Friday, 31 January 2014

Faces full of Joy








"The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song."
Psalm 28:7 

I'm linking up this post to Fiona's Country Kids - click on the badge to head over and see what others have got up to in their Country Kids exploits.

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Top tips for safe driving in the winter months

Image Source

I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to driving in the snow I'm afraid. It is not something I'm proud of and I'm trying to become more confident. My fears stemmed from a couple of bad snowfalls back in early 2003 and 2004. In the first one I was pregnant and my usual 45 minute commute took me 11 hours to trawl. Then in January the following year I had a four month old baby in he car with me and again Hertfordshire was hit with snow and the roads gridlocked. It took us 1.5 hours to travel under a mile and we pulled into a local hotel and they took pity on us with our small baby and gave us a room for the night, I still believe it was the most sensible option, thank goodness I always packed a very good change bag for my baby JJ.

I find that if I take some practical steps before the really bad weather comes then I feel happier and calmer about driving and that makes a big difference.  I'll share with you my tips for safer winter driving -

  • Make sure that your car was topped up with anti-freeze at your last service and if realistically you know that you don't get your car serviced as often as you should then check this and top up as necessary.
  • Having moved to the countryside I can't believe just how dirty my car gets in winter, so I'm having to wash my windscreen far more frequently. It is thus important to make sure your screenwash is topped up and also that the product you are using can cope with freezing weather.
  • I'd also say treat your wipers kindly, don't expect them to try to clear ice, you may damage the blade and also blow the mechanism as you try to make it work too hard.
  • Previously I wondered if winter tyres were just a ploy for garages to make money but having spent a week in Belarus last year in the deep snow I now realise they really do make a difference. So if you can afford to change your tyres and have the room to store your spare set this is great for peace of mind.
  • If you choose not to change your tyres then just keep an eye on the depth of your tread and also make sure they are properly inflated as this will give you the best chance of gripping a snowy or icy road.
  • Before travel, especially in the morning allow yourself time to get your car ready, it does take a while to de-ice the car.  Remember to do all glass, mirrors and lights so so you can see and are visible to other drivers. Never ever use boiling water to de-ice windows like my old neighbour used to, the risk of the glass cracking is high.
  • You can buy winter car kits to keep in your boot or easily make your own up. It is a good idea to have a spade/ snow shovel, wellies, blanket, drinking water and high energy/ long life snacks, first-aid kit, torch and de-icer with scraper.
  • If you don't have the knowledge to be able to fix your car yourself then make sure you have adequate breakdown cover. Currently I'm fully covered with the AA and I've used the call out service quite a number of times in the years I have been a member. I'll happily recommend the AA as they have arrived quickly, been able to fix my car, give great advice and even entertained my kids!
  • Then most importantly remember that if you are driving on a road covered in ice or snow it will take far longer to brake safely; the stopping distance can be up to ten times the normal. You will to slow right down and steer and break gently, especially at bends in the road. Make sure you apply your breaks lightly and use your gears to slow down and avoid skidding. Then for me it always seems counter-intuitive but you should use the highest gear possible at a low speed when driving in icy conditions as this will help avoid quick acceleration and wheel spin.

Don't forget if the weather looks really bad outside check the news or the met office website before you travel and if you can stay off the roads and don't put yourself at risk.



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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Have you been converted to a Tablet yet?

I have to be honest and say that I personally do not have a Tablet but I probably should add 'yet' to the end of that sentence, I think the time is coming. My son was the first in our family to buy a tablet about three years back and he was instantly hooked; he can do everything he wants to on it like playing games, skyping with his friends, listening to music and looking things up for his homework.

After a short while it became a shared tablet as my husband would grab it when JJ was in bed and he would sit there hooked to it as well but I can't really complain as I love my laptop and you will often find me busy on there. Then last year I realised that long car journeys would be an awful lot more fun is the girls had something to watch on the journey. I looked into in-car DVD players and came to the conclusion that I was much better off buying them a couple of tablets to use with headphones.

So now we have three tablets in the house but I think the time has come to invest in one for my husband as he is trying to use JJ's more and more often and whilst I'm all for sharing, JJ did buy it with money he had saved up and I think he is entitled to use it when he fancies.

I need to have a look at all the different providers of tablets and there are quite a few now and many brand names that I know and trust. One of the newest tablets on the market is the Sony Xperia™Tablet Z and as a current customer of Sony I know their products to be really good and reliable. The Sony Xperia™Tablet Z looks really stylish and at 6.9 mm and just 495 grams it is incredibly lightweight and portable. I'm pleased to see that I don't need to worry too much about breakages though as it has been constructed with premium materials and built to last, whilst not looking like a brick. Also, I have to mention that it is waterproof, just perfect as the one thing I do nick the kids tablets for is when I'm cooking and having a recipe by my side.

When buying a tablet there is a whole host of features that I want to be present. First I need really good visuals and Sony products give these every time. The Sony Xperia™Tablet Z  has a 10.1" HD Reality Display powered by Mobile BRAVIA® Engine 2 technology which automatically optimises every image to give the fullest colour display, meaning that every scene is richer, brighter and more breathtakingly vibrant.

I'm also interested in how quick the tablet  processor can work for me, no good it looking beautiful if it is slow and can't run multiple programs at the same time. After research I feel satisfied that it will perform at a level I am more than happy with. It is equipped with a Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ S4 Pro processor. This is an advanced 1.5 Ghz quad core processor which will give maximum performance and speed, and incredible graphics, without draining your battery. Another big plus point, as who wants to be re-charging every couple of hours.

The Sony Xperia™Tablet Z seems to give more than I would expect from any tablet, who knew I'd be able to control all my home entertainment with this one tablet, no more lost remote control - result! There is lots this tablet can enable you to enjoy and by using the Google Play store for apps and Sony Network Entertainment for music and films you will have everything you need for your delight.

I'll certainly get my husband to take a look at the The Sony Xperia™Tablet Z, it starts at about £379 for a 16g wi-fi connected model and I think that is reasonable given the spec it is boasting.

Have a look at the infographic below and see how you might use your The Sony Xperia™Tablet Z for a special Valentines Day.

Valentine's Day survival guide - Infographic
Courtesy of Sony


Disclosure: This is a Sponsored Post

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Finding time for God as a busy Mum


I personally know that it is all too easy to get tied up in the busyness of parenting or to get distracted by the state of the house or the work that needs to be done and then we take our eyes off Jesus. It is in these busy times that we, as Christians often find ourselves saying ‘Lord where are you?, I feel alone, you said you’d never leave me’. Logically we know that He never leaves our side, the bible reassures us through all its promises that God will never forsake us or leave us. But our hearts yearn for Him and we feel deserted and alone in the stresses of parenting.

Of course what has happened is the reverse of what we imagined. The truth is that we forgot Him. Our God is not a demanding or tyrannical God, all He asks is that we have a relationship with Him, he loves to spend time with us, to chat, to listen and to know our desires, frustrations and joys. We allowed ourselves to just look inwards and to be absorbed by the busyness of everyday life.

Having travelled this rocky road for quite some years now I thought I’d share with you the ways I found to ensure that I’m still spending time with God even when the children are under foot or the washing is pouring out the machine! I’ve put them under rough age brackets but actually many go through the ages so take a peek at them all.

When you have a young baby in the house
I know that the thing you most want to do is sleep and that is fine, go ahead and do that but what about putting on some headphones and listening to some worship music or a Christian podcast as you fall off to sleep?

Or how about using those precious feeding times to both bond with your baby and with God. My children had a mixture of breast and bottle and both worked for this, I would close my eyes for a few moments (especially easy once breastfeeding is established) and would be in that wonderful halfway place, not really awake and not asleep but just sharing with God my gratitude for my babe and the things that He had provided. Gratitude really works, even when your nipples hurt and you feel as if your life is falling apart it feels much better after you have looked for the Grace in small things and appreciated what you have.  I have become an expert at playing the Pollyanna game.

Remember that in everything you do you should be doing it to the glory of God. When the twins were babies I read Barefoot in the Kitchen by Alie Stibbe and I found this very helpful, that principle that when I cook, clean and wash I am doing a Christ given job and therefore I must do it to my best. Keeping that awareness is a transforming thing.

Finding time with an older baby/toddler
That tricky stage where you might not be quite as tired because babe (hopefully) at least sleeps a bit but now they are on the move and you are exhausted and they are into everything. I had an agreement with my husband that when he got home I would just disappear out the door for a walk for just 15 minute and this would clear my head and give me clear perspective.

I also started to read the bible in a year and this would mean I set my alarm 20 minutes early each morning and spent that time with God, praying, chatting and reading. I found it really effective when I used to drop to my knees by the side of my bed and bow in full submission.

If I allowed my babes to nap at home in the afternoon I know that I ran around like a headless chicken and I’d do as much household chores as I could and then when they would wake I was grumpy as I had not had any rest or renewing. I’d advise you at least once a week to pop your baby in the buggy and go for a mammoth walk. Take some music to listen to as you walk, listen to the Lord, chat to Him and really enjoy His presence as you push your sleeping babe.

Children of school age
This is where I am now, all three of my children are in full-time school and I luckily was able to move from my 4 day a week job to working freelance and being at home. Even with time on your hands it is no easier to make sure you are giving God your full attention. You have to be purposeful I find.

Currently I make time to read my bible each day and I do this at the kitchen table straight after I see the kids off to school. I also make sure I have little reminders in lots of places so that if I have a free few minutes I spend it with God instead of checking FB. I have a daily thought on my windowsill in the kitchen which takes seconds to read but then it says in my head and allows the conversation with God to open and progress as I cook our family dinner.


I also have a daily readings book in the bathroom and yes I do grab this when I go to the loo, it takes me about 2 minutes to read the one page and again helps me to be closer to God. I’m also reading a Christian book at the moment (How to have a Mary heart in a Martha world in case you are interested) and I might just grab 15 minutes with that before I fall asleep at night.

Probably one of my favourite times of day is when I go to pick the kids up from school. I have to drive because of where we live and each day I arrive 15/20 minutes before pick-up and have a read of the magazines that I keep in the car.  I get Christianity and Woman Alive magazines each month and I enjoy reading those and being encouraged and challenged by how God is working in the lives of others.

The last thing I would say is not to forget to bring your older children into your times with God. I love lying in bed with my girls and we take turns to pray, saying sorry, thank you and please help. It is such a privilege to hear their innocent requests and know how deeply they are thinking. Get the kids to take turns to say grace at the table, ask them at dinner time what was their best and worst parts of their day and then use that to talk about how our Lord works and pray together. You know what they say ‘a family that prays together, stays together.

Of course I am incredibly lucky now in that I live in a Christian prayer and conference centre and I have 220 acres of amazing God-inspired grounds to walk, prayer meetings I can attend every day, worship sessions three times a week and about 80 committed Christians to share my prayers with, I won’t lie to you this does help. But equally I’ve had the last ten years of being a parent without that and with working and it is therefore possible to still find time for God every day.

I pray you find what works for you, please do leave a comment if you have something different you do and let’s encourage each other. Mich x

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Sunday, 26 January 2014

My Picture: His Words - Contentment


This picture is of a Victorian grotto here at the estate where I live. It is just a small shelter with fresh running water in it and in its day it had a beautiful picture painted on the back wall. It used to be that if you splashed the wall with the water the picture still appeared but sadly that's not he case any more.

When I took this picture I felt God speak to me about contentment and seeking His will and Him first and making sure that I am content with what I have. I don't have to go and live in a little hole (or grotto) so that I won't be effected by the choices of the life here on earth.  I just have to make a conscious decision to go His way and to seek Him first and when I do I will feel the contentment that only comes with knowing you are fully loved and accepted.

How are you feeling this week? Had any of those moments when you felt hard done by and as if you were missing out?  Then perhaps you ought to draw nearer and seek His will.

Do leave me a link if you have written a My picture: His words post and I'll pop a link in my post here.

Have a blessed week, Mich x
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Friday, 24 January 2014

A year in photos - week 4

Happy Saturday all, here I am back with the next instalment of my picture taking journey for 2014.

I have found linking up with these great initiatives to be good as it has been a busy and miserable week weather wise so I might not have taken any photos at all if it had not been for this post looming.  I've been pleased with some of the shots I got this week, see what you think -

Taken with my Lumix G5 on manual but with the 'Impressive art' filter

Lumix G5 in manual and then cropped in picmonkey

Lumix G5 on manual & exposure/ colour adjusted in pic monkey

Lumix G5 on intelligent auto and nothing done to it.

Lumix G5 on manual and nothing done to it

So which one is your favourite and all you ace photographers out there, do you have any advice/ tips for me please?


TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

Grace in small things - Meeting friends, smiles and a clean house


A simple post to share where I have seen God working this week, you know the small things that lift you!
  1. Making a little girl smile when I could drop her forgotten flute to school for her
  2. Miss E moving up a reading level and watching her confidence blossom this week. 
  3. I was super happy to have a guest post over on Red Ted Art, so if you fancy checking out my Valentines Bento boxes (for quick-fix mums, nothing too complex) then take a peek
  4. Dh getting better (he has had pneumonia and pleurisy), back to work he goes today
  5. Meeting a fab blogger friend for a coffee and chit-chat today, well overdue
  6. JJ loving his new scouts group, he looks so grown up and we are thrilled he has found such a nurturing and active group
  7. Miss M being so helpful, she really is a delight much of the time
  8. A clean house, it is all done..... how long it says nice who knows but for now, it is good!
Bring on the weekend and some serious down time with my family and I hope we can get out for a fab walk too, there has just been too much rain recently!

Linking up with Reasons to be Cheerful. Hop over and visit Becky if you fancy joining in.

Have a wonderful week, Mich x 

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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Vanish Gold 30 second challenge - does it work?

I do find stains extraordinarily annoying, it drives me nuts that you buy something new and within days, well minutes sometimes my husband or children will have dropped something on it. I spent £90 on a duvet cover a couple of weeks ago and now there is a stain! I was therefore super excited to hear that Vanish Gold Oxy Action could be just the stain remover I need.   You can use it in the wash as a booster, for soaking prior to a machine wash and as a pre-treater to get rid of specific stains.

Working with the Tots100 I was asked to test out the new Vanish Gold Oxy Action powder as a pre-treater on a blackcurrant juice stain and I was surprised by the results to say the least. You'll have to take a peek at the video to see how it all pans out.

Not content with creating the stain and then treating it straight away, I made the stain over 5 hours before I treated it as I felt that gave a truer picture.

 

Here are the before and after pictures -


If you have any stains that you are having trouble removing then do check out the Vanish Tip Exchange, it is very good and has all sorts of remedies for your stains, including those without Vanish.

Disclosure: I was sent the stain remover and given a nominal amount to partake in this challenge. My opinion has not been swayed and honestly this seems a great product, it worked on this stain I made!
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Monday, 20 January 2014

In & out of Clarks in 10 minutes with school shoes!

Saturday morning is a time I like to linger in bed if I'm honest.  Often hubby is at work and the kids come and see me for cuddles and then they head off downstairs for a bagel, juice and a healthy (or should that be unhealthy?) dose of kiddie TV.  It is my indulgence for the week, every other day I get up early but Saturdays I like to read a book until at least 10am.

I was therefore dismayed to find we had an appointment at the local Clarks store (I say local but actually it is about 30 minutes as I live in the middle of nowhere nowadays) for JJ to have a fitting for new school shoes at 10.15am. When he came home Friday with a worn through sole I knew there was no getting out of it and we would definitely need to go but a quick call to the Clarks store and they were super happy to delay the appointment by an hour, in fact they were happy to schedule it for whatever time suited me, first win.

After an eventful time getting three kids out the house on a cold Saturday morning when all they wanted to do was 'have a chill day Mum' proved eventful but we got to Clarks about 11.25am and I thought to myself let's see how they deal with lateness?  Not even a raised eyebrow is how, they greeted me and told me the next available fitter will be with me (yes we jumped the number queue) as soon as possible, win number two.


Courtney greeted us within a few minutes and apologised that she needed to put some shoes away and then she would be with us. As soon as she was we had her full attention and she got JJ on the automatic measuring machine and explained to me he was getting near the next shoe size, so we should try both sizes and go by the fit.

JJ showed her the shoes he wanted and explained he did not like laces, Courtney coaxed him to choose a back up pair in case they did not have his preferred ones in the right size.  He would not even entertain the idea when I suggested the same but he listened to Courtney. She reappeared really quickly with three boxes, JJ's preferred ones, some very similar and also a pair of trainers in case we need those too. Of course I'm not silly I realise she is probably targeted on sales but the way she did it made her seem helpful rather than anything else.


She fitted JJ's shoes, getting on the floor and doing all the checks I have come to expect of Clarks, he went for a walk round the shop and come back and announced they were the ones. We paid £45.00 for his Surrey air boys school shoes and they are exactly the same shoes he has had for the last 3 pairs - he is a creature of habit! Shoes chosen and third win for Clarks.

Whilst JJ was being fitted the girls were happy to see what new styles they have for girls and they enjoyed looking at the sale, there is a lot available at the moment.


I was amazed that by making an appointment we could walk into a popular Clarks store on a busy Saturday and be fitted and have bought shoes all within 10 minutes. This made the kids super happy and we went off for fish and chips together to celebrate!



Disclosure: We were sent a £40 voucher to put towards our shoes in return for an honest review of the shoes and service we received. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Sunday, 19 January 2014

My picture:His words - refining


Do you ever get the feeling that the Kingdom of Heaven is near?  Since moving here last summer I certainly do, this feels like a really thin place and that is wonderful for experiencing God and hearing from Him but it also seems to be that you are incredibly open to spiritual attack and efforts from the dark side to try and wear you down.

There are so many challenges about living here and I know that reading my everyday blog you would never know that as I always seem upbeat but the truth is I am upbeat, I'm really positive for the future and I believe that being here will have an amazing effect on me and my family as a whole.

This week the Lord has reminded me that He is the refiner and He will throw off my sinful ways and make me new and just how He wants me to be.  This is both exciting and scary at the same time.

At lunch this week a lovely new friend told em that a silversmith must sit and watch his silver as it is in the furnace refining for the only way he knows when it is just ready is when he can see his reflection in the metal.  Wow, how much that struck me, God watches us as He refines us and then when He sees Himself reflected back from us He knows His work is done!

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Malachi 3:3
Fancy joining in?
As with other weeks if you would like to join me in using your picture and His words to share how God has spoken to you recently then do a post and leave me a link in the comments and I'll add it into the body of this post so you get some linky love and people can come visit.

 May our Lord be with you. Mich x
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Saturday, 18 January 2014

A year in photos - week 3

I'm a bit late to this really.  I've seen the Boy and Me running her project 365 for the last 2 or 3 years and never felt an urge to join in. I didn't need any motivation to take photos, I take enough was my logic but actually what I've realised if that it would be good to post once a week with a whole week of photos and to create that visual memory, especially as I've invested £500 recently in a new camera & lenses that I'm just learning to use.

I'm also loving the new series from Love All Blogs called the Better Photos Project. This is focusing on one tip a week to help us newbies take better pictures. This week it is about 'focusing on our subjects eyes' and quite coincidentally I got a lovely photo of Miss E this week which is all about her eyes.

Then lastly as I'm having a mass photo post link-up I have found a new one to join in with over at Make Do & Push called The week that was: Instagrammed and seeing as I adore Instagram I thought why not?

So expect a photo post from me each week now and lots of experimenting.

Fun at the play park (Lumix G5)

 A  crisp winters day walk at home (Lumix G5)

Another walk, but by the lake this time (Lumix & picmonkey editing)

Hastings Beach (iPhone)

Visit to the seaside - Instagram (iPhone)

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky
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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Grace in small things - simple fun, teaching & writing


Happy Thursday.  I hope you are well and having a blessed week. I'm feeling good and as such it is my duty to be thankful and to give the glory to our heavenly Father.

I have seen Him work in so many ways in this past week and here are some of the things that have made my heart sing -

  1. A day working with the reception team here (I volunteer, yes working without being paid, that novel isn't it?? lol) and learning new skills and making new friends
  2. Having a couple of meals cooked for me and being able to enjoy delicious food without all the hard graft
  3. I led a couple of short training sessions with the young volunteers yesterday and boy did I love it. Being back in my 'trainer' shoes and being able to impact and effect people was a delight
  4. Being offered a fabulous opportunity to visit a Tearfund project in the UK and write about it
  5. Going for lunch with a couple of new friends, enjoying time to chat and eat as I get to know them better
  6. Helping to lead the group of young people at Church last Sunday. They were so open and engaging it was a delight
  7. Laying on the bed and blowing raspberries on Miss E as she squealed with delight
  8. That my shopping can be delivered to my door and that allows me to get involved with voluntary work and not have to worry about it
  9. Working with a group of inspiring Christian women to envisage a new web resource for Christian women....  watch this space
  10. Our house being nit free at last... the buggers have gone!
I'm linking this post up with Becky over a Lakes Single Mum she is the January host of Reasons to be Cheerful (#R2BC) my old linky which I have now passed along for it to work its magic on some new people.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Indian Feast Budget Family Meal #Shop #Cbias


I do love a bargain when I am shopping, in fact I hate to pay full price for my food shop so you will always find me with a fistful of vouchers if I'm in store or trawling the cashback and voucher sites if I'm doing an online shop. I think it is half the fun to see how much you can save, I'll share with you my top three tips to make your money go as far as possible -
  1. Shop around, see what special offers are on and don't be afraid to split your weekly shop between 2, 3 or even 4 shops and make sure one of those is somewhere like Aldi or Lidl. Those Germans have very high standards and the food is fabulous and cheap.
  2. Buy value brand and frozen products. For a long time I was a snob and only bought the premium brands and then I discovered that for certain products like rice, tinned pulses, tinned tomatoes, vegetables and pasta there really is little difference except price.
  3. Don't feel you have to eat meat with every meal. You can make some substantial dinners that are vegetarian and I promise you won't feel cheated, take a look at my Indian feast -
#shop


Last weekend I was challenged by CBias to create a meal for my family (that is five people) for under £10.  Immediately I thought veggie and Indian as these are things I know I can save money on whilst no-one would have any idea it wasn't an expensive take-away.

I had headed off to Tesco to buy the ingredients I needed but I also made sure I used what I had at home, it is important to have a well stocked store cupboard when you are cooking curry as the spices can be used time and time again. I have also recently discovered some fabulous frozen items at Sainsburys. They do a 1kg bag of chopped spinach in handy little portions. The bag is £1.50 or you can mix and match (I got sliced mixed peppers too) for 2 bags for £2.50. The amount of spinach I used in the curry cost about 13p. I also recently bought some frozen ready crushed garlic and ginger portions, 2 packs for £2.50. These are not necessarily cheaper than the fresh but they make life much easier and my hands stay fresh smelling!

For our Indian feast, this is what I chose to cook -

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When I worked out how much it had cost me to produce this meal for the five of us it worked out to be £9.88, less than £2.00 a portion and I even managed to freeze some of the dahl too.

I got all the ingredients out ready to cook and you'll see that there is a mix of branded and value ingredients there. Some of the things like the Knorr stockpots I was lucky to have in the cupboard but often I'll just buy shop brand own stock cubes as they are far cheaper and once you add spices to an Indian meal you do not need premium items.

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I enjoy cooking curry and once you have mastered the basics it is really easy I find. Keeping it simplistic all you have to do is - finely chop your onions, add those and the garlic (& ginger if you are using it) to a pan and lightly fry. Once the onions start to become transient add in your dry spices and cook for another 2-3 minutes, this is when the flavours really start to release. Then it is time for either the stock or passata, whatever you are using as a base for your curry and the main veggie ingredients and cook for however long it takes for the veggies to become tender.

As well as cooking from scratch I have no objection to using some shop bought items, especially when they are on special price. We enjoyed Pataks Poppadoms for half price (just £1.00 for 10) and Tesco own light naan breads, which were surprisingly good and only 80p for 5.

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We all enjoyed our Indian feast the other night. I need to get brave and try to make my own naan bread next time.

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