Friday, 30 December 2011

Christmas Cheer(s)

I have just snapped at the Man. He asked me – nicely, not unreasonably – if I wanted to share his lunch.  I snapped and growled and snarled.  He’s walked out of the room, and now that I’m simmering down, it’s dawning on me that I am completely unable to be both a nice mother and a nice wife.  It’s one or the other;  not both, certainly not at the same time, and generally not within about half an hour of each other.
On the plus side, I’m (almost) being Nice, Patient, Happy Mummy.  It is KILLING ME.  Seriously; I can feel the energy draining from my body with every second that passes.  The Beast (formerly: The Boy) is flinging himself around the living room as he spits and his head spins – which is the compromise I negotiated (twenty-fucking-minutes of talking in a calm, unruffled voice) down from him flinging his toys about.  On the one hand, I’m pleased with my success at keeping my cool (outwardly, at least;  internally, I’ve ripped his sodding little head off and thrown it to the foxes), on the other hand, I can’t help feeling that he won that particular round -  he’s still in there tearing the room apart.
Sigh. It’s been like this since Wednesday.  Until then I had been planning the first sentence of my next (very very belated – apologies) blog entry as follows:  It’s been a fantastic December.  
So let’s start again.
Until Wednesday, it had been a fantastic December.  Possibly the best month since the kids were born.  Birthday celebrations kicked off on the 2nd – several days before The Event itself – and really, it was The Birthday That Kept Giving. I had presents, balloons, breakfast in bed (then, shortly after the Girl joined in, on the carpet), champagne, more presents, absolution from bath and bed-time duties (husbands, take note:  that was the best gift of all) and all-round general merriment.  For about ten days. Then the Man whisked me away – to New York!  Just the two of us (and 8 million New Yorkers, all of whom were in a rush, but no matter, none of them were our ungrateful, demanding off-spring, so what did we care?) where we ate and drank, and walked the High Line, and drank some more, and saw our friends, and then had another cocktail, because New York is the finest place in the world for cocktails, and didn’t think about – let alone miss – the kids once.  Then we came home and rushed around a bit and packed and perhaps snarled a tiny teeny bit, and headed off to Sweden for Christmas.  Other than making sure the children had a chunk of bread once or twice a day, and the snow they ate wasn’t yellow, I abandoned all semblance of domesticity and took to drinking sidecars and eating Dime bars like a fish to water.
And then Wednesday happened.  It started off well enough; we got home late the night before, staggered to bed, and all woke up at 930am (I know!  The trick, it seems, is to deprive the kids of any sleep all day, and to put them to bed at 11pm; there is an obvious down-side to this, however, but if you’re happy to be with your crazed offspring for 15 hours’ straight, then I recommend it for the lie-in the next day).  Then we hung around in our pyjamas until it started to get dark, when we lit Swedish Christmas candles and got ready for a walk through the dusk-dappled woods along the main road to the supermarket.  When we got home I pottered about in the kitchen, the Man and the Girl were in the living room having one of their little love-ins (where they rub each others’ faces and make cooing noises) from which all other family members are excluded, and the Boy was sitting quietly on the stairs, surrounded by various wash-bags and other suit-case-unpacking-debris. Eventually- inevitably - he started to whine (help Mummy, help), which I ignored, then whine some more (ooooooooooowwwwwwww), and then my brain kicked in and actually heard what he was saying (there’s blood Mummy, help, owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww).  I stopped pottering.  And breathing. There was blood.  Quite a bit of it, running down his hand and onto his sleeve.  There was also an open wash-bag, and a disposable razor.
(Grimace, followed by Shock.  Then Panic.)
Now there’s only so much damage a cheapo disposable razor can do, but boy that fucker did its best, and his teeny little thumb was comprehensively lacerated. Cue some mild hyperventilation on my part – I’m not great with blood, particularly if it’s emanating from my son – and a reluctance to do anything other than squeeze it very tight with a cloth  (ow, Mummy, oooooooooooooooow, it hurts ALREADY). My  bellowing brought the Man, then soon after a disgruntled Girl (she doesn’t appreciate having her love-ins interrupted, not even for a life-or-death-emergency)  and before I knew it the panic had been diluted (albeit replaced by shock at my sheer STUPIDITY – who leaves razors lying about?) and we were happy families again:  bandages administered, noses being rubbed, dinner being made, pottering being pottered.  The Boy wandered out of the kitchen, the Man followed, and then...
Which doesn’t begin to describe the sheer... terror in his voice.  Pure, raw panic.  Which froze me. These are the thoughts which zipped through my brain:
·         It’s not the Girl, she’s here with me.
·         It’s the Boy. 
·         I missed something. 
·         It wasn’t just his thumb.
·         He cut himself badly. 
·         The Man has found a pool of blood, possibly an organ (seriously). 
·         Whatever it is, I don’t want to see it. 
·         I’d better not move.
Now I thought I was having these thoughts silently, but apparently with every “FUCK! OHMYGOD!” roared by the Man, I retorted with “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTT?? WHAT IS IT?”  like a crazed banshee.
Eventually, hours - but more likely seconds – later, I got some sense from him.
At which point I sprung into action.  Top tip for 2012:  Don’t have a fire extinguisher?  GET ONE.  They make one hell of a mess, but they might just save your house living room.
Pesky untended Swedish Christmas Candles.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, I later cocked up our desert – meant to be chocolate mousse, but I left the whisked egg whites for too long and they dissolved, so I got creative and “rescued” it, making instead what the Man later described as a “chocolate omelette”. Then, having endured an eggy chocolatey mess, I wandered into the kitchen in time to see a small furry creature scuttle across the floor with a gleeful squeak. (The creature, not me. My squeak was more of a shriek, and somewhat less than gleeful.)
And that was Wednesday.  Or, Blackened Wednesday, as it is now known.
Since then, possibly as a result of smoke inhalation, possibly having ingested some mouse droppings (but more likely because he misses the large, adoring audience he had over the holidays), the Boy’s behaviour has been... challenging. 
So thank God for cocktails.  This one in particular, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is best described as a winter margarita. Yum yum.
You need (for one emotionally drained, elderly mother)
One measure each of:
·         Brandy (No, I'm not a fan either.  It's terrific in this tho - warming and smooth and lovely.)
·         Cointreau, Grande Marnier or Triple Sec
·         Fresh Lemon Juice
Either mix, and pour over ice;  of shake with ice and serve straight up. 
One is enough to calm any post conflagration nerves, two to put a smile back on your face and three to have you chatting happily to your (charred) Christmas tree.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Gravy-Train to Panic-ville

I think I mentioned already having a mild panic attack about the impendingness of Christmas, back at the start of November.  Unfortunately that wasn’t repeated again, and for the past few weeks I’ve been a complete slack-ass who seemed to think that the elves were going to skip down the chimney and do everything on my behalf. 
Matters weren’t helped by us all being sick – AGAIN – in turns, so much so that the Boy developed a whole new medical (sort of) lexicon: “Mummy, I’m going to PUUUUUUUUUUUUUKE”; “Mummy, take my temp-a-chure.  Is it over 39?  Has it gone down?”; and when the Girl had a coughing fit yesterday – “Quick!  Get the bucket! She’s going to PUUUUUUUUUUUKE!” (I made it to the sink instead, which she filled with what looked like melted Solero bars.  Mmmmm.)
So anyway, nothing continued to get done, until I woke up shrouded in complete terror this morning, and have spent the day thundering about like a Euro-politician on speed. Calendar-watchers amongst you would be quick to point out that I still have ten days left, and why the panic?  Because the Man and I go away in the morning for a few days (ALONE!!) and won’t be back until Tuesday, then we head off to the wilds of Sweden on Wednesday.  Morning.  For Christmas.   So you see, I have NO TIME left.  A mere day to do some laundry and wrapping and packing, and THAT’S IT. 
But I did manage to get around to one (sort of) Christmassy task, at the same time jumping on the blog bandwagon, by making some gravy. Given that I am absolved from all Christmas cooking responsibilities (and even if I wasn’t, we’re having a Swedish Christmas this year, where the dinner table on the 24th [Yes! The 24th! Mad Swedes] will be fairly devoid of anything other than herring in a thousand guises, potatoes and schnapps), gravy and all ancillary Christmas fare is not high on my To Do list.  But everybody seems to get in a tizz over gravy for the Big Day so I thought I’d do my bit both for you, dear reader, and for God’s Baby Animals and proffer a very easy, very delicious, meat-free gravy.  And for those of you who can’t imagine gravy without meat bits (as the Man spluttered: “It’s not gravy, it’s SAUCE”), don’t fret;  it’s easily adapted to your carnivorous ways. 
I pinched this off Nigel Slater, and have made it several times, using whatever I have to hand (who has a bottle of Marsala hanging around?  Actually, anyone who has ever bought one bottle undoubtedly has the same bottle several years (and tiramisus) later).  He pairs it with roast pork, and adds the juices and meaty bits from the roasting dish to the gravy before serving.  I can’t testify to its suitability with turkey – or indeed any meat - but I’ve served to others twice with turkey and no one vomited into their shoes, so I think it works fine.  And I’d imagine that adding the remnants of the turkey roasting tin to the gravy would ensure the two marry very well.
Also, I’ve eaten it two days after I made it, and it was perfect – in fact it tastes better as it ages – so you can make it somewhat in advance, then, if you’re adding turkey juice, do so just before serving.
Really tho, it’s just a great everyday gravy SAUCE, perfect for jazzing up mashed potatoes (and, I’d imagine, bangers); and while it takes a bit of cooking time, there’s very little effort involved.  Unless, of course, you burn it.  Twice.  But even then it’s very forgiving. The tip to dealing with a burnt black mess is (a) not to wander off and get sucked into the laundry, having left the heat on high under the pan; (b) pick out any really burnt bits (if your lack of attention occurs during the Onion Cooking phase); and (c) if it occurs during the simmering phase, add some more stock to the pan, swish it gently around, then pour everything into a clean jug, without scraping off any of the burnt bits.  If it tastes a bit bitter / burnt, add the juice of a quarter of a lemon (or to taste) and a dash of salt.  Seriously. It works.   It tasted great.  But better really not to let it happen in the first place. 
Pretend Gravy (makes enough for 6, generously)

(Apologies for the picture.  Having burnt the pan black and rendering it unphotographable, I had to get creative with the visuals.)
You need:
·         Three medium onions, peeled and chopped into thickish wedges.
·         A big slug of olive oil (at least two tablespoons)
·         Two tablespoons of plain flour
·         Two glasses of wine – preferably marsala, but any type you have to hand works.
·         750ml of water or stock (marigold marigold marigold)
·         A teaspoon of mustard powder (just use regular mustard if you don’t have powder)
·         A tablespoon of any mustard, preferably grain, but really, any type works. 
·         Salt and pepper
Put the onions and the oil in a heavy pan, and set over a low heat for half an hour.  This will yield a panful of soft, glistening onions.  (Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up and wander off, or you’ll be picking out hard, black onion bits and burning your fingers.)
Add the flour to the pan, stir, and leave to cook for five minutes or so.
Add the wine then the stock, bring to the boil, season with salt, pepper and mustard powder (if using) then leave to simmer for about 20 mins or so.
Stir in the rest of the mustard and leave to simmer for another 5 mins.
Eat with pickled herring, smoked herring, preserved herring, fresh herring, putrified herring etc. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

You-Know-Who is Coming to Town...

I think we may have over egged the Santa-Claus pudding a bit in the past couple of weeks.  It started off gently enough, when we realised that the whole Coming Down The Chimney thing had been a hit.  So we progressed onto the usual clich├ęd parental carrot / stick: Oooh Santa is going to be VERY happy with you / Santa won’t be at all happy with you (the latter being aired many times more than the former).  Then the Man went a step further and told the tale of The Naughty Boy Who Was Given a Lump of Coal.  Until one day after a more-naughty-than-nice event, before I could interject with an opinion on Santa’s frame of mind, he burst out with: “Don’t tell Santa!”  He then proceeded to get quite hysterical about it, begging and pleading with me not to tell Santa, and not wanting black stones (our definition of coal).  This continued over the next few days, to the point where Santa was clearly looming in his mind like a cross between a coal-miner and a bogey man (which suits me fine actually – think of all the money we’d save – but runs the risk of scarring his childhood slightly). 
So imagine our delight when we got sent a video link via this website.  Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of promoting stuff – particularly anything that requires any effort  - but...  This made my week.  You upload info and pictures about your child (or, as in the sender’s case, her nephew) and – Ta-Da! – you get your own personalised video from Santa.  The Boy Skypes quite a bit with far-away grandparents, so when his video came through he thought it was real time.  I wish I’d videoed him watching it the first time (there have since been many, many times) because he sat there talking back at the Santa, as follows:
Santa: “Hello Freddie!”
Boy: (Gasp!) “Hello Santa!!”
S: “Blah blah blah blah  I hope you’ve been a good boy?”
B: “YES!! ME GOOD! But Santa! Ava not good, she very very mean to me.  BRING HER COAL!”
S: “Blah blah blah blah Will we look at your file?”
B: “Why he got a picture of me? SANTA, WHY YOU GOT A PICTURE OF ME?”
S: “Will we get the elves to check if you’ve been naughty or nice?”
B:”YES! NO! YES!  ME NICE!  Ava not nice.  Ava MEAN.”
(Not unsurprisingly, the Boy passes the Naughty-or-Nice test. I assume that everyone does.  But PLEASE contact me if your child doesn’t.  I’ll be seriously impressed)
S: “So now Freddie, you must promise to be very nice to your sister all the time.”
(Silence from the Boy’s end)
S:”Blah blah blah blah ... I’m VERY PROUD of you Freddie!”
At this point, the Boy burst out crying.  I had tears in my eyes too.  Then the Man watched it with him and he got teary too.  So, it’s brilliant.  I have no idea how much effort goes into it – it’s personalised, with photos and references to the kid’s circumstances – but honestly, it’s fantastic.  Just be sure to tape the little ones watching it.  And pick up some coal next time you're in the coal-shop.  Just in case.