Thursday, 28 April 2011

Blueberry Macaroon Things

I haven't done too much baking recently. I feel like I should probably prioritise sorting out 3 meals a day for me and the now-eating-solids-babe over cake, and that is quite enough work and kitchen mess most days.

However, this caught my eye and I happened to have just about the right ingredients and the baby was happily eating dirt off the floor or headbutting chair legs or something, so I seized the opportunity.

It's a bit of a Chinese whispers recipe now - originally from 101 Cookbooks' Heidi's new book, I saw a reinterpretation of it on Smitten Kitchen, then I've adapted it further to fit the contents of my kitchen.

Easy as 1-2-3 - check. Tastes like a kiss in the summer sun - check. Rustically pretty - check. My kind of cake/tart/thing.

I actually think blackberries or raspberries - something slightly tarter - would be better than the blueberries I went with, but otherwise I was pretty happy with this

Blueberry Macaroon Tart (adapted from Heidi Swanson)

Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Mix 1 cup wholemeal flour with 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt.

Add 4tbsp (c.4oz) of butter, melted, and mix thoroughly.

Press mix firmly into base of a greased 7" square pan or equivalent and cook for c20 mins or until slightly golden/starting to brown.

Let the base cool slightly whilst you prepare the topping

Mix 2 egg whites with 1 cup desiccated coconut and 1/4 cup sugar

Scatter a cup of berries (blue/black/raspberries/whatever) over the base then use your fingers to drop the macaroon mixture around them so they are not all completely covered.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the macaroon peaks are browning.

Scatter with 1/4 cup chopped almonds (or other nuts).

Cut into bars once cooled a little

Friday, 15 April 2011

Something I saw in the park the other day

I was trying to think up a smarter title for this post, but I am going to use my standard excuse de jour for that; that my brain is in hibernation right now. I don't know what I'm functioning on instead in its absence; some kind of standby generator for when the mains power blows I guess. Or a temp brain from an agency, who is more interested in checking facebook and painting its nails than actually doing the work of keeping up the impression I am a sentient, intelligent human being...

Right, moving swiftly on from the dodgy mixed metaphors to what I was actually sitting down to write about today...

It was just this. I was in the park, feeding baby some satsuma. Some older toddling children were running around on the slides and swings. Sun in the sky, but a bit of a chill. Mothers or carers hovered and chattered.

A tall, lean woman, sporting ankle-cropped trousers and battered desert boots, entered the gardens, buggy in tow. She unstrapped a baby similar size to mine, talked a little German to it, took it several metres away and plonked it down on the grass. Then she returned to the buggy, sat in it and tilted her face to the sun, looked quite marvellously relaxed.

German baby happily tested out her legs, moving from sitting to a legs-straight all-fours position, pulled at the grass, toddled over to the play area, experimented with standing, popping up like a mini weightlifter from squatting to upright, then back down again.

German granny (for so she was; she said her granddaughter was 10 months when we exchanged the customary 'how old is yours' baby small talk) dived in occasionally, when baby was about to crawl under a swinging seesaw, and dispensed affectionate cuddles, but mostly just left her to it and chilled out.

Later we were in the library over the road and granny got on with her stuff on the PC for half an hour or so, whilst baby sat first on the mat and then burbling away in her pram facing the baby area - no line of sight between the two.

Nothing particularly extraordinary in all that, you think... and I guess you'd be right. But it really struck me, because in the circles that I move, I've rarely if ever seen such laissez-faire, laid back parenting.

Oh, I've heard earnest discussions of the importance of letting babies play by themselves (usually supported with reference to some book or guru or website or other), and I've seen childminders chatting whilst their charges tear around the stay and play, but somehow this seemed entirely different.

I think it was the complete absence of tension or hurry. In contrast to the hovering, monitoring, multi-tasking, frowning, chiding, chatting, encouraging mothers/carers that I normally see.

And it made me think maybe I could be more like that. And then that made me think that how I am now is so heavily determined by what I see around me, whether consciously or subconsciously, though I might like to think I just do what I think is best regardless of what others think or do. That was all.

* I guess it could be that I move in first-born only circles and there's a bit of 'pfb syndrome' going on. How ironic that probably the only child with which you will get the luxury of being a bit more relaxed is the one that you will probably be most neurotic about! ** BTW I in no way mean this to be an opinionated/ideological piece, oh children today are so mollycoddled that's the reason civilisation is taking a nosedive, that kind of thing. Purely observational.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Mummy Chic

Or, how I look like a scubber* most of the time, and what shall I do about it?

So, over at Tea for Two, K was lamenting a bad purchase, and thinking about shoes. And Fay was talking about those little changes (like a hair colour change) that make you feel more like you. All of which got me thinking too.
Because I wear pretty much the same thing every single day. I have two pairs of identical jeans - one black, one blue; four identical stripy tops in various colours; and a handful of plain jumpers and cardigans. I wear hiking boots because they are comfortable and waterproof. And a fleece if its cold. All of my clothes were chosen on the basis of their functionality and cost. I look like this:

(Well, I have a head and feet in real life too).

This is in fact, so typical for my 'tribe' that it is described in Naomi Stadlen's study of modern (mostly London-based) mothers, 'What Mothers Do', thus: "Mothers are sometimes thought to lose pride in their appearance and to 'let themselves go'. Perhaps some mothers do. The unofficial dress code for mothers today seems to be plain T-shirts and jeans".

She goes on to say by the way, "No longer, as mothers, can they assume that air of cool and detached elegance, which is so greatly prized today. Instead they glow with warm and tender expressions", and, "As mothers we have reached sexual fruitfulness. Some mothers seem to feel this, but the majortiy clearly do not. Most mothers apologise for their appearances, as if we should expect to see fully groomed women in immaculate, dust-free homes. ... It's striking how few mothers feel they are beautiful and sexually attractive when they look hot and dishevelled."(pp193-194)

Optimistic, at best, I think Ms Stadlen. Slightly deluded at worst. Yes, I get that we as mothers - and just as women and human beings - have wonderful bodies that do wonderful things - and that there is beauty in everyone.

However, when your legs itch from their hair having been cultivated for months, and your greasy hair is scraped back from your shadow-eyed face, and you sit beneath the weight of the perpetual ache of your shoulders, noticing how not one single item of clothing you wear has escaped being smurred with baby slobber or snot or regurgitate, believe me, it is very difficult to feel 'beautiful and sexually attractive', or even 'fit to mingle in general society'.

It is not enough to rest upon the hope that this motherly glow of which she speaks is somehow emanating from beneath the grubbiness. I need deforesting! cleaning! polishing! shininess and pretties!

Moreover, I need sleep. But as that is not likely in the near future I would settle instead for a good pair of shoes and a decent haircut. As regards the former, it is getting too warm for hiking boots, yet not warm enough yet to dig out my sandals. I need something inbetweeny.

To which end, I have just spent the time I could/should have been doing something useful, instead browsing shoes on the interwebs...

These Bloch flats are just lovely. I've tried on Bloch shoes before and they are so comfortable I jsut kept walking round and round the shop trying and failing to convince myself that I could justify a £180 spend on such flimsy little things.

Slightly more practical but still a little bit spangly, I quite like these KG sneakers.

Or would canvas pumps with pretty bows detract from the plainness of the rest of my garb perhaps?

Must get myself to some real-life shoe shops soonish I think... Any recommendations for good pretty but practical footwear?

*I think I made this word up; it just describes how I feel best. scubby. A bit plain and a bit grubby.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Happy Pancake Day!

I took baby to the doctors this morning and we found out she'd dropped off her percentile line. So the health visitor advised me to stuff her full of dairy and fat. Or something like that.

Accordingly, I went home via Tescos and picked up some double cream. Which I whipped and mixed with yoghurt and boiled raspberries to create a delicious pink fool.

Baby being baby, she was having none of it. Not even having seen my biceps nearly combust whipping with a manual whisk because the electric handheld thingy is bust. Not a fan of the old spoon-feeding.

However, later I was trying to give her pancakes and slipped a bit of the fool on that, and she lapped it up! Result. Full of cream now!

Anyway, the pancakes...
I've being feeling a little bit odd about eating eggs recently. I don't know, I guess it's just that all those times I pick up a pack in the supermarket and wonder how free range they really are has added up to a critical mass and now I don't really feel right eating them. So I seem to be cutting down. In aid of which I decided to try out a vegan pancake recipe.

And guess what? You don't need eggs to make a good pancake. Who knew? Yep, these don't have a whole load of flavour, but you want to drench them in lemon and sugar anyway, and the texture is just fine. So, good.

Vegan Pancakes

Mix : 2tbsps sunflower oil; 5tbsps water; 300ml soy milk; a few drops vanilla extract; and a tsp agave nectar

Add: 5oz plain flour; 2tsp baking powder; 1/2tsp salt; and 1tsp cinnamon

Whip very briefly together and let rest

Fry one ladleful at a time in a medium hot pan. Flip etc.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Mmmmm vegetables!

I don't want this blog to give the wrong impression - what with making its own granola, knitting(albeit badly) with a newborn, doing all its new years resolutions, and now telling you about a brown rice and vegetables and seeds kind of dinner... If it weren't for the general lameness in blogging frequency and the sporadic posts about angst and nothingyness, you might start to think I'm one of those macrobiotic, organic-proselytising, champagne-hippy types who are up at 5 every morning to do a few quick sun salutations before spinning some hemp to make their own sheets and then whipping up wheatgrass and goji berry smoothies, all whilst looking perfectly groomed and balancing the well-behaved babe on a hip.

Fear not. I am not even imperfectly groomed - barely even clean most days; we had Sainsburys pizza followed by dark chocolate digestives for dinner last night; and far from sun salutations and smoothies I spend much of my daytime perusing Mumsnet and watching America's Next Top Model (Tyyyyyyy-raaaaaaa!!!!)

However this is a very good dinner, I liked it very much, and I would like to share. It might sound like something you'd eat because you were on some strict diet to 'cleanse' yourself of sin and caffeine. But it tastes - I'm not lying - really more-ishly delicious. It looks so unassuming and meek, but it's full of flavour and satisfying in a really good-feeling way.

So, you slice a couple of carrots into large chunks and boil until just cooked (c5-10mins). Meanwhile you put 1 small cup brown rice and 2 cups water in a pan, cover, bring to the boil and then turn down to a very low simmer. It should then take c30mins to cook. After about 25 minutes cooking you throw a handful of sliced green veg in. The recipe called for spinach; I went for pak choi and sugarsnap peas. (and have since done a version with purple sprouting broccoli and celery cooked in with the carrot, which was great)

Once the green stuff is just wilted and the rice cooked, remove from the heat and - here's where the magic happens - you then stir through a mixture of olive oil, light soy sauce, lemon juice and grated parmesan. About equal amounts oil and lemon juice (maybe a few tbsps each) and about half that amount of soy sauce. A good couple spoonfuls of parmesan. And then - if you like - top with some toasted sunflower seeds.

And that's it. Try it, you might like it...

This is an adaptation of Skye Gingell's original, published in the Independent

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Where did it go? (and will it come back)

I used to doodle. All the time. I used to write stories and elaborate, carefully-worded, fanciful emails. I used to have fantastical daydreams and nonsensical plans I half believed in.

I used to have walls covered with 'inspiration' and spend tube journeys planning my site-specific specialist dance company, or the magazine I would create, or the books I would write.

I used to always include 'creative' or 'imaginative' if pushed to complete that annoying exercise of describing oneself in three words.

Nowadays 'sensible' springs to mind. 'Pedantic' perhaps. Restrained. Messy. Busy. Somewhat efficient even. But not imaginative. Not creative. Because I neither imagine nor create anymore.

I never doodle. I make lists. There are no stories in my mind, just a constant rolling inventory of what to do and when I should do it. My emails are brief to the point of curtness.

I sat down at a cafe the other day and 'allowed' myself to doodle. But nothing came. My mind just wanted to list what I need to sort and what I could make for dinner. My university notes were never more than about 10% comprehensible - they always became covered in nonsense and drawings. I used not be able to stop it, and now I can't start it.

Oh you could still say I was 'creative' I suppose. I mean, I create dinners out of really peculiar fridge contents sometimes. And I invent nonsense songs on the spot as I potter around with the baby. And I have little craft projects to do (but they are much more about relaxation and an activity for me than 'creativeness').

I miss it. I miss that bit of my brain.

Is it just being a parent, I wonder? Half my brain eroded by sleep deprivation; the other half crammed full of constant things to do.

Or did it start when I left my dead-end job (and my colleagues there - fellow idling amateur writers/designers/dancers/musicians) and fell into accountancy, somewhat accidentally. That intense training does rather warp one's thinking.

Either way, I do hope at some point that it will come back.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Crocuses! (crocii???)

Friday, 4 February 2011

Let go

I wanted to post about this (brown rice and carrots - mmm!) and that (my lost creativity) and the other (can't even remember)

I wanted to get through the unreads on my google reader and comment on the posts I've been enjoying on the iphone but not been able to comment on

The voices in my brain are holding an uninformed debate about childminder vs nursery and this location vs that location vs that location rather incessantly

I am - 6 months early - starting to worry about how it'll be to go back to work

We are not in our usual pattern today - less sleeping, more crying, more feeding, less getting anything done

I didn't load the dishwasher

(I did catch up with two nice mummies)

I have a lot of emails I ought to write

And I meant to make a phone call and I'm not sure I have the energy

I feel like a minger with unwashed hair, ill-fitting clothes and irritable eyes

I have things to send and friends I haven't contacted in an absolute age

I have to let go of all that right now. Sit down, have a cup of tea whilst the child is - mercifully - still asleep, work out what the priorities are again when I have refueled and ready to go. Maybe watch a dodgy mid-afternoon quiz on the tv. Maybe even breathe a little.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Metaphor Scarf and Other Projects

So, I started knitting this shortly after baby was born. I saw this pattern on the Purl Bee and thought it looked pretty achievable. A really nice effect with minimum thought or effort.

I didn't bother buying the recommended yarn - I had a ball left over from something else that I thought would work, so I just got stuck in. And in between changing nappies and waking up all night and rocking a screaming baby and feeling sore, I knitted a row here and a row there.

And as I did so, I thought to myself how nice it was to do something that I could see growing and that would be finished, in the midst of this new crazy hamster wheel of a parenting life.

It will be a lovely metaphor I thought, a physical enactment of the effort I have been putting in every minute every day with this new life. Something I can hold and use, that shows how all those little stitches make something big and whole.

Hmmm. So I came to the end of the ball of yarn, and realised there was no more, and realised it was really rather short (as in you couldn't wrap it round your neck in any way which would stay on), and also rather stiff and scratchy due to using the wrong yarn!

I stitched the ends up to make a loop - the only way to make it wearable, albeit slightly peculiar. And now, instead of making me think of the hard slog of those early days and how I worked so hard and am achieving things however much it sometimes doesn't feel like it, it just makes me think of how doing knitting projects with (not enough of) the wrong yarn, the wrong needles and no preparation results in something a bit disappointing. Not such a lovely metaphor!

Having said all that, it obviously didn't teach me its lesson as I am currently embarked on another project with the wrong needles and the wrong yarn. When you have leftover stuff to use up and you want to start something NOW its just too tempting. I'm hoping I can estimate/bodge the adjustments I need to make to make it the right size. We'll see...

The other thing about that scarf though was that I decided I had to finish that before moving onto any other project. I have a list of projects I want to do - things like clearing out my wardrobe and putting photos in albums as well as things I'd like to make. This approach has been very succesful so far. I'm an excellent planner, a relatively good starter and a terrible finisher of things. Making myself do one thing at a time has been a very good discipline for me. After the scarf I got stuck into filing of important documents and papers, and have just finished that. Finished something! The feeling is quite unusual. (Whether this kind of efficiency continues is another matter... )

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

That's the way to do New Year's Resolutions!

They are so tempting. The allure of a shimmering mirage of an upgraded you. The moreish taste of self discipline and pointless achievement. The chance to luxuriate for a little while in the possibility that this time you might change.

But I have learned my lesson. I've done resolutions in the past. I've got all enamoured with them, believed in them, and then forgotten them or ignored them hastily and reverted to type.

I flirted with them this year. I let the ideas pop up in my head. I thought, 'I'd like to: grow vegetables - finish a knitting project that actually works - send people presents on time - eat hardly any sugar - create delicious veggie dishes and fruit-based puds every night - wear grown up night gear - change the bed every fortnight - have always stylish hair - be nicer to people - give more to charity - network at work - go on date nights - stop watching shit tv - crochet a blanket - keep house plants alive - go to yoga once a week - meditate every day - take brilliant photos - not leave the house looking like a bag lady - sort everything before it becomes a pile - stop having miseries - read more - blog regularly - keep things clean - write real letters to people............................

And then I walked away from all that in the comfortable knowledge that it will never happen. And I thought, 'Let's make this achievable!'. And brief.

I resolved to go to the dentist.

I haven't been since 2001 - keep meaning to but I have a particular talent for not actually getting round to doing things that are quite easy but non-urgent and sound to me like a bit too much effort.

And... I went! Slightly freaked out by the young and glamorous lady dentist - I thought they were all old men. But she was lovely and only found one little spot that needed a filling (my first ever). So yay.

The silly thing is, I know this resolution thing is quite arbitrary, and well, kind of a cheat, but even so I keep getting this satisfying feeling of achievement. I'm done for the year!

If at first you don't succeed, as the saying goes...

(....lower your standards, or cheat)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Cereal is not an uncommon dessert in my household. Shreddies are satisfying after dinner; crunchy nut on top of a little muesli a pleasant pudding, but for the truly luxurious experience, a good granola is the way to go. Oh, and you can eat it for breakfast too if you're that way inclined.

The shop bought stuff is expensive and making your own is not only very simple but makes your kitchen smell delicious. And you get to choose exactly what goes in, which is fun. Endless possibilities for combinations.

I've experimented with a few recipes recently, and finally found one I really really like, courtesy of the lovely Clotilde , whose granola formula gives you the basic principles from which you can experiment with the details to suit your taste.

So, mine went like this:
3 cups of oats, rye flakes and barley flakes
1 cup whole almonds
2 tbsps sunflower oil
6 tablespoons golden syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt

The above well mixed until thoroughly combined, then spread onto a couple of greased baking trays and baked at 150C for 30-40 mins turning every 10mins.

Then to the cooled mix, added:

1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup coconut flakes

Seriously good.

January's almost over!

Which is good, because whilst I do try not to wish time away too much, January is almost always a terribly miserable month. February is never much better, although at least it keeps itself to a more reasonable 28 days. I invariably start wishing I could hibernate around this time of year.

January started especially miserably for me with a bout of flu. I'm not normally a panicker when ill, but I have to admit to serial temperature taking and a little bit of the 'what ifs' over swine flu fears. Much easier to get sucked into the panic when there's a baby around is my excuse. It really wasn't all that bad - I managed to go out for a steak and chips lunch on day 2 so I was hardly on the edge of disaster.

Anyway, happily all in the past now, and what with that and then a trip back home to see the parents, I suddenly realised it's the 19th already which made me feel quite chipper.

Some very brief updates:

Sleep training - Ah, ha ha ha ha ha ha. 'Training'. Yep. I think I'm on something like day 40 and well let's just say all is not going as planned. Still, I'm actually quite okay with how things are at the moment so just going to be grateful for that and not stress it.

Reading - Nighttime wakings have allowed me to work my way through the entire archives of another blog - or two in one really - I've been following Fay's post-baby Baby and Wool. for a while but went all the way back to the beginning of the pre-baby Dreaming of an Aga . It really is nice to go through a whole blog start to finish and get a better sense of the story of things and it was a joy to go through craft projects, vegetable growing, house moving and baby growing with Fay. I got all inspired to make heirloom quilts and fabulous baby dresses. Then remembered I'm not so good at finishing projects and should probably just stick to the usual targets of keeping myself and babe relatively sane, clean and well-fed. Big believer in keeping things relaxed and achievable.
Cooking - I made this splendid cake for my blogoversary back in December. (A little late obvs, but the blog didn't seem to mind). Not a recipe to post, as it's just your bog-standard Victoria sponge, but my gift to you is the genius idea of sandwiching it with Nutella, Dulce de Leche and chopped nuts. I'm not really a cream and jam person. This was heavenly, and felt like a cake truly worthy of a celebration. I meant for it to have three layers, but I only have one cake pan so that would have been a bit of a mission.