Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Burger me !

So tonight I offered to cook tea.
After having an awesome burger on Friday from a restaurant, I decided to make my own  "Man Burger".
We have : A burger sauce, red pepper, onion, pickled Red Chilli, Beef Quarter Pounder,
Garlic Mayo, salad (for the ladies) and Pulled BBQ Pork.
I topped this with a toasted bun lid.
What's your favourite home made burger?

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cottage Pie

As a lover of all things Aldi, I wanted to show a little meal I made that is a family pleaser. This is no mean feat with six fussy kids. I have started to try and make meals that are fairly simple but incorporate plenty of the right ingredients to a healthy children’s diet.

Sometimes I wonder how I survived as a kid without chicken nuggets or pizza as a main staple. This is due to it being my kid’s main dinner time request.

I have bought all ingredients used from Aldi as I find the store the cheapest around (and no, I do not work for them).

I am cooking a cottage pie with an added ingredient of sweet potato. I know they are really good for you and I hope it will add a sweetness that will hook the kids.

 I purchased:
·         * 5 kg of Every day essential potatoes (plenty left over from making roasties for my Sunday dinner)
·         A pack of four wood farm mild onions. They last really well in the cupboard which is handy and I use them in all my cooking.

·         * 500 g Ashfield farm beef mince. This is so reasonable and again I use it for chilli which Is another favourite of mine. It’s also reduced in fat so I feel like I’m being really good…

·         * 1 kg wood farm sweet potatoes. Again I do not use the whole bag in one sitting, I used some with a Butternut squash to make a veggie curry.

·        * 1 packet of Bramwell’s Beef Casserole mix. As I am no chef, the gravy I make has fantastic flour complemented by this lovely mix.

I find the peeling and boiling of the potatoes takes the longer so I do this first and then cook the meat whilst they boil away. I keep the sweet and normal potatoes separate as I add them in separate layers.

I sliced and fried the onions in a little oil, before browning the mince in the same pan. Once the meat is cooked, I add the casserole mix which was dissolved in 450 ml of cold water (this is what the packet advises). I allowed this to simmer for a while to thicken the gravy. Once I was happy I poured the mince and gravy into a casserole dish. 

I mashed the sweet potato and covered the mince.

After this I mashed the potatoes and with a small amount of butter and milk (my preference) and added this final layer to the cottage pie.

I left this in the oven until the potato was golden brown.

I'm serving it with some kale with a hope the kids will eat some greens. 
I have started to enjoy eating curly kale, but don’t tell my mum, as she had years of forcing me to eat anything in the green spectrum.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Belly Busting Budget

OK, so I'm not looking for a standing roar of “Oh, no you’re not.” When I say what I am about to say. I'm not looking for sympathy or attention relating to sympathy (positive attention is most welcome). I'm going to be simply stating a fact. This is based on my Body Mass Index (BMI), the uncomfortably snug hugs my T-shirts give me and most importantly, (for me and many people), the way I feel and see myself.
So I'm going to say it. I'm FAT. I'm also very lazy and have zero will power. I have on many occasions joined a gym and not gone, I have bought a bike and several types of ball hitting bats that gather rust and dust.
I'm thirty two:

remembering myself a tenth of the size when I was sixteen:

and worrying if I will live to sixty four (see what I did with the maths?).

My partner and I have a family that consists of six children between us and this means the food budget isn't great.
The cost of healthy eating can often be expensive despite what some may believe. We have previously filled the freezer for a month for less than £80 but it has consisted of battered, breaded and processed food. This is definitely not healthy but has guaranteed survival in the bleakest of financial times.
I now need to try and incorporate healthier eating with a low budget. To do this we are going to have to be a lot more organised and a lot less impulsive in our shopping when out and about.
To start with we are going to try a one week food menu. This has been done to include breakfast, packed lunch for me and the kids and a different dinner every evening. I have recently fallen in love with the quality, pricing and service provided at Aldi (so much so I have considered asking for a job there) and will be basing our budget around a food menu mainly sourced at our local store.
I’m hoping to reduce portions on nights I know I’m not necessarily eating the healthiest of meals and start taking the dog for a walk and dare I say it using the bike that I have neglected.
Once I have purchased the items I will list our meals and see how we fare with the weight loss and overall cost. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

"The Sound of Silence" a poem by Sarah Callaway

The Sound of Silence

Left to rot in the darkest corner,
Dust falling while paint peels.
The sound of silence as time stagnates,
All still but the elements.

The site of disaster at the hands of humans?
The theme park at Pripyat or Chippewa Lake?

The surface, a ghost of its former life,
The last day when the bumper cars stopped
And the Ferris wheel froze.
Nature has reclaimed the iron skeleton.

Everything dies, even iron.
Even the fun that once was.

I stand and gaze at the scene behind the fences,
Six Flags, Nara Dreamland, Lake Shawnee.
It’s always the same.
My years are reflected in the broken glass on the ground,
And my sickness projected onto the collapsing scene.
Ageing, decaying and diminishing.

Nothing lasts forever.

(Image taken from google images.)

Friday, 6 February 2015

The cost of our Children.

My children are priceless. However, do we ever really know the cost in a life time for the children we
bring in to this world?

Today I finished work early to pick my Daughter Olivia (aged 10 ) up from school, I then headed to the school where my girlfriends kids go to pick them up (Llewys aged 10 Amelia aged 8).

I thought this in it's self was a good deed but I proceeded to make Faggots, cheesy mash, vedge and gravy for tea.

Once this was done I wallpapered one of the landing walls in what is now an almost finished project and then fitted the carpet on the landing and top three stairs.

This was whilst listening to Ben (aged 11, my eldest son......I had to edit this as Hannah reminded me he's no longer ten...) and Llewys talking absolute gibberish whilst playing some game I would myself have actually liked to be playing, instead of my poor attempt at carpet fitting, which would have taken a tenth of the time for a professional to fit. This I can only blame on my pride as I had stated it too expensive to pay some one to do the job.

I doubt a real fitter would have a two year old (Georgia) placing the scrap off cuts back on the landing every two minutes and passing me tools I didn't need with an angelic "Here you go Neo" (my daughter calls me this due to my step kids referring to me by my first name ....."sigh"

Anyway. I finished the stairs half way because it's getting late and the neighbours will retaliate to the banging of the bolster with loud TV through the night. Hannah made pâté on toast and I sat, now aching, trying to eat it when Michael (aged 8 months) decides he wants it.

I ask Hannah if she wants more to which she tactically asks "are you making it?" And I respond wearily and aching from my underestimated DIY,

"I suppose I'm making Tea as we'll despite cooking dinner, picking up the kids, wallpapering and almost fitting a carpet".

She looked at me for a brief moment ( I thought I may have over stepped the mark and now be in trouble ) and then says with a smile "I gave birth to your babies"

This is what I mean about the cost of my children. I think I may well be paying for them for many years to come. They and Hannah are worth every ache though....

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Human hot water bottle

My son Michael is 8 months old.
He sleeps between my partner and I. I must admit, on cold nights like tonight, I love nothing more then michael and my 2 year old daughter Georgia,  cuddled in with us.
Michael always sleeps with a hand touching me, a subconscious reassurance.
His body is like a hot water bottle radiating warmth and love against my back.

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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Interview with Guest Writer H.L.Allen

What are you currently studying?
 I study Creative and Professional Writing at the moment. I also chose TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, as my two other modules and I Shakespeare as an extra.

What are your plans/aspirations for the future?
Primarily, I want to be a fiction author. However I've got other plans, such as teaching English in foreign countries, reaching Executive National Vice President with "Arbonne" and, finally, travelling the world. Also own a lot of cats and sit on top of a moving train!

Who is your favourite Author?
That's a tricky one. I'm not entirely sure, there are a lot of contenders, but the top three are J R R Tolkien, J K Rowling and Terry Pratchett.

If you were to be stuck on an island with any character from any book, who would it be and why?
I would say Loki from Marvel Cinematic Universe but he'd probably kill me, which wouldn't be too good. Probably Legolas from the Lord of The Rings, he built a boat before so he could do it again.

What’s the meaning behind your short story?
I've always been fond of dark undertones in literature and I like things not set in modern day society. The Victorian era has always fascinated me and I liked the idea of a twisted not-so-healthy sibling relationship in a time when women were seen as objects, so the sister in the story is trying to break out of society's bonds. She just happens to do it out of love for her brother and the death of a high standing citizen, of course the siblings are both mentally messed up and not really a good example of a working family.

If you were born with an animal’s tail (as are all humans in this scenario) what tail would it be and why?
Oh man, this is hard to answer. Probably a peacock's tail because they're so pretty!

Have you got any Novels in the making?
Actually, I've fully written one novel and have started another. I have about 13 trilogies planned out, as you can probably tell, I don't like to stop working.

If you won the lottery and could design one amazing room, what would it be like and what would you have in it?
I would totally have a secret room! One that only I knew about and it would have really old bookcases and a massive fireplace, a fridge for snacks would be cool too and a bed for my cats.

Apart from the story you've provided, what’s the piece of writing you are most proud of and why? 
My novel. It's long, it's dark and it's weird. The main character is an annoying, completely unreliable illegitimate heir to the throne and the merry band of misfits that make up her entourage are, for lack of a better term, dangerous. They have very little hope of saving the world but they're giving it their best shot.

How do you create characters?
I tend to take aspects of my friends and then build them from there. Usually, I add as many flaws as possible and then put them in different scenarios, by then the characters sort of choose what they want to do instead of me. It's quite strange actually, I'll be doing something and then one of them says something in my thoughts. Someone once said "If the voices in my head stopped talking, I wouldn't be a writer." I think that's the perfect quote. But of course, the best way to find out what your characters are made of is to break them.

I would like to once again thank H.L.Allen for her time and hopefully I will get an excerpt of her novel for the blog.
Neil M Stevens.

Guest Writer H.L.Allen

“Now,” he began, glaring at me whilst he sipped his tea, “I want the truth. The full truth. No embellishments.”
I sighed irritably, levelling my brother with a glare similar to his own, “Why does it matter?” Lazily, my eyes trailed to the large window behind him, “It’s not as if it hasn’t been done before…”
The boy, for he would always be that to me, rolled his eyes and turned to look out of the window, leaving his dwarfing, throne-like chair.
I knew that he wouldn’t give me a straight answer, he would to anyone else but I was his sister and he revelled in how much he could annoy me with little consequence.
“Fine,” I conceded, rolling my eyes, “I’ll tell you everything.” Silence followed for a time, stretching between us as I thought out my story.
“Honestly, there wasn’t any other way it could have happened.” Twiddling my gloved thumbs, I began, “You can’t imagine how it is, brother, stuck in a dreary, boring life. Colourless and vile, the days blended together with nothing to fill their wretched hours of vague dislike and annoyance.”
Brother snorted, most improper of him, but regardless motioned me to continue.
“But that all changed.” I took a deep breath, a sinister smirk pulled back against stark white teeth, playing upon my red lips, like blood on snow, “I never believed that this could happen, but he was so perfect. He changed my life really, from the second I saw him I knew that things would never be the same ever again, I couldn’t go back to the way it was before.”
“He certainly changed your life, sister, and not for the better.” Brother was glaring at me once more with crossed arms; I stuck my tongue out at him childishly.
“He beckoned me over at the ball and, like a good Victorian lady of proper standing, I did as requested. It would be uncouth otherwise, correct?” I asked him, a quirk of my brow and a smirk on my lips, “We danced and danced all night long, everything was perfect. He was perfect.”
He glared at me once more, muttering something under his breath before I continued, “I tried explaining it to you, what with you being the head of the family now, but you forbid me to see him.”
I saw him roll his eyes dramatically, “I know what I did. What I want to know is what you did.” I arched an eyebrow at him, not amused with his rudeness. I was to remain his perfect sister until the end of time, our family name untarnished and our pride in place.
“Time flew by. He would visit me, throwing stones at my window and whisking me away in the dead of night.” The dirty look received from brother was worth the admission, but some things were perhaps better left unsaid in decent company.
“But that is not enough for you, is it?” I asked, playing with a piece of cloth I found on his desk.
He sighed, “I need everything, everything you can tell me.” Opening my mouth to protest he sent a poison glare at me, “And I know you are not giving me it all.” I made to roll my eyes but stopped myself. He was right; I wasn’t telling him everything I knew because if I did then it would ruin everything.
We play house, we pretend that we’re perfect. Two lost souls grappling to each other in the dark of life, we clinging to any shred of humanity that remained within us, the good and the bad.
Broken and battered, I picked up my brother’s delicate body from the echoes of a past life, destroyed and tampered with I held him in my young arms and prayed for life to return to him.
And it did, warmth filled his exposed limbs and I carried him from nightmare’s deadly chill and into the fires of the living once more.
I had protected him from all, the death of our parents hung heavy on his head and pushed his shoulders, filling his young heart with darkness and hatred. I watched the vengeance and revenge fill him like a poison, twisting my beloved brother into something other than human.
Once returned to our home, he changed and I gave all I could to return the light to him, to be a mother, to be a friend. Nothing was enough and the child within cripple and twist into something of less than savoury nature.
Demon’s clawed and savages ran free in the confines of my mind, debauchery and desolation became a necessity in my time of need, born from unbroken chains and scattered lies. I became the deceiver, the purveyor of truth and with a mask of calm serenity, kindness locked forever on a pleasant face, I fought for us.
Brother believed me to be free from it all. The burden that he took himself, the hatred blossoming and the rage flowing, a forest of nothing but darkness and deprivation. Thick canopies connecting every growing branch and the sap of blood bled from chipped bark.
He thought that I was innocent, young and still cherished the life I held onto with clinging claws, chained to the ground by nothing but my desire to be free. He was an idiot at times; he wasn’t the only one that suffered.
I levelled his gaze, “You would do anything for me, would you not?” I asked him, my grin gone as the mask fell from my face, seriousness adopting my expression.
My question caught him by surprise but he answered, “Do not change the topic.” It was an order, a hint of false warning lingering behind the cold words from his acidic mouth.
“It is relevant, answer me?” I replied, one delicate eyebrow raised and a tone of hope resting on my tongue.
He grunted again, folding his arms and capturing my eyes with his own, the very same eyes we shared with our late mother. For a time we just waited, hoping the other one would speak up first and break the deafening silence that rarely followed us around.
“Yes.” Simple and truthful, he spoke. A small smile graced my mouth.
“There is your answer.” I said, leaning back on the chair and fiddling with the necklace around my neck.
He glared at me, “That was not the answer I meant.” I giggled lightly, and smiled at him.
“You’re so childish, brother. Let me elaborate,” I began, standing and moving around the desk that separated us from each other to stand by his side, “Look out of the window.”
He did as I requested, rolling his eyes, “Why? What does this serve?” I sighed and put my hands on his shoulders.
“Just look, what do you see?” I said, standing right behind him as we both gazed out into the evening air, the sun setting in the distance.
“I see nothing.” He said.
“That is because you are not looking.” Placing my hands on his shoulders I brought my face next to his, my whisper right next to his ear, “Look and you will learn. What is every creature’s one ultimate goal?” In the reflection of the glass, understanding dawned on his face as the sun finally set in front of us.
“To survive.”
Gloved hands clapped, “Exactly! What wouldn’t I do to survive? What wouldn’t I do to ensure you survive?” I had hoped that this would be enough for him, the memory of it all was fleeting, a feeling of loss and abandonment swept my heart into a cold embrace.
“You are not as invincible as you believe yourself to be.”
I froze at his words, eyes wide and smile gone, I regarded him cautious curiosity, knowing the lengths he had gone to before to require information. Whether he meant emotional manipulation or honest truth I knew that I would say more than intended.
“What makes you think that?” I asked him, my hands resting near my abdomen as they held each other.
His eyes flicked to mine for a brief moment, “This world will give as it will take. You are young and naïve, forever wanting to believe in all that’s good.” My eyes narrowed.
“But you are wrong. You are a silly little girl, you are my chess piece. The board is constantly moving and you are my strongest piece.” He didn’t look at me once as he spoke, too focused on the darkness outside and the raging storm that suddenly claimed the night.
“And what makes you think you are not the same to me?” My words were cruel, my tone was biting and I’m certain I could have frozen him where he stood. But the fire raging inside of me would die down enough to provoke the ice to take hold; the fire would not let me burn my brother.
He turned his head and looked up, finally meeting my gaze, “Fight. Struggle. Do what you must, but listen, sister.” He commanded, standing on his toes and staring at me with softened eyes, “You are not alone.”
He was mine to support, he was mine to comfort. Promises made in the night and lies told in the day, I was there for him. How the mighty fall, once a queen turned into a pawn.
“I may have friends and I may have you, but he wanted me too, he wanted everything.”
My smile twisted and turned into something that would make event he devil shiver in fear, “Yes, he was perfect.” My heart sang the second my dagger slit his throat.

“He was the perfect fool.”

Friday, 30 January 2015

Three Blind Men

‘She can’t do this to us’ said John, slamming his palm down on to the rocky table. Peter clumsily grabbed his glass and the near empty whiskey bottle.
            ‘Brother, she can and she did.’ Paul said, not taking his eyes from the voluptuous barmaid. She had ignored his flirtatious attempt at charm all night. ‘It’s only a matter of time’ he thought confidently.
‘Y-you you c-can s-s-s-say that Paul b-but you’ll get on with your l-looks. Y-you always do!’ Peter gasped. He looked to the window behind John’s back, it was dark outside the inn and little candle reflected his round, pock marked face. His purple bulbous nose pointed at him in anger.
The three brothers had always drunk in the finer establishments of the town but now their mother had disowned them, she had also cut their ties to the family estate. They could no longer rely on her paying their tabs.
            ‘You’re all so useless!’ she had screamed.  Their mother had then told the workers on her farm to hoist the boys off her estate, if they did not leave willingly. Peter had cried. Paul had moved very quickly so as not to get into a scuffle and damage his good looks. John had still been attempting to convince his mother that the gambling debt had all been a misunderstanding. He persevered whilst being manhandled and stated that his new business venture was sure to sort everything out, so long as he had her backing. He had mumbled about how business wasn’t as easy for him as his good friend Timothy. Timothy had been trading goods from India since he left university. His mumbles were even less dignified due to the towering game keeper holding him up by the scruff of his jacket and collar.
            ‘I’m sorry to be doin’ this sir.  If you can’t find anywhere to stay, go to the clinkers Inn and tell them I sent you.’
            ‘It’s quite alright Geoffrey.’ John looked up amicably, ‘Sometimes I wish I was you, what a simple life you lead, eh?’ John said, his feet barely touching the floor as he was handled through the main gates to the estate, ‘any chance you could lend me some money till mother calms down?’
Geoffrey’s eyebrow rose, ‘I’m to shoot you if you return so be mindful of that, it would lay heavily on my soul if it were to come to that’ he said smiling once his back was turned on the three sullen boys. Boys he thought, they’re all in their bloody thirties!
John grabbed his glass of whiskey, ‘Why couldn’t I have been born into the Peterson’s family? Timothy has the luck of his father still running the estate and wouldn’t be subjected to the emotional ruling of a woman!’
            ‘Perhaps we should have her sectioned,’ Paul suggested as he called the barmaid over to fill his glass.
The barmaid filled each of their glasses and said, ‘That’s the last of you credit Sirs’ she moved sideways avoiding the pretty boys creeping arm without so much as glancing his way.
Peter was unaware of the intense stares of Paul and John as he crammed the third meat pie of the evening into his already over filled mouth. He looked up wondering why all had gone silent, crumbs clinging to his hamster like cheeks. ‘Wha-?’ he managed with only a few crumbs of pie escaping his still full mouth. Paul and Barmaid grimaced alike. 
            ‘Well, give the girl some money,’ John demanded attempting a winning smile at the barmaid but giving up half way, remembering his brother’s higher chances of winning her affection. He quickly channelled his envy at Peter, ‘We both know you’ve got more saved than us.’
            Peter wiped his greasy hands in his creased tweed blazer. He stood, digging his large soft hand into his corduroy trousers, his belly nearly tipping the table. Crumpled notes fell over his hand to be quickly swept up by John.   
‘W-we only ha-ave enough f-f-for the board n’ lodge.’ He stammered, placing the money back in his pocket quickly.
            ‘I’m not staying here!’ Paul said crossing his arms. He looked up at the girl for confirmation it was a dump then turned to his drink. He quickly looked back to the girl realising his potential insult. ‘No offence of course.’
            ‘You’ll need to move on after you’ve drunk these beers and don’t let them last all night.’ she said.
Paul looked over his whiskey glass which paused at his lips. ‘So that’s what a rebuff feels like then Peter.’ he laughed, offloading his embarrassment to his brother.
            ‘We can’t let this go on any longer.’ John stated, downing Peters pint then raising his own, ‘we shall go back and sort this out!’
            ‘How?’ Paul asked, grabbing Peter’s whiskey shot. Peter looked from one brother to the other in quiet protest.
            ‘She just needs a good talking to.’ John hiccupped, leaving the Inn.
            This should be fun, com on Peter.’ Paul said, he waved to the barmaid, who to his mind, could not have seen. He took his jiacket from his chair and headed out the door whilst putting it on.
            Peter looked at his empty piny and whiskey glasses and sighed. ‘This is going to end in disaster,’ He said. Peter threw a note down for the barmaid and whistled, pointing down at the money. He finished by shouting, ‘Cheers Love.’
She stopped pouring ale into another customer’s glass and stared at him, eyebrows knitted as he left.
By the time the three boys had walked from the town, out to their mother’s estate, they were cold and wet from the knees down.
            ‘I say John, this was a stupid idea,’ Paul complained.
            ‘Was it not you who protested about staying at that god awful inn?’ John retorted.
            ‘She-she’s not going t-t-t-to be ha-happy,’ Peter said, half stuttering and half shivering.
            ‘Nonsense’ Said Jon, ‘She’s been waiting for us to take a stand, been hoping we would be proper men!’ John waved a fist as he stepped over the fence that took them off the main road, onto the field that led to the family home.
            ‘So why are we going through the kitchen up to her room then?’  Paul whispered as they stooped low to the floor and scurried to the back door. The lights were all off but over the horizon, a pink hue edged the top of the hills and trees.
            The boys tiptoed up the broad stairs that centred the wide entrance way and headed up to their mothers door. Paul stood to the left of her door and John to the right. Peter stood in the middle of the middle of the landing staring intermittently from one brother to the other.
‘You go first’ John whispered to Peter, leaning back against the wall to hide his body, should the door open. Peter’s eyes widened, his mouth made the smallest circle, he started to wring his hands and shake his head.
‘This is a hold up,’ Said a muffled male voice from in the room. This’ll go easier if you just do as I say.’
Paul looked at John, fright showed as he backed away from the door. John grabbed him before he could scarper.
‘Please sir I don’t know what you mean. I’m just a poor woman.’ They heard their mother plea.
‘So you think you can fool me do you? Sure enough I can see your jewels right here,’ the male said sternly.
‘Mummy!’ Peter shouted as he barged between John and Paul to smash through the bedroom door and rescue his mother from her assailant.
The boys all fell through the door in an almighty bang. This happened as the man in nothing but Cowboy boots, underwear and a Stetson dropped his gun in surrender. The last image etched onto their now blind eyes would be to see the game keeper roleplaying with their mother, who had been smiling and wearing a corset.
She screamed at them to get out, grabbing the ornamental sword from its scabbard at the gamekeeper’s hip and beating the boys with the flat of its blade. They cried and tripped over each other as they tumbled down the stairs.
            ‘How could you Geoffrey?!’ John wailed.
            ‘That’s father’s sword, God rest his should’ wailed Paul.

            ‘Why were you using a loaded weapon Dad!?’ Peter Shouted. The older boys stopped, holding each other as they heard Peter’s perfect speech and shocking words.