Another school day and peace reigns in our house - but not for long. The boys will soon be home along with who knows how many of their friends today? The pile of bikes outside our front gate is becoming so huge that Noel suggested we install a bike rack and I don't actually think it's a silly idea! To be honest though, I like nothing better than when the house is full of kids. Noisy, gangly boys with their constant ribbing and raucous laughter. Messy boys who leave noodles and puddles of juice all over the kitchen bench - oh hang on, that's just my two!
I'm not sure what it is about our house but it has definitely become THE place to meet in a very short time. Noel and I never know whether we're coming home to two boys or ten. Often they stay for days at a time and I now keep a 'lost property box' of sorts full of other people's towels, socks, shirts and whatever else gets left behind. But one thing is for sure; they are never any trouble and they are all really good kids.
As it turns out, they're also really good friends. As mentioned, the boys both have paper rounds but I can't remember the last time they did them on their own; their mates come along just to help out and keep them company. When I accidentally ran over Liam's bike the other day, his mate Bradley immediately went and got his dad's bike so Liam could do his paper round. The other day when Liam was exhausted after two hours' rugby training and was struggling to get his papers delivered in time for 6pm cut-off, three of his mates immediately offered to help and the four of them divided up the papers and completed the round in no time. The same happens with Ali. Even though his paper round includes the biggest hills in Whangamata, there is never a shortage of friends willing to strap on backpacks, fill them with papers and trudge the delivery route on foot. What really made Noel and I laugh though was last week when we told Ali that he was forbidden to go anywhere until he had tidied his room and cleared up the mess he had made in the yard. To his amazement, Noel looked out of the window and saw Ali's friends trudging back and forth, carrying surfboards into the garage and tidying up all the mess. Where was Master Ali whilst all this activity was going ons ? Upstairs getting ready to go out again!
The only downside is with having so many extras around at lunchtime, afternoon tea time and dinner time is that of course it gets blooming expensive and we found it just became too much to try and feed them all so often. Not only was it expensive, we kept running out of food every five minutes! So now we have a deal that everyone goes to their own houses for dinner, then they are allowed to come back again to sleep over. I felt a bit awkward doing this at first, then I realised the kids didn't mind at all, as long as they were allowed to come back again! Another obstacle I had was my two boys being gluten free when the other kids weren't. I would watch in horror as a week's supply of gold plated gluten free biscuits and cakes were wolfed down in seconds! As for breakfasts, I would spend half the morning standing at the stove cooking bacon and eggs for everyone until I realised I didn't have the time or the money, let alone the inclination! So now I keep bulk bags of cereal in the pantry and pick up packets of regular biscuits on special, so that we always have enough 'normal' food on hand for the boys' friends. Already it's working out to be much more economical; although I may also have to resort to using milk powder for their cereal after we went through four litres of milk in a single sitting this week!
Still, it's a small price to pay when the boys are so happy. To say they are thriving is an understatement. We measured Liam at the weekend and were amazed to see he had grown half an inch taller in less than four weeks AND put on two kilos in a single week. No wonder he's so expensive to feed! At least it's reassuring to know all that food is doing some good!
Noel and I have also been enjoying some good food together the last couple of weekends. As mentioned recently, the finances have been pretty tough lately but all work and no play makes Penny a dull girl and so two weekends ago I was given the lovely surprise of being taken out to lunch at the wonderful Caf Rossini in Whangamata. There Noel and I spent a leisurely hour in the sunshine enjoying their amazing Lemon Pepper Chicken Salad. 'We SHOULD be able to do this once in a while!' Noel said. 'If we make smart choices all week and don't waste our money on silly little things, there's no reason why we can't reward ourselves like this is there?' I agreed wholeheartedly and after an enjoyable free swim in the sea we returned home to find the kids and their mates had all gone to a pool party and wouldn't be back until late. 'Stuff it; let's go for a drink at the Sports Club!' we said gleefully. I think I've mentioned before that the Whangamata Ocean Sports Club is our favourite place in the world to go for a drink. The drinks are cheap, the scenery is breathtaking and the atmosphere is so relaxed. The only problem is that once we set foot inside we can never find the door to get out again (I'm speaking hypothetically here)! One drink turned into two and before we knew it we were saying 'Stuff it; let's have dinner here!' and ordering a plate of scallops each. A most enjoyable evening and as Noel said, something we don't do often - indeed never with just the two of us. There was just one small problem - we couldn't really afford to do it!
So this weekend we did it the SS way. Noel made a yummy steak and salad lunch from the previous night's leftover dinner and cooked the most AWESOME dinner better than any restaurant meal we could have asked for. He found the recipe in a magazine, thought 'that looks nice' and decided to try it out, along with the most decadent dessert we've ever tasted. I'll copy the recipes here so you can enjoy them too!
Courgette and Salmon Fritters (from New Idea I think!)
Serves 4. Preparation 35 minutes. Cooking time 12 minutes.
4 courgettes (430g) grated
2 tsp salt
6 slices white bread, crusts removed
200g sliced smoked salmon, chopped (here Noel cheated and bought 500g of smoked salmon nibbles for the same price as 100g of smoked salmon. Even after removing the bones and so on, you still get 250g of meat so it's a much cheaper way of buying it!)
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 clove crushed garlic
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Greek yoghurt and lemon wedges to serve
Combine courgettes and salt in a bowl and leave for 30 minutes. Drain, then place in a clean tea towel or paper towel and squeeze out any excess liquid. Blitz your bread in a food processor to make crumbs. Put 1 cups of your breadcrumbs into a bowl, then add your salmon, garlic, spring onions, eggs and courgettes and mix well. Heat your oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Drop two tablespoons of mixture into the hot pan for each pattie and flatten slightly with a spatula. Cook each pattie for two minutes on each side or until cooked through, then remove and drain on paper towel. Repeat until all the mixture is used up, you should get about eight patties. Garnish your fritters with a dollop of Greek yoghurt (this really sets them off!) and serve with a fresh salad and lemon wedges.
So simple, yet SO good! For dessert, he made these 'Gooey in the Centre' Molten Chocolate Puds. I'm not one to go overboard on food but honestly, these are to die for! This recipe comes from 'Jo Seagar Cooks' and makes four generous servings:
400g dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate melts)
2 tbsp flour
Whipped cream, thick yoghurt or ice cream to serve
Preheat oven to 180C. Spray four ramekins or ovenproof coffee cups with baking spray. Melt the chocolate and stir until smooth. Beat the sugar and butter together until creamy. Add the eggs, then the melted chocolate and flour. Mix until well combined. Divide the mixture evenly between your ramekins and place on an oven tray. Bake for 18 - 20 minutes until the puddings are glossy and smooth on top, like a brownie but soft and gooey in the centre. Don't overcook. Serve with cream, yoghurt or ice cream and devour!
Total cost of both meals was next to nothing apart from the salmon as we already had pretty much everything on hand. It was certainly a fraction of the price we paid for our two meals out the week before but I think all of us agreed that our home made version was even BETTER than our favourite restaurant meal!