Archive for November, 2009

I love food. You may not have noticed, but cooking is one of my passions. We have a friend who says that everyone should have a hobby that they could practice wherever they lived and whatever their age. His is fishing. The Vicar’s is photography (and golf I guess) and mine is completely definitely and utterly cooking (and eating).

Anyway, living in our multicultural neighbourhood has pros and cons for the practise of my hobby. The many positives include:

  • A vast selection of spices available in bulk at the local corner shop
  • A fab butcher (for chicken, lamb, mutton and fish only) who will chop my meat as I want it for no extra cost
  • Cheap cheap cheap onions (in 10kg bags), garlic, fresh ginger and coriander. And milk.
  • Exotic fruit and veg available too (big boxes of mangos are a fave)
  • Cookery advice from local friends of all cultures

Mine didn't look as fancy as this

On the minus side, yesterday I was in search of couscous. I’d bought my ‘chopped for curry’ chicken on the bone and was looking forward to cooking a Moroccan tagine. But not enough couscous was available in the Vicarage pantry and I didn’t want to trek into town. It’s not like couscous is a matter of life or death or anything. It’s just right with tagine.

So I tried our local Indian supermarket. Because it’s a multicultural area I sort of expect all sorts of interesting foodstuffs to be available easily. But there was no couscous. Not much call for it in our neck of the woods. We have Punjabis, Pakistanis, Kenyans, Jamaicans, Somalis and Polish folk plus many others. But not enough North Africans for the right selection at the shops yet. And they don’t stock parsley either, so if I’m making tabouleh or kedgeree I have to think ahead a bit. Oh the trials.

Maybe it’s not multicultural enough here.

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It was a very sluggish morning in the Vicarage today. But I cheered everyone up over the porridge by wearing my Plain Lazy t-shirt, summing up the Monday morning mood. It has the ‘Plain Lazy’ logo and a cartoon of a man under his duvet on the front. Just where we all wanted to be.

I was delighted to find their comprehensive website later. I have been tempted by many items and shall definitely be purchasing this t-shirt for the Queen for Christmas:

An ideal garment for the Queen (just wish it came in my size)

And for the Joker I’m planning to get this one:

Getting started is definitely the hardest thing

The Engineer inherited some bouncy Tigger genes from the Vicar and is a much better riser. I’ll have to find a Hi Energy t-shirt website for him I think.

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Last weekend I met up with some old friends. I see this group of Christian girls twice a year, as we’ve done for more than 15 years. We pray for one another through the year and meet for encouragement, to study the bible and eat fabulous food.

This Saturday we’d agreed to read Richard Coekin’s new book ‘Our Father – Enjoying God in Prayer’. What a tonic.

Richard Coekin describes himself in this book as an activist who struggles to pray. I could relate to this very well. I’m a massive extrovert who finds the discipline of prayer a daily battle. But Coekin’s book doesn’t send the activist on a guilt trip. As we discussed it on Saturday, we agreed that we’d not felt beaten over the head about our lack of prayer, but that prayer was in fact possible. And not just in special ‘quiet times’ but throughout the day. We each felt that we could pray more – that it wasn’t as hard as we thought.

One helpful feature of the book is a rather cheesy story at the end of each chapter. The stories fit together as a whole, telling a tale of the prayer lives of different characters. I particularly liked the way one girl’s prayers were written out including lots of ‘ers’. My prayers are far from coherent, so this seemed very realistic.

The book unpacks each of the sections of the Lord’s Prayer and just helps you to think how you could pray that more thoroughly. Since this weekend I’ve been praying this way not only myself, but also with the kids (who are 8, 6 and 4) after their bible time.

With the kids I’ve offered options, so that they feel like they have some choice in the way they pray. The current options are the Lord’s Prayer (unpacked for the big two, but straight for the Engineer) or the five finger prayer. If you’ve not heard of it, the five finger prayer is where we pray

  1. Thumb – for those closest to us (family, friends)
  2. Forefinger – for those who point us to Christ (church leaders, Sunday school teachers)
  3. Middle finger – for those in authority (government, teachers)
  4. Ring finger – for those who are weak (the ill and sad)
  5. Little finger – little me

Actually, we’ve slightly adapted this five finger prayer to pray about the Lord, who’s first, as well as those close to us, as we pray the thumb prayer.

This has been a good week for prayer in the Vicarage. How do you pray with your kids?

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After the guest list, next up for consideration for the Vicarage Sunday lunch is the menu. Our Sunday lunches have a few criteria to meet:

  • Cheap, otherwise the Vicar’s stipend would be sorely stretched. This means fancy organic meat and any red meat not on special offer is usually off the menu.
  • Acceptable for consumption by all the guests. This is why I tend to stick to pretty traditional roasts. We don’t live in an area where we can cook our beef raw or serve the lamb with a fancy salsa verde. And since I cooked roast pork for some dear friends in our last parish and only discovered on serving that one of them couldn’t abide it, I ALWAYS check whether there is anything that people won’t consume. I’ve been surprised by people’s dietary restrictions.
  • Possible to cook on the oven timer, or otherwise be worked around our absence at church between about 10.00am and 12.30pm. And we want to eat by 2.30pm at the latest, otherwise the Vicar has indigestion at the Evening Service and the children have consumed so many snacks that they don’t eat the lovely meal I’ve just slaved over.
  • I like if possible to make desserts the day before, or have a dessert that’s really speedy to make on a Sunday. There’s enough stress in the Vicarage on a Sunday morning without having to whip cream.
  • A few good leftovers always makes a good meal perfect.

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Last night the kids were having fun in the living room. There was much screaming, a few tears and, when I went through to chase them all to bed, a scattering of polystyrene balls that had escaped from our very cheap fluffy Netto beanbag. I like the beanbag. If I sit on it I can cuddle up close to the fire and keep my back supported. And the Joker likes to stroke the fluffy material and suck his thumb when he’s tired. But the escaping balls are a total pain. The first escape occurred after some vigorous jumping by the tribe, and since then the bag has leaked regularly. Those little balls cling to everything and travel round the house, cheekily pointing out my lack of attention to housework.

When I twittered my distress this evening one tweetpal suggested ‘vigorously brushing your hair and then gently sweeping floor with head & the static will attract balls like magnet’. Since I did not have a plan for transferring the balls from my hair to an appropriate receptacle, I instead went and fetched Henry, who sorted everything out. Henry is my wonderful Numatic vacuum cleaner. Now, I know it’s a bit sad to enthuse about a hoover, but I hate housework. And Henry has made vacuuming almost a pleasure.


Mine is a lot dustier than this

There is a good deal of surface area that needs regular hoovering here in the Vicarage. I find that mess and dirt always expand to fill the space available and we’re certainly blessed with space and have risen to the challenge of expanding our mess and dirt. At the moment leaves blow into the hallway every time we open the front door. And we have inherited dark carpets in the hall, stairs and landing, which don’t show mud too much but do highlight every piece of fluff that the kids drop from their pockets.

But Henry is light so I can lift him around, he’s quiet so I can still listen to Radio 4 or the new Sovereign Grace cd as I trundle him about, and he has a cord and hose so long that I can clean the whole of the downstairs of the house and all the way up the stairs without having to unplug him from the socket in the hall. His eyes and smile are a bit cheesy, but looks aren’t everything you know.

He’s not a cheap vacuum cleaner – he cost about £100, but he’s made it possible for me to keep the Vicarage looking almost respectable. So I love him and will continue to recommend him as the perfect Vicarage vacuum to anyone who’ll listen.

In the meantime, does anyone know where to source replacement inner liners for beanbags?

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Big Picture Story Bible

Great for Under 5s

An age ago, I thought I’d start reviewing kids’ bibles. We must have about twenty in the house and most of them have been test driven on three children, so we’ve had a good overview. And since it’s be the sort of time of year when you might be thinking of gift shopping, I thought I’d share a few of our favourites. Different ages and personalities prefer different books and there’s also the aspect of trying to ensure that our kids don’t just hear Christian platitudes even at a young age.

We are not very routine people here in our Vicarage. So our bible time routine with the kids varies with the weather and has changed as the kids have grown and grumped and had fads. We do try to have a bible time with each of them every night. This is not always possible. For instance, if the Vicar’s Wife is on the phone to her sister and the Vicar is buying tickets for the Eurotunnel trip to France next summer and somehow the Queen is still in front of the fire reading stories with Happy at an hour way past her bedtime, she might go to bed with just a quick prayer. That was last night anyway.

But in the grand scheme of things, our routine is story-bible-pray-bed. With teeth and toilet somewhere in the equation. If you change the bible (or the study notes for the older kids) it does seem if there is some variety though. And our children seem to like that, especially the older two. The Engineer is more of a stick-to-what-you-know sort.

His favourite bible for a good few months was The Big Picture Story Bible. Big and with bold colourful pictures, it does what it says on the cover. But more than that, it points to Jesus, and the big picture of God’s work in the whole of the bible, all the way through. The strapline on the back of the book is

The Bible is a big book, about a big God, who keeps a big promise!

Inside, succinct text sits with the double page pictures, telling the story of how God’s people blew hot and cold in their relationship with him throughout the Old Testament. It speaks about the promise of God’s forever king, as the story points forward to Christ.

As well as familiar New Testament stories of Jesus healing and teaching, the cross and resurrection are movingly told and Acts, the epistles and Revelation are all summarised, pointing to the time when:

God’s forever people will one day live in God’s forever place under God’s forever rule.

It’s a great book – highly recommended for preschool children and also those still in the infants who’ve not yet had a bible overview. A 5-7 year old who is beginning to read could help a grown up tell the stories.

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ISA logo

More bureaucracy to hamper volunteering?

You might remember that a couple of weeks ago I had a little rant about CRB forms. A local journalist picked it up and made a bit of a news item of it. Comments were made on the Express and Star article and on the blog – it seems to be an issue that affects many people.

Since my rant I’ve been off to Sandwell Council to fill in my form and have a mini interview where they viewed all my documents. It’s a good thing I took my marriage certificate, cos since I’d retained my maiden name as a middle name they wanted a copy of that too. I’m still waiting for the disclosure to come through. According to the lady at the council, neither the school nor the council pays for my form since I’m a volunteer. I’d like to know how the agency is funded then – it has to be the taxpayer in the end.

From that interview, and from blog comments, I understand that the really important part of a CRB form is not the disclosure you get given yourself, but the ‘soft information’ sent to the applying organisation. But I can’t see why the applying organisation couldn’t see a previous disclosure and then have a system where the CRB takes the number of that form and gives the soft information to the new organisation.

And it seems that the new Independent Safeguarding Authority‘s Vetting and Barring scheme will merely add an additional layer of bureaucracy, not simplify the system. The CRB’s website makes it clear that

…the ISA will prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults The CRB will continue to support employers, through CRB checks by providing them with access to an individual’s full criminal record and other information so that they can asses that individual’s suitability for a particular post or position

So now people who volunteer or work in different organisations will have to have both a fistful of CRB disclosures and an ISA clearance. Joy. At least the ISA are able to make their check transferable. Why not the CRB? This seems to be a case of a total lack of joined up government or maybe it’s just a job creation scheme.

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Or not. A shock that is. I was busy peeling potatoes for the church lunch club yesterday. As well as the keen band of ladies who run the club, the Vicar’s Apprentice Happy was also wielding a peeler.

Once we’d finished peeling the 12kg or so of spuds, I offered to take the peelings home to put on the compost heap. And I was recalling the cook in Nanny McPhee (a favourite movie in the Vicarage – I can’t think why) who rustles up a gruel that includes various vegetable peelings. ‘Maybe I should be making Vicarage gruel’ I pondered.

Then Happy (who has a background in the hospitality industry) mentioned that he’d made parsnip crisps from parsnip peelings whilst working in a posh hotel once. ‘Why not try potato peeling crisps?’ was the suggestion.

So home we went with our bagful of peelings. I pulled out the longer and thinner ones and popped them on a baking sheet (actually four baking sheets), drizzled them with some olive oil, heated my fan oven to 200C and popped them in on a five minute timer.

That wasn’t long enough, but after about fifteen minutes they came out great. Some of them were still a little uncrispy and I switched the oven off and left them in to dry out.

Once out, I sprinkled on a little fancy French sea salt and the Vicar, Happy, Polly and I demolished them extremely quickly. Next time I’m trying this technique with parsnip and carrot peelings too. And I might use an olive oil sprayer to make sure the oil is rather better distributed.

Happy’s Peeling Chips
Long veggie peelings (potato/parsnip/beetroot/carrot)
Olive oil
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 200-220C (Gas 6). Lay peelings in single layer on non-stick baking sheet. Drizzle or spray with olive oil. Cook for 10-20mins until brown and crispy. If any peelings are still a little uncooked at the end, switch the oven off and leave to dry out. Remove to bowl and sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

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