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Monthly Archives: July 2012

26th July: ‘Ikea’ Meatballs

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Picture the scene. Four grown women in their thirties. Respectable. Mothers to nine children between them. They’re in a quaint Cheshire pub drinking new world white wine (designated driver slurps diet coke). They appear to be talking about an Aquarium. In Rhyll.

One of them starts to cry. The others look slightly alarmed. But slowly, their eyes become misty too. She finally gets to the point of her tale. Her voice is high and she’s trying not to sob.

What the hell happened at the aquarium in Rhyll I hear you ask? And why is that drunken blonde woman weeping about it?

Expect more of this sort of thing over the next few months. Me and my ‘mummy’ friends are finding the whole school thing a bit much at the mo. Me, I swing from thinking ‘roll on September!!’ to wanting to snuggle The Big One to my breast and never let him go. Mostly, I want Doc Emmet Brown to swing by with his Delorean and take me back to 2007 so that I can start from scratch. Knowing, second time round, how quickly it goes, how fleeting and precious the preschool years are. When you are their everything, and all they could ever need is you.

Last night we were talking about just that. Hence the weepy atmosphere.

About how lucky we were to have had each other for support, wine and friendship. And about how lucky our kids are to have such a sweet gang of mates who have become like cousins to one another.

We talked about what brilliant little people they’d all turned into.

Talk turned to the preschool trip to the aquarium. I started to tell my tale.

The Big One was in the gift shop. He was allowed to choose a little toy as a treat. One of his best friends was on the trip too. Her mum and dad were both at work so she was with the preschool ladies. “Maybe she doesn’t have any pennies” he said. “I’d like to buy her something please, and something for her little sister too”. And he did.

My beautiful, kind, thoughtful little boy. There are moments I’m sure he’ll achieve brilliant exam results. Or star in a play. Or score a winning goal. And I’m sure I’ll be proud. But I’ll find it hard to be prouder than I was in that moment.

Equally certain is the fact that I’ll want to wring his neck at least 100 times before September actually arrives. A bloody rollercoaster, this parenting lark.

And lo, it has come to pass, that I have become one of those crazy approaching middle aged mums, that gets tipsy on white wine on a rare night out and weeps about her children. Somewhere, my teenaged self is shaking her head in disgust.

She would also have been none too keen on my penchant for a certain Swedish furniture store. Not for the flat-packed furniture (although my house is actually full of it) – but more for the amazing food. Where else can you buy a stylish, affordable wardrobe with innovative storage solution, at the same time as pickled herrings, pear cider and a mega bag of mini Dime bars?

Today I copied their delicious meatballs from a recipe I found on the Internet. 500g Pork Mince, mixed with a small finely diced onion, dill, egg, breadcrumbs and seasoning – rolled into small balls. Each rolled in a little flour then browned in a mixture of butter and olive oil. When they’re browned, remove from the pan and whisk in some beef stock until you have a thick, rich gravy. Then return the meatballs to the pan to cook through. I served mine with rice, but chips are nicer…

Yummy, if not the exact replica promised by the website. The kids scoff the lot. More fuel to make them grow even bigger *sigh*. And a very familiar teenage voice seems to holler at me from 1993 – “Pull yourself together Loser – you’re embarrassing us both!” 8/10.

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20th July: Festival Fodder

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Why do people go camping? What is it about us that makes us decide to leave our lovely cosy houses, swap comfy beds for lilos, exchange snuggly duvets for scratty sleeping bags? Why do we relish the fact that making a cup of tea now takes half an hour? That, instead of using our nice new bathroom, we have to trudge across a field unashamedly clutching a bog roll?

I’m not too sure myself. Something to do with adventure maybe? Feeling like you’ve constructed your own house and made it homely. Maybe it’s just good for the soul to live simply and frugally for a few days.

This weekend we, along with some friends, went to a ‘child-friendly’ *shudder* festival in North Yorkshire. It was called Deer Shed and it was, despite our obvious reservations, absolutely ace.

It started inauspiciously enough. The long range weather was looking dire. So much so that we ditched The Baby and dispatched her to her granny’s house. The gear needed for a weekend’s camping beggars belief. It took me a few days to amass all of the necessary gubbins – locate camping stove, charge lanterns, wash sleeping bags…

By Friday I was pretty much over it and we hadn’t even set off. It was The Big One’s last day in preschool. I’d offered to make a carrot cake for the farewell party. Why do I do these things?

So I’m packing in a frenzy, attempting to amuse The Fusspot, icing my cake. I do none of these things successfully. FP keeps crying for his dad, my latent-OCD is twitching at the disorder of my cool bag, and I don’t stir the icing enough. When I spread it on it looks like cottage cheese. Bleurgh.

The men set off first with all the gear to ‘make camp’ UGG. I am feeling apoplectic with stress as I head, first to the preschool party (with clotted cake) to collect The Big One, then on to my friend’s house. We set off, me, her and the 5 children … bound for the M62 on a Friday tea time….idiots

When the last child (mine of course!) finally drops off, we high five each other. We love it when a plan comes together! Then we get near to Leeds and the traffic stops. Not so smug now ladies…

One by one the kids wake up. We spend the rest of the journey doling out sausage rolls, crisps and juice to keep them from kicking off. Listening to the Hokey Cokey instead of mood-setting festival anthems. A really tedious and harassed Thelma and Louise, and not a Brad Pitt in sight.

We arrive at last. As if sensing my waning spirits, the drizzle miraculously stops and the sun tentatively gets his hat on. The menfolk are there to greet us and show us to our humble abodes. The kids are practically frothing at the mouth with excitement. There are littlies EVERYWHERE. A giant swing ball field, hula hoops, people in fancy dress. We can hear the music coming from the arena, we can see the Big Top and the Ferris Wheel. They’ve even put three massive googlie eyes in a tree so it looks like a huge green monster. Brilliant.

We pump up our airbeds and make the tent homely. I’d made a ragu and brought some fresh spaghetti so we at least had our first meal sorted. It was the sauce my mother in law made on our Italian holiday. Simply garlic, onion, celery, carrot, minced beef, tin of tomatoes, some white wine and some freshly grated nutmeg. Probably similar to most people’s bolognaise sauce. Her secret was to cook it very slowly for a few hours. Everything in Italy seems to be done very slowly. We decided that this must be the reason everything tastes so gorgeous there.

Once we’ve all eaten (and at last cracked open the boxes of wine) all stress seems to disappear. We spend the rest of the weekend sitting in the sunshine, catching up with friends, watching the children playing air guitar and frolicking. There are music stages, food stalls, comedians, poets, animal shows, a circus, footie coaching, many many craft workshops. Even the Red Arrows do a flyover. A rare thing that a family ranging from 3 to *ahem* 34 are all equally entertained for three days.

I wish I had more to tell you. Maybe a hilarious tale of one of our children getting lost, or falling down one of the composting toilets (both equally likely). But no. We were even clever enough to write His mobile number on their arms with the accompanying message “Please ring daddy” sucker Unnecessary. One of our most successful jaunts in a long time. We’ll most definitely be back next year. And if that bloody Baby would EVER learn to sleep, she might be invited along too 🙂 .

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Friday 13th July: Greek Lamb with Orzo

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Dear Sarah,

It’s Friday. It’s miserable outside. It will remain so for the whole day, so don’t get your hopes up. You will spend the morning cooped up inside with all three kids. They will be in demanding mood.

You will make a giant dinosaur in an attempt to stop them fighting. Do not draw a bump on top of the dinosaur’s head. The Big One will get in a tizzy about it. It will take you ten minutes to coerce him into rejoining the group.

You will make some amazing brownies together. Peanut Butter and Chocolate. Please don’t pretend that they are not just for you really. The kids would have preferred to have made animal biscuits and decorated them with sweeties. And you know it. Don’t lie about there being no butter. You always have butter.

That moment when you think it’d probably do no harm to self-test the Fusspot’s suspected nut allergy, don’t. Don’t let him lick a bit of the mixture off the spoon. Don’t do this Sarah because soon he will start complaining that his tongue hurts. He will start to pull at it. Then his left eye will start to swell up a bit.

In your panic to get the Piriton from upstairs, you will stub your toe on the stair gate. It will hurt, and you will cry a bit. Don’t worry. The Piriton works. But you will spend the rest of the morning anxiously watching his every move, checking his breathing and so on. At the same time, the Big One will be kicking off about his inability to draw a lifelike dinosaur at the first attempt. You will want to shriek “You’re four for goodness sake. What do you expect? And anyway shush cos I think I’ve killed your brother”. But you don’t. Well done.

The Baby will fill her nappy at this point. Don’t think it’ll be ok to do it on the floor so that you can continue to supervise the Fusspot. It won’t be. Take her upstairs to her changemat. She needs a shower.

You will almost lose the plot at 4pm. You’re all dressed up in Wellies to go to the shop and splash in some puddles. They will all be kicking off. Stay cool. Go out. It does you all good.

When you get home you will eat a delicious lamb & pasta dish. He will come home and you will have a beer. You will feel better.

One final thing. Try and orchestrate it so that it’s your lie in on Sunday morning. The Baby will be up at 4.30am. Remember that you are not a morning person.

How do I know all this? Because I am you two days in the future. Ooh, and it’s sunny today. Yay.

Love Sarah x

I seem to be eating lots of lamb at the moment don’t I? Please try this dish. It’s from Good Food mag and it’s amazing. Easy, cheap and all done in one pot. Many boxes ticked!

Chop two onions and place in a casserole dish with 700g diced lamb. Add 1tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and two cinnamon sticks snapped in half. Coat with 2tbsp Olive Oil and bake, uncovered for 45mins (180deg).

Add a tin of tomatoes and 1.2L chicken stock. Cover and cook for one hour. Fish out the cinnamon stick and add in 400g of Orzo, which is a gorgeous rice-shaped pasta. Cook for 20 mins, season to taste and then serve with grated Parmesan. Yum yum yum. 10/10.

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8th July: Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto

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I’m sorry for the delay. It’s been a long week. And no, I’m not still hungover!

Once again the Weather Gods and The Pool of The Endless Mystery Virus have conspired to test my resolve to its limit. We spend the week trapped indoors, peeking bleakly through the drizzle-soaked windows. The kids, with rheumy eyes and candlewick noses, fight over one train. The Baby pulls at her mouth and drools incessantly. The soundtrack is whinge. Interspersed with train-based rage and my sobs.

A fortnight ago I was sipping Peronis under the Tuscan sun. A week or so ago, I was on the razzle with a brilliant gang of friends. Today I am on the set of some Dickens mini-drama.

I feel like blacking out my teeth and smearing garlic on the kids. Maybe waggling a clove-studded orange in their faces and downing a flaggon of porter.

There is a brief glimmer of let up. Saturday is, miraculously for mid-July, not actually wanging it down. We head off to a Food Festival at a nearby country house. It’s totally Cheshire Dahling. People are pelting cash at anyone who’ll have it. The stall holders look frankly bewildered that people are willing to queue four deep to pay £4 for a bag of popcorn. I possibly do not need to tell you that we were not in that queue…

I do, however, wait patiently to get some amazing Jerk chicken, complete with salad, rice and peas. Amazeballs. I am going to try and recreate it at some point, will keep you posted.

We meet up with undoubtedly our most obnoxious (although endlessly entertaining) friend. We finally get to meet his lovely girlfriend. I lose my bet that she’ll be wearing a hearing aid. It seems that she genuinely must enjoy his ceaseless banter 😉

Best of all, I even get an hour to myself whilst He takes all three to the park. I buy an array of goodies: bacon, cheese, kippers, morecambe bay shrimps. Yum.

The following day He tells me he’s too ill to get out of bed. I am furious, which I do know is mean. It’s our nephew’s ‘Welcome’ Party back home. By the time He decides he simply can’t manage it, it’s too late & too stressful for me to get the kids there. I spend the day trying to entertain the disappointed trio and hollering up the stairs to check “You still alive?”. He texts me to come and mop his brow. He asks me to nip to the shop (with the kids) to fetch him some Lucozade. Both are met with expletives. Flo Nightingale has nothing on me…

In an attempt to boost immune systems, I make a nice wholesome risotto for tea. I chop up a squash and coat with dried sage and olive oil before roasting in a hot oven for 25mins. Meanwhile I fry some onion & garlic in butter before adding in the arborio rice. Add white wine and chicken stock until cooked. Mix in the roasted squash, some Parmesan & seasoning. I serve with some of my crispy overpriced bacon. Scrummy.

Please God let it do the trick, I am clearly not cut out for nursing, nor am I cut out to play the bawdy wench in some Victorian slum scene. Half of that statement is true.

Either way, things simply must improve before I finally have done with it and daub a cross on my door. Bring out your dead. 9/10.

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29th June: Moghlai Lamb and Mother’s Ruin

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And the moral of today’s tale is: Under no circumstances should I be allowed out. Ever.

To be fair, tonight was an accident waiting to happen. A much anticipated band reunion. The band that had been the soundtrack to much of my youth. A reunion too of a gang of mates from wilder, headier days. The children parked at my parents for at least 24 hours… I’m sure that even those of you who don’t know me can see the iceberg.

Friends flew in from Italy and France. Some drove down from Scotland. Our house switched from toddler pad to squalid student hovel almost imperceptibly. Crates of Stella lined the wall, bottles of wine and Jagermeister dotted amongst cans of red bull. One of our saucers filled with fag ends in an alarmingly short space of time.

I’d been tasked with the 120mile round trip to dispatch the kids. He had to put a duvet cover on our spare duvet then….go to the pub with his mate. He didn’t know it at that point, but I would have my revenge later…

I return home to a house full. Assuming I am well behind the times I start necking Prosecco, in festive mood. I make up a litre of G&T for the taxi ride and we’re all set to go. The unamused taxi man tells us we can’t drink in his minibus. Boo to him.

The ride is interminable. Someone has selfishly had a crash just where we need to come off the motorway. I’m sneakily sip sip sipping away at my G&T, in your face taxi man. We all have a singsong, spirits are high.

I’d love to tell you more. I’d love to regale you with tales of the atmosphere, the support bands etc etc. I can’t. I can’t because I lost about three hours of my night. You see, it turns out that someone my size (or probably any size for that matter), simply cannot imbibe a bottle of fizzy and a litre of G&T within the space of two hours and still function. He is my hero. He stuck by me for the whole night as I gambolled about like some new born foal, barrelling into wheelie bins and having snoozes against fences. All this before we’d even made it through the gates.

I come to in time for the main event, demand some paracetamol off a complete stranger and spend the rest of the night having a gay old time. On His shoulders, singing away without a care in the world.

In the time it’s taken for me to sober up, some of our friends have become rather merry. At the end of the gig we make our way back to where our taxi is due to pick us up from. Frequent wee stops are requested. In order to keep the gang together, someone devises a system whereby we can pee with utmost privacy within the bosom of our friends. “Circle of Trust” comes the cry. Like that scene from ‘Gladiator’, we all stand in a circle, arms linked, facing outwards. The one who needs to go enters the circle and we close ranks, shielding them from prying eyes. Great in theory. In reality it induced such stage fright that, as one of the girls said “it made my wee vanish for hours”…

We arrive home. Surely one of the hallmarks of being middle-aged is that you prepare food ready for your return home. I’d made a Lamb and Spinach curry, one of our favourites from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Bible. Lamb pieces marinated in ginger, garlic and ground coriander. Cooked with turmeric, cayenne pepper and natural yoghurt. I add some potato to pad it out a bit. Along with three big bags of fresh spinach.

I attempt to claw back some brownie points with everyone after my shocking display. I produce bhajis, samosas, pakoras, naans and rice to go with. Seems to go down well. One of our friends is missing. I find him asleep on the bathroom floor.

I spend most of the following morning apologising. My whole body aches like I’ve been in some high-speed skiing collision. Mystery haematomas pop up all over. I’m sure I hear my liver whimpering. The pictures start appearing on Facebook. Our delightfully chubby, flame-haired friend shares a video of me from the night before. Shame burns. The kids’ return home is the last thing I need. I can barely function. They are in super demanding mode to boot. I feel like weeping. “What do you WANT from me?!?!”. Again my hero, He makes a restorative cottage pie for our tea.

The sort of get together that probably happens once a decade. And a bloody good job too. I’m off to apply arnica and request a place on the liver transplant waiting list. Oh to be 23 again!!

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