Monday, 30 December 2013

Whatever gets you through

When I gave up smoking my mantra was 'the only thing that a ciggie does is make you want the next one' and despite a few erm... forgetful occasions in thirteen years I have not started again.

This weekend i had a tricky day. I say 'tricky' and by that I mean one of the most emotionally raw and hurtful days since my dad died but you know what, fuck it, I survived with my dignity intact (despite that little incident where my bra proved a little insubstantial).

That morning I felt my dad's words echo through to me:

'it is not in the good times, but in the tough times when you prove your worth'.

True, he never said that to me, but the words seemed apt and by imagining his gravitas I clung onto the sentiment like a life raft.

I blimin hate homilies like 'what does not kill you makes you stronger'. Platitudes vomited by the likes of hallmark trip too easily from a vacant brain, but sometimes a well chosen mantra can be a great crutch.

As the snubs and shit flew I held my head high. The more vicious the more I smiled and outwardly rose above it. I can't imagine climbing Everest is a laugh a minute but reaching the summit remains an aspiration for generations, in the same way the day was shit but maintaining my dignity and my humanity was something that can define me forever as a decent human being.

I am not cross, I am sad that someone is so sad or confused as to lash out. I dearly hope that they find the help they need. I am moving on - licking my wounds and devising a way to avoid more shit flying my way.

The other saying that also came to mind was
'Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.' Malachy McCourt.

New years' resolutions? Probably should be the same as last year's: loose weight, blog more often and stop haemorrhaging money. yeah, yeah! When the going gets tough, what gets you going?

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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pumpkin soup

Monday and I was already messing with my meal plan! Normally I love a chunky mixed veg stoup but analysing the remains if my veg box and all I could see was gourd! Butternut squash, an unite tidied refugee from the veg patch, a dense looking green pumpkin and an orange number fit for a fair tale carriage.

To avoid the bland I normally chop and sweat onions and root veg, but running short of time I had to simplify. A few quick chops later and they were all ready to have their flavour bolstered by a thorough roasting!

Into the oven with a few onions scattered on top at around 175' for around 45 mins and they come out packing a punch!

In a large pan I added some cumin seeds then plenty of freshly grated ginger and a little paprika (I could have added chili flakes but keeping mild is a.tad more child friendly). After a few mins I could scoop in the pumpkin flesh, add a can of coconut milk, some stock and salt and pepper and then it is ready to be blitzed with the stick blender.

I am never precise with measurements, but about a cm ginger and 1/4 teaspoon of cumin per cup of pumpkin gives you a good idea. I add as much stock as necessary to make the soup a nice creamy consistency (single cream not whipped cream that is).

Serve with little crime fraiche / goats cheese and chilli sauce and it is delicious!

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Planning Monday - including meal plan

I have loads of odds and ends to achieve this week - advent calendars to post, the first lot of Christmas presents to deliver (scream), evenings out, entertaining and I am still doing my 5:2 diet. I have lost one inch form all my vital measurements (I think that is what they are called), I only know that as I am dress making and I am rather impressed both by the diet and my will power.

The Christmas present delivery is contingent on me making some if the blighters - hessian and organza table runners in natural, green and gold - and wrapping up all the rest. I love wrapping up my presents in Chinese newspaper with raffia bows and a few mini bells, so for that I need a trip to the Chinese supermarket.

Also home made curries take ages, particularly if you grind the spices and opt to have more than one dish, so I need some preparation time earlier in the week.

Monday - Mixed veg soup
I make a vat, chunky soup for me and I blitz is smooth for the little people. It can keep my and the Hubster going for a few lunches too.
Tuesday - pasta bolognese from the freezer.
I am out and this is east, besides it is one of the few things that I am really not so keep on
Wednesday - Chinese supermarket day and one of my fasting 5:2 days so probably some bought dim sum with stir fried greens for me. this is semi pre-prepared so I will have a chance to make spice blends and marinades for a curry on Friday.
Thursday - snack supper. We will have been out do a birthday lunch and pickle will have supper with a child minder (a first).
Friday - curry night. It will involve loads of little people so I will keep it accessible. chicken korma, chicken tikka masala, chana dhal, maybe a potato and mixed veg curry . (For grown ups I tend to do mainly veggy curries - but regardless I will using my very curry stained Rick Stein's far eastern odyssey.)
Saturday - The Hubster is watching rugby at twickenham so we will keep it simple. Maybe a home made frittata.
Sunday - roast. We will go to the farm shop on Saturday and see what they have that looks good.

Phew - and I still have a few ideas in the bag for next week! I feel as it I have done my mental filing having done that.

Ideas, inspiration and lovely blogs, see here
Meal Planning Monday

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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

#oneweek Making time

I have to include this in this #oneweek as I was about to include it last time but since then have procrastinated hence my title!

My step daughter is getting married so I wanted a special outfit to wear. My modest budget will get, let's say, a modest luxury if I go the ready made route. Spend around £100 on fabric and trims and I have the potential for something magical.

My first stop was Linton tweeds, the factory made famous for their creations for Channel. It is no hardship to focus on their affordable range at about £22 a meter, and needing just 3m that is more than half my budget. Having planned so far in advance I had plenty of option to trawl eBay for some cheap silk director from the Far East. I found a navy silk / viscose blend that was the perfect weight. Then came the lace, the first one I fell for was £60 per meter, but I managed to find the exact same one on eBay for a third of that and as I don't need much it just hopped into my basket.

After the passionate hunt progress stalled! A bit of good news / bad news there. The negative is my frame of mind, I am semi persona non grata at the wedding, it is not me but as 'step mum' it is the role - in fact I don't think that my steps really consider me at all other than an impediment and a target for random snubs. I won't be ground down and let the poison take hold, and I will continue to support them regardless. the good news is that when I first measured myself I was a little alarmed at the effects of my mummy grazing and since then have been trying the 5:2 diet. I measured myself last night and I have lost an inch across the three main size measurements. The other good news is last night I finally buckled down and cut it out.

Hopefully my the next #oneweek I can have my first ever selfie of my doing a twirl in my new outfit. wish me luck!

one week

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Location:#oneweek Making time

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

#oneweek Autumn mushrooms

I love the way I get a plaintive cry 'mummy! mummy!' Then he quietly puts his hand to his ear and we have to listen for a bird. I love the way he tries to direct our dog walks via blackberry clumps and apple trees. I love the way he is just two but he really loves nature.

This autumn dog walks have been further slowed by mushrooms. the cry goes out and I have to stop the pushchair and take out my phone to snap and record any mushroom that lurks alongside our path.

Can't you just imagine the final snap as a fairy city?

one week

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Monday, 18 November 2013

A lonely tree #oneweek

I seem to live, on the blogosphere, for @older-mum 's #oneweek. So after my season's hiatus I am pleased to link up and off load.

Try and remember the green shoots that promised so much when you look at that barren lonely tree. It was only six months ago, but now all that remains is a silhouette. Leaves, birds and small animals seem to have abandoned it for warmer clims and more inviting nests. What a simplistic, but apt metaphor for life as the mist of depression has stolen my sense of self, sole and purpose again.

Autumn has been spent agonising over my life and the threads of womanhood. Just the other day @sarahditum was attacked for daring to say that she was a better Mum for completing her degree ( ) When a return to work seems to be blocked by the unholy trinity of child care costs, lack of opportunity and rocky self esteem it is easy to grab hold of the only identity that we can - motherhood. I grab onto and almost strangle my role of mother, as my self image as a competent human being has been eradicated by the dual killers of post natal depression and a sexist status quo.

I barely have the energy to get through the day so the idea of 'pulling myself together' after redundancy and a failed business and find a new role outside the home seems hopelessly outside my grasp. In this mental state I invite rejection and feed my sense of worthlessness. If I need extra spice I can add the enmity of my step children - what the fuck, abandonment and rejection seem part of this narrative.

In my teens I remember feeling that we would be part of post feminist generation who would dance along routes opened up to us by inspiration women who had gone before. Now I can see that having a small proportion of amazing women beating men at their own game can not compensate for the brutal realities of everyday sexism. We have comments from mainstream lads mags that are indistinguishable from the justifications of convicted rapists No part of a woman's natural body seems to be acceptable: botox, extensions, threading or a vajazzel anyone? For any problem I new knew I had there is now an extreme answer. This autumn the perpetual conundrum how to fulfil the role of wife, mother and independent woman has been taking a major beating!

So in my autumnal mind I seem to look at my life as count down to retirement age, when justification for child care and career evaporate. The energy for life is taken up with self flagellation so I comfort eat to numb my brain.

Ironically this is not a cry for help but a battle cry. I am starting to fight, cautiously and in my own way. My self doubt has a curious bed fellow in self awareness. I can recognise patterns and attribute root causes, even if this is cold comfort when caught in the mist. Hell, most of the time I am even happy. This autumn has been the time to rant and start very slowly to start taking steps. I am putting that self awareness to concrete use, recognising that even if I just start getting more sleep and stop overloading my plate I should be in a much better place by spring. The leaves that fall from that lonely tree are creating a wealth of food and warm for smaller animals from which the tree reaps rewards come spring. I just want to be strong enough to be able to seize those opportunities when that time comes.

I hope that no one else is stuck in this trap - here are some things that have helped me:
- ruby wax's book Sane New World. Rather basic compared with some of the more academic tomes I have read but still I loved it and plan to read it again.
- a fucked up buddy (not to be mistaken with a fuck buddy) see above
- ideas! There are some amazing thinkers and writers out there. When I am not depressed that I am not contributing more eloquently I am fed by their words
- walking and nature (see tomorrow's post)
- being objective about why I am overweight and using a calorie counter (My Fitness Pal) not for self flagellation but as an aid to gain a healthy outlook. Yes, it was 400 calories that I inhaled between the school run and my official dinner!
- starting to have a concept of a few very little steps that I can tackle.
- I always have the chemical route if things get worse - but so far I have eschewed the need to anti depressants.
- as Stephen fry says, I may feel shit today but one day it will be sunny.
- remembering my victories. After decades of difficulties I have allowed my mum to be an amazing ally - she will never read this as she is too busy reading the Daily Mail (nobody is perfect) but she did: thank you I think you are amazing!

Now to recover from this how about something uplifting:
one week

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Meal plan Tuesday

Yes, I missed it by one day.
How did my first week go? Obviously I chopped and changed a little, Nannie was unwell so the ham went from lunch to supper and I just gently adapted and eeked as I am wont to do. However as a focusing exercise it is great, so her goes for this week.

Monday - veg soup and potatoes with lids for lunch. yes, the pickle has become addicted to the Milly Molly Mandy 'things to make and do' book, though I think the triple barrel squirt is an annoying little goodie two shoes - but the recipes are easy. for potatoes with lids you just bake potatoes, decapitate as you would a boiled egg, disembowl and mix with butter, cheese and anything you fancy, before reassembling and eating with a spoon.

supper - home made chicken escalope for the children in salad filled wraps. for the Hubster and I make a noodle tom yum soup with random veg and add the escalope slice on top. We happily need much less meat that way,

lunch - dim sum in town
Supper - chickpea pancakes with beetroot topped with goats cheese and a little dukka spice mix for crunch.

lunch - sandwiches and veg soup
Supper - pizza (bumped off last week's plan when I flopped and went for Heinz tomato soup instead).

Lunch - at a friend's
supper - the children will still be out as we will be trick or treating with our friend as she lives in a lovely rural village (I am too old to really understand this custom). it will be a fasting day for me and it will be late so we will probably opt for cereal!

Lunch - at the roald Dahl gallery or the story centre. We have yet to decide - any ideas anyone?
Supper - curry night! I am converting the children one curry at a time. I am slowly perfecting the dhosa...

butternut squash risotto.

It is time I went to farm shop, so whatever looks good.either that or I have some squid in the deep freeze on standby and I do a mean stuffed braised squid.

Ideas, inspiration and lovely blogs, see here
Meal Planning Monday

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Monday, 21 October 2013

Meal plan Monday

I have been reading and Mama Owl's blog for a while, but always revisited meal planning, as I have mentioned in the past. this week I have so much on with so many different people that I thought that I should give it a whirl!

Meal Planning Monday

Monday - children have a play date and I am doing the 5:2 diet (more on this later) so ratatouille

Tuesday - boiled ham for lunch (Nannie is here and while she say that she eats everything her everything is not mine - no pasta, risotto would not want to give her sandwiches as she is visiting from London). I will share this recipe as it is fab!
- supper, ham omelette

Wednesday - we have a wine tasting at home (a gift comprising of the Pieroth bod coming to share / sell with us) so we need something suitable for children and to eat while we slurp.
-tapas including frittata, home made hot smoked salmon pate (had a deal on the salmon a while ago so it is portioned up in the freezer), cheese and if I managed it home made bread.

Thursday - legoland for the day as a birthday treat for the Hubster's grandchild
- chilli con carne, made on Wednesday with home made guacamole, Crete fraiche, grated cheese and either wraps or rice.

Friday - home made pizza, with goats cheese and veg as a healthy option, also ham from earlier in the week.

Saturday - veg curry and home made dhosas (this is a work in progress, but I will post about this later).

Sunday - start the day with pancakes and end day with something eggs with some fruit and veg in between, dependent on our lovely veg box.

I have been a very bad blogger recently - 95% reading, 5% commenting, 0% writing. This, therefore, is 100% unproofed but 100% honest. I will try to fill in some blanks later before crapness takes over again. Xx

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

#oneweek - Parties. How to have a moshi party and make Strawberry Sorbet

Summer is for parties! A friends party each child and a joint family party; each party has a format that I have been slowly perfecting over the years. the variation and interest comes from the chosen theme and the whole year is spent in deliberation over what to choose and this year it was Moshies. Love them or loathe them, I don't care if last year we survived the infernal Rainbow Fairies, Moshies are light relief!
Stage one
Pick a theme and photoshop a few decorations and invitations - or cross cost like crazy.

Stage 2
Party bags and plan a craft activity. Guests are greeted with a personalised party bag and sat down to a craft activity. It always breaks the ice, the shy ones can work shoulder to shoulder with each other, and by the time they are finished they are all friends.
This year I ordered a two meters of cream canvas and a reel of thin Moshi ribbon to make up some really cost effective bags. I added an extra loop so that home made Moshi key rings could be attached. Ebay is a wonder for parties, twenty plain key rings for a couple of quid - I added a little loop of pipe cleaner so they could use air dry clay to make moshlings. Another pound and I had twenty cup cake boxes (ready to be decorated) where the monsters could live until they were dry.

Step 3
Is anyone ever too old for pass the parcel?
Step 4
Donut eating - yum! Thanks to some bought candy eyes we had instant Oddies to munch. You know the game? donuts hanging form a line that have to be eaten with no hands. I recommend mini donuts.

Step 5
Musical statues. Any excuse for a boogie!
Step 6
Moshi pizza's made in advance and frozen, bangers and mash, slime (mushy peas), Monster munch, sandwiches - off message but they work.

Hansel ginger bread men - then, oh so inspired / plagiarised 'Ice Scream'. Ice cream served up with bowls of chocolate flakes, smartie type sweets, mini marshmallows, sprinkles, strawberries as well as strawberry and chocolate sauce.

Step 7
Earn the party bags: a treasure trail. We always have a focal point with clues so this year we went for the Daily Growl with a code to break. As a crap blogger I failed to take photo of my lovely hand drawn Moshi pictures for the picture code so I have mocked this rather randomly to give you the idea.

The clues were simple to devise, work out any hiding place and use the Moshi Wiki to find a monster to fit. Pookie is a dinosaur with an egg shell hat, perfect for the chicken coup. Each clue was covered on the poster until everyone was back at base camp and had been given their prize for the previous clue, then the next clue was revealed. The best had to be finding Dr.Strangeglove hidden in the hedge!

Step 8
The dreaded cake - much anticipated so rarely eaten. A Moshi cake is a doddle - a giant cup cake mould makes the perfect cutie pie, all it needed was a few Oreo and Bob's your Uncle.

Step 9
Kick out the last little darling - breath a sigh of relief while mixing the perfect G&T. Over for another year!
Cake? You slave over the cake the custom has the you wrap them up and send them back in the party bag to be sat on and promptly binned. Why try when no one ever eats the blighters?
At the family party I do things my way - no traditions and expectations to adhere to, just what i say goes (i am a benign dictator). We have a couple of vats of paella (one veggy, one meat) cooked outside with endless cocktails on the go (one wobbly and one virgin) and a cake that will get eaten: ice cream cake!

Our Strawberry Sorbet recipe
Pickle is not addicted, she can give up any time she wants...maybe.
250g strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped
Juice of two medium lemons
160 - 200g sugar dependent on how sweet the strawberries are. Generally I recommend 175g and add more later if too tart
450ml water
50ml sweet rose (wine - the stuff that sounds like a good idea but half a glass in and your teeth ache and you switch to a crisp white instead)
Cover the strawberries with the sugar and lemon and refrigerate covered for an hour.
Blitz the mix then strain through a standard (not a fine sieve - a few seeds are fine and straining through a fine sieve takes too long, trust me).
Mix in the water and use an ice cream maker if you are lucky. if not freeze in a lidded container, taking it out and whisking it up every two hours for six hours. It is not make or break but it does give it a much better consistency of you can whisk it up three times like this.

one week

Monday, 9 September 2013

#oneweek -

My mind was full, my diary empty and i had six long weeks to look forward to. Summer holidays had arrived and I had visions of idle days and endless picnics. My happiest memories are not of high days or holidays, but the smell of grass and the comfort of home, pottering in the garden or complicated schemes that we dreamt up then happily abandoned when food or bedtime beckoned.

I tried to be brave and resist the urge to plan. I tried to keep things simple, but opportunities kept on knocking. We made dens, climbed trees, played in the surf, got crafty and yes, we even managed one of two picnics and hoe we bounced!

The simple things were the best, and yes, the best things in life are free. But a landscape needs contours so it was the mad adventures that made the days making airplanes out of boxes so rewarding.

This remiss blogger was prompted by the amazing Older
Mum - I recommend her posts and those that she elicits.

one week

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Paris with children

Remember holidays before children; they started with a long haul flight, were liberally peppered with endless meals and involved days of getting to grip with the local culture (wine, art, nature of music, I was not fussy). Since children holidays are measured by the mile: how long the journey takes and my the meter: distance from playground or equivalent. Then there is Paris, for which I throw away the rule book. I lived there twenty(ish) years ago and somehow I can't stay away for long. Strangely, my single student lifestyle of memory is not an awful lot of help when planning a trip with children - I trawled the interweb for a blog to hold my hand, and all I could find were a couple of excellent guidebooks for paris with children, but that still left me with decisions.

If you want to 'do' the Paris landmarks everyone would recommend:
- Book hotels early as family rooms go quickly.
- bateau Mouche along the Seine, and it you have older children find one that takes in the Canal Saint Martin too.
- go up the Eiffel tower, but remember to book
- walk or takes bus from the 'Etoile' known externally as the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs Élysées to the Place de la Concorde, and from there you may even be able to fit a trip to the Louvre to see La Jaconda (the Mona Lisa).
- visit the Notre Dame and go on to the Isle St Louis for Ice creams at Berthillon
- other options include Versailles (the Trianon are worth the schlep) and Galleries Lafayette.
- yes there is a big theme park near by too.
Good I have got that out of the way! Perfect, if that is what you want to do, but it is a bit like tourism by numbers for me. This is our story.

After giving up all hope of finding a child friendly hotel I starting sifting through apartments. I had two criteria, it must be cheap and it must have a lift - too many Parisien apartments are only accessible up the endless stone 'heritage' stairwells. Last time we stayed in the 17th (arrondissement) where we rubbed shoulders with the nannies looking after the future leaders of France in the Parc Monceau. Traditional, chic and very stylish! With the Rue de Levis market nearby and the obligatory neon carousel on the corner the Pickle in her element. This time also I considered the 5th close to the Jardin de Luxembourg, the left bank and the rue Mouffetard street market but in the end I headed toward the Marais, the old medieval part of town as it was cheapest.

A knowledgeable wine merchant with a twinkle in his eye, a great cafe and patisserie and a weekend market, who could ask for more? The apartment was clean and serviceable too.

The day after we arrived it was midsummer so we stumbled straight into Fete de la Musique and a cacophonous 24 hours of music on every street corner. With the fabulous Place des Vosges five minutes walk away we need stumble no further.

You can spend days idling away time in the Marais, there are affordable cafes everywhere from Place de la Bastille to The length of Rue de la Roquette - and not to mention the numerous falafel and cheese cake emporia around rue des Rosiers. There is the fabulous Musee de Picasso (currently and annoyingly being refurbished), Musee de Carnavalet and Victor Hugo's house to pick from.

We would be happy just pottering. Observing similarities and differences - apparently the Pickle thinks that the city looks familiar but there are so many motorbikes! I love the simple things of finding a good local patisserie and getting the children to choose their own breakfasts. Finding the local park, buying a few clothes i love French children's clothes.

Twenty years ago you could get decent food affordably in Paris, every neighbourhood had a decent restaurant where you could find the cheaper cuts of meat and seasonal vegetables cooked into something special for a reasonable price. Nowadays Paris is like any other international city; I could contrast the 7 Francs for three courses, including a pave steak that was the norm twenty years ago, with the mediocre fillet steak for E40 excluding vegetables that was offer this visit. Look hard and there is still decent food, but it is pricier and rarer that it once was.

Our best day was spent ambling along the canal starting at the Bastille, pausing at the pirate ship playground, heading towards the Jardin des Plantes. Once there we headed straight for La Baleine, a whale inspired restaurant - you can't book so just cross your fingers, it is great. From there we went to visit the moos at the menagerie, there were many things but no cows, nor elephants for that matter, but plenty of monkeys and close cousins and some fearsome cats. When you are onto a winner stick with it so we went to the Evolution museum to be awed by the whales and the troupe of animals setting out across the savannah.

Some people swear by the Jardin d'acclimatation in the Bois de Boulogne, and it does have the edge with the train and the Napoleonic amusement park (established by the man, not toddlers in dodgy hats practicing haughty glares). However, it is in Neuilly and even now I fear that the 16th, it is so establishment and refined it may give me a nose bleed.

Next up: a little art. Having failed to book tickets for Musee d'Orsay that was out - there was not even standing space assuming you could find the back of the queue! We trundled across the bridge embellished with promissory padlocks and through the Tuilleries gardens, currently a riot of sudden colour to celebrate 400 years since they last planted a flower. Out of desperation we collapsed into one of the cafes - and was amazed that it was trying to survive on quality rather than relying on tourist dollars and a Gallic shrug!

Onto the Orangerie and Monet's waterlillies. This is perfect for little people, DB even got a personal and very nervous escort. Two rooms, less than a dozen huge canvasses on gently curved walls. DB hunted for fish in the ponds and Pickle flew into the pictures with fairy wings. Forget about the exhibitions downstairs, the impact of the Monets are best left undiluted. I saw those waterlillies about thirty years ago and I have loved art ever since!

Want a view of Paris? I love sticking to one area of town rather than dashing around like a tunnel rat (having said that some of the buses are great). I love taking the escalators to the top of Beaubourg (aka the Pompidou Centre) and looking out over Paris. There are no queues, just mildly confusing bureaucracy getting through the centre. Just below are the Stravinsky Fountains by Nikki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tingley. They are fascinating for little people, and the cafes beside them are an ideal lunch spot, including one that encourages young artists, just don't have pudding yet. Instead amble down to Notre Dame talking Esmerelda and Quasimodo to add to the magic of the cathedral. After a skip around the gloom of the Notre Dame reward yourself with ice creams on the Isle St.Louis - Berthillon is the most famous, but there are many alternatives to choose form. Also the French colourful design company Pylones seems so save colonised the place if you need your wallet lightening.

The Sacre Coeur is also a great place to view Paris from. At the bottom of the hill there is a great carousel and then, hyperventilate, the funicular to the top. If you have bought a carnet of 10 tickets for the metro not only can you use these on the bus but also on the funicular and it is handy to have these as it can be a bun fight. The Place de Tertre at the top of the hill is a tourist hot spot - lock down drill applies - wallets in the safest pockets and children glued to your sides. From there if you keep on going you find the Rue Lepic which snakes it way down the hill, through the very Parisien part of Monmatre. It is am easy walk for little people and a few toy and clothes shops along the way.

Finally how about a local bus trip? Start the day shopping for a treat under the stained glass dome at Galleries Lafayette, or personally I prefer the accessories in Printemps. Take the number 27 bus, it takes you from the Grand Magazins, past the Baroque Garnier Opera, along towards the Palais Royale and through an arch into the Louvre courtyard and past the Pyramid and thence over to the left bank and you get get off at the Jardin de Luxembourg that I mentioned about a hundred years ago at the top of this post.

There is a treasury of things to do, but holidays are about having fun not a tick list to be completed. The aquarium near the Trocadero (with excellent views of the Eifel tower) is meant to be fabulous, the science park at Parc de la Villette is meant to be amazing too and them there is that somewhat famous international theme park nearby.

I think the best part of any city is the lifestyle. Finding a good local cafe, sitting watching and absorbing all that is going on. I love the sounds, the smells and that casual small talk with the shop keepers. As with any the object of any long held love, I have my niggling issues but it is true: I love

Thursday, 6 June 2013

One week - w is for weeds or wet

The garden has been left, abandoned for too long. Last year DB was just too much of a liability for me to potter while on Mummy duty and the previous I had been pregnant - drained of the will to do much but sleep.
This year started inauspiciously. The old gardening myth is that you should not plant seeds unless the soil feels comfortable on your bare bum...apparently. I think this means that the soil should be well raked and suitably warm. I gave up waiting for bum warm soil and planted it regardless. Then it rained, as good ol' Willy S said '...the rain it raineth every day.'
My veg patch was soon a verdant green - with weeds that is.

After a while when everything has grown a little I can take the time to sift through and work out weeds from the veg. I am now merrily munching on all manner of salad leaves with peas and beans due soon.

I love my herb patch - and ram it full to stifle any weeds in their tracks. It is just outside my window so it has to be low maintenanc otherwise I would be in a state of suspended animation.

I can't tell you how I enjoyed weeding and edging then front garden. I have got back my fairytale cottage again. Weeds yes, but in happy coexistence and plucked to submission.
I am under no delusions - the weeds in the end will prevail but for now I have my small victories!

This was another post for the #oneweek initiative. if you want a treat hop over and see some more.
one week

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

One week - W is for Words: Wow it is a wowa

Yes, the Dino baby is becoming Destructo Boy. Crawling was short lived as he rushed headlong into exploring the world and all the dangers therein. Words are coming too, but slowly.

He seems to stick to single syllables, normally repeated at least twice - or 'sy-sy's as he might say. Hence, the family consists of DaaDa, Maama, RiRi and Digdig. He tends to pick up the sounds at random, hence RiRi only bares a passing semblance to Pickle's real name. Technically, we are not related to a digger, but this is his posand I am not prepared to break his heart.

Flowers, obviously are wowas, but he does have a very winning habit of saying an awed 'wow' when presented with something that should impress.

Caution must be taken as this is language in development. Lor can be either lolly (his favourite vice) lorry or curiously olive.

Words are still a work in progress, as is are garden.

I am working on a post about my garden for tomorrow as part of the amazing #oneweek project. I recommend a gander at some of the other posts.

one week

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

One week - W is for Women

W is for Women. There is an exhibition at RISC's Global Cafe of inspiring women across the ages. my first thought was to arrange to bring the Pickle so that she could be inspired.

Then I remembered a Japanese textile artist I once worked with. she asked about his masterpieces that would make Ariadne quiver he replied that he was able to do them through ignorance. By not knowing what was possible nothing was impossible.

when chatting about suffragettes with the Pickle she just laughs, the improbability of not being able to do something because if her gender. It is too early to talk of glass ceilings, gender pay gaps and inequity in the justice system. Every year when she blows out the candles on her birthday cake she wishes that she could fly. For the time being I want her to believe that she can grow wings and that as a woman she can fly over any barrier that sexism may try to put in her way.

My butt had been firmly kicked by the amazing @older_mum and her amazing #oneweek initiative. if you want a treat hop over to her site and see her posts and those she inspires.

one week

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Amazing burger and rolls

Every once in a while I make something that makes me proud. Not surprisingly this meal started with Saint Dan, the patron saint of Elasticated Waists. I was looking for something a little different, sometimes I used left over pizza dough to make pizza swirls, a savoury Chelsea bun type affair. This time I consulted Saint Dan and went off piste - changing it on the way (as did the weather so the picnic was off).

Soft Olive, tomato and cheese rolls.
These are made in an unusual way, but boiling some of the flour in water makes the, deliciously squidgey.

25g butter
1 large onion (red onion was recommended but I only had a white one)
500g strong flour (I used a combination of white and wholemeal)
350ml cold water, then more as required
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar (mainly to keep the onion red, so I used a less and added some fruit vinegar)
100 - 125g pitted olives, drained and chopped)
50 - 75g semi sun dried tomatoes
50 - 75g chopped cheese, I used goats and blue
2 teaspoons fast action yeast
1 teaspoon fine salt
Polenta or corn meal - if you have
Oil for kneading

Cook the onions until soft for about 10 mins, them add roughly 8 level table spoons of the flour, the water and vinegar and whisk together. Bring to the boil beating out your worries to keep it from sticking. Stir I the olives and leave until it is tepid. Beat in the yeast, flour and salt and mix until it is a smooth dough. Cover and leave for 10 mins. I tend to over it with something non stick and a few kitchen towels to keep it nice and toasty.
This is where Saint Dan is also the patron saint of parents - rather than needing like a dervish for 10 minutes while the children go feral - you simply need just 8 - 10 times on an oiled surface them leave it for 10 minutes again. Ten repeat this twice more and finally leave for half and hour while you prepare snacks and have a rare cup of tea.

Mix in the cheese and tomatoes and roll it into a fat sausage about 25cm log. Brush with water and sprinkle with polenta (DB did this with great gusto). Cut into nine pieces and lay these onto a couple of trays lined with non- stick paper and leave for 1 1/2 hours while you heat the oven to 220'c. Bake for 20 - 25 mins.

Chicken, chorizo and mushroom burgers.

This is where the genius struck. We had been out all day and I had nothing planned for supper. I wanted to use the rolls, but Pickle wanted something hot (the picnic had been rained off). I always have chorizo in the fridge, I had some mushrooms in the veg box and chicken in the freezer. Chicken does not defrost that quickly, but I always freeze in in small portions and minced it would be a doddle.

2 chicken breasts or equivalent
100g chorizo
200g mushrooms
Half a red pepper
flour for dusting

Blitz the chicken until it is almost minced the. Add the other ingredients which have been roughly chopped. Prepare a plate of flour for dipping. With wet hands (trust me it helps) form the burger shapes and dip in the flour. Fry in a little oil.

As I was doing this from frozen, give or take the mincing process, I used a meat thermometer to check that it was cooked in the middle. Cooking it slowly so that it does not burn. If you have time you can cook them in the oven so you don't need to hover.

On one site i notice that Heston Blumenthal cooks his chicken to an internal temperature of 60°C, if you want to stick to safety guidelines your chicken should reach 75°C.

I served with salad fresh from the garden and sweet chilli sauce.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Date nights and babysitters

During pregnancy you seem to be public property, I am not sure which is worse: people trying to touch your bump, the labour horror stories or the constant advice. The worst thing about the advice is that it is not offered lightly but instead barked as a command. “Get your sleep now, you will need all your energy later”, “Enjoy every moment, they grow up so quickly”, or even reminders to keep the romance alive in your marriage and “Keep up the date nights”; at eight months pregnant romance is not the first thing on your agenda!

Date nights for parents? Great idea. Loads of things can be a great idea when extended families living close at hand are there to help. It would be great if we had family to pop in and babysit at a moments notice, come to think of that any babysitters would be good. Like many people we had moved to where the jobs are, and our closest relatives were over half an hour away and my family are hundreds of miles off. When I was small babysitting was a guaranteed teenage income, but when the whole village had lived cheek by jowl for generations you knew with a fair degree of certainty that the babysitters are trustworthy. If I were to try the teenage babysitter here I may end up with Vicky Pollard, so scrub that, I trust only a DBS (formerly a CRB) check!

Initially we thought that going to family homes for events would be easier, but far from it. At a family event all the free babysitters are in attendance. Every time we had a “do” we seemed to spend about a hundred pounds on another expensive agency Nanny that we had no lasting contact with.

Grudgingly, however, I have to admit that the advice of keeping up the date nights is sound. Sometimes it can be as simple as dinner by candle light in the dining room rather than at the breakfast bar, at other times we do reciprocal babysitting with a Mummy friend down the road, and sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and find an external babysitter who we can trust. You can try your luck with a kind of dating agency to help you find carers and babysitters (including ones with their DBS checks in place).

Looking at their website I may be tempted to add another bit of advice for dog owning Mums to be - for the last weeks of pregnancy and first weeks of motherhood, seriously consider a dog walker. Eighteen months on, rubbing my Caesarian scar, that is one change I would have certainly made to DB's early months!
I met up with the lovely ladies from at the Mumsnet Bloggers Conference, and they asked me what I thought of their services and - WARNING - they have paid me to write this piece. The thoughts are all my own, but the gratuitous plug at the end has been SPONSORED - the first time I have strayed into commercial territory. They seem like good people, so I hope you don't mind.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Moving out of London

Can it really be ten years since my self imposed exile. I still feel like a newbie in the Home Counties - royal Berkshire no less (doesn't that sound better than Reading?). A new friend has recently joined the exodus and I thought I should reflect on what I have learnt.

Don't make assumptions that anything you know from London holds true. Distances and roads are calibrated differently outside the M25. Anything over half an hour is too far - unless it is a theme park with an international reputation.

Forget IKEA, to get kudos points you must shop at John Lewis. Talking of Kudos, it is not comical that after christmas over a quarter of the school mums all have identical outfits, it is cool. All right shoulders seem to have been branded by SuperDry and feet are still the property of a certain Mr.Ugg and don't forget other essentials from Hollister and Jules. So choose your clothes carefully, it defines your school gate tribe.

Vintage clothes are not, repeat NOT, cool, they are smelly old clothes. Likewise antique just seems to be a posh word for second hand and so keep quite about them, please. So far people have been too polite to comment on what they think of old cottages like ours.

It has been quite a learning experience! I feel like a social anthropologist. I can confirm that the local tribes are generally benevolent - and those who aren't well, our kids will be at school together for another ten years so I am not about to rock the boat. I am sure if I had investigated earlier I may have been assimilated, but I have held onto my individuality instead.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Slow blogging

I question everything, life, philosophy and mostly blogging. I read Mammasaurus and Slow blogging and it struck a chord. I started off the Easter Holidays full of bloggy hope, loads of great activities from lambing at a cousin's farm to organising an over the top Easter egg hunt and party, all photographed for posterity and, I hoped, this blog. Then silence.

Remember the old arcade coin drop games? After a few very tough years of depression and other challenges, it has not been so much that the penny is finally dropping but a coin cascade. Life seems to be making so much more sense, but I just needed a bit of time to myself while I was doing that mental sorting.

Rather than a tedious cross between blogging as therapy and public naval gazing I have just needed a bit of time for myself to clear the decks and enjoy two very cute little people.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013


My day is defined by walks. Up in time to walk to school, then straight off to walk the Mr.Woof. The day starts the slow wind down with the school collection, with promises of cuddles, food and eventually bed time. Throughout these long walks I love seeing the year evolve at first hand.

Hands are very important. Recently the icy wind has been biting, I feel as if I am trotting along without jeans as their weave is no match for the elements. Poor DB struggles, as for longer walks I incarcerate him in the push chair, and it is his hands that suffer most.

Now, when his hand starts to get cold up it goes. His hand declares a halt! It is time to rub those little fingers and lavish with hot potatoes. Normally we end it with a kiss on the nose, accompanied by endless giggles.

We have beaten Jack Frost - walks are fun again. Hurrah! Now hurry up spring, the seedlings need you now.

Shakespeare for beginners

Conflicting emotions started long before the action. I love Shakespeare but was the Pickle too young? I love the Globe but was the building just too historic to be comfortable for a six year old? the production was aimed at school children but would it be dumbed down?

We did our home work, and read an excellent introduction to the play. Pickle got to know the story and we could chat about the language, the themes and 'thees and thous' and generally we started to get excited. Then the snow started to fall!

From underneath a hat, coat and blanket a little nose and two twinkling eyes were ready. I confess to welling up as I saw her face in awe of the action. The troupe burst onto the stage from all angles dancing and playing a thunderous chorus on trumpets from that point on the Pickle was hooked.

The production part of the 'Playing Shakespeare' initiative, promoting the Bard to school children, and so ran the risk of alienating both children and aficionados alike. Glyndebourne's attempt at pop opera that they marketed at the Brighton's Universities was a classic example of how to get it hideously wrong; Tangier Tattoo was an 'operatic thriller' and had all the elements - guns, drugs, sex and torsos - that you would think could appeal to a student, if you had never taken the time to talk to one. Ultimately it was let down as the music was not very good. Even the marketing had failed as most of the audience looked as if last saw the inside of a classroom when they dropped off their heirs at Eton. It would be tragic if this was the fate of all accessible productions.

Daunted at the prospect of seeing the Bard mangled I almost winced as the first words were spoken. Would it be Shakespeare reinterpreted in modern speech, a limp 'West End Story', or would they be brave? I opened my eyes to the first impassioned rhyming couplet and glanced at the Pickle - she got it. Within her cocoon her eyes were like lasers, focused and enjoying, really enjoying.

At a running time of an hour and three quarters the play had been cut, but I had seen more blatant text savagery in so called adult theatre (Michael Gambon trying hard to carry off Alan Ayckbourn's Othello springs painfully to mind). They could have taken more liberties with the text, but with a production of this calibre it was not necessary. With the snow swirling and the mercury diving attention were still focused on the stage; it was not just the Pickle, a little girl behind us kept a stage whisper going demanding Daddy description, but interpretation given she still seemed rapt. The elements could not detract from real performance.

There were some highlights, Richard James Neale excelled as Mercutio but ultimately it was an ensemble piece from the musicians to the confetti's star turn. There is often a week link and Tom Whitelock's Paris was a tad limpid but in other less impressive settings his performance would not have seemed below parr.

I am not trying to rear a genius, and promote Shakespeare for educational oneupmanship. I took the Pickle as I wanted to share something that could be fun. I have a parenting bucket list - to introduce the Pickle to the broadest variety of experiences, skills and foods, so that once she leaves home she is not daunted by anything new. The Globe's Romeo and Juliet was just that, we laughed, gasped and I cried - the Pickle is already requesting a return visit.

Pickle's short review relates 'it was was funny and sad in a few places. go and see it as it quite tricky to describe'.

Saturday, 23 March 2013