Monday, 25 June 2012

A Cross between a Busy Bee and a Headless Chicken

Life is getting more busy than usual, triggered by our decision to introduce a bit of upheaval in our lives (because, you know, an unplanned pregnancy when you’re 178 isn’t quite enough upheaval).  And so in just over 2 weeks we’re giving up the lease on our house, putting everything we own into storage, and leaving this Godforsaken country and its shitty summer weather for the balmy (ahem) climes of Florida for a couple of months.

The enormity of what is staring me in the face started to dawn on me last week, when I started making my To Do list - top of which was finally getting my finger out and introducing the Grub to the NHS. 

Actually, if that makes me sound like a contender for the Daily Mail’s Worst Mother Award (“22 Weeks’ Pregnant and STILL in Denial”), I did flag it at my GPs, ooh, about 2 weeks ago.   The booking-in process last week went a bit like this. 

“So you’re, what, about 12 weeks now?” asked the most unobservant lady in London, as she pushed my distended naval out of her face.

“Ummm... Actually, closer to 22”.


“Right.  Pause.  Well.  Pause . Here are the choices we have for such a late registration.  Recently moved here?  Failure by your GP to report?  Under the care of another borough?  Unaware of pregnancy?”

“Do you have a box for lethargy, other things to do, and a bit of denial?”

We decided to blame the GP.

She then scanned (“Would you like a photo?” “No thanks, I have the ones from the earlier pregnancies still at the bottom of my handbag, if I get a rush of blood to the head I can look at one of those”), I had a little doze, the Grub waved hello, and off I went, clutching my orange book – the one you have to KEEP WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES.  Which is fine if you’re the person who walks up and down my street dragging a suitcase behind you all day long, but otherwise – well really, I’m just glad I remembered to take it off the bus with me on the way home.

On the other end of the fun spectrum, the next day a client (yes!  I have clients! Although it helps that she’s also a friend) brought me to Taste London for a v posh lunch thingy:  a multi-course tasting lunch WITH WINE (sob), each course cooked by a different renowned chef.  It was fabulous.  Amazing food (Wolfgang Puck!  Angela Hartnett! Jason Atherton!  AND they were all there to chat to) and brilliant company.  Noone talked about children or pregnancy, or the dangers of eating blue cheese / seafood / 2lt tubs of ice-cream.  Just grown up food and grown up conversation.  Bliss.   

At some point in the week I also went to the Boy’s sports day (he outdid himself, and me, in terms of disinterest and laziness), got a new work project, and played Ms Nightingale to a vomiting toddler.

That last bit wasn’t much fun.  On the plus side, we’re getting to the stage where our children can communicate verbally what’s wrong with them when they’re under the weather.  On the negative side, one half of our current quota of children remains largely incomprehensible, so her distress at being sick is equally matched by her distress at not being understood.   So on Saturday night, 20 minutes before the babysitter was due to come, she lay flopped on the bed, whimpering, a mild shade of green, before suddenly becoming quite animated.  Yellow ball?  Yellow ball!  YELLOWBALL!!!!

Alas, yellow ball means nothing to me, and so I ignored her increasingly distraught proclamations, until – Bluuuuuuuuuuuuugh.  All over, annoyingly, the Boy’s bed, pillows, floor, duvet and scratchy-elephant thing (she is nothing if not prodigious in her vomiting.) Half an hour of phone-calls, laundry and carpet-scrubbing later, we went through the motions again.  Yellow ball?  Yellow ball!  YELLOWBALL!!!!!!!!!.... Bluuuuuuuuuuuuugh.  This time she was in her own bed, tucked up with her own pillow, duvet, and cuddly toy. The third and fourth times– and by now my Saturday night was comprehensively destroyed, because nothing kills plans like having vomit that smells of cucumber in your hair – she was on my bed, pillow, duvet etc.  “YELLOWBALL.....”

Once cleaned,  I mused, aloud, if I should get the sick bowl, my cupped hands clearly not up to their usual standard.  “YELLOW BOWL!” she roared, coherently and enthusiastically.

Well blow me down if I might not – finally – have a clever one on my hands.
It goes without saying, of course, that she hasn’t puked – on the bed, or in the YELLOW BOWL - since.

Needless to say I’ve been too busy this week to cook anything other than the usual suspects - pasta, mashed potatoes, fishy things – and soup.  Lots and lots of pots of soup.

It’s nearly July - of course I’m cooking soup. 

This one went down well at the weekend.  (Until it came up again – but don’t let that put you off.)  You need a blender, unless you, and your children’s superheroes of choice, like chunky bean soup.

(Finally, the photos are getting fancy...)

Quick-ish Pasta e Fagioli soup
(Quick-ish, because making it the traditional way – where you make the soup then cook the pasta in it – takes way too long for my liking.  So instead I made the soup and while it was cooking – heretic that I am – cooked the pasta separately. 

Also I can never be arsed fishing little bits of rosemary out of soup before I blend it – although I concede that that is preferable to having to spit out teeny weeny blended bits of rosemary – and so made some garlic-rosemary oil which I stirred through it, which although a bit faffy, was the perfect solution.  

You Need (for 4 large helpings):
  • Olive oil
  • One onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 2 tins of borlotti beans
  • 1 litre stock
  • A couple of handfuls of short pasta – macaroni or similar (or just pieces of spaghetti which you’ve broken up)

Peel and dice the onion and fry with the olive oil in a deep pan over a medium heat. Reduce heat and cover, leaving to sauté for about 7 minutes, until soft.
Peel and finely dice the carrot, and finely chop the celery. Add to the onion, increase the heat and stir well to mix.  Leave to sauté and if it starts to stick add a half glass of water. 

Meanwhile, cook the pasta separately, for about a minute or so less than instructed on the packet.  (The pasta will be sitting in the soup for a while, so will cook more then).

Once all the vegetables have started to soften – about 5 minutes – add the drained beans and the tin of tomatoes.  Bring to the boil, then add half the stock and bring back to the boil again.  Cover, and leave for a few minutes for the beans to heat through. 

Blend – either by transferring to a food processor (what a pain in the arse) or with a hand-held blender (my preference) – until either completely smooth or still a bit chunky / beany.  However you and yours prefer it. Mine like it completely smooth – because that’s how Batman likes it, apparently.  It should be really quite thick, so loosen it up with the rest of the stock – as much as you need to get the consistency you like (Batman likes it fairly thick) then add the drained pasta. 

Lastly, make the oil.  Place a large dollop of good olive oil in a pan with 2 garlic cloves (peeled and cut in half) and a few springs of rosemary.  Place over a low heat and ignore until it starts to sizzle, then shake it a bit, and ignore again, until the garlic starts to go brown at the edges.  Turn off the heat and remove the garlic and the rosemary, then swirl the oil through the blended soup. 

It really sounds like alot of faff, but it’s not really.  And it’s the perfect lunch for the absolute shocking weather we’ve been having.  Finally, when regurgitated, it washes right out. What more could a hungry parent ask for?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Friday Shout-Out. On Tuesday.

I had planned to do a Friday-Shout-Out last week, all the way from Sweden, but life got in the way. Or more accurately, a foot did.  A fractured foot. 

Never again will I roll my eyes at any proclamations of toddler pain (at least not until the next time). As it was, I spent the first half of Friday lounging in the sunshine (YES!  It finally shone!) on a hammock, batting away the dreaded flies, while the Boy dragged his shuffling self around the grass on cracked and bleeding knuckles, and the (naked) Girl shrieked and shook indoors. That she  was naked is relevant because at some point in the morning I decided to look more closely at the mosquito bite / chafe mark / scratch on her groin, to discover that IT WAS MOVING. 

(Pause, while I allow you all to shudder, just as I am doing in recollection of it).

Ticks, people. TICKS.

(Further shudder pauses)

We managed to remove half of it – its head, I think – but now if anyone so much as glances in her groin direction she disappears off – ppppppoooof - and so its legs remain embedded under her skin.  As far as I can tell – admittedly not very well because there's a fly in the kitchen and as such she’s refused to come out from under the chair for most of the day – they’re no longer moving, so that’s one thing to be grateful for.

The foot tho’ – Jesus Christ what a drama.  The second half of Friday was spent getting x-rays, followed by hours waiting to be seen by an orthopaedic person, spent sitting in a very dull waiting room picking up tips from studying the habits of the meanest parent in the world (even the Boy commented, loudly, that HIM VERY MEAN CROSS DADDY, and I nodded sagely and smugly and said YES HIM IS).  Finally we were called into a room to be told that really, there was nothing much they could do for it as that particular bone can’t be set, and it’ll just get better with time. 

The Girl, meanwhile, has started her own limping, I assume in a pathetically vain attempt to get some attention - although I guess I shouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that the phantom tick-legs have burrowed into her hips and are eating away at the cartilage. 

Anyway.  Back to the “Friday” Shout-Out.  My friend Peter discovered, somewhat suddenly, and to his enormous surprise, that he’s an incredibly talented poet. If you believe him (and I’d caution against it – he’s Irish, and we all know how they love a good story)  he woke up one day last year and out of nowhere these poems started flooding out of him.  He started posting them online last month at (one poem a day – clever, no?) and they’re just BRILLIANT. Now don’t all roll your eyes and think uuugh, poetry... These will change your mind - funny, witty, often philosophical, always fabulous.  I’ve been meaning to give him a shout-out for a while – you know, throw the new blogging-dog a bone etc – until he told me that in his first month he had 14,000 hits.  FOURTEEN THOUSAND!  Fucking hell.  (If the significance of this is lost on you, go ask any blogger about numbers.  14,000 – for a new site, in its first month – is incredible.) So much for the charitable bone. 

Anyway, 14,000 hits can’t be wrong, so go take a look.  I promise you’ll love it.  And to talk him up further, this is what he came up with, quick as a flash (ie, by return email, within 7 minutes) when I requested a rhyme about my predicament:

Two score and more, conceiving still
Did she forget to take the pill?
There’s no excuse, has she no shame?
It’s not the husband who’s to blame.

I’ve printed it out and put it hanging over my bed.  On the Man’s side.

Speaking of being knocked up, the Grub is starting to make its presence felt – not only visibly, and with internal kicks and burps, but also a propensity to snuggle into my bladder, resulting in many many night-time toilet visits. So I’ve imposed a form of middle-aged night-time toilet-training on self:  no liquids after 8pm. 

This has a knock-on effect of no overly salty foods for dinner, which is how I happened upon the notion of soaking slices of halloumi in water for a while before frying them – a step I’ve never bothered to do before, but always meant to because halloumi is SO DAMN SALTY. Anyway, it worked beautifully and I recommend it for the next time you decide to throw all that health-food nonsense out the window and fry yourself some cheese for dinner.

I also recommend this which is perfect with the halloumi, or indeed anything at all - or just on its own, great big spoonfuls shoved straight into your pregnant gob:  

If nothing else, make it because it’s so darn pretty.

Beetroot Tzatziki
You need:  for 4, as a side, or a large bowl for dipping
  • 2 ready-cooked vacuum-packed beetroots (not pickled)
  • About 3 inches of cucumber
  • About 5 heaped tablespoons of natural yoghurt (any type;  obviously Greek is authentic, but plain natural stuff is fine too. I went for half goat’s yoghurt – because I had it, and I like the goat’s cheese / beetroot combo, and half plain yoghurt)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of wine / cider vinegar
  • Clove of garlic, crushed (optional – if you don’t like garlicky food – and I’m currently averse – then leave it out)
  • Small handful each of chopped dill and chopped mint
  • Salt and pepper

Peel the cucumber and scoop out the seeds.  Grate it directly into a bowl.
Grate the beetroot into the same bowl. 
Add the yoghurt, olive oil, vingear, herbs and garlic (if using) and stir well.
Season to taste.

This will keep for a few days, covered, in the fridge.  In the unlikely event that there’s any to keep.

Eat with grilled fish, meats, haloumi, vegs etc, and a nice bottle of ice-cold beer, and pretend the sun is shining.  (It is somewhere, right?) 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Of Feet and Flies

So.  We are in the Swedish woods for a week.  A cunning plan designed to avoid both the Jubilee celebrations (we don’t like too much happiness in our house, it upsets the children) and the horrible English weather.

Alas, we hadn’t counted on equally horrible Swedish weather – which is the only way to explain why I packed my flip-flops (in fact a different left and right one, just as well we’re in the middle of the woods where no one can see us) and MATERNITY - THE HORROR shorts and really, little else, and am now freezing and unhappy.

It’s a funny place, Sweden.  Funny good.  (Also, funny dull.)  It meets every single stereo-type you’ve ever had about a country.  The people are all beautiful (except for the really really ugly ones, but we don’t look at them – they also upset the children), everyone lives in little ginger-bread houses, and eats rye-bread and cheese at every meal, except for the 4pm snack, when they break out the cinnamon buns. The air is clean and the roads are safe, and yes, it is bright as day at midnight. Look at it!

(Note, this isn't midnight.  That would be impressive.) That is the main house, and these are the sheds and out-houses, full of adventure for curious children:

And this, at the bottom of the plot, is the portal into Elf-world.  Beware Elf-world – once you enter, you can never get back to human-world.  (Which, of course, didn’t stop him trying.)

But back to the driving rain.  Until today it has been torrential, so much so that we have been forced – by frayed nerves and rising tempers – out of our cutesy-house-in-the-woods, in search of child-friendly activity.  Alas, we are really in the armpit of nowhere, and so set forth yesterday on the assumption that the most excitement to hand would be a visit to the local village's hot-dog stand.  (Seriously. That’s about as exciting as it gets there.) But then – oh joy!  - we discovered that Europe’s largest indoor play centre is 20 minutes’ drive away. 

We got there in 10.

It was FANTASTIC.  I found myself thinking that if I marry a billionaire next time around, and he too manages to get me knocked up when I’m really too old for such things, I am going to build a replica of it in a corner of my vast estate.  As well as the usual cagey-mazey-slidey things, there were trampolines, indoor ice-skating, go-karting thingies, kids-size gym equipment (I swear), life-sized chess pieces, table-tennis tables, and – the highlight - a pirate’s ship complete with canons which shot foam balls.  Wild-eyed and deranged with excitement, the Boy eventually ended up in the pirate ship – also enclosed in a large cage – and I plonked my heavy-self down nearby and watched as he picked a fight with two 8-yr-old girls, racing after them with fury and canon balls, and sent the Man off in search of rye-bread and chips.

It was all perfect, a sure sign that it’s all about to fall apart.  Replete with my dough’n’potato meal, and realising that I hadn’t seen the Boy in a while, I took a wander around the cage.  And of course there he was, curled up in a big fat sobbing ball, while a nice lady tried to console him, and the two girls – I knew they were trouble – hung about looking shifty. 

MAMAMAMAMA, he cried, demonstrating all the Swedish he knows.  I’M-SAD-I’M-CRYING.

Kisses and hugs.  The nice lady then realised he hadn’t been able to understand her and so switched to impeccable - of course - English, explaining that he’d been crying for me for quite some time. I took the guilt and deftly transformed it into anger and hatred towards the two little bitches nearby. 

“What happened?” I asked the sobbing one.

“Those-girls-were-mean-and-chasing-me-and-throwing-balls-at-me and-HURTING-ME.”

I momentarily considered ripping their heads off.

Instead, I asked the nice lady to translate for me. 

“Would you mind telling those girls that he’s only 3, and if they want to fight with someone, perhaps they should chose someone their own size?”

She looked confused.  “But... they’re my daughters!  [OF COURSE THEY FUCKING WERE].  They weren’t doing anything!  He was chasing them!  And when he fell and hurt his foot – he fell and hurt his foot??  - they came to get me immediately.”

I momentarily considered ripping the Boy’s head off.

Instead I backtracked enormously, showered them all with thanks, and dragged the Boy away.  He cried and wailed some more, rubbed his sore foot (“Did you see me jump Mummy, I jumped FROM THERE...”) then cried some more, and insisted he couldn’t walk. I ignored him (not least because carrying one child ALL THE TIME is quite enough for me, thank you) and rolled my eyes as he crawled on all fours out of the building.

We went home.  The sun was shining, finally.  He kept up his I-can’t-walk act and so was allowed to rest on the sofa with a cartoon, and as expected the foot was soon forgotten about.

Until he went to go to the bathroom, when he collapsed onto all fours again.

24 hours (and one doctor’s visit) later and it’s like living with a very self-indulgent double-amputee war veteran.  He’s dragging himself around on his knuckles, wailing and crying, and generally reminding me of a character from that awful Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan.

The Girl meanwhile, not to be outdone, has developed her own affectation affliction:  Pteronarcophobia. Otherwise known as squeeling and shouting and running for cover screaming “Di! DI!” whenever any small buzzy object buzzes on by within earshot.   

Did I mention that there are alot of flies in Sweden in the summertime?

And so we are stuck back indoors, while the sun splits the stones outside. 

Thank God for cinnamon buns.