Ants, pants, wet gussets and battered plinths: My birthday lunch

It seems so obvious now. The walk there should have been a giveaway. BUB.3, aged three, decided to wear sparkly flip flops two sizes too big for her. Those damn shoes, and they’re not even shoes are they really, flipped off behind her about eighty times on the five-minute walk.  Every time the shoe flew off, she cried. I brandished her sensible velcro-secured spare sandals from my bag (we’ve been here before) but this was met with more tears. When we eventually got to my friend’s front door, I was happy to see that the others had also just arrived, everybody in the midst of their own mini meltdown. That’s when we felt the first drops of rain.

We had expected sunshine. We expected to fling the seven children, whose ages range from one to four, out into the lawn, barely visible under the array of ride ons, balls, scooters and trampolines. We would sit enjoying the delicious lunch my friend had made for us, to celebrate my birthday, sipping a glass of birthday Prosecco, whilst the children squealed and spun and delighted us from behind the glass doors. We’d each bought a vast array of snack items for the children to eat before we sat down to our grown ups lunch. There were crackers and tuna sandwiches and party sausages and sausage rolls and cheese and veggies and grapes. They each ate 60 party sausages and left the table, now awash with spat-out tuna and vegetables. “Film anyone?” a few of us cried, hopefully, in unison. “Beauty and the Beast? Tangled? Moana?” I offered to sort out the entertainment while the host started to arrange a magnificent tuna niçoise but the words on her sodding remote control buttons had rubbed off so I was flailing around as the children started to turn. I only managed to find SpongeBob.

The host flung down the olive dressing and moved to the living room with stealth-like urgency and found Beauty and the Beast. She returned, and we spent a good ten minutes clearing the table of dribble and crumbs, and then she served up the beautiful salad. We all chatted happily for one and a half minutes while enjoying our food. And then it started.

Blood. Lots of blood. The children had tipped out the contents of the toy chest across the floor. BUB.3 had managed to get a shard of smashed something in the sole of her foot. One ran for kitchen towel, one for plasters, one for the antiseptic cream. There was LOUD, LOUD crying. The smell of olive and tuna steak was suddenly punctuated by a whiff of something less fresh. “Who needs a poo?” shouted someone. “It wasn’t him, he’s just had one!” Clunk! The scooter one of the three-year-olds had been flying around the kitchen on crunched into the kitchen cupboard doors. “Careful” said the host weakly. The heat was stifling, but the bifolds had to remain shut to keep out the rain and to keep the children in the dry. In our midst.

We returned briefly to our salads, about eleven different conversation threads hanging unfinished in the air, and the one we landed on was whether it was OK to let a potty training child poo in a potty in a pub, which definitely made the salad go down well. All six children were in the kitchen with us. There were wees, THAT poo, and another poo and then someone got run over by a ride on bee and several tears were shed over WHO BLOODY KNOWS WHAT. Then a roar from the living room and on investigation a swarm of ants was discovered amongst the toys. The host disappeared for a good ten minutes to deal with the infestation while we all crunched down on our iceberg lettuce. All of us apart from the one who spent the majority of lunch moving her baby from room to room in a car seat, trying to get her to sleep amongst the chaos.

On her return, my lovely host announced that she had been busy the night before making Mary Berry’s frozen elderflower posset. It was brought into me with a lit candle and everyone, for a moment, was united in singing Happy Birthday to 44-year old me. We then buried our poor, tired, end-of-term faces in it and tried to blot out the noise of Micro Scooters bashing into kitchen plinths. At one point there seemed to be more scooters than children.

Suddenly the window cleaner appeared at the bifolds, just at the moment I opened a bottle of something fizzy that exploded all over my lap. The host realised she only had two pairs of jeans that fit her but valiantly said she would loan one pair to me. If they would fit. But where to change into them, I wondered, as the window cleaner leered in.  “Do it in the bathroom, the window is opaque,” she said. Determined not to be undone by the pair of jeans that my host still fits into, I wrestled myself into them and moaned and groaned as I tried to bend my body to sit back down at the table.

Somebody started to clang away on the piano. “Should we put them outside anyway?” ventured one. “Why not!” So outside the children went. This changed very little about our circumstances; we now just had to shout a little louder “STOP that”, “Leave him!”, “What are you doing with THAT?” “NOT on his head!”, “Don’t put that in your mouth,” “I saw that!” “Give it back to her,” “NO,” “Put that back,” “Not in there!”, “Do you HAVE to do that?”, “Share!”, “Do you want a poo?”, “Do you need a wee?”, “Oops a daisy, up you get,” and so on. And then it was time for the school run and time to get the OLDER CHILDREN, with their homework woes and eight-year old teenage angsts. Yes it was exhausting. Yes it was loud. Yes it was stressful. And no it wasn’t THAT much fun. But look at that posset. Look at that olive dressing. We’re in this together and to have someone to go to such an effort for you on your birthday means we’ll all get through it. One poo. One laceration. One ants’ nest. One ill-fitting flip flop at a time.

But next time, we’ll do lunch without the kids.

 

 

 

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Fish heads 1 Parents 0

I sipped my tea from a safe distance, muttering things like “There’s no need for such a fuss” and “It’s nothing a quick rinse with some soapy water can’t fix” and “It’s just a matter of encouraging their individual interests,” as the children splattered and smeared fish guts all over the kitchen cupboards.

Flopping a raw dismembered fish head onto a restaurant table is generally considered bad table manners but so is lying on the restaurant floor and you let a lot go when you have a fussy eater. This delightful sprat head, which BUB.1 acquired near a fish market after a day foraging for fossils on the Jurassic Coast, eventually took pride of place in his ‘special things’ box alongside some rotten bird eggs, a mouse head and an empty bird skull. We thought we could exploit this new interest in fish – he gags on fish fingers, so the only way was up – and a few days later took him to the fish counter to pick one out “for lunch.” A seabass, we thought. It was the start of something

That afternoon, fish guts were strewn across our kitchen island and all up my splash backs. BUB.1 sawed through the spine and garotted the poor thing. We had fins drying on paper towels and silver slithers of flesh on all the cupboard door handles. “Can I float its head in water Mummy?” he asked, as we started to clean up.”Pardon?” “Can you get me a bowl so I can see how it moves in the water?”

I filled a long vase and we dropped the head in, watching it slowly sink to the bottom, spinning. It was like that scene in Jaws when they find Ben Gardner’s boat. The meagre remnants of fish flesh that remained were duly baked in foil and picked out with a fork, in 1mm x 1mm sections, while BUB.1 dry retched. When WW got back from work that Saturday, the surfaces had been hosed down and we gushed about how we had filleted our own fish, like something from The Waltons. I felt like a parenting ninja.

A week later, it was WW’s turn, and this time we had a mackerel and a trout. I have never seen WW get so angry, as he produced a box of thin protective white gloves for everyone to wear. I sipped my tea from a safe distance, muttering things like “There’s no need for such a fuss, it’s nothing a quick rinse with some soapy water can’t fix,” “It’s just a matter of encouraging their individual interests,” and “He’s no Bear Grylls is he kids?” as he shouted things like “Don’t TOUCH the shiny knobs! NOT the knobs!”, “Stop dangling that all over the floor” and “It’s dripping on my leg!”

However, being a truly remarkable Dad, he overcame his fury and while staying at the in-laws a few weeks later he promised to take them to Bolton fish market (“the fish mecca of the north west” – his words). We decided to make it a family outing, as we like to do with all bad ideas, and it coincided with bobbing into Clarks for some new shoes.

The view in the fish market was truly breathtaking. I held my scarf over my mouth and tried not to breathe. Mound upon mound of sea creatures. I looked at the floor to kick away a rogue tentacle and I noticed that the  ‘Light Up!’ lights on BUB.2’s shiny new trainers weren’t lighting up. “We’ll have to take them back! Let’s go BACK!” I cried.” “I need a wee!” said BUB.3, her timing, as always, perfect. For once, I was keen to visit a public toilet, in the belief that the horrors within were better than the horrors without. We skated on an ice rink of frozen rancid brine past gaping mouths, bulging eyes, bloodied cavities, fetid fins, purple sinews, black seepage and tiny, tiny killer bones.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw WW looking at me. “You’re turning green. Your face is actually GREEN. Look kids! Mummy is GREEN!” “Can we get a squid beak, Mummy, please?” begged BUB.1. For the love of God, I didn’t even know squids had beaks. I used to spend Saturday afternoons smoothing myself with shimmering body lotions and spritzing myself with wine rather than standing in a swill of sea sludge, coated in a glistening varnish of fish glue. I moved quickly towards the toilets.

One fish I could handle. One normal, sea bass, on MY kitchen counter, under MY terms, I thought as I hoisted BUB.3’s trousers back up. But this was just short of a joke. He’d taken it too far. We made our way back to the market. Where the bloody hell were the kids? I looked around and saw them at quite some distance, heading behind the salmon counter to get a better look. Behind the counter where the fish guts were knee-high. “NEW SHOES” I screeched, sloshing through the rippling tide of fish intestines. Too late. New sparkly silver and blue non-light-up trainers, coated in a veneer of fish gravy. “Can we just take a salmon head please?” WW said to the guy. “20p, what a bargain!” WW beamed as we left the market, head in hands.

Back at Grandma’s, BUB.1 began his precise work, nipping bits off here, peering at teeth, showing us with pride how the jaws worked. When he wanted to inspect the bones more closely, he asked Grandma to boil it up on her stove which she kindly spent her Saturday afternoon doing, without asking the question I’m sure was on her lips: “Does he not enjoy football?”

As the fish heads were boiling to the bone, WW returned with a refund on the fishy, non-flashing trainers.  What a Dad. Oh and BUB.1 wants pet fish now. He’s made a list. We’ve managed to persuade him that a gecko is a better choice. For the fish.

 

 

 

Black Sunday

These things take their toll on your creativity. I want to post slow cooker recipes and camping stove bakes, I really do, but yesterday completely demonstrates why I haven’t been able to post a letter, let alone a blog about the kitchen renovation.

I SO* wanted to be one of those bloggers who goes through a home renovation, documenting it in an inspiring and humorous way and weaving something creative and uplifting out of a frustrating and challenging situation. I truly had no idea I’d be without a kitchen for over a year. We ripped ours out in September last year and WW’s Dad is currently fitting our new one. Between then and now we’ve knocked a wall down, had a beautiful roof lantern and bi-fold doors fitted and we’re going to have a lovely family space at the end of it. It’s just, for a variety of reasons, taken forever.

I’ve been washing up in a makeshift plastic sink in our very narrow utility which has also become my kitchen (with camping stove, slow cooker, microwave and kettle) which also, as it turns out, has become my shower room because our upstairs bath is leaking when we shower in it. So we’re basically cooking in our utility with adjoining (by a rickety sliding door) toilet and shower, and have been for a year.

These things take their toll on your creativity. I want to post slow cooker recipes and camping stove bakes, I really do**, but yesterday completely demonstrates why I haven’t been able to post a letter, let alone a blog about the kitchen renovation.

So to yesterday, Sunday, a day when WW was helping his Dad with the kitchen. BUB.2 has been begging me for a lattice-topped blackberry pie since he saw something similar in the movie Zootropolis. I had some blackberries in the freezer which we stewed with apples on the the camping stove hob, three little IKEA chairs pushed up against a counter no wider than one chair. We moved to Kitchen B (my old office which has become a sandwich making/cereal pouring/lunchbox making zone this year) to roll out the pre-made pastry. All good until we discovered we didn’t have enough pastry for the all-important lattice top so off to the shop we went, BUB.2 on his bike, me striding behind, feeling like we could do this.

On our return I heard an almighty crash from the Toilet Kitchen. Running in, I discovered my colander of stewed blackberries and apples in a heap on the Toilet Kitchen floor, with splattered blackberry juice all over the pile of white washing (Judo kits & white bed sheets) that were at our feet as we baked. Toilet Kitchen is not only the toilet, shower and kitchen but also the laundry room. The washing machine had vibrated the colander off of the top of the camping stove (the only spare place I had to put it) and onto the floor. At this moment WW asked me what I thought about the positioning of the cooker hood in the Future Kitchen. My reply was curt and turned the air bluer than than the blackberry juice.

Then, just to cap it, I burnt my flapjacks, a side project I had undertaken because I am a masochist. After three days sugar-free, and a week alcohol-free, I was to be found moments later hunched over, scooping great spoonfuls of crumbled, burnt, sugary oats into my mouth and opening a bottle of Brancott Estate with my other hand.

Fortunately I had some frozen Aldi berries in the freezer and the kids like granola. And I had wine. The children got their pie.

But this is why I haven’t blogged about this magical adventure, or much else for that matter. Because mostly I’ve been too busy ricocheting between chaotic rooms looking for things in my house (we decided to also knock through a bedroom at the same time because we are mentally unstable), stress-eating sugary snacks and cooking in the toilet.

*I didn’t at all really.

**I don’t.

Mumzilla

KERBOOM birthday cake

imageIn the future, if I ever struggle to remember what it was like to have a three-year-old child, I will just look at a photo of the birthday cake I made BUB.2 for his fourth birthday.

He had seen similar cakes on the internet when I was searching for dinosaur cakes and said he wanted one just like it. So a volcano it was. I’m not a cake-maker and time is of the vanilla essence, so I roped my Mum into making the chocolate sponges. I chose this chocolate madeira cake recipe, because madeira is a firmer sponge, less likely to crumble when being formed into a volcano.

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For the crater I decided it would be best to bake the sponge in a Pyrex measuring jug, to give the right sort of shape. I had seen volcano cakes that had been created using a dome-shaped cake tin, but I’m afraid that results in more of a Christmas pudding effect than a volcano.

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Next, I covered the entire cake in chocolate buttercream icing, using rough strokes to achieve the look of a craggy, lava-eroded mountain. Nothing Christmas-puddingy about this monster.

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And then I went a *little* crazy over the decoration.

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Strawberry laces, jelly beans and coloured fondant icing for the lava, mini Toblerones, fudge and chocolate chunks for the tumbling rocks and popping candy and sparklers for the KERBOOM.

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We decided to use mini toy dinosaurs on a grassy edge rather than attempting to fashion them out of fondant icing. I have my limits. BUB.1 came up with the idea of using Cadbury mini eggs for dinosaur eggs. I liked it.

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One minute happy, playing dinosaurs and the next moment, often without warning, KERBOOM, an almighty explosion.

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And that, in a nutshell, is being three.

Pink Pear Bear
Pink Pear Bear

Weight loss, it's a thing.

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Aside from rigorously following Slimming World for eight months, people ask me how I lost 3.5 stone (three of which I tell myself were each of the BUBs’ fault, half a stone was the biscuits’ fault, but it’s probably the other way round).

What was the secret? It was this:

Individually-wrapped Moser Roth chocolate bars from Aldi. To be precise, and you do need to be, five 25 gram bars per packet, in a myriad of flavours. And Sauvignon Blanc. Measured into 125ml or 175ml glasses. Preferably this bottle from Aldi, or Brancott Estate or whatever I could lay my hands on.

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For me, it was most nights for the chocolate. If I wasn’t having wine then I could sometimes have two chocolate bars, depending on what else I’d had that day.

It was my ‘thing’. You need to have your ‘thing’.

Fortunately my ‘thing’ was also all the stuff you can have and indeed much of which there are no limits on: beans, potatoes, noodles, cous cous, fat-free dairy products, pasta, lean meat and fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, rice, a sprinkle of cheese. MARMITE. Think every meal you’ve ever cooked, but loaded with more vegetables and cooked in less fat or oil. That’s dinner sorted.

There’s no tedious calorie counting and minimal weighing, just cheese, nuts, cereal and bread for me, which you’re allowed a little of each day. Fair enough. I ate huge plates of food when I was hungry and went back for more if I wanted.

The secret to not wanting all the 25g bars of chocolate in the packet is to make sure that you’re not hungry. Ever. It’s that easy. Keep eating the right stuff all day. Pile it high.

And that’s why diets that leave you hungry will never work. The chocolate (or whatever your ‘thing’ is) will always win.

And, sometimes the chocolate DOES win, even when you’re stuffed to the gills. The wine definitely has a knack of winning. That’s life, and the trick then is to just carry on the next day as if nothing has happened. It can be your dirty little secret.

It’s good to have those once in a while.

3 Little Buttons

Nice buns!

Everything I bake seems to look like boobs at the moment and I blame Fay Ripley.

Everything I bake seems to look like boobs at the moment and I blame Fay Ripley (author of the brilliant What’s for Dinner?: Easy and delicious recipes for everyday cooking and Fay’s Family Food: Delicious Recipes Where One Meal Feeds Everyone. Whatever Age!

Check out Fay’s Raspberry Sweethearts:

And here are her jammy dodgers:

Get a load of her Cornershop Cookies:

Is it it me or…?