Eat everything*

10 Apr


 On Tuesday I made a meal so disgusting that it could only be defined as left-overs from the start. It never attained the dizzy heights of being referred to as an actual current meal. At the first bite it was designated ‘something Daddy might like to try'; then swiftly downgraded to ‘the flavours might improve after a night in the fridge'; before plummeting unceremoniously to ‘let’s just put this in the bin’. I hate wasting food, so this is a dramatic and unprecedented decision which can only demonstrate how unpalatable the recipe in question – or at least, my interpretation thereof – was.

Although I can’t believe that substituting dried basil for fresh would have made such a sweeping 360-degree change as to make it something that normal people could actually eat. 

It got me thinking though about some of the unpleasant things I have made and / or sampled in the name of ‘why on earth not’. Even after having children I have never felt especially constrained by what ought in the name of all that’s holy go together in a culinary venture vs what should never be even loosely coupled. The kids stoically tolerate my cooking – L2, infamously and with my ongoing apologies to his first childminder – was initially post-weaning fed almost exclusively on quinoa (quinoa-with-x, ‘x’ being whatever seemed a nutritious ideal rather than a natural quinoa partner) which I can’t pronounce but was so fascinated that he actually ate that I was continually using to check he still did. 

It goes further back, too. There was the incident of the now infamous ‘water chestnut surprise’ – the ‘surprise’ of the title being that water chestnuts could ever be considered within a bolognaise sauce. And even more dim and distant, the dinner party I hosted just before my gap year travels began, when I flung entire sweetcorn (baby, ok, not full-size, my optimism has some boundaries) straight into a frying pan for a stir fry and wondered how on earth they were still one step less than al dente basically, ever.

Hope here is two-fold. Firstly M loves to cook – otherwise no-one could ever come round here to eat, ever. And secondly I am developing reserves of patience – or at least, now bothering to mine them – and will accept that a recipe is there for a reason. Just not that particular Koh Samui Thai salad recipe…


How to fall over

26 Feb

After Madonna’s Brits tumble last night, falling over has shot to the top of the news agenda. It has never been more important to fall over well. As a perennial faller-over-er (less so since my back was fixed, but still an issue thanks to my numb lower leg), I have some tips for anyone finding themselves in that position (flat).

1) Be indiscriminate. I am just as capable of falling over and doing hospital-requiring damage on a flat surface (Tarmac) as I am on a sloping surface (stairs). I can look at this in one of two ways: I am fair in my falling; or every location presents equal danger. The view I take depends on how recently I have fallen.

2) Distract from the fall by returning to the previous upright state with alacrity. Madonna modelled this perfectly last night, springing up with a nonchalant ‘nothing to see here’ approach which exemplified this rule. Even after years of falling as an adult, I can still admire such an approach and salute it. An example to all of us for whom vertical is difficult.

3) During the fall, plan a trick so eye-catching that the fall becomes secondary to what is achieved as a result. Difficult, but master-able. In an era now past, I could fall down a flight of stairs and not spill a drop from my wine glass. That used to elicit gasps of astonishment and effectively distract from the fact that stairway top to bottom was undertaken in the blink of an eye not the usual progress of seconds.

4) Try not to become addicted to exercise that requires a lot of staying-upright. I have failed resoundingly on this one with my year-old walking fetish but there is no denying that since starting walking regularly I have found more kerbs with my trailing right foot than ever before. While this is simply because I encounter more of the pesky pavement-breakers than I did previously – and have no intention of quitting walking for macrame – it has increased the instance of a slight or significant stumble exponentially (especially with my dodgy knee).

5) Consider your clothing. I won’t even go there with heels, other than to say I love them, I wear them, I’m an adult, I accept the risks. Here I mean actual clothing. Trailing pieces are right out (in retrospect I shudder at the potential for calamity presented by my wedding dress, but hey ho, it, I, and our guests are all still here). But – as poor Madonna found last night – apparently straightforward elements of a garment all have a part to play. I particularly watch my sleeves; these catch on door frames throughout the house, jerking me violently backwards (my mantra – why walk unless it’s purposeful? – applies even in the home) and sending me floor-wards in one seamless movement.


Life begins…

25 Feb

This is a post that I have been putting off for ages, because it is regarding a subject that I am not dealing with well. My lack of desire to confront this particular pachyderm in the property means that it was (until inspired by Madonna’s fall!) many weeks since last I put thumb to touchscreen, suffering in silence from a refusal to man up (awful phrase – but addressing why it is an awful phrase is not a subject for now) to this one.

In a handful of days time I will be celebrating my 21st birthday.


The eagle eyed will note that I am still failing to confront actual reality, but this is as far as it goes.

I can’t put a touchscreen-avoiding finger on why it matters. After all, it is inevitable. There is a grace about growing older without complaint which I would like to model and indeed growing older is a gift. Many many people I know well – my own husband for starters – have effectively navigated the rocky shores of this particular decade’s demise (or should
I say, a new decade’s dawning – the glass half full interpretation) with nothing like this amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth (yup, these teeth are mainly still all my own, I am proud to announce).

And my last milestone birthday (18, of course, from my current unrealistic age acknowledging) passed in a blur of new-ish baby-ness and massive work-ness, so it will be nice to tackle this one with an active awareness and deliberate enjoyment.

I need to draw upon my reserves of optimism and ‘get over yourself’-ness and confront it head on. There is no conclusion nor solution to this, which makes acceptance necessary. So here goes.


Life rafts

21 Nov

Today I am travelling North. This fact alone explains how eager I am for this meeting to which I am moving, since I have what could be described as a ‘Southern bias’.

I am travelling to spend the weekend with five people who collectively proved to be one of the most positive influences I have ever had on my life. Geography, circumstance and conflicting demands on time mean we never meet as often as would be amazing; and I think it has been eight years since I saw two of them. But when you have been grey-eyed and teary, with everything on your anatomy hurting and leaking, unable to get out of the house before 2.30pm and even then when you do make it out forgetting everything you had to bring with you, and you have then spent quality empathic and entertaining time with people, welcomed and unjudged (and with nappies you can borrow to make up for those you forgot!) that equates to friends for life for me. Eight years will mean nothing.

These five are friends I made ten years ago through the National Childbirth Trust in East London. We had babies within an eight week period, and first met just as spring was risking an entrance, in late April. Following L1’s ‘fascinating’ birth, the end of my lengthy hospital incarceration and self-inflicted troubles such as ‘not being able to get up from the floor when you get down there to play with your baby when on your own in the house'; with M back to work for weeks, and family and friends being amazingly, blessedly supportive but also at work during the week, I was incredibly lonely and incredibly overwhelmed by that period of time, my best of times and my worst of times.

My NCT membership was my life raft in the storm, my promise of people in the same area and same situation to spend time with. I was so desperate for those afternoon meet-ups to start that I phoned the convenor rather than waiting to be phoned; I didn’t say ‘I NEED FRIENDS’ explicitly but I may as well have done.

That first afternoon we met, swapping ‘war stories’ and finding out others too were permanently changed by the process of birth, feeding was tricky, sleep nonexistent and being overwhelmed by tears in Tesco Express quite normal, I felt my horizons open up once again. Here were people who needed to talk about babies and birth just as much as I did.

It was this group, during coffee in a Walthamstow deli, who helped me overcome my terrible fear of L1 choking on solid food, stood by me while I fed her a rice cake, and saved her from a lifetime of monotonous puree, which had I been left to my own neurotic devices would have been the way things went.

And as time passed and we became more capable and adventurous, they were fantastic companions for day-time (and later, memorably, minus-offspring night-time) adventures and for the unique challenges of taking the next step, whatever that ended up being, about returning to work.

So I am travelling to Manchester, excited and grateful, both for these friends in my life and for the work the NCT has done. They acknowledge and understand the universality of those first weeks of motherhood, when perversely I (and countless others) have never felt more isolated and alone, and taken great strides in doing something about it.


How not to pack, but be happy

24 Oct

On Tuesday I abandoned all pretence at capsule wardrobe packing. I hefted the massive suitcase and the slightly smaller massive suitcase out from under the bed, took the ‘carry on Samsonite’ (not a lesser-known episode of the Carry On oeuvre, but our trusty in-cabin everything bag for any flights) out for good measure, and got laundering and cramming.

I have been away on numerous holidays where I have spent an age poring over women’s magazine’s ‘capsule’ wardrobe articles, then attempted to replicate them in my own suitcase. But inevitably something ends up missing from the magazine’s double page spread on the ‘only five items you need for a week in Belgrade’. Something quite crucial, like trousers, or a cardigan.

Once to be fair I did follow these instructions to the letter, and travelled without any trousers packed, but that is more a cautionary tale about why it isn’t wise to pack after a massive work night out than an attempt to encapsulate the elegantly streamlined accounts-for-all-eventualities packing that I imagine Amal Clooney to be a master at.

So for this upcoming week – the tour named #FrozenNorth2014 – I have made sure that every eventuality is covered, for me and for the Ls. Short sleeved, long sleeved, warm, furry, waterproof, thin trousers, sturdy trousers – just not ‘no trousers’. M is old enough to plough his own packing furrow, although that doesn’t mean I don’t cast a critical eye on his attempts, naturally.

Apologies to those with whom we come to stay, but at least we won’t be caught short if we unexpectedly need to dress to impress, eh.


If kids spell ‘love’ ‘t-i-m-e’

13 Oct

Two landmarks approach apace. My 21st birthday, at the start of next year (see dictionary definition of ‘denial’) and L1’s move from primary to secondary school. The former event is currently dead to me as the latter event – with open days and agonising about the ‘right thing to do’ – is occupying quite a bit of temporal and mental space right now. And also I’m not ready to turn ‘new 21′ as I still consider myself something around ‘old 21′, only with more grey hairs and assorted scars.

In the past, I would not have defined an event taking place in five or eleven months, as the above two are, as ‘approaching apace’. But yesterday I realised that in two weeks time we head back up North to reprise last October’s ‘long march’, a trip which as far as I can tell took place about six weeks ago, not fifty weeks ago. And my job requires a lot of future planning, consistently thinking a month, three months, even six months ahead, working on projects to influence outcomes during the next quarter, rarely tomorrow.

All this does not sit easily with my commitment to live in the moment and take in as much as I can of my kids while their own pace of change continues exponential. When you’re forward-planning for four days a week it can slip into normal life as well; reaching for the future becomes commonplace even though I know full well that the future, and where I am now, will collide soon enough.

Once again, this weekend, I received a timely reminder to concentrate on the now. And it came from an internet meme, on Facebook, saying that kids spell love ”t-i-m-e’.

Reading that made me realise that just now, with things so busy, I am spending too much time contemplating what happens next and not enough time acknowledging what is happening now. So we headed out to a country park for the afternoon, no plans, and simply enjoyed what we did right then, as it happened. More of the same, please, more of the same.


Disqualified vegetable growers anonymous

15 Sep

When is a courgette not a courgette? When it’s a marrow, apparently, although where ‘courgette’ ends and ‘marrow’ begins seems to have a hung jury.

And yes, I know marrows are courgettes grown on a plant where people have been a bit too busy to harvest for a couple of weeks, but to me this is not the sole definition of a marrow. A marrow has those big thick green stripes. It’s flesh is watery. A marrow can only be served stuffed with mincemeat as an unpopular tea in my house when I was growing up (this is now unfair as I like a stuffed marrow – stop sniggering, you at the back), but the palate matures with age particularly where the marrow is concerned, and I quite like it now. I would certainly not have been ashamed to have grown a marrow in a courgette’s stead, and would have had no qualms about confessing its ‘marrow-ness’ up front. And that’s a fact.

Rather like it is a fact that our courgettes, grown lovingly over a long (too long? Jury’s still out) time, were disqualified from the Village Produce Show (highlight of our family calendar) for being deemed marrows. So as you can tell, I have thought of little else but vegetable differentiation since Saturday. Little else.

Apparently arbitrary veg reclassification occurs without chance of disciplinary hearings to put both sides of the story, and with no option to bring in an independent supporter. I know vegetable growing doesn’t tally with employment law, and I appreciate this may drag out the duration of judging somewhat, but most important decisions taken on the part of others allow for the right of appeal.

Still, being disqualified from the Village Produce Fayre is, I would argue, noteworthy, and I shall be putting it on my CV.



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