motherhood

How to Fake Heinz Tomato Soup and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Have To Do!

About a year ago I returned to life as a full time mum for reasons which are largely irrelevant to the point of this story, but which involved a health crisis in the family. At the time I was completely consumed with the situation at hand, and I didn’t miss my ‘part time job’ one bit! Of course, my ‘part time job’ had become ‘full time on part time hours and pay’ and unmanageable with the Shangri La of the ‘best of the both worlds’ rapidly descending into a living nightmare.

In my mind, most things happen for a reason, which is slightly unfortunate for my mother who ended up having a truly horrific experience and an extended stay in hospital following a routine operation. But, on the plus side, she ended up in a lovely little apartment in Central Chichester, and I ended up being able to walk away from a job that was no longer working for me, with my head held high, knowing that I had done my best, and now had other priorities!

I was so behind with life in general at the point where things started to return to ‘normality’, that I feel like I’ve spent the last 8 or 9 months doing ‘nothing’ – just keeping on top of laundry, doing jobs that have long needed doing – and that doesn’t include the filing which is still sitting there staring at me, lopsided and about to topple!

Okay, so I will confess that this period of doing ‘ nothing’ has also included organising a school jumble sale, summer festival and bonfire event – not single handedly but nonetheless, and managing a garden re-landscape which is still on-going! Just making coffee for the workers takes out a chunk of your time. Oh and looking after two dogs, one very elderly and recently departed, 7 chickens, two guinea pigs, a husband and an eight year old…not necessarily in that order!

But for me, quite a lot of the time that feels like ‘nothing’, mainly because it all feels very mundane, and at times goes completely unnoticed.  My ‘me time’ tends to consist of running and writing, both of which give me massive mental and physical boosts, but ultimately I feel guilty about doing either of them because they feel self indulgent!  And even though I now have more time than ever to do all the things I’ve never had time to do, I still like I’m failing at everything..not doing anything properly!

With that in mind, I decided I needed to up my game in the kitchen…at least until I’ve decided what to do with the rest of my life! I decided that I needed to at least feel like I’d achieved the ultimate ‘perfect mother dream’ of providing nutritious meals for my family!   I have NEVER been a fan of ready meals – not for any moral or philosophical reasons – I just don’t like them. And even through my less encumbered years, the most I would succumb to was a jar of ‘Chicken Tonight’ jalfrezi sauce for a dinner party, living on toast, Marmite and Sauvignon Blanc the rest of the time – but never a microwave meal!

I blame my mother for this of course! Despite being a full time working single mother, she always delivered a home cooked hot meal for us in the evenings – or at least until I got so fussy I lived on chicken noodle packet soup and Bird’s Whisk and Serve custard! In my most formative years, we always had roast on Sunday, cold meat and chips on a Monday, and a combination of spag bol, home made soup, and other family favourites the rest of the week! I dare say there were probably more chips on the menu than might be politically acceptable these days, but at least they were home made, real potato and cooked in a deep fat fryer! In fact I learned to cut chips before I could ride a bike!

So for me menu planning has become a regular part of my weekend activity – always in consultation with the end consumers of course, and around their busy play and work schedules.  I even re-signed up to the veg box subscription malarky to push myself to use new ingredients – having failed on three previous occasions to make it work, I have this week cooked with fennel and venison and I’m about to knock up a spicy red pepper and lentil soup! So already, I feel like progress is being made! Masterchef here I come – or even a modicum of self satisfaction is good enough for me!

Or not…because blow me, if I haven’t spent this week on two of the most ridiculous culinary missions of my parenting journey! On Saturday I found myself trying to persuade my daughter that my home-made spaghetti carbonara is better than the Marks and Spencer’s microwave version which she absolutely loves!  I suggested a blind taste challenge to prove my point, and set to work creating identical looking carbonaras without so much as a stray dot of oregano out of place!  But un-fooled she was, immediately identifying the imposter and refusing to eat it! Happily, my husband preferred mine, but that felt like a hollow victory!

And last night we came home from gymnastics, and I had that sinking feeling that I really didn’t have anything in! The loss of the dog has sent me off kilter a bit this week, and my menu planning has gone to pot! But she was keen on some Heinz Tomato soup with bread rolls and vegetables, which all sounded very do-able/acceptable!  Until I got home to check the tinned soup stash – no Heinz Tomato!!!! Ultimate parenting fail!

All was not lost, however, as I did have a punnet of cherry tomatoes and a good deal of determination to create a healthy replica of Britain’s best loved branded tomato soup! And it honestly didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to do it! It would have taken longer to open the tin!  I did go through the extra process of ‘passing’ the soup through a sieve to eliminate the risk of a stray tomato seed betraying me, and I even did something which I loathe, adding a bit of flour to the soup to thicken it up – but ultimately all it had it in was good and fresh!

And it did indeed go down well! She knew it wasn’t Heinz but she ate it, and so did the equally fussy Heinz Tomato loving husband who actually didn’t believe it wasn’t the real thing!  Yes, that does deserve a mini air punch! Although he does suspect me of some sort of subterfuge.

So that’s ‘one all’ to Ella and I on my mission to provide more wholesome grub to my daughter! Although I duly recognise that the greatest challenge of all is to even get close to re-creating the ‘school child’ Ambrosia which appears to be school macaroni cheese! What they put in it I don’t know, but it’s the crack cocaine of school meals! I have yet to meet a parent who has found a reasonable alternative for their child, despite many many attempts and methods, including ‘just add water’ packets, frozen, microwavable, take away portions from the pub, even Pot Noodle’s own attempt, you name it – I fear it is impossible!

But above all it seems ironic to me that things have come to this – faking tinned soup! What a way to get your fulfilment in life…apart from folding pants, and unloading the dishwasher of course, all of which just fill me with joy! Never mind, I hear there’s an aubergine on the way in my veg box this week, and I’m not afraid to use it!

 

motherhood

The Miracle of Person Making

It suddenly hit me this evening, as I watched my beautiful daughter meander her way into the bathroom and make a massive deal out of cleaning her teeth, that I had made a person..a whole living, breathing person.  One capable of so much, and of occupying so much of my life, that I can barely imagine life before she existed.

Of course traditionally people believe that person making just takes two people – a boy and a girl, and a bit of biological luck. Although in my case it wasn’t quite as simple as that – it took a whole lot of medical science, some amazing doctors and medical staff, and a few pharmaceutical items to boot! I’ve always been immensely grateful to those people for her very existence of course.

Today my person finished Key Stay 2 at school and it occurred to me as I reflected at how quickly she had gone through the first three years of her school life, that it takes quite a few more people along the way to make a person! Between Reception and Year 2 our children change almost beyond belief. From babies to proper functioning and almost independent people in the blink of an eye! From barely walking and talking, to chit chatting, cartwheeling forces of nature, who make us laugh every single day.

Ella’s teacher left today. He’s been at the school for 6 years, and it was a sad occasion. He is officially ‘the funniest teacher in the world!’ She’s very lucky with her school, and she’s been incredibly lucky with her teachers, all of whom have been very different, but all of whom have undoubtedly left their mark on the little person they have been charged with helping to make. Because that is actually what teachers do. They spend so much time with our children, that they are as important in many ways as we as parents are, and I can see the mark that each one has left on Ella on her journey so far. I never expected any child of mine to be demanding to practise fractions on the way to school for a start. Sometimes I wonder if there’s been some mistake!

So as school closes for summer, I just want to say that I am total awe of teachers and always will be. How you handle that many children, particularly small ones and actually teach them anything is beyond me. And most of you do it for every other reason than the fact that it is a ‘job’!

So thank you to Mrs T, Miss H and Mr L for the last three years, for helping my little person to grow and flourish, and to all the other staff, especially our lovely head teacher, and other teachers,  who work so hard to make sure she becomes the best she can be! Person making is anything but easy, is a team job, and we all need all the help we can get!

Happy holidays everyone!

motherhood

Today…

Today I smiled as Ella did her pony tail for the fourteenth time to get it ‘just right’ when she should have been cleaning her teeth. Today we walked to school extra slowly not caring if we were late. Today I missed her every second she was at school. Today I let her have an extra 10 minutes in the playground, took her to an extra Sainsbury’s to find a Lego sticker book, and let her have an extra biscuit with her tea. Today I looked extra hard at that beautiful face that I adore. Today I watched her swinging with utter joy , abandon and innocence on her swing in the evening sunshine when she should have been in bed and I could truly think of no more beautiful sight. Today I realised that today is what is important. Because who knows what tomorrow brings. Sending love to Manchester. x

gin

The Gin Thing

Somebody asked me recently if I thought there was any mileage in a particular variety of gin they were thinking about producing. Obviously there’s some commitment and expense involved in producing a gin of any description, so I gave it some consideration!

So gin appears to have been the new ‘in thing’ for the last couple of years, which given the fact that it’s one of the oldest and most traditional of beverages out there, is kind of ironic. Barely a week goes by without a new ‘micro-gin’ appearing , each one purporting to have the purest process and ultimate mix of botanicals to tempt you to their door. Novelty flavours adorn our shelves, some almost too preposterous to contemplate, but actually, so easy to drink. And the merchandisers have jumped on the band wagon as well! Shopping bags, aprons, door plaques all suggesting that gin is the lifestyle drink of our time! That most classic of British cocktails has become a modern trend that shows no sign of slowing down. (And yes, I know the Dutch invented it!)

Ably assisted by the equally meteoric rise of the tonic market undoubtedly pioneered by the remarkable story of Fever Tree tonic, the gin market continues to spew previously unimaginable combinations claiming to be ‘gin and tonic’. Rhubarb gin and ginger tonic, cardamon gin and Mediterranean tonic, coconut gin and elderflower tonic..the list goes on!

And the bi-products don’t stop there! An off the cuff quip on Facebook about ‘gin and crisps for tea’ when my husband was away has somehow marked me down as a hardened gin-drinker, an expert in the field!  The reality was that my most daring deviation from a simple Gordon’s and tonic prior to that, had been one of my favourite product innovations – gin in a tin! For a busy mum, there is no sweeter thing than a perfectly chilled version of a perfectly mixed G&T that requires nothing more than a pull of a ring and a pour over ice! And portable too for those emergencies/picnic opportunities.

Friends quickly introduced me to the joys of Bombay Sapphire – and there my journey through the magic Gin-dom began! Every single ‘gin-ovation’ on the market has been tagged on my Facebook page – sorbets, crisps, cakes, tarts, face scrubs, lip balms, you name it! I’ve even had a gin and tonic cake baked for me.

I am naturally very grateful, and can boast a fabulous collection of gins on my shelf, and and a merchandise collection I’m proud of.

But for me, it has increasingly become about the aesthetics! The packaging can outweigh the flavour when it comes to the look of that gin shelf, and for any prospective gin producer, I think that is the thing to invest as much time and energy into, as the taste of the stuff itself.

A gin shelf really can be a thing of beauty these days. With gin brands old, micro and new bringing in the big boys of branding to perfect their visual image!

I mean, who doesn’t love a Silent Pool bottle – can anyone bear to put one in the bin? It is a thing of design brilliance, evoking not only the unique colour of the ‘Silent Pool’ in the Surrey Hills from which it is hails, but also the turquoise of an Asian sea across which gin drinkers of yesteryear must have surely gazed with their sundowner in hand!

Brighton, Monkey and Portobello gins rank highly for me in their design beauty giving us a taste of vintage glamour, with the Hoxtons, the Pinksters and the Opi adding to the wild and whacky both in bottle design and flavour.

Of course, images like these are social media gold, and Instagram, or ‘Gin-stagram’ as I like to call it have done their part to encourage the gin revolution, and as Spring turns to Summer I can only imagine the frequency with which #gin will appear in our feeds in some form or another! The rise of the gin craze in my opinion is far from over. A humble gin and tonic has become an art form, and a mouth watering one at that. And all I can really say is, I’ll drink to that!

Knitted Unicorn
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Motherhood Achievement Alert or Tales of Knitting a Unicorn!

So I’ve done it – I’ve reached the pinnacle of my motherhood career – I have achieved the ultimate, I can do no better  – and my daughter is only 7!  Where do I go from here ?Because on holiday, I …knitted…a …unicorn!!!

On the extraordinary journey that has been motherhood I have so far failed on all counts even from the point of conception, which was more challenging than it needed to be. Pregnancy was complicated.. birth too! Breastfeeding I eventually managed, but not without some struggles along the way, and mainly because I couldn’t be bothered sterilising things. Sleep scheduling – a total washout!  My baby hasn’t slept in 7 years! Didn’t even get past the starting gates. Weaning…or Annabel Karmel Hell as I like to call it – not possible when you have given birth to a koala who insists on being strapped to your chest, and  anyway, do babies really need a bayleaf and a peppercorn in the bechamel sauce for their fish pie! Give me strength!

Passing her into the hands of others for a substantial part of her day was the best thing I ever did! Nursery was also a nightmare in the beginning, screaming child left daily, but in the end she thrived, as she has done at school.  I, on the other hand, have struggled to keep on top of life – the things that you have to remember, the school uniform labelling, the days that they have sausage and mash on the menu and a packed lunch is required!  I haven’t kept up with her reading, and I haven’t felt like I’m really in control.

I’ve done better at birthday parties, but have learned the hard way to keep it simple and delegate where you can, but from her first birthday I decided I had to create a cakey masterpiece to mark the occasion, and I went 3D from the start!  Not being a baker, it was all about the icing, so we’ve had a duck, three little pigs (including house of straw) and a 3D Rapunzel including icing hair.  Frozen was an inevitable theme and then my favourites, The Singing Mermaid and Miss Moon, all featuring  icing figures resembling Bet Lynch after her most recent break up! But they prompted the odd ooh and aaah!

Fancy dress costumes have also been on my hit list of ‘things I must do as a mother’! I was determined not to resort to Tesco’s for nativities, and have created a donkey, a star and a camel from scratch, all to much stress, late nights and usually functional issues. But I’ve tried! The camel drove me to buy a sewing machine which I was then too panicked to work out how to thread, but a year later I did manage to thread it go create a cow girl waist coat for her very last nativity! That may not see the light of day for a while!

The irony of all this is that people think I can actually do this stuff!  They think I am a talented baker and seamstress, when the reality is I am a pretender – I have a go and and pray! My cakes are inedible for a start, and my costumes will only stand one wear before they disintegrate! Not that I didn’t do needlework at school – I did, like every other schoolgirl of the 70s, forced to master a pedal powered Singer, while the boys did more interesting things like woodwork! But it served me well when I wanted to shorten my school skirt, or create the ra-ra that my mother refused to buy me!

But knitting has long been on my horizon as something I wanted to re-acquaint myself with – I used to love knitting as a kid, and by all accounts it’s quite trendy to knit these days!  Yes, even youngsters do it! Plus  you can watch the telly at the same time! Last year I took some knitting needles on holiday and managed a teddy bear jumper for one of Ella’s pool mates! It was unskilled and very rough around the edges but it clothed a bear. I was pleased with my efforts.

This year, having grabbed a knitting magazine from Tesco’s on my final pre-holiday shop, I decided the time was right – I needed to create something proper and actually follow a knitting pattern….deciper those unguessable letters and work out how to cast on, knit back and front and all that jazz – I like a plan after all!  Thanks to YouTube I did it! And despite not having the appropriate equipment, ie. DP needles, which to the uninitiated I should point out are ‘double point’ knitting needles – ooh get me – I managed it!  A little resourcefulness on the part of the children saw them presenting me with 4 satay sticks and a pencil sharpener, and home made DP needles were born!

Of course, Ella was delighted with her mummy’s talents, which has always been the point, no matter how rough the results, but knitting really is very easy after all.  And best of all, she decided that she wanted her new best friend on holiday, Gracie, to receive the fruits of her mummy’s labours, which can only make me very proud. It also meant I had to knit Gracie’s little brother a fish pretty darned quick, but once you’ve got the unicorn basics, a fish is simple stuff!

 

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Mein Daddy

Smile and Wave Boys

I have written this blog post in my head a thousand times.  The first time was a year ago today when I realised it was my dad’s birthday, and that that meant that one week later, he would have been dead five years.   Five years…that seemed an awful long time when I had done so little to really remember him. And I couldn’t do it.  At that point, in a hotel bar with a gin in my hand, it hit me quite hard – maybe it was the environment – a place that I would inevitably always associate with him.  But the fact that he had been gone for 5 years made it feel like it was yesterday!  Where had that time gone?

Despite many years of ill health, his death came suddenly and very quickly when Ella was only 4 months old.  Everybody’s world is turned upside down…

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 The Magical Mysteries of Batter Week

There came a point last week, after many days of sensational Bake Off headlines, when I started to think…really now, there are more important things happening in the world. Let’s move on! How many column inches can we give a tv show, albeit the nation’s most beloved!

But this evening I was humbled. This evening I realised why this show has risen like the enriched dough of Bread Week, to the dizzy heights and price tag that it has. Because tonight I witnessed a minor miracle in the after school chaos that usually adorns this household.

Yesterday, my daughter, who had spent most of the summer holidays glued to Disney Channel (when I say most, I mean most of her TV time), watched 3 back to back episodes of Bake Off. All of her own volition, carefully selecting Batter Week, Biscuit Week and Bread Week in the order of her desire.

Now, whilst I had adopted a ‘this too shall pass’ attitude to the Disney Channel situation – one honed from the 6 month ‘eat nothing but spag bol’ phase, the 2 year ‘watch nothing but Peppa Pig’ phase, and the 3 week love affair with mini bags of Maltesers, that she sneaked at breakfast time, I was really hoping that at some point we might add a bit of variety and age appropriateness to our viewing.  But try as I might to find something engaging on CBBC, nothing would divert her from her Disney.

So relief was mine when this evening, she sat down, turned the television on, and went straight back to Batter Week!  Minutes later she appeared with my laptop in her hands, having Googled Bake Off pancakes. And there they were.  The lacy pancakes of the technical challenge. Recipe to be followed. Which she did – single handedly whilst I prepared separate dinners for her, her dad, the dog, the guinea pigs and the chickens!

Batter rested and tea eaten, we melted our butter and heated our pan. We made our practice pancakes. We made our non-practice pancakes. And we relaxed and enjoyed a moment that I will remember for a very long time.  Our enjoyment curtailed by an overheating induction hob, we made an appointment to resume for breakfast tomorrow morning! Because guess what, it is dead easy!!!!  And so much fun.

So there I think we have it. There we have the reason why the headlines, the price tags and the banter and debate should be tolerated, embraced and acknowledged. Because like it or not, popular TV can have a very important place in our lives. Ella has been totally transfixed by Bake Off, particularly Batter Week as an ardent Yorkshire Pudding fan, but more than that she took what she had learned from watching, and put it into remarkable practice. She is only 6 after all.

So thank you Paul, Mary, Sue, Mel, the BBC, the production company, Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n’ all, for creating such exceptional television magic. It remains to be seen whether Channel 4 have the same magic touch, and which of the main ingredients create the perfect mix. But I for one will be sneaking off and knocking up another batch of that lacy pancake batter – because let me tell you, addictive isn’t the word for creating and cooking lacy patterns out of flour, eggs and milk! Compulsory is the word! Give it a go! Therapy in a bowl! We’re doing Mickey Mouse next!