Cooking and Recipes

Recipe – Special Spring Greens with Mediterranean Chicken and Rice (650cal)

special greensIt’s not often that I do anything special, in culinary terms. I mean, sure, I can cook and I do alright for Husband and the girls, but we often have quite samey food and my repertoire isn’t what you’d call massive or adventurous. However, last night, we had a dinner that was one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten on ages, a little bit different to what we usually eat and came in at just over 600 calories per plate for a really filling meal, which I think adds up to a massive win! It was also really warm and comforting and uses seasonal veg. Spring greens are PACKED with calcium, so this is a great recipe for anyone with dairy issues who struggle to get enough of this essential mineral. (Also, bear in mind that while my culinary skill may be improving, my food photography skills and presentation are NOT!). Believe me, it may not look much but it is so tasty and super healthy.

Mediterranean Chicken with Special Spring Greens and Rice

Recipe – Special Spring Greens with Mediterranean Chicken and Rice (650cal)
Recipe Type: Dinner
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Author: Jayne Crammond
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4 people
Ingredients
  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • 4 cups white rice
  • 2 cans of chopped tomatoes with basil and onions
  • 200g thick-cut bacon, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 hot red chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 500g spring greens – stems and inner ribs trimmed, leaves cut into ribbons
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 170° fan (190° electric/Gas Mark 5)
  2. Place the chicken breasts in an over-proof dish and season with salt and pepper
  3. Cover the chicken with the chopped tomatoes and basil and cover with a lid or tin foil
  4. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes
  5. Put your rice into a large saucepan and cover with cold water
  6. Put the rice on the hob and bring to the boil, then leave to cook for around 12 minutes.
  7. In a large frying pan or wok, fry the bacon or lardons until they start to turn golden
  8. Add the shallot, chilli and mustard seeds and fry for another 3 minutes, until softened
  9. Add the greens into the pan and turn to toss in the bacon and shallots – there will probably look like an enormous quantity of leaves, but keep turning using tongs or a spatula and your hand
  10. Keep the mixture over the heat until it’s all wilted down and mixed in – this will probably take about 5 minutes
  11. Once it’s all cooked down, add the white wine vinegar and stir through, just before serving.
Calories: 654 Fat: 17 Carbohydrates: 70 Sugar: 10 Sodium: 1,009 Protein: 52
Original spring greens recipe found here
Holidays

Sicily with children: Tips and Activities

vacanze-con-bambini-

Sicily is one of the favorite destinations for travelers who tag along their kids with them. This is because of the abundance of available activities that can accommodate children of all ages. Aside from the nature parks and archaeological sites to visit, waterparks and adventure parks abound to keep the entire family happy. Here are some tips and activities suited for a family holiday in Sicily.

Stay in a charming villa in the countryside or near the sea

If you want to have a real vacation, with all the comforts you can find, find a charming villa that provides you the necessary services that your family needs.

There are many companies in Italy like Country Holiday that can help you to find the right accommodation for your family. You can also choose those that have swimming pools and spas so your vacation will even be more relaxing and enjoyable. Some villas also provide necessary amenities for families with very young children. Depending on where your destination is, there are villas that are located in the countryside or near the sea. Keep in mind to reserve for one that can serve as a comfortable base for your itinerary.

Have Fun in Adventure Parks or Water Parks

You can’t drag your children the whole time to visit museums, especially if they are of very young age. They will lose interest immediately and it can get tiresome to be towing them around. Providing them a means of diversion in between your visits to some museums will keep them charged and interested all the way. There are many nature parks where they can test their agility and physical skills such as Adventure Park Ecocampus Casaboli which is just 15 minutes away from Palermo. While the children try the different activities, parents can pass away their time in the relaxation areas. Tree climbing, cable slides, rope ladder walking, archery and mountain biking are just some of the activities they offer.

In summer, aside from enjoying the beaches of Sicily, the entire family can also have fun in Etnaland Water Park located in Catania. It is a dinosaur-themed water park that offers more than just different rides and slides. The park also has a cableway and laser shows to keep the family excited the whole day long.

Drive around the Island

Instead of hopping from one public transport to the next, you can also opt to rent a car so it will more comfortable for the entire family to each destination. It’s more convenient when you have luggage and children to deal with. Kids don’t have much patience for many things, so having a comfortable ride can make it more fun and enjoyable for the entire family. You can stop anywhere you want or go anywhere you desire.

parco natural with kids

Money

Pressure off your purse strings: 8 ways to save annually on your energy bills

save money on energy billsLooking for ways to trim the fat on your energy bills so you can save yourself a chunk of dosh? Here are eight ideas to cut your annual energy costs by up to £185, so you can live just that little bit extra.

Play the field

No, not dating – but scouting out a cracking deal to take the pressure off your purse strings.

Despite the totally exotic ‘summer’ this year (the amount of rain that fell in July this year should have been illegal), you should still be checking out all the comparison sites out there. With the sheer amount of help out there, never has there been a better time to surf the net and strike the best deal for Houston electricity. By the way, since you are here reading about how to save your money on electricity bills, you may as well consider installing solar energy panels on your roof.

That has proven to be an excellent way to save money on the long term. Nowadays, there are even courses on how to build your own home energy system and save even more money on installation

Embrace the savvy smart meter

The smart meter – dubbed the next generation of energy meter – is a replacement of existing measures that automatically sends energy readings to your energy supplier and gives you real-time feedback on your energy usage and what it is costing.

A government-backed scheme to introduce the eco friendly tool into 50 million buildings across the nation by 2020 is currently being rolled out. With the ability to accurately measure energy usage, the average household will save between £20 and £30 a year by using the eco-friendly tool; meaning no surprise bills (and less budget headaches).

Add a new layer

Ever wondered how much warm air is escaping your home? Whether through gaps between internal and external walls or through your roof, it can be causing a huge amount of wastage. You can save more than £100 per year by filling such gaps and rafters with mineral wool or foam.

Don’t leave appliances on standby

The age-old slice of wisdom has been bounced around time and time again. But it is true. You can save around £30 a year by remembering to take your sea of appliances out of standby mode. Be careful, though: a number of satellite and digital TV recorders often need to be left plugged in when taping your favourite programmes (we don’t want you to miss your double dose of Corrie).

Banish draughts

Old houses tend to lose a lot of heat through draughts around windows, doors, chimneys and floors. So keep the heat in by draught-proofing your home, block cracks in your floors and skirting boards and buy draught excluders to sit snug against doors, saving yourself up to £35 a year.

Get onboard with energy efficient appliances

You may have heard of energy efficient lightbulbs, but what about an energy efficient kettle? Or tumble dryer? There is quite a range of products now available with an A+++ rating, using less energy than standard models, in a manner of different ways.

Switch to direct debits

Save yourself up to £90 a year on your energy bill. How? Switch to fixed monthly direct debit payments. According to moneysavingexpert.com, it’s usually 6% cheaper than any other way of paying. Paying a fixed estimate each month not only makes it easier to budget, it spreads the cost out throughout the year (goodbye hideous winter bill).

Treat yourself to a new boiler

A brand spanking new boiler, replacing an old G-rated gas boiler and built to be energy efficient, can save you an astonishing £340 a year. It isn’t a cheap investment by any means (a new condensing model with a programmer can cost up to £2,500) but in the long run, it can save you a fortune.

Family · Rural Life

Moving Out of Our Comfort Zone #makeaswitch

As you’ll know if you follow me on Facebook, my family and I have recently moved house and we’ve been asked, by M&S Bank, to tell you all about it as part of their ‘Make a Switch’ campaign.

They say that moving house is one of the top 5 most stressful things a family can do which is why, when we moved house back in March, we had intended to make it a continuing thing and had been assured that the property was a long term investment for the people renting it out. However, their circumstances must have changed and we were informed that they would be selling the house just 5 months after we moved in. We were NOT happy.

 photo Where we were living before._zpscgbqxy8n.jpg
Where we lived before…

Property in the area we were living in was in very high demand and not very reasonably priced, and it seemed like we were being pipped to the post on every property by psychic house-hunters who knew things were going up for rent before even the estate agents did. We decided to broaden our search area to include other suburban areas nearby, but we both felt totally out of our comfort zone and not very happy about the idea of living somewhere we felt no connection to.

A few weeks into our search, a cottage became available out in a little country hamlet nearby. We’d visited a few years previously as there’s a lovely old pub at the end of the row which is renowned for its food and had fallen in love with the place, commenting at the time how much we’d like to live there. As I looked through the pictures on Rightmove, something clicked and knew Husband would love it too, but the obvious worry of whether they’d accept pets at the property was at the forefront of our minds. Miraculously, the landlady was more than happy to accept Chuck, so we arranged a viewing – alongside EIGHT other families!

Our thinking was that, if we were effectively being forced to move out of our comfort zone, why not do it properly? Rather than moving just one town over to live in an unfamiliar urban conurbation, why not make a proper change and potentially improve our quality of life in the process?

Naturally, we fell in love with the property on the day we viewed it – driving along the only road in and out of the village, Husband and I felt like we’d come home. And, obviously, every single other person who viewed the house loved it too, and so came the agonising wait to see who the landlady would pick. Husband and I weren’t hopeful as we were sure that someone else would be chosen above us, but miraculously, we got the property! We got the keys three weeks ago and moved in the next day.

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…and where we’re living now!

The differences in our surroundings could NOT be more obvious. Previously, we were living on a bus route with noisy neighbours, people standing outside our house until the early hours of the morning drinking bottles of vodka, and rows of houses as far as the eye could see. Now, we’re living in a hamlet of less than 15 houses. The view from our living room is of a farmers’ field and the view past the back of our garden is of fields and a tiny marina in the distance, on the river. Instead of buses and boy-racers zooming past, we get ponies trotting past our living room window and since we’ve lived here we’ve seen pheasants, swifts, weasels, mice, bats and other assorted wildlife.

It is SO quiet.

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Behind our house.

I feel like I can breathe again. I can think. I’m genuinely the happiest I’ve been in years.

I’ve always been reluctant to move to a more rural location, despite it being something that Husband has always been keen to do, but now we’ve done it I feel amazing.

There are obviously one or two downsides, such as a lot of extra driving to take Sausage to school and ludicrously low internet speeds, but they are things that I’m more than happy to tackle for the sake of a much nicer life for all of us. We’ve all been so much more content out here, none of us more so than Chuck who has always been The Best Dog in The World, but now he seems more relaxed, happier and like a different dog altogether. We’re almost looking forward to the cooler weather so that we can fire up the log burner in the lounge and watch our old boy warm his bones.

Living here is forcing us to be more organised, too. There’s no longer a shop on the corner of our road and the closest place to buy anything (other than the pub!) is a 15 minute drive away, so I’ve been having to make sure that I’ve got everything I need for dinner, bottles for Burrito Baby, food for the dog, etc. before I get home from the school run because nipping back out for supplies is a lengthy business!

If I’m being honest, I feel quite proud of us. It’s been a massive lifestyle change but I think Husband and I have been quite brave to make the leap into the unknown and our girls have dealt with it with a grace and resilience that speaks very highly of their strength of character. As a girl who grew up in a New Town which was built for overspill from London, I never thought I’d feel as at home in the country as I do – I’m even eyeing up a new pair of wellies for the muddy weather!

 photo The local area down by the river_zps0i60rxm5.jpg
The local area, down by the river.

If you’re thinking about making a lifestyle change or a leap into the unknown, the best advice I can give you is to think about what parts of your life are making you unhappy, think about what you can do to change those things and then go ahead and DO IT. Life is too short to be penned in by fear and, at the risk of rolling out too many clichés; the only person who can change your life is YOU. Yes, things will be different and at times they will be hard but there is genuine reward in making a change and there’s every chance you’ll be happier than ever.

We know we are.

Disclaimer: this a collaborative post with M&S Bank

Kids · Money · Parenting

Junior Disco and a Whole New Challenge

disco ballAh, Sausage. My lovely little disco queen. Not a single school disco has come along that she hasn’t wanted to go to and we have kind of a pact whereby I help out at all of the discos that she goes to, so this Friday evening will be spent supervising a couple of hundred kids while they eat their body weight in e-numbers and jump up and down on the spot to Bruno Mars and Katy Perry. Despite the fact that Sausage will be at the disco with the same kids that she always goes with, it feels different this year somehow, given the fact that it’s her first disco in the Juniors. Infants discos are structured and have a 20 minute slot where they go to a separate room for a snack and a drink, whereas in the Juniors, they take ‘tuck money’ and can buy glow sticks and other tat.

The issue of what to wear loomed large too; luckily Sausage got bought a dress for her birthday, a little black and white number which is very trendy and quite grown-up, which she’s worn only once so that will do for her top half. In terms of shoes, we still had some money left on a voucher for Clarks so we’re going to surprise her with something new and spangly!

Helping out at the discos is always great fun – it’s absolute chaos most of the time, but I absolutely love watching the kids have fun and letting off steam. There’s a moment when certain songs come on when they all surge towards the front of the hall which can be a little intimidating…they may be under 4ft tall, but when there’s 200 of them doing Gangnam Style at you in a really intense fashion, the fact that they’re kids doesn’t lessen the fear factor!

One thing which is a slight mystery is just how much tuck money we should be giving to Sausage. The things that will be on sale, we’ve been told, will be “pocket money prices”, but in my experience what kids get as pocket money these days vary wildly. I don’t want to be over-extravagant and give her a fistful of cash, but I also don’t want her to be the only one of her mates who doesn’t have enough to spend. How much would you give? If you’ve been through all of this with older kids already, any wisdom would be much appreciated!

All in all, I’m just glad that the school and PTA arrange for these discos to happen. School can create a real pressure-cooker environment at times and allowing the kids to socialise together in a fun and safe environment is really important…even if they do scare the bejeez out of me at times!