#ThriftyThursday: Charity shop haul

I have a confession to make. I watch haul videos. And not ironically.

I know I shouldn’t. But there’s something about super rich, super peppy American teenagers unloading bags of clothes and make up that cost more than my monthly rent that I just can’t switch off from. It’s late night car crash web viewing.

I took myself out shopping this afternoon for a bit of a charity shop scour. Our town is blessed with plenty of charity shops – some good, some bad and a few seriously overpriced. You have to be willing to dig. And dismiss 95% of what you see. And avoid static build up so as not to set off a spark and send rack upon rack of polyester up in mothball scented flames.

But it is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two, and anything you buy is doing some good: money goes to charity, you keep something out of landfill and at worst, you decide you don’t want it and then give it back to be sold again.

So here comes today’s charity shop haul…

In a fair world, it’d be me rocking this coat. It’s so swishy. A genuine wool double breasted dress coat with an extra flouncy skirt and brass buttoned epaulettes on the shoulders. Originally from Next, and including a jazzy polka dot lining.

Sadly I no longer wear an age 11-12, so this is my daughter rocking it. A meagre £1.49.


Today she lucked out with the books too. She’s only become a vociferous reader in the past few months, so I’m trying to introduce her to as many new and wonderful kiddo books as possible. Ok, so the Choose Your Own Adventure is probably a bit grown up for a seven year old, but we can read it together and I still love them!

All of these were 20p each.


Ahhh, onto books for Mummy.

Traditional Farmhouse Fare is a collection of recipes from the readers of Farmer’s Weekly. Most recipes are submitted (in my imagination) by ruddy faced kindly West Country farmer’s wives with a brood of starving/strapping farm hands arriving at the Aga at tea time.

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Nothing slimming here folks. This is the food that’ll sustain me until Spring.

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In complete contrast, I was also introduced to the Candy Kittens. Apparently it’s a camp-as-Christmas sweetie emporium in the West End. Their goodies are stocked in Waitrose now too. This book is complete fluff – and includes a recipe for marshmallow fluff – but I can see kiddo and I making quite a few things from it on rainy afternoons.

On this charity shop haul, grown up books were 40p a pop.

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And finally… some tat. Monkey and bunny cable ties for 20p each to tidy up the chaos under my desk. Tiny kawaii gift boxes that are just big enough to fit about 3 sweets and have already been nicked (30p). And quirky reuseable shopping bags (again 20p each) that fit in the bottom of my handbag so that I might remember to take them out with me.

I just realised I haven’t photographed my best find – these Next jeans. BNWT. In my size. £4.

All in all, a very successful trip. Less than £10 spent, goodies galore, and a good deed done.

PLEASE comment if you’d like more charity shop haul posts like this… I’m never sure who is reading. Thanks!

Cooking with Kids: Unicorn Poop

If you weren’t seduced by the title, you will be by the list of ingredients for these delicious nuggets of sugary goodness.

IMG_0403On our last visit to the library, we were pleased to find out that my daughter’s copy of Hope and Greenwood’s Life is Sweet had finally come in. We’d been watching Sweets Made Simple on iPlayer and as soon as she got the book home she was determined to start churning out pounds of fudge and marshmallows and gummies. I don’t think even the most competent six year old should really be fooling around with sugar thermometers on her own… and on a Sunday morning, I’m not really in the mood either.

So we compromised and made Unicorn Mallow Pops. Except I had no popsicle sticks, so they became Unicorn Poop.

Kids love anything with sparkles and poop, right?

The gold lustre spray is available from Dr Oetker but in no way necessary. Although it can be very handy to have gold spray in the cupboard to make any food look like it was crafted by fairies.

Fairy green beans anyone?IMG_0408

Unicorn Poop

Serves: Well, as many as can clamour in the kitchen to scoff them. They don’t keep very well, so plan on eating them all immediately.


1 bag of microwave popcorn, sweet or salty (we prefer salty)
200g of marshmallows (any colour or shape, you’re melting them)
50g unsalted butter
Gold lustre spray, optional

1) Microwave the popcorn according to the instructions on the bag. You won’t need all of it, so eat a bit.IMG_0404

2) Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat. Still on the heat and stirring occasionally, toss in the marshmallows until you have an unctuous sweet gooey mess that is all too tempting to stick your fingers in.IMG_04063) Turn off the heat and stir in the popcorn. Then leave the kitchen for 30 minutes to let it cool.IMG_04074) When the mix is cool enough to handle, form it into small balls. Or huge ones. Or whatever the wee ones fancy. Place on greaseproof paper to set. Spray them with gold spray until they resemble something that has fallen out of the bottom of a mythical creature.


Magical Midweek Mince: Kid Friendly Keema

By midweek, my cooking mojo has begun to drain. It seems a long way til Saturday when we do our weekly food shop and the contents of the fridge is far from exciting. BUT THERE SHALL BE MINCE.

Despite being one of my least favourite sources of protein, it has earned a permanent place in my fridge due to the fact that children rarely turn their nose up at it. This means that I am only ever half an hour away from a meal that won’t get fed to the dog, which suits me just fine.

Having exhausted the traditional stalwarts of bolognese, chilli con carne and cottage pie (which I despise, but more on that in a minute), this spicy kid-friendly keema has become a regular fixture in our house.

It works best with lamb mince, but I have subbed in beef, turkey or even pork without really changing the outcome. It borrows heavily from Nigella Lawson’s hangover cure in Feast but I felt it was ripe for a family-friendly makeover. Add a few more veggies, tone down the spice and add important tips to make this as quick and painless as possible.

* Chop nothing. Whiz it all in the food processor. Except the pepper, which needs to be a little chunkier really. In fact, you can bung in stray courgettes, carrots and other lingering fridge veg. Wilting some spinach in at the last minute works well.

* The freezer is your friend. I keep chillis and root ginger in the bottom drawer and use them straight from the freezer, extending their life to infinity.

* Buy those vacuum packed naan breads and keep them in the cupboard for dinner emergencies. And don’t bother turning on the grill to cook them, as they fit in the toaster for a reason.

* Lime juice in a bottle works fine here.


Kid Friendly Keema

(serves 4 ish)


600g lamb mince
A large onion
A thumb of root ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 bell pepper (you choose the colour), diced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
300g of frozen peas (about 2 mugs full)
2 generous tablespoons of balti paste
A splash of lime juice

Naan breads, to serve (see above)

1) Whiz up the onion, ginger and garlic in the food processor.
2) Pop the mixture in a large frying pan with a splash of oil and allow to cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3) Meanwhile, dice the pepper and add in. When everything begins to soften, add the mince.
4) After 5 minutes, everything should be beginning to smell yummy, so add the balti paste and tinned tomatoes. Allow to bubble along cheerfully for about 15 minutes, until everything is cooked through. Add in the peas, giving them 5 minutes to heat through.
5) Just before serving, stir in a splash of lime juice. You can add a verdent covering of fresh coriander if you like as well.
6) Taste. If it’s not punchy enough, add some chilli, or if you’ve overdone it with the balti paste, add a dollop of yogurt or even just milk.

Leftovers are delicious eaten straight from the fridge, but if you want to be extra fancy, double the recipe, top the second half with mashed sweet potato and crisp the top in the oven for possibly the finest cottage pie ever.

In praise of the Smug Mummy.

My name is Kelly. I am 32 (or 28 if a handsome young fellow asks) and I am a Smug Mummy. And proud.

chloepuntingI wholeheartedly believe my child is wonderful and am happy to celebrate that. If people tell me she is great or gorgeous or funny or polite or anything good… I say thank you. I do not try to pull a face and say ‘oh well, you should see her when…’ because there is no need to. Live in the moment. Your kiddo is great – great enough for someone else to need to tell you in fact!

Last night was parent’s evening, and after a glittering review on her progress from her teacher, her father turned to me and asked…

‘Aren’t you tired of hearing how great she is?’

What a ridiculous question. Of course not. You’re not likely to put as much blood, sweat and tears – often literally – into anything compared to raising your kids, so why not celebrate that something has gone right? If that makes me a Smug Mummy, so be it.

Self depreciation seems to be ingrained in British culture. If someone compliments your outfit, you’re supposed to counter with how it was in the sale or how you’re just trying to hide your muffin top. Or detract from the bird’s nest on your head. I don’t advise you to morph yourself into Samantha Brick, but you’re allowed to love what you’re wearing, surely?

Someone loves the dinner you served? Obviously it’s ‘something you just through together’ or could have used more garlic/less salt/a bit more unicorn horn.Even if you’ve completed what feels like a five-hour Masterchef audition and your kitchen looks like an ample skirmish occurred there earlier that evening.

But why? Why not stand up and take the flattery? Goodness knows it’s hard to come by.

So next time someone tells you that your little one is great, thank them. And grin. And be that Smug Mummy. Because these are the comments you can cling to next time they’re using your Chanel lipstick as grease paint for the dog or refusing to eat the meal they loved 20 minutes ago ‘because it smells like nuts and poo’.

Living with CIDP: Diagnosis

‘Your feet are icy, stop wriggling!’

‘I can’t help it, I’ve got pins and needles again.’

I didn’t know it, but almost four years ago, these were the first symptoms of CIDP. I put the persistent numb feet down to my boyfriend’s crumbling cottage and the lack of central heating. And sure enough, by the time the spring had arrived, the symptoms were gone.

There were other signs of a problem over the next few years. I had bouts of my hands feeling swollen and achy, which were dismissed as carpal tunnel syndrome. After an energetic Zumba class, my toes would feel like they were on fire, but I put this down to wearing ill-fitting trainers.

None of these things lasted for long enough for me to make it to my doctor about them. So I didn’t worry too much. I was in my late 20s and otherwise in good health. As a working single mother, I didn’t have time to be ill.

Things took a turn for the worst on on August bank holiday weekend 2013. I was walking up a hill in Yorkshire after an afternoon sojourn to the pub. As we walked back, my legs began to feel like concrete. I noticed that I couldn’t feel the soles of my feet, and my ballet flats slipped off without me noticing. I felt a lot more tired than usual, and vowed to go to the doctors when I got home.

Over the next fortnight I deteriorated rapidly. I had just begun a new job, so managed to drag myself to work each day. I had to make sure that I was first in the bus queue, because my legs felt too heavy to climb up the stairs to the top deck. I dreaded meetings as I couldn’t carry a tray of drinks and my hands shook when I tried to write. I stupidly took myself to a music festival, where I found myself unable to walk unaided by the end of the day and having to be pulled up steps by my friends and family.

I was initially diagnosed by my doctor with glandular fever. I was sent home and told to rest. Two days later, I was weaker and returned to the doctor’s office. This time a junior GP suggested writing off for a neurology referral and sent me home to rest.

By this point, rest was all I could do! I couldn’t walk between the floors of my house and had to pull myself up or scoot down the stairs on my bottom. Part of me expected to wake up one morning and all of the symptoms be gone. In fact, was it all in my head? Do arms and legs just stop working?

The third GP to see me immediately referred me to a neurologist. He’d asked me to climb up onto the bed in his office, via a small step. And although I could place my foot on the step, I was completely unable to haul myself up. It was as though all of the muscles in my leg had just switched off.

A neurologist took one look at me and told my partner to take me to the neurology ward of the nearby hospital. Pack a bag, expect to be staying. She also tested my lung capacity, which was a lot lower than it should be.

I fell over in the hospital car park and could not get back up. There was no strength in my body. My legs were just slabs of flesh. I cried when they asked me to get myself up, as all I could do was cling to them and sob that I couldn’t move. I was terrified. I had to be dragged into a wheelchair. I didn’t walk again for almost two weeks.

This was CIDP.

This is the first in a series of articles detailing my experiences of CIDP, a neurological disorder. To learn more about the disease, this is an excellent place to start. For help and support living with CIDP in the UK, visit the GAIN website.

Flapjacks: The 1980s teatime edition

A lot has changed since the 1980s. Cadbury’s Creme Eggs have shrunk to 1/8 of their previous proportions (probably). Children’s television lasts indefinitely, as opposed to the 90 precious minutes after you got in from school. The less said about My Little Pony’s fate, the better. And flapjacks have forgotten their roots.

The 2013 flapjack is still delicious. But it is buttery and soft and rather bland on its own, hence the trend for studding them with berries and chocolate and the like. But the 1980s teatime flapjack could stand its ground without any adornments. Buttery and sweet yes, but also fiery with ginger and a tang of lemon. Relentlessly chewy, the only accompaniment it needed was a can of Tizer and an episode of Count Duckula.

This is my attempt at recreating the 1980s flapjack. I am not sure whether I am quite there yet, but the spicy citrus smell that filled my kitchen as it baked suggests…

1980s Flapjacks


175g unsalted butter
175g golden syrup
175g soft light brown sugar
2tsps ground ginger
The zest of one lemon
350g porridge oats

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Line an 8 inch square tin with baking paper. Set aside.

2) Over a medium heat (and indeed, in a medium saucepan), melt together the butter, golden syrup and sugar until combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the ginger and lemon.

3) Pour in the oats and stir until well combined, occasionally spooning a bit into your mouth. Spread evenly into your prepared tin, preferably using your hands so that you can eat more mixture.

4) Bake for 40 minutes, or until the edges are golden. Allow to cool for 30 minutes in the tin on a rack, then remove. Try to save cutting it up until it has cooled through, or you’ll end up with some rather messy bits that fall apart and demand to be eaten immediately. Not always a bad thing.

Store Cupboard Lemon Drizzle Cake

Despite the fact I love its enveloping stickiness and lengthy tin life, I rarely make lemon drizzle cake. This is because I never have a lemon. Any lemon that enters my household is quickly dispatched to float in a gin and tonic in lieu of limes, halved and shoved up a chicken’s bottom or sentenced to languish in the fruit bowl til green and furry. Coupled with the misery of cleaning a lemon zester, the flour, eggs and butter instantly become a Victoria sponge.

However, I recently discovered that you can buy very good lemon extract to take the place of lemon zest. It gives all the depth of flavour, but without the need for actual lemons. Sainsbury’s Sicilian Lemon Extract is particularly good. Add to that bottled lemon juice – found next to the pancake mix – I can now create lemon drizzle cake on a whim. And have done frequently since this discovery.

This is one of the few times that I will suggest the faff of a loaf tin liner, as all the delicious lemony syrup can effortlessly weld your cake to the bottom of the tin.


Lemon Drizzle Cake

Cooking time: 1 hour plus cooling

You’ll need: a lined 2lb loaf tin and a skewer for pricking the cake


125g lightly salted butter
175g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsps lemon extract
200g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100ml milk

For the syrup:

125ml lemon juice
100g icing sugar

For the glaze:

50ml lemon juice
150g icing sugar

1) Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celcius. Line your cake tin, ‘gluing’ the liner securely with a bit of butter.

2) Cream the butter and sugar by hand or with a mixer til pale and fluffy. Keep beating as you add the eggs, milk and lemon extract.

3) Carefully fold in the flour and baking powder, adding a little more milk if it becomes too stiff or grainy. Dollop into your prepared loaf tin and bake for 50 minutes, or until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. This will be a delightfully moist cake, so don’t worry about giving it a few extra minutes.

4) While the cake is in the oven, make your syrup. Put the lemon juice and sugar in a pan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Take it off the heat and let it cool. As soon as you remove the cake from the oven it’s time to go postal on your cake. Grab a skewer, picture your ex boyfriend’s smug stupid face and start stabbing. Be careful not to injure yourself or stab through the lining of the tin. Pour over the cooled syrup and let the cake cool completely in its tin.

5) When cooled, combine the remaining icing sugar and lemon juice into a delicious gunky paste. Drizzle over the top of the cooled cake with gay abandon. Try to let it set a little before hacking into it.