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23rd January: Spinach & Stilton Gnocchi

23rd January: Spinach & Stilton Gnocchi

Signs I might need to go back to work

Endless baking of biscuits/cakes for sales, raffles & playgroups.

An obsessive stockpiling of dried & tinned goods.

The inability to relax in the evening if the annoying little plastic toys are not put away in the correct basket.

The ‘beat the microwave’ game whereby I set myself a challenge (eg. Unload the dishwasher) that I must perform before the microwave beeps.

The exultation when I ‘beat the microwave’

The sorrow when I do not.

The humiliation when my husband catches me attempting to ‘beat the microwave’. (“erm…what are you doing darling?”. Awkward.)

Spelling out messages with alphabetti letters on my kids’ tea plates.

Initialling their porridge with honey.

Organising my children’s social life as if I was their PA (call to make date, confirm by text, send reminder on the morning of the date)

Constantly volunteering to help out at school, Pre-School and on various committees.

Tidying the recycling tubs

My steam mop.

Rewind. It’s December 2010. I have just had ‘The Baby’. I have three Pre-Schoolers at home. There are some long, dark days. In my sleep-deprived, exhausted little mind there is a dim flame in the distance. “September 2013″ it tells me. I’ll have two at school and one in Pre-School. I’ll be able to sleep. To brush my hair. I might smell nice. I’ll be able to see friends without having them cuddle me pityingly. September 2013 became my mantra for a while.

And now it’s nearly here. “I didn’t mean it” I want to shout. I’m waiting for confirmation of the Fusspot’s school place. I’ve just handed in an application for The Baby’s Pre-School place.
September 2013 is galloping towards me too quickly thank you very much.

And now the house is a little quieter. And a lot cleaner. The washing is occasionally contained within the washing basket. I know where things are. I’m on time for things. I get to go away with the girls. I occasionally get to urinate on my own.

And so my thoughts turn to what next for me. I can’t stay in the house steam-mopping and racing my microwave. That’s how you go crazy. Maybe I will write that book after all…

He has gone on his annual diet. Like some sort of lard counter-balance I immediately start craving rich cheesy food. I make these amazingly, delicious Gnocchi from Joanne Harris’s ‘French Kitchen’ -A wonderful book with lovely homely French recipes. Do try them. Here is the recipe.

Sad to report that my microwave beeped a few minutes ago. God dammit ;)…

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Christmas 2012: Bumper Festive Edition

Christmas 2012: Bumper Festive Edition

I’m so very sorry. I have totally neglected my blog. The vast majority of you won’t even have noticed my lengthy absence I’m sure. But I have had a few gentle queries about when I might produce my next foodie outpouring. The pressure.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have totally underestimated how much time it takes up having a child in school. Coupled with the fact that I am such an annoying joiner, I seem to have spent the run up to Christmas in a haze of shopping, baking, nativity shows, fayres & fundraisers.

I remember being totally Christmas HYPER as a schoolchild. Now I see this from the other side, it’s a sort of payback. Seriously, my boys have been singing Christmas songs since the October half term. Not.Even.Kidding.

Clearly at a school like ours, with 120 children in the infants’ nativity, they need to get started early. It obviously takes some serious hours of dedicated marshalling and coaching to get all those littl’uns to sing, dance and narrate in all the right places. Fair play. And the show was AMAZING…

But. Seriously. I totally peaked too soon. I had the tree up the first weekend of December. Had all my shopping done. Attended carols upon carols. Show upon show. By the 10th I was wanting it all to stop. Away in a Manger became almost as annoying as the ‘Underpantsy Man Stink Song’ – don’t ask…

Some festive highs and lows

The Big One’s first nativity performance where he did a cool spider dance with his friends.

The Big One’s second nativity performance where he sat crying on his chair refusing to sing.

The Fusspot dressed as a dancing Christmas tree.

The Big One singing angelically holding his candle at the Christingle service.

The Big One pulling a moonie at all the old ladies in that very same service.

All-Day boozing without the worry of being labelled some middle-aged lush.

Our annual Christmas Eve party with some lovely friends.

Shopping for, and tidying up after, our annual Christmas Eve party with some lovely friends.

Frenzied OAPs panic-buying massive bags of nuts in that bargain supermarket (seriously, you are NEVER going to eat them all, the shops are only shut for one day, go home).

Having pretty much an actual panic attack at the school fayre and being unable to exit the building *breathes into paper bag at memory* (summary: arrive, buy back cakes that I had baked & donated, attempt to leave, cannot leave, tell the Big One’s lovely smiley teacher that the funeral I had attended earlier that day was more enjoyable, cry).

Cooking Christmas dinner in my own house for the first time ever.

Realising the reason we normally go to family is because our children are rubbish dinner party conversationalists. “Jingle Bells, Daddy smells” “Jingle Bells, Turkey smells” “Jingle Bells, poo poo smells” – they are weeping with laughter by this point. “Can we get down?” “Yes…yes you can”.

My lovely brother, his wife and my niece arriving home from Australia for three weeks.

My lovely brother and family leaving again.

Seeing old friends, meeting new babies and catching up with wonderful family.

A Christmas night out with friends.

Waking up with the fear after not remembering a solitary thing about leaving or walking home or getting to bed after our Christmas night out with friends.

Catering for three days solid.

Having a fridge (and patio) packed with awesome leftovers and lovely lovely booze.

Seeing my beautiful babies’ faces as they walked into the front room and realised “He’s been!”.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of what I cooked. It was nothing special. Probably incredibly similar to yours. Christmas eve is always a baked ham (normally Nigella’s, this year Gordon’s) and my father-in-law’s potato salad. One friend of ours refused to come unless I made my smoked salmon and caraway seed twists (with horseradish dip. Demanding much?).
Christmas Day was the full turkey & trimmings. My highlight as always was the gravy, which, if I may say so was pretty spectacular!
Boxing day was a soup made with the ham liquor and turkey stock. I even used up our leftover mash to make some tattie scones to accompany it. We also had baked salmon and more potato salad of course.

I became relatively obsessed with using up everything. It is, as I’ve said before, my favourite cookery challenge to use up a load of leftovers. I made masses of soup using fresh and leftover veg. We even got as far as turkey quesadillas on the 27th. Scrum.

So. Boringly enough, that is it. I was also so busy serving up that I forgot to take pictures of most of the food. Very probably not worth the wait but at least I am back in the saddle.
Resolutions include eating more healthily, boozing less and writing more. Fingers crossed I manage to stick to them. Thanks for reading in 2012, much appreciated. And wishing you all all the best for a happy, yummy and smile-filled 2013 :)

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15th November: Gok’s Garlic Chicken

Sentences You Thought You’d Never Hear Yourself Say

That is your plate, not a hat

Why is your tea behind the radiator?

Don’t hit your sister with a rat please.

I think drawing on paper is better than drawing on your face.

It is the middle of the night. It is sleepy time….NOT xylophone time.

Yes you can come into the shop. But if you eat any of that bread again, I’ll take the pennies out of your piggy bank.

Why have you weed on your brother’s feet?!

Why have you pooed on your brothers’ floor?

The next one of you to say boobies, bummy or poo will be sitting on the naughty step.

Stop! We do NOT put toothbrushes up our bottoms!!

Go and tell Daddy to bring me some wine.

You will be unsurprised to hear that chaos still reigns here. Having one at school has had the opposite effect to the one I envisaged. Now I have two bored, displaced little ones for most of the day. Unaccustomed to having to think for, or amuse, themselves. That’s what big bro has always done for them.

Then the return.

Three hours of whooping, hollering and scrapping as they are reunited – overtired and overexcited. But, entre nous, I am actually thrilled when all three of my munchkins are tearing about together again. And so what if gin o’clock has moved forward an hour?

There seems to be a theme with my favourite cookbooks. In that, the cooks whose books I love reading the most are the ones I can least bear to watch on telly. Nigel Slater with his weird rubbery face, earnestly talking about beetroot. Nigella with her Botox, soirees with ‘friends’ and all the cheeky spoon licking.

Latest on my list is Gok Wan. I couldn’t bring myself to watch his Chinese cookery show for fear I’d put my foot through the telly. “Fie-erce noodles girlfriend” GAH!! But. After many friends recommended it, I put his book on my wishlist. And it’s awesome. Easy homely recipes. I’ve made a few now and they are easy and at least 20 times better than a takeaway. Recommended.

We started with his Garlic Chicken. Cut 4 chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. In a separate bowl, season 2 tbsp cornflour. Dust the chicken with the flour. Heat some groundnut oil in a wok and fry the coated chicken in batches until golden. Set aside and wipe wok clean with some kitchen roll.

Add some more oil to the wok, add 4 cloves sliced garlic and 3 spring onions cut into batons. Stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add 2tbsp dry sherry (or rice wine if you have), 2tbsp soy sauce and a pinch each of sugar and white pepper. Heat through. The sauce should be treacly. Return the chicken to the pan and coat with the sauce. Serve with rice or noodles and some carrot ribbons if you’re feeling fancy.

What a hit! The kids were rhapsodising about it. I was slightly annoyed they liked it so much as my portion took a hit. Never mind, I’m sure I’ll be making it again! FI-ERCE 10/10 :D

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3rd November: A Tale of Two Cakes (and some Doofers)

I am now the proud owner caretaker of a five year old.

Yes, the Big One’s birthday – and by God did we have a build up to it. It’s no small relief that it’s all finally over.

And it got me to thinking how absolutely awesome it is to be five. And he’s already asking when he’ll be six. Enjoy the moment dude!!

The big day dawns, clearly they’re all up with the lark, in hyper-thrust. I had set out the tableau in the lounge the night before. The longed-for BMX adorned with ‘birthday boy’ balloon and cards jammed into the spokes. A few bits of Lego and a Scooby-doo wrapped underneath.

His little face is a picture as he opens the door.

We got there. Finally. Clearly a five-year old has no concept of any time and budget restrictions. His list of demands would change on an hourly basis. He’s a cunning one though. He seems to have twigged that we don’t respond well to “I want a Bike”. Instead he takes his little bro off to one side, and in a stage whisper says “Guess what I’m getting for my birthday….a batcave” Or to his schoolchums (always within earshot) “I’m getting a super blaster jet plane for my birthday” Erm…no you’re not mate.

The poor boy had to go to school on his big day. Although to be fair it was undoubtedly more craic than being at home with me and his little sister. I send him in with some special crispy cakes for his pals – as that seems to be protocol #learningcurve. Special why? I hear you cry. Special because they are the trademark confection of His grandma, Bari, who I have told you about before.

“Doofers” are made by melting Mars Bars and butter together in the microwave. Basic rule is one Mars Bar to 1oz butter. DO NOT be tempted to use Mars Bar copies or any form of butter substitute. It doesn’t work. The deliciousness is all about the lard. As a rule I use 3 Mars and 3oz butter for a big batch. Stir in enough rice krispies until they are just coated with no spare mixture at the bottom of the bowl. Then. Here’s the secret. Push them into a lined tin and squish them down with the end of a bottle. Bari has an amazing wooden tool for this…I’d love to get hold of one. When they’re really compacted, put them into the fridge to set. Once set, cover with melted chocolate and refrigerate once more. Then slice into small squares. Try them. You won’t go back.

His birthday falling around Hallowe’en, I always use the pumpkin scrapings to make a cake. For the tea on his actual birthday, I prepare just that and carve it into a 5. The recipe comes from Good Food and I promise you it’s more delicious than Carrot Cake. Here’s the RECIPE

Now to the main event. The party. As requested, we booked a party for 15 of his mates at one of these hellish nerve-jangling soft play gaffs. As the day nears we overhear “I’m not having a party, I’m going to the zoo” “I’m having a bouncy castle party”. The guest list changes daily, in spite of me having invited everyone a month before. He loudly tells some classmates that they’re invited when they most definitely are not. I studiously avoid their mums’ questioning gazes.

Now I don’t remember ever demanding a particular cake growing up. I think I possibly knew better. My Big Boy has come up with themes ranging from Superheroes to Bugs. We finally settle on a volcano, as I think it’s just about within my range. The cake is chocolate sponge made in a giant cupcake mould. I decorate with Sugarpaste icing in various shades. Looking for the wow factor, I find myself scouring the Internet for dry ice. Realising that I can only order a minimum of 5kg from London, I lay that dream to rest and settle for some fountain candles for £3.

And just as my plan comes together, I overhear him telling his brother about his awesome Spiderman cake. Why I oughta…..

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20th October: Not Bloody Anchovy Pasta!

I’m feeling faint.

I’m so sorry for the lack of food-based output of late. I don’t quite know how I seem to have less time now that I’m one child down all week. I could blame the grinding tedium of the daily school run, or the endless rounds of packed lunch sarnies. But I think we all know that my main source of hilarious mothering material is now under someone else’s care for around half his waking hours.

I didn’t realise quite how calm life could be!

I’m feeling faint because I can’t actually believe that I am all alone in my house on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Not only that, but I have also just spent a delightful morning doing a cookery course. Tapas since you’re asking, and yes the sangria was flowing like a river down my greedy gullet!

Getting out is quite a rarity, at least during my children’s waking hours. I spend the morning being an utter control freak. He is taking all three kids to a birthday party while I’m out. I lay out all their clothes for him. He has been known to dress them as Romanian orphans if left to his own devices. Mixing up the boys’ clothes is a particular trait of His. Picture an oversized hoodie, half-mast jeans and tiny undies which vanish up the bum like a Borat Mankini. Smear foodstuff and felt tip on to faces. You get the idea.

I pack a bag containing gift, card and essentials. He sits smirking at my mayhem in his pants.
My friend arrives and we set off for the cookery school, me seething about how I have to do everything, about how he was just SITTING THERE IN.HIS.PANTS!!!! Gah! We pass the journey exchanging annoying man tales.

But I’m wrong. I arrive home after my super morning, to find that Mr Pants has actually been busy. Not only did he cope with all three just fine at the crazy soft-play party place (although this has yet to be verified by independent adjudicators!) But he’s even tidied both house and garden. Then he tells me he’s taking all three out on a bike ride. So here I am. Feeling faint, and not just a little bit guilty about my pant-based rant. Must learn to relinquish control to very capable husband.

You may not be surprised to learn that I am also a control-freak in the kitchen. It is rare that He is allowed to meddle. I think it’s partly because I’m in situ and have to cook something for the kids each night. However, if they’re on frozen beige goods, He may be allowed to make our tea. He has his repertoire, mostly thrifty dishes made in an attempt to prove to me that there is plenty of food in the house and no we do not need to order takeaway. Humph.

This tends to end up with me sulking as he makes Anchovy Pasta. Then I taste it and remember how delicious it is then spend the rest of the evening apologising for being such a spoilt brat. Life is a rollercoaster baby!

The recipe came from my lovely, thrifty kiwi cousin. My travels around New Zealand and Australia involved spending money I didn’t have, drinking solidly from dawn til dusk and piling on about 4 stone. My cousin came over here to work hard and to very sensibly pay off his student loans. Hence the thrifty recipes. I remember clearly eating this for the first time with my him and his lovely wife in Cambridge. Miraculous, since, as a foursome, we spent most of our time together completely hammered. It must have been a taste sensation to stick in my booze-addled mind.

Put some spaghetti on to boil. Take a tin of anchovies in olive oil, tip the contents (oil and all) into a wide pan over a medium heat. Add in a clove of crushed garlic, some chopped red chilli (or a pinch of chilli flakes). Cook off until the garlic is soft. Add in most of a tube of tomato purée, a tablespoon of capers, a handful of chopped parsley. Drain the pasta but reserve some of the cooking liquid. Use this to thin out the sauce to your desired consistency. I never do. I love the dryness off it, but knock yourselves out! Now top with an excessive amount of Parmesan and some black pepper and hoover up the deliciousness.

Always tastes nicer than takeaway, and about £20 cheaper. But, if you see him, please don’t let on that I admitted that. We’ve just had our 18 year anniversary, and I’ve got this far without ever having to admit that he occasionally knows best ;)

[footnote: WE DID IT! We completed the 40km bike ride and raised £2685 for Fusspot's Pre-School. Thanks to all who supported us! ]

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27th September: Lamb Kofte & Couscous

    SURVEILLANCE REPORT: Subject: Scruffy female, approx 45 years of age.

5.32am: Subject can be seen slumped on sofa with a small toddler, female. Toddler is sitting on subject’s chest. Subject appears unconscious.

7.09am: Front door opens. Subject collects in milk, clearly unaware that she is wearing novelty antlers.

8.32am: Subject departs homestead on bike. She is carrying an approximately 3 year old boy on her crossbar. A 4/5 year old boy rides haphazardly in front of her. She hollers instructions to him. They are ignored.

8.45am: Subject and offspring arrive at local school. Subject appears harassed and sweaty. Other parents gaze uneasily at her. The older boy runs off into the school woods. Subject hollers at him to return. She is ignored.

9am: Subject re-appears through school gates. She is wearing her bike helmet but commences walk home.

9.02am: Subject returns to collect bike.

9.10am: Subject arrives at homestead. After returning bicycle to shed she approaches front door. Subject appears to ‘bleep’ front door with what looks like a car key. She repeats this action twice before realisation dawns. Subject shakes head and enters property in the traditional manner.

10am: Subject appears in front room with steaming beverage. Settles self on sofa. The television is tuned to CBeebies. 10 minutes elapses before subject realises and eventually turns over.

Surveillance Terminated: Subject is clearly suffering either from a neurological complaint, or extreme fatigue. Recommend trip to GP followed by week-long holiday on secluded island

Sorry to bang on about being tired. It’s just that we are so very very deeply tired. These little blighters have taken to spending the night prowling around. Appearing like spectres by our bed. And waking up hours before the larks would even consider hitting their snooze button.

The eighties might have given us strikes, recession and global economic unrest (plus ca change…) but at least you were allowed to give your children sedatives. When I went to see my Health Visitor, almost weeping with fatigue, she told me to go away and keep a sleep diary. Give me drugs woman, or zip it ….

My children like novelty. A lump of grilled meat might get the trademark sneer. Now. Spear that meat with a wooden skewer, and shabang! Their little faces light up and they skip to the table.

Lamb Kofte for tea then. Mix 500g lamb mince with a finely diced onion, a handful of chopped parsley, half a tsp of ground coriander. Soak the all-important wooden skewers in water for a bit. Squish the lamb mixture into sausage shapes and jab with a skewer. Grill until cooked through.

A homemade tomato sauce: A diced onion, a crushed garlic clove softened in olive oil. Add two tins of tomatoes, a shake of cayenne powder (optional) and a tsp sugar. Simmer till you have a lovely thick rich sauce. Serve with couscous, some soured cream (or natural yoghurt would do), and maybe a splodge of mint sauce if you’re feeling frivolous! I also griddle some aubergines for the grown -up version…possibly a step too far for my babies.

I’m off to get some shut eye. If little madam will let me.

Footnote: I have stupidly arranged to do a 40km bike ride with some fellow mums to raise money for the Fusspot’s Pre-School. To find out more, and to sponsor us if you can, please click here. Much appreciated, thank you :) x

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21st September: Spicy Soup and Courgette Cake

A GLOSSARY FOR PARANOID MOTHERS

Ooh you little monkey!: Ooh you little brat!

He’s really developed his physical side hasn’t he?!: Get him away from my child please

He’s very confident: Can you get him to shut up please

Ooh you can tell she has two older brothers: She’s feral

He’s such a funny little fella: What’s with the freaky kid??

He’s a little thinker: He’s autistic

What a crackerjack!: What a little shit!

He likes things just so doesn’t he?: He’s autistic

He’ll have to come for his tea one night: But sadly I’m busy every night until I die

He’s got a good appetite hasn’t he?: Jesus, don’t you feed that kid?

He’s full of beans: I suggest you get him assessed for ADHD

They’re a lively bunch aren’t they?: Do you have any Migraleve?

There’s an unwritten code that you don’t criticise or discipline other people’s children. The ones that do are muttered about darkly when they’re out of earshot. “Can you believe she just said that?! Has she seen her child??”.

Once, in a playgroup, a dad came and started barking orders at our little darlings. We were all taken aback. He hadn’t been properly briefed. The kids looked alarmed. He had no jurisdiction here. Mothers ruled. Their own children.

If your child gets shoved/spat at/hair pulled in a playdate situation, then the permitted means of dealing with it is to go over and cuddle them whilst saying to the other one (in sweet voice): “Ooh no darling, we don’t push our friends”. Protocol now dictates that the mother of the ‘crackerjack’ must come steaming over and bollock her own child.
Job done, we’re all still friends, the system works. But woe betide if the perpetrator doesn’t get that rollicking… It’s a bloody minefield out there, I tell you :)

The weather has taken a turn for the dire. Heating on and fridge filled with root vegetables ready to be mulched into hearty broths. I love autumn. It’s my favourite time of the year. Cosied up eating pies and stews. The telly gets good again too.

It’s raining buckets outside, so me and the Fusspot decide to do some cooking together. In an attempt to get him to knowingly eat veggies, I decide to start a series of vegetable cakes.

First up is Nigel Slater’s Courgette Cake, adapted to leave out the nuts: Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line a medium cake tin. Cream 200g each of butter and sugar. Gradually add 2 beaten eggs. Grate 200g courgettes and a small apple. Squeeze them with your hands to remove any excess moisture, then add to the mixture. Mix together 200g sifted plain flour, pinch salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder and pinch cinnamon. Then gently fold into the mixture. Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for about an hour, or until golden and firm to the touch.

The Fusspot is happy as Larry (who is this Larry?!) as we make this. He even licks the raw courgette mixture off the beater. I almost collapse.

We also make a Spicy Butternut Squash Soup. This recipe came from my friend Sarah, and it just SINGS autumn. Roast a peeled&chopped Squash (or pumpkin) in some olive oil at 200*C for about 45mins until soft and starting to caramelise a bit. Brown a sliced onion in some oil. Add about a tablespoon of curry paste and cook for a couple of minutes to release spices. I use a mild Indian curry paste, but Thai curry paste is lovely too. Mix in the roasted squash and cover with chicken/veg stock. Bubble away for about 10mins then add a tin of coconut milk, season and blitz with a hand blender. If it’s a bit thick, then add a bit more stock.

Absolutely gorgeous. I’m off to take some Migraleve and hibernate. They’re a lively bunch this lot ;)

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