Tuesday, 28 February 2012

My (His) Chocolate Nut Plums

I was a bit busy this week to think up a decent segue from the Tale of Death to a recipe, so here is part two of this week’s post...

(The busy-ness was caused by (a) my absconding to Ireland ALONE for a few days; (b) my return to London whereupon I was greeted by the Girl vomiting ALL OVER ME within 3 minutes;  and (c) my getting my finger out and doing – blatant promotion - this.)

Now that the dust has settled, I realise that I could, I s’pose, have done a Batman Cave spin-off.  The Boy has now decided – thankfully – that he doesn’t want a roaring, moon-eating, space-exploring dinosaur anymore;  and so, assuming that he LISTENS carefully and BEHAVES NICELY, he may get enough stickers this week to complete the Good Behaviour Snake, thereby becoming the proud owner of a ridiculous, and ridiculously large, piece of plastic which is cluttering up my wardrobe said bat paraphernalia.  

As before, the stickers are only given out once a day, and as before, this causes a slight disconnect.  Toddler bribes rewards need to be immediate to properly work, it seems.  So imagine my delight when a friend returned from Poland with a large bag of My Chocolate Plums... Ah yes, how we sniggered, puerile children that we are.  But the Boy went crazy for them:  prunes – one of his favourite things (don’t even get me started on the ramifications of that) covered in chocolate – his all-time favourite thing.  What was not to love?  And so they were handed out here and there, as a laxative inducement to remain on the straight and narrow.  And then, like all good things, they came to an end.  Shit happens (hohoho) is not a concept the Boy is familiar with, and so I got creative.  

I’m not sure what you’d call these - My Chocolate Nut Plums is an obvious, albeit rude contender, as is Nuts on Horseback.  Either way, they are FANTASTIC.  Brazil nuts and prunes is a favourite in this house anyway, esp during Lent, when you can convince the chocolate-bar-abstainers that they’re better than Fruit’n’Nut.  Add chocolate and you might even get some good behaviour in return. 

Oh, and they’re easy peasy too.  While they might look fiddly fancy, in fact they’re far from it; the actual work involved is a couple of minutes, then you just bung ‘em in the fridge to cool. 

My Chocolate Nut Plums on Horseback
You Need:  (For about 15)
  • 8 or 15 brazil nuts (depending on how nutty you like it;  using 8 cut in half looks neater in the finished product)
  • A large bar of chocolate (about 100 gram.  Regular Cadbury’s is fine)
  • A small bag of ready to eat prunes, stone out.  (Go for Aegean if you can)

Break the chocolate up into small pieces and put in a bowl.  Put the bowl in a pan of bubbling water  and stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely melted. (You’re not meant to let the bowl touch the water, but I don’t find it makes any difference;  and in fact if you can’t be arsed, or don’t have a heat-proof bowl which will fit in a pan, just put the choc in the pan over a very low heat instead, and keep stirring to stop it sticking / burning.)

If using 8 nuts, cut them in half. Stick a nut up each prune’s bum Stuff each prune with a nut / half nut. 

Drop all the stuffed prunes into the melted chocolate and stir to cover.

Individually place them on a flat plate / tray covered with baking parchment.  

Resist the temptation to start scoffing them – they’re MUCH better once cooled – and put in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Serve with threats or pleas for good behaviour.  

Monday, 27 February 2012

The D-Word

It’s not only the Girl who’s had cause to remind me of life with a baby recently;  the Boy is growing up at such a rate that I’m back to feeling like I did when he was a nipper, and was always a few steps behind in his development.  Just as I had a handle on things and felt a level of confidence in dealing with him, bam – off he shot into a new phase, leaving me helpless behind.

He’s a little boy now, who has started properly thinking for himself; I was sort of dreading this, and it turns out I was right.  This week we’ve had teenage sulks (over our refusal to cave in and get – no pun intended - a Batman cave), rude outbursts (“GOD!  You’re SO STUPID! Stop ANNOYING ME.”) and back-chat (“Well if you put me into my room I’ll just get out again SO THERE.”)

We also had this conversation, as we looked at a picture of a dinosaur skeleton:

“Why him dead?”
“Because he was probably very very old.”
“And him died?”
“Will I die?”
“Yes.  Everything dies. But you won’t until you’re very very very old.”
I don’t want to die.”  Whispered, close to tears
“It’s ok.  Don’t worry.  It’s so so far away.” 
“But I don’t like it...”
“You’re only 3.  It won’t happen until you’re 103.”
“But I don’t want to die.”  Choking up
“But I’ll be there with you.” Grasping wildly at straws  “And Daddy.  And everyone.”
“I don’t want to!”  Rising hysteria  “Why me die, why?”  
Starting to panic now. All intentions to have a calm nothing-to-be-worried about adult conversation about this have disappeared.
“Ok, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“But everything dies!”
“Well if you don’t want to, I’ll say Stop!  No Dying!  And you won’t.”
“But who you will say it to?”
Ummmm  “To you.”
“But I’ll be old and DEAD.”
“Wow!  Look at THIS picture!  It’s like the Batman cave I’m going to get you.”

It worked, too. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Public Apology

Occasionally, when I’m feeling guilty, or bored, I drag self and the Girl off for some one-on-one time to the local toddler stay ‘n’ play (‘n’ yawn) group.  It’s very handy, run by lovely people, always awash with biscuits, and offers a guilt-soothing balm of sociability for the Girl; but... there’s something about sitting in a circle with twenty other grown women who are all singing nursery rhymes and clapping manically and pretending to enjoy themselves that makes a small piece of me die slowly. 

However, livening things up a bit last week was a new attendee, with her VERY new baby, and I found self chatting to her and thinking about how lovely and sweet and EASY newborns are, and how lucky she is (and, by contrast, how hard-done-by I am, natch). My reasoning was as follows: with newborns there’s really nothing to do.  You try to feed them, you try to clean them, you try to get them to sleep, you try to get yourself to sleep, and then 4 seconds later you start the whole process again.  It’s terminally dull and it goes without saying that it’s completely knackering, but it’s not actually that difficult.  It’s not like you’re trying to get them to eat their greens or stop thumping their sibling or stop ROARING in Sainsbury’s about needing a poo or explaining for the FIFTEENTH TIME why they can’t watch Spiderman AGAIN etc.  Seriously – how hard can it be dealing with a newborn?

I suspect I upset the Gods of Parenting with my stupid stupid reasoning, and new parents everywhere will be happy to learn that I have been punished accordingly.

Within two hours of getting home, the Girl had sneezed a couple of times.  That evening her nose started to run.  By the middle of the night we were knee-deep in another hacking cough / chest infection thingy, which so far is showing no signs of abating.  I am on day five of snatching pockets of sleep here and there and feel... crushed.  I feel like I have a colicky refluxy baby (a baby who was born after a 72-hour labour followed by a c-section with no anaesthetic). 

I had forgotten how frustrating, heart-breaking and bewildering it is when your baby cries and screams and sobs and you don’t understand why or how you can help or stop it.  And, even worse, I’d forgotten just how SHIT it is to function on no sleep, and how sleep deprivation warps time and fucks with your memory.

I know that at some point over the weekend the Boy muttered, inevitably, his first “fuck” (“Bloody bloody bloody hell. Stupid bloody thing.  For fuck’s sake, stupid thing”) through gritted teeth, and I was too dazed to react, or indeed care much.

I have a vague memory of bringing him to a family swim at the gym’s pool for the first time, where he got thrown out of the hot-tub, and got so pissy and indignant that he started to shout at the woman, and we had to leave.  And then on the way home he asked the baldest man I have ever seen where his hair was. 

And I recall, vaguely, having friends to dinner on Saturday night (I think it was Saturday night) who, with their kids, had been due to spend the weekend with us, and who were suitably frightened off to seek accommodation elsewhere.

But really, the rest of the past few days has sunk without trace in a pool of phlegm-vomit and sssshhhhh-ing and utter helplessness.

And so I apologise.  To new parents and to their gods.  I was wrong wrong wrong.  Newborns – and sick toddlers who behave like them - SUCK.  Dealing with them is the HARDEST THING IN THE WORLD. 

The brightest spot in an otherwise murky weekend was settling down last night to FINALLY watch the final episode of The Killing II, a feat which took us four – five? – days  (tho’ this could have been because there were two episodes more left than I had realised;  either way I NAILED it with my prediction of who the killer was, sleep or no sleep...) and tucking into this:

It's Hugh FW's lentil and spinach soup, and while I concede that it doesn't look like much (in fact truthfully, it looks a bit disgusting) I swear, it's the nicest thing that has come out of my kitchen in weeks.  It’s easy, relatively quick, and tastes like something you’d pay £14.50 a bowlful for at the River Cafe.  (The things that look like teeth floating in it are bits of parmesan.  I decided that, given my current state, it was a bit risky to attempt to use the grater.)  A couple of points: I’ve doubled the quantities of the original recipe, which yielded only three big bowls;  there may have only been two of us eating, but right now we need every source of energy we can get.  Also, his recipe calls for spinach, which I replaced with cavollo nero – much nicer I think, but not so easy to get, so feel free to use spinach instead.  Finally, it’s actually a relatively light soup – if you fancy something denser, throw in some diced potatoes or parsnips.

Puy Lentil and Cavolo Nero (or Spinach) Soup
You need (for 6;  or two drained parents):
  •          A good glug of oil, for frying
  •          Two onions, finely chopped
  •          Two carrots, diced
  •          6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (believe me on this)
  •          A small handful of thyme, finely chopped (this, and the garlic, makes the soup)
  •   Six tomatoes, deseeded and chopped;  or a tin of plum tomatoes, drained and    chopped
  •          300g of puy lentils
  •          2.5 litres of stock
  •    300g cavolo nero, or spinach, stalks removed and finely chopped / shredded.
  •     Parmesan / other hard cheese and olive oil, to serve.

Heat the oil in a deep pot, and add the onions, carrot and thyme once hot.  Fry over a medium heart for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and tomatoes and fry for a minute or so.  (If you’re using potatoes / parsnips, add these now too.)
Stir in the lentils, then add the stock.  Bring to the boil, the turn down the heat and leave to simmer, lid on, for about 20/25 minutes.
Add the cavolo nero after 20 minutes and simmer for another 10 minutes, or the spinach after 25 and simmer for another 5 (so there’s 30 mins’ simmering time in all).
Season to taste, then pour into the largest bowls you can find, sprinkle with parmesan / other hard cheese, and add a few glugs of good olive oil.

Serve with bread, Danish serial killers, and a firmly turned-off baby-monitor. 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Christmas, Redux.

Amazingly, we have not (yet) discarded the Good Behaviour Snake, which is becoming increasingly dappled with Wine Club stickers.  (Dappled, as opposed to fully covered, because poor GBS appears to have a form of reptilian leprosy, and the stickers are falling off, one by one). Anyway, it’s getting to the point that I find self Googling “Dinosaur, large, toy, buttons, noise, scary” (and despairing a bit; surely there are roaring dinosaur toys somewhere?*); we are about halfway there – both literally and figuratively – and during the week we reached the half-way treat:  Special Time with Mummy. 
Nothing quite says Special Time like standing in a lunchtime queue in Prets with a toddler roaring “IT’S COMING OUT MY BUM I CAN’T WAIT!!!!” (Note to the man in the suit who was standing behind us – I apologise for shouting, but really, who cuts in front of a toddler who is shitting his pants? I trust you have learnt your lesson and suspect you will never queue-jump again.)
By the time we got home – after lunch, emergency pants-change, a museum visit, soft-play area fighting, and many many sugar-filled treats behavioural inducements  - I had lost both my will to live, and my hat.  I’m particularly pissed off about losing my hat (I’m used to getting by with no will to live) – not only because it is fucking cold out there, but also because it was a Christmas present from the Man.  I haven’t been brilliant about using all the presents he got me, so in homage to the lost hat I have spent the rest of the week trying to make amends.
Firstly, I started reading one of the books he got me – The Hare with Amber Eyes, which I expected to love.  I don’t.  I’m finding it a bit dull and draggy, to be honest.  I have enough trouble mustering up enthusiasm for my own family, I really don’t have the energy to delve into someone else’s.  Once I put it down I noticed that the Girl was mid-way through a multi-pack of snacks, and decided to distract her;  alas her weight (she’s going through a, umm, sturdy phase at the moment) and my pathetic muscles turned the intended swooping hug into more of a staggering back-wrenching stumble. At which point I remembered another of the Man’s forgotten presents - a Tracy Anderson dvd (bought, I should clarify, wholly at my insistence).  
For those of you who are fortunate to know no better, Tracy (or Trace, as I like to call her) is Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal trainer.  I have, I confess, a bit of a crush on Gwynnie – I know she comes across as a bit holier-than-thou, but I can’t help myself, I want to be her:  the hair, the skin, the money, the figure, the A-list lifestyle... So when I discovered that I too could have a body like hers ­ - well, what had I been waiting for?  So this morning I donned the unused unloved gym-gear-from-the-eighties, and got to work (“work”, as it turned out).  The dvd is an hour long, with 6 segments of 10 minutes each.  I lasted about three minutes of each segment, at least half of which was spent trying to see if her forehead ever moves (it doesn’t), before getting equally bored, sore and annoyed  (there is NO MENTION on the dvd of clicking hips and straining backs). I am still sore and annoyed – not at Gwyneth (heavens, no), but at self, and my lack of persistence.  (I’ll  try again soon tomorrow, when my knees are more up to it.)
And so to the kitchen.  You can’t go wrong with kitchen paraphernalia.  I got:  a Globe knife (I get one every year;  Globe makes one for every conceivable culinary occasion, and then several hundred more besides, so this is a gift trend which can run until I get handed the Grave-Picker blade) which was my favourite gift of Christmas, not least because I managed not to cut my finger within half a minute of unwrapping it (by running it along the blade and saying “ooooh, it’s SO SHARP”, like I did our first three Christmases together); a Microblade multi-purpose grater (which I did cut my fingers on, almost immediately), which I have used almost daily (not only for finger grating, but for garlic and cheese too!); a v posh butter dish (Le Creuset, burnt orange, beautiful), my love for which must surely catapult me into the nether-regions of middle age;  and a matching Le Creuset quiche/flan dish which, I am ashamed to say, has not been used yet.
Until today, when I made this:
Which I think you’ll agree is the perfect antidote to any work-out dvd.
It’s easy too, and you don’t necessarily need all of your finger-tips to make it. 
Quichey Pie Thing
You need:  For 4.  (Or 2.  Depending on your day’s calorific exertions)
·         One beautiful Flan dish.  (Actually you don’t really need this.  You can make a quiche thing in any round oven-proof dish or tin)
·         Some ready-made (indeed, ready rolled) short-cut pastry.  (There’s really no need to go all Gwyneth and start making your own.)
·         Two large or three medium eggs.
·         About 200 ml of single cream.
·         A large lump of hard cheese, any sort, grated.
·         Salt and pepper.
·         Whatever meat, fish, vegetables or herbs (or combination thereof) you have lurking around the house. Whatever you use it should be cooked (other than tomatoes, which you can slice or dice, and put in raw).   I used broccoli and sautéed onions;  other good combos are bacon/ham and tomatoes (so I’m told), smoked salmon and peas; tinned salmon and asparagus; smoked mackerel and corn...  Really, anything goes. 
Pre-heat the oven to 4 / 350f / 180c / 160c(fan)
Roll out / unroll the pastry, and line the greased dish / tin with it.  Leave as much as you can overhanging, as the pastry will shrink in the oven. Prick the base all over with a fork, and pop into the oven for about 15 minutes.  (This is so the pastry is sealed, to stop it getting soggy from the filling).
Meanwhile whisk the eggs with the cream, cheese, salt and pepper, and any herbs. 
When the pastry is done, remove from the oven and scatter the fish / meat / vegetables on the base.  You can get fancy if you like (check out my synchronised swimming broccoli.)  Cover with the egg and cheese mixture, and cook for 30 – 35 minutes – until the top is puffed up and golden brown.
Leave to stand for at least 5 minutes before abandoning your inner Size 4 Hollywood starlet,  and gobbling up.

*Yes there are!  Look at this  (Check out the video, esp the references to “biologicals” (ie, animals that are, you know, alive). I’m going to start using that to refer to the kids).  And this   Like I said before, oh fuck.