Friday, 26 October 2012

Warning: Contains photos of a maternal nature...

The Boy has a new addition to his bedtime routine.  So, after we’ve negotiated:  the depth of his bath;  the length of his bath;  who gets taken out first, him or the Girl;  who gets to choose the bedtime stories;  the number of bedtime stories; what pyjamas he can wear; and finally, how many minutes of post-booktime chat we can have – he now insists on having “whisper time”. 

Whisper Time goes as follows.  I tuck him into bed and try to leave the room. He shouts:  I NEED TO TELL YOU SOME SECRETS.  “Only one”, I respond.  “Two!” he counters.  “None” I reply.  “THREE!” he yells. And so we settle on two.  The “whispers” follow the same pattern every single night.  He leans over to my ear, cups his hand around it, and says:

“Mummy.  Have you ever seen... [pause, while he thinks of something]... a dinosaur crossed with a hippo, crossed with a packet of crisps crossed with a police car?”

I generally admit that I haven’t.

Then onto whisper number two. (These were last night’s secrets, by the way).

“Mummy.  Have you ever seen... A lamp, crossed with a book, crossed with a phone, crossed with a bowl of cereal?”


So now I have a whisper for you.

Gentle reader.  Have you ever seen... A plucked chicken crossed with Les Dawson crossed with a 97 year old gremlin?


Now you have.  Introducing the Grubette:

(Ah, ok, she doesn't always look like that.  I could of course have given you the stock newborn photo, a sweet swaddled little thing, but where's the fun in that?)  

She arrived, as planned, last Thursday morning, which I can only imagine was as much a shock to her system as it was to mine.  Going from full-blown pregnant to not-at-all pregnant in the space of several minutes is quite bizarre.  She roared her disapproval, but has been generally (sort of) content since then.  On the rare occasion when the other kids are out of the house, I’ve been feeling something close to contentment myself (helped, of course, by having my mother to stay, and thus laundry is being done, meals are being cooked, and sleep is being slept). 

When the kids are here it’s a whole other kettle of fish. Piranhas, mainly. The Boy ADORES her.  I’m honestly flabbergasted.  He cannot walk past her without giving  her head a rub or a kiss, and tries to feed her whatever it is he’s stuffing in his gob at any one time. The Girl, on the other hand... I think the love is going to have to be cultivated somewhat.  Assuming it’s even there. She has largely blanked her since we got home – which, considering she can’t walk past a baby on the street without cooing “Baby!”, must be quite an effort for her.  When forced to acknowledge her, she makes a face like she’s been sucking lemons, and as soon as the Grubette is brought near me, the Girl starts to climb all over me, screaming to be picked up, wailing for Mommamommamomma.  Last night the Man asked her if she’d like to come kiss Star (their name for her).  She gave him a look that could kill and hissed noooooooo at him, through gritted teeth.  It’s a complete pain in the tits (and believe me, I know ALL ABOUT painful tits) especially as I really can’t do anything about it at the moment.  I have great plans for lots of one-on-one Girl time once I’m able to, you know, sit up unaided, sneeze without feeling like I’ve split myself in two, and maybe someday – someday – wear clothes which don’t make me shriek in agony.  Until then, we’re stuck with the Ice Queen.

But, happily, we’re also stuck with Star, which sort of evens it out.

That’s not all I’ve baked in the past week.  We had the Boy’s fourth birthday on Wednesday (4! How the flip did that happen?), and being a complete sucker for punishment, I decided that notwithstanding having left hospital two days before, we were still going to host his party at home.  He and his friends got a chocolate pirate cake,  I and mine got this spiced apple cake.  (And champagne.  We’ve alot to celebrate at the moment. (Not least being able to drink champagne in the middle of the afternoon.))

Spiced Apple Cake

(I appreciate that it doesn't look like much from the photos - this is what my sister would call one of my "completely shit" photos - but honestly, it's the best  cake I've had in ages. And believe me, I've been loading up on cake of late.) 

Is there anyone alive who hasn’t been watching the Great British Bake-Off?  I watched the final on iplayer while in hospital, the evening of the Grubette’s arrival. Happy days.  For the first time in 5 months I didn’t need to wee, I had a great big cup of tea, a large bar of Almond Chocolate, and the wonder of baking on my screen.  Oh, and a new baby.  Anyway, I mention this because having decided I wanted to make an apple cake this week, the first recipe I found online was by Mary “Ready-For-Canonisation” Berry. I tweaked it a  bit to suit my ingredients, and it was fabulous.  (It was also fabulous for tea yesterday, and again for breakfast today).

You need:  for 8
  • 225g Self-raising Flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 225g Caster Sugar (the fine stuff, for my American friends)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 150g butter (preferably unsalted), melted
  • About 4 medium sized tart eating apples (I used Coxes), peeled, cored and finely sliced
  • 1 heaped tsp of cinnamon.  (You could also – or alternatively - throw in some nutmeg if you had some, or liked it [neither of which apply to me])
  • Couple of tablespoons of chopped or flaked nuts (Mary uses flaked almonds;  I used chopped hazelnuts.  I’d go for the latter.  She also uses ½ teaspoon of almond extract, which, like nutmeg,  I neither have nor like, so I left it out.  Some vanilla extract would probably work well too, but using nothing at all didn’t seem to do any harm)

Preheat the oven to 160c / 140c fan  gas3.  Lightly grease a deep 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle, add the eggs, stir with a fork to break up the eggs, then combine well with the other ingredients. Add the melted butter and stir furiously, before mixing with a whisk (electric is easiest) for a minute or so.  (If using vanilla or almond essence, add it with the melted butter.)

Pour about half the mixture into the tin, then pile the sliced apples on top, so that they’re doming towards the centre of the tin.  Spoon the rest of the mixture on top, and sprinkle with the chopped / flaked nuts.

Bung in the oven for between 1 ¼ and 1 ½ hrs (I’ve now made this twice, and both times 1 ¼ hr was perfect).

Gobble up while warm, while cold, or reheat in the microwave in the unlikely event that it’s been left alone long enough to go a bit stale. 

It’s wondrous. And in no danger of having a soggy bottom.  Unlike some we could mention... 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

We're Headin' For Venus

(It’s the final countdown...)

In 24 hours (at the time of writing) I will – all going well – be the mother of three. 

(Pause, for shocked silence)

I’ve had 7 months to get my head around this (not that this pregnancy was 2 months' shorter than the usual, but I ignored the very obvious signs of early knocked-up-ness by persuading self that I was merely embarking on the menopause) and still, here we are, the day before the event, and I’m no closer to acceptance. 

Three children.  Honestly, I’ve only just come to terms with having two (for instance, I no longer look around for somebody else, then reel in astonishment, when a small angry voice shouts “Mummy!”  Progress, no?)

In the face of all uncertainties, I like to try to impose some sort of control on my surroundings by making lists.  This – in no particular order – is what I’m looking forward to over the next few days:
  • Seeing the Grubette for the first time (even tho I’ll be thinking – you were in there??)
  • Watching the Boy and Girl when they meet their sister
  • Codeine
  • Lying down.  On my back.  Without fear of blacking out / never being able to get self upright again
  • A VERY large margarita, with an extra shot of Silver Patron
  • My mum coming to stay.  For TWO WEEKS
  • The blessed relief of not needing to wee every 15  minutes
  • The equal blessed relief of not feeling that my pelvis is a mortar to the baby's pestle head
  • Enforced bed rest for at least 3 days
  • Crappy magazines
  • Crappy daytime tv
  • The vicious post-c-section midnight hunger that can only be quelled by Hula Hoops, tea and chocolate
  • Making a dent in Bring up the Bodies
  • Porn-star tits
  • Getting home, and the totally surreal experience of sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea in my hand and a new baby at my feet

 Things I am NOT looking fwd to:
  • Having a c-section (obviously)
  • Trying to remain patient while I explain – again – to the Man that even looking at my tits hurts them
  • The shock of seeing my ENORMOUS children for the first time, having spent a few hours in the company of a newborn
  • Trying to sleep in a hospital, through the constant interruption of nurses and midwives
  • Being forced out of bed more or less immediately by ham-fisted nurses intent on getting you “up on your feet again”.  Despite having just been sawn in half and briefly disembowelled
  • Being unable to resist checking out your post-birth body immediately post-birth.  (Actually, that’s the horror that just keeps on giving)
  • Wondering if you’re ever – EVER - going to be free from the revolting tyranny that is your maternity wardrobe
  • Codeine addiction fondness
  • Anything requiring use of my stomach muscles (laughing, sneezing, pooing – oh God, the first post-birth poo [mine, not the Grubette’s])
  • Getting home, and the totally surreal experience of sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea in my hand and a new baby at my feet

Anyway.  In other news, I’ve been trying to take it easy this week – only just succeeding right now (sitting in a cafe eavesdropping on ridiculously young and pretty mothers compare notes on the difficulties of having a - as in ONE - kid.  I want to beat them all to death with their organic hazelnut flutes) – and trying not to screech too much at the kids when I hit the wall of exhaustion at 6pm.  Alas, this coincides entirely with their hitting the wall of total insanity, and so the poor Man has been coming home early to scenes of domestic carnage and a weeping wife (he might as well get used to it). The Boy has had two separate Big Boy School assessments, so I’ve been carting him about and trying to prep him for what was in store (I now know how Diane Fossey must have felt). My favourite part of the past few days was when he was asked to draw something for the teacher – “anything at all”.  “I’ll draw YOU” he told her.  I was sitting in on this, literally biting my tongue, thinking – but you can barely hold a pencil.  I stood corrected.  He held a pencil, drew a circle – “that’s your head”;  two smaller circles, actually inside the big one – “those are your eyes”;  a line down from the large circle – “that’s your neck”; and with a sweeping hand movement, one last big circle:  “and THAT is your GREAT BIG TUMMY.”

I suspect I will soon be adding  “home schooling” to the second list above.

See you all on the other side.  xx

Friday, 12 October 2012

The Hairdo Obsession Continues. Apologies.

The new hair do (formerly that of Myra Hindley, but since the professionally imposed bouffant has flattened, it’s now less Myra H, more Jimmy Saville – both having the effect of sending children scurrying to the other side of the road) came into its own this week.  As such, I am hopeful for its prognosis.  It is long and thick enough to act as a pair of facial curtains – basically I can shut my face off from the world at will.  Which, given what’s ahead (SIX-DAYS-HOLYSHIT) can only be a good thing.

The necessity to draw said curtains came about because I pissed off the parenting gods – again - with a very passing thought I entertained last week.  It crossed my mind (momentarily - because as you may be aware I don’t believe in positive parenting whatsoever) that in many ways we’re very lucky with our kids;  sure, they might behave like feral cave-dwelling bandits most of the time (competing bandits, I should add), but we’ve struck gold on two important aspects:  they’re not (too) fussy about their food;  and – and this is where the Gods pricked up their ears – you know that once you put them to bed, you won’t see or hear them again for 12 hours.

Later that night the Boy woke up shouting and roaring and wailing at midnight, and continued in this vein for over an hour.  Nothing would settle him: he was cold, he had cramps in his legs, he’d had a nightmare...  Two hours later, he repeated the exercise.  GAH.  The next night – after I had fallen asleep sitting bolt upright at the kitchen table at 8.30pm, and so forced self to bed before 9 – the Girl started to cry and call for me.  It was about 9.20.  “Just leave her,” the Man instructed.  Hmmm - it was an unusual enough occurrence to arouse my curiosity.  Talk about killing the cat; the stench hit me as soon as I opened the door.  She was caked in cold, hard vomit – in her ears, her eyes, her hair – everywhere (leading me to wonder how anyone sober can vomit on themselves so comprehensively and remain asleep?) So she had a bath (nothing nicer than scooping handfuls of puke out of the drain) and came to our bed, whereupon she continued to vomit and retch the night away.  

The Boy woke up shouting the next two nights, and then – timed perfectly to coincide with the Man going away for a few days – decided to have his own all-night puke fest.  Unlike the Girl, however (but rather like his mother) he doesn’t believe in quiet, somniacal vomiting;  half an hour of screaming and roaring, pains all over his body (apparently), head spins, leg-ache, back-ache – I was beginning to think maybe he was in labour - before the blessed release of projectile vomiting.  By the time the cursed cursing birds had started their fuckofffuckoff dawn chorus, I’d been hit with so much back-splash that it was inevitable that I was going to be next in the bug line.  And there I was thinking that the worst thing was to be 39 weeks’ pregnant (HOLYSHIT) and having to look after a sick toddler and his, frankly, wilder sister. Add to the mix your own stomach bug, and an increasing fear that actually you’re going into labour and have NO BACKUP PLAN.  (I admit I got a bit worried at one point;  thankfully, I’m back to denial and an absolute belief that it’llbefineit’llbefine...)

And so the ghoul who greeted me in the mirror this morning was somewhat more haunted looking that usual.  But with one simple flick of the forehead – she was gone!  Banished back to the graveyard.  (Albeit replaced by Jimmy Kiddy-Fiddler Saville. On a side-note: aren’t you all glad now that your letters to the BBC in the early 80s went ignored?  I can’t tell you how many times I pleaded with him to Fix It for me to meet Adam Ant.  I escaped on so many levels...)

Mind you, I can’t see a damn thing – not that there’s that much to see when you’ve got your head stuck in the sand anyway. Thankfully, it isn’t long enough to obstruct my mouth, and so now that I’m back in rude health, I’ve taken to drinking red wine like it’s already next week (it’s winter. The kid is cooked. I need the iron.  Or something.) 

I even managed to cook something new last night – which I somewhat boringly pinched from Angela Hartnett’s Guardian column.  I had planned on making aubergine parmagiana – the Man loves it, and I wanted to welcome him home with something warm and nourishing;  but then I got the hump because how dare he go away and leave me to deal with the kids alone,  and frankly, AP is a bit of a pain the tits to make.  Her little number from yesterday’s paper – aubergine gratin - promised all the taste, with a fraction of the work, of its grander, layered  cousin.  So I bought the ingredients, cooked it, took some photos, wrote out the recipe... But alas it was crap.  Awful.  Don’t even bother looking it up – unless you have a yearning for raw aubergine in an undercooked tomato and vinegar sauce (mmmmmmmmmm).  Do what I did and pour yourself a large glass of wine and have a bar of chocolate instead.  AND if you keep your hair down over your eyes, you can’t see what you’re eating, so technically (and nutritionally) it doesn’t count... 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Various Fringe Issues

Now.  Where was I... Ah yes, I was dashing off to the hairdressers, and had been blaming hormones for the upheaval in my life.  Certainly, the hormones are to blame for my current crappy (or rather, crappier than usual) skin – notably on my forehead.  And so I got it into said (fore)head to address this dermatological imperfection by covering it up.  This is what I was hoping to channel: 

  Alas, this is closer to what I ended up with:

(Even the hairdresser – of a profession usually so ready to completely ignore your instructions and keep snip-snip-snipping away - looked a bit distraught).

And so I dashed home, traumatised my mother-in-law (“Oh!” she said, when she saw me;  and nothing else), and squeezed my inner - and outer - serial killer into that beautiful dress (kindly loaned to me by Seraphine), before escaping before the kids could deface me with their hummus-hands. (Not, however, before the Boy looked at me and said “Mummy, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE???”)

And so to the Blog awards!  I met the Man in the bar (where he did the most obvious double-take I have ever seen in real life) but the competition for drink was fierce, and so we eventually gave up and headed into the dining room.  Or rather tried to;  because it turned out that actually, partners weren’t invited... Ooooops.  I guess I just assumed it was Plus 1-   maybe I didn’t read the emails properly - or indeed, at all (frankly, I’m still just thanking CHRIST that I didn’t pursue my initial persistence that he wear black tie...) They were very nice about it, but we were clearly going to mess up alot of organisation – not to mention table plans – so made the decision to abandon the dinner and catch up a deux in the hotel restaurant.  Which was lovely, even if I was a bit over-dressed (even for a serial-killer).  We nipped back in in time for the awards, sat with REAL bloggers – people who update their sites regularly, and who actually make an effort with them (no Blogger Hosting malarkey for these people).  In fact when the Man wasn’t laughing at my ridiculous new ‘do, he was pissing himself with every nomination which appeared on the screen:  each time one was called out, a snapshot of the site appeared. Every one of them, without exception, was professionally done:  logos and pictures and About Pages and indexes... And then there was RL.  OHGOD.   Through snorts the Man managed to say:  “Imagine if you won!” 

Thankfully – truthfully, because the mortification would have been too much – I didn’t, and we were spared any further shame. (I totally called it tho on who would win – this great site;  I mean seriously, wouldn’t you give this your food blog vote?)  And so we headed out into the night, home to hang up our dancing frocks for – well, for good I suspect.

In other news, this is what the rest of the week has delighted me with:

The Boy (on Sunday night) – out of the blue, as he was going to bed: 
“Mummy, you are going to DIE on Tuesday.”
“Really?  Why do you say that?”
“Things that are sharp are going to go into your mouth and through your face and you WILL DIE.  On Tuesday.”
He was really quite specific about Tuesday, so much so that I took a bit of extra care yesterday driving about in the shit-hire-car (the wheels of which stop moving if you try to turn them more than 30 degrees;  which I have to say makes turning onto busy London roads something of an adventure).  Anyway, it turns out he’s no soothsayer, and I’ve lived to screech at him another day.  Until next week at least.

The Girl and I were pottering in the kitchen this morning, when I noticed a whole family of blackbirds in the garden. 
“Look at the birdies sweetheart -  what do birds say?”
“Fuck!” she shouted, happily.
(One in fact looked a bit hen-pecked and possibly did shout Fuck! on a regular basis, but it wasn’t exactly the response I was expecting.)

And the highlight of my parenting week?   This really just summed up where the journey of parenthood has taken me (through the town of Despair, past the village of Caring, to the Point of Resignation).  We had a playdate (“we” being “they”) on Monday, at the end of which the kids had a chocolate treat.  After I bundled them all into the car and strapped self in, I noticed something brown, crusty and semi-permanent on my trousers.  It could have been chocolate, but then again, it could have been shit.  I scratched and sniffed. 
It wasn’t chocolate.
The worse part was that I wasn’t phased in the slightest. Not by the poo on the jeans (dog’s, uuuugh, from a welly, via a puddle), nor by the poo now under my fingernails, nor by the poo on the hanky which went back into my pocket (which I found again yesterday).  I have become one of those women who accepts errand poo stains as a part of her everyday life.  I’m not sure whether to despair or congratulate self on my new innate motherhoodness.

Moving on. I promised a recipe, and here it is.  I stole it directly from this lovely lady, (whose blog would – nay, should - certainly and deservedly win awards) and then added some cheese.  (She in turn pinched it from someone else, and actually it’s quite a common Italian recipe, so I don’t feel too bad for my plagiarism.) Rachel recommends it as the perfect summer supper, however I’ve been eating it regularly since being back in blowy blistery Blighty, and don’t feel anything has been lost by the lack of sunshine. 

Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice

A quick note:  In Italy, this is left to stand once cooked for several hours, and served luke warm, with diced roasted potatoes (as per my picture).  Go see Rachel for further (and better) details.  While I love it with the potatoes – like cheese, there is little that potatoes doesn’t improve - I like it just as much on its own, and in fact have of late been side-stepping the potato element and just having stuffed tomatoes, with extra baked risotto on the side.  Also, I tend to eat them more or less straight from the oven – who can wait hours for food?.  Finally, I find that while large ripe tomatoes are, of course, better, the dish works perfectly adequately with crappy-English-supermarket-October tomatoes.

You Need (for 4):
  • 8 large tomatoes
  • A handful of fresh basil, shredded
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • A few tablespoons of grated Parmesan
  • About 8 – 10 tablespoons of risotto rice
  • Salt and pepper
  • About 10 tablespoons / 100ml of extra virgin olive oil

Cut a lid off the top of each of the tomatoes, then using a mixture of your fingers, a spoon and a knife, scoop out the innards.  You want to be left with the tomato shell.  Be careful not to split / cut through the bottom of the tomatoes.  Sprinkle a bit of salt on the inside of the tomato shell and turn upside down to drain. (Leave the lids to one side.)

Put the tomato flesh into a large bowl. Rachel recommends blitzing it with a blender, but I found it quite therapeutic – in a slimey, disgusting sort of way – to break it down with my fingers. (What can I say?  As we now know, I happily pick dog-shit off my clothes). 

Mix the smoothed tomato guts (see how many ways I can describe it??) with the basil, garlic, cheese, rice and olive oil.  Add quite a bit of salt – the rice will need it – and pepper.  Then leave to sit for about 30 - 45 mins. 

Turn your oven on:  200c / 400f / Gas6

Put the tomato cadavers cavaties on a greased baking tray / in a greased oven-proof dish and fill each one to about ½ - 2/3rds with the rice mix.  Top with a tomato lid.  Dot the rest of the rice around the tomatoes, and sprinkle with some more olive oil.

Stick in the hot oven for about 40 minutes or so. Either eat immediately – as a side or on it’s own (with bread and butter, yum!) or make like an Italian, and allow to cool to room temperature.

THAT IS IT.  Yes, a bit of faffy waiting around during the prep, but once in the oven, the rice and tomatoes cook themselves.  Leaving you time to massage Regaine into your head, have a quick weep, then steal your toddler daughter’s hair-clips.

Ps:  Big thanks to the wonderful and brilliant Emma for reminding me about the return of David Sedaris to Radio 4 this week, which in turn reminded me that the poo wasn’t actually the highlight of the week really.  Listen, people, and weep with laughter.  (And then vow to reinstigate 1950s (or 1980s, if you’re Irish) parenting “methods” to your own unruly offspring.)