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Saffron, mushroom and carrot pilaf-style rice

Here's a recipe I created to use up an excess of carrots. Just noting it down here so I can remember the ingredients to re-create it again another time.

I've learnt the hard way that with baking, it is crucial to use exact measurements but thankfully for cooking something like this you certainly don't need kitchen scales and can just guesstimate and throw in what feels right.

Ghee (or butter, oil or coconut oil)
Mushrooms (1 pack)
Carrots (around 3 small carrots)
Handful of raisins (soaked briefly in boiled water to hydrate, then drained)
Cinnamon powder
Rose petals
Ground cardamom
Dried parsley
Slices of bread for tah-deeg (optional)

1. Chop and fry the onion in a generous amount of ghee, followed by the mushrooms (cut as thinly or thickly as you wish)
2. Thinly slice the carrots into julienne style strips. I used the grating / julienne blade on my food processor to do this. Add to the pan with the onion and mushroom.
3. Add in the soaked and drained raisins, the cinnamon (around a teaspoon) and some dried parsley (around 1-2 teaspoons).
4. Place the saffron, rose petals and ground cardamom in a small cup and pour on a little boiled water. Place to one side.
5. Part-cook the rice. We used brown rice, and I find that the easiest way to cook rice is in the microwave. Brown rice usually takes around 40 minutes to cook fully so I cooked it in a microwaveable bowl covered with cold water for 20 minutes. Then rinse the rice in cold water in a fine meshed sieve. This helps to keep the grains separated rather than becoming mushy.
6. If you wish to make a tah-deeg at the bottom of your rice (crispy rice at the base of the pan), then heat a little ghee or oil in a saucepan. When hot, place the bread into the pan to cover the base.
7. Add around half the rice on top of the bread. Then add the majority of the mushroom, carrot, onion mixture. Followed by the rest of the rice and the rest of the mushroom, carrot, onion mixture. Pour over the hot water with the spices that you set aside then cover with a lid and cook for around 20 minutes on a low heat.

The crispy tah-deeg from the bottom of the pan - So delicious! 
I've called the recipe a pilaf-style rice as technically a pilaf should be cooked in a broth I believe but the flavours and style of the rice remind me of pilaf rice recipes.

Refined sugar-free carrot cake

Whilst sorting out my paperwork the other day, I came across several dozen scraps of paper with various recipe notes scribbled on them. Presumably recipes I created, experimented with, baked,or planned to bake. None had titles and none had sufficient detail to make sense of.

So I vowed that next time I experimented with a recipe that turned out ok-ish, I would write it up straight away.

Yesterday I made a healthier version of carrot cake with no refined sugar. Using plenty of dried fruit, grated carrot and a little date syrup gave it sufficient sweetness.

The kids weren't convinced to start with but ended up asking for seconds. If you have a very sweet tooth, this probably won't satisfy it but if you're used to alternative baking, then in my opinion, it tastes good.

190g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
50g raisins or sultanas
50g mixed dried fruit
60g walnut pieces
2 tsp mixed spice
200g of eggs (around 3 large eggs or 4 small/medium ones)
100ml olive oil
300g carrots (grated)
60g date syrup

1. Pre-heat oven to 160c. Grease and line an 8 inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
2. In a freestanding mixer mix together the oil, eggs, mixed spice, ground almonds, flour and date syrup.
3. When well combined, add in the raisins and mixed fruit, the walnuts and grated carrot.
4. Pour the batter into the baking tin and bake between 30 to 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes and bake until a skewer comes out clean.

I'm wondering whether a teaspoon of baking powder would help it rise a little more next time.

If you need to make your own mixed spice - you can find instructions here on our minute-make carrot cake recipe post.

For those with a sweeter tooth, you can always whip up a little cream cheese frosting (soft cream cheese plus icing sugar to sweeten or use honey or maple syrup to sweeten it).

It also tasted good with some double cream poured over it.

So less than pretty photos and a rushed write-up but at least it's here in case I wish to bake it again rather than trying to make sense of a scrap of paper with scribbles on!

Sugar Plum Fairy Afternoon Tea at The Waldorf Hilton

Anyone who knows our Miss T, will know that she's not just "T" by name but "tea" by nature as one of her favourite experiences ever is having afternoon tea. From the afternoon teas she's had at the Royal Kensington Hotel when she was younger (which you can read about here and here) to the Winnie-The-Pooh themed afternoon tea she enjoyed last summer at Ashdown Park Hotel, she's definitely a fan of the concept of afternoon tea: a beautiful setting, scrumptious sandwiches and scones and stunning cakes and patisseries.

So in the run up to Christmas we spotted that the Waldorf Hilton were doing a Sugar Plum Fairy themed afternoon tea. And even better they were running a series of weekly competitions on Instagram to win afternoon tea for two. So of course we entered almost every week, having fun with their Sugar Plum Fairy face filter for our entries. Christmas came and went with no luck. I tried to find a date to take Miss T anyway because by this point her heart was REALLY set on going there but with so much else going on it didn't happen.

Anyhow in the very last week of the competition, I heard that I had won! Of course, I was thrilled! We needed a weekend date as Miss T has so much time off school already for her hospital appointments so we managed to book for the very last date of the themed afternoon tea on Sunday 2nd February.

I don't very often treat myself to new clothes but having increased by 2 to 3 dress sizes in the course of the past 18 months (the doctors can't figure out exactly why and how much of it is due to my underactive thyroid and how much of it is age related and hormones changing!) I couldn't fit into any of my existing dresses. Luckily I found a gorgeous purple dress in the sale at Phase 8. Miss T wore her beautiful plum coloured tutu and we were ready!

Upon arriving at the Waldorf Hilton, we realised that we have passed this place literally countless times on our way to Great Ormond Street appointments, always spotting the posh entrance and smart doormen on our way.

So it was especially nice that today we were here in London for a treat and not for any hospital visits.

Our afternoon tea experience began with a cup of pea flower tea that changed colour from blue to purple. That was the first "wow" experience.

We then chose our main teas from a selection on the menu. I opted for Jasmine Pearl tea as I love white tea, Richard chose Organic Masala Chai and Miss T chose Organic Red Velvet; a herbal berry tea.

A beautiful selection of sandwiches arrived next...

Including a vegetarian selection for me...

...along with our next "wow" experience as the glass teapot in the centre of the table was filled with dry ice.

Then it was time for warm scones - plain ones and orange spiced with cream and jams, followed by the stunning section of patisserie items.

This included a pretty iced gingerbread ballerina biscuit from Biscuiteers

We enjoyed the harp being played throughout our afternoon tea. I'm not sure I've ever seen a real-life harp before! Isn't it beautiful!

Finally, passionfruit macarons presented on a dainty musical piano ended our most delightful experience of our Sugar Plum Fairy Afternoon tea at the Waldorf Hilton. 

Although the prize was designed for 2, they very kindly allowed us to book 3 people onto our Afternoon tea and only charged for Miss T as the additional child. Thank you to the Waldorf Hilton for running such a fabulous fun competition with such a fantastic prize.


January 2020 Unboxing video

Well here we are again for the 3rd month in a row of doing an unboxing video! Still dislike being in the videos and my kids still say they are the most boring videos ever but I'm finding it a great way of keeping track of wins as they arrive, used in combination with my prize win spreadsheet.

We've got a couple of extra things that haven't made it into the video so will hopefully feature in February - one is awaiting confirmation of dates/details, another that I only found out about on 31st January, and a couple of things not yet arrived in the post.

So January is off to a good start. I never know whether to include items arriving in January but won in December in my December list on my spreadsheet or in January. So as a general rule of thumb it seems to have worked out that anything I knew about in December that then arrived in January went into the December section on my spreadsheet, but any prizes I found out about in January (but may have been entered in December) into the January section.

January often starts out well because of any advent / Christmas prizes arriving so it gets the comping year off to a good start.

I've had to plead with my son to edit the video clips together again (as I really don't have any video editing skills!) So thank you Daniel.

There were a couple of things that arrived that aren't strictly prizes but Mumsnet product tests - so one of them made it into the unboxing. We used to get selected for their product tests quite a lot but as the kids have grown older, we hadn't been selected for quite a while so it's nice to get a couple of things to try out again.

Despite my efforts to make a short unboxing - it is proving impossible! Well at least it feels like it was a bit of a bumper month for wins. You can see what we made with some of our Northern Dough Company pizza dough on my Instagram highlights - it was a great prize and we had lots of fun pizza-making.

Hope January has been good to you too!

You can see our November 2019 unboxing here and our December 2019 unboxing here.

Christmas 2019

Uh oh! We're nearly into February and I haven't got our Christmas 2019 blogpost up yet! I seem to remember a similar thing happening last year when it took me until February to write up Christmas 2018.

We had another low key Christmas which is just the way I like it. But we started the day a bit differently to normal.

Miss T woke up early as usual and came into our bedroom to open stockings...
But then we headed off to Whitstable for J to take part in a Christmas day Parkrun. You can read more about how J got into ParkRun here. He's desperate to one day do the Bushy Christmas day ParkRun because that is where it all began but we thought that would be a bit too much travelling so we stuck to Whiststable which is just over an hour away from us.

Many of the Park Runs that are more local to us have been suffering from recent flooding so we felt confident that Whitstable wouldn't get cancelled being on the beach promenade rather than flooded muddy fields.

I thought it was a great way to start the day as we got to see the sunrise over the motorway on Christmas morning. Having grown up by the sea I love seeing the sea so that was fab for me to visit the coast on Christmas day.  

Then we headed home and had a late breakfast / brunch of those pain au chocolats that you pop open and bake. Followed by Christmas lunch. We'd prepped a lot of the veg on Christmas eve so it was easier than usual.

We staggered present opening throughout the day...

This Christmas ornament was a charity shop find - just £1 and it has Bath written on it which is where me and Richard first met all those years ago at Uni.

Miss T was thrilled with her beautiful letter T from M&H designs boutique. This was a prize I won on Instagram a few months back so I hid it away for Christmas and I just knew Miss T would love it.
 D was really delighted with his canvas print of our cat Star.
And Miss T has been asking for Safari Pug since last Christmas after receiving the other 2 books in the series previously.

Granny and Grandad came to visit in the afternoon. 

And as for my present, I always tell my family that all I want for Christmas is to get one family photo of us all together and it always proves a lot tougher than it sounds. But we just about managed it!


How to prepare for a hip replacement operation - 10 things you need to know.

This January is the second anniversary of my hip replacement. 23rd January to be precise.

This time two years ago I was filled with fear of what was coming...the unknown. After all, I'd lived with my deformed hip joint for 3 decades so despite the pain, discomfort and limited mobility at least I knew where I stood with it. But at the relatively young age of 40, I now needed a hip replacement. 
BEFORE: Joint damage of left hip caused by JIA (left hip shown on Right side of this image)

I wish I could say all was plain sailing and a huge success, and from the point of view of the surgeon and how the surgery went, it was considered a success. The surgery went as planned. The recovery went smoothly overall. The scar is neat and healed well with no complications. 

But here are some things I wish I had known...

However brave you are and whatever you have been through in life, you may feel terrified beforehand
I remember shaking with fear on the way down to the operating theatre. I was terrified throughout the surgery as they did mine under sedation and spinal rather than general anaesthetic and I could hear everything and feel the sensations of being pulled and movement but not pain. 

You may feel rubbish for a while after surgery
Initially I felt fine in myself immediately after surgery. I was surprised at how 'good' I felt. But then my blood pressure dropped suddenly and nausea kicked in which wasn't pleasant. It left me feeling wiped out and exhausted. 

A hip replacement is not a miracle cure
Having heard so many positive success stories of hip replacements and my surgeon telling me I'd be able to do things I'd never been able to do before, like skiing for example, I had hoped that I would notice a significant difference after the surgery. Sadly, two years on and it turns out that my case was different. Having had my hip damage for so many years before surgery means that everything surrounding the hip doesn't work properly and so replacing the hip joint itself has only helped to a limited extent. I don't have a massively improved range of motion. I can't do things like most exercise and certainly not skiing. It hasn't helped my back pain as anticipated. I still can't put my socks on the normal way. 

It is a major operation
Hip replacements seem so commonplace these days that it's easy to forget that it is still major surgery that you are undergoing. Whilst the surgeon may be doing these operations every day, for the patient it is only going to be happening maybe once or twice or possibly three times in their entire lifetimes. So it is OK to realise that it is a big deal and ask as many questions as you need to. Keep yourself as well as possible beforehand. So I tried to avoid places which were likely to be germ-filled and kept contact with others to a minimum in the run up to the operation as I didn't want an illness to result in having to cancel the operation. 

You must plan ahead for aftercare
I would recommend to anyone having hip replacement surgery to ensure they have some live-in help at least for the early days after the operation. If you have a husband/wife/partner then it is a good idea for them to make sure they are around for the days following surgery. If you live alone then think about whether you have a close friend or family member who is happy to stay with you for a while. However independent you are, this is not a time to be stubborn. Ask for and accept all the help you can get! Remember that in the very early days after surgery you will struggle to even get yourself a glass of water. 

Once you get to the stage of walking with one crutch (for me it was at the 2 week mark for around the house) then life becomes easier as you will have one hand free to carry things if you need to. 

Get your house ready! 
The early weeks following surgery are not the time for taking any risks. There is a reason why there are rules in place about not bending beyond 90 degrees and so on because it is the time that the risk of dislocating the new hip is at its highest. 

So before you go into hospital, think about what changes you can make around the home to help. Can you move any food and kitchen items you regularly need onto accessible cupboard shelves rather than low cupboards? 

The physio team should ensure that you are confident with steps before you head home but perhaps you can find a small lightweight bag with a long strap that you can use to hang around your neck for carrying small items up and down the stairs with you. I used a small bag to make sure I had my phone with me at all times in case I needed to call for help urgently. 

Check the height of your chairs and sofa. To avoid bending beyond 90 degrees or risk getting stuck on your low sofa you might want to think about whether you can raise the level of the seat using cushions or pillows. Or perhaps someone can lend you an armchair with a higher seat on it. Having the armrests to push down upon to stand up is really important. 

In terms of other equipment you may need, I was given a grabber by the hospital to help if I dropped something on the floor and needed to pick up without bending over. They also provided a raise for the toilet seat.

We borrowed a loo frame to have support for getting onto and up from the loo and we borrowed a shower chair. The shower chair proved particularly useful as I wasn't comfortable in bed and I wasn't comfortable on my armchair so the shower chair was also used in the living room at times for me to be able to sit and watch TV for short periods of time when I was in too much discomfort to sit anywhere else!

I also invested in a leg pillow. I believe this was the one I ordered and although it seems pricey, it was worth every penny. Some people can cope with a regular pillow to stop their legs from crossing over in those crucial first 6 weeks where risk of dislocation is highest but I really valued that this was full length and had the waist strap too. 

I used a lot of other pillows and cushions all around me to stop me accidentally rolling over in the night too. You'll need to wear compression stockings for up to 6 weeks too - so you'll need someone to help you change those. Mine were provided by the hospital and they gave me several pairs to keep me going. 

You need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally
Rather naively I had planned a load of reading, deskwork and other low-movement activities to keep me busy during the recovery period. What I hadn't bargained for was brain fog... and a lot of it! 

As romantic as it sounds to be forced to spend time relaxing in bed and reading a stack of your favourite books and magazines, the reality was very different. My brain couldn't focus on anything for a while. Even my favourite pastimes and hobbies. I couldn't even bring myself to watch TV for any length of time. The brain fog and restlessness and not being able to get comfortable was awful. The first week post surgery was the worst. Things do improve. 

At night, panic attacks became a regular feature and the lack of sleep went on for a long time, waking hour by hour through the night. 

Perhaps this was just me but I wasn't prepared for it. I hated feeling helpless and useless and although I kept telling myself the first few weeks of recovery are the toughest and things would soon improve, when your going through it, those few weeks really drag on. 

It was during this tough time that little messages coming through on social media kept me going. Whether it was from people who understood (social media is great for finding others in a similar situation or who have been through what you are going through) or friends sending me messages of hope and support, it was all much needed and appreciated at that time. There are times that we all need a cheer-leading squad to keep us going when we don't feel we have the strength within ourselves to do so. 

Get inspired but don't compare
On that note of social media, I found it incredibly inspirational to find others who were ahead of me in the hip replacement timeline and were onto doing amazing things. It gave me hope of continued improvement day by day. BUT I never got to where they are at so remember that no two cases are going to be exactly the same so there is no point in directly comparing. After all, I STILL can't put my left sock on! 

I didn't come across many relevant blogposts on the topic of hip replacements but one sticks in my mind as being particularly helpful. I read the series on the SAGA website, written diary style and the section entitled Day 23: Doing my dirty laundry helped me have a shift in my thinking. Rather than thinking how useless I was because I couldn't do things I would usually do, I started to focus on what I could do rather than what I couldn't. I remember deciding one day that I too would do the laundry (or at least part of it) however long it takes so I did the flinging each item down the stairs technique. It literally took hours in all but it was satisfying knowing I had achieved something simply by shifting my mindset from I can't to I can - but recognising that I would have to be patient and do things differently. It's a technique I've kept in mind ever since whenever my back pain flares up - I try to be kind and patient with myself and work out different ways to enable me to still do what I need to do. 

Recovery timescales are just a guide
Whilst most people may well be OK to drive 6 weeks after surgery, this won't be the case for everyone. I had 6 weeks as a magic milestone in my mind where I imagined life being back to normal...Walking and driving and doing many more things than I could ever do before. How wrong I was. Having said that though, the fact I stopped regularly blogging about my recovery beyond week 7 means that life did return to enough normality to not warrant documenting it further apart from a 5 month update

You'll be celebrating the little wins
The first time you brush your teeth by yourself post surgery. The first shower (albeit with a lot of help). The first outing (for me that was a tiny walk outside on crutches at 2 weeks post op). Being able to / allowed to sleep on your side again. The first steps with one crutch, then no crutches. These are all little wins you'll be celebrating. 

Here are the links to the blogposts that I wrote at the time of surgery following my recovery journey. I realise that a lot of it makes for miserable reading because the early days were tough but it IS a good news story overall: 
AFTER: My new hip