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.

Dear…My Pregnant Friends (round 2)

1. The reactions when you announce your second pregnancy will range from bored resignation, inappropriate comments on the frequency/infrequency of your babies, to mild laughter. No one will scream hysterically, or buy you flowers. Get over yourself.

2. People are not particularly interested in your continuing pregnancy, besides finding out the gender of the baby. The gender should be ascertained as quickly as possible, and should preferably be the opposite to that of your current child, in order to appease the general public.

3. Your nearest and dearest will forget that you are pregnant. Regularly. You will end up screaming “BECAUSE I’M SIX MONTHS PREGNANT!” down the phone at your Gran, and then crying about it.

4. Although you are incredibly jaded, you will cry as much as you did the first time.

5. You didn’t keep as much baby stuff as you think you did. Well, you kept plenty, but none of it will be particularly useful. You will now balk at the cost of muslin squares, because you know they’re essentially just sick rags.

6. You will try and use the benefit of your wisdom to persuade first timers against unnecessary precautions, extravagant purchases and hospital bags the size of the Coca Cola Christmas truck. They will smile, nod and ignore you.

7. Small children are constantly on the brink of contracting chicken pox. The mum friends you have gained since your previous pregnancy will start greeting you with a scream of “HAVE YOU HAD CHICKEN POX?” every time they see you.

8. Besides shouting at her, no one has a clue what to do with a pregnant woman who may have been exposed to chicken pox.

9. The guilt you will experience when you can’t take your small child to the park because you have your head in the toilet/on the sofa/jammed permanently in the fridge is all-encompassing.

10. Because you have 97 other things to do, your pregnancy will fly by. As you barely know what day it is, you won’t be able to constantly reel off how many days, weeks and months pregnant you are. You’ll have to get an app to remind you. The apps are better this time.

chocolate sprinkles

krispy kremeOur oven is still useless. People in baseball caps fulfill all our cake based needs these days. For shame. We now have a three year old who screams ‘DOUGHNUTS!’ whenever she enters a service station. Her dad couldn’t be prouder.

The no cook key lime pie continues to be amazing (I’ve made it several times since, we’re not still eating that one from January). NB it does set in the fridge, when left overnight. And it’s even better when made with chocolate digestive biscuits instead of normal ones. Well, duh.

We don’t require much of an excuse to celebrate things with food. Successful work events, or our disregard (and subsequent survival) of severe weather warnings in order to travel across the country and spend the weekend with our friends. And, today, a single sheet of yellow paper. After one long (LONG) awaited appointment with a consultant, my pregnancy ducks are now in a row. Or something. I’m too exhausted with relief to talk coherently about it, suffice it to say I finally feel able to start buying mini toiletries and packing my bag. Just as soon as we’ve driven to Scotland and back for more doughnuts.

key lime pie

key lime pieTomorrow is National Pie Day, and we have guests arriving. Normally the stars aligning in such a way would result in me being up all night making my own shortcrust. This will not be happening for two reasons. The first, that I’m not ready to talk about yet, is that the oven in our new house is so monumentally shit I have yet to succeed in cooking anything besides fish fingers. I haven’t baked in over a month. But I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I may never be ready to talk about that. The second is that our weekend schedule for said guests also includes eating food to celebrate Burns Night, a birthday and Christmas, so I figured we can probably live without the pies. And that’s coming from someone who ate toast and pickled onions in bed at 10.30pm last night.

I went to see my midwife today and, such is her unique brand of support, came out incandescent with rage. Which, being pregnant, mainly takes the form of tears. God. I had to come home and shove my face into comfort food. So I immediately made this dessert for tomorrow night. It will be the only pie on the menu, chosen purely because it requires no oven cooking. It’s an alternative recipe from Domestic Goddess. Nigella’s original involves separating eggs and the like, before her pal Hettie comes along and just replaces about six ingredients with a can of condensed milk. God love Hettie. Maybe she had a really shit oven too? Or a really unhelpful midwife?

(I’m still not really sure what condensed milk actually is. I figure it’s probably one of those best not to ask things. It tastes bloody good though, particularly when mixed with 300ml of double cream. But then, doesn’t everything?)

On the matter of presentation, Nigella tells us “don’t expect a lime pie to be green. It’s yellow – a really green pie is a dyed pie.” Well screw authenticity, I have a tub of green colouring in my baking cupboard and no other outlet for it (did I mention my knackered oven?), so my pie is resoundingly green. It is also garnished with three bits of lime, sliced in such a haphazard manner they would make my former bar manager boss turn in his grave. (He’s not dead, he’s just in Exeter.)

I’m not entirely convinced that the finished cake will actually set, even though I’m leaving it in the fridge overnight. Nonetheless, it has already served its purpose as far as I’m concerned. And I’m sure no one will object to eating it with a spoon tomorrow, should the need arise.

200g digestive biscuits
50g melted butter
4 limes (juice & zest)
397g can of condensed milk
300ml double cream
23cm spring form tin, lined

1. Smash the biscuits up into crumbs, I just did it by hand.

2. Mix in the melted butter, and press the mixture into the tin. Leave to set in the fridge.

3. Chuck the condensed milk, cream, lime juice & zest into a massive bowl and mix well, with an electric whisk or whatnot.

4. Eat a large amount of the creamy, limey goodness to relieve stress. Pour the rest over the set biscuit base, and return to the fridge.

*Apparently I’m supposed to put the ‘key’ bit of the title in brackets, because I’m just using common-or-garden limes off the market, instead of key limes. I don’t even know what key limes are! Besides, the Wikipedia page on it is really long and I’ve had a tiring day. Just go right ahead and sue me.