Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Tubes and Tubers

God didn’t so much as laugh at my plans last week, as fall off His throne, clutching His sides.
A week ago today my primary concerns for the week were:  how to organise a slot of time for self so I could get to a Gap with my 30% off voucher and buy all my xmas presents in one foul swoop;  whether I’d be able to make it to an artists’ studio open day on Thursday or Friday; and what on earth I was going to wear for a friend’s birthday dinner on Saturday night.   I also spent bursts of my time  thinking of the theme for the next blog posting: whether to continue with the kids’ minor achievements (the Boy now singing along to songs – and in Swedish too! – the Girl not doing much, but being very sweet about it) and whether I had cooked anything reasonable recently which might don the pages of the ‘net.
But first I had to get the Boy to the doctor to have his persistent hacking cough checked out – viral, apparently, nothing to be done but put up with it – and ensure Girl wasn’t coming down with same thing.  A bit of a runny nose, but nothing to worry about.
The runny nose became a cough by Tuesday morning, a hunger-strike and high temp by Tues night, non-stop pitiful wailing by Wednesday – and INTENSIVE CARE FOR PNEUMONIA by Thursday.

(That pause is me still in shock)
There followed some of the worst hours of my life - actually, scrap that: the worst, without a doubt – while we looked on helplessly as she was plugged into machines, hooked up to tubes, struggled to breathe, and just looked so teeny and fragile on the huge hospital cot. I held her for almost a full day, trying to ease her discomfort, trying not to get her (and me) tangled up in her tubes and wires, rocking, shushing, crying, kissing, pleading, snapping at nurses - all the while the glorious antibiotics were doing their magical stuff.   
Have antibiotics made it onto the cover of Time magazine yet?  Because they should have done. 
I owe them my daughter’s life – or at the very least, her lungs.
The drama and trauma has passed, and after a few days in hospital we are all home again. The Boy, who sweetly asked after his sister alot, seems relieved to have us all together again, and is loathe to let me out of his sight.  The Girl seems to not care too much,  her smile has returned and once she gives up the faux-anorexia nonsense, she should hopefully be fully restored. 
In the midst of the bleakness, two things gave me  some relief.  One was that the Boy has, finally finally, learned how to say “yes”;  we no longer have to take the absence of a forceful “no” as an affirmative.  He says it in a very sincere, sombre way, while nodding his head – as if there’s just no doubt in his mind – which I just love. Fun games now include asking him if he loves me?  “Ye-es”;  asking him if he loves his sister?  “Ye-es”;  asking him if his Daddy smells?  “Ye-es”.  Hahahaha.  
The other was baked potatoes.  I know, how pathetic.  On the day I ventured home to grab some sleep and spend time with the Boy,  I realised that like a modern-day Old Mother Hubbard, the freezer – where his emergency pots of home-made meals are stored - was bare. As were the cupboards - except for a bag of eyeful potatoes.  I didn’t have time to peel or slice – or indeed do anything at all – so instead I turned the oven on to high, washed them (minimally), stabbed them therapeutically  and threw them all in, whereupon I promptly forgot about them and telephoned my mother to whimper and seek comfort.
An hour of comforting later, the smell of Autumn filled the house, and lunch / side dishes / snacks were aplenty.
Potatoes are the best thing ever.  In fact there was a man on the radio this morning who had just finished a 60-day diet of only potatoes, during which time he lost 22lbs (and, I’d imagine, some of the will to live).  That might perhaps be taking it a teeny step too far, but if I had to live on only one food, it would be potatoes.  That one – admittedly large -  tray of baked spuds yielded mash, grilled potato skins, hash browns and – of course – stuffed baked potatoes. 
I won’t insult anyone’s intelligence by giving a recipe.  But a couple of teeny tips:
  • It takes the same amount of oven heat (about an hour, at at least 190F), and effort on your  part, to cook one as it does twenty.  So go for twenty.
  • Once cooled, I kept any that remained uneaten in the cooled oven.  We ate the last of them three days later (fried) and they were fine, but I’d imagine any later than that might get a bit icky.
  • If you plan on scooping and mashing,  two points.  First, slit-and-pinch the potatoes with a heavy hand as soon as they come out of the oven – the more steam they release, the fluffier they’ll be.  Mash as soon as possible with lots of butter and a splash of milk.  Secondly, keep a small bit of potato on the skins, for liberal sprinkling with grated cheese and a re-visit to the oven (or hot grill) at a later point.  Tell your toddler these are “crisps” and watch him gobble. (‘Tho try to refrain from eating from his plate, it’s unseemly).
God bless the humble spud.  When He stops laughing at me, that is. 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Sweet Potato Curry for the Soul

It’s been a week of personal developments in our household.
The Girl had her first taste of baby-rice – which she celebrated by reacting as if I’d fed her crushed glass.  I’m not really sure it’s worth the hassle to be honest, and now find self wondering just how long I can keep her on milk-only for.  About as long as I can take having to get up to deal with her in the night probably – which isn’t very long at all.  So we’ll persevere.  The Boy at her age was roaring for pear and carrot, suspect that the Girl is going to be a bit trickier when it comes to food.  In fact probably as tricky as the Boy has now become (talk about crushed glass -  Jesuschrist, you’d swear I was force-feeding him the dog poo he drags through the house from the park several times a week).
The Boy – when he’s not spitting masticated food onto the plate / floor / his lap / my hand - is going through his own advancements, mainly parroting our dialogue.  So out of nowhere you might get “Hellohowareyou”, or equally likely: “OhdearohGodohChrist”. I was emailing with an NCT friend whose daughter is the same age as him, and she said how great it is being finally able to have a conversation with her toddler... Huh?  Really?  Because conversations with the Boy go something like this:
“Good Morning Darling”
“Um, ok.  Would you like to come have some juice?”
“Really?  Ok.  Maybe some mango?”
“Mango?  Mango?  Mangoooooooooooooooooo” (wailing pitifully).
(Later, when all the dried mango has been stuffed at once into his mouth,gagged on, spat out, and re-eaten:)
“Monkey mango? Poor Monkey mango, very big heavy mango, Monkey crying.  MONKEY CORNER! STOP IT!” 
I suppose it is a conversation of sorts.  Just more like one you’d expect to have in a mental institution.
I have also made a couple of leaps and bounds since last I posted – almost literally;  I’ve been to the gym again! And I lasted 25 mins this time (5 mins longer than last time;  I should be up to an hour in time for my summer holidays next year.)  AND I’ve kept a list of easy-to-prepare food which I’ve saved on my online supermarket shop, thus they’ll be delievered irrespective of whether I remember to order them or not.  (I expect the house to be awash with uneaten bananas and smoothies by the end of the month.)
But the best personal development of all came from the Man, who amazed both of us by producing the most delicious meal the other night. The Man, while in fact fairly competent in the kitchen, pretends to be disabled (or something) to avoid having to cook too often – apparently he can’t deal with the stress.  So anything he cooks is always going to be a bit of a treat  – just because it happens so rarely – but this was so yum that I’m going to hand out the recipe.  (And let’s face it, if the Man could do it without too much complaint and without it taking all night long, it’s obviously not the most challenging of dishes, and will, I suspect, become something of a regular in our new, developed household). 
The best thing of all is that by all accounts it was neither bad, nor sharp, nor indeed heavy, and was equally enjoyed by the Boy, who in his haste to shovel it into his gob, forgot to spit any out.  
Sweet Potato, Coconut and Spinach Curry
(Lifted from Allegra McEvedy, and adapted slightly (by me, not the Man – are you mad?))
You Need (for two, v v  generously)
  • Oil
  • Couple of onions, peeled and diced
  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into largeish chunks
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • Bag of baby spinach (or two if you need yer greens)
  • 50g ground almonds (essential – gives the curry a fantastic texture)
  • One red chilli, (sliced thickly enough so you can remove pieces if small unadventurous children will be eating it)
  • 1 tin of coconut milk
  • Juice of a lime
  • Handful of coriander, chopped
Fry the onion in the hot oil, lid on, for about 5 mins.
Stir in Sweet Potato, curry and turmeric and fry for a few minutes until potatoes start to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the spinach, almonds and chilli.
When the spinach has wilted pour in the coconut milk, stir well, and bring to the boil. Then turn heat down and put on lid. Keep it simmering and check in about 15 mins – the sweet potatoes should be soft but not collapsing (which happens if you cut them too small).
Once potatoes are cooked, check consistency of sauce.  If it’s too liquid for your liking, take lid off and turn up heat for a few minutes.
Just before serving, add lime juice and coriander, and season if needed.
(While this was delish, next time I make it I think I’ll get creative, and add a couple of sliced carrots (fry them for a few minutes before the sweet potatoes) and a tin of drained chickpeas.  This will probably mean using two tins of coconut milk, and doubling up on the spices.  Which in turn will make twice as much curry – no bad thing.  But if that sounds like too much hard work (or too much curry) just make it as above.)
Serve with a smug self-satisfied grin (if you’re the cook) and rice or nan. Yum yum.   

Friday, 12 November 2010

Let me eat Cake (or indeed, anything at all)

After months of costly procrastination, I actually made it to the gym last week.  And then only because the Man shamed me into it.  If he can manage twice (at least) a week, surely I can go once in three months?  So off I went, dragging my reluctant ass, and came away feeling sore and shocked.  
Sore, because it’s the gym, and shocked, because it transpires that not only do I have no muscle-tone whatsoever, but in fact I possibly have no muscles whatsoever.  The weight indicator on the machines, starting at a not-overly-unrealistic 25kg, quickly, and embarrassingly, slid down to 5kg.  As in, I could only lift 5kg of weight above my head.  Which is, I’m assuming, not only because I’ve been avoiding the gym since last October (everybody knows that it’s bad to go to the gym during a pregnancy...) but perhaps also because I’ve fallen into the crap-eating habits trap that befalls most new(ish) mothers and so have no strength (either to pump iron, or to get inside the gym to so pump).
Out of curiosity I’ve made a mental note of everything I’ve eaten today – which has left me even more shocked than I was when I limped out of the gym:
·  One yoghurt and a bite of peanut-butter on  toast (I did intend to have entire thing but the Boy had other plans)
·  “Several” squares of chocolate (ah ok then, many many squares – but it was dark, Green & Black’s - so practically health food)
·  A quarter slice of bread with tuna mayo topping (stolen from the Boy’s lunchtime plate, and eaten straight after the chocolate – revolting, left me feeling ill for the rest of the day)
·  Spoonful of corn (ditto)
·  Flapjack and cup of tea.
Compare this to the Boy’s:
·  Toast x 2 (1 x his, 1 x mine), banana and yoghurt, apple juice, small cup of cocoa,  (breakfast)
·  Tuna mayo sandwich, cup of sweetcorn (minus a spoonful), bowl of broccoli soup, raspberry yoghurt (lunch)
·  Tomato and pepper risotto, mashed kiwi & banana (dinner)
·  Breadsticks, raisins, nuts (Various snacks)
My just-gone 2 yr old son eats not only twice as well as I do, but twice as much.  (It might also explain why he’s about 15 stone).
To try to balance out this dietary vacuum, I plan on making the recipe below for dinner tonight for the Man and I. It’s easy and tasty, takes 15 mins prep time – max – then cooks itself in about 20 mins.  Enough time for you to pour yourself a stiff I-made-it-through-another-day drink.  (And then another one.  Who says I’m not doing everything I can to get my strength up??)
Smoked Mackerel Chowder
You need:
·    Pack of vacuum-packed smoked mackerel, skinned and roughly torn (try not to eat too much while you’re prepping...)
·    1 x Onion, chopped
·    1 x pepper (any colour – I like red), chopped
·    Some paprika / smoked paprika / dried chilli (optional)
·    Some celery, carrots, potatoes (up to you how much, and depends on how many you’re cooking for – I go for 2 each of carrots and potatoes, and one stalk of celery) – all peeled and chopped / diced
·    Tin of sweetcorn, drained
·    About a litre of stock*
·    Parsley (if, like me,  you have some stuck to the bottom of the fridge)
Sautee the onion in some oil on a medium heat for a few minutes until soft.  If you want your finished dish to have a bit of a kick, add the paprika (a teaspoon) or chilli (as much as you want) and leave to fry for a minute or so. 
Add the celery, carrots and potatoes, leave to fry for a few minutes.  Once they stick to the pan, stir and add a dollop of stock, then leave to bubble until soft – about 5 more minutes.
Add the chopped pepper and tin of corn, then add enough stock to cover the ingredients. 
After 10 mins or so, taste – the vegetables should be soft and ready to eat.  Throw in the mackerel and the parsley and leave for 5 more minutes.
It’s fine to eat as it in now, tho I like to stick in the hand-held blender for a few seconds, just to thicken it slightly. 
Season, add more slimey parsley if that’s your thing, then eat – on its own, or with lovely buttery mashed potatoes (or less lovely brown rice). 
If you do manage to keep some for your lunch the next day, don’t let any offspring  get their fat paws on it.   

*Re stock – I may never have any food for anyone older than 3 to eat in the house, but I always have a tub of Marigold Bouillon powder in the cupboard.  In the olden days it was a perfect hangover cure, nowadays it’s used for more wholesome purposes.  Plus the goddesses that are Delia and Nigella swear by it.

Monday, 1 November 2010

A Plague on all our House's Occupants

It’s been a busy week for our washing machine.  I was, somewhat optimistically, looking forward to this week – the Boy’s birthday, Halloween looming, the last week before British “Summer” Time ends,  children frolicking in crunchy fallen leaves , seasons of mists etc. 
Season of germs more like. 
The Boy spent his first night as a two year old covered in vomit (his own, I should clarify) – as did I (ditto his own), and then it became a waiting game to see who would fall next.  I was the lucky winner, my prize a horrible couple of days sweating and shivering and retching (uuuugh), and on-going lingering tummy upset.  The Boy’s birthday party (actually, not so much a party as a cake-fest)  having been postponed twice fell right in the midst of my personal plague, so I struggled up, and breathed dog-breath all over the visiting mummies who were kind enough to pretend not to notice. 
The waiting game continues – the Girl or the Man?* – and in the meantime, we (I) are (am) trying to work my way through the Everest of laundry which bred during my infirmity.  It’s never ending (relentless, almost...) but on the plus side, the constant hum of the machine is quite soothing, and Ariel non-bio is for once covering the usual smell of damp – and the new smell of vom - in the house.
But back to the Boy’s birthday.  One of the highlights of the day was watching his face light up (almost literally at one point, when he leaned a bit too close to the candles for my liking) when his birthday cake was produced.  Aw, bless.  It took a couple of attempts before he got the whole blowing thing, but he did well.  The low-light – apart from hosing regurgitated blackcurrants off duvets and pillows -  was watching helplessly as the neighbourhood cats tortured a squirrel in our back garden.  Squirrels are really stupid, and there’s definitely an argument in favour of them being eaten alive, but I’d rather it didn’t happen when I’m trying to persuade the Boy to eat his birthday pancakes (made with blackcurrant jam...). 

The other highlight came about, strangely enough, right in the middle of the vom-fest.  Once bedding had been stripped and the Boy cleaned up – for the third time – I took him (and a bucket) into bed with me. This was the second night in his life when we've shared a bed – the only other time being his first night home from hospital, aged 3 days.  So there was much excitement and chatter from him (which is precisely why it’s a rare-to-never  event);  this (very) gradually died down, and eventually we were just lying there – trying to sleep (or so I thought).  His breathing got deeper and deeper , and just when I thought he was asleep, and I might be able to extricate my arm from his, he leant over, crawled onto my chest, and said – “sowwee mummy”, before putting his head down and kissing me. 
I’d like to say that he then fell asleep, but no, he got a new burst of life, jumped up on me, and started to demand books and juice.  The moment passed, but it was a very lovely, special moment.
He’s still not getting blackcurrant jam ever again tho’.
*and the prize goes to... the Girl, who is as good-natured about a stomach bug as she is about everything else.  Bless.