Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Germs have Landed

Well, it’s late autumn, which means that it must be time for the Invasion Of The Germs.
IOTG is a bit like our own personal 30 Year War, only more traumatic. The first indication of their imminent arrival came the day after we got back from our long since forgotten family holiday, the shock of which induced a dirty protest in the Girl which, four weeks on, shows no sign of abating.  (It’s like having our very own miniature Brian Haw.  Although alive. And without the Anti-War slogans. Or the tents.)  To punish cure her, I’ve imposed a dairy-free diet, so like all the best protesters, she is now a vegan.  (AND she doesn’t like having her hair washed; she’ll be living in a tree next.)
Having established a strong-hold in her guts, IOTG sent exploratory emissaries off in the Boy's direction. A few days later his nursery called – about twenty minutes after he’d been dropped off - to say he was “very tired.”  (Their concern was piqued because he had sat still for several minutes, then sighed heavily and turned away when the opportunity to knock a smaller child to the ground arose.) Not unsurprisingly, the lethargy had completely disappeared by the time I got him home, and we sat eyeballing each other for a while until I capitulated and handed him the laptop and instructions on downloading CBeebies. (For non-UK readers, CBeebies is the televisual equivalent of Mary Poppins arriving at your door bearing a bagful of valium.) 
Which left me free to change the Girl’s nappies (and diet) for the morning. So there I was, blithely lamenting the amount of shit I have to deal with (hohoho), when she started to sniffle a bit.  Then cough. Sniff. Cough-cough. Sniff-sniff-sniff. COUGH-COUGH-BLUUUUEEEEEUGGGHUUUUGH.  Wheeze-wheeze-wheeze.  (Put this on a loop and play for 24 hours [turn volume to HIGHEST SETTING during the night], before cracking and going to the GP.)  And so it came to pass that I lay on a hospital bench listening to Big Ben chime ALL NIGHT LONG  (seriously – no wonder all our politicians are bonkers.  It’s the bells, the bells...) while the Girl wheezed and coughed and spluttered in a cot beside me. Every two hours a nurse came and ignored the fact that I had drooled all over the floor gently woke me up and we held the Girl down and nebulised her (hark at me, all television-hospital-drama). We were eventually sent home with an inhaler and lots of meds, but, undeterred, IOTG then launched a preliminary attack on me.  Cough splutter.
This is a very very longwinded way of saying that I haven’t had much energy (or time) to cook this week, other than the usual fail-safe pastas (pomodoro and tuna).  I started to feel a bit neglectful last night, so made a bit of an effort with some smokies, only realising when I’d finished the blasted thing that the fish was slightly off (IOTG again, no doubt).  I didn’t have the inclination – or ingredients – to get creative, but then spied these lurking in the back of the cupboard: 

and remembered a dish I used to make the Girl back when she was a mush eater. (This, incidentally, is the only photo you’ll be seeing on this posting because, without being too graphic, the finished dish looks a bit like it was co-produced by the Germs and the Girl, and I don't want to put you off.) It is, literally, mush in a bowl, so possibly not recommended for a dinner party (unless you’re having lots of 8 months olds for dinner) but it’s fairly delicious and, if you’re feeling a bit below the weather, is the perfect comfort food.  

Red Lentil Mush
For a good-sized saucepan-ful you need:
  • 250g red lentils
  • An onion, chopped
  • A celery stalk, chopped as finely as you can
  • A large carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • A litre of vegetable stock
  • Salt and Pepper
  • (Optional:  half a chopped red chilli (if you fancy a bit of kick and it’s adults only);  a tablespoon of cumin powder (this makes the dish more of a thick dahl); a handful of chopped coriander and/or some chopped / frozen spinach (if you have to hand).  Personally, I like the blandness of leaving it chilli / spice free, and generally if I’m eating this my tastebuds are shot to hell anyway)
Fry the chopped onion in a couple of tablespoons of hot oil over a medium heat for a few minutes until they start to go soft, then add the chopped celery and carrot, stir well, and put the lid on.  Check every few minutes to make sure the vegetables aren’t sticking to the pan.  If they do, add a splash of water and replace the lid.
Leave for about 10 minutes - this is to ensure the celery and carrots also turn to mush by the end of the cooking time. If you’re using chilli or cumin (or both) add it now, stir well and leave for another minute or so. 
Add the lentils, stir, and cover the mix with stock.  Turn up the heat, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and leave to simmer.  Check every few minutes that it isn’t getting too dry, and add more stock as needed.  (You probably won’t use up all the stock, but if you want a more soupy dish, feel free to throw it all in).  The lentils take about 20 minutes to cook – they’re done when they’ve completely collapsed. 
If you’re using frozen spinach, add it when the lentils are soft and then leave the pot to simmer for a few more minutes until the spinach is completely defrosted and heated through.  Otherwise add fresh spinach and chopped coriander (if using) and season to taste just before serving.
Serve with rice or bread (any type – I love it with hot buttered white toast) or on its own.  Hot or cold.  Off your own plate or your toddler’s. In sickness or – hopefully - in health.  

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

This week I have been mostly...

Teaching The Girl to Speak (AKA choosing a competition winner)
“Say ‘Poop’.  Poop!  Poopy-poop-poo-poo...”
“Ba. Gwalla? Wellagoo. Heh-heh-heh-heh.”
“Poop? Poo?”
Disdainful look.
“Ok.  How about... ‘More’?  More?  Moah?”
“Baaaaaa.” (Discovers toast on the floor). “Oh, WOW!”
“RIGHT.” (Getting tough now.  And annoyed.) “Say: ‘No’.  No-No-No-No...”
“Mmmmmmmmm raghhhhr mmmmmmm nyummmm nyuuuum.”
“Scary? Sss-care-eee.”
(Ignores order, and lies down on teddy in quite an obscene manner.)
“Mmmmmm.  Bay-ah!”
“Bear!  Good Girl!  Now try “Uh-oh”.  Uh-ooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh!”
(Sees me eating a bag of crisps). “This!” (Pointing, in case there’s any misunderstanding about what she wants). “THIIIIIIIIIS!”
“Oh for Chrissake...” (Once again demonstrates complete lack of spine in parenting)
“Mmmmmmmmm raghhhhr mmmmmmm nyummmm nyuuuum.”

Picking a Competition Winner (AKA resorting to Plan B)
“Boy! Pick a number between one and seventeen.”
“No, a number.  One-two-three...”
“Before eighteen?”
“Not eighteen... Arghhhh.  Forget it.”
“Forget it!  Forget it Mummy, you stoooopid stoooopid nimcaboop.  (Pause, while an adjacent injustice manifests itself...) WHY SHE IS EATING CRIPS?  ME WANT CRIPS! MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE....”
(Deep tortured sigh) “There you go.” 
“Thank you Mummy.  Your hair looks VERY nice.”
Randomly Picking a Number from bits of paper rolled into balls.  
9.  Felicity – (bet you NEVER thought you’d win) come forward and accept your prize (email me on and we’ll sort delivery)
Wiping Shit from an Arse (AKA Life as we now know it)
“What’s that sm.... Uuuuugh.... AGAIN??  Forfuckssa... Oops, sorry -  FLIPSAKE”
“It’s really not that funny.  How can dry toast and milk make such a mess?  Right.  You’re off milk.  Jesus - what is that?  Oh. And crisps.”

And that, really, has largely been it. Apart from the, by now, boring and interminable, nursery-run (what a pain in the arse that’s turning out to be).   And an Ikea-run.  (Think that going to Ikea is painful?  Try going with a Swede, and having your pronunciation of Ikea-cack corrected).  And a Farmers’ Market-run.  (Not very friendly, the Farmers in our ‘hood.  They make you buy the things that your toddler licks.  Bastards.) And laundry – forever laundry.  (The Girl managed to get shit on the soles of her socks as she slept.  Which makes me wonder exactly what she gets up to during the night.)
Documenting your week is a not a great exercise if you feel – somewhat correctly – that you don’t actually do that much with your life. Although I did make this – it being autumn and all – which made me feel ALOT better. Tho’ that could have been the 2 bottles of Rioja we drank with it.
Baked Risotto

For 4, you need:
·         250g Risotto / Arborio rice
·         1 onion, chopped
·         1 carrot, finely chopped (optional)
·         1 stick of celery, finely chopped (optional)
·         2 red / yellow peppers, chopped.
·         1 large courgette, diced  (optional)
·         A glass of white wine (optional)
·         1 tin chopped / plum tomatoes
·         Couple of knobs of butter
·         A couple of handfuls of grated cheese (preferably parmesan, but anything gratable which you need to use up)
·         A tablespoon of pesto (optional)
·         Some olive oil
·         400 ml of stock (Any type.  Veg is best.  Or chicken. [Not for the chicken, obviously].)
Note:  You’ll see there are lots of “optionals” above.  This isn’t precision-cooking – it’s a guide using whatever you have to hand.  I like to use the carrot and celery because (a) I always have them lurking in the fridge, (b) it gives a better flavour to the finished dish, and (c) it’s a way of sneaking some vegetables into the kids’ food (mature as I am about these things). I also generally have a courgette dying slowly somewhere, and like to pretend it’s the 90’s and we’ve gone all “Mediterranean”. It goes without saying that there is inevitably a glass of wine to hand, and again, it adds to the flavour.  But don’t be put off if you don’t have some of these ingredients.  It’s a fantastically easy recipe, and impossible to fuck up.  (Unless you don’t have risotto rice. In which case Google “baked tomato soup, recipe”.)

Heat oven to 200c / 400f / 6 gas
Fry the chopped onion in the oil in an oven-proof pot for a few minutes, until soft. 
Add the carrot and celery, if using.  Leave for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the peppers, and put the lid on the pot.
Open the wine.  Pour a very large glass.  Drink some of it.
Add the rice to the pan, stir well to mix with the vegetables, then add the wine (if using.  Or if you haven’t drunk it all.) Stir occasionally, until the wine has been absorbed.
Add the courgette, then the tin of tomatoes and about ¾ of the stock. Stir.
Bring to the boil, then stick the lid on and bung in the oven.  Look at your watch.
Drink more wine. Send some emails.  Set up a blog.
After 10 minutes take pan out of oven, stir through a large knob of butter and half of the cheese, and add more stock if it seems dry.  Add a tablespoon of pesto if using. Put back into the oven and look at your watch again.
Go to your blog and check the stats.  Set up a Twitter feed to link into your blog. Come out on Facebook as a blogger.  Feel clever and important, until you Google “How Many Blogs Are There”. Realise you have no imagination AT ALL and reach for the wine again.
After 15 minutes of self-loathing, take the pan out of the oven.  Stir through another knob of butter, the rest of the cheese, and leave to sit in the pan for a few minutes while you assemble bowls and spoons etc. 
Dollop into said bowls, add more cheese if you want (or if your children went bonkers with their tongues at the Farmers’ Market cheese stall) and gobble up, pausing only to remember to take a photo for your new blog.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


As they say in the old country – Jaysus, what sort of an eejit are you? (The sort who doesn’t fix her blog settings to allow people to leave a comment...)
Sorry about that.  All fixed now, so scroll down to the previous post and get creative with your thoughts on parenthood...

Monday, 3 October 2011

September Surprises

Flipping* Hell, it’s October.  Summer has been and gone (notwithstanding that I’m in London, wearing a t-shirt and shorts for the first time since June) and now it’s Autumn.  I had vague intentions of Achieving Things this summer, but then – poof! – it just disappeared. I remember packing and unpacking ALOT, and fighting with a man in a supermarket, but that’s really about it. 
And then it was September, which has been a curious month.  The first half we spent desperately trying to claw some enjoyment out of the horror that is an all-inclusive package family holiday.  We got home late on a Saturday evening; the Girl greeted us at 6am on Sunday with a cot-ful of vomit.  After a long day which involved hosing down the house repeatedly, THIRTEEN rounds of laundry (13!  AM NOT EXAGGERATING), and sticking suppositories up arses (ha! that wiped the smirk off her face) I sat down with a sigh, felt something funny happen in my leg area, ignored it, and woke up the next day with a basketball where my knee used to be.   So that pretty much wiped out that week.  And the next.  And now we’re into the next and I’m still crippled, but too embarrassed to call my insurance company, because I bet they think I make all my various ailments up (and because they’ll probably pack me off to a physiotherapist, when what I’m after is very complex knee surgery (removal, even) resulting in at least 6 weeks’ stay in hospital.)
The upside of having no use of one of my critical limbs is that I’ve been sitting around on my arse alot, and so have been delving into the dusty cobwebbed corners of the internet.  The amount of shit online is really quite shocking (oh God, please don’t let anyone snigger at the latent irony in that comment);  however, I also stumbled upon some gems, particularly the wonderful Crumbs, which is my new recipe salvation, and the equally fantastic Knackered Mothers’ Wine Club (seriously - how could you not love a blog with that name?).  I also revisited the lovely Looking-Glass, the most recent posting of which contains the best description of a 2 year old which I’ve ever read.  (Warning – don’t read this while drinking hot tea (or, indeed, anything at all). Go read it now (or rather, when you’ve finished reading this).  And then thank God that you don’t have toddlers / bask in the warmth of the knowledge that you are not alone.)
And I’ve read!  Three (wonderful) books in three weeks, which is quite an achievement.  I’m now well into my fourth – Brilliant Career Couch: How to Find and Follow Your Dream Career -  which arrived unexpectedly through my letterbox last week.   The reason for its sudden appearance was, I assumed, because I spent half an hour proof-reading the final draft was instrumental in its publication earlier this year. It’s not that usual for publishing houses or authors to send a copy of the finished product to those involved on the extreme peripheries, so I was pleasantly surprised;  but then – then! – I read the acknowledgments and - ! – there I am, in black and white.  Little made me smile in September (apart from the look on The Girl’s face when I violated her, anally), so thank you Sophie. Anyway, despite my not being able to imagine ever doing anything with my life ever again which doesn’t involve wiping and shouting and weeping, I’ve vowed to work my way through it right to the end.  (I might even actually do some of the assignments it sets out. Although let’s not get too carried away.)
September was noteworthy for two other reasons.  Firstly, the Boy started nursery**. He loves it (well, he doesn’t demonstrably hate it – yet), the Girl loves having full-on attention for a few hours a day, and the Man loves that the Boy is in a structured learning environment, with a caregiver who doesn’t shout at him or teach him to say ForChist’sSake etc (that we know of).  The only person who isn’t completely enthralled is me.  It’s about a 5 minute walk there (15 if you only have one functioning leg), but – and this is what I hate - at least 25 mins to get home (lame or otherwise).  This disparity is due to shops selling cack which line the route, closed and empty at 845am, open (but still empty) at 1215pm. There’s no avoiding these shops-of-cack, with their homemade trestle tables outside, laiden down with all manner of shit.  (It makes me wonder – do the owners’ elderly parents know they’ve just raided their attics?  Are they out at 845am combing the streets for discarded waste to sell?)  Whatever, the Boy LOVES these shops, and so we arrive home every day with some new piece of dirty broken crap to clutter the house (because I’m too useless to either get him past the shops without stopping, or out of the shops without just caving in and buying whatever he’s stuck up his paint-covered jumper).  I tried not bringing money one day, but that didn’t deter him -  he just stole a manky dead old starfish (I don’t feel too guilty – someone stole it from a beach once upon a time).  So now I’m just resigned to the fact that all my money goes to Sainsbury’s, Starbucks, and a person who steals from the attics of old people. 
The other noteworthy aspect about September is that it was Relentless Laundry’s first birthday.  Oh, how I laugh when I look back on those early posts.  Yes, it was hard, but only one of them was walking.  And neither were talking.  Or fighting with each other.  Or stealing dead marine-life from revolting second-hand shops.  I’ve no doubt at all that I’ll look back on this next year and snigger at my naivety now, and remark that only one of them was stealing rubbish from the side of the street  / head-butting the other / talking like a sailor.  To celebrate this, I thought it might be time for my first giveaway.
Tell me the first word that comes to mind when you think of parenthood, and whoever suggests a word which I can get the Girl to say will win copies of the four books I’ve managed to read / start reading last month. (As well as (brilliant) Brilliant Career Coach, these were:  “This thing of Darkness” by Harry Thompson, the (true) story about the voyages of the Beagle, and the relationship between Darwin and Captain Fitzroy, which is just magnificent;  “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova (which I started on Saturday night and finished at 1am today) about a 50 year old woman with Early-Onset-Alzheimer’s (terrifying, I’m now convinced I am similarly afflicted); and “Left Neglected” also by Lisa Genova, about a woman with a horrific (but morbidly interesting) brain injury.  All are fantastic, and were read in as close to one sitting as I could muster.)
If you can’t think of anything – and who can blame you if you have children – but would still like to win the goodies, feel free to just say Hi.  She can’t say Hi yet (or indeed anything other than “Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissss!!” and “Wowwwwwwwwwwwwww”) so you’re still in with a chance. 
If you’re really lucky, I might even throw in an almost-new dead starfish too. 

*This is my new F-Word.  My old F-Word is being phased out, along with “Oh for Christ’s Sake”, since The Boy has started peppering his conversations with them.  Amusing the first time, somewhat shocking the fifteenth. It seems that I’m beginning, at last, to behave like a parent.
**One down, one to go...