Monday, 26 November 2012

Top Ten Newborn-Parenting Tips


1.   Feeling a bit bleary-eyed at 5am?  Want to shake off those early-hour cobwebs? Fall down the stairs!  Naked! 

2.   When arranging your maternity nurse’s finishing date, always ensure that it coincides with your newborn getting her first headcold. Who needs sleep anyway!

3.  Astound people you barely know (who are good enough to bring your child to school) with your parenting skills by roaring at that child to just GET OUT OF THE HOUSE, while you give yourself whiplash dashing to stop another child tipping yet another child out of her bouncy chair.

4.   Want to perfect your multi-tasking skills?  Arrange for your 2 yr old to stand over you on your bed, while you’re feeding your newborn, demanding that you WIPE HER BUM.  With any luck, it will be a really really shitty bum and bits will fall onto your clean(ish) bed linen. 

5.   Nurture your todder’s appreciation of technology by dumping her in front of You Tube for several hours. (Remember the golden parenting mantra: “It isn’t telly if it’s not coming from an actual television”.)

6.  Make teatime fun!  Feed your children unidentifiable “meals” from the freezer.  Give Smarties to the first child who correctly identifies what’s beneath the layer of grated cheese,  or who first finds a frozen crunchy bit  in the middle. 

7.   Feeling overwhelmed?  As if you have so much to do, and no time to do it?  Cheer yourself up by turning on the radio and having exciting Christmas songs blare out at you in mid-November! That’ll soon put “overwhelmed” in perspective.

8.   It’s never too early to get children used to dogs.  Start early by living next door to a house where the mutts bark all day.  With any luck, the people who live there will have a special dog room, which adjoins your newborn’s.  Before you know it, their happy little yaps will have her shouting along in harmony.

9.   Unsure what to get your newborn for Christmas?  How about a soother addiction?  It’s cheap, (shockingly) easy, and something the whole family can enjoy.

10.  New mothers should remember to wear a watch at all times.  As well as reminding you on a constant basis just how little sleep you’re getting, it’s also the prefect torture device when snagged on the back of your newborn’s head. 

And finally:  Never underestimate the restorative power of potatoes and cream...


Gratin Potatoes (aka Potato Dauphinoise)
I know that really, the last thing anyone who has been celebrating Thanksgiving wants is a bowl of stodge and fat, but truly – Potato Dauphinoise is soothing balm for the soul.  (Especially if that soul has been refereeing horrible toddlers all day, and frankly if she hears one more minute of newborn screeching she will LOSE HER MIND...).  Pair it with a (pint) glass of wine for maximum benefits.  Be warned tho – this dish needs at least an hour and a quarter of cooking, so for perfect timing, bung it in the oven just as you begin on the shit-show that is bed and bathtime. 

You need:  (for 6;  or 2 shattered parents in need of calories and mollycoddling):
  • 1kg potatoes
  • 300ml double (heavy) cream
  • 300 milk (full or semi-skimmed)
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Butter
  • Salt and Pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 160c/ 310f / Gas 3

In a large bowl, mix together the cream, milk,  crushed garlic, nutmeg, and salt and pepper.


Peel the potatoes, then slice them as thinly as you can.  (Don’t rinse them – the starch on the potatoes is what makes the dish).  Dump the potato slices into the bowl with the cream, and mix well.

Butter a large oven-proof dish; scoop the potatoes out of the cream, and dump ‘em in the dish.  Ignore any recipes which tell you to layer the potatoes carefully at this point:  complete time-wasting wankage.  Just pat them down so they’re packed in.   Pour over the remaining cream.

At this point you can either leave the potatoes to sit until you're ready to cook them, or cook them straight away. 

Put in the oven, and check after an hour.  If they’re browning on top, cover the dish with tin foil, then put back in the oven.  Check again 15 mins later to see if the potatoes are cooked – you want them to be completely soft.  This might take an additional 15 mins – but after 1 ½ hours they should be ready. 

Leave to stand for as long as you can wait, then tuck in.

Serve with green salad, wine, and mutual shock with your partner at the carnage you’ve invited into your life.  

Sunday, 18 November 2012

My Week in Parenting Emotions


Revulsion (Part I)
I learnt the hard way that it’s best not to leave a newborn’s recently-filled nappy in a small room beside a warm radiator.  There is a reason Diptyque don’t produce a candle called “Milky Shit”.

Revulsion (Part II)
My stomach has, more or less, gone down completely.  Which is not the cause of celebration it should be.  For what was, for the past few months, taut and rounded, is now... flabby and saggy.  With a great big balloonous naval protruding from the middle, eye-fucking me every time I catch sight of it. And still my pre-pregnancy clothes don’t fit.  I suspect I’ll be in these Godawful maternity clothes until the end of time.  Tho at least the elasticated panel keeps my belly-button in place.

Impatience
The Girl has self potty-trained.  Which doesn’t suit me at all. Remember this? Now throw a newborn into the mix.  So she yells: “I need a weeeeeeeeeeeee...” and I yell back:  “GO IN YOUR NAPPY!” To get me back for this she has perfected the art of the night-time-nappy-removal.  Luckily, she doesn’t poo at nighttime, but I guarantee that that’s not from lack of trying on her part.

Efficiency (quickly followed by Stupidity)
I actually found time to do some Christmas shopping this week – Santa presents only. I got home with them on Friday evening, dumped them on my bed to properly see what I’d bought (it was a shopping smash-n-grab, the deadline of childcare looming over me) then promptly lay down on top of them and fell asleep. 12 seconds into this unintended slumber, the Boy came gambolling in, and – I imagine – stopped dead in his tracks, before letting out a shriek of unadulterated joy: “What is that? And THAT?” (I assume he was referring to the cuddly-toy-hot-water-bottle thing.  Or the wall stickers.  The dolly / dinosaur clothes perhaps?  Or the dolly herself / dinosaur himself?) I woke, and as is the norm these days, my body engaged immediately and, without even fully realising what was going on, I shoved the presents under the duvet and the Boy out of the room in under a nano-second, then fell back asleep.  The Girl is currently given to climbing under my duvet, which she did 4 seconds later, and so the discovery, the shriek, and the subsequent shoving, were all repeated. 

So now I have to redo the Christmas shopping (albeit online, as my childcare days are very numbered [see "Panic", below]), because I can’t imagine I’m going to be able to get away with producing already-seen gifts on Christmas morning.  (Anyone want a fluffy hot water bottle?)

Irritation
The Germans – with their brilliance for having a specific term for every occasion – have a word called “ear-worm”.  It’s refers to the unpleasant experience of having a tune burrowing it’s way into your inner ear, on a loop.  This has been my earworm since my sister turned it on for the kids last week.  Worse:  the Man, on hearing it, changed the “Where’s” to “Spank”, so not only do I have earworm, I also have porn earworm. 

Panic
Forget the monkey being beside the tv / under the table / behind the door; the monkey is on my back.  The maternity nurse leaves in the morning.  For good.  This knowledge has been my own personal hairy little back-dwelling primate for the past few days.  All attempts to ignore it as its spindley little paws grasp tighter and tighter around my throat have failed.  I’ve done everything I can think of to minimise the trauma:  organised a car-pool for the Boy’s nursery run (note to self to remember to tell him about that in the morning); stocked up the freezer (almost entirely with left-over risotto, teeny odds and ends of it in super-model-sized portions); sent a hysterical late-night text to the kids’ babysitter (“HOW MANY AFTERNOONS CAN YOU DO NEXT WEEK?” I roared in capitals, in case she failed to understand the chronic urgency)... But I can’t dodge the inevitable.  In twelve hours I shall be the primary carer for three very young children. 

Christ.

Jealousy
I am entirely devoid of artistic (or indeed any) talent. This doesn’t sit terribly well with the tendency I have to be poisonous towards anyone who excels me in anything.  So it surprises no one more than I that I should have chosen – and, amazingly, been accepted by – an incredibly talented artist as one of my closest friends.   She’s exhibiting her latest work this week, so if you happen to be Central London on Wednesday or Thursday and fancy seeing some really quite amazing art, pop by for a gander.  Tell her I sent you. As well as meeting one of the loveliest people you will ever meet in your life, you’ll be welcomed with hard drink, tall tales (ask her about the time she taught Sean Connery and Ronnie Wood to play the spoons) and beautiful paintings.  I defy you not to leave feeling bitter and poisonous too.

Stupidity Part II (quickly followed by Revulsion Part III)
In a bid to have some sort of food fodder for you all, I resolved to try one new recipe a week.  I thought I’d kick off with a Beetroot and Feta Tart.  Having never cooked with raw beetroot before (I just couldn’t be arsed), I decided I’d kill birds with stones.

It was a masterpiece of cack. 

What should have looked like this:
Bill's beetroot pie

...ended up looking like this:

Mmmmm........  In fact just looking at it is making me feel a bit sick.  (That's not, however, vomit on the top of it - just bits of raw pastry I picked off the counter; having dropped the fucking thing and destroyed the pastry shell, I had to get creative and went for that well known delight, Beetroot Crumble...)

But my ham-fisted cockery aside, it was still completely blah.  In fact I won’t even bore you with the details, unless you really want to know what happens when you combine onions, potatoes, cream, raw beetroot, bits of reclaimed pastry, and a mountain of cheese. (It tastes much like you’d imagine pink cheesey mashed potato topped with lumps of raw dough does). 

So, no recipe.  But a litany of experiences that I think we can all learn from, no?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Home Alone


I am alone in the house with the Baby.  Given that she’s only three weeks’ old, this shouldn’t be such a big deal – but it is, because this is the first time we have actually been properly alone together.

I know.  Shocking.  What’s even more shocking is just how delightful it is.  (No doubt largely because the sun is shining into the kitchen, where I’m sitting, and blacked out by black-out blinds into her bedroom, where she is sleeping.) However, I’m gagging for her to wake up so I can feed her and have an uninterrupted cuddle, and not have to hold her up like a puppet and put on a baby voice while “she” tells the Girl what a great big sister she is, and please can she stop trying to smother me with teddies etc.

Some of you (you know who you are...) have been demanding more visuals of her.  Alright so – here you go (with apologies for her lack of photogenicness.  And her ridiculous cheeks.):

“If you make me wear pink, and lie beside a fruit bowl, I shall simply DIE.   Or sleep." 

“You may wake me when you've stopped this ridiculous gender stereo-typing."

“Ah, that's better.  Tho' don’t get too excited, I’m just farting.

As you can imagine, I am milking every ounce of newborn sympathy I can get.  However, I do have to ‘fess up: I’m AWASH with help at the moment.  My mum was here for the Baby’s first two weeks, acting as maternity nurse, house-keeper, and nanny all in one.  It was bliss.  She left last Friday (admittedly, a shadow of her former self), and a “real” (ie, one I have to pay) maternity nurse (baby nurse, for American Readers) arrived an hour later.  (I impressed myself by not falling apart during that hour.)  My sister and her boyfriend arrived two days later, to be, respectively, nanny and manny to the Boy and the Girl.  So you’d think that 3 additional adults in the house would be able to contain the chaos somewhat.   In fact I started to feel human, and, well, well again.

And then on Tuesday night, I made the rookie mistake of checking on the kids before I went to bed.  Boy?  Check.  Girl?  Che... Hmm, she’s a teeny bit warm.  One quick ear thermometer later – 105 degrees.  Is that even possible?  I’ve always assumed that we spontaneously combust at 104 degrees.  So I sat her up, she looked at me – that awful look, which I recognised just one second too late  – before projectile vomiting all over me.  And her bedroom.  The Man was – of course – away, so I tucked her up in bed beside me and fed her Calpol.  She puked it up.  She – we - flopped about for a few hours; at one point she was either hallucinating, or just babbling, but who sees butterflies in a winter bedroom at 2am? - then asked for apple juice.  Might cool her down, I thought, so fed her 100ml.  5 minutes later she cried out for Yellow Bowl, and as I reached over her to grab it, she puked 1000ml – at least - of acid-bile all over me.  And her.  And the pillows, duvet, sheets, and stuffed animals.  So we had a bath.  (Might as well get those stomach muscles working again, I thought, as I lugged 35lbs of dead weight up a flight of stairs.  Alas the stomach muscles appear to be DEAD.)   At 3am, when I started to feel weepy, I dumped her back in her own bed with Yellow Bowl instructions, and managed to get nearly 3 full hours’ sleep before the Boy decided to have a shout (“MY WILLY IS SORE...”).

Naturally, yesterday was the one day when sister and de-facto-brother in law had plans for the day, so notwithstanding surfeit of help, I have had – albeit only once - a small taster of what life will be like in a few days once I’ve been abandoned by everyone.  It ain’t pretty, and I’m beginning to panic slightly*. 

But for now all is calm.**  The older children are out tormenting the fish at the aquarium, the younger one is asleep in her bed, the sun is shining, Obama remains in the White House, and I have a nice bottle of Pinot Noir to drink in a few hours’ time.   And this to eat.  (See? I promised you a new recipe.  But yes, it’s another shit photo. In fact two! Sorry.)



Tomato Tarte Tatin
Back in the good old pre-children Olden Days, when we were childless and moneyed (one being indirectly proportional to the other) the Man and I would go to Paris quite often – at least twice a year - notwithstanding the horrors of Parisian Taxi-drivers, Parisian hotels, and Parisian dog-poo-laws (there are none).  Every single time I would drag him to a dinky cafe in the Marais, and order several litres of Vin and many rounds of Tomato Tarte Tatin.  Then we’d shoe-horn ourselves back into our hotel room, and sleep for 27 hours at a stretch.  Paris is now a distant memory – did I really once have a life which involved doing roller-blading by the Seine at midnight, not to mention sleeping until 3pm? – but if I dim the lights and load up on the vin, we can dream. At least until the baby-monitor springs to life...

You need:  (for 4, very generously, or 6 with a side of something)
  • 2 Large Onions, finely sliced (this version includes carmelised onions.  Leave out if you wish, and skip the first cooking step)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • About 6 large ripe tomatoes, cut in half horizontally
  • Two tablespoons of sugar (any type)
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tablespoon sherry / white wine / cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Half a block (about 400g) of ready made puff pastry / one large sheet of ready-rolled
  • A small lump of strong cheese – parmesan, sharp cheddar, or, preferably, gruyere

Preheat the oven to 200c / gas 6 / 375f

If including onions, heat up the olive oil in a deepish pan, then add the onions over a high heat for a few minutes, before reducing the heat to low and covering the pan.  Add a pinch of salt, leave to sautee, slowly, over the low heat for about 15 – 20 mins, stirring occasionally.

If using ready-rolled pastry, unroll a piece big enough to fit over an oven-proof frying-pan, leaving at least an inch overhanging.  If you have to roll the stuff yourself (LIFE IS TOO SHORT...) do it now, again to fit that pan, with at least an inch to spare.

To make the caremilised glaze on the tart, put the sugar and the water in the oven-proof frying pan over a high heat.  Leave to boil, then lower heat slightly, and keep an eye on it.  Once about half the water has evaporated, it will start to turn brown quickly.  As soon as it starts to change colour, take it off the heat, and add the butter and vinegar stirring quickly.

Arrange the tomatoes either cut or rounded side down – depending on how you like your tarte tatins to look. Cover with the onions, if using, then grate or shave the cheese over the whole thing.  Fit the pastry loosely over it, tucking it in the sides snugly.  Pierce the pastry with a fork in a couple of places to let air escape, then bung the whole thing in the oven.

Sit back with a glass of cheap red wine and reminisce about The Good Old Days for half an hour.  Remove the bubbling pan from the oven, leave to sit for a few minutes, then run a knife around the inside of the dish to loosen the pastry. 

Minding your poor delicate hands, invert a large plate over the pan, then turn the whole thing upside down.  Play Tomato-Tatin Jigsaw with the pieces that refuse to budge. Grate some more cheese on top, if you want to ruin any subsequent photos, then eat, and reminisce some more. 

*On the back of this panic I have started browsing AuPairWord.net.  If anyone has any au pair recruitment suggestions – mainly:  What on earth do you ask when interviewing an au  pair?  Apart from “Do you beat children?” - please pass on.  (The Man has already recommended that we should “go with the ones who wear bikinis in their photos.  The Swedish ones.” )

** Ps – I have, as always, jinxed myself.  The above was written yesterday.  Since then I had an hour’s sleep, then 3 hours, then another hour.  This morning I have spent TWO HOURS - when I could have been in bed - on the phone to BT, trying to get to the bottom of how my entire month’s broadband usage could possibly have been used up in 4 days. TWO HOURS.  In the middle of this the Baby started to howl, and then grunt, and then shit... all over everything. The bed, her clothes, my hand.  She even got some on her face and head, which she tried to lick.  Meanwhile, I was crying on the phone to the poor harassed man in a call centre in India, begging him just to TELL ME WHO IS HACKING INTO MY ACCOUNT, and the Girl was destroying the house because I wouldn’t give her an orange ("BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE ANY...").  It’s calm again, but only because the maternity nurse has come back from her day off – a nicety (and possible legal right) which will not be happening again...

Saturday, 3 November 2012

About a Boy. (And Two Girls.)


I mentioned before that the Boy turned four recently.  I have to say that so far, I love four – it’s the best thing since... one-and-a-bit (when it all started to go downhill).  Four dresses itself in the morning – having chosen its own clothes.  Four loves its baby sister, is (relatively) patient, charming, and funny.  Four can make itself understood, and so doesn’t get as frustrated as, say, three or two (God, the horror of two) did.  Four has developed an inquisitive mind – beyond the random “why?”s of its younger years.  Four is also a bit obsessed with age.  And its correlation with death. (That’s what happens, I guess, when you suddenly increase your total years by 33% in one single day.) 

So this is what I got the other night:

“Mummy, how old are you?”

I tell him (I’m not telling you, tho’).

“HAHAHAHA!  You’re nearly DEAD!”  (Said way too gleefully for my liking.)

And:

“Mummy.  When I am 100 I will be DEAD.  But before that I will just be VERY OLD.”

And then – OhGodTheHorror – on the bus:

“Lady?  LADY!  How old are you?”

Old Lady:  “I’m 88.”

“OH.  MY.  GOD.  You’ll be DEAD soon.”

The Girl, on the plus side, doesn’t devote too much of her time to embarrassing the life out of me.  On the down side, it’s only because she’s too busy perfecting her teenage behaviour.  Christ alive – why did nobody warn me about 2 yr old girls?  And where has my sweet lump of love gone?  In the past couple of months, just as the Boy was beginning to come out of his horror phase, she has jumped headfirst into hers.  (At least I’m hoping it’s a phase). Everything – everything – is “NO!”.  Irrespective of the question.  It’s bloody exhausting.  The Boy has started to be quite nice to her, quite a  bit of the time, and he literally gets a slap in the face for his troubles.  So cue him to start whinging to me, cue me to tell him that I DON’T CARE WHAT SHE DID, STOP TELLING TALES, then cue him to sulk and me to twitch. Meanwhile, the Girl is busy ripping up whatever she can get her hands on- wallpaper (expensive, landlord’s), a good behaviour chart (empty), the Boy’s painting (awful), money from my wallet (expensive, mine) – all with a Fuck You World look on her face. 

She has recently started demanding lipstick.  When refused, she stomps off and goes searching for it herself. Cunningly, however, all my lipstick (in fact all my makeup) is old and dry and crumbly, so her plans to go out on the pull – or whatever she has in mind – are generally thwarted. (She has also started wearing sparkly underpants, which, coupled with the lipstick, has me a bit worried.  Thankfully, however, she usually wears three pairs at once, which most 2 year old boys find a bit of a turn-off). And as for her hair – which she refuses to let me touch – well, just look for yourselves.  (A complete stranger offered me a hairbrush for her in a cafe last week – she clearly mistook me for someone who has the time – or inclination – to worry about how her children look.)


The other Girl (what shall we call her?  Star?  Baby?  Grubette? Mia?  (the last is her real name, but seems a shame to hide the others behind unoriginal monikers, and not burden her with the same.  Let’s go with “the Baby” for the moment. We can revise in a year or so.)) is, comparatively speaking, a delight.  I know I know that babies are incredibly dull / frustrating / time-consuming, but actually, compared to (my) toddlers, they’re so damn easy.  Exhausting, naturally, but as long as they’re not screeching for no discernible reason, they’re a piece of piss.  I wish I had more of an update on her – She tried to focus her eyes!  She pooed! – but she’s still doing very very little.  Oh, her revolting belly button thing came off yesterday, much to the Boy’s relief (“What ON EARTH is that?”) but I can’t really give her too much – or indeed any – credit for that.  She did sleep from 11pm until 6am the other night – cuddled up in bed with me (don’t tell Gina) – which was great - tho not so great for me, lying beside her, veering between utter conviction that she was dead, and astonishment (and resentment) at the amount of noise a sleeping newborn makes.

So between the three (!) of them, I am being kept on my poor, worn-out toes.  It will surprise no one to learn that cooking anything other than pasto-pesto is currently beyond my scope.  Although I did learn a great pasta-pesto trick from someone the other day:  mix one part pesto with two parts crème-fraiche, heat through, and voila!  You’ve got creamy pasta pesto, and have just doubled your post-baby cooking repertoire.   (I PROMISE to make something new this week and report accordingly).

Ps – if anyone has any hair-detangling suggestions, let me know.  If only to spare the sensibilities of hair-brush-wielding strangers.