Two 15-Minute Lunches

First, catch your squid...

First, catch your squid…

So, how did the squid-as-a-craft-activity go?

Well, I really hyped it up to the minxes: wow, you’ll be learning more sharp knife skills, and you’ll be making your own lunch! They sat down at their chopping boards, took one look at the squid, and wailed, “Ewwwwww!” as one. Harrumph! These are the girls who munched calamari happily as single-toothed babies? My, how they’ve changed! I think you can see by the photo (left) that only Mini is a good actress for the camera.

I persevered. I got them to pull out the tentacles, wash the body, find and pull out the clear plasticky quill, cut out the beak and chop the tentacles with scissors, then one by one (with me hovering), slice up the body into rings with a big sharp knife. Midi was the only one who actually concentrated – her sisters legged it to wash their hands as soon as I released them from service.

So Midi got to prepare and cook lunch for us all as a treat. It was a really quick and simple Pasta and Squid Arrabiata, served up 15 minutes after starting if you’re an adult happy with a sharp knife, 25 minutes if you’re a 7 yo under instruction. This was enough for an adult and 3 hungry children:

My favourite lunch. Drool!

My favourite lunch. Drool!


  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • splash of olive oil
  • half a red chilli, finely minced
  • 20 halved baby plum tomatoes (or a couple of handfuls of any chopped tomatoes: it’s just what was in the fridge needing used up)
  • 12 torn basil leaves
  • 4 small sliced squid


  1. Put whatever pasta you’re having it with on to boil separately; deal with that alongside making this sauce.
  2. Fry the onion and garlic in the oil over a medium-high heat in a big saucepan for a few minutes until they start to go brown.
  3. Add the tomatoes, chilli, salt and pepper. Fry for another few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the squid and basil leaves. Fry for 3 – 5 minutes. Stop when the squid’s just cooked and no more. If you cook too long it’ll go rubbery and inedible.
  5. Toss the sauce through some cooked pasta and serve up with lemon wedges.

Personally, I absolutely loved it: the smell reminded me of delicious summer holiday lunches in Menorca and Greece, back when we could afford to go, and it tasted fresh and garlicky and sweet. Yummy!

Little horror!

Little horror!

The minxes hated it. They gave me the full eye-rolling, head-lolling, drooling, crying, nose-wrinkling, gagging hysteria. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d actually tried any of it first, but they refused to even taste it. I demanded that they eat all the pasta, a piece of tentacle and a single squid ring before they left the table. Midi complied quite happily with that, leaving the rest of her squid in a neat pile at the edge of her bowl; her sisters didn’t, and spent the entire time it took Midi to eat with their tongues hanging out their mouths in disgust.

I guess that won’t be going down in their list of current favourite lunches. But I’ve added the recipe here because I know they’d demolish it and ask for seconds if they’d been given it in a restaurant. And I love it! (As does my purse, at 30p a squid). <—— squid’s in! I’ll get my coat…


The imaginatively-named Green Pasta Sauce

The imaginatively named Green Pasta Sauce

Today’s lunch was the opposite way round: they loved it, whilst I was ambivalent. It’s one of their favourites – Green Pasta Sauce – and it’s a 10-minute lunch from flash to bang. This is for 1 adult and 3 hungry children, and again start with putting whatever pasta you’re eating it with on to boil, and keep an eye on that while you make the sauce:


  • a large 2-pint jug stuffed full of spinach leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of cream cheese (or equivalent in processed cheese triangles; I used 4 Laughing Cow triangles)


  1. Wash the spinach (run the jug under the tap, then drain it out), cover the jug and nuke it on High in the microwave for 2 minutes. It’ll now be about 2 tablespoons-worth of dark green stuff.
  2. Whizz it up with a stick blender.

    Spinach waiting to be whizzed

    Add the cream cheese / cheese triangles and a bit of pepper (pinch of grated nutmeg if you have it and are feeling fancy). Whizz again till it’s creamy.

  3. Dollop over the pasta.


Little madam!

Little madam!

The spinach I planted in May bolted ages ago, but I kept it in the ground (a) to see what the flowers would look like, and (b) to prop up the broccoli growing beside it. I read that bolted spinach should be ripped up and thrown away because it tastes bitter. Well, I had a wee nibble and it tasted quite sweet to me. Midi agreed. So I pulled up 3 half-metre (!) stalks of spinach and got her to strip the leaves from them to use in today’s green pasta sauce. Yes, it had a stronger flavour than usual, but it’s not bitter or unpleasant. Perfect!

Middle of the Summer Holidays Blues

Week 1 of the summer holidays was a fantastic week at The Boss’s parents, kicking off with an awesome 2 days at Legoland. Week 2 was mostly spent at home after Mini Minx tried to slice her toe off. Week 3 was a high-octane visit to Bristol to stay with friends, with a day in Devon’s Diggerland, another day at Windsor Castle and a day in Bath. Now we’re back home again, we’ve hit the Middle of the Summer Holidays Blues when nothing is quite fun enough.

Monday was forecast for constant rain so I checked out Cineworld’s Movies for Juniors. At £1.58 a ticket (even if you book online), they’re a whole lot more affordable than the eye-watering prices for current films. So the minxes were shaken out of bed at 0745hrs and we set off for the heaving metropolis of Dundee by 0900hrs. We laughed through Home and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We piled out just before midday, so I took the zoo over to the nearby McDonalds for lunch because I’d agreed to review it for the Soil Association’s worthy Out to Lunch campaign. They’ve enlisted the help of families all over the country to help them assess whether big chain restaurants:

  • Provide fresh, good quality food you can trust
  • Make it easy for you to choose healthy food
  • Welcome children and accommodate parents’ needs

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t impressed with this afternoon’s visit to McDonalds

Tummies filled with different shades of brown food, we headed to Dunhelm Mill and Hobbycraft to look for fabric. I need to replace some fabric at the bottom of Midi’s dress that she shredded on a concrete slide, and to make a bed-curtain for Maxi. Neither visit was productive in anything other than sending the kids into Fight Mode.

By the time we hit Tesco for a food forage, the 3 of them were determined to strangle each other / push each other in front of traffic or a speeding trolley / pull over every stand of Back to School merchandise in sight (Tesco Managers: I am so, so sorry and embarrassed. Stopping to properly clear up the mess would probably have involved blood. I promise not to bring them back until there’s a safety fence around your displays. Or armed guards. Or I’ve finally got them properly trained). Steering with the Hounds of Hell attached to my shopping trolley would have been easier and less stressful, I swear. Maxi seems incapable of looking at anything without poking it (“Aw crap… Yes, I’d better take that squid too, Mr Fishmonger. 30p each? Better give me its 3 prodded friends too, then”), Midi was on a mission to make one of her sisters cry every time we entered a new aisle (and did admirably, with an 80% success rate), whilst Mini just moaned about how much she hated shopping. Yes. Me too. But you’ll hate it even more if I have to botch-tape you to the trolley, Sweetness…

Finally getting home, Midi threw a monumental strop because I insisted she return to the car to remove a sweetie wrapper. She tried to thump me on the back and trip me up as I swept past her, holding 7 shopping bags. You can probably imagine how quickly she was dispatched to her bedroom… Even when she calmed down enough to say sorry, I made sure that I moved her to tears by explaining how easily she could have killed me, and what the lifelong consequences to her would have been. Harsh? Cruel? Yes, I think so too, and that’s why I made her cry.

Enough eyes for all 3 minxes, surely. Ah... no.

Enough eyes for all 3 minxes, surely.
Ah… no.

Dinner was full of mine and The Boss’s favourite things: sprats fried in coconut oil (I’ve been coconut oil curious for ages, and finally bought some in a fit of ‘oh I can’t afford it, and never will, so better buy it now, then’), boiled samphire tossed in butter, and Madhur Jaffrey’s dry okra. Oh my, it was lovely! And one day, all 3 kids will eat all of it without complaining (“She got more eyes than me! That’s not fair!” “I don’t like the intestines!” “Gimme your samphire, I love it, you got most, it’s not fair” “I hate okra” “I hate okra, too” “Okra – waaaaaah!”).

Right now The Boss is doing the bedtime run; Mini is screeching because he’s daring to cover her eczema-crusted skin in moisturiser and eumovate; Maxi is engrossed in something that’s caught her limitless attention; Midi is hiding from soap and water, and I’m writing to get some peace and perspective on the day, and therefore hiding.

30p of fun. Hopefully

30p of fun. Hopefully

And the squid I had to buy? Well, tomorrow’s craft activity is teaching my trio how to prepare fresh squid for lunch. Well, it might be fun. Wish me luck…

Eating at McDonalds

We visited McDonalds in Dundee for lunch today to review its child-friendliness for the Soil Association, as part of its Out To Lunch campaign. They’re spending the summer, along with an army of parent volunteers, assessing whether big chain restaurants:

  • Provide fresh, good quality food you can trust
  • Make it easy for you to choose healthy food
  • Welcome children and accommodate parents’ needs

I had mixed feelings being assigned McDonalds, having been thoroughly scunnered of Happy Meals after eating there 3 times over Easter, but was game to give it a try again because it was next door to the cinema that I took the minxes to today, as a Mid Summer Holidays bribe treat.

Walking through the door, I found some floor-to-ceiling touch-screen order screens. Wow! So I can avoid that excruciating wait for 3 minxes to decide on their order after changing their minds a thousand times once we’ve finally reached the cash desk / server? The screens were easy to navigate, and even Mini Minx could understand what she could and couldn’t include in her Happy Meal. Maxi got in a flap trying to remember all the options open to her, and had to check the big menu (that didn’t actually include every option) at the front above the sole till operator. And I felt you had to already know what healthy options (side salad, carrot sticks, fruit bag) were available in order to be able to find them.

Anyway, we ordered and paid for the food no problem, and I despatched the minxes off to find a table while I loitered in the main lobby waiting on my order like most of Dundee, blocking people who wanted to place their order with (shock-horror) a real, live person. I think the delay from entering the door to getting your food was comparable to the queueing system they had before. But we parents waiting on having our food delivered actually spoke to each other (“Are those screens new? What’s the point of them? Is it faster? Load of rubbish. New, new, new. Don’t like it”). Which is more than we did with McDonald’s staff – I made a point of asking some servers and cleaners questions, but if I hadn’t, the minxes and I could have easily swanned in and out without speaking to any of the staff. That’s such a shame, because every staff member at McDonalds that I spoke to today (or ever, actually) has been polite, friendly and helpful.

The food was pretty much what you expect of McDonalds – all the fun is in the unwrapping of parcels than in savouring and eating the food itself. So I distracted myself looking around the restaurant. There was a long table filled with tablets that played computer games. Yes, they had tenuous links to food (“Help Granny Smith get her apples back from thieves”), but what were they for? Entertaining kids while their parents loitered at the serving desk? Or distracting them while they shovelled bland calories down their faces without really noticing what they were eating? I asked a member of staff what the Magic Tables were, signposted at each end of the restaurant. He said that when the projectors above them originally worked, he thought they projected fish ponds onto the table-tops that responded to people moving their hands over it. It sounded fun! And it also sounded like another way for families to get through an entire meal without noticing what they were eating or talking to each other.

After the minxes’ initial excitement at being allowed to eat and drink whatever they wanted had subsided (“Mummy, can I really have a fruit shoot?” “We’re not on Netmums, so aye – fill your boots, wee Daughter”), I asked them how their visit could have been better.

“There were no colouring-in sheets”, said Maxi, “But the crayon drawer was overflowing. What’s the point of that?” (Maybe they’d be tasty deep-fried treats…?)

“They should have Magic Tables on every table!” Midi reckoned. I disagree; I prefer the minxes to look at their food, think about what they’re eating and notice how their bodies are responding to that food. Then they can stop when they have Happy Tummies (ie are full) rather than when the feeling of being fit to burst finally surfaces into their consciousness.

I asked how their food could have been better.

“It was too plain,” said Maxi. “It would have been loads better if they’d used herbs and spices to give it richer flavours. There was too much emphasis on meat, cheese and carbs”. I pointed out that she could have chosen anything off the menu, even non-Happy Meal items. Indeed, I’d encouraged her to look. So was her criticism fair? “Yes, because the portion sizes for everything apart from Happy Meals are too big for me, and you don’t let me waste food”. True.

Midi noted that there were only 3 fish-fingers in her Happy Meal portion and that she’d wanted 5. “And there weren’t enough carrot sticks”, added my hungry 7 year old.

Mini didn’t offer an opinion on either question, being too impressed with her cheap plastic Minion toy to concentrate on what I was asking. Though I noticed that she’d left half her plain cheeseburger.

Will I go back? As things stand just now, no. McDonalds is hard to beat in terms of obtaining hot, cheap, fast food. But I feel that the subliminal message a restaurant that’s designed to appeal to children is sending is totally wrong: look at all the whizz-bang electronic things you can play with your entire visit that’ll distract you from your surrounding fellow humans and from what you’re actually throwing down your face. We won’t let your kin, strong flavours, challenging textures or even thinking get in the way of you lulling yourself into mindless sheep-sleep.

I’d rather go hungry and keep my wits about me.

Order number 24? Three Happy Meals and a coffee? Who’s Order 24? Credit:


Ah, summer! When you’re woken early by the dawn chorus, or the morning sunshine streaming through your window. Or your 5 year old sneaking into your bed and singing, “What Does The Fox Say?” loudly in your ear till your eyes open… Oh, I will have my revenge when she’s a hungover teen with a pot, a metal spoon, and a clear exit route!

Mini Minx was just excited because my sister, her partner and kids are visiting. Like the other big kids the minxes have been terrorising this summer so far, my niece and nephew were superstars with the noisy, boisterous trio – indulging them, listening to their enthusiastic witterings and patiently playing with them.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

How did I reward them all? Well, with food! I made my favourite pudding (lemon meringue pie) and showed my niece how to cut salad leaves from the garden for dinner. The next day I taught her how to make 20 minute fruit scones in the food processor, then sent them all on their way home with homemade red grapefruit marmalade and foraged elderflower cordial.

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it's drain cleaner

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it’s drain cleaner

They were going to try the elderflower champagne, but I like my relatives too much to send them blind. Y’see, I made it using the River Cottage Elderflower Champagne recipe and left it 4 days (see photo, right). By then, the cork in the old caorunn gin bottle kept blowing out, so me and The Boss tried it tentatively. It was lovely! Gentle fizz, sweet lemon flavour, strong elderflower aroma. We had a couple of glasses each and agreed that it was only mildly alcoholic. Perfect! So we kept the stuff in the plastic bottle (left of photo) for a further week, just releasing the bubbles every day.

We tried it on Thursday night, excitedly. It smelled eggy, was too fizzy and had a woody taste to it. Not nice at all. I chucked my glass down the sink, where it fizzed and frothed like a mad scientist’s concoction. That gave me a brilliant idea – I poured some big generous glugs of it down the slow-draining bath plughole. The Boss is now terrified that it’s festering away near a blockage somewhere, about to explode. So either I’ve wrecked the pipes, or I’ve invented some frugal, superstrength drain cleaner. Excellent!

Home Grown Triffids

I promise this isn’t an “ooh, look at me: I’m Glaswegian and I eat salad, how thoroughly cosmopolitan of me!” boast. It’s just some top tips on growing salad and getting your kids to eat it. Honestly, the minxes actually have been!

lettuceRemember in May I started turning our front lawn into an edible garden with raised beds, trees and bushes? Well, after a lot of faffing around with bonfires, I realised that having a whole bed devoted to making fires to toast marshmallows over was far too self-indulgent. And the neighbours would get unhappy with the smells, never mind the sight of us 5 hunkered over a little fire every evening. So eventually I planted garlic, runner beans, a couple of brussels sprouts, rainbow chard and lettuce in the square sunken bed.

I didn’t just chuck the seeds in: I got Midi to help me make a wee nursery for the lettuces and kept them sheltered until they’d grown a few leaves. It was really easy, fun for her, and it used up empty kitchen roll tubes – bonus! Want to know how?

  • First 6 lettuces ready to go, at the end of May

    First 6 lettuces ready to go, at the end of May

    Get your kitchen roll tube and fold in one end. (No fancy origami – just press on one edge till a curved flap folds over to almost cover the open end, then do the same at the edge below. The 2 flaps should overlap).

  • Fold over the other end with 2 flaps in the same way.
  • Use scissors to snip 2 crosses in the top of the roll, about an inch across each.
  • Open one end of the tube and fill it with compost. Refold the flaps.
  • Open out the teeny flaps made by the crosses.
  • Poke a teeny lettuce seed into the middle of each open cross with the end of a pencil, a stubby finger or tweezers.
  • Place the tube on something non-drip, like a plastic fruit container lid or a tray.
  • Water through the crosses.
  • Leave outside to germinate.
  • Water when needed.

When you have decent-sized seedlings, and before the tube’s cardboard disintegrates, just put the roll flat wherever you want the lettuces to grow. I just plonked my tubes on the sunken bed, on the compost. The tubes disintegrated with all the rain and damp, just as the lettuces put down roots into the compost. Every night now I go out with a minx and get her to cut a few leaves off the outside of some of the lettuces for a salad for dinner. Sometimes I have to brush off a slug or 2, but there’s plenty for us all. And the beautiful thing is that more leaves grow, so I always have fresh salad a few feet away from me.

If you don’t have kitchen roll tubes, you can use eggboxes filled with compost. The Boss found that a huge clear plastic strawberry punnet from the supermarket perfectly fits over a 15-egg box to turn it into a free seed propagator or cloche. It’s even easier than the kitchen rolls:

  • Using only the base of the eggbox that held the eggs, fill it with compost
  • Put a seed in each eggcup and push it into the compost by a few millimeters.
  • Place the box on something non-drip, and water the compost.
  • Put the plastic punnet over the top.
  • When you’ve got seedlings, and before the cardboard disintegrates, either place the box on the soil, or cut it into individual eggcups and spread out over the soil surface.
yellow and red baby chard

yellow and red baby chard

I also grew rainbow chard because it’s pretty, but have found that the kids really like the taste of the baby leaves. I’ve got red, yellow, orange and white stems sprouting up and they look just like baby beetroot leaves (that’s in another bed). I treat chard like the lettuces: every night I cut off a few of the outer leaves with scissors. I try to eat the leaves before they’re any longer than 5 or 6″. After that, although they’re a beautiful, colourful, ornamental plant, they’re too woody to be eaten raw: you’d really need to chop up the stems and cook them. Which tastes great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a bit too much of a faff for me.

rainbow saladSo what with the baby beetroot leaves, rainbow chard and 4 different lettuces, it’s a riot of rainbows in the salad bowl every night. The kids grab the leaves by their stalks and dunk them in a communal jam-jar of simple oil and vinegar salad dressing, like they would with chips and ketchup. The salads are pretty enough that they don’t need the nasturtium flowers I grew alongside the vegetables to prettify them any further. Besides, I did something wrong and the nasturtiums have grown foot-wide leaves and are taking over the beetroot bed like triffids, but that’s another disaster story for another time…

The Trouble With Theme Days

Day 10 of the school summer holidays and the total injuries tally is growing: by Monday the minxes had used 4 plasters, 5 steri-strips and half a bottle of calpol.

We managed 2 wonderful days in Legoland without real incident: a plaster, bit of insect bite relief and poor Maxi’s tonsillitis kept in check with Strepsils and distraction. Pirate Falls fear was a pretty big distraction (she tried to climb out before the big drop. Luckily Grandma was ready and prevented catastrophe with a timely ‘tight hug’). For the rest of the visit to their grandparents’, Mini seemed hell-bent on gouging out most of the skin of her knees falling off bikes. I watched her: she tripped over fresh air!

Then yesterday (Monday) it was rainy, so I went for our usual favourite school holiday at-home day standby: a theme day. I decided on Pirate Day, inspired by the mountain of pirate dressing up clothes the kids had strewn over every vaguely flat surface in the living room on Sunday night.

They had a hoot! I made them seagull eggs and hacked-up pig (bacon and eggs), scunnered Midi by doing skull and crossbones for lunch (a plate with a face on it; baked beans at the head bit that I called brains; 2 fish fingers in a cross at the bottom; then a round bread roll that I said was the skull the brains came from), and let them craft daggers and swords and pirate bandannas with paper, card, tape and scissors. They called me Captain Mummy, I addressed them as Pirate, and we play-acted our way about the house and to the library. Midi swept the kitchen floor unbidden because I’d called her a scurvy swab. So she replied, “I’ll swab the decks then, Captain Mummy. Aye-aye!” What a girl! I started up batches of elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial with Maxi that we’d foraged for the day before, using the explanation that pirates made their own food and drink. Especially drink.

All 3 girls had been happily turning a huge cardboard box into a Viking longship (they think Vikings = cool pirates) and got distracted by something. I bet you can imagine the sheer level of mess in the living room. Well, little Mini trampled over that mess and trod on the sharp serrated edge of a sellotape dispenser and cut herself a deep flapper in the base of her big toe.

I don’t know who was more upset: Mini or a very distraught and guilty Midi who had left the tape dispenser out in the first place. They both needed one-armed Mummy Hugs and kisses while I pressed hard for maybe 10 minutes to stop the bleeding. Gosh, that child is a bleeder, just like her mammy and her grandad! Poor Maxi was very upset but kept away from the commotion and puddle of blood on the kitchen floor and instead whipped Mini up a beautiful, huge card with a cut-out loveheart and a very heartfelt get better soon message – the little love! I love how she’ll express her emotions in written words so quickly and lovingly when she feels she can’t say the right things aloud. Those girls don’t half needle each other, but they also adore one another with such a depth of love that it’s sometimes breathtaking.

Mini’s cut was maybe 5mm deep flap, and the entire way across below her toe pad. I swished with water, applied steri-strips and plasters, and we all snuggled and hugged for an hour on the settee over Back to the Future 2 for comfort.

I tried to rally them with a Pirate Dinner: rum (honey, water and a teeny bit of red food colouring in a washed-out Caorunn Gin bottle) – they hated it; raspberry jelly with chopped up dog (jelly made with fizzy water, and with leftover chopped up strawberry and apricots in it) – they hated that, too. I made cannons (tortilla wraps), cannon-balls (lamb mince kebabs), and cannon-shot (frozen peas, broccoli and yogurt and mint dressing) and that went down fairly ok. They were still a bit upset about their little sister.

Today (Tuesday), though, they definitely perked up when my own mood lightened: I soaked off Mini’s failing steri-strips, put 2 decent ones on and took her to see lovely Nurse Lynne for reassurance. She declared my cack-handed first aid job as very good (it wasn’t – she’s just very kind), she applied a ton more steri-strips and taught me some nifty techniques in plaster origami around toes. So Total Days In The Garrison Without Accident = 1, and the tallies are plasters 6, steri-strips 15, gauze bandage 1, calpol bottles 1 (Maxi’s tonsillitis is very painful, poor girl).

Distracting Mini while her steri strips soak off - true sisterly love

Distracting Mini while her steri strips soak off – true sisterly love

Today’s theme was France because (a) I had bought croissants as a huge treat in the online shop, and (b) it’s Bastille Day. So we had fruit, cheese, croissants and hot chocolate for breakfast; I taught the minxes some dodgy French in a Glaswegian accent; they decided to dress in red white and blue; they made girl figures and fashionable clothes (snigger!) out of Playdo, and they happily drew a thousand tricoleurs. Tonight’s dinner was my very first quiche lorraine made entirely from scratch, a french baton (not so great: I had to stop it proving in the fridge while we went to the nurse, then stick it in a warm oven to hurry it up) and some greenery. I think I’ll be making it again! Maxi complained that it was ‘quite eggy’. Ah…

My first quiche lorraine - easy, tasty and popular. And from the Glasgow Cookery Book..!

My first quiche lorraine – easy, tasty and popular. And from the Glasgow Cookery Book..!

And tomorrow’s theme? Oh me, I’m out of ideas. We’ll see. Staying Alive?