17 Dec 2010


Whether your house looks like this or is as tidy as a show home, we all lose things. I'm often guilty of having something in my hand one second and losing it the next.

So, onto possibly the most useful tip of all - definitely one I often repeat to myself and my friends, and anyone I find searching. It's alarmingly simple - to find lost items, lift things up. Lift everything up, one a time. It doesn't take long and you'd be amazed how often then thing you're searching for has slipped under or behind something else.

So get lifting. (And if this fails you, you can always do what my grandmother swears by and ask St. Anthony for help... it's worth a shot.)


#16 How to find things that you have lost

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10 Dec 2010

I've not had a chance to get any more drawings online, so the Things My Mother Taught Me is on a slight pause. I promised in #12 The recipe for the best chocolate birthday cake to add some photos of the cakes decorated by my mother. So, here are a few I had to hand.

The jungle cake was for my sister's 18th just this year, and the Klimt (you have to turn your head) was decorated by my sister.

Click 'read more' to see them!

Wonderful cake decorations

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5 Dec 2010



Unfortunately, this is less of a tip and more of an unavoidable truth.

Sewing machines freeze, they crash, they seize up and do things that you have not asked for. And they can make you as frustrated and annoyed as any poorly behaved computer.
In explaining this fact to me, my mother achieved little other than my continued avoidance of sewing machines. The last time I used one, several years ago, I broke three needles in one sitting.

So, approach with caution, and leave extra time for haywire machinery!

#15 Sewing Machines Are Like Computers

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28 Nov 2010



Sometimes, when you're not thinking properly, you can do some daft things.
For my mother it went something like this:
sieve = wet... oven = warm... so sieve + oven --> dry sieve...?

Well, she was wrong. Sieve + oven = ruined sieve. Of course. At least the result was vaguely amusing (unlike the time she tossed the oven gloves on top of the oven, and the gas hob was still on...)

So next time you have a kitchen related stroke of genius, just pause for a moment to consider the consequences.

#14 Don't put your plastic sieve in the oven

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24 Nov 2010



You know the feeling - dreading getting out of the nice warm shower into the cold air, shivering and wet. Especially this time of year.

Well, this is a simple trick I have used pretty much everyday since my mother taught me. It's easy; you may do it without realising...

When you step out the shower, grab your towel and quickly rub once all over to get rid of surface water. Then - this is the important bit - turn your towel inside out so you have the dry side against your skin (Can you turn a towel inside out? Well, you know what I mean). It's worth the manic quick-dry, because the towel actually feels warm when you turn in inside out.

Yet again, so simple, but so true. Try it.

#13 How to stay warm after a shower

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20 Nov 2010


When my sisters and I were young, our birthday parties were epic adventures in which our living room and playroom were transformed into other worlds, and the games followed intricate plots. I had a Pirate Party, a Princess Party and a Puzzle Party (they didn't all have to begin with 'P'.  I had Egypt as well...).

The centrepiece of each party was the food, also carefully themed and labelled. And the centrepiece of the food was always the cake; the cake, always to the same recipe, and always delicious. No shop-bought Victoria Sponge for us, and no fondant icing either. The chocolate cake appeared in many forms - a pirate chest, a swimming pool, and once a magnificent dragon. But at its heart it was always the chocolate cake.

We still make in now - my sister is partial to making it as a gift for friends. The page of my mum's recipe book on which she has written the instructions is filthy.

I'm going decipher the smudges on the page and share it with you too (excuse old fashioned weights... deal with it, it's worth it):

To see the recipe click "read more"...

#12 The recipe for the best chocolate birthday cake

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16 Nov 2010



Before I explain the reasoning behind this particular "rule", I would like to add a brief disclaimer that I don't necessarily agree with this wisdom. My mother would probably like me to point out that it doesn't come from her either; this particular gem came straight from the mouth of my Nan (and grandmothers' have their funny ways, right?)

So, why should you never wear shoes with an ankle strap? Because, apparently, it will make you look like a lady of the night...

The reasoning is more than a little dubious, and I'm sure it made us laugh when she said it.

It doesn't stop me remembering it every time I try on a pair of ankle-strap shoes, though.

#11 Never wear shoes with an ankle-strap

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13 Nov 2010


This is really a tip for anyone involved in the technical side of theatre/music etc. (an industry that both of my parents know well) but you never know when it might come in useful.

So, you're having to clear away some cables that have been stuck to the floor with gaffer tape. Take a moment, and think. It may seem like a short cut to pull cable and tape up together, but do so at your peril. The two sides of the tape will stick together, and you'll spend hours (probably) trying to get the tape off.

Never say the things my mother taught me aren't varied...

(On cable related topics, I was once taught by a BBC technician how to properly wind electrical cables. Knowing how to do this, he assured me, would allow me to impress and therefore ingratiate myself with any technical staff I had to work with. And it's never a bad thing to have the tech crew on side. I was a sceptic, probably like you - how important can cables be? But he was right; on at least two separate occasions I have revealed this knowledge to techies who have been so impressed I even know that there is a specific technique that they invited me to join the crew.
So what is the secret? Well, I'm not going to tell you, it's far to valuable...)

#10 When removing gaffered-down electrical cables, remove the gaffer tape first

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6 Nov 2010

Here is a handy little hint that we all use in my family.

The next time that you are struggling to open a new jam jar (or a jar of marmalade, or pickle, or whatever takes your fancy, of course) grab a teaspoon. With the back of the spoon, give the rim of the lid a few strong taps. The lid should come off easy as anything.

My mother assures me she has used this technique to open jars that had previously defeated the strongest of men.

I've not done any scientific research, but it seems to work!

#9 How to open a jam jar

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30 Oct 2010

This is quite a specific piece of advice, and one which actually came to us through my father's side.

The story begins with his parents who, for reasons lost in the passage of time, were left in charge of a small girl in their house for an afternoon. The girl, by all accounts, was rather sullen. My grandfather, in a desperate attempt to amuse the melancholy child, searched the room for inspiration.

"Look," he said, picking up a somewhat squashed, black, furry hat and presenting it to the young girl, "Dead cat!".

Safe to say, the little girl was in no way amused.

What do we learn from this? Well, think before you act, of course. But mostly, never present a grumpy child with an animal carcase, even if it is only an item of clothing - a dilemma which I'm sure many of us face on a regular basis...

#8 How not to amuse small children

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25 Oct 2010

If life is getting on top of you, and you don't know where to start, write a list. We all know that this can get your head in order and make tasks seem more managable etc. etc.

But if you want an instant boost, do as my mother does. At the top, write something you have already done, or indeed write "write a list". That way, as soon as you have written the list you can already cross something off, you feel better about yourself and, if you're lucky, more motivated to complete another item.

Go on, grab a scrap of paper...

#7 Make a list

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18 Oct 2010



Life is full of tricky choices... The shirt or the vest?... The teacosy or the pretty apron?... The pumpkin or the butternut squash?... You can really only buy one, but how do you choose? Just do what my mother tells you to do:

A piece of very practical advice, to help you make those difficult decisions: very simply, buy the cheapest option and you'll have something new that you like, and you're looking after the pennies too. You can't really argue with that logic.

#6 If you can't choose between two things, buy the cheapest one

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10 Oct 2010

My mother advises that tea leaves require boiling water, but if you pour water from the kettle into a cold teapot, the tea pot will quickly absorb the heat. And that is bad.

So, pour a little boiling water into the kettle (before you put the teabag in, obviously...), swish it around and pour out. Then, make your tea as usual. Doing this has the added advantage of a) rinsing the pot after its previous use, assuming you are not an obsessive teapot cleaner, and b) keeping the tea just that bit warmer for that bit longer (and you can always add a tea cosy!). Chin chin.

#5 Warm the teapot first

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3 Oct 2010

This one is not so much a tip from my mother, but more a lesson learnt (in fact, she wasn't even in the same city).  Consider me and my boyfriend in his new student pad faced with a pile of dirty plates and the choice of a washing up bowl or the luxury of a dishwasher but no dishwasher tablets. What could be the harm of replacing tablets with a squirt of washing up liquid?

Well, see above for the harm... Two lessons to learn from our mistake:
1) Washing up liquid in a dishwasher makes a LOT of bubbles
2) Drainage in a dishwasher (as we discovered) works in a cunning way - the water collecting at the bottom of the machine causes the plug to float, opening the drain. Once the water has gone below the correct level the plug re-inserts.

It turns out that bubbles don't allow the plug to float, resulting in much leaking and foaming. I assure you that the image above is a pretty accurate depiction of the damage. Cue half an hour of scooping bubbles off the floor and out of the machine and pouring water in to clear the suds (and much hilarity, admittedly). It can't have been good for the dishwasher.

In conclusion, if you have ever wondered if you can put washing up liquid in a dishwasher, you can't.
Learn from our mistakes.
Or prepare for an impromtu foam party...

#4 Never put washing up liquid in the dishwasher

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30 Sep 2010

So, this sounds obvious and,  in all honesty, it is obvious. But perhaps it is so obvious that you've never really thought about it.
If you are a general spiller/dripper/hair in your dinner lazy kind of eater, this could be worth considering the next time you have a meal - especially useful for soups and any meal with sauce.

#3 Lean forward when eating to avoid drips

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17 Sep 2010

This is one of those things which seems ridiculously obvious. Generally, I like to think that I have quite good common sense, but when this was suggested to me one evening after my fifth or sixth trip to bin to scrape another plate clean, well, it pretty much changed my world.
This may be a slight exaggeration, but I’m including this for those other poor souls for whom this may also be a revelation.

#2 Scrape all food waste onto one plate, meaning only one trip to the bin

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14 Sep 2010

Let us start with one of the most practically useful pearls of wisdom handed to me by my mother. This simple technique allows you to slice an onion into small bits, quickly, easily and with minimal crying. I use it every time I need to fry onion to start a dish.
1.       Use a sharp knife. With the skin still on, cut the onion in half through the root. It’s important that the half root remains intact as this holds the onion together.
2.       Place one half of the onion face down and cut of the end (be careful not to cut the root by accident). At this point you should easily be able to remove the skin.
3.       Slice several incisions lengthways. Do not cut through the root, or your onion will fall to pieces.
4.       Now cut across the onion, instantly creating small pieces to pop into your frying pan. Easy!

#1 How to slice an onion

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