Wednesday, 29 August 2012

An Open Letter to She-Toddlers Everywhere

(As dictated from the Girl to the Laundering Editor.  Who, incidentally, really doesn’t recommend the event described below to anyone.)

Dear Fellow She-Toddlers

If you’re in need of some extra attention from your parents (or indeed, any at all), then READ ON.  This is GUARANTEED to get you noticed, cuddled, and kissed, not to mention showered with hours – days, even - of one-on-one attention.  

I should however warn you that it’s not without its drawbacks:  it HURTS like hell, for one.  It also leads to a curtailment of alot of toddler activity (like jumping, running, skipping, flinging yourself off the sofa, etc). And – sorry boys – it really is confined to us ladies only.

Also, I’m not entirely sure what its technical term is, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.  In our house it’s called “blood bottom”; the words the big people used were “torn perin...something-or-other”.  Maybe it’s just easier to tell you what I did, and you can go about doing it yourselves.  It was nothing really – just the usual tomfoolery on the sofa.  Mind you, I was naked (who needs clothes?) and a bit hot and sweaty from being chased around by my demented big brother.  So there I was, one minute pretending to be a bouncy-ball, and the next, one leg was caught between the cushions and the other was somewhere else and I slipped and fell and... OUCH.  IT HURT.  Between my legs, REALLY REALLY SORE.  I howled, and the he-giant came over and picked me up and gave me some cuddles, which was nice, but really, it was the she-giant I was after.  I LOVE HER SO MUCH, I could just CRAWL back inside her.  Anyway, she was dealing with an upturned carton of milk so I kept up the howling, when suddenly my brother gasped, pointed and shouted “she’s got BLOOD BOTTOM!!”, and Ha! she dropped the milk carton and came bounding over! 

And then I looked down and really got a shock, because I DID have Blood Bottom – quite alot of Blood Bottom.  And then I looked at the she-giant, who looked back at me, and she did not look well at all. She grabbed me and lay me down and inspected between my legs, and then stood up and put her hands to her face and looked very very shaken, and saying something about... stitches... Could that be the word?  And another one:  hospital.  By now – and this was the BEST bit – the Boy was almost crying and saying that he loved me so so much and he didn’t want me to go to hospital, and then the she-giant had wrapped me up in a blankie and was cuddling me to her, and oh! it was SO great. Even if Blood Bottom was very very sore.

So then we went in the car to a big building where the rooms are all white and I was given stickers and a funny monkey doll, and a really really old man with hairs growing out of his nose said I didn’t need the stitches thing, and the she-giant started to look a bit better.  But then another person came in and gave her a piece of paper and when she looked at it she went all white and put her hands to her face again. And then she took out her wallet and gave the woman a plastic card and looked like she was going to be sick.  

Afterwards the she-giant wouldn’t let me go all day long.  She brought me – just me!  On my own!  - to a smelly place where they make brown drinks in tall paper cups, and people sit looking at tv screens on their laps full of words (what does it mean, “writing a novel”?), and we had some juice and cake, and she let me cuddle right into her and didn’t once tell me to STOP KICKING THE BUMP, and then later, when the Boy arrived, she wouldn’t let him sit on her and she didn’t see me giving him the Evil Eye which makes him CRAZY.  When we got home she made me sit on her lap while everyone else played in the pool but I didn’t care because I had her all to myself.  Although I cared quite alot when I had to do a poo and IT HURT and then I had Blood Bottom again, which, although sore, was worth it, because she had to stop making dinner and then sat with me on her knee again for ages and ages. AND I didn’t have to have a bath, and any time the Boy came near me, she sent him away, and didn’t say a thing any time I tried to kick him, just gently closed my legs together again and hugged me to her. 

But, like I said, it’s not without its downsides.  Any time I try to run or play or be a bouncy-ball again I’m told to STOP.  And it still hurts.  But in terms of all-engulfing, non-stop attention, it cannot be beaten.  And BEST OF ALL – any time you think that Blood Bottom is getting better, you just throw your legs apart and – ta da! Blood Bottom all over again = hugs = THE BEST THING EVER.

Oh, and she made me these too.  Which, for some reason, made both my Daddy and my brother laugh and snigger.

Chocolate covered frozen bananas
You need:
  • Bananas, chopped up (however you like)
  • A large bar of good dark chocolate, melted with a splash of milk over a low heat, until smooth.

Cover the banana pieces completely with the melted chocolate.  Stick in the freezer on a greaseproof sheet (or, in my case, a plate) for at least an hour.  Try your best to make them look photogenic.  Fail.  Hand to children using either a cocktail stick, a corn-holder, or just their bare, grubby hands.  Have wipes handy (particularly if you’re staying in your in-laws’ house).

“Chef’s” caveat:  there is no way I could make these look anything other than revolting. Sorry about that.  They’re so so easy tho, and taste great.  AND are mostly banana, which the kids didn’t seem to notice.  To deflect from the scatological connections any of you might – understandably – make, here’s a picture of something else I made today (it’s non-stop hugs and treats in our house at the moment).  These were these, made with two eggs, and equal weight of butter, sugar and self-raising flour, and four heaped teaspoons of decent cocoa powder.  All creamed together then put in a hot – 180c / 350f – oven for 20 mins.  Covered in melted chocolate and topped with whatever you have to hand (banana, in my case).  

Friday, 24 August 2012

Toilets, and other traumas

It’s 1am.  I wish my being awake was solely due to the fact that I have become, over the past few days, a human washing machine (carrying what feels like a large load of claws and bones on a full spin-cycle), but I have to admit some responsibility – specifically the late-night ingestion of chocolate. Even as I was (repeatedly) breaking off the squares and ramming them in my gob I knew it was a bad idea, and again when the Man was raising his eyebrows in an are-you-really-having-more manner, but I am powerless in the face of good quality chocolate.  (Or, let’s face it, any type at all.)

Anyway.  I’m amazed I can even think about sleep after the week we’ve just had. 

We took another road trip... It wasn’t so bad this time – shorter (2 hours each way, in one day – so no overnight shenanigans), and we made an amazing discovery: the kids have a ten-minute concentration span.  (They’re like goldfish, only a teeny bit smarter.  And less relaxing to have in a bowl on your desk.) Armed with this new knowledge, we put a commandment suggestion to them:  be ye good for 10 minutes (for which read:  keep your respective forked tongues in your respective mouths, and your talons out of each others’ flesh) and ye shall receive 10-minutely tic-tac bribes rewards.

It worked. Sort of.  They kept their sibling violence to a minimum, although they still managed to drive us semi-demented.  The Boy has absolutely no concept of delayed gratification: paw out, tic-tac received, paw to gob, tic-tac in said gob, tic-tac in gullet. The Girl meanwhile – probably just to irritate her brother – takes gratification to a whole new level.  Think you can’t hold a tic-tac between your fingers and suck on it for 9 minutes and 59 seconds?  Think again.  This, naturally, sent the Boy in a frenzied spiral of jealousy, accentuated by the fact that he knew he was being unreasonable.  And so we had to endure 10 minute segments of reproachful “Why she has still her tic-tac?”, interlaced with “Is it ten minutes yet? Is it ten minutes now?  When will it be ten minutes?” on a loop for 2 hours. 

Finally we got to our destination, which was fabulous – beach cabana, friends, other children, kids’ pool, beach restaurants.  Our plan was simple:  wear them out, have dinner, stick them in the car way way past their bedtime, drive home in the dark in peace and quiet. It almost – almost – worked that way.  If only the Girl hadn’t been so exhausted (and hyped up on tic-tacs) that she laughed inanely for the entire duration, muttering “awesome!” to herself, singing snatches of Lady Gaga, and occasionally kicking the (sleeping) Boy on the head;  if only the sleeping Boy didn’t keep getting woken up by the kicking Girl and shrieking like he was being tortured;  if only that animal – whatever it was – hadn’t walked out, on the only pitch-black stretch of road in the whole of Florida, straight under the wheels of our car.  And if only we could forget the sound of the impact as we hit it, and the sight of an enormous gaping hole in the front of my father-in-law’s car.  (We stopped, and searched the road, but could see no sign of any animal, alive or otherwise;  the car, however, was most certainly injured, and so we can only assume the poor animal was also.)

Oy vey. We got home, eventually (largely in silence, punctuated with occasional maniacal back-seat cackles and off-tune snippets of Poker Face), and put the kids to bed.  And then, having spent the entire journey longing for a wee (or alternatively some space for my bladder to expand to its normal size) I indulged myself, then - as one does - flushed the toilet.

Now you don’t really expect raw sewage to come shooting up through a shower drain when you flush a toilet, so you can imagine my, um, surprise.  And then the Man’s, not too long afterwards, when the same happened to him – but in a different bathroom.  And then mine, again, a few minutes later (pesky bladder) in the third (and final) bathroom in the house.  Talk about the backed-up sewage system that just keeps on giving.  After three days of this, and unanswered (and increasingly hysterical) calls to the plumbers, it finally got sorted this morning.  Apparently our choice of toilet paper is too “fancy” for the delicate - albeit brand new - plumbing system; (whooda thought regular 2-ply was pushing the boundaries of extravagance?) 

I didn’t think much could overtake The Animal Incident in terms of leaving a traumatic mark in my brain, but The Toilet Incident appears to be giving it a run for its money.  I am now terrified to flush the toilet.  I am, in fact, terrified to even use the toilet, and am in danger of becoming the in-house toilet police (not a pretty mental image).  The poor Boy announced his usual morning poo today (10.17am, on the button: I NEED A POO!) and my immediate instinct was to tell him to HOLD IT IN UNTIL WE GO OUT FOR LUNCH... 

And so, what with the toilet and the car / animal, I’ve been too distracted to focus on the fact that this is meant to be a food blog (yeah, right).  As soon as I can get my head – and our bottoms – around using 1-ply toilet paper (it reminds me of the sheets of tracing paper the nuns provided in school – the toilet-paper equivalent of a hair shirt I presume), my kitchenly duties will resume.  Promise.  Until then, if you’re hungry, do what all self-respecting pregnant ladies do and reach for a bar of chocolate.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Road(s) to Hell

So, we decided to take a road-trip.  It only lasted a few days, but the ensuing trauma has been enough to leave me rigid and unable to approach even the most mundane of tasks (other than put on a sarong and wonder just how much bigger I can possibly get in the next two months.  Cooking?  Forget it).

The main problem is that we don’t like leaving our comfort zone.  Mind you, we don’t even particularly like our comfort zone, so generally we find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard, child-unfriendly place. But we decided to throw sense caution to the wind, and accept an invitation to visit dear friends in Miami.  Miami, incidentally, is 4 hours’ drive from us.  FOUR HOURS IN A CAR WITH OUR CHILDREN.

Now you might well be thinking - how bad could it be?  Take my word for it - it’s pretty bad.  They HATE being in the car.  As a result, we HATE being in the car with them.  Just strapping them in exhausts us, and, more often than not, leaves us covered in scratches (think Gorillas in the Mist meets WWF).  Since we’ve been here, we’ve restricted our car journeys to trips to the beach – 20 minutes away.  These go as follows:

Choose a child, and strap him / her in.  Shut the car door, and slump against it momentarily, then check bag for water, wipes, tic-tacs (our new bribing currency), small toys, pashmina, ear plugs.  Get into car, turn on radio – HIGH. Turn on air-conditioning – HIGH.  Put on pashmina.  Put in ear plugs. 

Leave driveway. Breathe deeply, swear that today is the day you won’t let them get to you.  Realise you can hear, perfectly, the MUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMY mantra coming from the back seat.  Curse ear plugs which have expanded lengthways, out of the ear. 

Turn radio up higher.  Girl shouts: TOO LOUD!  Turn radio down.  Boy shouts:  I WAS LISTENING TO THAT!  Turn radio back up.  TOO LOUD!  I WAS LISTENING TO THAT!  TOO LOUD...  And so the endless, brain-melting squabbling starts.  It lasts until we turn onto the highway (5 minutes), at which point the Boy forgets about the radio (which, incidentally, is stuck on Soft Rock, and the only music the Girl doesn’t complain about is Phil Fucking Collins, for fuck’s sake) because he NEEDS TO DO A WEE-WEE.  Hold it in, we implore, I CAN’T he implores louder, YOU MUST we counter, I CAN’T... He can, he does, just in time for us to get off the highway and swerve into a dodgy vacant lot, where we screech to a halt, I bolt out, grab him, pull down his pants, piss sprays everywhere, but I’m too concerned about the appearance of a squad-car (or the dreaded naked-children-police who patrol the beaches cunningly disguised as ordinary people) to care.  Back into the car, wrestle, scratch, breathe, ignore, radio, tic-tacs, toys etc. 

We have by now been out of the house for about 10 minutes.  The Girl decides to ramp up the annoyance factor.  I sick, she cries.  I SICK!  I hand her the sick bowl*. She puts it on her head and makes retching sounds. He grabs it, she screeches and clocks him one on the side of the face.  He screeches too.  We breathe breathe breathe, look out the window, and count to 5. 

Spot on 5 the Boy chimes in.  I’m sick too!  I hand him the sick bag**. 3 seconds later they are clawing at each other, she wants the sick bag, he won’t relinquish it, and is protecting his territory with full – albeit seat-belt-restrained – vigour. BAD BOY NO TOUCHY ME!  GETOFFOFMEPIGGYNOSE!  ME NO PIGGY NOSE STINKY BOY! PIGGY-NOSE-PIGGY-NOSE...

I can take it no longer.  I turn into my mother and, despite my girth, manage to stretch my arm the full length of the car and flay about like a walrus on a beach.  Hand meets flesh, hand slaps and grabs, hand is kicked, they howl, I curse, the Man swerves...

Suddenly – thankfully - we are at the beach.  The children are a writhing mass of hair, teeth and claws, wailing and ranting, tangled up in their seat belts, spitting tic-tacs in fury at each other.  I find the sunscreen – Phase 2 of Going To The Beach - and look at the Man. “Pick a child”.

So, we were faced with 4 hours of this.  We played about 758 games of I Spy,  which served only to make us realise that the Boy probably needs some extra tuition (Me:  “I spy with my little eye something beginning with “c” – cah cah cah...” (just to give him that nudge) Boy:  TRUCK!); we sang every nursery song we could think of (the Girl joining in only when we switched to One More Night);  we counted cars, alligators, hitch-hiking serial killers.  Eventually I gave up and pretended to sleep, leaving the Man to sing, entertain, threaten and despair. And then the demented GPS lady sent us God-knows-where in darkest suburban Miami, which is an hour of our lives I hope the children have blocked out. 

But we all survived.  Just.  And then did it again, in reverse (not technically – although as kiddie entertainment goes, we might have to try that sometime.)  When my nerves have returned and my hands have stopped shaking, I will rustle up something in the kitchen to share with y’all.  (Or possibly not:  I have discovered the wonders of ready-made-pizza-in-a-carton, and realised that there is nothing that isn’t improved by being covered in cheese and put in the oven.  Bear with me.)

*We don’t leave the house without the sick bowl now.  In addition, she won’t go to bed  unless she’s clutching the sick bowl. It’s her new security blanket.  Darn uncomfortable, but less likely to wear out that a traditional blankie, so we’re happy to accommodate her.  Not entirely sure how we’ll handle the flight home however.
**Actually just a plastic supermarket bag, but don’t tell the children that. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Nearly Native

There are three stages in an extended foreign stay:  Settling In – a point we reached, I think, the first time I shooed the kids and Man out of the house so I could clean the bathrooms and get some ironing done;  Acclimatising (attained at the same time as the sun-hats and Crocs, last week);  and the third stage, the edge on which we are now teertering - Going Native.

I’m doing what I can to embrace this.  I am finally encouraging the children to wear (at least some) clothes in public;  we bring as much crap to the beach as we can manage, and then just a teeny bit more (our first visit: a couple of towels and a bottle of water;  now:  a towel each, a sun umbrella, a cooler full of food and drink; toys for the kids;  sunscreen-a-plenty, and the acclimatising hats and shoes.  Still we feel as if we have some way to go before we even begin to compete with the tent-raising, grill-lighting Floridians); we navigate the neighbourhood with the kids strapped into a bike-trailer  (oh the joy of a bike trailer – the wind in our ears to block out the sounds of their whinging and whining, the bugs in their eyes so they can’t see each other to swipe and bite); the house is littered with copies of the New York Times and New Yorker Magazine (oh ok then, for every one New Yorker, there are, four three Peoples); we’ve discovered the wondrous joy that is Summer Camp, for the Boy; and I’ve worked out how to spend less than 2 hours a time at the supermarket.

Realistically however, I acknowledge that we’re very unlikely to ever fully Go Native.  We’re too young, for a start ( I LOVE IT here, I am easily the youngest person on the streets at any one time – as long as the Man stays indoors);  we stay up way too late – sometimes we’re not in bed until 10pm! – and were we ever to dine out, it wouldn’t be at 530pm;    we do not – nor will ever have – mouths full of sparkling, gleaming perfect teeth (well, I won’t);  and the death-knell – I will always find US tv to be, by and large, a colossal pile of shite. In fact, it’s not so much television, as commercials interspersed with the occasional programme.

We don’t watch a huge amount of tv at the best of times; back home, we don’t have access to terrestrial, let alone cable, and so any must-sees are done via dvd or the internet.  But we’ve been getting sucked in a bit here – largely because  of the enormous television eye-fucking us from the middle of the living area, but also because, come 8pm, we are so shattered from 12 hours of shrieking, pleading and weeping family fun  that we just collapse onto the sofa and dumbly flick through the channels.

It is atrocious. Worse, it’s addictive and atrocious.  There’s a programme called Toddlers and Tiaras which I honestly cannot believe gets aired; it shows toddler beauty pageants.  Not in an ironic, sniggering, patronising way, as would be the case in Europe;  but genuinely interested in these pre-school girls decked out in their sparkly bikinis, strutting their stuff on stage. It’s so... terrifying and obscene, that we can’t actually watch it.  So instead we watch a whole pile of crap which comes under the heading “Reality TV”.  There are Bachelors and Bachelorettes, vying for love (and, I assume, money);  there are dogs who need therapy, and owners who need exercise; there are weddings, funerals, houses, high-schools – all undergoing urgent transformations AGAINST THE CLOCK.  And then there is the American broadcasting of the Olympics - the less said about, the better. (A small plea to NBC – please can we have something other than swimming and gymnastics?  And perhaps something in real time?  Go on – you know you can do it...)

But I’ve found some solace on the Food Network. Typically, our sofa- comas coincide with airings of a show called “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”, wherein a loud hairy man visits ramshackle out-of-the-way eateries and showcases their best-selling items.  99% of the time, this involves quite obscene amounts of meat, more often than not under the banner of “burger”.  The other night, as we watched the 15th burger (or sandwich or something bready encasing a lump of shredded meat heavier than a newborn) being prepared, the Man’s stomach began to growl.  I asked him if he was alright, but he couldn’t answer because he was salivating too much. 

And so, good wife (and St Francis afficienado) that I am, I made him this. AND HE ATE IT WITHOUT COMPLAINING.  In fact, he said it was his new favourite meal.  Bless him and his non-boat-rocking carnivore ways.  

Mushroom “Burger”

I’m not going to pretend this is actually a burger – it’s not.  But if you ever crave a doughy-sandwichy-moist-juicy-sloppy pile of deliciousness, without the meat and / or the hassle of preparing it, this is just the ticket.   Like a real burger, it can be custom-made to suit every taste.  I used whatever I found lurking in the (enormous) fridge (cheddar, peppers, tomatoes), but in future I think I’ll actually give it a bit more thought:  blue or goat’s cheese, some pickles, garlic butter... The world is your towering pretend burger.

A quick word on the fries.  Don’t they look good?  They were delicious. And baked in the oven.  I know! Healthy (within reason) and yum.  I used to just chop up a few potatoes, coat in a bit of olive oil, and stick in the oven for 20 minutes – and this is definitely the quickest and easiest way to make them.  But what you get that way are slivers of crispy baked potato;  for the crunch and inner fluff of a proper chip, it’s worth taking the time to par-boil the potato chips in boiling water (on a rolling boil for about 7 minutes) first, draining properly, patting dry, then coating in olive oil and putting in a very hot (450F) oven for about 20 minutes.  You’ll need to shake / turn them after 10 minutes or so.  Hassle wise, a bit of a pain in the arse, but if you like your chips, this is the only way.

Back to the “burger”.

You Need:  for 2 (obviously increase or decrease as necessary)
  • 2 large, thick Portobello mushrooms, wiped clean and stalks removed
  • 2 burger buns, toasted
  • Whatever accompaniments you fancy;  at the very least use:
  • Some cheese – natch – we used regular US cheddar, but I think something with more of a punch is better.  Nice sharp UK cheddar, some gooey blue cheese, or a slice of goat’s or mozzarella.
  • Tomato ketchup. 
  • Big fat slice of ripe tomato.
  • Next time I’ll put a smear of garlic / garlic butter on the mushrooms prior to roasting them, maybe a fried egg, some crisp lettuce... (I have to stop now, my mouth is watering and the Grubette has started to kick)

Preheat oven to 400f / 200c / 6 gas

Place mushrooms in an oven pan / baking dish, open side up, and drizzle with oil, rubbing it over the bottom of the mushrooms.  (Add any other vegetables you’re roasting to the pan (eg peppers, courgettes), and also coat with oil).  Sprinkle with some salt, and bung in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes (how long will depend on the size of the mushrooms;  keep an eye on them after 15 minutes, if they start to look dry or shrivelled they’re getting too done). 

(Note:  if making oven fries at the same time, the mushrooms can go into the very hot oven with the fries, but will only need about 10 minutes.)

If using garlic butter or crushed garlic (which should be drizzled with oil or covered in a dollop of butter), add it at about 12 minutes, giving it no more than 5 minutes’ cooking time.  

Meanwhile, toast the buns, and prepare the other ingredients for the Great Pile Up.

As soon as you take the mushrooms out of the oven, cover with the cheese so it melts / softens.  Then create your sandwich however you like.  

Serve to a ravenous carnivore, having made a HUGE deal about the fact that you’re making BURGERS, then avoid his eye for the next 10 minutes.