance data online
  • Allow patients to choose any healthcare provider that meets NHS standards
  • Implement a 'payment for results' system throughout NHS
  • Link GPs' pay to results
  • Ensure that every patient can access a GP in their area between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week
  • Introduce a single phone number for every kind of urgent care
  • Cut the cost of NHS administration by a third
  • Create an independent NHS board
  • End mixed-sex wards
  • Increase the number of single rooms in hospitals
  • Give one million more people access to an NHS dentist
  • Allow retirees to prevent their homes from being sold to fund residential care costs by paying a one-off premium of £8,000 at retirement
  • Reject any proposals to fund care by levying charge on elderly people’s estates after death.
Labour
  • Protect "frontline" NHS from spending cuts
  • Ensure all hospitals become foundation trusts and allow successful foundation trusts to take over failing hospitals
  • Guarantee cancer patients will see a specialist within two weeks of diagnosis and get test results within one week
  • Give patients requiring elective care the legal right to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality at NHS costs
  • Offer everyone between 40 and 74 free, five-yearly NHS health check
  • Guarantee NHS patients the legal right to wait no longer than 18 weeks from the moment of GP referral to hospital treatment
  • Give all patients access to a GP practice in their area that is open at evenings and weekends
  • One-to-one dedicated nursing for all cancer patients
  • Create a new national telephone number for non-emergency medical services
  • Establish national standards of hospital infection control that get tougher every year
  • Provide free personal care indefinitely for those in highest need from 2011
  • Meet elderly people's care costs after they have spent two years in residential care from 2014
  • Establish a "National Care Service" free at the point of use for all adults with an "eligible care need", with funding arrangements decided by a Commission by 2015.
Liberal Democrats
  • Scrap Strategic Health Authorities
  • Create democratically elected local health boards with power to prevent hospital closures
  • Reduce number of health targets
  • Introduce "patient contracts" specifying what patients can expect from NHS
  • Make it easier to switch GP
  • Allow patients to register at more than one practice
  • Reform NHS dental contracts to encourage dentists back into the NHS
  • Extend access to end-of-life services and hospices
  • More cost-effective purchasing of drugs, including greater use of generic drugs
  • Establish an independent commission, with cross-party support, to develop proposals for long-term care of the elderly
  • Ban "below-cost" sale of alcohol and back minimum pricing "in principle".
Green Party
  • Reverse the increasing involvement of the private sector in the NHS
  • Decentralise healthcare responsibility to local government, ensuring that minimum service levels are met to prevent a postcode lottery
  • End mixed-sex hospital wards
  • Abolish prescription charges and reintroduce free eye tests and dental treatment
  • Focus research and funding on public health issues like pollution and the benefits of exercise
  • Gradually increase alcohol and tobacco taxes by about 50%
  • Provide free social care to the elderly
  • Give people the right to an "assisted death", within a rigorous framework of regulation.
The Liberal Democrats's approach of scrapping SHA's could have a bearing on the company I work for and therefore my employment so I can't agree with that on that basis. I work in an industry that is already on it's knees. I think patient contracts will be a paper exercise and worth nothing more than that. Finally something I agree on with the Green Party - free prescriptions for all, doesn't Wales already get that? It's not a free NHS if we have to pay for the treatment is it? but again whilst I don't agree with the private sector having such an influence in the NHS, the reversal of that could impact our work. Labour have a good idea to be able to see your GP evenings and weekends, we all know what a headache it is but I can't imagine the GPs will agree to it, and I like the sound of 5 year health checks after the age of 40. The Conseratives views seem to be pretty similar to that of Labour and interestingly they raise the issue of elderly care. This is something that concerns me greatly.

So looking at that, who should I vote for? Certainly note the Green Party, I think they are nuts. I can't see me voting Liberal Democrats so for me it's between Labour and Conservative. I have been adamant that I would not vote Labour at this election and last election I did vote Conservative, but this time it's just not cut and dry for me at all, doesn't help that my local MP is Conservative at the moment and I can't bear her. I just don't think I can vote for her (last election I lived in a different area). I guess I am one of those floating voters they keep talking about. Perhaps I won't even decide until I am stood there with the form in front of me.

What are your views? What issues are important to you and which party do you think represents you best on those issues? Do you know which way you are going to vote yet?


love & kisses
Mrs M x

Warm Chorizo, Red Onion and Baby Potato Salad


On my quest to sex up my salads I discovered this beauty. I was Googling recipes for salads that included chorizo and potato and came across The Good Mood Food Blog - the website of Irish foodie blogger Donal Skehan which features this fantastic recipe for Warm Chorizo, Red Onion and Baby Potato Salad. Donal has created some gorgeous recipes and his own book Good Mood Food: Simple, Healthy, Home Cooking was published in 2009.

This salad was every bit as tasty as Donal said on his blog, we all really enjoyed it and I am sure we will make it many more times yet. I was also so pleased by simplicity of the recipe, yet it was so flavoursome. I'll definitely be trying out more of his recipes. The Aromatic Duck Salad looks gorgeous. Donal has got himself a new fan!

I have reproduced the recipe here but do also check out Donal's blog.

Warm Chorizo, Red Onion and Baby Potato Salad

Ingredients

Approximately 16 baby potatoes
300g chorizo, sliced
2 red onions, finely sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Add the potatoes to a pot and cover with water. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10-12 minutes or until the potatoes are soft, when poked with a fork. Remove from the heat and drain.

Place a large frying pan over medium high heat and add the chorizo, you shouldn't need any oil. Fry the chorizo slices for 2-3 minutes until they are really red and crispy.

Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. With the back of a fork or a whisk, combine the chorizo and lemon juice. Add the red onion to the pan and stir through.

Finally, chop the potatoes into bite-size pieces and add to the pan gently tossing so that all the ingredients are combined. Season with sea salt and black pepper and serve warm as a tasty side dish.

It's a winning combination, potato and chorizo, and this salad does not disappoint.

It did however prompt me to start thinking about chorizo. Are you a peeler? Apparently not everyone peels the chorizo before they cook it, which did surprise me a little! I am a peeler, although I admit it's a real faff!

love & kisses
Mrs M x

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Gleekery: Themed Episodes?


The recent amazing "The Power of Madonna" episode on Glee started me thinking about who else's back catalogue could be used for a whole episode. It's been rumoured over the past week that there might be a Britney Spears episode, that would be pretty cool actually but who else could there be?

I'm sure a popular choice would be someone like The Beatles or Elvis Presley but controversially, I am not really a big fan of either. Michael Jackson would be an obvious and good one but I feel we've had overkill recently since his death. Abba would be another obvious one but I don't think that would work now due to the whole Mamma Mia thing.

Whilst wailing along to the radio in my car (I'm not going to pretend it was singing), I hit upon a few choices. Now I don't profess to know much about music or be cool so perhaps my choices won't be what the cool kids would choose, but who cares right? This is fantasy.


First up -
Queen. That would be amazing. We've already seen Somebody to Love in "The Rhodes Not Taken" but how well would I Want to Break Free or We Are The Champions work? Crazy Little Thing Called Love would be a lot of fun but these two I think would be fabulous.





Next up, Bon Jovi. Obviously we've already seen It's My Life performed as part of a mash-up in "Vitamin-D" but they have so many great songs that would lend themselves really well to this show like Always, Blaze of Glory and You Give Love a Bad Name but my personal favourites are...






And what about the Bee Gees? They have an amazing back catalogue. Stop sniggering at the back, I love them. Saturday Night Fever is my favourite ever film and the first dance at my wedding was to More Than a Woman. How amazing would it be to see the Glee kids dancing and You Should Be Dancing or singing along to Emotion or How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? What about these corkers?





So how about you? Is there any band or artist our there that you think would be fabulous to have a whole Glee episode feature their songs? What do you think about my choices - totally naff? Do let me know!

love & kisses
Mrs M x

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Gleekery: DVD Giveaway


Hey Gleeks, hands up if you would like a brand new copy of Glee Season 1, Volume 1 The Road to Sectionals DVD, which contains the first 13 episodes of the amazing show? You would? Well you can win one right here on this very blog as I have got a brand spanking new DVD to giveaway to one lucky blog reader!

I've done a previous post about the DVD which you can read here. My copy has been well-loved already, I watched 4 episodes back-to-back last night. I can tell you, Mr M was not amused.

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning this DVD is leave me a comment on this post - yep, that's all you have to do. I'll number you each in the order that you comment and then a number will be picked from random using the Random Number Generator. The giveaway will close on Sunday 2nd May 2010.

Good luck Glee kids!

love & kisses
Mrs M x

PS This is a UK DVD but I am happy to post abroad, pretty sure they all work everywhere these days!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Sizzling Beef Stir-Fry


This is wonderful. I would not tell a lie. This is the recipe for Jamie Oliver's Sizzling Beef with Spring Onions & Black Bean Sauce from the Jamie's Ministry of Food book.

I made this for the first time last week and it was utterly delicious. I think it blew the socks off Mr M who has insisted it become a regular on the menu. I quite often avoid stir-fries as to be honest I find them a bit boring and a bit samey but this was different, so tasty and flavoursome, and incredibly simple. One of my favourite parts was the rice - it was only a bit of egg and soy sauce that was added but it made an amazing difference and I will definitely make rice like that again and again.

There was no way I could not share this with you, so here it is. The recipe serves 2 (and certainly no more than 2 - no leftovers here!).


Sizzling Beef Stir-Fy

Ingredients


sea salt and freshly ground pepper

200g long-grain or basmati rice
1 x 230g sirloin or rump steak

a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1/2 a fresh red chilli, finely sliced

2 spring onions, finely sliced

small bunch of fresh coriander

2 tbsps sesame oil
groundnut oil
2 tbsps black bean sauce
2-3 tbsps soy sauce

2 limes

1 egg


Method


Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the rice and cook according to the packet instructions. Drain the rice in a sieve, run it under a cold tap to cook, then allow to dry out in the fridge.


Trim an excess fat from your steak and slice the meat into finger sized strips. Pick the coriander leaves and put to one side and finely chop the coriander stalks. Get yourself a big bowl and put in the ginger, garlic, chilli, spring onions, coriander stalkes and steak strips. Add the sesame oil and mix everything together.


Preheat a work or large frying pan on a high heat and once it's very, very hot add a good lug of groundnut oil and swirl it around. Add all your chopped ingredients from the bowl and give the pan a really good shake to mix everything around quickly.
Stir-fry for 2 minutes, making sure everything keeps moving so it doesn't burn. Add the black bean sauce and stir in 1 tbsp of soy sauce and the juice of half a lime. Keep tossing. Taste and season with black pepper and a little more soy sauce. Remove the pan from the heat, transfer everything to a bowl and cover with tin foil.

Give the pan a quick wipe with a ball of kitchen paper and put back on the heat. Add a lug of groundnut oil and swirl it around. Crack in your egg and add a tbsp of soy suace - the egg will cook quickly so keep stirring. Once it's scrambled, stir in your chilled rice, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan as you go. Keep mixing for a few minutes until the rice is steaming hot, then taste and season with a little soy sauce.


Divide the rice between two bowls. Spoon over the meat and black bean sauce and sprinkle over the coriander leaves. Serve with wedges of lime!


It's easy, but it can be a bit of a juggling act! Most important thing to remember here is that you need to allow time for the rice to cool. This is where you find it helps to read through the recipe in advance... Another thing that helped me was my beloved Kenwood Mini Chopper as I could just put the chilli, ginger, garlic and coriander in and whizz it all up quickly rather than having to stand their chopping everything finely.

Do enjoy!


love & kisses
Mrs M x

Friday, 23 April 2010

Happy St George's Day


Happy St George's Day everyone - and what a gorgeous sunny day it is today! I chose to celebrate today by treating myself to a new Emma Bridgewater mug as you can see. These St George mugs are limited and are now sold out at Emma Bridgewater (although they still have some seconds) however I managed to get one from One Brown Cow (who I discovered via Twitter) and it was delivered to me in super quick time - much faster than if I'd ordered it from Emma Bridgewater anyhow! Will definitely be shopping with One Brown Cow again.

Seeing as I made Welsh Cakes for St David's Day (and I'm not Welsh) I probably should be doing some patriotic baking today but the truth is, I can't quite be bothered so I shall mark the occasion with a nice cup of Yorkshire Tea in my new mug.

I'll also take this opportunity to share with you a few more of my recent purchases, mainly because I love them so much! I finally managed to get hold of the green Cath Kidston jug I wanted and it was only right that I bought the matching glasses wasn't it?


Then I decided I needed to make a Cornishware purchase, only this time instead of buying new, I bought vintage and got this fabulous storage jar. It has a few marks on it but that adds to the charm. It's currently being used as a kids treat jar.


Another Cath Kidston purchase was this jug (I think I have a jug problem...) and dishes. So pretty and because they are not covered in polka dots or floral prints they slip right under Mr M's radar as being from Cath Kidston.


and lastly, not strictly a purchase, my mother in law gave me this glass dish the other day. She was having a clear out in her shed and it was destined for the bin/charity shop but she thought I might like it, and she was right. I haven't had chance to give it a clean yet for find it a home but I really like it.


So, if you are English are you celebrating St George's Day today or this weekend?

love & kisses
Mrs M x

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Secret Post Club - April


This month I joined in the Secret Post Club for the first time. This fabulous club was started by the very clever Heather at Notes from Lapland. It's a bit like a Secret Santa - you know, you get allocated a person and send them a gift. It doesn't have to be something you've bought, it could be something you want to pass on that you no longer need - a well loved book for instance, or something you've lovingly crafted.

I loved the concept and decided that I most definitely wanted in on this, especially as I love to receive post. Is that weird? It's actually still one of the highlights of my day which I am not sure I should admit in public, I mean, what does that say about me?!

Anyhow for my first month I was allocated Make Do Mum and you can see what I sent to her here. One of the fun bits for me is the snooping (again, something I probably shouldn't admit...) and working out what people like. I was really pleased with the little package I put together but a little nervous, it being my first one! Thankfully my recipient seemed to like it, phew!


My Secret Post was sent by Kerry from
And Then All I Thought About Was You. Look what she sent me - a lovely notebook and a fabulous set of cards.

Kerry did VERY well, they are very "me"! She'd managed to suss out that I love Paperchase - I am a really stationery freak and got my style bang on with the polka dots (she says, sitting at her polka dot clad kitchen table, looking at the polka dot blinds...). The notebook is a fab size, perfect for carrying around in my bag. I am a big "lister", I love writing lists and I find that I need to carry these around with me everywhere "just in case" (I'm painting a lovely picture of myself in this post aren't I? Sad, nosey, obsessive compulsive...) and the cards are great as I am a huge fan of letter writing and handwritten notes so they will come in very useful. Thanks Kerry!


I've enjoyed discovering Kerry's blog and finding out more about her which is another thing I love about the Secret Post Club - it's introducing me to new people and new blogs, ones I perhaps wouldn't have found without it. I am already excited to see who I discover next month through the club.


love & kisses
Mrs M x

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Meme: Songs That Make You Cry

I have been tagged by Kate at The Five F's Blog and she wants me to share 5 songs that make me blub like a big girl's blouse. Okay, they weren't strictly her words...

This is a really hard meme. I'd like to think that I am a tough bird but the truth is, these days I am so soft. I think it's since having children, I am not sure my hormones have ever recovered and the truth be told, I can cry at the drop of a hat these days - Films, Eastenders, 60 Minute Makeover, TV adverts...if there is the hint of a sob story, I am a goner.

With that in mind, this meme should be easy but narrowing it down to just five songs? Choosing five songs that won't make me look like a complete loser? That's tricky. So, I haven't bothered to protect myself by picking "cool" music, instead I've been honest and picked the first five songs that can I recall me shedding a tear to.

I Vow To Thee My Country

This is my favourite hymn of all time and for that reason, I chose it as the second hymn at my wedding last year, we sang it straight after the vows. It's such a rousing song, it never fails to bring a tear to my eye, which coupled with the emotion of just saying my wedding vows made it very difficult to sing!

"The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice"



Always On My Mind - Brenda Lee

Once again admitting to my secret love of Country, I love version (the original version I think?) of Always On My Mind. I'm not quite sure what it is about this song, but it does stir something in me. She sings it very well, and full of emotion. Naturally as a huge Michael Buble fan, I love his version too.

"Maybe I didn't hold you
All those lonely, lonely times
And I guess I never told you
I'm so happy that you're mine"



Slipping Through My Fingers - Abba

This never fails to get me and I always feel like a right plum. It touches something in me. Perhaps because I am dreading a time in the future when my little girl is grown up and doesn't need or want me. I'm also a BIG planner. I have so many plans and dreams for our future and it scares me that we'll never do them and that will be a huge regret for me.

"What happened to the wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
(Slipping through my fingers all the time)
Well, some of that we did but most we didn't
And why I just don't know"



I'll Be Seeing You - Billie Holiday

This song is a killer, not only down to the film The Notebook. I'm a fan of The Notebook (yes, inside I am a 14 year old girl...) and that does have an influence on me as no other film has made me cry as much, I was a complete wreck, however the lyrics to this song are beautiful. So simple, but beautiful.

"I'll find you
In the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I'll be looking at the moon,
But I'll be seeing you."



Dance With My Father Again - Luther Vandross

Is this a cheesy choice? I don't care. I could cry like a baby when I hear this song. I'm sure if my father was with me no more it would kill me.

"Sometimes I'd listen outside her door
And I'd hear her, mama cryin' for him
I pray for her even more than me"



There it is! What do you think? Sad as hell? I'd love to hear what songs make you cry.

I'm also tagging the following lovely bloggers;

Whimsical Wife
The Thoughts & Musics of Mrs Lucia-Wright
At Home With Mel Mel
Me, The Man & The Baby
Crystal Jigsaw

Hopefully they'll let us know what songs makes them all teary-eyed!

love & kisses
Mrs M x

Toad-in-the-Hole


One of Mr M's favourite ever dinners, you just can't beat a plate full of Toad-in-the-Hole can you? Is there anything more English than sausages in Yorkshire pudding? Apparently nobody really knows where the name "Toad-in-the-Hole" came from apart from it originates from the 1700's.

There's not a whole lot to say about it, it's very easy to make and extremely filling. It's a staple in our house especially as it's perfect for the whole family and it is always, always served with peas and mashed potatoes.


Toad-in-the-Hole

Ingredients

8 sausages

2 onions, cut into wedges

2 tbsp olive oil

150g plain flour

2 tsp English mustard powder

2 eggs

300ml milk


Method


Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Put the sausages and onion wedges in an ovenproof baking dish and drizzle over the olive oil. Season are required, then cook for 20 minutes until everything is slightly browned.

While the sausages are cooking starting making the batter. Put the flour and mustard powder into a bowl and season. Gradually whisk in the eggs and milk to make the batter, whisking until smooth.

Pour the batter into the hot dish with the sausages then cook for another 30-40 minutes until crisp and golden.

Two things I would mention. Firstly, it's always worth spending a little extra money and buying the best quality sausages you can afford - less fat and more taste. Secondly, if I have any around I occasionally add a bit of fresh Thyme to the batter for a bit of extra flavour.

love & kisses
Mrs M x

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Chicken Caeser Salad


I love this salad when I want a quick and easy, yet tasty tea. I love Caesar salad but it's just not something I'd ever made before this recipe and I never ever choose it when out so I thought it would be nice to make a homemade version. It really is very simple but the dressing is so very tasty. It went down very well with Mr M when I first made it and now it's a regular.

Making croutons was a revelation - that sounds very stupid, I know, but it's just not something that I'd ever considered making before. Maybe because there's not many meals I make that require croutons when I have needed them I've reached for a packet of the shelf but I'd never use shop bought again. Tesco didn't have any Cos lettuce when I made this so I used Iceberg and it worked just fine and I've always been a little scared of anchovies but I faced my fear and really, the dressing wouldn't have been the same without them.

You could adapt this recipe as you wish - it's not necessary to top with bacon. This recipe was meant to serve 4 but as a main meal I'd say it serves 2 hungry people!

Chicken Caesar Salad

Ingredients

1 medium ciabatta loaf
3 tbsp olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 large cos lettuce, leaves separated
6 rashers streaked smokey bacon

For the dressing;
1 garlic clove, crushed or minced
2 anchovies from a tin
medium block Parmesan for grating and shaving
5 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Method

Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Tear the bread into big, ragged croutons and spread over a large baking sheet or tray and sprinkle over 2 tbsp olive oil. Rub the oil into the bread and season with a little salt if you like. Bake for 8-10 mins, turning the croutons a few times during cooking so they brown evenly.

Rub chicken breasts with remaining oil and season. Place pan over a medium heat for 1 min, until hot, but not smoking. Lay the chicken on the pan and leave for 4 mins. Turn the chicken, then cook for 4 mins more. Check if it's cooked by poking the tip of a sharp knife into the thickest part; there should be no sign of pink and juices will run clear.

Meanwhile, grill or fry 6 rashers bacon until very crisp and leave to cool.

Mash the anchovies with a fork against the side of a small bowl. Grate a handful of cheese into the bowl and mix with garlic, mayonnaise and vinegar. Season to taste. The dressing should be the consistency of yogurt - if it comes out thicker, stir in a few tsps water to thin it.

Shave the cheese with a peeler. Tear lettuce into large pieces and put in a large bowl. Pull chicken into bite-size strips and scatter half over the leaves, along with half the croutons. Add most of the dressing and toss with your fingers. Break the bacon into bite-size pieces and toss through the salad along with the rest of the chicken and croutons, then drizzle with the remaining dressing. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top and serve straight away.

It really is that simple. I didn't get far mashing anchovies so I decided to pull out the Kenwood Mini Chopper and whacked the anchovies and garlic in there so it was truly minced! That thing is definitely one of my favourite kitchen items. It's perfect for small kitchen jobs and I'd recommend it to anyone.

love & kisses
Mrs M x

Monday, 19 April 2010

Dressed Up

I love a dress, I do. The minute I put on a lovely dress i feel flirty, feminine and fabulous.

I am not even going to pretend that I am young enough, slim enough or trendy enough to wear these clothes but that doesn't stop me dreaming does it? So many nice clothes out there at the moment, so little money and so little time to diet before the summer (my own fault - she says shoveling a Gu Hot Chocolate Souffle into her gob).

So whilst I am trying to either a) successfully diet or b) reconcile myself with the fact that I will be a heifer for the summer of 2010 I thought I'd share a few of my recent finds.

First up, from Urban Outfitters the Free People Dazzling Ditsy Dress priced at £85.00. There's no way I could wear it as I just don't have the figure, and I also wouldn't pay £85.00 for it...

and also from Urban Outfitters, the Kimchi & Blue Tulle Dress which is £48.00. Again, very pretty but not so unreasobaly priced. I would however feel a little nekkid in it, and I don't suppose it's a good style for anyone who is blessed in the busooms department.


I'm a big fan of Miss Selfridge. I used to think that I was past the age where it was appropriate for me to be shopping there but recently I've found myself loving their clothes again so I don't care if I'm a bit mutton. I love this Ivory Spot A-Line Dress (£45.00). I'm not sure how good it would look on but seeing as we are just dream-shopping...


Then there is this Coral Satin Strapless Dress which is £49.00. It would look utter pants on me but I am loving coral at the moment and I also love the style of this dress.

Gingham. You can't beat a bit of it to make you feel summery can you? Love this Gingham Prom Style Dress, only £35.00 as well.


and my last dress from Miss Selfridge, the Stripe and Floral Vest Dress, a bargain at £22.00. This will most certainly be mine.


I am a big lover of Fever Designs dresses and there really are too many wonderful dresses to choose from. They make beautiful, classic dresses - fantastic styles, pattens and colours. A little on the pricey side but they're very wearable so I think you'd get your money's worth. My favourites from Spring/Summer '10 are the Artaban Dress (£59.99).


and on a similar theme, the Artaban Sundress which is also £59.99.


I'm also loving the Copacabana Sundress (£65.99) and not only because I love the song...


Love this Maya Dress too. Again it's £59.99 (I think that's their favourite price tag!) but I'd wear it for work and get a lot of use out of it I am sure.


and finally, my favourite one of the season - the Lisel Wrap Dress which is, yes, you guessed it - £59.99. I'm having a BIG love affair with navy at the moment.

So, how about you? Are you a dress lover? Can you get away with wearing them or like me - do they do nothing for you? Seen anything nice recently - I'd love to hear about it!

love & kisses
Mrs M x

Friday, 16 April 2010

Slow-cooked Steak & Mushrooms


The other night I wanted something yummy for tea and I knew that it would involve dauphinoise potatoes as I had a real craving for them so I had a good rummage through my recipe folder - this is actually three folders of recipes copied/pulled out of magazines and filed in very strict categories...

This recipe caught my eye, originally published in Essentials magazine some time last year I believe. It was so simple and easy but really tasty, we all really enjoyed it so great family fodder. Definitely a keeper for the future. I halved this recipe and it fed two adults and two small children easily.

Slow-cooked Steak & Mushrooms

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
700g braising steak, cut into 4cm chunks
400g shallots, peeled and kept whole
400g button mushrooms
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 gloves garlic, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp tomato puree
200ml red wine
600ml beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Heat the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and fry the beef in batches. When browned remove from the pan. Brown the shallots and mushrooms and set aside with the beef.

Add the onion, garlic and celery to the pan and cook for 5 mins. Stir in the flour and tomato puree, add the wine, stock, bay leaves and Worcestershire sauce and cook for a few minutes.

Return the beef, mushrooms and shallots to the pan. Cover and put it in the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

I served the steak and mushrooms with whole green beans and the delicious dauphinoise potatoes.

love & kisses
Mrs M x