Friday, 11 September 2015

Hiring an Au Pair

We recently had a new addition to the household and Janice has been finding it hard to cope. We have 3 young children and a large house. Things have been going well at work so we decided to look into the possibility of hiring an au pair.

First stop was the official webpage about this topic: which has very clear, easy to understand information about hiring an au pair.

I wanted to go down the au pair route instead of a nanny because of the cost, plus my parents successfully had an au pair when there were 3 naughty boys in our house growing up. Our au pair brought some Scandinavian culture with her, and showed me how to kick a football really high lol.

Anyway, you can use an agency or you can do it yourself. There are websites out there which will help you find an au pair independently. This way is cheaper but more hassle as you have to get involved with the visa and tax situations. You are in effect an employer.

Thanks to clear guidelines on the British government's website; we found that the whole independent process was much easier than expected. We found our au pair online and vetted her through previous employers and Facebook. We got through the paperwork fairly quickly and painlessly.

She is coming over next month and the whole process has been remarkably easy. We live near to a Metrolink tram station and our au pair wants to perfect her English skills. So we helped her find and fund an English school in Manchester:

We are looking forward to the experience, Janice certainly is. The two older children will be sharing a room whilst the au pair is staying. They were not too happy about that initially, but we bought bunk beds which they fell in love with.

Anyway we shall update during or after the 6 months we have agreed to. Fingers crossed it all goes well. Janice is getting along with her on Facebook chat, so we both have a feeling it will work out fine. She also has experience looking after babies which gives us even more piece of mind.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Learn How to Cook Filipino Food

Filipino food is the latest food trend which is gradually taking over the world. First we had Chinese food, then Indian food became just as successful. Next Thai dishes landed in the West and most recently we have been enjoying Vietnamese delights.

Now it is the turn of the Philippines. Filipino restaurants are popping up in major cities with the most recent one being LUZON Restaurant in London. These restaurants offer classic or modern versions of traditional Filipino dishes.

In the past I lived in the Philippines for a few years, so I got to know the food pretty well. Today I want to share with you my two favourite recipes: Bicol Express and Mongo. I also enjoy Tinola, Nilaga and Sinigang, but my partner takes care of those.

Bicol Express My Way

If you want to do it by the book i.e. the classic way, I suggest searching on Youtube. This is how I learn to cook, but I often forget the videos, so perhaps my recipes are a little different.

  • Pork with a little fat cut into small bite sized pieces
  • Coconut Cream or Milk
  • Fresh Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Spicy chilli
  • Bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)
To begin fry up the pork with some onion in a decent amount of oil (e.g. 2 tablespoons for 1/2 kg pork) until the meat is browned slightly. Then add the ginger, chilli (plenty) and garlic and cook for another minute or two. Next add the coconut milk or coconut cream and add a little black pepper.

Now put a lid on the pan and let it simmer for an hour or so. This is to get the pork nice and tender. Take the lid off when the pork is tender and let the liquid boil off. Then add a generous amount of bagoong- this is the secret ingredient which really transforms this dish.

At this stage I often add green beans to make the dish a little healthier. They are fairly tasteless and add a bit of crunch. Let the liquid almost disappear, once it has almost evaporated you will need to stir vigorously to prevent it sticking to the pan. Hold your nerve and keep going. 

Finally the coconut milk will release its oil and you will just be left with the oil you put in and a little coconut oil. The taste of the ingredients has been highly concentrated and if you get the balance right, it is as good as any Indian curry. Best served over steamed/boiled rice.

Mongo My Way

Mung beans are one of the healthiest foods in the world. I forget the exact benefits but I remember reading that they are classed as a superfood. These small green legumes are the main ingredient of this simple dish.

  • Mung beans
  • Pork (small amount ideally a little fatty for extra taste)
  • Pork stock (I cheat and use a stock cube)
  • Chilli leaves (not sold everywhere, you may need to buy a plant)
  • Bay leaf
  • Fish sauce
  • Tomato
There are two ways to do this. Because I am on a diet I will stick with the healthy option. The other option is to fry the pork and some onion in oil first. Instead simply boil a small pork steak (the streaky type with white lines) for 90 minutes. 

At any point add some garlic (if fresh garlic it is best at the beginning so you can mash it later). Add the pork stock, some pepper and a bay leaf. Leave the pork to cook away until it falls apart when you try to separate it with two forks. Separate the pork a little.

After cleaning the mung beans in a colander, place them into the the water with the pork and flavourings. They will need maybe 40 minutes to get soft, it seems to vary. After half an hour add some chopped tomato, a small amount, and remove the bay leaf. Alternatively add some whole cherry tomatoes which act as a kind of ketchup when popped later.

Then add a handful of chilli leaves. Then add fish sauce to taste. Keep stirring very gently and tasting it. The key with Mongo is to get the salt content right. It is a fairly simple dish which is too bland without enough salt. Garlic and salt both bring dishes alive. The fishy taste in the fish sauce adds depth, I often add a splash of soy sauce too for more depth.

The mung beans will expand so you will need to keep adding water. You want it to be a fairly mushy consistency, not a thin soup. Serve as soon as the mung beans have lost their hardness. They should be soft but not too soft. Serve with steamed rice at anytime of the day. Mongo is fine for any meal, even breakfast. I make a big batch and we eat it for a few meals, you may need to add a touch of water when reheating for the right consistency.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

My Experience Using a Dubai Contracting Company

For the past 6 months I have been splitting my time between the UK and project managing a house in Dubai. Together with 4 friends in the UK, we decided that Dubai would be a great place to invest in the property market.

Three of us flew out in May to "scope it out". We were lucky to know a real estate agent there who gave us some invaluable, honest advice. We didn't buy from him and he didn't try (too hard) to sell to us. After a short sales pitch he soon came out with the advice we had suspected was true. New-builds are the way to go if looking for an investment opportunity.

We enjoyed spending some time in Dubai. It took a while to understand the place. It is quite different to other countries in that most of the population are immigrants. The poor come from places like India and the middle class come from places like the UK. For westerners there is a slightly strange expat scene outside of the more traditional laws for most people e.g. drinking alcohol.

After speaking to 6 construction companies in Dubai, we found the perfect one. We spent a lot of time on this part as it is essential you have someone that understands your vision and that you can trust. Of course we were also wary about the language barrier but that was no problem. Our main contact at F&A Constructing Dubai spoke fluent English. Even when we are in the UK, which is most of the time, we feel happy leaving the project in their hands.

We felt comfortable with this firm and having that peace of mind can really help with stress levels. They handled themselves very professionally and have done a great job on our investment villa. Houses are usually known as villas in Dubai, which suits the sunny, desert location. Having made a few trips to Dubai, I am starting to grow rather fond of the place and we may continue with another investment if this one goes to plan.

Our villa is close to completion now, then the next step will be to put it on the market. This is where our friend the real estate agent might get something out of us after all. Anyway everything is on schedule and we are excited to see the finished construction and get it on the market.

I don't want to post a picture of the project online yet in case the others don't like me doing so, for some reason or other. Instead you can see a photo which I feel sums up why I am starting to fall in love with Dubai. It is as if someone has just said "lets make our idea of the best city from scratch".

Dubai Skyline on 10 January 2008" by Imre Solt 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Best way to approach decorating a nursing home

I was recently asked by my friend about the best way of decorating his proposed new nursing home. After some discussion I decided that comfort should come first, followed by an appearance which made residents feel "homely".

Basically the actual design is less important for a care home because the idea is to make someone feel comfortable first and foremost. After browsing online for a while I found a home which I think illustrates this well.

Agnes and Arthur Care Home is a fairly new nursing home which has put comfort first. They have been able to sneak in contemporary touches by using colour and character. It looks like they have wisely kept the actual bedroom nice and simple.

Click on any of the images above to enlarge them. For me this is the perfect way to decorate a nursing home because there is enough colour to keep things vibrant without things looks old fashioned and tacky. I like the way there is a living room and bedroom with darker chairs which men may prefer.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Bedroom Furniture Tips

Bedroom furniture can cause clutter and make rooms with limited space seem even smaller. So my top tip when buying bedroom furniture is to consider getting mirrored pieces.

Mirrored furniture looks good (in my opinion), it reflects light (making rooms look brighter) and it also makes rooms appear larger than they really are. It is a simple trick which is very effective.

Over the past couple of years I have been using mirrored furniture more and more. I usually buy online from Fabulous Furniture who have a stylish range for reasonable prices. But I have also used other retailers and most recently a rather nice piece from eBay.

You can also find good ideas using Pinterest which is a photo sharing site and great for home decor inspiration.

What I love about mirrored console tables and wardrobes is that they can be used for modern and more traditional rooms. You just have to be ready for the rather bright and striking appearance they have.

Other than using these items of furniture to create the illusion of more space, I recommend using colours which are warm. Red and gold are classics for a bedroom, although too bold for some people. I find the combination of a rich, deep red and gold is comforting in the winter months.

If you want to be stylish and use the latest colour schemes, then go ahead for your lounge or other downstairs rooms. But if you want a nice, cosy bedroom then I highly recommend going with the warming colours, which combined with a few pieces of mirrored furniture will really enhance your sleeping quarters.

Getting your roof coated and cleaned

Having someone come to your house and clean your roof tiles is a great idea. Most of us never even think about having this job carried out. Our roofs get rain all the time and it is the one part of the home which is completely open to the elements. This completely changes the colour of the roof from a red or orange to a murky grey.

This is not a job you should attempt to do yourself because it is dangerous. Get a professional company in who have the proper cleaning equipment and exercise the correct safety precautions. I live in the north west of the UK so I just typed into Google roof cleaning Cheshire and soon found a good company.

They don’t just clean your roof. It is also important to get them to treat it with a sealant. This coats the tiles and protects them from the elements in future. I also stops dirty sticking to them so that they don’t loose their colour again. You house will look like new again if you decide to get this job done.

My advice is to get a few different prices as they can vary quite a bit. Just be sure that they are all quoting for the same thing as there is no point cleaning the roof only to ignore the coating part. In the long run getting the sealant applied will save you money as they are supposed to last for many years. They do sell a water based paving sealer too.