Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Art of Conversation

I’ve had a couple of, um, interesting conversations in the past few days.  
The first was with the Boy, who has decided that weeing in the toilet (or the garden, or the potty, or indeed anywhere that isn’t his pants) is for wusses, and so we seem to be back to square one in the toilet training stakes.  This reached a pinnacle on Friday when, by the end of the day, he hadn’t bothered to use the toilet once, preferring instead the soft cosiness of his Superman underwear.  Resulting in FIVE CHANGES of clothes.   I lost it on the sixth leakage, which happened about 4 minutes after I had asked him if he needed to go to the toilet, dragged him upstairs and gave him a talking to.  Half-way through he put his face up to mine – literally nose-to-nose – and started saying, clearly and loudly: “Mummy... Mummy... Mummy... Mummy... MUMMY!” at which point I stopped talking.  Still nose-to-nose he barked:  “Don’t be so STOOOPID! It doesn’t MATTER!”  
Well actually, it does – he’s starting nursery in a couple of weeks (or next week, depending on whether we get his passport back from the Irish Embassy in time for our family “holiday” this weekend) and pissing in his pants out of sheer laziness really isn’t an option.  But that aside, his reaction to my attempt at sterness pretty much gasted my flabber. Especially as into the silence which followed he offered: “Bloodybloodybloodybloody.”
Excellent.  I have a potty-mouthed, non-potty-trained nursery-bound adolescent on my hands. 
Having comprehensively failed at the stick approach, I decided yesterday that some carrots were needed: gummy bears.  So I took the Boy off to the supermarket –something I normally avoid whenever possible, but the nose-to-nose talking to had clearly wiped me of my sense. Which is when the second – and by far more note-worthy - conversation took place. 
By way of background: the Boy and I were having a... disagreement... about the removal of a sardine from its packaging. He wanted to carry its lifeless, bloody, scaley body around in his hands, I – not unreasonably, I think – did not want him to.  He started to scream – “BUT IT’S MY PET...” - and I stood and ignored him. 
That’s when the asshole walked past and muttered “spoilt little brat” under his breath.
If there’s one thing I hate in people it’s under-the-breath muttering; either say something properly, or don’t bother saying it at all. So I turned around to him and said “excuse me?”  The following is the subsequent conversation.  Words in italics are things I thought about afterwards – you know, those really good intelligent cutting lines which pop into your head long after the event, while you’re storming around the supermarket in a blind fury. 
Childless Man: “You heard me.”
Me: “If you have something to say, at least have the decency to say it to my face.”
CM: “People like you make me sick. I should have the right to go about my business without having to listen to children screaming.”
(Bewildered.  What do you say to this? Of course what I should have said was: Oh fuck off you complete moron. Unless you can behave like an intelligent member of society, you have no fucking rights at all. Instead I said – lamely:)
Me: “You’re in a supermarket!”
CM: “Yes.  And I should be entitled to be in a supermarket without having to listen to your brat screaming...”
Clever Me: Can I suggest you wear earplugs next time you leave your house?  Because there are LOTS of children in this city, and most of them scream from time to time.
Real (Pathetic) Me: “He’s two! He has tantrums sometimes!” (I suspect I was beginning to sound somewhat hysterical myself by now.)
CM: “If you disciplined him properly – said in horribly condescending voice  - then maybe he wouldn’t have tantrums.”
Clever Me: Are you on drugs?
Real (Pathetic) Me: “Do you have children?”
CM: “No.  And this – waves his childless hand towards the Boy, who by now has the fish out of the packaging and his fingers in its eye, oblivious to the social strive he’s created – is why...”
Clever Me: So, you accept that dealing with children is at times very difficult, and this is why you have chosen not to have them.  Apart from the fact that you’re clearly way way too self centred to be a parent.
Real (Pathetic) Me: You need to grow up (said to his retreating back).
The Boy, by now bored with disembowelling the fish all over the supermarket floor (could the cleaner please come to aisle four...)  started to take an interest in events. 
“Mummy, why that man cross?” 
“Because he didn’t like you screaming and crying.”
“I’m sorry Mummy; I’m sorry man.”
“Well why don’t you go and say sorry to him?”
I don’t know why I thought this would be a good idea.  I think that unfortunately I’m too sensitive to what others think about me – particularly regarding my parenting (non) abilities – and I wanted Childless Man to see that I could train my performing dog to be quite sweet, occasionally.  So we traipsed after the complete cock man and I presented the Boy to him to say sorry. Childless Man looked like I’d just forced him to suck lemons – imagine having to interact with a toddler.  So I was somewhat pleased when the Boy looked up and said “Why me have to say sorry?” Childless Man looked bitter and twisted.
CM: “You shouldn’t let him behave like that.”
Me: (Trying to be reasonable, but actually just losing the will to live) “You know, it’s not that easy dealing with toddlers.  They’re very strong willed and sometimes, no matter what you do, they have tantrums.”
CM: “Well I never behaved like that, my mother wouldn’t have put up with it.”
Clever Me: Really?  Never?  You’re sure about that, huh? Either way, your mother must be TERRIBLY proud of you right now.
Real (Pathetic) Me: “Most people with kids are just doing their best, you should try to understand that.”
CM: “And you should understand that I want to go about my business without having to listen to children screaming.”
Clever- and Angry – Me: YOU’RE IN FUCKING SAINSBURY’S, YOU ARSEHOLE, NOT THE FUCKING THEATRE.
Real (Pathetic) Me: “It’s the supermarket.  He’s two.  Kids scream.  It’s the way it is.”
CM: “Well it’s that attitude which results in children behaving like spoilt brats. That’s what I’d expect from the sort of parent who allows their children to riot.”
I swear he said this.  At this point I should have just hit him over the head with a bottle.  Instead I just gave up and left him with a really crap parting shot:
“You clearly have all the answers.”
I’m so pathetic. Of course what I really should have done was set the Boy on him. He could have yelled “DON’T BE SO STOOOPID” into the man’s twitching, mean, pinched, weasel face. 
Instead he pissed in his pants and we both went on our way.

Pounding ingredients with a pestle and mortar isn’t something I often do – I’m way too lazy, and there’s always a jar of pesto in the fridge – but after my brush with Mr Judgment yesterday (which, naturally, consumed me for the rest of the day) I found it quite therapeutic.  And it used up the bunch of wilting parsley I found in the bottom of the fridge. 
Roast Fish with parsley and walnut pesto

You need:
  • A fillet of thick meaty fish per person (eg: cod, haddock, monkfish, salmon;  I used sea trout*)
  • A large handful of manky old parsley (preferably flat-leafed, but curley is fine)
  • A handful of walnuts
  • Walnut oil – or otherwise a mild oil (peanut or non-extra virgin olive oil)
  • A clove or two of garlic (depending on your taste, and the amount of paste you’re making)
  • Juice and zest of half a lemon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160c / 320f/ gas 3
If using a food processor, bung all the ingredients bar the fish and the oil into the machine and pulse.  Then pour the oil in slowly – as much as you need to achieve the consistency you want.  I like it very thick and sludgy;  add more oil if you prefer a thinner paste.  Otherwise, pound the shit out of the ingredients with your pestle, adding the oil bit by bit.  (Feel free to imagine you’re smashing someone’s weaselly face in.)
Put the fish skin-side down (if applicable) into an oiled oven-proof dish.  Smear the paste over the top, and season with salt and pepper.
Cook for about 15-20 minutes – depending on the thickness of the fish.  Check it at 15 minutes, and then every three minutes or so.
Serve with potatoes, salad and a nice pint of vodka to calm your frazzled nerves.
*Not the sardine, which I just stuck into the fridge, where it will no doubt sit, eyeless, for a few days before being transferred to the bin.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

First Things First

It’s been a week of firsts in the household where the laundry never ceases.
First up for a gold medal is the Boy, who seems to have made a leap across the emotional intelligence divide, and is now bombarding me with verbal love on a daily basis.  It started last week, as I tucked him up into bed.
“Mummy, I love you SO MUCH it makes me sad.  Why it does make me sad?” 
Lordy.  What do you say to that?  With trembling lip and choked up throat I whittered something inane about sometimes love hurting but that it wasn’t real sad, just a very special sort of sad.  (Which, now that I think about it, sums up my ability to answer my son’s question perfectly). 
From that enormous leap, it was only a small hop over to emotional blackmail.  Yesterday I got:  “Mummy, I love you SO MUCH... Please can I have a treat?”;  and from there, a mere saunter into manipulation: “But Daddy say Yes...”
In joint first place – because the events were done to her, not by her* – is the Girl, whose increasingly apparent shoe fetish was rewarded this week with her first pair of shoes.  And amazingly, they were not the Boy’s hand-me-downs (there’s something just a teeny bit yucky about second-hand shoes – even if it is for an infant).  I went for the most non-pink ones I could find (navy and pink) and I have to say they are VERY cute indeed.  Even if they do spend most of the time in her mouth.
She also gets a special mention for having endured her first haircut.  Before her arrival – indeed before I ever had children – I swore that any children I had would be treated exactly the same by me.  It’s something that the Man and I then discussed at length when I was pregnant with her;  what sort of a parent treats their children differently? 
Every sort, it transpires – and especially me.  Point in case:  The First Haircut.  The Boy’s was in a kiddy-friendly salon, he sat with a lollipop in his mouth, watching fish in a tank, entertained with books and stuffed animals;  he had his photo taken, and was presented with a certificate – yes, you read right – enclosing a lock of his newly-shorn hair.  I think we may have gone out for lunch afterwards – but I’m hoping it was only because we were hungry, and not because we were such ponces that we actually thought we’d celebrate something so nonsensical.
The Girl, therefore, could reasonably have expected much the same treatment.  Which might account for her look of bewilderment when I strapped her into her high chair, armed her with a handful of raisins, and snipped the rats’ tails off her (rather magnificent) mullet.  I did, naturellement, keep a lock of hair in a tiny fold of paper, but – oops - I now seem to have thrown that fold of paper away. There was no certificate, no fish-tank, and no post-‘do lunch.  Significantly however, neither was there a bill for FIFTEEN pounds.  (I suspect that all good intentions to treat one’s children the same start to crumble when ALL one’s money seems to be spent on said children...)
The Man will no doubt be horrified to be left out of the award-giving ceremony, but I can’t think of anything out of the norm performed by him this week.  He was exemplary in his day-to-day behaviour, as ever. As for me – well first I made a Simon Hopkinson recipe for aubergine and pesto which I hadn’t had before (I have a thing about SH at the moment) -  and then – THEN! – I did this:

TA-DA!  Relentless Laundry has finally entered the 20th 21st century... I’m sure I’ll soon get sick of having to wipe down a surface in the kitchen to make it photo-worthy, not to mention making sure that things I cook look vaguely edible, but for now, consider it the first of many. 

Aubergine and Pesto (Lifted from Simon Hopkinson)
You need:  (For 2, as a side):
  • One Aubergine
  • A jar of good quality pesto (obviously home-made would be nicer – and SH’s recipe involves making this;  I however don’t generally have the time or the ingredients to hand for such, but almost always have a tub of ready-made in the fridge.  For ease I recommend this as the preferred route.  Sorry Simon.)
  • Some olive oil, salt and pepper
  • A small amount of parmesan, grated.
Preheat oven to 220c/425f/gas 7.
Cut aubergine in half (see picture!) and cut down through the flesh in a criss-cross / lattice pattern – but not as far down as the skin. (You’re just aiming to create slashes for the oil and pesto to permeate the aubergine).
Place in an oven-proof dish and cook in the oven for about 30 mins.  (When it comes to cooking aubergine, more is always more as far as I’m concerned.  So – if it calls for 20 – 30 mins (as this does) I go for 30 -40;  nothing worse than a slightly al dente aubergine, and nothing better than a silky meltingly soft one.
Remove from oven, turn on your grill, and spread a spoonful of pesto over the top (See picture!).  Sprinkle with some grated parmesan (See pic... Sorry, I’ll stop now) and put under the grill until the topping is bubbling – a couple of minutes. 
Leave to stand for a few minutes – or to cool, depending on your preference for aubergine.
We ate this with these roasted peppers and some shop-bought pizza.  (Sadly not the first time - nor the last - that ready-made pizza lines our bellies...)
*Post-script (Literally):  We now officially have a toddler on our hands.  At 645pm yesterday evening, we had a giant step for a baby, albeit a small step for babykind. The prize for the biggest first is thus awarded to the Girl, now all grown up. Sniff.
PPS:  Aw...:

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

One Day

I had the kids’ babysitter in yesterday, and so had a very full and productive day planned.  It was to involve:  a gym session;  a peaceful brunch in a nice cafe, while reading the paper;  a passport application;  some writing; and possibly some toddler entertainment.  As well as emails and telephone calls etc.  Who couldn’t achieve all of that in 8 hours?
(Ahem...)
Intention:  Leave house as soon as babysitter arrives – 8.30am – but in any event NO LATER than 8.50am.  Thus, be dressed in gym clothes by 8.30, have change of clothes and everything else i need for the rest of the day packed into gym bag.  Be on treadmill by 9am.
Sad Reality:  Boy won’t get out of his bed, and Girl won’t leave his room.  So I stay up there – mainly to referee them, and also to ensure Girl doesn’t crawl into the toilet / down the stairs / get her head stuck in banisters railing.  By 845 I’m seriously pissed off.  WHERE IS SHE??  Leave kids alone for half a minute while I belt down to my room to retrieve phone, only to see several texts and missed calls from the babysitter who has been standing outside – keyless – since 8.30.  Thrust the reticent children into her arms and start looking for gym clothes. Everything looks ridiculous – unsurprisingly, as all my gym gear was bought in 1997.  Finally decide I don’t care, and pack gym bag:  clothes, mobile, keys, wallet... wallet... Where’s my fucking wallet?  Have a vague memory of having put it Somewhere Safe Away From Marauding Looters last week, before we fled the city. Search high and low.  Finally find offending wallet in – tadaa! – my handbag.  (Looters would never have looked in there.)
I am at the front door, primed for my escape, but the Boy, hearing the door open, has miraculously appeared and is clinging to my leg.  “DON’T GO!  PLEEEEEEEEEEEEASE MUMMY DON’T LEAVE ME...” He starts to cry as I close the door in his face.  I make it to the gym, addled with guilt, at 10.10, where everyone is decked out in club-esque gear, looking very cool.  Everyone, that is, except for me. 
Intention:  Buy the paper after workout – no later than 1015am - and retreat to the nice deli down the road for (well earned) breakfast and lovely half hour’s calm newspaper-reading session.
Sad Reality: The newspaper-buying bit goes according to plan – albeit an hour and a half late – but the blasted deli is on its summer holidays.  Seriously - there’s a big sign in the window saying it’s closed for August.  What does it think it is – Parliament? My only other option is the Starbucks at the end of my road, but (a) I’d rather swallow my knickerbocker-esque work out “shorts” than eat the food at Starbucks, and more discouragingly (b) there’s a good chance I’ll be spotted by the Boy, who likes to run in and steal lollipops and sugar sachets. I wander about aimlessly for a few minutes, then decide to jump straight to the next carefully thought out part of the day.
Intention: Do a big grocery shop.  (I know – the glamour). Normally I’d consign this task to the  internet, but having just got back from visiting my in-laws on Sunday night, there isn’t a bean – or a nappy - in the house.  The plus side is that being on the ground means that I’ll spend less money than usual, and won’t get side-tracked by the online sales tactics (“Have you forgotten the premium smoked salmon?” “Have you run out of cavier?” “You might also like some offal” etc etc).  I also wanted to check out the white marinated anchovies which Nicky had recommended to me in last week’s comments, and see if I could overcome my innate fear and loathing.
Sad Reality: I spent twice as much as I usually do on a load of unneeded, overpriced food, which is sure to either go off before the day is out, or be scoffed by the kids.  I also failed – MISERABLY – in the Great Anchovy Test.  I just couldn’t do it.  I actually gagged looking at them.  In addition, I took at least an hour and a half longer than the internet shop takes – although granted, we had food – and nappies – in the house by 3pm.  On the plus side, I decided that I can’t be arsed to have different sized nappies for the kids any more.  She’s a 4+, he’s a 5+;  so I’ve split the difference, and from now on, they’re both in size 5. (It is an indication of how pathetic my life is that I find this not only comment-worthy, but also revolutionary.)
Intention: Go from supermarket to post office next door, and get application for UK Passport for The Boy. (We’re off to Turkey at the start of September, and lest he decides to stay on there and sponge off the system, he needs to have at least 6 months left in his passport on our return.  Typically, he will have only 5 months and 2 weeks left on it;  the Irish passport office is muttering things about a seven-week lead time, the kindly UK folk will let me have one within a week.) Fill in application and call passport office to arrange an appointment, preferably for today.  Then head to Knightsbridge to collect application from Irish Passport Office, Just In Case.
Sad Reality: I’m too laden down with shopping bags to face the Post Office, so decide to head home instead.  By the time I get there, my hands have been severed from my wrists by the carrier bags. I walk in and the Boy is delighted to see me, notwithstanding the Door Closing incident. The guilt lifts. He helps (“helps”) put away the shopping by eating one thing for every one thing he puts away.  Within twenty minutes the ruinously expensive raspberries, strawberries and grapes are gone.  I won’t let him have any of the chocolate (I think it’s the only thing I bought myself – not bad going for a £200 grocery bill) and he’s prostate on the floor, hysterical with grief. As I step over him to leave for the post office, he grabs hold of my leg and won’t let go.  I drag him through the hall and repeat the Front Door Closing technique.  I can hear his howls four houses away.
It is 320 by the time I get to the post office.  There are THIRTY TWO people in front of me, two desks open, and two of the slowest people known to man working behind them.  It is 430 by the time I leave. 
I’m too depressed to continue.  It’s just as well really that a novel isn’t written / movie isn’t made about me, because (a) it would be short, dull and repetitive (with lots of gaps); and (b) I’m not sure that even Anne Hathaway has the artistic creativity to cover the emotionally-charged facial expressions I go through on any given day. 
On the plus side, I did finally manage to read the paper- once the carnage from having SIX toddlers in house for tea was cleaned up and a lasagne (this one – perfect for the useless summer weather we’re having right now) was cooking in the oven. 
I started buying the Times on a Monday – sporadically, natch - specifically to read Caitlin Moran’s column.  On the plane back from Ibiza on a Monday in June – possibly the last time I read an entire paper uninterrupted – I read the Times for the first time in ages, and they had published excerpts of her book How to Be a Woman, which (a) I loved so much I bought the book (the only one I’ve read so far this summer, but a fantastically excellent one, which I can’t recommend enough) and (b) led me to assume – wrongly, as it turns out – that ergo she would grace the pages of every Monday Times.  She doesn’t – and I don’t have time to buy / read the Times every day in my quest to read her.  Notwithstanding that, I still like the Monday Times, specifically the section for semi-brain-dead folk like me (aka Times 2) and therein found the following yesterday, which I made today (and served as a side with salmon fillets).  Actually, it’s a variation on the original, which uses feta instead of chedder (although NB to Mr/Mrs Monday Times Sub-editor that the printed recipe neglected to tell the reader when to add the feta...), the purchase of feta being one of the many many things I forgot to achieve yesterday.
Courgette and Cheese Pancakes
(Adapted from Lindsey Bareham’s “Dinner Tonight” column in The Times;  I’ve written her measurements, but didn’t use any myself, relying instead on greed (plenty of cheese) and chance. Basically you’re making a thick pancake batter and adding chives, grated courgettes, and cheese. It seems to be a fairly forgiving recipe - the pancakes were bloody fantastic.)
You need (for 4 people):
  • 3 courgettes
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g of flour (About three heaped tablespoons)
  • 20g of butter, melted (about two heaped tablespoons)
  • A bunch of chives (I used two spring onions, finely chopped)
  • 50g of grated cheddar (or any other hard cheese, or feta)
  • 150ml of crème fraiche (LB uses this mainly to top the finished cakes, with a spoonful of it in the mixture;  I didn’t bother using any – diluting the batter instead with a splash of milk - and I don’t think the recipe suffered)
  • 50g / 75g of parmesan, grated (LB uses 50g in the pancake mixture;  the recipe forgets to tell us what the other 25g was used for.  Clearly the sub-editor was asleep yesterday. However according to the side blurb, she tops the pancake with both crème fraiche and parmesan; if you’re using this as a side, as I was, then feel free to omit all toppings).
Grate the courgettes on the large hole of a cheese grater.  (LB recommends salting them for 20 mins before use;  you won’t be surprised to hear that I couldn’t be arsed to do this, and instead just grated the courgettes straight into the batter when required.)
Break the eggs into a bowl, whisk in the flour and the melted butter, and mix to a smooth batter. Add a dollop of the creme fraiche, if using, or a splash of milk. Then add the chives/spring onions, cheeses, and the courgettes.  You’re aiming for a thick vegetable/cheese-heavy mixture.
Heat a frying pan – unless it's non-stick, add some oil or butter. Spoon the batter mix in – small amounts for dainty bite-sized fritter-type cakes, large amounts for stand-alone or side-dishes. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side, turning when brown and crisp, and slightly risen.
If possible, eat straight away;  otherwise keep warm in a pre-heated oven. Either way, eat on their own or as a side while proof-reading the day’s paper. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Waste not, (really really) want not.

I hate waste.  Time, food, money – the thought of them being squandered sends me into a tailspin. So – the Girl wears the Boy’s old clothes; his clothes in turn are often hand-me-downs from concerned aghast generous friends; they both eat our leftovers as much as possible (and during the day I eat theirs); I pass around books /  dvds so that others can benefit from my Amazon habit; and I beat myself up more or less constantly about whether I’m using free time effectively (the consensus is that I rarely do, but then I reason with myself that those cupboards are unlikely to clean themselves out;  it’s fun being in my head -  the circus never stops).
So my unwavering attitude to my gym membership – one of, at best, indifference, but more often pure loathing – is a persistent source of bafflement to me.  I pay SEVENTY FIVE POUNDS a month for it – madness – and have used it probably ten times since the Girl was born.  That’s about ninety quid a visit.  At those rates, I could have Tracy Anderson living in my house (I too could look like Gwynneth Paltrow!).  Every (wasted) month I decide “I’m just going to cancel the damn thing”;  and then I enquire about cancelling it, and the look the receptionist gives me is one of “How could you do this, what we have is so special” (and in any event you have to give three months’ notice – imagine if that rule applied to dating?) and I feel bad, and annoyed at myself, and resolve to actually go, use it, and become the lithe strong creature I like to think I once was.  In fact I was so fired up at the weekend that I went – shudder – swimming;  but fuck me if I didn’t get chafe marks under my arms from my swimsuit... Obviously I can’t go back again until they’ve healed.  And so another month is wasted.
I make up for it tho’ by getting maximum usage from my health insurance.  I used to be one of those people who doesn’t like bothering their doctor (“In this bucket? Oh, that’s just my guts; they started to spill out last week, but I thought I’d wait to see if it resolved itself, I didn’t want to take up your time”) but now – possibly since having the kids and realising that if I pop my clogs they’ll end up eating toast for the rest of their childhoods, but more likely the realisation that this is the age when people start getting sick - I’m off at the doctors at the drop of a hat. And if one of the kids is sick, the hat hasn’t even touched the floor before we’re knocking on the surgery door.  It’s minimal intrusion to the doctor really – I just go in, explain what the problem is, and demand request a referral.  In the past four years I’ve had knee surgery, a breech baby resulting in a c-section, a baby with two placentas resulting in a c-section, a baby hospitalised for pneumonia, the same baby scanned and x-rayed for respiratory problems, and most recently numerous scans and examinations for an undetermined abdominal problem, the professional concern being for ovarian cancer.  Holy crap!
There were two particularly bad elements to this (apart, of course, from the obvious).  The first was popping into my GP in the first place, expecting it to be a routine referral request, and so having the kids in tow.  She’s great – thorough, concerned, considerate – and suggested an internal examination.  So there she was, her hand up my nether-regions, the Girl in her pram whipping around to see if she could find anything to eat, the Boy standing by my head, looking in astonishment at proceedings.  “Mummy, what she DOO-NING?” he wailed through tears, as she took out the car-jack thingy and shoved it up under the blanket between my legs. I reassured him and he calmed down, although the shock obviously had a physical effect on him because 30 seconds later he was doing his tippy-toe dance. “I need to do a poo..!”  “Ok, just wait one minute”;  “Mummy......... I reeeeeally need to do a poo!” “I know love, just one more minute, good boy”; “MUMMY!!! HELP! It’s coming OUT MY BUM...” 
I highly recommend this tactic to anyone who either needs something to take their mind off the fact that there’s a medieval torture instrument in their fanny, or wants to get a quick consultant’s referral from their GP;  we were out the door, letter in hand, two minutes later. 
The other mild trauma was having an ultrasound scan;  lying in the darkened room with all the beeping machines, I couldn’t help but expect there to be a teeny throbbing blob waving out at me, the thought of which made me feel rather unwell.  The only thing which raised a smile was imagining the look on the Man’s face when I told him I was knocked up.  Well – deep, heartfelt sigh of thanks - I wasn’t;  and several more scans, bloodtests, and undignified pokes and prods later I was diagnosed – provisionally – with... a hernia!  Substantially less worrying than cancer, but still – not exactly the glamour I was hoping would usher me into my forties.  A fucking hernia.  Is this the thanks I get for loafing my two enormous children up and down the stairs all day? 
And so more tests and pokes and prods – and guess what?  As of yesterday I don’t have a hernia after all.  Just some nasty scar tissue and a trapped nerve. And here’s the irony: The only treatment is - Exercise.  Going to the gym.  As much as I can, with lots of swimming and abdominal strengthening (whatever that is). 
On balance I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have the hernia. At the very least it would allow me to lounge about all day (ha!) catching up on online episodes of the rather excellent Good Cook – Simon Hopkinson’s new(ish) BBC show.  This is stolen from him, and changed slightly to remove all traces of the nasty hairy little critters that are anchovies. 
Piedmontese Peppers (aka posh roasted peppers)
You need:
  • One red or yellow pepper per person
  • Lots of extra virgin olive oil
  • A clove of garlic per person
  • About 6 cherry, or two smallish regular,  tomatoes per person.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Some grated parmesan or a ball of mozzarella cheese to top (optional.  If you have the tastebuds of a brave warrier, you can go the SH route and top with - uuuugh - anchovies.  Just typing that word makes me shudder.)
Heat the oven to 190c/375f/gas 5
Halve the peppers lengthways (through the stem), discarding the pith (is that what the white bits are called?) and seeds. 
Place cut-side-up in an ovenproof dish.  Lash some olive oil over them. 
Roughly chop the garlic, and sprinkle in the pepper cavities. 
Tuck the tomatoes in the peppers (SH recommends skinning them;  I think life is too short to skin a tomato, and having to eat tomato skins has never bothered me particularly.  If you are fussy, dip the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute, then peel off the skins.  Otherwise use the time to drink half a glass of wine.)
Lots more olive oil over the top, some salt and pepper, and into the oven for about an hour – start checking them after 45 minutes or so.  If they’re scorched, then remove.
If using parmesan, grate it straight onto the peppers.  If using mozzarella, cut into small chunks and place on top of them.  I can't write the A word again, so assume you know just to lay them on top. Either way, eat with lots of bread to mop up the garlicy tomato juice which has gathered in the peppers, and red wine – for its health-giving hernia-combatting* properties.
(*not really; although I drink ALOT of red wine and do not have a hernia.  Draw your own conclusions.)