Wednesday 18 July 2018

Senior school: home economics

Claire O'Mahony collects the expert tips to get your house in order…

Hotelier Francis Brennan. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Hotelier Francis Brennan. Photo: Don MacMonagle
Organised wardrobe
Ailsi Madden
Darina Allen at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Photo: Tony Gavin

When you're at a time in your life when your family is reared, you're - theoretically - free of the shackles of round-the-clock meal making, landfills of laundry, and tight budgeting. Yet the pleasures of a well-managed household, at any age and whatever your circumstances, are immense. Home economics classes might be remembered as a time of learning how to sew an apron and grill a grapefruit correctly, but even in these technologically-advanced times, some basic skills for managing your life, as well as your home, are always useful.

Creating a tidy and orderly home, by Francis Brennan

Hotelier, author and presenter of At Your Service, believes that a tidy home is the perfect antidote to a chaotic world. Here are his tips...

Rescuing house plants with yellowing leaves

If the yellowing is on the tips of the leaves, you need to water more, but if the whole leaf is yellow, you're overdoing it! Make sure your soil is well drained and water when it is barely damp to the touch.

Helping flowers stay fresh

One of my nephews used to love Mythbusters when he was younger. It was an American show where scientists used to put popular myths to the test using lab techniques. In one test they set up five different vases to compare popular ways of keeping flowers fresh, including vodka, Sprite, apple cider vinegar/sugar, the fridge and an aspirin tablet. They found that Sprite worked fine for a couple of days, but then the sugar affected the flowers - rather like kids after too much lemonade - and they wilted. They also found that flowers, like humans, can't take too much vodka! So the winner was... the fridge!

Before you go to bed at night, pop your flowers into the fridge and they will keep for longer, according to the scientists. And don't forget to use the packet of food that comes with your arrangement too. By the way, the sugar/cider vinegar mix came second. Sugar certainly seems to help flowers, but adding an acid helps to prevent slime. So, there you go!

Finding an earring on the carpet

Place a bit of stocking over the tube of your vacuum cleaner, secure it with a rubber band and, hey presto, when you hoover, you'll see any tiny items.

Opening a bottle of wine - without a corkscrew

There are a few ways of doing this, but for God's sake, be careful:

● Push the cork down into the bottle by using an object such as a pen, or a lipstick tube. You can do this by putting your bottle down on a flat surface and by applying downward pressure with your object.

● You can also use a knife in the same way as a corkscrew, pushing it gently into the cork, then working it gently from side to side until it goes all of the way through the cork, then pull. Do this very gently, to avoid accidents.

● You can put the bottle of wine into your shoe - which you have removed from your foot! Then, holding the bottle in one hand, tap your shoe firmly against a wall or tree. Do this a few times and the pressure should push the cork out.

Four clever ways to clean sponges

● Put them in the dishwasher when you have a load on and let all that hot water give them a good clean.

● Use a cup of bleach in ½ litre of water to soak sponges for five minutes. According to Good Housekeeping, this is the method that removes the most germs.

● Put your wet-but-not-soaking sponge into the microwave on 'high' for 10-20 seconds - keep an eye on it though!

● Soak your sponge in vinegar overnight. Smelly in a different way, but effective.

Drying leather shoes

There is no quick way of doing this, because all of the quick ways will damage your shoes! You'll need newspapers without dark ink or pictures, which you will ball up into the toe, and continue until your shoe is stuffed with paper. Leave for an hour and come back to check. If the newspaper is soaked, replace it and continue doing so until it stays dry. Leave your shoes to air. This method isn't fast, but it really is the only one that will prevent further leather damage.

Francis Brennan's 'Book of Household Management', published by Gill Books, is out now priced €16.99

Getting the most from your money, by Charlie Weston

"People in their 50s and 60s are the golden generation and research has found that older people own more property and have higher savings than younger people," says Irish Independent Personal Finance Editor Charlie Weston. "Seven out of 10 people aged over 50 have no mortgage on their home, according to the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland. People in their 50s and 60s also have the largest deposits in banks, a Standard Life survey found. But there are large differences in the levels of income for people in this age group. And there is always a risk that older people will end up with a bad deal due to their reluctance to switch providers, and the sometimes underhand activities of companies that exploit vulnerable people, especially pensioners." Here are his tips for the golden generation:

Health insurance - Research shows that older members are over-paying by an average of 30pc. To avoid this, you should never auto-renew. This means having your cover renewed by a trusted adviser or family friend well in advance of the renewal date. If you are on the same plan for three years or more, you are likely to be over-paying, according to Dermot Goode of You might be wise to take on a small excess- this is an amount of money you have to pay when you make a claim. Savings can be up to 50pc can be made depending on the plan held.

Car Insurance - Do not accept the renewal premium quotation. It is worthwhile using a broker to scour the market for a better deal. Ensure the broker has a commercial relationship with at least six insurance companies. A good tip is to cross insure with your spouse, adult child, or friend for discount premium. This means bundling the policies into one premium to get a discount.

House Insurance - Over 50s often get a discount, especially if they are at home during day. Make sure to secure your home. Most insurers will offer discounts for people with alarms and/or monitored alarm systems. If you have one of these be sure to check out if any discounts apply. A monitored alarm could reduce premiums by up to 25pc. Check policy add-ons. Extras like accidental damage are often costly and not always necessary.

Banking - Most banks offer free current accounts for over 65s. But you may need to tell the bank to give you access to this. Banks may be paying miserable interest rates on savings at the moment, but remember you are entitled to a refund of DIRT (deposit interest retention tax) if your income is under €18,000 for a single person, or €36,000 for couples.

Medicines - If you are on a lot of medication, and do not qualify for a medical card, you should sign up for a discount pharmacy deal. These usually have an annual subscription charge and they offer you deeply discounted medicines, often delivered to your door. Two of these are Healthwave and Limitless Health. Ask you GP if a cheaper generic option is available.

Charlie Weston is the co-author with Karl Deeter of 'This Book Is Worth €25,000' (Gill), €12.99, in major bookshops

Don't replace, repair by Aisli Madden

Ailsi Madden

The world has changed immeasurably since the 1980s. So says Aisli Madden, presenter of RTE show Domestic Divas and daughter of Deirdre Madden, author of seminal text book All About Economics, which was first published in 1983 but is still as relevant today as it was then.

"Nowadays it's common practice to pay someone to do our cleaning and mending. We throw away and replace things, instead of repairing and fixing them. Rather than cooking a meal from scratch, we buy pre-made sauces and ready-made foods," says Aisli. "We work longer hours and we have less time for chores."

Efficiency in the home is necessary, she points out, especially for working people , but sometimes it is quicker, cheaper and more convenient, to DIY.

These three garment repair hacks are super easy to learn, and will save you time and money:

Dropped Hem

It only takes a few minutes to learn how to do a simple slip hemming stitch. With this knowledge you can repair a hanging hem, shorten sleeves and adjust garment length. Just match the thread colour to your garment, use a sharp needle, and within minutes the job will be done. Stitch twice, then slide your needle and thread along the inside fold, repeat.

Darn it

Hiking or sports socks can be pricey, especially if they're made from real wool. Next time your toe begins to poke through, try mending rather than replacing and save yourself time and money. Use a darning needle and wool (if hole is small, a regular needle and doubled thread will do!). Simply weave wool/thread through fabric in perpendicular lines, catching wool fibres as you go.

Hedge Tear/L-Tear Repair

Kids can get very attached to their clothes, so next time your grandchild rips their favourite garment, don't throw it in the bin, instead repair with a simple hedge tear darn, and avoid a potential tantrum. Match thread colour to the garment, and use a sharp needle. First use a simple fishbone stitch to attach fabric, then simply darn along the rip, catching threads as you go.

'All About Home Economics', €16.99, from,, and in bookstores nationwide

Caring for your clothing, by Bairbre Power

Organised wardrobe

Weekend's Fashion Editor Bairbre, who travels a lot for business, says her go-to is always a jersey jumpsuit, which folds up small and which she hangs up in the hotel while she has a hot shower, letting the wrinkles fall out of it. Here are her insider tips:

● Wire hangers are for breaking into cars, they are not for you storing your good clothes. For that you should invest in proper wooden hangers and treat yourself to lovely padded ones for delicate luxury fabrics like satin and silk.

● Now the winter has arrived, keep those tennis balls and use them in the dryer to fluff up the duvet lining in your coats/jackets.

● If you are worried about moths in your wardrobe, invest in cedar balls.

● If you're a cashmere fan and you think you might have a dreaded moth issue, try freezing your cashmere in a plastic bag overnight and defrost slowly. I prefer to de-pill my cashmere with a small battery-operated hand-held device I buy in dry cleaners, rather than the razor option.

● I'm a big fan of lavender. I use it in ittle sachets around my hangers, in drawers, and my own personal hack is a bottle of Bien-Être 'Naturelle' cologne, which you will find in most French supermarkets beside the deodorants, for around €5.50/250ml bottle. I use it directly on my skin and hair most mornings. I add some water and spray it as a room freshener and put it on my clothes and damp sheets when I set up my Chinese laundry on a Monday night. I stick on a good movie and pour myself a glass of rosé. Every domestic goddess deserves rewards!

● When it comes to a clothes edit, I have a spare room with two rails where I dip into seasonal and transeasonal pieces and accessories. I have a wooden fitting with five cup hooks where, on a Sunday evening, I hang newly returning dry cleaning that I might need for any events I might be attending that week and I assemble outfits and their accessories for immediate use - which saves on 8am meltdowns because there's always one shoe you can't find in the morning. .

● I always turn jeans inside out when washing and for knits, I use a delicate liquid soap in tepid water. Then I roll it like a sausage in a towel to remove moisture and let the jumper dry flat (but not directly beside a radiator).

●A quick spritz of hair spray to your tights will stop your dress from clinging.

Shopping and cooking wisely, by Darina Allen


Darina Allen at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Photo: Tony Gavin

"The great thing about food is that basically it's the way to people's hearts," says Darina. "Older people are not necessarily living alone but if they are, being able to cook and invite people around is a great way to win friends and influence people and to have company, and that's one element to think about as to why cooking might be important here."

● If you decided to put time aside to cook something, maybe cook two or three times the amount of a lovely stew or a tagine, so that you can eat it and then freeze some little tubs of it - and then obviously take them out another time. It's good to put them in smallish tubs, so that you can have an individual one for one or two people, or if you have eight people, just take out four and defrost them.

● When you're shopping, it's crucially important to remember that what you're looking for is fresh, seasonal, real food and to be aware of the seasons. Try and make time to go to a farmers' market if you can. Fruit and vegetables are better and fresher and cheaper when they're in season.

● As one gets older, you don't necessarily need quite so much food. If you have really good wholesome, nourishing food, you actually don't need as much to be full.

● There are a million creative ways to use leftovers and all my books have suggestions for this. Bread, for example - nobody should ever throw out bread because there are so many ways to use it up. Obviously you can make bread and butter pudding, and you can make bread crumbs, crostini and croutons.

● Our foods should be our medicine, and it is our medicine provided we start off with really fresh, nourishing food. My mother always used to say, "if you don't put your energy and your time in putting your food on the table, you'll give it to the doctor or the chemist". It's really important for people to nourish themselves and to feed themselves and their families well. It's very simple, it's not rocket science, you just have to get fresh, wholesome ingredients and keep absolutely, totally, away from processed foods.

● Soups are terrific, because you can make them in big quantities all year around and then freeze them and add bits to them. The other thing is to make broth, which is a magic food, like chicken stock.

'Grow, Cook, Nourish: A Kitchen Garden Companion in 500 Recipes' by Darina Allen is published by Kyle Books, €29.99

Darina's Basic Vegetable Soup Technique

Well over half the soups we make at Ballymaloe are made on this simple formula.

Serves 6. In season: All year round


1 part onion

1 part potato

3 parts any vegetable of your choice, or a mixture

5 parts stock or stock and milk mixed



One can use water, chicken or vegetable stock and season simply with salt and freshly ground pepper. Complementary fresh herbs or spices may also be added. So one can make a myriad of different soups depending on what's fresh, in season and available. If potatoes and onions are the only option, one can still make two delicious soups by increasing one or the other and then adding one or several herbs. We have even used broad bean tops, radish leaves and nettles in season.

Sample soup recipe

150g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) chopped potatoes, one-third inch dice

110g (4oz) peeled diced onions, one-third inch dice

340g (12oz) chopped vegetables of your choice, one-third inch dice

1.2L (2 pints) homemade chicken stock or 1L (1 3/4 pints) stock and 150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the vegetables and stock. Boil until soft, liquidise, sieve or put through a mouli. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour. Adjust seasoning.

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