A Funky little Monkey.

img_8496I wrote this post last week – just haven’t had a moment to scratch, to finish it up and edit it.  Needless to say, this will be the first, of what I’m sure is many blog posts about being a mum here in Northern Ireland, facilities available for kids and other such things.

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As I look out over this magnificent vista… wait.  Wrong show.

img_8467As I sit here, on this hard plastic throne and listen to the screams of a hugely disgruntled child as his grandmother attempts to drag him from whatever life changing toy he was playing with, as I watch the two poles of ‘human experience’ unfold before my eyes and am impatiently wait for my chicken goujon lunch to appear, I thought, perhaps, that it was high time I wrote my first ‘mumsy’ post from sunny Costa del Larne.

For the record, by ‘human experience’, I mean both the best and the worst.

I’ve just witnessed an older girl, completely unprovoked, grab an older boy by his head and smash his head into the floor of the play area, while he was howling in pain, I, simultaneously, watched a little girl – who had previously been doing some epically good round kicks on those punch bag looking things – take my sons hands over top of an obstacle he was trying to scale, and attempt to help (gently) pull him across.

img_8483While it didn’t work, and I sat for a good eight or nine more minutes, patiently watching him try to figure out how to get his little self, up and over this foam blockade (you can just about make out his wee head over top of the blue foam thing in the picture), he figured it out himself and I gave him a quick thumbs up, before heading over to thank the mother of the little girl, for not raising a face-smashing little wench, but a caring and helpful little girl, a stranger to my son, who tried to help him when she saw him struggling.  I imagined her heart leapt when she saw someone coming over asking if that little girl was her little girl, but instead I got a ‘yeah, she told me’ and a ‘what the hell are you doing over here talking to me, lady’, kinda look.  Screw you.  Ugh.

img_8479While living in the US, we had a few indoor play areas that we loved, nine bucks (ish), unlimited play time, typically an in house café – with varying successes in food provided – and a very happy, exhausted and sweaty toddler at the end of it all.

Coming back to Northern Ireland, I quickly became aware that we weren’t in Texas any more Toto.  The going rate for indoor play here, is around five pounds, which, in ‘real money’ is about $8 before the pound tanked.  Sounds on par, right? Well.  When that $8 only covers 90 minutes, you see, friends, we have a problem.

The problem here is, friends, that I have a boisterous and energetic little boy.  I have a little boy, who could easily burn through three hours in an indoor play area, doing the same thing over and over, and over again, to his little hearts content.  Who would cry, and scream, and protest were I to try and remove him from his fortress of fun.

And then I read about Funky Monkey’s membership.

  • $12 per month (that’s pounds, but I’m on an American computer and can’t figure out where in the name of all things, the GBP sign is).
  • UNLIMITED entry to the center, 7 days a week.
  • UNLIMITED access to activity programmes
  • 10% off birthday parties
  • 10% off at their café

img_8476Not only that? But you can use this membership in ANY of their locations around the north, there’s one in Larne, Newtonabbey, Banbridge, Dondonald…I’m not sure where else.  All I know is that the ‘city pass’ as I’d call it in a Houston context, means that I can use any of their branches under my monthly membership.

Sunday, we took Lewis to the one in Dundonald.  We had Halloween activities planned, but the weather didn’t comply, so we opted to cross the car park from the place we had breakfast and throw him in to Funky Monkey’s for a while.

img_8500I’ve been sick since Sunday, til yesterday (Thursday) and today, we’re back, here at the one in Larne, where we have already made friends with one of the girls who work here, Megan – which, brings up another point, the staff in Funtastics were verging on being rude, even, not just standoffish.  I’ve not found the funky monkey’s crew to be like that at all.  They’re friendly, kind and helpful.

So, my advice to the mums of Northern Ireland? Grab a membership to Funky Monkeys – it’s worth it.  You cover your monthly membership, with less than one trip to indoor play a week.  And, if you happen to see your local blogger sitting trying to wrestle her hot chocolate out of the hands of her toddler? Come say hi.

img_8502But for now? I’m going to enjoy the dregs of this mug, that he graciously left me until it’s time to convince this child that a quick trip to Asda is more fun than those swinging punch bags – when all this Krav mama *really* wants to do, is go throw some combos! 😉

It was acceptable in the 80's!

Guys ‘n’ gals, let me tell you it’s been a retro-coaster of a month!

My hubby’s birthday looms over January like a dark cloud.  Not cause I dislike his birthday, but because it’s hard enough to come up with something to buy him for Christmas, even more-so when I have to get him something only four weeks later, for his birthday.

The list of ideas isn’t endless, in fact, it’s really short (and ever shortening!).  Trying to come up with stuff to buy for him that isn’t ‘generic’, or that is a little ‘different’, something that stands out from things that other people, who isn’t his wife, could buy for him.  It’s not easy!

He is the hardest person to buy for, that anyone knows!

This year, I decided to indulge his 80’s obsession and throw him an 80’s fancy dress themed party.  I’ve never really paid much attention to the 80’s, I was born in ’85 and although I have been subjected to Col’s eclectic 80’s music tastes for almost five years now, I’ve never *really* looked at the decade in detail.  I guess, I’d never really had much cause.  Until now!

As soon as I pick a theme for a party, I go to Pinterest to look for inspiration, and I found a plethora of ideas to try out.

I started in the garage on probably the worst weather-day we’ve had in Houston, in a long, long time, the first of two tornado days we’ve had, both, coincidentally,  in the space of only a few weeks.

In this 80’s party on Pinterest, they used neon cassette tapes as decorations, which I thought was pretty cool, they also strung up some old videos (VHS’s) on the wall.  I decided to merge the two and string up up neon cassette tapes.

My friend Natalie and I sat on the floor in Half Price Books for a while and picked out a bunch of cassette tapes (all from the 80’s of course) and on this tornado warning-filled day, I cracked open the garage door and started in to the project of making the tapes neon.

Rainy afternoon

Armed and dangerous!

The other idea that I got from this post, was the LP back-drop.  Again, another trip to Half Price Books with Natalie, resulted in me buying a pile of 45’s and making this,

It took forever!!

From here, I got the idea for these cake-stands, which I used as single-tiered food stands.

Aren't they cute?

The last of my main ideas for the party decorations, I can’t find the link that I picked it up from (but it was from Pinterest I think).  I tried to do it on my own, but it was a little hotter than I expected and required more hands than I had, so I recruited Col in to helping me out.

It was quite a fun evening actually, we enjoyed manipulating the vinyl into bowl-shapes and trying to ‘beat the clock’ and getting the bowl in to the shape we wanted, before it re-hardened!

We had lots of fun making these!

I also invest in these cute little suckers, however, although when Frances cut the dough, they looked shapely-like, when the cookies were cooked, they didn’t hold their shape – which was disappointing, as I’d bought cookie icing to decorate them and everything!

The other thing that confused us, is the fact that they give you three ghosties, all you need is Pacman and one ghostie – the ghosties are all the same!!

Costume wise, I wanted to go neon! I saw some cute leg warmers on Ravelry and decided to make them for myself (after a quick trip to Hobby Lobby for the yarn).  I picked up a neon pink ‘Hello Kitty’ shirt on Ebay bigger than normal, tore the neck so it was big enough to slouch over my shoulder, I bought some T-shirt clips, stuck on my exercise joggers and topped the outfit off with a pair of yellow slip-on shoes that I got at the Salvation Army.

My stylist, Angel, came by the house to sort my hair and make-up, adding the necessary finishing touches to my 80’s get-up and we were ready to go!

I LOVE it!!

Angel, Eve and I!

For the food, I’d done a simple menu (ok, so I’d intended on going a little more elaborate, but I ran out of time so had no choice but to stay simple!).

Savoury dishes:

– Cheese ball with pita chips (seen here in my Thanksgiving recipe post)
Nancy’s Petite quiches
– Chicken Vol au Vents
– Cheese, pineapple and pickled onion on a stick
– Coronation chicken (Made by Magz)
– Scotch eggs (Made by Crystal)
– Pork pies (Made by Frances)
– Sausage rolls
– Popcorn
Double tomato bruschetta
– Egg and onion sandwiches
– Ham and Cheese sandwiches
– Doritos

Sweeties:

– Pop Rocks
– Pixy stix
– Ring pops
– Fun dips / Dip dabs
– Nerds
– Cola bottles
– Gummy bears
– Caramel Squares / Millionaires shortbread (Made by Crystal)
Chocolate cake-pops dipped in Pop rocks
– Candy necklaces / candy bracelets
– Two chocolate tartes (brought by Nicole)

Pop rocks cake balls!

Sweeties!

Random Additions:
Rubix cubes food tags (Dollar Store)
– Glow sticks (Walmart)
Funky/Krazy/Bendy straws (Dollar Store)
– Party bags (containing slap-on bracelets, mini-slinkies – Walmart)
Shutter shades
80’s cutouts
Space invaders tape
– I also ordered posters from allposters.com, inspite of the ‘ships within 24 hours’ and paying an absolute FORTUNE for shipping, they didn’t get here in time.  I’d definitely not recommend this site to anyone, unless you order with a month to go before your party!

Shutter shades!!

Space invaders tape boarder on the tables!

‘Special’ Drinks

-Capri Sun (1981)
– Old-Style Soda in glass bottles (Big Lots)
– Throwback Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Mtn. Dew

Food, decor, costume – that just about covers it, eh?

The party itself was a raging success, probably my most favourite party that I’ve done.  Everyone came in fantastic fancy-dress, everyone ate, drank and were merry.  Singstar was, as always, exercised, as was Mario Kart and Sonic the Hedgehog, even little Eve cried so hard when it was time to go home!  I’ll share the fun pictures in another post, but, for now, have a teaser…

The birthday boy, transformed!

A Taste of Home?

Phew!

It’s not a regular occurrence for me to attempt more than one or two new recipes in any given week.  Mostly because I don’t tend to have all of the ingredients on hand, I don’t like going to the shops multiple times in a week (unless it’s Joanns or Hobby Lobby! LOL!) and with many recipes being very time consuming, I tend to keep it to only a couple of newbies in any given week.

This week, however, because of my new cookbook (Taste of Home, Healthy Eating Annual, 2009) being choc-filled of quick, simple, minimal ingredient recipes, I’ve had the opportunity to cook three new recipes.  (See Mandarin Pork and Maple Pork.)

Photo courtesy of Taste of Home

Tonight’s recipe, was Chicken Broccoli Fettucine, simple, quick and, unfortunately, just a smidge bland (Though it was cooked with ingredients I had at home which definitely counts in it’s favour)!

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces uncooked fettuccine (I used Angel Hair as I didn’t have fettucine)
  • 3 cups fresh broccoli florets (I added some peas as well)
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) reduced-fat reduced-sodium condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted (I used fat free condensed cream of chicken soup)
  • 2/3 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

  • In a Dutch oven, cook fettuccine according to package directions, adding the broccoli during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
  • Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper – I also added a healthy dose garlic to strengthen the flavour (and it was still bland!). In a large nonstick skillet, saute the chicken, onion and mushrooms in oil until chicken is no longer pink. Remove from the heat; set aside.
  • Drain fettuccine; stir in the soup, milk and reserved chicken mixture. Cook and stir over low heat until heated through. Sprinkle with cheese. Yield: 4 servings.

Col described it as ‘very fancy super noodles’ and I’m inclined to agree, it was bland, even in spite of me adding additional seasoning.  I don’t think it’s something I’d be inclined to cook again any time soon, although if I can’t be bothered running to the shop and pick up fancy ingredients – it can definitely be made with what you have lying around in your cupboard!

Two out of three ain’t bad!

Cooking another porkie!

Last night, I tried yet another recipe from the Taste of Home Healthy Eating annual from 2009.  The previous night, I defrosted, not only too much pork, but two different cuts of pork, so tonight, we had some pork ‘rib-eye’ to use (thicker chops than the night before).

I’d spotted this recipe when I originally went through the book (and stuck little post-it stickers on recipes I wanted to try) and I’m so glad I tried it!

Photo by Taste of Home

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil, divided (I didn’t use this, just spray oil, like PAM)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh gingerroot (Didn’t use this either, I find it’s too strong)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 bone-in pork loin chops (6 ounces each)
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (I used the ‘lite’ stuff, next time I’d probably use a little less)
  • 2 cups hot cooked rice

Directions

  • In a small skillet over medium-low heat, cook onion in 2 teaspoons oil until golden brown and very tender, about 10 minutes. Add ginger; cook and stir 2 minutes longer.
  • Meanwhile, combine the chili powder, salt, pepper and cinnamon; rub over both sides of pork chops. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown chops in remaining oil for 2-3 minutes on each side.
  • Add the broth, syrup and onion mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until meat is tender. Remove chops and keep warm.
  • Bring broth mixture to a boil; cook, uncovered, until liquid is thickened and reduced to 1/2 cup. Serve chops with rice and sauce. Yield: 4 servings.

Source: www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Pork-Chops-with-Ginger-Maple-Sauce

What a great recipe! It was seriously quick to make, easy as pie and we both cleared our plates.  It was really tasty and something we both declared that we want me to make again.

If he were writing this, Col would say (cause he cleans up the kitchen after dinner), what’s even better about this recipe, is that you don’t use 200 different dishes and utensils either.  It’s low key, low maintenance, low clean-up and great tasting!

I’m quickly noticing a chilli/cinnamon combo pattern emerging from the Taste of Home recipes and I think I like it!

Cookin' up a Mandarin Pork storm!

Alright, I blog about our travelling, our ups and downs, my day to day events, my friends, my family, but, to date, I haven’t blogged much about cooking.

Although I do cook quite a lot, I’m most definitely a novice.

I was raised in a family where the majority of meals were ‘simple’, meat (nothing too adventurous), veg (nothing fancy) and potatoes.  We never had a lot of money, we couldn’t afford any exotic ingredients and my dad was never one for ‘fancy feeding’.

It wasn’t until my teenage years that I started trying other things, Chinese food, Italian food (pretty much lasagne and pasta – whoohoo! Adventurous or what?) and it wasn’t until I went to university up in Belfast, that I tried Indian food (yay! Indian Ocean *sniff*) and some basic elements of Mexican food (Fajitas anyone?).

By this stage, I’d started to cook for myself – nothing crazy, or ‘out there’, because, as a student, I still didn’t have any money for ingredients to experiment with recipes.

Heinz 57 beans were a common element in my diet.

Since moving to Texas two years ago, pretty much straight on the back of getting out of university, I’ve started to cook a lot more.  It’s been a combination of things, having the time, a decent kitchen, an accommodating husband, enough money for decent, fresh groceries and the overwhelmingly easy access to an exorbitant number of recipes.

It’s becoming quite the hobby and Col hasn’t once told me ‘don’t make that again’ or ‘I don’t like that’, I guess that’s as good a testament as I could ask for!

Tonight, I tried, a recipe from the 2009 Taste of Home healthy eating cookbook.  A month or two ago, Taste of home had a $5 cookbook sale (down from around $20) and I picked a few of them up.

It’d been a while since we had pork, so I picked the recipe for the Mandarin Pork Chops to try out, this was the first recipe I tried from the T.O.H books and it looked pretty simple.

Picture courtesy of Tasteofhome.com

  • Prep/Total Time: 30 min.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (11 ounces) mandarin oranges
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 5 green onions, sliced (I substituted and just used regular onions)
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar (I only had apple cider vinegar on hand)
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard (I used honey dijon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 whole cloves (I didn’t have any of these on hand so didn’t use them!)
  • 6 boneless pork loin chops (4 ounces each)
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

  • Drain oranges, reserving juice; set oranges aside. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and 3 tablespoons reserved juice until smooth; set aside. In another small bowl, combine the onions, brown sugar, ketchup, vinegar, mustard, salt, cinnamon, cloves and remaining juice; set aside.
  • In a large nonstick skillet, brown pork chops in butter on both sides. Add onion mixture; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160°, turning chops once.
  • Remove pork and keep warm. Discard cloves. Stir cornstarch mixture into pan juices. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in oranges. Serve with pork chops. Yield: 6 servings.

Recipe from here: www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Mandarin-Pork-Chops

While making it, I have to say I was a bit concerned, tomato ketchup and sugar? ugh.  I really was heart scared that Col wouldn’t like it (or me for that matter), but in actual fact, it came out quite tasty!

It was seriously easy to make, quick and tasty – what more do you want from a recipe?  Col says he enjoyed it (actually he gave me a thumbs up) and would like me to cook it again.  He did, however, make a good comment that it ‘flirted’ with being too sweet, it was JUST on the border, but, since we both cleared our plates, it stayed on the right side of the ‘too sweet’ line.

I did defrost too much pork for the recipe, so today (or tomorrow), I’m going to try the Taste of Home Maple ginger pork chops with some noodles or rice…