Baby cookies

Hosting a Baby Shower!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on here yet, but one of my friends is having a baby soon!

Her name is Marie, and we’re still not sure what sex the baby is, but it’ll be called either Torsten or Quantin if it’s a boy, and either Neveah or Eloise if it’s a girl! She and the hubby are both only children, so a baby shower thrown by the famalam was off the cards, and they were acting like they weren’t that bothered about the whole concept, but you know who wasn’t going to let that slide? Who wasn’t going ot let them miss the baby shower of their dreams? Who was going to step in and host them an amazing baby shower in her beautiful home?

That’s right. This momma.

Marie’s still very young (she’s only 29! Goodness, I’m no dinosaur but she does make me feel a little wrinkly) and she’s new to this, what with it being her first little sproodling, so the hubbub and I took the reins and arranged a brilliant shower in secret, without letting on until only a week before.

And it went fantastically!

We spent two whole days getting the house tidy (one whole afternoon just to tidy up all my dreamcatchers and the jars of mine and Mark’s baby teeth that wound up on the coffee table somehow) and scrubbed it until it shone, then hung up these adorable little string decorations with tiny clothes pegs that little paper baby-grows hung from in pink and blue.

We baked cookies that spelt out “Baby” and decorated them in pink and blue (although that was entirely my job, poor Mark gives it a great go but his baking always winds up either burnt, crumbly as all hell or iced so powerfully that a diabetic bumblebee wouldn’t touch it) and arranged them for maximum effect in the middle of our table spread, which also included houmous and dips with varying exotic and mundane breadsticks from Mark’s collection, celery sticks and carrot sticks (I would later go on to make my famous gumbo with the leftover celery), party rings, home-made spring rolls by Marie’s school friend Lisa, and sausage rolls, because we all know how much Marie loves sausage rolls!

I’ll tell you the story some other time, but rest assured, it’s a wonderful in-joke, she certainly does love a nice baked sausage treat!

We also cleared a spot in the corner of the reception room for gifts, and made sure all the invites had been appropriately RSVPed before the day, when Marie and her new hubbalubbadubdub, Chris, were due to arrive.

The first people to show up were Marie’s old school friends Bob Saggle and Olympia Faulkes, two just lovely Londoners who showed up with armfuls of gifts even as Mark was still running around changing lightbulbs in the living room, stepladder and all!

God love them, I think they felt a little awkward sitting there with cups of tea while the whirlwind of cleaning swept all around them, but the show must go on! The house was perfect by the time the rest of the guests arrived, and when Marie and Chris turned up, they were so surprised!

“Jin!” they said. “Your house is so beautiful!”

I knew that already, but I pretended not to so I’d look nice to them, and I took them in and sat them down. Poor Marie was tired just from walking from the car, as she’s due any day now and she was enormous! She might make me feel old, but she certainly also makes me feel thin. I’ve got that one over her, at any rate.

The party was perfect, too. We played party games about guessing the baby’s gender, including seeing which way a wedding ring on a string moved when held over the bump (boy), which way a cup landed when flicked off the bump (girl), whether baking soda makes the mother’s urine fizz or not (boy), whether the mother can do a pull-up (boy) and my personal favourite – and the one that has predicted the gender of my little munchkins perfectly – putting blueberry jam on the bump and seeing whether it changes colour (boy).

So the tests are pretty conclusive – it’s gonna be a boy. And that’s that.

The presents were after that. They got an amazing car seat and a push chair from our friends Raquel and Alice, and a wonderful set of baby grows with humourous sentences on them that I can’t quite remember right now (they mustn’t have been that funny!)

Then from Mark and I they got the big pacifier with the calming quartz crystal stone set in the ring, to keep the baby’s energy good and balanced in the crib and ensure a full night’s sleep, which they looked absolutely delighted about. The satisfaction I get from seeing my friends’ faces light up when they open a gift is one of the loveliest feelings, I think.

The Pinata

Then, came the centrepiece of the party: the pinata. A huge baby’s pacifier in pink, blue and yellow, it was full of sweets and mounted on a long pole, since we had nowhere to hang it up that wouldn’t be ruined by a good swing.

We wanted to use a ukelele as the bat, since Marie plays the uke like a Hawaian virtuoso, but we forgot to bring it, so wooden spoon it was. The flat of the spoon turnout to out be a poor bat, but reversing it and re-enacting the shower scene from “Psycho?” Perfect.

Swinging downwards with the handle of the spoon as a sort or wooden stake, the dummy was soon completely split open and sweets showered everywhere. I was hit by one that had completely snapped in half at one point, like sugary shrapnel (I didn’t know Marie had the strength, to be honest) but it seems she did!

The party went on until about 11.30 at night, which was amazing, since we didn’t plan for it to go that long or think it would – the natural flow of the night just went that way, and I didn’t even realise!

I put the sproggins to bed, and we all just chatted away until I suddenly looked up as Marie was going home and thought “how did it get so late?!”

By the end of it we had absolutely devastated the table spread, with very few breadsticks surviving and even fewer party rings and sausage rolls escaping the massacre. We had seriously depleted our tea stocks, and we were almost out of milk. The house, however, was almost spotless. The guests had been absolutely lovely about tidying up after themselves, even the ones that had brought kiddlers of their own, and no-one was really drinking, so there were no bottles or cans to get rid of (oh for the days of mine and Mark’s ragers, where we’d come through the next evening with a brush and brush the piles of detritus up because it was more cost-effective than trying to pick it all up individually. That was well before Tilly, you see).

So we woke up, feeling hungover from the strain of hosting such a great party even though we hadn’t touched a drop. We went down into a bizarrely tidy, clean house, took down the decorations, and then I poached a few eggs for breakfast. They were amazing. Shame we didn’t have any tea bags, though.

Help From The Social Fund

Social Fund

I’ll be the first to admit that, recently, times have been pretty tough for me and Mark, money-wise. Mark has been trying to deny that we no longer have as much as we used to before the kids were born, back in our ‘wild-child’ partying days, without a care in the world and the reality is, not only did i have to give up my all-inclusive beach and spa holiday for a weekend in a tent (which was extremely fun, don’t get me wrong) we’re also struggling to pull anything together in terms of savings. You probably all know how it is, kids come along, that are expensive, very expensive, combining that with a house that needs paying for, bills that need sorting, a car that breaks down every five minutes, inflation and all the rest of it, things can get a bit, well, tight to say the least. To make matters worse, I was made redundant from my office job a few weeks back and with a measly pay out, it seems I had no choice but to be put on Job Seeker’s Allowance. As you can imagine, I am bringing significantly less into the family home as I once was and it’s beginning to take its toll.

After a few mini, weekly, breakdowns and a couple of ‘what are we going to do’s’ and one teeny argument with Mark over leaving the bathroom light on all day (we made up soon after, but i’ll spare you the details) we decided that enough was enough and we were going to have to get some help before we all starved to death. Just joking, but, we were pretty worried.

Speaking to one of the girlies, I mentioned how we were struggling for money more than we ever had due to me losing my job. She agreed that things just seemed to be getting more and more expensive these days and asides from changing her shop from Sainsbury’s to Aldi she was finding it impossible to see how else she could scrimp and save some money together. I felt relieved that i wasn’t the only one in such a position, to say the least. Anyway, she proceeded to tell me about the Social Fund. Now forgive me for being ignorant but I didn’t have the foggiest what this was. But what she told me made everything seem that little bit brighter and more manageable.

The Social Fund is basically a loan that is given to you in emergency situations and does need to be paid back, but is interest free. This just makes it that little bit easier to manage when money is really stretched. You do have to have been receiving some sort of benefit eg. income support or Job Seeker’s Allowance for at least 26 weeks before you qualify for a crisis loan, but it is comforting to know that if i continue to be out of work, there is help at hand. Thee are restrictions as to what the loan can be used for but I guess this is just to ensure that the money is being spent responsibly and benefits the whole family. The loan can be used towards things like rent or hostel charges, travel expenses and essential household items.

Whilst I may not qualify for the social fund at the moment, I hope this piece informs all of you other lovely ladies (or gentleman) out there of what you are entitled to if you are struggling at the moment. The loan can also be used to cover an immediate expense, so if you have something costly that needs paying immediately, the loan can sure take an almighty weight off your mind!

The World of the Social Fund

Doing my research on Mark’s laptop, I read some interesting social fund related things (in between cooking for the kids, bath time, bargaining with them for a 7.30 bed time, you know how it is). When I got a moment to myself, I discovered that there is no set amount given for the crisis loan and it is decided based on your circumstances. A reassuring factor is that is does not affect any other benefits you are claiming and as i said before, this beauty is interest free. If you (like me) aren’t the best at budgeting and managing money, you are signed up with a Government adviser that will help you draft up a repayment plan, to make sure you are staying on track.

Another useful form of the Social Fund is cold-weather payments. Whilst it might be August at the moment, it’s surprising how quickly it can get cold once those clocks go back (I’m in full onesie and slipper mode come mid-September!). We all know how difficult it is to keep up with heating payments, but we also all know how nice it is to be able to have it on in the evenings. The amount of times Mark has shouted at me to ‘just put another jumper on’ is enough to make me want to cry! The Cold Weather Payment helps towards heating costs when the weather drops below a certain temperature.

To claim the Social Fund, the best thing to do is to pop into a job centre plus, or easier still, simply ring the contact number! I am sure your mind will be put at rest in minutes, and that light at the end of the tunnel will re-appear!

Anyway lovelies, I guess I just wanted to get some issues off my chest, and i hope a lot of you yummy mummies out there can relate. There’s no shame in being a little strapped for cash in this day and age, and where there is help available, have no shame in grabbing it with both hands!

Happy bargain hunting!




Jin's Curse

The Spooky Curse of Jin’s Cornish Holiday

I don’t recall angering any old gypsy fortune-teller women. I’m sure I haven’t crossed the path of any hags, or dealt with many devils. I’m sure I never wished for a holiday to Cornwall on a dried monkey’s paw, which subsequently curled one of its gnarled old fingers into the palm and bestowed a twisted, cursed version of what  I asked for. I definitely didn’t ask for travel help from any mournful, withered mermaids, who agreed to assist my voyage in exchange for a terrible price.

However, with all that in mind, I can’t really understand how my trip down south went so catastrophically wrong.

It was Mark’s father’s birthday last week, and the old sod lives at Land’s End of all places (although Mark himself is a good solid Lancashire Lad) so we were in for a long trip, no matter what happened… But I had to do this one alone, since I have less holiday than him with work, so he went down with the kids three days before me, arriving at the same time as his brother, his uncle and aunt and all their kids.

So bad enough already that I’m still stuck in work while he’s sipping sangria in the Cornish sun, but I’m flying, and the app won’t let me print my boarding pass til the day before the flight, so I have to content myself with packing and arranging everything well in advance, besides the passes (you know how I love organising everything! I’m a proper organised mumma, me).

Two nights before the flight, I turn the house upside looking for my passport, but can’t find it anywhere, even using extremely methodical, room-by-room clearing tactics that would make a Navy SEAL search team weep with jealousy. It’s getting late at night now, and the passport has ceased to exist, or slipped through the creases in the fabric of reality to some other plane where the Anti-Jin has just bemusedly found it. On the cusp of a rage, I decide to have a cup of tea and a sit-down to calm myself down before continuing, when Mark call from Cornwall to tell me he’s remembered where he put them!

He put them in A Sensible Place, So They Wouldn’t Get Lost.

The day before the flight, I could finally print my boarding pass, but – oh wait, no I couldn’t – the office printer was broken! Inexplicably, irreparably and utterly busted, the office printer was a useless shell, smouldering quietly, and there was a very real possibility I wouldn’t be able to get those passes.

I racked my brain. Who would have a printer? Not the girlies – we’re all office mommas, so we don’t have printers in the house, and without logging on to my email, then my FlyBe account, there’s no way to access the passes, so I couldn’t send them over. Then, in a stroke of typical Jin brilliance, I remembered – Liverpool Central Library.

Calling ahead of time, I confirmed that they had available printers for public use, and immediately after work I belted into town to sort my printing. Boarding passes in hand, I tried to fathom the horror that the next day would hold, if my bad luck streak carried on.

The Day Of The Flight

The day of the flight was well planned out, in my head. First, I would wake up, have a classic egg breakfast, have a shower and get dressed, do a final clean of the house, put the bins out, water the plants and leave the house.

Getting to the train station, I would get on the train to Earlestown, which runs every hour, and get a transfer there to Manchester Airport, where I would get my flight.

At that point, the hub-sub-la-bub-bub would pick me up from Newquay Airport and drive me, fast as anything, to dinner with his family, as that was the night we were having the official birthday dinner.

All good so far, right? Wrong.

So continues the Spooky Curse Of Jin The Spooky Cursed Lady.

First, my train arrived almost at Earlestown, only to stop for ten minutes on the tracks, until I missed my connection, then pull in. So first, I was trapped in Earlestown for an hour! I’m as partial to the poors as the next person, but this place was rough. Within ten seconds of leaving the train station a child of no more than five chased me down the street, yelling, only to give me the middle finger when I turned around and just stare at me!

As a mother, I can’t believe the sort of parent it would take to allow a child to do such a thing. The thought of Tilly pursuing a random stranger down the street simply to make vile gestures and stare makes my blood boil. However, vitriolic little children aside, I survived, and made my connection train an hour later with no further harassment.

I arrived in the airport several hours early, to allow for just such shenanigans, and got myself a cup of coffee. Luckily for me, this is where I made a friend, as the coffee shop was busy and there was nowhere to sit, so I offered my seat to a lovely Northern Irish woman named Saoirse (she taught me how to spell it).

While we were chatting, my flight was delayed in little increments, slowly ratcheting up in the background, until it was 35 minutes delayed. Now we’re cutting it really, really fine for making that dinner reservation.

However, when I got off the flight (practically running), my Mark was there with the car ready, and we jumped in and went!

Immediately after leaving the airport, a juddering sound began to come from the engine, making him nervously say that he had never heard a sound like that coming from a car. He immediately said he thought it was fatal, but  I didn’t want to believe him – we made bets on whether we’d make it to the house to collect another car, or whether we’d get all the way to the restaurant. The power of positive thoughts!

I thought positive things and occasionally complimented the engine for being a tough little soldier while holding onto my llama-hair prayer bracelet tight, and I sincerely believe that’s why it lasted as long as it did.

We still wound up stranded on a green verge between the slip-road and the A30, since the car began to lurch as if it was going to stall and then an incredible boom sent bits of metal and oil spraying all over the motorway, forcing us to beach the car and get out. The recovery driver said it would be two hours to wait, and that was the soonest he could get out.

Everyone else had already begun to drink at the restaurant, so there was no rescue coming from there, and I’ll admit, when I sat down on the grass I was being a huffy little madam.

Tilly would have been so proud.

At least the children were at the restaurant with Mark’s brother Will and their cousins, so I didn’t have to worry about them, but the hubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble and I were starving, so while he waited by the car I walked up the slip-road until I found a Premier Inn that could do us a bottle of coke and a little paper bag of chips. They were great, and sitting there eating chips as the sun went down on our own little green island in the middle of the road? Well, it wasn’t all that bad after all.

We made it to the restaurant after the kitchen had closed, but Will had – amazingly – managed to arrange a cheese board for us, so we had chips and cheese for dinner.

We told the story to shocked faces, and everyone was amazed at my terrible luck! Mark’s dad laughed the longest, and it got me thinking, he never did like me. What if he was the one that made my journey so terrible?

I’ll have to do some digging and see what I can find out about him.

Hope you all have a magical week!



Jin's Campsite

Tent Success!


I got a fantastic tent on Friday evening and went on a surprise camping trip with the hubbaganub and the childeroonies to test it out on Saturday morning – it works like a charm!

If you’ve been paying appropriately close attention, you’ll have noticed that the four requirements I had for my tent were:

  1.  Reasonably lightweight
  2.  Easy to set up, easy to collapse
  3.  Some kind of a colour
  4.  £20 or under

Well, after a long, hard search through Black’s, I successfully achieved two of those aims, and a glorious new tent is mine!

I decided on Black’s since it is in Liverpool city centre and I was going to be there on Friday anyway, and they’ve currently got a massive sale on, so the sassy bargain hunter in me was itching to check it out!

As it turns out, that sale is even bigger than I thought, and I didn’t just buy a tent, I nabbed a gas camping stove, a camp kettle, a lantern and a four-pack of gas canisters for the stove – all for £165, total! The tent alone was down from £400 to £150, which with my extra discount code became £135, an absolute steal! Plus, the stove and kettle will make us exceedingly popular when we get up in the morning, since a big bottle of water and a little pack of teabags is no great hardship to pack!

I can’t imagine anything lovelier than sitting out the front of a tent as the sun comes up over the rolling green hills, sipping a fresh, hot cup of tea. Now, we can! The gear is really light and quite compact, so it fits in the back of the car and isn’t a problem to carry to the campsite, and the value it’ll add to the experience is, in my opinion, absolutely worth it.

The tent itself was a monster, as it turns out. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m usually a humble, fly-on-the-wall sweetheart kind of figure, but I do love being the queen of the court every now and again, and this tent is fit for a queen, no doubt about that.

It’s the Buckingham 6-man Tent by Eurohike, which is a huge green tunnel tent that sleeps 6 in two separate compartments at either end, with the middle as a living area/storage area. I took a picture of the inside of it from the door of my room, you can see the removable divide between the two rooms for the kids – Tilly’s old enough now to like her space, and I didn’t fancy her accidentally waking the babba during the night, so they each get a little room of their own! Helps keep the peace, and that’s what camping’s for!

Jin's Tent

Tilly was made up with her little room – the one with the lovely red sleeping bag in the photo. It had its own little nightlight, and a grown-up size bedroll to give her lots of room to kick and stretch and just generally be a little wriggle monster! She took her teddy with her, and I brought a hemp dreamcatcher woven with a strand of my old guru’s actual hair (we are in the wilderness after all, can’t be too careful!) and hung it from the cord above the room to make sure she only has good dreams and doesn’t draw anything out of the woods with a nightmare!

The little man had an easier room setup, with a pad and sleeping bag both used together as a mattress. Joe only sleeps with a blanket anyway and we left his zip-up door open, along with one of ours – he still gets up during the night looking for us, so we were expecting a little snuggler at some point!

The spot we camped was just outside Denbigh in North Wales, and it was just gorgeous. Endless rolling valleys, blistering sunshine and clear skies met rich green grass and soft birdsong and it was just a balm for my soul. We brought along plenty of food and plenty of teabags, and since it was only about an hour and a half on the motorway, we got there in record time with plenty of the day left for setting up the tent, getting our little disposable barbeque going and taking Roxy to explore the campsite.

Of course she was all “let’s smell everything!” but I loved the walk. The sun on my face and my little goldie basically buzzing with happiness was just great for relaxation.

By the time I’d gotten back from the walk, I was a little sunburnt (already! I know! I’m not the golden-skinned goddess of my bikini model years anymore) and the chubster had finished barbequeing our dinner – burgers on cheesy baps with lettuce, ketchup, red onion chutney and wensleydale, with a side of corn on the cob and roasted sweet potatoes. Absolutely amazing, even if Roxy was far too keen to try it!

Afterwards we had a great little digest, I read an Escape, Evade, Survive guidebook and hubbly wubbly lay in the sun with Roxy. Tilly was looking for bugs, if I remember right.

Once the food had settled, we played for a while with the kids, all sorts of outdoorsy games like frisbee and tag and swordfighting, then when the sun went down we toasted a marshmallow each over the barbecue as a treat and the kids went to bed.

Hubladee hublada and I stayed up a little later with a bottle of port, but we didn’t want to get too snozzled – we’re responsible parents after all and this is bandit country.

The next morning went pretty much exactly as I planned it would – I stumbled out of the tent bleary-eyed and achy, set up the camp stove and the kettle and had a cup of tea so incredible that it would put the nectar of the gods to shame. The sun was up, but the air was still cool, and it did my hangover good to just sit there for a while and contemplate.

I wasn’t crazily keen on the idea of driving back home and returning to civilisation, but that’s just me I guess. Who would want to leave their own little slice of paradise?

I think I’ll probably be back soon.





Tent Shopping

So, the hubster chubster and I have a wedding to go to next year! My niece Clara is getting married, and I couldn’t be happier for her!

She’s always been a bit different from the flock, too, so she’s going for a really novel wedding idea instead of the usual three-course-meal-and-a-disco fare – she’s having an outdoor ceremony in a forest in Sussex, followed by a reception in a huge marquee and all the guests will be camping on-site!

I think it’s a fantastic idea (and I kind of wish I’d thought of it when Mark and I were getting together, after I put the screws on him. It would have been a great way to celebrate our six-week anniversary to get married under the stars instead of in a little church in Shropshire, but I digress. While it would have been lovely, my wedding was mine and I wouldn’t change it for the world).

Apparently there’ll be a hog roast, and instead of bringing a gift she wants everyone to bring a few bottles of something to drink so there can be an open bar and everyone can share and have a great night at little cost to either them or their guests (another smashing move) so I’m looking forward to a fabulous night’s drinking and dancing under the stars with family, both old family and new family!

However, there is only one problem with this… I don’t have a tent. I’ll need one if we’re going to camp out after the wedding and get the fabulous night we’re after, so it’s about time I went shopping!

We already have a double air mattress and a vacuum-packable duvet and pillow set, so bedding is sorted, no problemo. The kids have got little foam roller pads and sleeping bags, although they’re a little young for a camping wedding – I think I’ll let them stay with my friend Janice over the wedding itself so we can unwind a little without worrying about whether their little backs will be hurt by the rough ground or whether the noise will keep them awake all night or whether they’ll sneak off and get blitzed on a bottle of Kahlua when we’re not looking.

So with that in mind, all we need is a tent big enough for Mark and I, although we’ll be getting a bigger one for a few reasons.

First, obviously, we won’t just be using it this once. I’m a thrifty frugal mama and I wouldn’t be caught dead buying something that I couldn’t use over and over. The clever money-managing-mama in me would nbever allow it. Therefore, this tent has got to be BIG – big enough for me, the hubster bo bubster, the two kids, and the dog – and that’s big!

Considering that, it’s got to have great ventilation too. With four people and a poocheroony in there, it’s gonna get hot (and stinky!) so I need to keep my eyes open for tents with air vents, unzippable sections and mesh windows that can let some of the heat out.

Secondly, even without the kids or the dog, it would be amazing to have the room. When you’re a seasoned outdoorswoman like me, you know that tents never actually have enough wiggle-room for the number of people they advertise. A two-person tent has enough room for two people to lie down, sure – but only just, only if they lie straight, and only if they don’t attempt to sit up, stretch, or move at all.

So something like a six-person tent will mean the kids and I have room to wriggle and get comfortable, as well as giving hubbly bubbly and I lots of room to stretch, wrestle around and generally have a great time after the wedding.

Those two points aside, the tent has also got to be:

  1. Reasonably lightweight

I’m not saying I couldn’t lug a heavy tent and poles through the wilderness, or up a snow-blasted mountain face. I’m just saying I’d rather do that with a lightweight tent.

2. Easy to set up, easy to collapse

It’s got to be quick to set up so I can do it fast when the rain starts to pour, or in the dark, or in any of the adverse, hellish conditions that could descend on us at any time during a lovely family camping holiday. It’s also got to be easy to collapse again so I can take it down the next day when I’m bleary-eyed and hungover – that is crucially important.

3. Some kind of colour

To be honest, I’m kind of torn here. I want a nice bright bubbly colour so everyone knows that’s my tent and it matches my personality. However, I also want a camouflage tent so I can disappear without a trace and never be found, preferably until I’ve enjoyed some bloody peace and quiet. Like, camouflaged well enough that even government drones couldn’t fine my tent. Camouflaged well enough that when I’ve had a few drinks at this wedding, even I couldn’t find it.

I think I’ll probably get a pink one, though, since that’s my favourite colour and it’s my tent.

4. £20 or under

I may be chancing my arm here, but I want all that for under £20. I’m smart with money, and a very experienced camper, so there’s no point in me splurging money on stuff I know I don’t need. I know what I can get, and how much it’ll cost.

My well-ventilated, tall, easy-set-up, easy-takedown, pop-up pink/very well camouflaged tent should cost £20 or under, and I’m sure a seasoned bargain-hunter like me can find it for that.

Happy camping!



lamb couscous one-pan

Moroccan One-Pan Lamb and Couscous

I tried my hand at something a little more exotic last night and made a Moroccan lamb and couscous dish I found online, because it didn’t look too scary – and boy, was that a good idea! The end result was a really interesting, tasty, filling, wholesome dish that was low on fat and high in protein – and the best part? It’s the simplest recipe I’ve ever tried!

One pan, a few simple steps, and only aboutu ten minutes total cooking time! I’m sold. If all Moroccan cooking is this good and this easy, I might have to drop the other stuff and become a full-time couscous chef.

So, without further ado:

Jin’s Moroccan One-Pot Lamb

You’ll need:


2 lamb steaks, or four lamb chops with the fat trimmed off
2 heaped teaspoons of harissa powder and enough olive oil to mix them into a paste
1 tablespoon of olive oil
A handful of mixed dried fruit and nuts
85g of couscous
A 400g can of chickpeas, which you have rinsed and drained
100ml of chicken or lamb stock (this can be either fresh, from a stock pot, or from a cube)


  • Mix up the harissa paste and throw the lamb in with it, making sure to mix it up so the lamb is evenly covered.
  • Heat the oil in the pan and fry the lamb for 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare (adjust this time up and down to suit yourselves) then lift the meat out of the pan.
  • Tip the remaining harissa, the couscous, the fruit and nuts and the chickpeas into the pan, and stir to coat in the harissa paste as it cooks.
  • Pour in the stock, stir, and add the lamb back to the pan
  • Cover with a lid for ten minutes, or until the couscous has absorbed all the liquid, whichever is sooner
  • Plate and serve! As easy as that!

This is a great dish to add a little variety into your meal routine and is wonderful for introducing children to new food cultures and cuisines that they may otherwise be hesitant to try. It’s exotic-tasting, but not spicy or an acquired taste by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a simple, quick meal with very little prep and even less clean-up, and it tastes great.

I cooked it up in a few minutes last night, and when the kids were done, they actually asked “can I have some more?” and I was gobsmacked! Such little kids being so brave and trying something newm only to find they loved it!

I’ve got a few little globetrotters in the making here, mark my words.

Bon appetit!



Still Running!

It might not seem like much to you, but I’m still running!

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s something that I always hated and never really managed to stick at, even though it’s got lots of health benefits.

I’ll list some of them here, since I’m hoping to start experiencing them soon!

It’s great cardio

Running is basically the thing everyone thinks of when they think “cardio”. It’s something not many people look forward to, and is usually looked at as sort of a chore – I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past! However, cardio is the foundation of great health and fitness.

If you’ve got good cardio, your risk of heart disease and respiratory problems plummets, and you tackle life much more easily – more energy, less trouble getting around, and less hassle keeping up with two crazy little kids? Sign me up!

It makes you skinnier

Okay, Jin full disclosure time: this is the reason I started running, more than the heart-disease stuff or the runner’s high or any of that. I wanted to get thinner, I hate strict dieting and I don’t have it in me to purge, so here we are.

Running burns a phenomenal amount of calories, especially at long distances, but regular running also burns incrersed calories after you stop – it’s called “afterburn”. If you’re running just shy of marathon pace but faster than an easy jog, you’ll experience it.

It makes you happier

Exercise releases endorphins, and runnign is famous for giving out lots of them. The “runner’s high” as it is so called is a feeling of pure contentment and happiness that kicks in during or after a run, and I’m delighted to report it hit me for the first time yesterday!

It’s good for your joints

Contrary to what you’ve probably read, running is great for the joints in your legs – and elsewhere, too! Admittedly, going to hard too fast can lead to injury, and a lot of runners with improper technique wind up with tendon injuries and long-term issues. However, if you nail your technique, train gently on an upward trajectory, and take care of yourself, you’ll find the strength of your tendons and joints rising steadily!

Keeps you sharp as you age

Now this is one I’d rather not admit to needing! Still, it’s important to keep all our marbles together as we age, especially when I do seem to be getting more scatterbrained as I get older! Whether it’s forgetting where I put my keys, not sleeping right, or seeing spiders everywhere out of the corner of my eye, it’s enough to make me realise I have to take care of myself, and it’s a relief to know I’m doing something to keep my mind sharp as I age.

According to a study by the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, fitter older people had much more success fighting the effects of age-related mental decline compared to their unfit peers – well watch out, retirement home, because that’s gonna be me!

Running Couch to 5K

Going for a Run

Running’s one of those things that you either get or you don’t, like marmite or astral projection.

And I, for the vast majority of my life, have not been one of those people who “gets” it. I don’t like running at all – it’s hot, it’s uncomfortable, my legs and lungs both scream for the entire duration, and I wind up a sweaty, gasping mess.

So it was with some trepidation that I decided to go for a run this week – but not the usual just-run-fast-until-dead kind. This time, I decided on something more chlled, more of a stepping-stone to bigger things. I decided to do a Couch to 5K run.

For anyone not familiar with it, the Couch to 5K programme is designed to get lazy potatoes like me off the sofa and running, one gradual increase after another, over a long period. Hopefully, that way, you avoid going too hard too soon and burning out. Hopefully.

So with that in mind, I laced up my running shoes, put in my headphones, put on my running charms, and got going in the sun. And you know what?

It was great.

I was exhausted afterwards, but I kept moving for half an hour and got plenty of running done. The app told me when to run and when to walk, and I spent more time recharging between my runs than I spent running. When it was over, I was tired, yeah, but I’d done it. The next one has almost as much relaxed walking and just a little more running.

Let’s see where this takes us.



Gumbo Recipe

Jin’s Nawleenz Chicken and Chorizo Gumbo

Just a quick note – I’ve roughly estimated the amounts of ingredients here to put this recipe into writing, but I usually do it by eye, so you should just put in however much of each ingredient feels right to you! (Gumbo’s a pretty forgiving dish for the chef, and it’s really varied and soulful, so you can get away with a lot of rough measurements. It’s an art, not an exact science!)

All right, let’s get started!


One chicken breast or thigh per person, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
12 baby potatoes, quartered
150g or so of chorizo, chopped
2 sticks of celery, sliced
1 green pepper, cut into little bits (about half an inch on each side)
3 bay leaves
4 tsp of cajun spice
1 chicken stock pot or cube
4 spring onions, sliced
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
240g rice


– Heat up some oil in a casserole dish or saucepan. Fry the onion on a medium heat for a minute or two until softened (not brown). If you want to oven cook this you’ll need to preheat to gas 6.

– Add the chicken and fry it up a bit until coloured on the sides, or until you’re worried your onions might overcook

– Throw in the chorizo and celery. Fry everything up for another couple of minutes so the chorizo turns everything red and the celery softens a little bit.

– Add the cajun spice and stir it around, cooking for about 1 minute so that the flavour gets a chance to get into all the other components.

– Add the potatoes, enough boiling water to cover the contents of the pan, the stock pot and the bay leaves. At this point you can either simmer it on the stove (saucepan) or put it in the oven (casserole dish). I usually do it on the hob if I’m in a hurry or in the oven if I want to leave it and go do something else while it cooks.

– Cook it, covered, for about 15 minutes until the chicken and potatoes are cooked. If cooking on the hob you want it at a gentle simmer and you’ll need to keep lifting the lid to stir it. Put the rice on and get it ready to serve.

– When it looks and smells delicious, add the peppers and cover it again for another 5 mins(ish) so they can cook through, then serve it over the rice, with the spring onions and parsley scattered on top.

It’s a perfect dinner for guests or dinner parties, since it scales to more people extremely easily, it’s a very forgiving dish in terms of ingredients, and it’s unusual and delicious! If you can’t find an ingredient, don’t be afraid to swap it out – that’s the spirit of gumbo! The dish will still be great.

It’s also still an uncommon enough dish that it’ll really catch your guest’s attention and make the dinner party stick out in their minds. Just don’t tell them how easy it was to cook!

Bon appetit,

J xx


Picking up the Violin Again

So I finally got around to sorting another one of my New Year’s Resolutions… Getting back to playing the violin!

Since Tilly was born I haven’t played much, but believe it or not I was quite the talent when I was younger! I started when I was only 8 (so I’ve been playing for a long, looooong time) but like I said before, life kind of just gets everywhere when you’ve got a sprout or two running around, and it’s impossible to get something like a decent practice in, let alone a routine!

So even though Tilly’s off school today (Easter holiday still stretching on, the lucky duck), I got Joe fed, sat them in front of the TV and got the case down from the wardrobe. It was so dusty!

The violin wasn’t, though. It was a little out of tune, and cold, but it felt so right picking it up, like I’d never put it down. Once it was tuned, I tightened the bow up again, rosined the horsehair and started to play.

It was rusty, sure. I’m not as fast or as clean on the notes as I used to be. But it felt so freeing, like long tendrils of sound were slowly unfurling and coiling around everything in the house. It was keening, scratched – it could definitely use some practice. But it all fit, just like it used to.

I feel so real. I’m definitely going to be practicing more tomorrow!

New driver's licence

I Lost My Driver’s Licence!

I was buying a bottle of wine as a gift for a friend last night and was actually a little flattered when the girl on the check-out asked to see my I.D (Asda seem to think my anti-ageing cream is doing the trick) but when I looked for my driver’s licence I got a surprise nobody wants to see – it wasn’t in there!

Retracing my steps

First things first, I had to retrace my steps. Luckily the girl on the check-out accepted my library card as ID so I got to keep the present! I looked all through the aisles I had been in, and thought I saw it slithering away under some shelves a few times, but there was no sign of it whenever I looked.

Calling the DVLA

I had a quick look online for the DVLA phone number and called them up this morning. It took me a little while, but in the end I managed to get through to a real person, a lovely lady called Jane, and she got me set up for a replacement. I’ll be sending off a copy of my certificate and a photo, and I’ll get the new licence soon! Until then, I’ll have to dial back the wine purchases a little or bring my passport out!

Still no idea what happened to my original licence. I found a tiny piece of pink plastic outside earlier, but that could have been from anything. Tilly’s saying she hasn’t seen it, so who knows?

Keeping Up New Year’s Resolutions – Against All The Odds!

This is around that time of year when most New Year’s Resolutions start to crumble for most people – and usually, I’m right there with them falling back into my old habits – but not this year!

I’m determined not to fall in the same old traps that everyone always does this time of year, so this morning after my Xanax I made myself a veggie-rich omelette to keep me going through the day, and then went out for a walk!

It’s still pretty chilly here, but the woods aren’t too far and they’re gorgeous, especially when it’s frosty, so I could really settle my mind and enjoy the trail for a few hours. Afterwards, I felt fantastic, but I was dying to get back in for a cup of tea, so after a quick drive home, I stuck the kettle on, sat down and made a to-do list for keeping my resolutions.

I’ve decided not to join a gym (although I was a really keen lifter as a younger woman, my powerlift and deadlift days are behind me!) since I think some nice walks and some good food will do me just as well. I don’t need to be able to crush muscleheads like Dwayne Johnson or Tommy Wiseau, I just need to be fit enough to take my kids on adventures through the park and trim enough to feel nice when I’m with my husband!

Not that much to ask for. I think I’ll go for another walk into the deeper parts of the woods tomorrow.

Bloggerjin Valentine's Day

A Fantastic Valentine’s Day Surprise!

So it was Valentine’s Day yesterday, and we don’t normally do anything, but this year Mark said he wanted to do something special, even if we couldn’t get a sitter and had to just celebrate in the house.

I wasn’t sure what he was up to, but I said it sounded like a great idea (we haven’t been sticking to our date-night-every-week resolution too well) and I’m so glad I did!

We couldn’t get a sitter (guess everyone else was out being romantic) but Mark took care of the kids, got them watching UP on Netflix, and when they were distracted, he broke out the presents.

He’d made me these unbelievable handmade chocolates and sat them in little red foil covers in a little tray, and topped it all off with a card! I asked him if he’d made them himself and he said he had, when I was out with the girls the night previous. He wouldn’t tell me what was in them, he said the surprise was the main fun part, so I tried them, one at a time.

They were amazing! Soft caramel, strawberry fondant, white chocolate truffle, Turkish delight…. He’d made a little box of everything! I felt terrible for only getting him a card and the Avengers on DVD. I’ll have to think of something special to do for him.

So in other news, I’m trying to convince my hubby to start a little business selling handmade chocolates, because, as it turns out, he’s excellent at it!

holistic medicine natural mother

Tilly’s Cold

My poor Tilly wasn’t well at all this weekend!

On Friday I noticed that she was a little quiet and not as cheery as she usually is, especially considering that Friday is Taquito Night for dinner (her favourite). I checked her forehead for a temperature and thought she felt a little warm, but nothing too bad. She was a little sniffly and downtrodden looking, so I tucked her up and got her a little cup of cocoa to put the pep back in her step while I finished up dinner.

She cheered up a little after dinner, and but she was still a little too warm and said she felt unwell, so we put her to bed nice and early and she fell straight to sleep. I sent the hubbub to check on her a few times, but apparently she slept like a baby!

During the night I woke up when I heard her little voice crying from the bathroom. I couldn’t believe it – she’d been sick on the floor trying to reach the toilet, but she was crying because she was so unwell and she didn’t want to wake her mummy! I nearly cried, it was terrible seeing my little baby like that. I told her it was ok and I wasn’t annoyed, and got her all cleaned up.

We stayed up all night because she couldn’t sleep, but I made her a charm bracelet out of my hair so that contact with her mother’s natural DNA could boost her immune system, and after a few days at home wearing it she was totally better!

She got up this morning in great form and took the bracelet off and gave it to me, saying “thanks Mummy but I’m all better!” and I was just so proud!

So now she’s off to school to tell all her little friends about how great her natural-medic-mummy is – but really, seeing her skip to the car in full health was all the reward I needed!

J x

New Year!

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!

I hope all you lovely people had a great New Year’s Eve (I know I did!) and a lovely Christmas on top of that.

However it’s back to business now, and time for some New Year’s Resolutions! Last year I promised myself I would stop smoking, lose some weight and start reading with Tilly every night. And, in a shocking twist, I managed to accomplish every one of them! Usually New Year’s Resolutions are much harder to stick to, so I’m very proud to have made it!

Ok, so I have a bit more weight to lose, but that’s a continuing resolution into 2016. As for the others, I’m thinking:

Official Resolutions

  • Take more walks with the family in nature/at the park
  • Start playing the violin again
  • Try to have one date night a week with Mark

Unofficial Resolutions

  • Eat more greens
  • Put some money away for Christmas throughout the year
  • Convince Mark that the scratching in the ceiling is real

What about you? Have you all set some New Year’s Resolutions to stick to this year? Let me know in the comments!

J x

christmas with family

Settling in for Christmas

So, after setting our tree up last week, we finished the last of our prep today! (We’ve been very organised, I’m sure it’s a fluke).

We’ve got the turkey bought, the veg in the fridge, the presents ready (don’t tell the kids!) and the decorations up all in time for Christmas week, so now we’re just settling in to enjoy the last few days, and really kick back.

We’ve made a little planner for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with a schedule of things to do each day, just to make sure we don’t lose track of anything. With so many relatives to see, and so many things to pen in, it’s been a real lifesaver, and I think it’ll really keep us on track!

We’ve got my sister up, with her sprouts and her husband, Rufus; we’ve got to visit my Mum at some point, we’ve got the hubster’s parents to see, we have to sort out the presents for the kids, that scratching started in the attic again, we need to sort out the dinner (which will be tricky just by itself) and we have all kinds of smaller treats and things to arrange to fill the time.

Things like curling up with the kids to watch Elf (something I like to do every Christmas), stuffing button mushrooms with pate for Christmas Eve supper, a glass of Baileys on the sly with the sis when she gets here… There’s so much to do!

Thank heavens for little leather diaries.

Christmas decorations

Christmas Tree!

I have a personal rule for the house, that Christmas decorations – the tree especially – can’t go up before the 1st of December. It’s a pretty generous time window before Christmas I think, but my hubby just keeps sneaking little decorations up around the house and it drives me crazy! It seems like every day I come home to another innocuous little paper snowflake tucked up on the mantelpiece or at the bottom of my coffee jar, seriously!

The neighbours put their tree up almost a week ago too, and you know, that’s a fire hazard. Its like the baubles are judging all the non-Christmassy people who pass that window, and I’m glad it’s December now so I can put my tree up!

We took the tree down from the attic (it’s a foldable synthetic tree, you don’t want bugs!) and got all the decorations ready yesterday morning, so when Tilly came back from school we could get right down to work.

Then after the afternoon school run, the hubby put dinner on while we set the tree up. I let Tilly pick her favourite baubles out to put on the tree herself, and while Joe’s still a bit too young for it, he mostly just played with the bubble wrap they decorations were packed in and had a whale of a time!

I had to lift Tilly high to let her put the star on top (she is getting so BIG!) but the look on her face was priceless. It looks amazing in there all lit up and shiny, and Christmas is finally starting properly!

Merry Christmas guys and gals

J x

Bloggerjin Rome

Surprise Anniversary Trip to Rome!

I can’t believe what a whirlwind that was!

So with our anniversary quickly coming up, the hubby and I had planned to go away to the Wirral for a few days – but little did I know that’s not what he had planned at all!

We left the kids with my sister Florence, and got in the car to start the drive, but we wound up on – get this – the motorway to London!

I asked what was up and just got told that we weren’t going to the Wirral after all, we were going to Rome!

Needless to say, I was just gobsmacked.

And it was gorgeous!

Without me finding out, my amazing hubster had booked a loft apartment with Air BnB in the middle of Rome for us to stay in, close enough that we could go see the sights during the day and easily take in the best restaurants at night. He even made sure the internet connection would be great so I could Skype the kids before bed to kiss them goodnight and make sure they’d brushed their teeth, eaten their vegetables and didn’t have nits.

We went to a beautiful restaurant called Cacio E Pepe on the first night, and – although I hate saying that things are “authentic” – it just felt real, like we were seeing what pure Italian culture looked like. The waiters spoke very little English, and we were surrounded by hungry Italian families with snide sideways glances at each other’s food, which was amazing.

There was no menu, just “the specials”, and the lack of choice really put me at ease and let me enjoy whatever they brought out – it was like everything was a lovely surprise!

Then we went to see the Colosseum and the Forums, which were just astounding, annd Vatican City, which had a beautiful, whispery echo everywhere through it and so many beautiful pieces of old art that I actually reached saturation point and couldn’t appreciate them all after a while!

It’s really a wonderful city, and even more wonderful as a surprise for your anniversary!

Needless to say we’ll be back soon!

J xx

Spider Cupcakes

Spooky Baking!

So Halloween’s coming up, and at Tilly’s fierce insistence we’re going to bake some cupcakes to take round to my sister’s little family Halloween party!

I was looking online for some inspiration and the options were a bit overwhelming (apparently cupcakes can be made spooky in thousands of ways) but when I saw the picture of the spiderweb cakes up above, I just fell in love with them.

So then all I needed was to find the recipe – it wasn’t attached to the photo!

I hunted around and finally found this one on the BBC Good Food site that should do the trick just perfectly! Tilly gets her baking and I get the most gorgeous cupcakes to bring round to Suzie’s for the party. Everybody wins! (Especially Tilly and I, who will be tucking in to a cake or two hot out of the oven!)

We’re baking them the night before Halloween, so I’ll post pictures then! (if I remember!)


  • 125g/4½oz plain flour

  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder

  • 1½ tsp baking powder

  • 150g/5oz caster sugar

  • 50g/2oz butter, softened at room temperature

  • 1 free-range egg

  • 8 tbsp milk

For the cream cheese icing
  • 50g/2oz cream cheese

  • 25g/1oz butter, softened at room temperature

  • 125g/4oz icing sugar, sifted

  • ½ tsp vanilla essence

For the chocolate icing
  • 25g/1oz icing sugar

  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line a muffin tray with 9 paper cases.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and butter and beat the mixture together until well combined.
  3. Whisk in the egg and milk until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  4. Divide the mixture between the paper case and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until springy to the touch and skewer inserted into the middle of one of the cakes comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
  5. For the cream cheese icing, beat the cream cheese and butter together in a bowl until well combined. Beat in the icing sugar and vanilla.
  6. Spoon the icing onto the cupcakes, leaving a small border around the edge.
  7. For the chocolate icing, sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of water to form a smooth, thick icing.
  8. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a fine nozzle. (Alternatively, spoon the mixture into the corner of a sandwich bag and snip off the corner, to form a small hole.)
  9. Carefully pipe a few concentric circles onto each cupcake. Run a toothpick from the centre to the edge of the cake, through each circle of icing, at 2cm/1in intervals to create a cobweb effect.
  10. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the icing to harden.
Littlewoods Catalogue

Dress woes with Littlewoods!

After seeing the Littlewoods summer advert (late, I know! I don’t get onto youtube as much as I’d like and Tilly and Joe always have the TV to themselves!) I just had to have the dress Myleene is wearing at the start. It’s up there in the photo, and I just managed to grab one!

When it arrived, I tried it on straight away, and it was too small – though most of my old dresses seem to be shrinking lately. I checked the label and I’d just been sent the wrong size, thankfully. Still a yummy mummy!

I gave Littlewoods a call and they were lovely about it. The summer range had just stopped, but they said they’d pull a few strings and send me the right size, so that was a relief!

I sent my one back and I’m just waiting on the new one now. Here’s hoping it fits this time!