Friday, 28 November 2014

Big Grey Media Wardrobe

As part of becoming a parent, one must make some wardrobe adjustments. I'm not talking about the obvious enlarging of oneself while a baby (or two) matures inside, which requires, depending upon your shape, some skinny jeans with an expandable waist and a nice Bateau top, or in my case something more seriously stretchy.

At this point I should have a picture of my belly at 38 weeks with a matching whoooop noise but we are three laptops in since then and I think those pictures may be lost or else on some dodgy backup disc. Which of course computers do not accept any more. Isn't it complicated trying to find the new resources to rescue your photos? In the eleven years of XX and XY's lives we have gone from film, to digital, to video recorder tapes to CD's to memory sticks, i-Photo, the Cloud, Photostream, endless selfies and my children are posting their own YouTube movies. It's exhausting. They are now documenting themselves, and I'm not sure I like it. Perhaps we will all have a laugh together in twenty years when we look back on XX's Minecraft home movies, in the same way that we used to giggle at my father's merciless filming of my brother's attempts to hobble back from the campsite loos wearing three sets of superhero trousers pulled up to various levels.

But that's another post...

Anyway, back to the clothes. Before I was sidetracked I wanted to write about how clothes become less the practical things we find ourselves wearing once those babies arrive and more the clothes which offer us comfort. There are times I think that mothers need something almost like a childhood blanket, that we can curl ourselves into. Enter Big Grey: my best cardigan, which is (yes) big and grey, and has been around nearly as long as the children. When I am not wearing it, XX or XY often will be. It is holey, worn and wonderful. It reaches to my thighs, and little by little grows smaller on my children as they grab it after bath-time, home from school, or in the morning. If I can't be in the room, Big Grey will be. It is the Nana of knitwear.

If I could just equip it with a little chip that says, 'Shall I help you with your homework?'.'Now do your homework please'. 'Now do your homework'. 'Do your homework!'. 'DO YOUR HOMEWORK!'. 'DO YOUR HOMEWORK OR YOU MAY NEVER WEAR ME AGAIN!', it would be perfect. Or actually a small electric prod implanted at bum level would help us all to get off our arses and do the things that need to be done, rather than writing silly posts about my best jumper.

In depressing news, gumshield season approaches once more.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

An A to Z of Life, and Chicken Hot Pot

An A to Z of Life at the Moment: 

a) Avoiding the truth: on Friday trying to pretend I am in my 20's rather than my 40's wrt staying up too late and visiting bars in Shoreditch (If you are in London, try this rooftop bar for views and BBQ and this basement bar for cocktails).

b) Birthday parties and brunch on Sunday, brought by our Friday night co-culprits. Smoked salmon and bagels. Thank you.

c) Celebrations: Saturday night with Sister and Brother-in-laws' new house/job.

d) Doing the same things over and over. And saying them, to apparently little effect (for and to children).

e) Ezra: the quite violent boy at school whom XY seems to enjoy winding up so that he can run away from him. Sometimes he gets caught.

f) Flying away: on Monday husband left again for another dash around some countries for a few days.

g) Gross: cat poo on the floor on Tuesday morning.

h) Haircuts: everyone needs one.

i) Irritating: XY rebelling because he Had To Go To School when XX did not.

j) Just what I need: cat vomiting on the floor at 7.30am today.

k) KK: new cleaner who is meant to be filling in for our usual cleaner (who is on holiday) tells me she is going on holiday next week.

l) Leaks: we have them.

m) Moaning about mornings, so much more complicated without my breakfast helper.

n) New!ish: tomorrow we might get our car's manual, 6 months after we bought it.

o) Oh. In two week's time I must cook lunch for, erm, twelve people. Any ideas?

p) Son still doing that all over the place. By which I mean all over the toilet and around that area rather than randomly around the house. Small mercies. He says he finds it hard to aim.

q) Quite tired

r) Rafal: the builder who is meant to come and fix those leaks.

s) Sunday lunch at friends. Very nice, thank you.

t) Too many cups to count.

u) Where are you when I need you?

v) Very tired

w) Why so many wet things?

x) Kisses from children. They help (the kisses rather than the children).

y) Y are girls so mean? Training bra trauma for XX this week. And then illness (still can't work out how much physical and how much emotional).

z) zzzzzzz

Here's some food. I found that this helped me to feel better about most of the above.

Chicken Hot Pot

I use a flat casserole dish for this.

1 to 2 sticks celery
1 medium onion
2 medium carrots
1 tsp marjoram or thyme
1 bay leaf
4 tbs olive oil
5 or 6 medium-sized floury potatoes
2 tbs plain flour
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper
4 chicken legs, or a mixture of drumsticks and chunks of breast.
100ml white wine
400ml chicken stock
10g melted butter

Peel the onion and carrots and cut them and the celery into 1cm dice and add to your pan with 2 tbs of the olive oil, the bay leaf and the teaspoon of finely chopped fresh marjoram or thyme (or both if you like) and a little salt and pepper. Cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes or so until the onion becomes translucent.

While the vegetables are softening, peel the potatoes and slice them into rounds a couple of millimetres thick. Rinse the slices and leave them to sit in a bowl of cold water.

When the vegetables are done, take out the bay leaf and put them in a bowl.

Mix together the flour, salt and pepper and paprika and dredge the chicken in this mixture. Reheat your pan with the remaining olive oil and when it is hot, quickly brown the chicken. Put the chicken in another bowl and and deglaze the pan with the white wine, then turn off the heat.

Put a layer of the sliced potatoes in the bottom of the pan, then place the chicken on top, and spread the vegetables around the chicken so that they create a fairly flat layer. Season this a little as you won't be able to do so once you put the last later of potatoes on top. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the flour mixture over the chicken and vegetables, pour the stock around, and then layer the remaining potatoes in overlapping rows on top. Brush the potatoes with the melted butter and give a good grind of black pepper. 

Put the lid on and cook in the oven for half an hour. 

Uncover the pot and stick it back in the oven until the potatoes are cooked through, golden and crisp, probably another 45 minutes. Take the pot out of the oven and let it cool for ten minutes before serving.

Eat this with with something green.

If you want a healthier version of this dish, don't cook the chicken with flour before adding it, just add a little more flour to the pan after adding the stock. You could also leave out sauteing the vegetables, but in both cases let the pan stay in the oven for 20 minutes longer, on a slightly lower heat.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


Hello, yes me again. This is one of those things going right posts.

Things that have gone right: Parties!

You'll be glad to know that party was all fine in the end. And if you need to do this for a non-girly, somewhat self-conscious 11-year-old, here is what we did:

1. Just leave stuff lying around: Twister, face paints, balloons. Let them get on with that for the first hour while everyone arrives, presents are opened, girls hang out for a bit. Do not point out any of these things as they will immediately become unattractive.

At some point in the night let XX paint her father's face in multiple layers of glitter which will feature in every laundry load for two days. We are all glittery now. Everyone will then want to paint each other.

2. Take a vote for a movie, offering a slightly age-inappropriate choice, in this case, 'Divergent'. Ask the children before you start the movie if it's alright for them to watch. Hope that the chorus of 'Of course it is!' will suffice. Do not check with the parents. Serve popcorn. But not too much.

3. Put out the healthy stuff first: strawberries, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes. Then give them the trash: pizza slices, spring rolls, cocktail sausages.

4. As soon as the movie finishes, get onto the one organised thing, in our case cupcake decorating (popping candy is popular and if there is some left over you can experiment with throwing it into your wine when the children have gone). Give children boxes to take their badly baked cupcakes home in and some pens to write their names or decorate the boxes.

5. The actual cake, candles, me singing 'Happy Birthday' very loudly and probably tunelessly, then,

6. Downstairs for Wii Karaoke.

7. Goodbye children! With balloon, cupcakes and lip balm.

Job done.

                                                The cat still wants to party.

Saturday, 15 November 2014


Hello! I am now officially the mother of a pre-pubescent daughter. 'How do you know?' I hear you readers from around the world demand; my daughter is ten years old, how can I tell when this change will start?

You can tell the change is coming when your previously lovely daughter starts snarling like a cornered tiger in response to the most simple requests. Or on a good day she just says, 'yes I'm going to do it now', and doesn't. It is the time she decides that she can run her own life. You will look back on the good old days, when she thought you were the last word in wonderfulness, and treasure any moments of closeness.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Action by students against evil Doritos

Two days ago this came into my inbox about Doritos. To me it is not that amazing that a company owned by Pepsi would be destroying rainforests so that they could sell more crisps. And probably not to you either. But when I told my Dorito-munching daughter, she was horrified. As a year 6 person, she feels that she has some influence over the younger people at school, and spent today in the playground explaining why Doritos are evil. She only found one person eating Doritos (her close friend), and explained to her why she should stop. The friend finished her bag and agreed to join the campaign.

This evening, XX made this, which is about 60 x 60cm.


XX says she will mount this placard on sticks and take it to school perhaps tomorrow, or maybe on Monday, weather depending, and says she will parade in front of the school before the day starts, handing out leaflets to encourage parents to sign the petition, and boycott Doritos. That way she will not be on the school premises.

It will be interesting to see how this works out, but I am quite proud of XX. She is taking a stand.

XY, in the meantime, has discovered GarageBand in a big way and is making up raps about people sitting in their cars. That would be us.

If you feel strongly about this cause, please follow the link and sign the petition!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Annual Cake Week - Vintage Chocolate Yoghurt Cup Cakes

Hello. Annual Cake week is here. Yes it is the birthday(s). Very nearly eleven years in I still don't know exactly how to say that to my children, so it ends up coming out as, 'what would you like to do for your birthday...zzz?' I want them each to feel that it is their own birthday, rather than an amalgamated day for both, but I suppose they are used to it by now. They don't know any different way to have birthday...zzz. As far as they are concerned it is just one more irritation landed upon them for being twins. I'm sure (I hope) one day they will realise that they are actually very good friends and not the rivals and sparring partners they assume that they are at the moment. Or perhaps they will eventually see that they are all of these things. They certainly know how to gang up against me which I think is a good start.

Annual Cake Week is easier than usual this year as: 1. Children are no longer at the school which made us bring in the two books of photos, two presents for the school (books for the library) with frontpieces to be collected, filled in and stuck in the books, two cakes, and fill out the forms about first words etc (never did that one anyway). 2. Only XX wants to take cake to school. 3. Only XX needs cake for her party. So this year only two cakes instead of my all-time-low which I think was four in a week: one with excessive sprinkles, one cat-decorated, one football decorated and one very weird one with cats watching sprinkly football. I made this one two years in a row, to the left is the first attempt before I found the joy that was edible green glitter.

XY has deemed cake at school 'childish', along with party bags (yay!). XX just wants cupcakes. That way, she says, no-one gets a bigger slice, or steals half the cake and hides it in their school bag. She assures me that this has actually happened and I would pay good money to have seen that child's parent's face when the half-cake was produced after a few hours of moshing in the rucksack.

I am going vintage with the cake recipe, it is one I used to make a lot in my teens but haven't used for around ten years, and yes it does involve yoghurt, as it is from The Yoghurt Cookbook my mother used in the 1970's when she had her own yoghurt maker which I remember lived in my parent's bedroom, the little glass pots culturing their brew through the slumbering night. The instructions for the yoghurt maker are still folded into the pages of the book, as well as a recipe for yoghurt health bread and a letter from our old cleaner Constance. As you see you can buy this book for only one British penny (plus p&p!), but as this is the only recipe I have used I can't vouch for the rest of it.

The cake is very moist, somewhere between cake and brownie but quite fluffy. I've never made it as cupcakes before so I did a trial run on Saturday as XX had friends over and I had a vague idea that perhaps the girls might like to decorate cupcakes next week. Extrapolating from three girls to twelve, it is going to be very, very messy.

I love getting out this recipe, it is covered in various stains and notes from my mother, and now me.

Chocolate Cake with Yoghurt

100g dark chocolate
150ml boiling water
275g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g butter at room temperature
275g soft brown sugar
3 large eggs
150ml natural yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla essence

Heat the oven to 180C/350F, and prepare either two 23cm cake tins or 24 cupcake holders.

Break up the chocolate and pour the boiling water over it. Stir until smooth and set aside to cool a little. Sift together the flour, baking powder and soda.

Cream the butter in a large bowl or food processor, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. break and mix the eggs together in a bowl and add a little at a time at first, adding a spoonful of the flour mixture each time. Pour in the melted chocolate and beat until well blended. Beat in the remaining flour, and the yoghurt and vanilla.

Divide the mixture either into the two tins, or the cupcake holders, and bake for 35 minutes for cake or 16 minutes for cupcakes. Check before you remove the cakes that they are well risen and springy to the touch and if a skewer comes out clean they are done.

After a few minutes, turn out the cakes and let them cool before icing.

The recipe recommends apricot jam as a filling for a cake, or you can ice the cake or cupcakes with the following which is enough for the cupcakes and the top and sides of the cake.


100g melted plain chocolate
200g icing sugar
25g soft butter
25 g walnuts, finely chopped
1 - 2 tablespoons strong black coffee or brandy (or if your consumers are minors) orange juice

                                                         Allow children to decorate with vigour

Happy Birthdayzzz!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Slow Roasted Side of Miso Mirin Salmon with Ginger and Spring Onions

Evening! Yes I know that is a mouthful of a recipe title, I just found it hard to narrow it down to one or two words. I could have added the rest of the ingredients to the title I suppose and made it even longer.

In the background of life, we have just today invited a total of 26 children to two birthday parties on the same day, in different places.

I'm in charge of the girls, who will be here while the boys go to play football. Any great ideas for an at-home party for 13 girls in gloomy November (ie no going out to park, garden much) for a not-very-girly girl??

Do let me know please. Not that I'm panicking or anything.

Don't even say the word 'plumber' to me.

In the world that I can control, tonight's recipe started with a side of salmon I cooked a few months ago. The first time round was with fennel and tarragon but I wanted to try this with more of a Japanese flavour. You could make this recipe with the same timings using fennel and tarragon or dill, lemons, preserved lemons, cumin, sumac, coriander; really whatever flavours you choose. The vegetables under the fish cook down sweetly with it, and the finely sliced raw ones added when you eat give a good freshness and bite.

I was feeding six people when I cooked this post's version, so I chopped the tail end off the fish (which will be enough for another meal for two) after it was marinated and stuck it in the freezer. I started off with about 1.4kg of fish, and probably ended up with around a kilo. But if you want to feed eight, then slice through the flesh of the fish with a sharp knife to the skin, about three-quarters of the way the the tail and then fold it under and a little to the side so that it all cooks evenly. And perhaps increase your cooking time by five or ten minutes.

Slow Roasted Miso Mirin Salmon with Ginger and Spring Onion

To serve eight

A side of salmon, descaled and pinboned, around 1.4 kg

To make the marinade:

1 Tbs Miso paste (I used brown but white would be good too)
75ml Mirin
75ml Sake
1 Tbs caster sugar

Whisk the marinade together and pour it over the fish, making sure it is all covered and rubbed in. Put the fish in the fridge and leave for 6 to 10 hours, turning a couple of times to make sure it gets a good soaking. Take the fish out of the fridge about 45 minutes before you want to cook it.

To cook:

Heat your oven to 200c

Finely slice a carrot, an inch of ginger and roughly chop two spring onions. Scatter them in a large flat oven dish big enough to hold your fish, with a little groundnut oil, and put the fish on top, skin side down. Wipe off most of the marinade from the top of the fish, then pour in another glug each of mirin and sake round the sides. Pour a little soy sauce over the fish.

Put this in the oven and after five minutes turn down the heat to 160c.

The fish should take around 40 to 45 minutes to cook, you want it to be slightly translucent in the middle. Check after 35 minutes to be sure, and remember it will keep cooking for about 5 minutes after you take it out of the oven.

While it is cooking, cut another inch of ginger, three spring onions and another carrot into fine matchsticks to serve with the fish.

I made a dipping or probably in this recipe, pouring sauce to go with the fish,


3 Tbs soy sauce
Juice of two limes
1 small red chilli, diced
1 tbs caster sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
3 tbs water - or dilute to your own taste

Serve with rice, cucumber salad, and steamed vegetables with sesame sauce.

Sadly no photos of the cooked fish. All gone.