I did that.

I know people who have achieved some great things. High flying jobs, exotic travel, feats of athletics I could only dream of.

I’m not particularly ambitious. I’m happily average, for the most part. But there was something I wanted to achieve, something that was important to me, something I failed to achieve the first time I tried to do it. So I set out to give it a go, with tenacity, gritted teeth, and more than a little luck.

When things were going my way I was warned not to brag about it, for fear of upsetting other people who weren’t so successful. Relatives rolled their eyes and questioned my judgement. Support networks proved worryingly unsupportive. A couple of friends were awesome, but few people knew how important it was to me.

Seemingly (certainly in my experience) many people have an opinion on this subject. The internet is full – I know because I’ve read enough articles to last a lifetime. It’s an emotionally charged, angry, occasionally vitriolic discussion. Even if you find your appropriate corner, to talk to like-minded people, you must temper your comments lest they offend somebody, somewhere. It’s all a bit exhausting. It’s a subject that doesn’t need another voice, and a discussion I don’t particularly want to be a part of. If I had the energy I might try and change things. But, like I said, I’m not particularly ambitious.

This achievement is small, in the grand scheme of life. It’s mine, I certainly don’t expect anyone else to care. A couple of years from now it won’t even matter that much to me anymore. But today it’s huge. I worked hard, and I did it. I’m incredibly proud of myself.

 

 

macaroni cheese – a gateway drug

maccheeseOnce we’d depleted the stockpile of proper food in our freezer, we existed for a while on hastily prepared noodle based dishes. And then, more recently, I spent a week almost exclusively eating Wreck-It Ralph birthday cake.

I’m in a food based rut. But Autumn has always been the season for cooking. The nights are drawing in, the shops are full of unwanted pumpkins, and I will soon have another child to cook for. So I’m dusting off my recipe books, making lists, and talking about (and then not getting around to) buying a slow cooker again.

I’m not creative in the slightest. I’m like the anti-creative. Nonetheless, I find cooking incredibly inspiring. Cooking, when you have 30 dedicated minutes in a relatively tidy kitchen and all required ingredients, is fun. It makes me sad when people don’t enjoy cooking. That they miss simple pleasures like making béchamel sauce. I mean, how clever is that? You take these three basic items, and turn them into this pan of amazing creamy sauce. It’s like science that you can eat.

While I gear up to remembering how to cook, I’m making a lot of macaroni cheese. ‘Macaroni’ cheese in the loosest sense of the word, because I generally just use whichever pasta is going. And whichever cheese. The details aren’t important. The bowl of hot cheesy bacon pasta is.

500g bag of pasta
8 rashers streaky bacon
50g butter
50g plain flour
700ml milk
250g grated cheese
1/2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
50g breadcrumbs (I grated some stale sun-dried tomato baguette)
Oven set to 190 degrees

1. Cook the pasta until al dente, drain. Grill the bacon and chop into pieces.
2. Melt the butter in a pan until sizzling. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a whisk until combined.
3. Gradually add the milk, stirring often with the whisk. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken.
4.  Remove sauce from heat and stir in most of the cheese. (Save a handful for the end.)
5. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and mix well. Stir in the mustard and the bacon pieces.
6. Transfer to an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with leftover cheese & breadcrumbs, bake for 20 minutes.

The great age

cakeThe people who tell you that two is terrible and three is “two with intent”, all seem to agree that four is pretty great. The same way that you’re told to hang in there with a screaming newborn, that everything will fall into place when they hit 3 months old, those in the midst of supermarket floor meltdowns are told that it’ll all be ok once they reach 4 years old. At which point, presumably, said child will stop smashing shit up in the cereal aisle and go pack your shopping for you.

I didn’t notice a seismic shift on the morning of her birthday. But then I was too busy trying to remember who’d bought what amongst the present unwrapping frenzy, and then lugging 600 boxes of mini Smarties to preschool.

It’s more gradual. She’ll suddenly use a word we didn’t know she knew, or do something she wasn’t previously able to, and brush off our exclaimed compliments like it’s no big deal. “God mum & dad, you’re so embarrassing” is already implied, if not yet uttered. I’m beginning to see why so many people are compelled to set up blogs of ‘funny things my kid said’, which are of zero interest to anyone outside their very immediate circle. Because, suddenly, there’s this semi independent person living in my house. Who I can pass on the stairs and have a half decent conversation with. Who wants to do everything unassisted, because “I a big girl now”, and who can actually do an alright job of most of them. Like a flatmate who’s crap at cooking, but always remembers to replace the loo roll.

‘The days are long, but the years are short’, parenting types are fond of saying. It’s a slightly less mawkish version of ‘this too shall pass’. Indeed, enough time has passed that we can now reminisce fondly about the weekend when, as a baby, she cried for 20 solid hours and we thought we were going to die. The stuff she does from this point forward is the stuff she’s going to remember as her childhood. That’s kind of a big deal.

Frozen fractals all around

I have a video from this time last year. My almost three year old daughter unsteadily utters the words “Daddy blue car drive”. It was the first time she ever said four words in a row. Those four words (their quantity rather than quality – colours & modes of transport are toddler staples, after all) were the first step towards a breakthrough from her previously diagnosed speech delay.

And yes, with hindsight, the fact that she didn’t really talk until she was three doesn’t seem such a big deal. But like colic, late crawling, or showing affection for other children by wrestling them into a headlock (just us?), when you’re in the midst of these phases, they can feel hopeless. And onlookers who dismiss them with words like ‘phase’ feel like tormentors. Besides, I challenge anyone to attend an initial speech therapy assessment with their kid and not come out of it feeling anything other than a thoroughly shitty parent.

I can’t remember when the Frozen obsession began. She’d had previous dalliances with Lion King, Little Mermaid and, of course, Toy Story. Her dad, the film critic, would watch trailers on YouTube with her as part of their bedtime routine. Cbeebies stalwarts would be appalled, I’m sure. But then my dad used to sing Queen songs in lieu of nursery rhymes while putting me to bed, and I turned out ok. If slightly obsessed with a couple of their B-sides.

Unlike speech therapy – hours of observation and animal noises in stuffy windowless rooms – preschool helped immeasurably. For the past year her keyworker has tirelessly coaxed words from her. On the day she gained a sticker for standing up and telling the class it was Monday, I cried right there in the cloakroom. By the time she leaves next summer, my daughter will probably deliver whatever the four year old’s equivalent of a commencement speech is. And we’ll be so indebted to said key worker that we’ll probably have to buy her a car.

At the end of term preschool party they played the Frozen soundtrack. The girl who started the school year unwilling or able to tell them much more than her name proceeded to dance around the room and sing the entire cd to 26 people. The staff were still talking about her ‘transformation’ at the open day a week later.

Our lives were punctuated by the words “That’s no blizzard, that’s my sister!” A line which, fact fans, doesn’t even appear in the movie. She saw it at the cinema before she was strictly ready to adhere to cinema etiquette (Thank you Showcase autism friendly screenings!) Her newborn brother arrived accompanied by a copy of the just released blu-ray, as a peace offering to help ease his way into the family.

These days, she talks so much that I can even empathise with the other mums who wish their kids would just give it a rest and stop talking for five minutes. But I always feel guilty when I do. I no longer cry after her speech therapy appointments. Apart from maybe her next one, at which I have a sneaking suspicion they’re going to discharge her.

Today she went with her dad to a Sing-along Frozen screening. She came home excited, telling me in delightfully intricate sentences how loudly she’d sung at the cinema, while digging out her latest ‘toy’ microphone. Having started with a v-tech flashing karaoke machine which plays Twinkle Twinkle, she recently progressed to an old Sing Star mic & stand, a throwback from the days when we had parties instead of babies. (Because performing or, more specifically, showing off, runs in the family.) We spent the next couple of hours watching in awe as she held a Frozen concert in our living room.

I have a video from today. My almost four year old daughter belts out the line “My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around.” word perfectly. And, ok, not all of the words she’s singing in Let It Go are dictionary standard. But I’m 33, and I still sing made up lyrics to most of the songs I know. The hype may be hysterical, and other parents might tear their hair out at its unremitting presence in their lives. But I owe a small debt of gratitude to that Disney film.

There’s always money in the Banana Stand

frozen bananaAlthough I’ve wanted to eat one since their first appearance on the show (insert half hour delay while I discover, am incredulous, amazed then dumbfounded that Arrested Development first aired in the UK almost TEN YEARS ago) I’ve never got around to making them.

Even when Netflix sent a banana stand to London to promote the long awaited fourth season, and my husband risked our entire marriage by eating one without me, I didn’t step up to the challenge.

Today the stars have finally aligned. A recent blog post from the inimitable Joy the Baker, combined with an abundance of leftover Easter egg chocolate, and the non appearance of a baby whose ETA was several days ago was finally enough for me to get my (enormous) arse into gear and make the things.

I know, right. After ten years of anticipation I could have made slightly more of an effort. They’re not exactly pretty. But then at this stage in the game I spend approximately 30 seconds on any one task, before declaring it done and spending the next 45 minutes staring at my stomach wondering why I’m not yet in labour. Fun. Imagine how good they could look if you actually made an effort. Nonetheless, for half a minute’s work, they still taste pretty spectacular.

This hardly constitutes a recipe, granted. But I figured writing it in bullet points would be quicker. *stares at stomach*

Bananas (I had about 4)
Chocolate (I used about half a large dark chocolate Easter egg)
Sprinkles of your choice
Lolly sticks

Peel bananas, chop in half, insert lolly sticks
Melt chocolate, spoon over each banana stick, allowing excess chocolate to drain
Cover with whatever toppings you so desire
Place on grease-proof paper, and leave to set in the freezer
Eat. Enjoy. Quote G.O.B. endlessly. Go into labour (optional)

Chocolate cake for the freezer

freezer cakeThis is from Domestic Goddess. The original recipe can no longer be seen in my copy, the pages sealed together through years of perusal with egg and jam stained fingers. I transcribed the recipe into the inside front cover, but my accuracy can never totally be trusted. Plus that page is getting grubby too. I do know that the original uses a quantity of thin cut marmalade. While I am a big advocate of chocolate orange (seriously, who doesn’t love a chocolate orange?) I prefer to make this cake with jam. Jam comes in hundreds of different fancy flavours, all of which taste amazing when baked with chocolate into a cake. If you don’t believe me, stand in a jam aisle of a supermarket and add ‘and chocolate cake’ to each of the different types of jam. Infallible.

Last time I was pregnant, my preparatory cooking consisted of baking a stack of these in various flavours, and that was it. (I didn’t really pack a bag either, until the morning we left for the hospital. I think I was experiencing what’s known as large amounts of denial.) In comparison I’ve been fairly organised this time, and have succeeded in filling the freezer with more than just dessert. However, once the silver trays of risotto, goulash, sausage stew, ziti and macaroni cheese were sealed, it was time for cake. The first cake I made in the new oven, the first time the new house smelt of baking, rather than broken thermostat and despair. The easiest cake in the world.

125g unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate
340g (standard size jar) of jam, any flavour
150g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
150g self raising flour
23cm spring form tin, lined

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Take a moment to admire this.

2. Throw in the sugar, eggs and jam. Mix well.

3. Add the flour and pinch of salt. Stir until combined and delicious.

4. Pour into cake tin, bake for 40 minutes at 180ºC, until a skewer comes out clean. Serve warm or cold, with cream or ice cream if you like. Or wrap in clingfilm and store in the freezer, until such time you’re expected to feed and water guests who are only interested in looking at your newborn baby.

Meat & two veg

meat & vegA perfectly lovely Mother’s Day doing practically nothing at home was enhanced considerably by the arrival of a new oven. The timing was coincidental, not some sick joke on the part of my family. It’s been three months since we moved in. Three months with a barely functioning oven. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say they were the worst three months of my life.

Dinner was nothing much to look at (even if I could be arsed make any kind of effort with food photography) but it was the first thing I’ve oven cooked in our new house that wasn’t burnt, thrown into the bin, or cried over. Now I just need to remember how to bake cakes.