Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Lemon Couscous Salad

It's barbecue season and it's customary in these parts if you are invited to one, to take along a bottle and a food contribution. Maybe meat, maybe a desert or maybe something to accompany the grilled food.

I'm not a fan of traditional green salads and I hate tomatoes so with a degree of self interest I almost always take along some version of a potato salad and/or my favourite couscous dish.

Couscous is not a grain - its actually tiny beads of semolina. It's very simple to prepare and is so versatile. You can buy it ready flavoured or plain which will take on the flavour of anything you add to it. You can buy instant couscous which you just "cook" by pouring boiling water on, or traditional couscous which needs to be soaked and steamed.

I love it prepared simply with a knob of butter or a drizzle of olive oil, or soaked with lemon juice. To make it extra special I prepare it with slightly more effort which makes it look more impressive when I take it to someone's house.

I say it takes more effort - it's still very simple and in fact this weekend I asked two of my children aged 10 and 11 to make it for me. All I did was pour the boiling water onto the couscous for them!

Here's how to make lemon couscous salad.


100g instant coucous (lemon flavoured or plain)
160ml boiling water
4-5 s

pring onions
2tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
handful rocket or spinach leaves roughly torn.


Tip dry couscous into a bowl and prepare as per packet instructions or add 160ml boiling water to 100g couscous. Stir then leave to stand for five minutes.

Meanwhile trim and thinly slice spring onions and tear salad leaves.

By this time the couscous should have absorbed all of the water. Run a fork through the grains breaking up any clumps then add lemon juice and stir again.

Leave to cool for at least another five minutes then add spring onion slices and salad leaves and mix thoroughly. Turn into a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Nearly finished now! How we extended our home with a free pre-loved conservatory.

It's the finishing touches which really make the difference we realised after finally adding plasterboard, windowsills and skirting board onto the walls of our mammoth building project.

This has been a really long road (you can read why here) so you can imagine how excited we are to have finally covered up the grey breeze blocks and terracotta tiles which the windows stand on.

The walls look clean, modern and smart with the ready-painted skirting board and the beautiful wide American white oak veneer windowsills from The Skirting Board Shop give me plenty of room to display my vintage treasures.

A word about The Skirting Board Shop - we were very impressed with the website which stocks so much more than skirting board!  As one who likes quick results generally when not beset by the illness and accidents which delayed our garden room project, it was very satisfying to be able to just fit the window sills and skirting board ordered from the site without any undercoating or painting. Definitely good news for a lazy DIY-er like me. (I have been known to paint over cobwebs!)

My husband said fixing the sills and skirting board was simple and he was very impressed with the quality of both. He used plasterboard to cover the walls and I painted the plasterboard in Dulux Misty Mountain - a soft grey colour which picks up tones in the wooden floor he made using scaffold boards.

I love my new room and have set up a corner with my DAB radio and a comfortable chair to use as my blogging corner and my refuge when the children want to watch TV or play with one of their gaming consoles in the living room.

The other side of the extension is our new dining area - we fit a table in which comfortably seats 6 and can seat 8.

We are so lucky that our friend offered us her old wooden conservatory but it's very cheap and easy to pick them up if you want to create extra space for your home. You do need to check local regulations on planning and building before buying or rehoming a conservatory, especially if your home as already been extended.

Check Ebay, social media selling sites and local recycling sites or put up your own request on these sites. You may get what you want for free on the proviso that you dismantle and take away the conservatory - this is what we did. Otherwise you can pick up a second hand conservatory for around £100-200 although you may have to travel a distance to pick one up.

Check and double check your measurements. You don't want to start digging foundations and building only to find your second hand conservatory is 5cms too big.

Deadlines for picking up are often tight as sellers/donors are often having new building work done (this was the case with ours) so it's worth having a team of friends (and a large van/lorry) on standby to help dismantle and load your conservatory/garden room.

And unless you or your partner are quite "handy" I'm not sure I'd bother. We have spent around £2000 repairing, building and finishing ours but my husband has done most of the work and many of the materials were donated (including the windowsills and skirting board - thanks to The Skirting Board Shop!)

However it is a lot cheaper than buying a brand new one but be sure to check the conservatory is watertight and that a wooden one is not completely rotted before accepting it!

Don't forget any electrical work either has to be done or checked by a registered & licenced electrician.

It has taken years, a lot of effort and a few tears to get to the point we are at today where I am sitting in our extension enjoying the sunshine and the space. At times I wish we had never started the project but I am glad we persevered. It truly has added so much to our home and the way we use it.

Disclaimer: We received free skirting board and windowsills from The Skirting Board Company. Views and opinions remain honest and our own. We most definitely would recommend this company!

Expert free fitting service at Brantano made our Back To School shoe shopping a breeze!

It's that time of year again. It's almost time to go back to school. It's the time when you see haggard-looking parents, whey-faced at the prospect of finding school shoes which A. fit B. meet with child's approval and C. don't cost the same as a fortnight in the Bahamas.

back to school shoe fitting at Brantano

You can split shoe shopping parents into two camps. Those who blithely hurl pairs of supermarket shoes into the trolley along with yoghurt, congratulate themselves on saving money and avoiding the shoe shop and who hope the shoes last longer than the yoghurt. And that their children's feet don't blister on the first day of wearing the shoes or are permanently damaged by shoes which haven't been properly fitted.

Then there are those who brave the seasonal shoe shop rush, hope that one of the styles available fits and isn't lost among 15 identical pairs at school. They also hope they aren't committing themselves to a month of eating bread and jam so they can afford the shoes, trainers, plimsolls etc.

I have found the answer fellow parents! In the past I have flitted between both options. Cheap or fitted. The decision largely resting on how healthy the bank balance looks at the time shoes are required.

madmumof7 shoe fitting sesiĆ³n in Brantano

Last week I took my three youngest children along to Brantano in Aylesbury where with the support of a helpful, knowledgeable and surprisingly calm expert shoe fitter I managed to find footwear with the minimum of fuss.

The great thing about Brantano is that the store has a selection of well known branded shoes like Hush Puppies, Clarks, Start Rite, Adidas, Nike, Skechers.... the list goes on. It also stocks lesser known brands which means there are styles to suit all tastes and all budgets.

The fitting was as fuss free as I have ever encountered. Our lovely fitter chose from a range of shoe fitting tools and measured all three children quickly and efficiently. She filled in size cards and explained that they all had odd widths - one foot E and the other F.

Shoe size certificate from Brantano

Luckily they stock brands which offer solutions for this situation. She pointed out Hush Puppies shoes which give the option of different sized inserts for a perfect fit. In fact the very first pair or shoes Grumpy tried were indeed a perfect fit and looked fabulous.

But there's a reason we call him Grumpy and he had already caught sight of another pair of shoes our fitter had picked up for him to try and insisted he tried those on. Our fitter told us they didn't really fit, even with liners but he started to head into tantrum mode so she went off to find more shoes.

Shoe fitting free at Brantano #backtoschool

Three more pairs of shoes later and he finally agreed with us that the first pair were the best fit and most comfortable. He didn't want to take them off!

My 11 -year-old wanted trainers and was blown away with the selection available as well as football boots for both astro-turf and grass. With the help of our ever-patient fitter we found a pair of trainers.

He tried on the size the fitter had measured him at but as you know shoe sizes can vary by brand and size and this pair were huge on him! The fitter suggested we try them in a size smaller and thankfully after a thorough check our fitter assured us there was room for growth and they were a good fit despite the number on the box.

My daughter didn't need shoes but enjoyed the fitting experience anyway and found lots of shoes she liked. I know where to take her when she does outgrow her current shoes!

The whole experience was very relaxed and I never felt rushed even when Grumpy was taking his time choosing his shoes. The children loved the certificates and stickers they were given for getting fitted and loved the easy display layout which is done in sizes. You can even pick up school bags, shoe labels and other accessories while you are there.

stickers after shoe fitting at Brantano, Aylesbury

You can order shoes online from Brantano too but I would definitely recommend the fitting service if there's a branch near you. I feel very happy knowing that I had expert help choosing shoes which didn't break the bank!

Disclaimer: I received a Brantano voucher for the purpose of this review. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.