Monday, 27 September 2010

Weekend Excitement (aka, a Pudding made of Rice)

Pre-children, weekends would be filled with indecision and worry (and fun and hangovers).   Where to go, what to do and who to see?  Was there something better on that we could/should be doing?  Was it a good use of our free time to be lazing about reading the papers?  Did I really need another pair of shoes?  (Actually, that question was never asked, at least not rhetorically).
These days, weekends are like any other day, except with the Man around – so I get a couple of hours extra sleep on one of the days, and he on the other day.  Other than that, it’s same old, same old:  make breakfast, entertain, stop face-scratching (of baby by herself, and of baby by her brother), exhale in shock at amount of dirty towels which have gathered in the bathroom, clean kitchen, make food, feed food, clean kitchen again, yadayadayada. 
So this weekend I decided to branch out and do something completely different:  I spent a half day in a spa, had a boozey lunch with my girlfriends, then went shopping. 
Oh ok then, I did none of the above (although I did go for a swim.  On Saturday night.  How pathetic is that?  However I’m clearly not the only one with no life - would you believe that the pool was packed?)   No, instead of my fantasy  spa-day, my branching out consisted of making a vat of rice pudding which I thought might last a couple of days, but was gone within the hour.
Rice pudding is the business.  It’s cheap, uses up the several litres of skimmed milk you inadvertently bought during the week, easy to make, and is pretty healthy (see ref to skimmed milk above).  I threw some on and while I waited for it to boil I did a load of laundry, fed the boy, stirred it some, added more milk, cleaned up after the boy, turned my back and the boy dumped his water on the floor, put the boy in the naughty corner, mopped up the water, stirred the rice some more, put the boy back in the naughty corner (what part of “stay here” does he not get?), sterilised bottles, re-seated the boy, then sat down for the remaining 5 minutes before the rice was finished and played the What-Colour-Is-This? game (every answer is “ba-looooo” which means he gets it right about 15% of the time.)
Rice Pudding
I don’t even have a recipe for it.   It is, however, an easy-peasy one which doesn’t require ovens or measuring cups or scales.  Just a pan, 2 main ingredients and two minor ones.
You need: 
Pudding Rice
Lots of milk.  At least 400ml per person.
Some sugar.
A bit of butter.
Take the pudding rice, and put as much as you think you need – about a handful per person – into a pan.  Cover it generously with milk (I used skimmed, for a richer flavour use semi- or full fat) and throw in a bit of sugar (depends how sweet you like it;  I take the view that less is more, and if you’re a more is more person when it comes to sugar, then you can always add it later) and a spoonful of butter.  Bring it to  the boil, then reduce the heat, stir to break up the rice which will have stuck together, and go off to do some laundry. 
After a few minutes, take a peek and stir it again.  If it’s looking thick, add more milk, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and stir again.
Repeat the peeking/stirring/adding-milk-if-necessary process a couple of more times until you’ve used more milk than you ever thought you could use, and the rice is very soft.  This usually takes about half an hour.
Turn off the heat, cover and leave to stand for a few minutes, while you round up your brood and put spoons, bowls and jam on the table. 
Serve and bask in the happy glow that comes from watching your offspring eat something healthy and filling.
Can also be eaten in the naughty corner. 

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Bed- and Bath-Time Shitshow

For the life of me, I can’t get a handle on sorting out the kids’ bed and bathtime routines.  The Boy’s is relatively simple:  stick him in the bath, wash him, try to sneak an unnoticed hairwash in, try not to hype him up too much, out, wrap, brush teeth (“Spit!  Spit!  Stop eating the toothpaste and spit...”) cuddle, nappy and pjs, books, books, more books, bed, Goodnight Moon, litany of goodnights to various stuffed animals, wall stickers, and every part of his body (“night night foot, night night neck, night night nose, night night hair” etc etc).  It takes way too long – close to an hour sometimes - but we all enjoy it.
Or at least we did before I started putting the Girl down at the same time – or rather, trying to. 
How to bathe her, change her, feed her, give her calming down time, and settle her quietly to bed – all which has to happen at more or less the same time as the Boy’s bedtime?  If she hasn’t got her bottle in her mouth  at 615 she loses it.  So I tried skipping her bath and leaving her to lose it the other night, and sure enough she quietened down after a few minutes, by which time the Boy was in the bath saying “baby WAAAAH WAHHHH”, when suddenly, with no warning,  she  fell asleep, and wouldn’t be woken.   So I put her  to  bed, feedless although seemingly contented.  Until I was mid-book with Boy, when she started to bellow.  So I left him, went and picked her up, and tried feeding her in her room while “reading”  to him (shouting out the stories from memory and trying to persuade him to turn the pages) – he was having none of it and started to throw both the books and himself around.  With hands full of eating baby, there wasn’t much I could do, other than listen in increasing horror. When I could take it no more (nothing worse than silence followed by an “Uh-Oh...”) I put her down again and went back to finish his bedtime, but by then he had an evil glint in his eye, toothpaste all over his pjs (the source – I assume – of the Uh-Oh),  and continued to fling himself around, again doing his ”babyWAAAAH” mantra.  Suddenly it was gone 7 (How?? Why does time speed up when I’m trying to get him to bed and deal with her as well, but slows to a grinding halt when I’m standing in the park counting diggers / blades of grass/leaves on trees) so I put him into his cot,  and walked out, ignoring the tears and the screeching.  Sobbing ensued (not by me – tho I was close) but by now I was back in with Girl, who had, conveniently cacked herself.  After the full decontamination routine – not the easiest in a room lit only by the monitor light -  I went back to him, his sobbing weeping little body curled up in a ball (I can still feel the guilt), read him “Moon”, counted everything that needed to be counted, lots of guilt-ridden kisses and hugs. Finally finally his light was out, so back to her, still wriggling and shouting, picked up, soothed, burped, rocked, avoided eye-contact, settled, lights out. 
Thankgodthankgod. Quick tidy up, laundry load on, drying folded, then down to kitchen. 
8.05pm. Almost two and a half hours to get them both to bed.  It just can’t take this long every night.  I think that we need to be stricter with the Boy – 30 mins from bath to bed, tops.  No reading every book in the room, no counting every single countable item.  And no hi-jinx after 6pm.  Which is all well and good, but how to work her routine into it?   And how to actually do it in practice without losing my cool and yelling at him as he toddles about, oblivious to the adult concept of time and speed?
I’ll muddle through of course, but the more stressful and disjointed it is, the less settled they are, and the more guilty I feel, and neither of them end up getting anything close to proper attention.   
But then again, I s’pose there’s no reason why the end of the day should be any different to the rest of it.  
Anyway, by the time I got downstairs there wasn’t much time to think about – let alone dedicate to – dinner, so I fell back on the old favourite – Cheat’s Crab Pasta (with huge apologies to the River Cafe, from whom this recipe has been lifted and bastardised).  As well as being the Man’s favourite dinner (or so he says, although not with so much aplomb when he’s presented with it three times a week), this is quick and easy peasy. 
Crab Pasta.
For 2, you need: 
  • One tin of Crab Meat
  • One clove of garlic, sliced
  • A lemon
  • Half a red chilli, finely chopped
  • Four tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • Fresh Parsley or Basil, roughly chopped
  • Some olive oil
  • A small bag of rocket, roughly chopped (if you have it – it’s not a killer if you don’t)
  • Enough dried long pasta – spaghetti or linguini – for two.

Cover the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan with olive oil, and before you heat it, add the sliced garlic and chilli.  Add the zest of the lemon, then put the heat on low under the pan. 
When it starts to spit a bit – but before the garlic goes brown – add the chopped tomatoes and half whatever herb you’re using.  Lower the heat and allow the tomatoes to soften.  Add the juice of the lemon and cover. 
Put the pasta on to cook.
Add the drained tin of crab meat to the tomato mixture, and a bit of water if it looks a bit thick or dry.  (I use about a half ladle of the pasta water).
Drain the pasta once cooked, but don’t over-drain – it’s good to have the pasta slightly wet, as it loosens up the crab sauce.   
Add the pasta, the rest of the herbs and the rocket to the sauce, and mix thoroughly. 
Season with salt, and gobble down before the baby wakes up.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Free-time and Fairy-cakes

The wonder and beauty of blogging – is that it doesn’t necessarily have to operate in real time.  Take this afternoon’s posting, for instance.  Would you be shocked to learn that it was written a couple of weeks ago?  It’s good to know that I’m pretty consistent in my failings –  glamorous wife, calm mother, timely blog-poster...
Since writing the first posting, our lives have changed immensely.   We have now largely accepted – by necessity – that we have a baby in the house, and cannot any longer pass responsibility for her onto anyone else.   The baby-help is gone, and now it’s largely just me, struggling along, watching days unravel before my eyes, eating cold soup out of cartons (not the children, obviously, they eat like Kings / Queens), stepping over rolled-up nappies, discarded baby-grows, wet towels etc . 
I have also managed – several times in fact -  to make it out of the house with the two of them. On my own!  (The impetus for this wasn’t so much to exercise myself or the children, or breathe in some fresh  air (well, fresh-ish – this is south London after all) – rather to feel that I am getting some use out of that monstrously large double buggy I bought.  It’s now down to about £100 per use, which isn’t too bad...)
So there I was yesterday, out and about - after the usual hour-long preparation, running back and forwards from kitchen to pram to bedroom to pram back to kitchen (juice, snack, nappies, wipes, jumper – respectively) – bent over double like a deranged yogi, as I pushed the Boy on his scooter (“cootie”) with one hand and the Girl in the uncooperative pram with the other. Occasionally he would be ahead and she lagged behind, then she’d  get more of my attention and would surge in front of him;  momentarily they’d be equal and  manage to get the same amount of energy from me simultaneously.  Whatever their positions, I was always in the rear,  crippled, hot, flustered, looking ridiculous (but not caring) and counting down the hours till their bedtime, already deciding what bottle of wine I’d be opening.
That few minutes (which felt like hours) sums up my life at the moment – and probably for the next 20 years. The children will always take priority, oblivious that I’m behind them, sweating, struggling, worrying, supporting.  Dreaming of booze.  Wishing I hadn’t thought it a great idea to take the single pram / suggest the scooter / go for the walk / make whatever silly decision I made which got me into this position in the first place.
But for the moment they’re both asleep, the Man and I each had relatively good night sleeps last night, the washing machine is silent for once, and I feel something approaching contentment.  That’ll probably disappear shortly, but right now  all is well. 
So well in fact that I just made fairycakes!  The easiest recipe ever,  I do it from memory (which, given that I asked a delivery man, in all sincerity, what day it is today,  isn’t bad).
Fairy cakes.
You need: Eggs, Butter, Castor Sugar, self-raising flour, and some sort of flavouring – eg a citrus fruit, or some vanilla essence. (For quantities, read on.)
Heat your oven to about 180c (mine is a fan oven so 160 does it).
Prepare your muffin baking tin by either greasing it, or using baking cases (latter is much much easier).
Weigh the whole eggs.  Make a mental note of the weight. (Using two eggs will yield about 8 cakes, so depending on how many you want, work on that basis).   Break the eggs into a food processor.
Add equal amounts, weight-wise, of each of the other ingredients – bar the flavouring. 
Mix well, for a couple of minutes.  Once you have a yellowy sludge, add your flavouring. For mix based on two eggs, I add the zest and juice of one lemon, or one teaspoon of vanilla essence.   
Mix again, then spoon into the muffin cases.  You want to fill each case by about 2/3rds.
Stick into the hot oven and leave until they’ve risen well and are light brown – about 12 minutes (depending on your oven).
Wait until they’ve cooled down a bit before handing them to your whinging son (or else he’ll just whinge even more, and louder...)
For grown-ups, split open while warm and eat with raspberries and whipped cream.  or else just gobble up as they are, in the few precious minutes of you-time you have.


Welcome to my blog.  I barely have time to keep my home afloat - the childcare, the laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the laundry (does it ever end?) – let alone write a blog – but I suspect that anyone with small children, a home, no job*, and not great delegation skills (thus, most stay-at-home mothers) is in the same boat, and so I will persevere.
This blog is about food and children.  Not necessarily food for children – in fact any food-related postings are likely to be easy 30-minutes-fridge-to-table recipes for grown ups – and not even about children as food (although a recent visit to the zoo and a toddler’s temper tantrum near the lions' enclosure  raised the fantasy);  but generally separately.  Some days I will just want to unload about the horror of dealing with a boisterous not-yet-2yr old and his sweet – but vocal and demanding – not yet 2-month-old sister.  Other days – when the rarely-sighted beast that is a stretch of sleep exceeding 5 hours has raised its head – I may extol the virtues of a quick and easy fridge-clearout dinner I’ve made, which has the added benefit of leftovers for the constantly hungry toddler.
Because with two under 2, I don’t actually get to leave the house that often – and definitely not to do anything amounting to me-time.  I haven’t yet practised going out with the two of them; we still have daily help with the newborn, but that’s about to come to an end.  And as winter nudges in (yes, it’s only September, but  a London-September is so far a portend of the horror that will be the never-ending London-Winter) I can’t imagine leaving the house other than to go foraging for food, once or twice a week.  In Sainsbury’s. 
Unlike other food blogs, where farmers’ markets, and the practice of pottering about therein, are seemingly normal – nay, necessary – activities, the reality is that it’s really not that possible for me.  For starters, there are no such markets in this part of SW London.  And if I had the time and energy to bundle up two children and go pottering about food stalls, chatting to the producers and trying to hide my astonishment at the SHOCKING COST of the apples / cheese / bread, then surely I should use said time and energy – and money - to take them to a class or visit a friend – anything really to expend some toddler energy and lessen the daily guilt of being a Bad Lazy Mother.
So food postings will be larder-friendly food, quickly thrown together to provide easy dishes that wouldn’t embarrass you (too much) if for some reason hungry visitors turned up at your door unexpectedly (any visitors at my door would stay there, knocking until the end of time).  Child-postings will be rants and decompressing devices, and occasionally – hopefully – the odd amusing observation (such as yesterday’s, which was that apparently I say “oh Christ” when I drop things enough for the Boy to add it to his repertoire of, oohh, 17 words. [Of the other 17, 3 are Bad Words already picked up from, it appears, me...]).
Finally, the name.  I didn’t know what to call this blog. I needed something which summed up my life.  was already gone, as was WhatthehellwasIthinkinghavinganotherchild.blogspot; Thisfuckingsucks seemed a bit too blunt (plus it doesn’t always suck, and when it comes together and I feel like I’ve earned my nightly glass of wine, the world seems an ok place, and the 3am feed a doable chore).  But the wine enjoyment is always always tempered by the knowledge that, no matter how much housework I’ve done that day (usually very very little, I am fast veering from house-wife to house-slut) there is inevitably laundry to be done. It never ends. It piles up while I sleep, while I shop, while I type.  There is little I hate as much as laundry  - the gathering, the sorting, the hanging, the re-sorting – and don’t start me on ironing – yet in a cruel twist of fate, it is laundry which is the one constant in my life. Why can’t Green & Black’s Almond multiply over-night?  Or a nice Meursault?  Or good behaviour from the Boy?  Instead, it’s the milk-sodden babygros, the manky muslins, the weetabix-encrusted pyjamas... I no longer wear clean clothes, and yet I go through a large container of washing detergent every week.  Never-ending-laundry sums up my life – and yet simultaneously sounds like a song from the 80s (whatever happened to Limahl??) 
And so relentlesslaundry it is.  Welcome.
(*sorry, that should of course read “paid employment” as anyone who even hints that I don’t have a job is welcome to step into my 6am-to-midnight-with-a 3am-feed life and then repeat their “no job” assertion...)