It’s another Blogiversary!

Today celebrates my 6th year of my Insanely Normal blog.

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It’s been fun, although a little slack, and I know that I have said it time and time again, but that can now change…  I have a lot more time to be able to publish, and I have all sorts of ideas!

So, without further ado, let’s revisit my top three posts…

At number 3…

This post has somewhat amused me since I published it in 2014.  It was a review (a negative one at that!  And badly wrote, haha) about a local franchised café.  I can remember visiting the place – it was bloody awful, and I imagine nothing has changed, because I’m still receiving messages agreeing with my post!  You can read about the Pound Café in Huyton here.

At number 2…

2015 seems to have been the year that brought in most of my subscribers (hello stalkers!), and top of the shot (again), was my Christmas Ham post!  My second most popular post in 2015 was for my slow cooker sausage casserole…  With just under 10,000 reads throughout the year, it definitely got the attention it deserved, ha ha.  You can try the slow cooker sausage casserole recipe here.

Drum roll please, because at number 1…

Every Christmas, I make a ham.  It’s by far the best thing I have ever made, and you all seem to agree, as the amount of views that post has received is amazing!  I first published the post in 2012, and it seems to be a recipe that is used right throughout the year, as it’s always my most read…  My “best” stats for this recipe was on 1 December, 2016, when I had a little over 4,000 views – just on that day!  You can read my Christmas Ham here.


So, it seems that my stalkers like recipes and negative reviews!  Ha ha.  Yes, those were my top three posts in the past six years, and other posts in my top ten include more recipes, a holiday post, and how parenthood drives me crazy.

So, here’s to more exciting times – more recipes, more random stuff, and I may even through in a mini-comp somewhere…

Christmas Biscuits – no eggs

I have made this recipe time and time again, and when I come to make them again this morning, I realised that my eggs were TOTALLY out of date, so I decided to mix up the recipe a little to make them without any egg yolk.  They’ve come out a treat, and according to the hubby, these are the “best” I’ve ever made.

If I have calculated this correctly, the ingredient amounts below should make approximately 20 biscuits, and cost about 60p ($0.75).

Perfect for those family members and friends who have an egg allergy, try this out.

Ingredients

8oz (225g) butter – softened

4oz (115g) sugar (I used caster sugar, but standard, granulated is ok too)

Vanilla essence

5tbsp water

12oz (340g) plain flour

Hard boiled sweets (or hard boiled candies, if you live in the US)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 190°C (170°C for fan assisted).
  2. Line your baking sheets with grease proof / baking paper.
  3. In a mixing bowl, cream your butter.  You should really use the back of a wooden spoon for this, but I continually used my electric hand mixer on a slow speed.
  4. Add the sugar, and cream in to the butter.
  5. Add the vanilla essence – I really went overboard with the amount I used, because we all love vanilla, but you should only really use a cap-full; and the water.  Mix thoroughly.
  6. Start to combine the flour, bit by bit, until it becomes almost impossible to continue mixing, then combine the rest thoroughly with your hands.  Knead the dough a little in the bowl, to ensure it all sticks together.
  7. Turn the dough out on to a clean and floured surface, and roll out to approximately 1cm depths.
  8. Using your cookie cutters (I used a large gingerbread man cutter), cut out your biscuits, and place carefully on to the lined baking tray.  Repeat until you have used up all of your dough.
  9. Using a small cookie cutter (I used a small star this time), remove the “belly” / middle of each large man shape / biscuit.  With using the small star shape, I was able to use these for some regular, star-shaped biscuits for my Donut.
  10. Place a hard boiled sweet in to the middle of the cut-out you have just done (i.e. my star shape in the belly).
  11. Place in the preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  12. Remove from the oven, and – keeping the biscuits on the grease proof paper, remove the trays on to a cool surface.
  13. Allow to cool for approximately 30 minutes – or until the melted sweet has reset, and you now have the choice to either scoff the lot, or decorate!

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Peanut butter bites

I have to admit, I am not a fan of peanut butter.  Peanuts are ok, but when they’ve been made in to a spread, I’m not keen.  My husband and eldest son, on the other hand, love the stuff.

Several months ago, I tried out a recipe for peanut butter truffles, but they just weren’t the same as a regular truffle should be, so I changed the name to peanut butter bites.

This recipe is SO simple, and can be made using vegan friendly products (if you are a vegetarian / vegan).

There’s no baking involved, and very little “heat” needed, so give it a go.  I think it took me about an hour to make them – from start to finish; and the whole outcome cost less than £2.

If you have any fancy boxes, you could even pop a few of the bites in to a box, tie a ribbon around, and you have an amazing, homemade, frugal gift.

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Ingredients

270g (9.5oz) peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)

40g (1.4oz) unsalted butter

140g (4.9oz) icing sugar

Chocolate (I used 300g / 10oz, but I had some left over)

Sprinkles (optional)

Method

  1. Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.
  2. Ensure that you have enough room to fit the baking sheet in to your fridge – this is very important!
  3. Put your peanut butter and butter in to a microwavable bowl, and heat on full power for 15-30 seconds.  I checked after 15 and 20 seconds, but needed longer, so I allowed for the full 30.
  4. Transfer the butter mixture in to a mixing bowl, and mix thoroughly, until the butter and peanut butter have combined.
  5. Carefully sift in the icing sugar, bit by bit, and mix well.  I used about a third at a time.  Ensure that you have thoroughly mixed in the icing sugar to the butter mixture.
  6. Using your hands, break off a little of the peanut dough, and roll quickly in between your palms to make a ball, approximately 1 inch in diameter, and place each ball on to the lined baking sheet.  If, like mine, towards the end of the dough, it stops wanting to stick together, squeeze it a little in your palms to soften, and roll into a ball again.
  7. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  8. After about 20 minutes, break up the chocolate in to small pieces, and place in a glass bowl – be sure that the glass bowl can sit on the top of a pan of water.  The base of the bowl should not touch the water.
  9. Bring the pan of water to the boil, and allow the chocolate to melt completely.
  10. When the chocolate has fully melted, switch off the heat, and bring out the peanut butter bites from the fridge.
  11. Roll each bite in the melted chocolate, allowing any excess chocolate to drip off.  I used two forks, and gently tapped the fork on the edge of the glass bowl to allow the excess chocolate to come away.
  12. Place the now chocolate covered bites back on to the baking sheet, and repeat until you have covered all peanut bites.
  13. When you have completed covering the bites, if you wish, you can cover them in sprinkles, or (as I did) just sprinkle a couple on the very top.
  14. Return to the fridge for approximately 20 minutes, or until the chocolate has set.

Enjoy!

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Bath Bombs Galore!

Over the past few years, it seems bath bombs have been popping up at every skincare shop out there. Bath bombs leave your bathwater cleansing, soothing and delightfully fizzy. With their soothing scents and fun fizzy effect, it’s no wonder bath bombs are such a huge hit. .However, boutique bath bombs can be expensive and include a fizzing ingredient called citric acid that can be harsh on your skin.  .

It’s easy to make on your own using ingredients found at your local supermarket, and you can omit the citric acid. This recipe calls for cream of tartar (which is sold in the baking aisle in Asda!), which, when combined with baking soda, will give you the same fizzy results.

Ingredients & Materials Needed

256g (9oz / 2 cups) of bicarbonate soda

128g (4.5oz / 1 cup) cream of tartar

50g (1.6oz / 6 tbsp) of Epsom salts

Essential oils of your choosing

Coconut or olive oil

Water or Witch Hazel – in a spray bottle

Large mixing bowl

Large metal spoon

Silicone ice cube tray or mould

Method

  1. Combine the bicarb soda, cream of tartar and Epsom salts in a mixing bowl and mix thoroughly.
  2. Add up to 20 drops of your choice of essential oil (or up to your desired scent) and two teaspoons (7g / 11ml) of coconut / olive oil.  If you have any dried lavender or any other dried flowers, you can add them at this point.
  3. Once all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, test the mixture by squeezing a small amount in your hand.  If the powder easily compresses together without separating, it is ready to place in the moulds.  However, if the mixture crumbles apart, add a single spray of water / Witch Hazel at a time until you can compress it into a ball.  You shouldn’t have to add more than five sprays of water / Witch Hazel.
  4. Now pack the mixture tightly into the silicone moulds.  You will find that the back of a metal spoon will help compact the mixture in to all corners of the mould.
  5. Leave the mixture in the mould for a full 24 hours to dry.
  6. Once the bath bombs have dried for 24 hours in the mould, carefully remove them and allow them to air dry undisturbed for another 24 hours.  Then, drop one in your bath and enjoy the fizz!

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Happy new year! It’s confession time…

Happy 2016 everyone!  I hope you all had an amazing Christmas, and a wonderful New Years Eve celebrations.

It was slightly different than the usual in the Insanely Normal household…  We went to my parents house for Christmas dinner, as usual, however, when we got there, my mum asked if I had any meat in our fridge…  I must have looked rather puzzled, as she quickly continued with, “we can’t have the meat that your dad bought, as it’s not ‘dinner meat'”.

My dad had bought a rather large Serrano ham full leg, and although it still had the trotter on, it looked rather tasty.  Dad had sliced the smallest amount off the ham on Christmas morning, to taste it.  To say he was disappointed was an understatement.  He described it more as a “tapas meat” – the type that you use to wrap the likes of asparagus, or the like.

I had to taste it, to see what the fuss was about.  Surely it couldn’t be that bad..?

Yep.  It was.  It was like chewing on the sole of an old pair of shoes…  I think it took me almost 5 minutes to chew, and swallow the smallest slither of ham.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the slice was about 1 inch by 1 inch, and was wafer thin.  Bleurgh.

So that was our Christmas dinner…  A plate full of veg.  Thank God mum had a packet of fresh beef meatballs in the fridge…  It was certainly different, and definitely one that will be remembered for many a year to come.

New Years Eve & Day came and went…  Again, we celebrated at my parents house.

Skip forward a couple of rather lethargic days, and we’re on today.  Sunday, 3 January 2016.

After church this morning, I made a big decision.  I would pull out everything that I have stored in the food cupboard, fridge and freezer, and make a stock-list.  I would then go on to prepare a meal plan.

I bet you’re waiting for the confession part..?  Afterall, that’s the title of this post, right?  Ok, here goes.

Hi.  My name is Barbara.  In my household, we waste A LOT of food.

I’m not just talking about filling the plates up too much, when dinner is made…  I’m talking about buying foodstuffs, putting them away in the cupboard / fridge / freezer, only to pull them out again several months later to chuck in the bin.  My decision to sort and plan meals would mean that we would not buy any more foodstuffs (other than bread, milk and fresh veg – when required) until the cupboard, fridge and freezer were completely empty.  I mean, we’re bound to save a few pennies there, right?

I seem to remember making a bit of a blog post about wasting eggs earlier on in 2015…

Back to the subject.

We have one of those fridge-freezer combis…  The freezer is constantly full, yet we barely dip in there.  Our fridge is practically empty, and although we do tend to fill it up completely once every 7-10 days, most of the fresh meat ends up in the freezer.  See a bit of a conveyor belt there?

As for our food cupboard, it is full.  Full of tins, packets, sachets…  Whenever we buy tins and / or packets, we place them in front of the items already in the cupboard.  Bad habit, I know.

Anyway, I pulled everything out, and made a few lists…

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The list above, on the right, is for “Donuts'” items.

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Although cleaning out the cupboards, fridge and freezer can be thought of as a rather daunting task, I did actually enjoy making a stocktake!

After the list making, it was time to create some form of meal plan.  I made up a quick template – listing the days (Mon-Sun) reading down the left hand side, and the week (1,2,3 and 4) across the top.  I would then have the hand-written lists of produce by my side, as I carefully planned meals.

At the end of the plan, I had proposed a plan, filling 21 days for main meals, using almost everything that I have already.

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The plan was then handed to hubby-dearest, to proof-read, and to give his opinion on.  I got the “go ahead” straight away, and the above is what we come up with.

The only thing that we’re thinking about now is, “what about lunches?

So, we’re altering the above – slightly.

We’re settled on all of the above as meals, but we’re now not limiting ourselves to only having (i.e.) fish, chips, peas & carrot on Saturday for our evening meal.  I mean, what is we want the pizza, topped with extra cheese for lunch on that day too?

So, what we have now is a list of meals.  Still, 21 items, but now this will more likely last us 10.5 days instead of 21 (accounting for 1 lunch and 1 evening meal a day).  Do you know what though?  I don’t mind.  The food quantity that we are stocking is still on the decrease, and hopefully, will not be wasted!

Let’s just say – it will now give me something to look forward to, and may even mean that we can experiment a little more, as we’re going to have a “blank canvas” every time we need to go food shopping.

We’ll see.

Shortbread & Coconut Shortbread

It’s Gnings’ last day in school tomorrow, as he is breaking up for Christmas.  I can’t believe how quickly it has come around!

I’ve been struggling for ideas on what he should give to his teacher, and two teaching assistants, as a gift for Christmas; and with money being a bit tight too (I’m still on maternity leave), I didn’t really want to spend a lot.  So I thought, everyone loves biscuits, so that’s what we’ll do.  And that’s what we did!

I think I managed to make about 50 stars, and 35 “gingerbread” biscuits.  The stars cost approx. 50p, and the “gingerbread” ones about 75p.

Here’s the recipe:~

125g butter, softened

55g caster sugar

180g plain flour (all-purpose)

OPTIONAL – (1tbsp desiccated coconut)

Drop of water

  1. Preheat your oven to 190C (170C for fan assisted).
  2. Line a baking tray (or two) with greaseproof paper.
  3. Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, and cream together, using the back of a large, wooden spoon.
  4. Sift in all of the flour, in one go, and stir it all together using the spoon (this is also the part where you will add the coconut – if you are going to.  This worked absolutely wonderfully).  When you’re unable to stir any more, use one of your hands to start “bringing the mixture together”, in to a dough.
  5. Add just a drop or two of water – just enough so the mixture starts to meld nicely.  Don’t add too much, otherwise it’ll end up all sticky, and icky.
  6. Once the dough has formed a lovely ball, turn out on to a work surface, that has had a ‘scattering’ of icing sugar (powdered / confectioners sugar), and roll out with a rolling pin, so that it’s about 1cm thick.
  7. Cut out your required shape(s) – squares, rectangles, circles, stars, etc. – and place on the lined baking tray.
  8. Lightly prick the top of the biscuits with a fork, and sprinkle a little more caster sugar on the top of each.
  9. Throw them in the oven (well, not literally) for 15-20 minutes, or until a golden brown colour.
  10. Allow to cool fully before digging in.  Be careful though!  They are incredibly moreish.

Excuse the pics – my camera is playing up a little 😦

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And this is how I packaged them up – all ready for Gningy to take in to school tomorrow:

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10 things that made Christmas in the 80’s the best…

I’ve neglected this blog a little recently, so I think it’s about time that I brought a little “Festiveness” (is that even a word?  No?  Oh well…  I like it, so I’m going to use it anyway) to you, in the form of a list!  Afterall, who doesn’t love a good list?  🙂

Christmas just isn’t the same nowadays is it? We find it very difficult to feel that magic we felt as kids. The whole experience has changed so much over the last couple of decades, with Internet shopping, a million TV channels and a whole host of electronic gadgetry available to us, it’s easy to forget the simpler times.

In no particular order, let’s give you my top ten reasons as to why Christmas was so much better in the 80’s.

  1. TV Times / Radio Times

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With no internet or smartphones the only way to find out what was coming up on TV was on teletext or in TV listing mags. The TV Times and Radio Times were the go to TV guides and of course, back in the day, you had to buy both to know what was on all the channels. When the bumper Christmas Edition was released no one could stop us sitting and circling everything we were going to watch over the festive period.

2.  Selection boxes

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Let’s face it they were just better back then.  The bars were bigger, they tasted better and they had some awesome treats inside!  Oh, you also definitely got your moneys’ worth.

3.  The Argos catalogue

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The Argos catalogue, or any other catalogue for that matter (remember Index?!).  We couldn’t browse the internet back then so this is what we used to find things to put on our list for Santa!

4.  The music

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At least we had a couple of REAL Christmas N0.1’s in the 80s!  The charts were filled with Christmas classics from Shakin’ Stevens, The Pogues, Band Aid, Paul McCartney and Wham!

5.  The movies

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We had some classic Christmas movies in the 80s.  They were that good they are repeated every year on TV!  Santa Claus The Movie was one of my favourites, at the time.  What was yours?

6.  TV Christmas specials

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Christmas specials were the business in the 80s.  What ever your favourite TV show was, I bet they did a Christmas special. Some of the Kids Christmas Specials were a little interesting to say the least!

7.  Decorations

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They may seem a bit old fashioned and out of style now but back in the day the louder, the shinier, and the brighter, the better!  These decorations were hung all over our house – attached to the ceiling with a drawing pin!

8.  Christmas shopping

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Remember when we actually had to leave the house to do our Christmas Shopping?  The high streets were packed at this time of year with people trying to find the perfect gift for their loved ones.  Shops went all out with the Christmas decorations, and you couldn’t carry all of the FREE carrier bags you’d been given to get your purchases home!  Oh, and let’s not forget, that for some reason, it was also much easier to buy gifts to people too!

9.  Christmas present hunt

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I’m sure kids all over the world still do this, but do you remember when your parents weren’t looking, you used to dive into the cupboards and wardrobes to try and get a sneak peak at all the gifts they had bought you? You’d have to be quick though before they sent them all off to Santa for him to deliver on Christmas Day!

10.  The toys

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Toys in the 80s were just better.  There’s no doubt about it all of the things we had as kids were well…  Just cooler than the toys that are around now!  I never did get that Mr Frosty though (thanks mum) 😦  Ha ha x