Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Spring Cleaning


Well it is spring cleaning time here at Ayres Mansion. Not that being seasons for things really applies to much these days. Just as you can buy seasonal produce any time of the year, and I also enjoy mating all year round, so the cleaning never stops here.

But the Easter holidays has enabled me to tackle some of those larger projects which never seem to get done during term time what with the endless school runs and trying to squeeze all the rest of it in-between. Funnily enough, despite having all day childcare responsibilities during the holidays, I am finding I can get more done without the time pressures of all that to-ing and fro-ing from St Edburg's and the Courtyard. I am also not getting so knackered so early in the day - that early morning desperate dash around trying to get them fed and watered and to school and nursery and the correct times leaves me feeling like I've done a days work by 9:30am. Things are just that little bit more relaxed now.

Anyway - the big project I am trying to tackle is to get all of the children's toys back together in the correct boxes, on the correct shelves etc etc. It's quite hard to explain how mammoth a task this. Imagine getting 3 huge boxes of lego - small, medium and large, a few sets of books e.g. 46 Mr Men's, 20 Charlie and Lola's 50 Thomas's and a hundred other odd ones, 3 different type of train tracks, 100 assorted toy vehicles, a few games, 500 assorted pencils, crayons, chalks and felt tips, a few games with assorted counters, plastic coins,  wooden blocks, fridge magnets, well all of that, and much more. Put it all into one huge pile in the middle of the room. Then send a tornado into the house distributing the whole lot randomly around the entire house. Some will go into boxes, admittedly, but others will go on to random shelves, more will go behind and under the sofa, beds, furniture, into the dustiest corners where the spiders hide. And then you may get an idea of the magnitude of the task.

How did it get in this state? Well not from lack of effort on my part. I tidy the place up every day, as does Claire, but when they've mixed everything up, some nights you just want to chuck everything in the nearest toy box - you cannot spend every night putting every single piece back in its respective box, you would be at it until midnight. And every day bits disappear. I dread pulling out their beds or the sofa for fear of what I might find.

Now I have told Ollie over and over again how important it is to keep this stuff together. He should know anyway - I have had to endure enough tantrums because half the pieces are missing out of a set. I have explained to him, that if he kept all the bits in their respective places he would not keep losing bits.

So I have undertaken this monumental task to sort all of this stuff out and get it back into some sort of order. I have been at it for several days now, and we are getting there, I feel I am making progress, but I am finding it quite satisfying. Maybe I get a kick out of finding all 46 Mr Men books spread across seven different rooms and putting them all back into order, but when you finally find the right one and get it back into place, there is a major sense of achievement.

I have really drummed it into Ollie that once this project is complete I want it to stay this way. Perhaps this time we can do it. It looks so neat and tidy in his room now, I am well proud of myself. I am working on the playroom now, but the more we get done, the easier it becomes. I've also covered a huge amount of mileage, transferring things up and down stairs so must be doing me some good too.

One thing that hasn't turned up yet is the stylus to my Nintendo DS. I lent this to Ollie when we were on holiday and he hasn't given it back since. Not that I am particularly bothered, I'm mostly playing games on the Note these days. Of course he almost immediately lost the stylus when he got home. Being rather scatter-brained when it comes to this sort of thing, there's no point asking him where. Seems he has also managed to lose Claire's. I looked in Argos to see if they did replacements, but the cheapest they had was £5.49. Imagine my delight then when in Poundland earlier I found a set which also has a finger stylus and a handy little games pack.

The electronic section at the back of the store is excellent - they have got all sorts of cables, adaptors, chargers there (all £1) of course, which is really handy to know. And cheap of course, these are the sort of things we've been paying through the nose for in Argos and electronic shops over the years. Another example of why having the likes of Poundland on Sheep Street helps us the shopper - by giving us access to things we could not previously get in the town and not at rip off prices either.

After I left Poundland, I went straight into M&S, amusingly positioned next to Poundland as it is. I was looking for some frozen chips and possibly more. Now this next section of the blog is all about potatoes. Now up until recently I had always made my own chips, roast potatoes, you name it, however, a change in circumstances here has meant that this is no longer a viable way of doing things, as I shall explain.

Let's deal with the chips first. Now as you know, I bought the Tefal Actifry a couple of months back with the intention of making chips this way, no longer wanting to have a deep fat fryer. Well after countless attempts at making home made chips in all different ways with different types of fat in the Actifry, I have to admit defeat. It just makes awful chips, the don't soak up the fat, they burn, they taste nasty. Now this might seem like I've made a duff purchase here, but in fact this is not the case, as I have discovered.

The Actifry does in fact make excellent chips as long as you buy oven chips. Which strangely I have always hated, always finding them dry as well. But in the Actifry - they cook beautifully. The rotating action cooks them evenly, because they are sealed in a much smaller compartment, they don't dry out, in fact some of the fat even comes out of them. I was going about it in the wrong way. I have tried small fries, M&S crinkle cut, and now some chunky M&S ones I bought today which I haven't tried yet, but it really works fantastically for them.

Just to prove you can get bargains in M&S too, their wholemeal Simply M&S loaf at 80p is great value and very nice - just as well as the bread making has fallen by the wayside over Easter what with everything else going on.

The thing with the Actifry - it doesn't seem to absorb oil at all, but just gives it out, and it cooks so evenly - the nearest equivalent I can think is chicken on a rotisserie, the constant turning cooks everything beautifully evenly. Bacon, chicken, sausages, stir fries, all delicious, with the full fried taste, but all the fat gone. I had a George Foreman grill once that claimed to do these things, yes it got rid of the fat, but it also burnt everything and was a nightmare to clean

I think Actifry should think about their marketing plan, because really, selling something on the premise that it makes great home made chips when it doesn't, well really it's what you could take back under "not fit for purpose". Well this gadget that has turned out to not be fit for the purpose it was bought for has turned out to be absolutely brilliant for lots of other purposes so I am keeping it!

Not what envisaged - but a happy purchase nonetheless!

My potato problems aren't quite resolved though. When I was making all my chips and roasties I would buy a bag of Maris Piper or King Edward potatoes and that would do for a week - often we ended up chucking some out because they don't last. Now I always liked making my own but this has become less practical. The switch to oven chips kind of enforced upon us by the switch from fryer to Actifry means we no longer need spuds for that purpose and only having one roast a week doesn't justify buying a full bag of Maris Piper - especially the way they have snowballed in price - £2.40 in Tesco at present. An added complication is that Claire's current diet forbids potaotoes so she is not having any with Sunday dinner. A waste then buying a whole bag. M&S sell them loose - but at an outrageous price - I bought a couple of potatoes from them (probably about 1/5 of a bag worth), just enough for me and the boys last weekend and it came to £1.10 - outrageous! So looks like I am going to have to admit defeat and try shop bought roasties. As luck would have it, when I went into M&S to buy my chips that had a buy one get one half price offer on all chips and roasties, so I picked up a bag of M&S frozen King Edward roasties, so we will see how we get on. Got a lot more for my money than buying just the potatoes.

I know it probably seems like a backwards step, going from making my own to buying shop bought - but because of the sheer practicalities of the situation - I really have no choice at present. I've always railed against the "ready meal" mentality - but the fact is, these roasties and chips are only basically potatoes plus sunflower oil - and I've got to find practical solutions to feeding my family that don't involve a lot of wastage and hassle. Whether or not these roast spuds can ever match the standard of my home made ones remains to be seen - we shall see. I shall of course do them in the Actifry! Watch this space.

I do plan to return to elaborate gourmet cooking by the way instead of all this corner cutting. In about 15 years time!

Well better get back to the cleaning project, this blog was a reason to skive off from it for half an hour. But duty calls! Then it will be time for some chips in the Actifry - we haven't had any yet this week so I can justify it!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx

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