Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Brilliant Barbecue on a Budget

I love barbecued food. There is something amount cooking over a fire that makes food that little bit tastier. In most households the act of cooking over hot coals is a man's job. Not in mine. My husband loves to sit with a cold beer and watch me get smoke in my eyes and burnt fingers. We have a good division of labour in my household.

We haven't had a barbecue since before M was born because it always seemed like a lot of effort or dangerous. Clearly all I was missing was a good enough reason though because when I was approached by Moneysupermarket.com to take part in  The Charcoal Challenge I started planning straight away. They said they would give me £50 so I could invite some friends over and have a barbecue. It would have been rude not to. 

The idea of the charcoal challenge is to show that barbecues don't have to break the budget and you can have a brilliant time at an affordable price. This was a bit of a challenge for us as our normal barbecue food consists of steak, king prawns and other items that aren't exactly budget cuisine. However, we managed it and we had a fantastic afternoon.
collage of photographs of barbecue and people eating barbecued food
Here are my 10 tips on how to have a barbecue party on a budget:
  • Bring the inside out. We took our tables, chairs and toys into the garden. Having our living room in the garden was a brilliant way to create an atmosphere and keep the children entertained. No one even noticed our lack of garden furniture.
  • Buy a cheap barbecue and slow burning coals. Disposable barbecue trays are great if you are just going to cook a few bits, but the charcoal burns out really quickly. A bag of slow burning coal works out at much better value for money.
  • Invite all your friends. My friends seem incapable of turning up to a party empty handed. I told people that we had all the food and drinks, but they still came with bags of booze. If you are on a really tight budget suggest which food you would like them to bring and then you can just supply the barbecue and atmosphere.
  • Stay safe. Even if you don't have a load of toddlers running around like we did barbecues require a little bit of care. We put the fire in the corner of the garden and sectioned it off with furniture. I then made sure that someone sober was on 'hot watch' at all times to keep unsteady feet away from the flames (children and tiddly adults).
food being barbecued

  • Do it yourself. The ready made barbecue meat packs in supermarkets are always tempting because they look tasty and make things easy. They can also make things expensive. If you need a lot of food your money will go further if you avoid ready made packs. I made super simple kebabs with pieces of chicken thigh (which is more moist than breast) and slices of pepper pushed on to skewers and a homemade marinade (a mixture of soy sauce, some form of booze eg whisky, wine or vodka, tobasco sauce, tomato purée and garlic in a bowl) which was used to baste the ribs as they were cooking.
  • Bulk out the meat. I cooked a whole bag of pasta and added a value jar of tomato pasta sauce. A tasty way of filling people for around £1 for a massive bowl. I also barbecued thinly sliced courgettes, aubergines and corn on the cob and cooked jacket potatoes in the oven. The corn and pasta were a particular favourite of the kids.
  • Don't go crazy. For some reason at a barbecue people try and eat their own body weight in meat. At a dinner party people generally won't eat 6 sausages, 2 burgers, some ribs and a load of sides so don't feel you need to offer that much food at a barbecue. Stick meat in a bun and serve with sides to slow people down and fill them up.
  • Keep everyone refreshed. Make up big jugs of squash with plenty of ice and cut up fruit. Posh squash is much cheaper than juice or soda and you can spend any spare cash on alcohol. 
  • Play it cool. Get a big bucket and fill it with ice and water then use it to quickly cool down bottles or cans of drink. We had enough left over from our £50 to buy a couple of cases of lager on offer. You can either make the ice yourself or buy big bags in most supermarkets for around £1.
  • Avoid food waste. On a sunny day food can quickly dry up and become unpalatable in the heat. I kept all the food on a table in the house with the bread rolls covered and pasta & salad on ice packs. This meant that leftovers were fine to eat the next day (we stirred left over veg into the remaining pasta, sprinkled on some cheese and baked for 20 minutes: a tasty pasta bake).

Left over salad and pasta

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Party time

In a little over 2 months my daughter turns 2. Two. 24 months. 104 weeks. While I can't remember my life without her I slightly struggle with the idea that I'm going to have a 2 year old.

Other than getting older birthdays mean 2 things: parties and presents. I'm still trying to work out what we are going to buy M for her birthday, but we got some great party ideas recently when we went to a very special birthday party: the Cabbage Patch Kids 30th. Yes they are still going and I have made a lot of people feel old by mentioning how long they have been around.

While not essential, themes can really set the scene for a party. It can also help plan everything else. As the Cabbage Patch Kids are 30 this year the theme was the 80s. This was particularly fun for many of us adults as it brought back memories of when we went to our first parties as children.  I wonder how many of us gave friends a Cabbage Patch doll as a present?
Small Child looking a cabbage patch kids sign
Great location
The party location helps build the atmosphere and set the party spirit. As a child I dreamed about being locked in a toy store over night so getting to go to the UKs best toy store while it was closed to the public is a dream come true. My daughter got to run around Hamleys without worrying about crowds, and I didn't have to worry about losing her. It's amazing we managed to leave without buying half the store.
Toddler running around in Hamleys toy shop
Party games
M is a little young yet for structured games, but she joined in pass the parcel and had great fun at the craft table. At most kids parties there are a range of ages so having games that older children can enjoy and burn off energy (like "duck, duck, goose" and "beans") is a great plan. Another way of using party games is to calm over excited kids down. My Dad recently revealed that at our parties he would often play "sleeping lions" when the adults needed a break: encouraging children to lie down very quietly and still for as long as possible. Genius!
Toddler carefully applying sequins to a craft project
Party food is the best. Lots and lots of nibbly bits. In line with the 80s theme food included vol au vents, prawn cocktails, mini eclairs, and pineapple and cheese on cocktail sticks. Yummy.
Sitting next to a bunch of toddlers I was reminded just how messy food can be and the very high risk paper cups have of falling over. Definitely a good reason to not have the party in your own home.
Toddler drinking from a Cabbage Patch Kids paper cup
Birthday cake
I love all types of cake, unless it is fruitcake. The Cabbage Patch Kids cake looked amazing, even after one of the smaller guests had done some redecorating (notice the missing body on the top). Everyone got to stand round the cake, sing "Happy Birthday" and then we all blew the candles out. We all got a slice to take home and it was very tasty (I thought I should eat it for M just in case).
3 tier cake with colourful icing
Party bags
On the way out we were given a brilliant party bag filled with yummy sweets (think popping candy, black jacks, fried eggs etc), bubble mixture, charm bracelets, stickers and mini Cabbage Patch Kids toys including a little mini baby that M loves. The other night she woke up in the middle of the night calling for her "baby". Baby Melly also gets hugs, food and sits on the edge of the bath at bath time. I'm going to have to find out where to buy them as we need a few spares before ours goes missing.
Toddler being given a party bag
Friendly hosts
Even if the location, games and food aren't great (which at this party they were) the hosts can transform a party. The human size Cabbage Patch Dolls were a little scary for my daughter, but the Hamleys staff were brilliant. A huge thank you to Corinna and Norton and Co for inviting us.
Small Print
I was invited to the party, but under no obligation to blog about it.

Silent Sunday 6th July 2013

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


Yesterday evening when I arrived at nursery a staff member advised me that M had been biting a lot. "Things or other people?" I asked. "Both" came the reply.


She bit one child so hard that they had to fill in an incident form.


They think it might be because she has some teeth coming through.

So it's a one off pain management thing?

She bit a child who took a toy off her.


What do you say?

Am I meant to be super embarrassed and apologetic? A lot of children go through bitey stages. M didn't do it on Sunday when she had friends round and they stole her toys; she just cried.

M spends more of her waking hours at nursery than at home so if the biting is due to a parenting fail whose fault is it?
Mine for being her parent?
Mine for delegating parenting to nursery?
Or theirs for being the "parent" on duty when the behaviour happened?

Should I be telling them off for allowing it to happen? And multiple times yesterday as well!
By encouraging M to bite Sophie La Girafe did I open the door to biting Sophie Le Child?