Saturday, 30 June 2012

Paprika Chicken Pasta Salad

I love this salad, it's so easy.  And it won me a competition last year.  I entered it into a recipe competition for feta cheese, and won a huge big picnic hamper, so it's a lucky dish.  All the measurements are approximate, I'm afraid.  I'm not a very scientific cook, so it was all a case of eyeballing it & adding enough until it looked right.
Typical British summertime, it's raining!

Ingredients (serves 2)

One chicken breast
About 100g mini pasta shapes
About 100g feta cheese, cubed
Half a can of sweetcorn
About 8 sundried tomatoes
Roughly 3 teaspoons paprika


Coat the chicken in the paprika until well covered.
Bake chicken breast in the oven for around 30 minutes, until cooked through.  (If, like Claire at Ninja Killer Cat, your oven has gone bang you could always grill the chicken, or use a health grill.
Remove chicken from the oven and allow to cool
Boil some water in a saucepan, and add the pasta.
Simmer for about 5 minutes, until pasta is al dente
Cut the chicken into rough cubes.
Once pasta is cooled, mix all ingredients in a bowl.  A little of the oil from the sundried tomatoes makes a good dressing
Serve, and hope for better weather.

As you can see, I served mine with home made pizza.  More about that, and a recipe, coming soon!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

What would you do?

I'm just home from town, and outside the supermarket, where they often have charity collections, was something a bit different.  A stall from our local police force, asking people to take part in an interactive survey.  People were given £100 in varying denominations (toy money, sadly) and asked to distribute the money between 7 boxes with different priorities on them, to show where you think the police should be spending their/our cash.

Well, I thought to myself, that's easy enough.  Until I started.  The 7 boxes were:

  • Tackling Hate Crime (domestic abuse, racial, gender, dis/ability, homophobic abuse)
  • Tackling Violent Crime
  • Reducing Burglary
  • Tackling Drug-related crime
  • More visible police/PCSOs on the beat
  • Combating Terrorism/Extremist attacks
  • Reducing Anti-Social Behaviour
Well. How hard was that?  They're so connected. There was no "reducing speeding", "picking on innocent motorists", "paperwork", or "going for a takeaway" (our village Police Station is 5 doors from a Chinese takeaway & the officers seem to be regular customers).

I really struggled, I mean.  More visible policing will, by its nature, reduce anti-social behaviour. Tackling drug-related crime is likely to show a reduction in burglary & violent crimes.  It's things like this that make me very glad I don't have to make big strategic decision like that.  What would you do?  (argh! I sound like Jodi Picoult!)

© Imabase | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

I asked Squeaky what she wanted to spend the money on, and she said "give it to Daddy", but apparently that's not allowed.  Shame, he'd've appreciated it!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Guest Post - Family car trips – a UK guide

Today we're welcoming our very first guest post to SqueakyBaby, go easy on us both!  I'd like to welcome Gargi Shastri with some tips for enjoying a staycation with your family and car.

Sleeping under the stars in the Lake District, surfing monster waves in Cornwall and driving a few feet from an African lion in the Midlands. All these experiences are just a car trip away.

As more families opt to holiday at home rather than abroad, self-drive vacations are a great way to see the sights in the UK and enjoy a family adventure on the road. Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Camping has advanced over the last decade or so and is no longer associated with muddy tents and bad toilets. Modern campers can now choose from luxury Mongolian-style yurts (domed tents), handcrafted Native American tipis (conical tents) and stylish wooden pods.

When you’re not sitting around a campfire, you can take part in various family-friendly outdoor activities, from canoeing and fishing to hiking and cycling.

Head to the Lake District if you want to wake up near England’s largest natural lake, Windermere, or try the wilds of the Scottish Highlands for scenery on a breathtaking scale.

With thousands of campsites across the UK to choose from, online resources such as The Camping and Caravanning Club website are a good way to start your search. Remember to book well in advance if you’re travelling in peak season.

Seaside breaks
Britain’s coastline has plenty to offer the beach-loving family. Rugged cliffs, endless beaches and water sports make seaside holidays a popular choice. While a week in the sun sounds irresistible, there are things that can make your beach holiday a washout. Make sure you consider the following factors before booking:

  • Ensure that your destination has enough indoor activities for rainy days. Look out for good-quality leisure centres, theme parks and other activities that don’t depend on our less-than-dependable weather.

  • Do a quick online check of the beach quality. You can get details on how clean they are, how often they’re patrolled by lifeguards, and when pets are allowed on the sand.

  • Although the sun, sand, sea and surf are usually enough to keep most families occupied, you can always get more out of your holiday by planning it around certain activities. Enrolling the kids in a surf school or taking kitesurfing lessons could make a seaside holiday that much more enjoyable.

Day trips
No room in the diary for a holiday? Consider these fun destinations for a memorable day trip.

  • North – Legoland Discovery Centre, Manchester
The fantastic plastic world of Lego has something for everyone.  Watch how the famous Lego bricks are made and marvel at the incredibly realistic miniature displays.

  • Midlands – West Midlands Leisure and Safari Park, Bewdley
You don’t have to travel far to experience the thrill of driving among Bengal tigers, African lions, rhinos, giraffes and other wild animals. The park has the largest pride of white lions in the UK, and regularly takes part in conservation and breeding programmes for endangered species.

  • South East – Dover Castle, Dover
With a stunning location on the white cliffs of Dover, this ancient castle has played a significant role in English history for 2000 years. Costumed actors will introduce you to the medieval court life of King Henry II. You can also explore the secret tunnels under the castle which were used to mastermind the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War.

  • South West – The Eden Project, St Austell
The famous domes in Cornwall hold enough surprises for all the family. Get a taste of the tropics by walking through the world’s largest indoor rainforest, or sample the delights of a Mediterranean garden. There are plenty of activities for children, including live storytelling sessions, ice-skating, and music and arts events.

Before you set out for an adventure on the road, make sure you have sufficient car insurance cover, so you can relax and get the most out of your trip.
Author bio:
Gargi Shastri writes for the Sainsbury’s Bank Money Matters blog on topics ranging from car insurance to family holidays. A road trip fanatic, she has clocked up thousands of miles in her trusty MPV.

I am a member of the Sainsburys Bank Blogger Network. I have not received payment or incentive for this guest post.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


I have a million things I want to blog about right now.  Some of them might even be interesting!  However, I don't have a huge supply of brains to write coherent posts with, and the spare braincells I do have are being directed firmly at the issues I want to blog about, rather than blogging about them.

There's one post I desperately want to write while it's relevant, but to be fair, I feel I should approach the company in question for comment prior to publishing.  There's a question.  What would you do?  It's not a review, it's a genuine experience we've recently had with a major company, who many of you may be using in the near future, and a case of not delivering on what they promised and failing to communicate this.  The post is going to be strictly true & accurate, not emotional, but a wee bit angry.  They haven't asked me to write about them, they don't know anything about the blog at present.

But thinking about other media, if this were a magazine, there would be a box at the bottom saying "Xcorp declined to comment".  If it were TV, Esther Rantzen or Lynn Faulds-Wood (I'm old, OK?) would chase the CEO down the street with a camera crew asking why they let their customers down.  Should I, as a blogger, follow the same principles of balanced reporting & right to reply?  Or should I say "My blog, my opinions, like it or lump it"?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Geekgasm & the kindness of strangers

Anyone following my twitter feed this evening will know that I went to the Hay Festival to see Terry Pratchett (apologies for the badly focussed picture, there's only so much you can do with a phone camera while walking, instagram or no instagram).

If you've been a regular reader of my Magpie Monday posts, you'll know I'm a bit of a Terry Pratchett fan, and living only 30 miles from Hay-on-Wye, this was always going to be a must-see, even more so considering Terry's illness.

It was a pretty emotional thing for me, while he faces up to an incurable disease with a strength and patience that I could never imagine, his fragility was evident throughout.  It didn't dampen his sharp wit and incredible talent though.  Rob Wilkins was the host for the session & did a reading from Terry's new book The World Of Poo (due out tomorrow, so we got a sneak preview!), and spoke about The Long Earth, which is due for release on 21 June.  With another book due to be released in September, there doesn't appear to be any let-up in his amazing productivity.

I'm too much of a wimp to stand up in a big tent full of 500+ people and ask questions, even though there were a million in my mind, wondering which was the Discworld character he would most like to share a drink with, whether there was ever a plan for a follow up to Good Omens, or why he chooses to write Discworld without chapters.

After the session finished I headed back to my car, parked on one of the numerous fields masquerading as expensive charity car parks, via a Help For Heroes hot dog stall, and sat in the queue to get out.  Someone waved me down when I was 3/4 of the way out (and blocking the road) to let me know my front tyre was flat - oh joy, and I limped the car out of the car park & everyone else's way to have a little look.  Yep. Flat.  That's a fair word for it. Pancaked.  (Bad blogger forgot to take a photo of this momentous discovery).

I am not good at staying calm & thinking rationally.  I phoned SqueakyDaddy on the verge of tears (and the grass verge, ha ha ha!) to ask him what to do.  He suggested I call the breakdown, as that's what we pay them for, and generally chill out.  So I phoned.  The guy took the details, and said 45 minutes.  I wait.  I get out & get the spare tyre out of the boot, as I can do that bit, and I needed to get the buggy out of the way, and wait some more.  After half an hour, the garage phone me to say they'll be at least another hour.  Grrrrrrrrr.  And I wait some more.  I'm sitting on the side of a pretty busy main road, right outside the festival and 2 car parks.  It takes AN HOUR for someone to stop & offer to help.  But eventually a very lovely couple did stop, and changed the tyre for me.  And finally I got on my way home.

I figure I owe the universe a favour now.  And I'll owe the garage money for a new spare tyre in the morning.

The moral of the story? Always carry a spare.  And learn to change your own blooming tyres woman!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Turkey Moussaka #leanonturkey

Gobble Gobble Gobble!  This dashing gentleman is a Bronze Turkey.  He's the kind that you have for Christmas dinner, because they taste so good.  This particular turkey lives at Folly Farm, where we went for a daytrip a couple of weeks ago, but I thought I'd share his handsome picture, before showing you what you can do with him!

I use turkey mince in our moussaka, because it's good value for money, less fatty than the traditional lamb mince, and tastes great.  You could use lamb if you wanted, or veggie mince if that's what floats your boat, but this is MY moussaka, and I use turkey.  I use it in chilli as well, but my recipe for that is "eyeball it, chuck it in a pan & leave it be til you're hungry", and that doesn't make for great reading.  So, here goes my recipe.

Turkey Moussaka - serves 4

400gr turkey mince
400gr chopped tinned tomatoes or passata
300gr Greek yogurt
2 eggs
1 onion
1 aubergine
1 large potato, or 3-4 smaller ones
2 cloves garlic, crushed
25 gr grated cheddar
Healthy squeeze of tomato puree
pinch ground cinnamon
pinch mixed herbs
1 stock cube (I used a baby salt-free cube)
olive oil for frying


Should've got a bigger aubergine
Preheat oven to 200c, 400f or Gas Mark 6.

Dice onion as fine as you can (not very fine if you're me!), and fry the onion & turkey mince in a saucepan (YES, a saucepan, it will make sense later) until browned.  Add the tomatoes, crushed garlic, tomato puree, cinnamon, herbs & stock cube.  Stir & cover, and leave to simmer while you get on with the next bit.

Slice the aubergine into 1cm rounds.  Brush with a small amount of olive oil & fry gently in batches until coloured up & a bit floppy. Aubergines are one of the favourite apparition places for assorted deities, so check with care.  Set aside on a plate with a piece of kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil.

Peel potatoes, slice into 1cm slices & parboil, or nuke in the microwave for about 2 mins.

Place a layer of aubergine in the bottom of a large, ovenproof dish.  Cover with half the meat & tomato mix. Cover this with all the potato slices, then the other half of the meat & tomato mix, and finish off with the remaining aubergine.

Whisk the eggs and yogurt together until smooth.  Pour over the top of the meat & aubergine dish, trying to make sure it's all covered.  Top with the grated cheddar.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve with garlic bread, salad, chips, or a large glass of something cold.  Whatever takes your fancy really.

This is my entry for the Britmums Lean On Turkey competition, sponsored by

Silent Sunday 3/6/12 #silentsunday

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Debt - a Four Letter Word

When I was approached recently regarding linking up with the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, the UK's leading debt charity, I knew it was something I wanted to write about.  I don't talk about my work on here, but I'm a debt & benefit advisor for a major children's charity.  Yes, you've heard of us, even if you've been living in a cave.  I don't talk about work because, apart from the fact that I try to keep home & work separate, it's important to maintain my clients' confidentiality.

But when CCCS got in touch, and wanted bloggers to help raise awareness of the work they do, and how debt affects families, I thought hard about how I could do this.  I tried to write a "day in the life" type post, but it's really hard to fictionalise, and I wouldn't want people to think they could identify someone.  But instead, I want to tell you a little about the kind of people I work with.

  • I work mostly with families with children, because I work for a children's charity.  I also work with young people who have experienced homelessness, or are care leavers. Often they've got themselves into debt because they haven't got the family support networks to fall back on, but want the same choices as everyone else.
  • Many of my clients are in relationships. Some are lone parents, but by no means the majority.
  • Many of my clients are working.  Often for long hours and low pay, with little stability, which can be what puts them at risk of falling behind with payments.
We're in a hotbed for what MP Stella Creasy called "legal loan sharks", and many of my clients have debts to coin-op tv lenders, high-street hire-purchase companies, doorstep lenders, and payday loan companies, all with extortionate rates of interest.  They can quickly fall into a spiral of debt, as the repayments fast outstrip the loan amount, with no clear repayment date in sight.  (I am not linking to examples of any of the above types of lenders. They do not deserve the benefit of my traffic, and in no way do I encourage you to use them.)

Where clients have just a few debts and they ask me to do so, I negotiate with them and the creditors directly, to establish a repayment plan.  But in many cases, the debts are too large, across too many creditors, and in those cases, I refer clients to a Debt Management agency.  There's a lot of companies that offer this service, you'll see them advertise on tv.  But those companies make a profit out of the debt, which isn't really the point.  There are charities, of which CCCS is one, who offer this service for free.  Depending on the clients' preference, we choose which charity they want to be referred to, and I act as a liaison, introducing clients to charities, making sure everything is going OK, and that the clients are happy with the situation, are keeping within their agreed budget, and making the payments that are then distributed to their creditors.

Really, I wanted to write this post to make my readers aware that there is help available.  And that help can come in at any stage, but the earlier you start, the easier it is to get debts back under control.  Debt can happen to anyone, and no-one will judge you for asking for help.  If anything in this post rings true, please don't hesitate.

CCCS have put together a video, featuring one of their clients, explaining a bit more about what they do, and how they can help.  Take a look.

This is not a sponsored post. I have not been told what to write. While I was approached to write a post, I agreed to do so as this is a subject I feel strongly about. I have not received any compensation or incentive for posting it. Links are provided for your convenience only.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Am I missing something?

I've got a confession to make.  The whole "jubilee fever" thing has passed me by.  I'm feeling not a jot of patriotic pride, and am thoroughly bored with the whole thing already.  No bunting on my blog, thank you very much.

I can't even say I'm grateful for the extra day off work.  I work part-time see, and get pro-rata bank holidays, 3/5ths of the annual bank holiday entitlement, so when all but one of the year's bank holidays fall on my working days, and the office is closed, I've got to work outside of my normal hours to make it up. No extra day off for me, an extra day IN instead.  No-one's organised anything here, same as the one ten years ago.  It'll pass us by with nothing more than bad telly.

Part of me feels a little bit bad about this. Not that I don't really care, but that I'm denying Squeaky the chance of something important & memorable.  But then I thought about it.  I was 1 1/2 at the Silver Jubilee, 6 for Charles & Diana's wedding.  I know there were street parties for both, because I've seen pictures of me with red, white & blue ribbons in my hair.  But I don't remember a thing of them.  Not a sausage (roll?).  Yet I DO have memories of that age. I remember a holiday we took when I was 18 months old, sitting under a table in the hotel restaurant, listening to McArthur Park, and wondering why the hell someone didn't just bring that cake inside, or why he didn't copy the recipe down.  I remember all sorts of silly things about school, and the house we lived in before moving when I was 6, but nothing about the Jubilee or Royal Wedding.

I was going to say "something unique and memorable" in the paragraph above, until I realised what I was following it up with. The Jubilee is far from unique.  For pretty much everyone reading this blog, we've had another Jubilee in recent living memory (and if you're under the age of 10, why are you reading this? Go outside and play!) not to mention a proper royal wedding, a few quieter weddings, a couple of state funerals, oh and the Olympics coming up shortly.  I've got Union Jack overload.

So, enjoy your party, I'm off to watch The Tiger Who Came To Tea tomorrow with Squeaky and some friends (with their adorable munchkin), and I shall spend the rest of the long weekend trying to catch up with 2 weeks of Corrie, and almost the entire series of The Apprentice.  That's something to be grateful for, I suppose. And if we get really desperate, I could always stick Wacky Races on, pretend it's still 1977!