Posts

The Friday video: The Death Wish Child at the skatepark

De Brevren made this video together. #2 did the skating and the editing (with help from his big bro), #1 did the filming and because he’s The Mad Professor, somehow knows tricks to get over the YouTube audio copyright restrictions too (shhh).  I might be biased but I think it’s quite good.  Although mothers of small boys everywhere will be buttock clenchingly aware that the child is moments away from several broken bones.  The song is Witchcraft by Pendulum.

‘No naughty words on mugs – promise?’ A trip to Emma Bridgewater

So the Tuesday of half term saw us take a rather wonderful trip.  Now the Brethren are 12 and 15 it’s getting more and more unusual that everyone wants to go out together. A shopping trip mostly ends up with one ‘ohhhh okay then’ and one ‘nope, I’m playing Xbox, seeya later’, so to take a trip ‘en famille’ was rather a pleasant change.

We were whooshed to Stoke on Trent in less than an hour from Milton Keynes on the rather swish Virgin ‘leany train’ (yes, I’m sure it has a proper name too), and met up with fellow bloggers Jen, Rachael and Josie, plus Dan and Kate from Kitchen Critic.

During the journey, we established ground rules for the trip. These included:

  1. No smutty jokes – there will be small children present
  2. No wrestling amongst the crockery
  3. No naughty words on mugs.  Yes, a drawing of a willy is considered naughty.

Here’s our fabulous day in pictures:

I am pleased to report that not only did we have a lovely family day out, but there was no smut, no wrestling, and I think no willies, but when our mugs arrived from Emma Bridgewater I’ll have to check.

If you’re ever in Stoke I’d thoroughly recommend a free factory tour (book in advance!) and a trip to the Potteries Museum where you’ll find a fascinating retrospective of Emma Bridgewater products stretching back the full 25 years (on now until 26th September, entry is free).

And now the thank yous:

Thanks to the lovely Jamie, and all the staff at Emma Bridgewater for a fabulous day out (sorry about all the sniggering – it’s Josie’s fault).  Thanks to the lovely Eb for organising the day, lovely chats and listening to me panicking about train times.

And finally, special thanks to the Death Wish Child and his new camera for all the wonderful pictures (I rent him out y’know…weddings, christenings…).


The Gallery: Motherhood

They’re messy.  And often smelly.  They’re noisy, they argue, they snigger, they stay up too late, have last minute shouty homework panics, fill the house with mates and when they’re hungry my kitchen looks like it’s been attacked by a plague of locusts..

But that day?  That day they danced down the aisle because that’s what they thought would make the day really perfect.

They even wore suits.  Okay, so they insisted on red Converse to complete the outfit, but suits all the same.

They welcomed our friends and family, chatted and laughed, decorated cars, held the ring, sang hymns, didn’t giggle, shook hands, directed traffic.  They behaved like proper gentlemen…

Look at my lovely boys.

God, I am proud.

This post is an entry for Tara Cain’s Gallery: Week 15.


Paintballing: full body armour and 100mph missiles

So Thursday, then, dawned bright and gorgeous.  Perfect weather for cramming yourself into full body armour, a helmet and goggles, and firing small missiles at your fellow man.

No, I’m not going mad.  It was The Brethren’s paintballing party (yes, yes, several months after their actual birthdays but then I never pretended to be organised).

Here’s a little précis of my highlights:

  • #1 stomping back to the safe zone with a totally orange visor having been hit smack in the face with a paintball (head shots don’t count, but you have to leave the game if you can’t see – taking your goggles off mid-games is illegal – paintballs can travel at speeds of 100mph).
  • #2 struggling into body armour about five times too big for him, insisting hotly that it was fine before finally being persuaded to go and get the right size.
  • The manager offering to lend me a hi-viz so I could go and take some photos of the action ‘although I can’t guarantee you won’t get shot’.  Er, no thanks.
  • The full body armour photos afterwards.
  • The fact that #1′s mate grabbed a smoke grenade and hurled it back (a long career in the forces awaits this fella)
  • Comparing bruises between rounds (they might be gelatine skinned but they still bloody hurt if they miss the body armour).

Special thanks to Olly and Sarah at International Paintball Group (ipg.uk.net) and the fantastic staff at Delta Force, Hemel Hempstead for making our day so enjoyable.

Fercucking hell!

I love the NHS.  Yup, really.  You won’t hear a bad word said about it in our house.  After four years in Ireland spent wondering whether each ailment was worth the fifty quid to see the doctor, I am ridiculously grateful.  Add that to several mad dashes to A&E at £100 a pop and you can imagine I’m a big fan. 

Not only that, but the kids had a recent eye test (you guess it, on the NHS), and we discovered that not only did #1 need new glasses, but #2 needs them now for reading and close-up work.  He was not impressed.

He was more impressed, however, when it turned out that he could have funky Quiksilver ones (to go with his recent purchase of skinny Quiksilver jeans from T K Maxx, and enormous DC skate trainers that, combined, make him look oddly like Mickey Mouse’s slimmer brother).

I also had to have a new pair.  I’d had my old ones since 1994, it turned out, so it was probably time.  Later,#2 was on the phone to his Dad:

#2: I’ve got this new pair of glasses – I’ve got to wear them for reading and stuff – they’re wicked!  They’ve got Quiksilver on the side!  And  #1 got some new ones too – his are Red or Dead.

Hubby: And what about Mummy, what are hers like?

#2: They’re okay.  They’re kinda brown and they say ‘fercuck’ on the side.

Healthy baked chicken burgers with help from the glamorous Turtle

So during half term, my adorable twin niece and nephew, Miss Turtle and Mr Jackson came to stay with my two chisellers.  We decided to have a blow-out junk food and video night and Turtle agreed to be my glamorous assistant, tearing herself away from her mobile phone and nail file (how the girl doesn’t have stumps for fingers the amount of filing she does, I’ll never know) for just long enough to knock up some yummy chicken burgers.

These burgers are a bit of a fave in our house.  Not only are they really cheap, they’re very healthy too and there are endless variations.  You can make little dinner party ones to serve with a nice Thai dipping sauce, you can make them into little meatballs and serve with a tomato sauce, or you can vary the flavours, say, with coriander or chilli…

Anyhoo, onto the main event.  Firstly, you’ll need:

Breadcrumbs (I whizz 2 slices in the blender of doom)

1 onion, or a couple of spring onions

1 egg

500g minced chicken or turkey

Seasoning

Firstly, then,  your glamorous assistant needs to bung a couple of slices of slightly stale bread into the food processor (actually we’re using the blender – not that blender – because I broke my lovely braun Braun MR400 Plus Multiquick Handblender 300w with its handy little mini processor) until they’re fine crumbs.  Put them in a bowl and leave to one side:

Next up, warn the aforementioned glamorous assistant about the perils of mixing fingers and blenders (she’s worn hers down enough as it is), then bung in the onion/spring onion and the egg.  If you’re using anything else, like chilli or coriander, chuck it in now.  Of course, if you don’t have an onion-phobic child and therefore don’t need to resort to this kind of stealth cookery, you could just chop them finely.  Whizz until you get a strangely satisfying frothy green liquid and silently pray to the cocktail god that your next mojito won’t taste of spring onion:

Next, and this is the good bit, bung the green goo into the breadcrumbs and add the chicken mince.  Season generously with salt and pepper, then roll up the sleeves of your glamorous assistant and set her to work squelching up the mixture (with clean hands and beautifully manicured nails) into an even paste:

When the mix is nicely combined, form it into about 6 patties, or smaller little cakes, or balls or whatever (and yes, they do have a slightly green tinge, but don’t let that put you off):

Put them on a non-stick tray (important that) and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 20 mins.  The smaller ones will take less time, but make sure you check to see that they’re thoroughly cooked in the middle.

Now just assemble your burger.  We used fresh crusty rolls and garnished our burgers with crunchy lettuce, grated cheese and a little spicy tomato salsa, but feel free to experiment.

Finally, we got out every single fattening thing we could find, including ice cream, whipped cream and a variety of chocolatey stuff, and set about having an ice-cream sundae competition (#1′s is the one that’s just a sundae dish full of chocolate):

And the winner is?  Yup, you guessed it:

A few of my favourite things…

So I finally got tagged in Tara Cain’s ‘favourite photo meme’.  I was beginning to feel  like Norma-no-mates as blogger after blogger got tagged (no, Tara, I’m not bitter…).  Finally, though, the fabulous, 51% Linda from Got Your Hands Full and the lovely Zoe over at Diary of a Surprise Mum took pity on me and  challenged me to publish my favourite photo…

And actually, I’ve cheated a bit as there are two.  The first is a picture of my firstborn, the wondrous Mad Professor, giving his beloved Grandad a piece of his mind, as usual.  I love the look on his face (it’s obviously a good story), and you can see that my Dad’s smiling as he’s listens to his Grandson waffling on.  Magical.

#1 and DD

Second up is my favourite photo of The Death Wish Child.  He’s on a very windy beach in Lanzarote.  I’m not sure why I love it so much, but I love his scrunched up little smile and his funky denim hat: 

#2 baby

And lastly, here’s my absolute favourite song.  Hubby has it on his laptop, my rockin’, Slipknot loving #1 has this on his phone, as does funky, Chipmunk loving son #2.  It’s a proper family favourite:

So now, I tag the lovely Liz at Living with Kids, and let’s open it up a little farther shall we?  To Coastal Aussie in the land of Vegemite.  Off you go, then…

Curse you, Supersleepover Mum…

Picture the scene:

It’s dinner time. My child has come home from a sleepover and is enthusing about it, telling me every little detail. He’s stabbed a chip and is currently waving it about as he tells us how cool his mate’s mum is. I’m trying to sound interested, I really am, but frankly, the old eyes are starting to glaze over…

‘…and she’s, like, really trendy – and like, really interested in all the same music as us…’

['but I like your music...', I fight the urge to wail, 'I can name every member of N-Dubz... even the one with the hat...']‘, but actually I smile and say: ‘no way?  That’s great!’

The chip continues to wave around in mid-air.

‘…and we got a chinese and were allowed to order anything we wanted…spare ribs, crispy duck… anything.’

['No veg, then?']

‘…I had tons.  It was gorgeous…’

['but I cook you nice stuff too...'  Home made stuff...']  I follow the chip as it waves around in front of his mouth: ‘Wow, chinese?  You’re so lucky’.

‘…and she made wicked cookies with Green and Black’s and we were allowed to eat all of them…’

['but I do cookies - don't I?  I do!  I do cookies all the time!  Okay, mine say 'bollocks' on, but hey...  And cake!  I do cake!]  ‘Ooh yummy, bet they were gorgeous’.

The chip finally hits the target and there’s a brief pause before my torture continues:

‘…and she let us go on the trampoline in the snow.  It was awesome!’

[Shit.  Broken twisted limbs - no fucking way I'd let you do that...]  ‘Gosh, really?’.

Come on, admit it. You’ve all been there. Your child has come back from a sleepover and ‘X’s mum is awesome!’  Oh God.

X’s mum is obviously far trendier than me.  She must have the patience of Mother flippin’ Theresa and be as deaf as a geriatric.  I feel inadequate.  I’m crap at sleepovers.  I get really grumpy.  It has been known for me to request that their friends ‘shut the f*ck up’ when they’re still giggling at 2am.

But X’s mum goes above and beyond.  There was trifle.  Eaten in bed.  And she’s, like, so funny too…

['But wait, what about my hilarious parody of Kardinal's rap in Akon's 'Beautiful' ... pretty funny huh?...']

The thing is, she’s actually a really, really nice person.  It’s just that at the end of every sleepover, I want to poke out her eyes with a blunt kebab stick.  Talk about raising the bar.

Pic (c) belgianwaffling.blogspot.com

To Ireland, with love.

English Towers in the snow (c) Englishmum.com

So that’s it, then.  Packing has commenced, the chickens have been collected in a trailer and carted off to their new home,  and in a very short time we shall land back on terra firma in the good old Kingdom of United.

I have mixed feelings, frankly.  When we first moved to Dublin I was miserable.  I missed my friends, my family, the familiarity of having lived in a place your whole life; bumping into people you know in Tesco (frankly, being able to even go to Tesco without an hour’s round trip).  It was rotten.  The children hated their new school (#1 was the only native English speaker in his class), everything was alien, everything shut for lunch, or on a Monday, or on a Wednesday or had to be requested in writing, and I lasted about 6 weeks before I fled home, leaving poor Hubby blinking in a bewildered fashion in a big empty Irish house.

Still, we made it back.  And with a new school for the boys, a new dog (the wonderful and much missed Becks), a new friend in Jenny and a new blog to take up my time (EnglishMuminIreland.blogs.ie – where it all began), I started to settle in.  The Irish are a wonderful breed: open, friendly, always up for a laugh, never too busy to help…  With Hubby’s new job we found ourselves here in Cavan and from the moment we walked over the threshold of English Towers, we felt at home.  With the lovely C next door already terminally ill when we arrived, a sad by-product of being able to help in small ways like minding children or fetching medicine from the chemist was that we (selfishly) felt needed and wanted very quickly.  We made friends with The Lovelies, the Galway Cs and Poppy’s Mum and her family (if you’re new here, check out ‘All about me’ at the top of the screen for more info), all via D, who was unceasingly generous with both his time and his friends, and have felt happily and contendedly as though we were home for the past two years.  D now has a new, lovely lady in his life.  The children are delighted and so are we.  We wish them all the love and happiness that they so deserve.

But things change.  The Recession came and bit us on the bum and it’s time to move on again.  I’ll miss the beautiful countryside, the wonderful people and the laid back lifestyle, but the hustle and bustle of town life is calling me back too.  Living in this huge house with the dog and the chickens and the lovely garden has been a massive adventure for us all.  The children have made lifelong friends, received a fantastic education and enjoyed some amazing life experiences.  They have benefitted immeasurably from their time here, as have the Hubby and I.  We’ve been lucky enough to share this fantastic place with our friends and family when they came over for our wedding blessing and have even been welcomed into the new community of the church by the kind and gentle Revd Craig - something I never would have imagined in a million years.  I know we’ll return so much more open to new experiences, and with a fresh appreciation for all the people and places that we’ve missed over the last four years.

Onwards and upwards, then.  Pass the bubble wrap.  Goodbye Emerald Isle.  It’s been a blast.

Hay bale (c) Englishmum.com

5 Reasons why I am a bad mother.

Children: horrible.

1.  Saturday morning.  I wake up to accusing looks from both offspring.  It turns out that I forgot to go out and shut the chickens up last night, now two of them are missing.  I am a bad mother.  I go out to look for them and find mounds of brown feathers strewn all over the coop.  It’s pretty obvious that a fox got to them.  I sit on the patio step and dissolve into tears.  Minnie pecks at my wedding ring.  I push her away and continue to cry guiltily before it dawns on me that she is obviously not dead.  Chilli is standing about ten feet away from me looking feathery and fine and not bald at all.  She must be moulting.  I give them both revolting smelly chickeny hugs and smile smugly at evil-eyed offspring.

2. Sunday morning.  I am upstairs folding washing when all of a sudden a blood curdling scream chills me to the core.  Hurdling the dog, whose first instinct is a hopeless attempt to try and force himself under the bed, I take the stairs four at a time to the kitchen where #1 is found to be the source of the screaming and is running around clutching his posterior.  #2 is standing looking guilty.  Turns out big brother wanted a hug from small brother who wasn’t too keen and shoved him a little too hard.  He hurtled backwards into the corner of a door and sustained a nasty injury to: ‘MY ARSE! OW! MY ARSE!’, or more accurately, the base of his spine.  Injured party is now running around, clutching aforementioned arse and squealing in a pitch so high that only dogs can hear him.

I calm things down and fetch an ‘arse pack’ from the freezer which causes me and the small one to dissolve into fits of hysteria and the large one to tell us to go away with words that would make his Grandmother blush, interspersed with ‘OW! MY ARSE!’ albeit in a slightly calmer tone.

3.  Sunday Evening.  Both offspring want to go down the boat road to watch the Pumpkin Festival fireworks.  I don’t.  I am a bad mother.  It’s two against one and I seem to be losing.  Happily, D-next-door comes to the rescue and offers to take them.  Two hours later, happily snuggled on the sofa with red wine and chocolate, the back door slams and the high pitched ‘OW MY ARSE!’ dog-deafening resumes.  Turns out instead of being sensible and representing the family and staying close to D as I had instructed, they’d messed about on an old rope swing down by the lough and #1 had fallen, yup you guessed it, straight onto the aforementioned injured bum again.  I offer the arse pack.  #2 and I collapse again.  #1 stomps off to bed.

4. This morning.  #2 is taking part in a sponsored walk with the school.  I have forgotten that I promised to email his Grandparents and various aunties, uncles and friends.  His sponsorship form is completely empty.  Feeling that I am an incredibly bad mother I spend ten minutes inventing people and filling in his sponsorship form with fictional sponsors.  He is not impressed.  I am a bad mother.

5.  #1 wishes to go up to Cavan with his mates and watch ‘The Vampire’s Assistant’ or some such.  I’m not sure.  Not only am I not sure whether he’ll be able to use his bus pass at half term, I’m also not sure that he should be in town on his own, even though he promises they’ll go straight to cinema and not hang around in one of those horrible teenage ‘gangs’ that make half term so unpleasant for us normal people.  I ‘obviously don’t trust him’ and am a bad mother.  I ask his Dad.  His Dad says yes.  Victorious child can barely keep smugness from his face as we drive to bus stop.  I am tempted to enquire after the wellbeing of his arse but fight the urge.  Smugness disappears instantly as he realises he’s left his bus pass at home. 

Hurling the child from the still-moving car, I shout at him to hold the bus, execute a pretty impressive J-turn in the middle of the N3 and hurtle home to retrieve the bus pass.  Just as I’m speeding back, he rings and tells me the bus is here.  I assure him I’m two minutes away.  He rings again.  The bus driver couldn’t wait but allowed him to get on the bus as long as I catch up with them and give him the bus pass.

Cue ‘Benny Hill’ music as I drive like a woman posessed trying to catch up with the bus which is obviously being driven by Nigel Mansell.  Half way to Cavan I manage to catch them up.  As I hand over the bus pass, the bus driver gives me an ‘I am not impressed’ glare. 

I give him an ‘oh piss off’ glare back and head home.

#1, however, sends me a text telling me that, on the contrary, I am a ‘legend’

I reply and tell him that he is a spanner.

I am a bad mother.

Restaurant Review: The Forge Restaurant, Pottlereagh, Carnaross

So here, finally, is the review of The Forge Restaurant where we celebrated English Grandma’s 70th.  We went with open minds because (let’s face it, like most restaurants) some of our friends had had fabulous experiences, and others not so good - we’d also heard tales of being rushed through desserts to free up tables, but when I phoned I spoke to a very friendly waitress who assured me that we could take as long as we needed.

First things first, then, it’s in an absolutely beautiful spot.  Nestled in quite a rural location, but only about 5 minutes off the N3 (the main road between Kells and Cavan) and just 4 miles north of Kells.  I’d guestimate that it’s probably just over an hour’s drive from Dublin.  It’s a beautiful old stone building with plenty of parking, and we were given a very warm welcome by owner Irene, who was reassuringly present in the restaurant all evening, and the lovely smiley waitresses.

Obviously the first thing we did was order some wine and we weren’t disappointed with our South African Lookout Ridge Chenin Blanc ’08, which was fresh and zingy.  The dinner menu (we booked at 7pm)  is small but lovingly chosen, and Irene was more than happy to chat about the decisions behind the menu, their suppliers, where their seafood comes from, etc.

We got an amazing platter of warm home made bread while we were waiting, with some lovely spicy fruity walnut bread being my particular favourite.  The fellas all chose a mussel casserole as a starter.  The mussels were small and deliciously sweet, swimming in a generous broth of cream, white wine and onion (which was a bit too creamy for their tastes, but I thought was lovely – maybe in need of a bit more reduction, although I’m no expert):

Mussels (c) Englishmum.com

Grandma and I both chose the smoked haddock fishcakes, which were exactly as promised: with chunks of soft smokey fish and a lovely crisp coating:

Fishcake (c) Englishmum.com

Everything was beautifully presented and absolutely scrummy.

For mains, Hubby and I both chose salmon with a crab Creole sauce, #2 went for a rib eye steak and #1 chose a rack of lamb.  I can’t remember what Grandma chose (I blame the Chenin Blanc).  Again, every meal was painstakingly decorated and lovingly presented: the lamb expertly cooked and just pink in the middle:

 Rack of lamb (c) Englishmum.com

… the salmon moist and delicate (what?  I stole some chips, okay?), nestled on the Creole crab which was amazingly sweet and warmly spiced:

Salmon (c) Englishmum.com

… and the steak (what was left of it by the time we got a photo) huge, meltingly tender and perfectly cooked:

Rib eye steak (c) Englishmum.com 

The side orders were beautiful, and generous: big fat chips, lovely creamy dauphinoise potatoes and fresh crisp vegetables.  Most importantly, they were included in the price of the meal – it really annoys me when restaurants charge you 6 quid for a teeny plate of veg.

On to desserts, then.  And although we were all feeling a bit like overstuffed cushions, the menu was so tempting that we had to go for it.  Hubby and I shared a Baileys and mixed nut parfait in a hazelnut tuille with fruits of the forest coulis, which was first class.  The parfait had an amazing texture and creamy flavour, and the tuille was light and crisp.  Yum:

(c) Englishmum.com

#2 naturally went for a big slab of squidgy chocolate roulade, complemented by a lovely sorbet (can’t remember what flavour but it was zingy and fruity and fabulously countered the richness of the chocolate roulade):

(c) Englishmum.com

…and even the birthday girl managed to squeeze in a bit of sorbet:

Grandma's sorbet (c) Englishmum.com

All in all we were delighted.  It’s not a cheap meal, but the care and attention taken with the sourcing, cooking and decorating of each plate of food means that you feel that you get proper value for money.  The staff and owners are friendly and welcoming (even to little English boys with very loud, squeaky voices) and passionate about their product, the setting is divine and the restaurant is homely, warm and inviting.  If you live in Ireland, do try and make the effort to head north and try out this absolute gem of a place, and if not, then next time you’re in Ireland, you must visit.  In fact, you can pop in to English Towers and say hi at the same time.

The Forge Restaurant
Pottlereagh
Carnaross
Kells
Co. Meath

Tel: 046 924 5003
Fax: 046 924 5917

http://www.theforgerestaurant.ie/

In which the YTPR comes to tea and talks me into being sociable

I am miserable.

I am also baking. 

This is a bad mixture.  At the best of times, I am the most spectacularly messy baker in the history of messy baking so I’m crashing stuff around, I have flour on my nose, every surface in the kitchen is covered in packets, bowls, utensils, half-chopped almonds and blobs of cookie dough… the mixer is going full pelt…

The doorbell rings and I yell at #2 to get the door. 

It’s the YTPR, Craig.  He obviously has the same amazing ability as Mr Lovely for sniffing out baking the moment it goes into the oven.

‘Hello!’, says the Rev, ‘I’m stalking you’.

‘Come in’, says I, ‘…and two emails and one blog comment don’t technically count as stalking.  Cup of tea?’

‘Oh go on, then’, he says, ‘ooh, are you baking?’

We chat and drink tea as I continue to hurl things into the Very Special Anniversary KitchenAid.  He threatens to tell Jen that I moaned that the whisk doesn’t get right to the edges.

He’s noticed, via my blog posts (that’s the way my life works) that I seem a bit down.  We chat some more.  He mentions that several of his female parisioners get together on a Tuesday for a few nibbles and a chat – nothing heavy or religious, just a bit of mutual support and a few cookies…

‘Whoah…’

[Cue sound of needle screeching across record]

‘I’m not very good at socialising’, says I.  It’s true.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, really, as I’m quite friendly – but there’s something about socialising that scares the living crap out of me.  I envisage a group of women all chatting and having fun.  I walk in, and it goes all quiet like that scene in the pub in American Werewolf.  I then continue to compound my awkward situation by uttering a string of increasingly absurd things.  Eventually, they all throw their cookies at me and leave.  Stupid, I know, but I can’t help it.

He reassures me that they’re all really friendly.  His wife goes (I like his wife).  One lady is a real foodie and does catering and makes chutneys and stuff…

‘What, like chutneys and chilli jam and stuff?’

‘Yeah, stuff like that’

‘Okay then, I’ll think about it.  Biscuit?’

‘Oh go on, then.’

Personal blogging: cathartic or a step too far?

Blog the blog

I was interested to read (on Twitter, via my friend Laura) that the legendary blogger, Petite Anglaise, was hanging up her keyboard once and for all.  And although our thoughts turned first to the fact that it will leave a space in the #1 slot of the Top 100 British Mummy Bloggers chart (elbows out, girls!…hey, hang on, I’m down 9 places to #15 – the shame!), her reasons for ‘turning the page’ on blogging were very interesting.

It seems that personal blogging, the very thing that earned her the lucrative book deal and led to a career as a writer, had started to leave an unpleasant taste in her mouth.  If you don’t know the story, she famously got fired by her boss, about whom she was distinctly unpleasant, when her anonymous blog came to light  (she did subsequently win damages against him in court, though).  The story made her quite famous, but once the anonymity had been removed, there was the constant worry that somebody would be upset or offended with what she might say, and with that new-found worry came the inevitable dearth of subject matter.  Interesting, also, that it was THIS INTERVIEW with Liz Jones, a weirdly neurotic, no-holds-barred journo who has managed to alienate half her family and her entire village (including my friend and fellow Disney 7er Exmoor Jane) with her bare-all style of writing, that finally tipped her over the edge.  But in short, she just stopped enjoying it.

I sympathise, I really do.  When I started my blog, way back when we first moved to Ireland, I was obsessive about anonymity and never posted pictures of anyone I knew.  Slowly, I’ve relaxed this rule.  I still try not to post full-face photos of the children, or anyone whose permission I haven’t sought (Mad Uncle Alg is fair game, obviously), and don’t mention people’s full names.  But now we’re settled here, it’s natural that more and more people get to know me, start to read the blog, and my cover has been, I suppose, somewhat blown.  In fact, I’ve even been caught out giving my rather frank views by someone that turned out to be a reader.  Yup, that was awkward.  I’d hate to think I’d ever hurt anyone by what I’d written and I’ll always check first with, say, D-next-door before I mention C, or the kids.

With all this in mind, I’ve had a long hard think about this blog and did decide to go back and remove certain pictures and videos, including our wedding vid.  You can still email me for a link, but I wondered if I was going too far towards making my family live a life online, so I took a step back.

Add this to the fact that I now write for other websites, such as the fabulous HaveALovelyTime.com and you’ll probably find my first name dotted about, if you really look hard.  Funnily enough, when I, and my fellow Disney adventurers travelled to Walt Disney World and met up with our American alter-egos, the ‘Mommy Bloggers’, they were completely dumbfounded by our wish to remain anonymous.  Most published their full names, pictures of themselves and their families and couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t wish to do the same:

‘What, you don’t WANT to be famous?’ 

‘Erm, no, actually, I don’t’.

Englishmum.com is a, I suppose, a bit of an eccentric mix.  There’s family stuff, yes, but the foodie/garden stuff tends to take precendence.  And if I’m honest, I suppose that as the children get older, it’s harder to write honestly without risking embarrassing them in front of their school mates (#1′s been known to comment whilst in his IT lesson).  My readership has risen steadily (thank you!) and though I’m sure I’ve lost and gained different readers as my content has meandered, I am lucky to be blessed with friendly and loyal readers and commenters.  I regard my blog as a little piece of me.  It’s stuffed full of things that I love and I’m always happy that people pop in and enjoy reading my waffle.

And this, I suppose, brings me neatly on to the fact that after much soul-searching, we’ve decided to have Bert rehomed.  This is a HUGE decision for us, but basically he’s been showing some signs of aggression for a while and obviously our children have to be our main priority.  There’s a load of history behind this that I won’t bore you with, but my lovely mate Jen  is still in touch with a lot of people in greyhound rescue, and is going to make sure he goes to a good home somewhere with people that know his history and will really love and care for him well.  I’m sad, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

So for now, I’ll crack on (800 posts, 8553 comments and counting…), I’ll continue to be anonymous-ish, and there’ll be the same old stuff – maybe a bit more food and a bit less about the fellas, and obviously no more Bert, but don’t worry, if anyone humiliates themselves in any way, you’ll be the first to know.

Oh and here’s my rather pathetic review on Mmmmmmcake. ‘It was nice’? C minus for effort there.

Healthy lunches, fruity peanut flapjack and a small moan

(c) Englishmum.com

So things aren’t going well  here at English Towers.  In fact, that’s a total understatement.  Things are going shite (recession, you b*stard, go take it out on somebody else for a change).  Anyhoo, instead of making you read a whole big chuntering moan all about how terrible my life is, I thought I’d tell you about my little trip to the  lovely little local school yesterday where I took great pleasure in watching as #2 turned puce with embarrassment as I manned a healthy eating cookery stall.  See, they had a fabulous bash for the launch of their new School Healthy Eating Policy, and they kindly invited me along, knowing that I’d be tempted out of my kitchen here at English Towers with the promise of an afternoon of showing off and the chance to embarrass my youngest child. 

Now as you probably know, in Ireland there’s no such thing as school lunches.  Nope, Sir Jamie of Oliver’s magic wooden spoon hasn’t touched these vibrant shores, and kids are still taking a peanut butter sandwich and a Mint Club to school (ooh, I love Mint Clubs…), furring up their little arteries and basically making themselves into little chubby sumo wrestlers.  So in an inspired bit of  forward thinking, they took it upon themselves to come up with a healthy eating policy, encouraging the children to bring healthy food in their lunchboxes and banning the undesirables like sweeties, crisps and fizzy drinks.

Yesterday, the school launched their new policy with the help of a fabulous committee of children, a few random Mums (of which I was one) and a very nice lady from the HSE (sorry about the butter thing, Mary, I just can’t bring myself to cook with anything that starts with ‘mono-unsomethingorother).  Mrs Galway C and a few other ladies spent hours peeling and chopping masses of fruit and vegetables to give the children the opportunity to taste everything from watermelon to spring onion, and yet more Mums brought in their fabulous home-grown vegetables and fruit (I kept quiet at that point, thinking that the comedy cauliflower from my garden would probably frighten the children).  The kids did all sorts of pictures and displays (one of which was a fascinating wall display showing the sugar content of several items represented in actual lumps of sugar – scary).

For my part, I printed up a few healthy recipes and brought along some blueberry muffins, flapjacks with dates and apricots, some easy hummus with lots of dippy vegetable sticks, and a broccoli and salmon quiche (okay, tarte, if you’re posh) for the children to try. Oh yeh, sorry, the recipes:

Fruity Date and Dried Apricot Flapjack

140g butter

2 tbsp peanut butter  (or omit and use 170g total butter)

4 tbsp golden syrup or honey

100g brown sugar

30g dates (or chopped nuts)

60g dried apricots, or cranberries work well here too (see pic)

400g oats

So melt the butter along with the peanut butter (if using), golden syrup/honey and brown sugar over a low heat in a large saucepan.  Chop the dates (or nuts) and apricots very finely and stir into the butter mixture. 

Finally, weigh out the oats and stir them into the mix.  Press into a very well buttered non-stick baking tin (I use bake-0-glide as these have the potential to stick, concrete-like to the bottom of the tin).  Now, I’ll let you in on a secret, if you let them sit for half an hour before baking, they’ll be even soften and more delicious when they come out.  Finally, bake for 15-20 minutes at gas 4/180 degrees until just golden.

Hummus (especially for Anouk):

1 tin chickpeas, drained

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper

Squeeze of lemon juice

Place all ingredients into a blender and whiz until puréed.  Serve with breadsticks, sliced pitta bread and fresh vegetable sticks for dipping.  Hardly a recipe, but very yummy all the same.

There was the odd ‘bleurgh, what’s THAT?’ to the hummus in particular, but plenty more of the kids tried things for the first time, and even vowed to have a go at the recipes at home.  And let’s face it, if that makes one less teeny sumo wrestler, you’ve got to chalk it up as a success.

Last word, though, must go to Little Miss Lovely, who, when asked whether she wanted a recipe sheet, waved it away saying ‘oh no, I’ve got the internet’.  Bless.  My biggest fan.

Wedding planning for duffers

(c) Englishmum.com

So in a couple of short weeks I shall be tripping up the aisle (not literally, fingers crossed) in our pretty little church to renew the vows I made fifteen years ago to love, honour and erm…look after my long-suffering Hubby.  We’ve had our ups and downs – neither of us have been angels, but we’ve survived fifteen years without killing each other (it’s been close on occasions), produced two lovely sons and, as the eminently sensible Revd Craig pointed out, that’s got to be worth celebrating. 

When he asked me this time last year if I’d consider doing him the honour (‘properly, this time – church… dress… party – the whole nine yards’) who knew that half the fun would be in the planning.  I heartily recommend getting married (or remarried or blessed – don’t let the fact that you already have the ring stop you) quite a few years down the line in a relationship.  Okay, so the downside is you have to pay for it yourself, and I’ll never make a wedding planner (‘what do you mean the Rally of Ireland is on the same day as the wedding and we can’t use the carpark as it’ll be stuffed full of rally cars?’) but the advantages are enormous.  In fact, here are my top ten reasons for planning a wedding once you’re mature enough to make all the decisions:

1  The dress.  Every girl knows it’s all about the dress.  I had a bit of a false start here, purchasing a sensible, grown up cocktail dress from Monsoon then lying awake at night wishing I’d bought the wedding dress of my dreams.  After all, you only get to walk down the aisle once, okay twice.  And hey, if I want to do it wearing acres of pink tulle, looking like a cross between Katie Price and the Bride of Frankenstein, then it’s my shout.  I don’t, but I reserve the right to.

2  The guest list.  Don’t want to invite that maiden aunt with the moustache who frightens the children?  Cross her off the list.  Let’s face it, by the time you get to your forties (6 months to go before the big 4-0!) you know who your friends are and who they aren’t.  We’re delighted that we’ll be spending the day surrounded by the people that we love, and who love us back, and not with the people we felt we had to invite. 

3  The service.  Now it helps here to have a good relationship with your clergyman.  We, happily, are onto a winner.  Want a relaxed, child-friendly, happy, intimate service with lots of music and fun?  No problem.  Craig’s suggestions and ideas have added so much to the ceremony that we just can’t wait.  And the locals secretly can’t wait to get a shufty inside the C of I church either.

4  The details.  ‘I want the church full of flowers!’, I said to the florist, presenting her with my lovingly-made collage cut from several hundred wedding magazines.  ‘I’d love the scent of beautiful lilies, freesias and roses to hit the congregation as they walk in… and I want my bouquet to be huuuuge and smell gorgeous and be full of bright colours: pink and orange and lime green…’ [cue sound of needle screeching across record.]  Okay, so my original remit for the florist might have been a little extravagant.  Flowers are slightly expensive and the sound of Hubby’s sharp intake of breath when presented with the quotation was enough to send me scuttling back with a slightly amended version of my original flamboyant request.  These things cost money, y’know.  The advantage is that you know exactly what you want.  Even if you can’t actually afford it.

5  The cake.  Don’t like fruit cake?  Bit of a fan of Ace of Cakes?  Happen to have an incredibly talented friend who just happens to make the most fantastic cakes in the world?  You’re onto a winner.  Jen and I have spent many a happy hour discussing the merits of white chocolate sponge with raspberry filling versus dark chocolate sponge with a lime-scented ganache.  In the end we decided we’d have a layer of each one we liked.  See, when you’re grown up you can make those kind of decisions.

6  The music.  The fantastic night we spent at JD’s wedding convinced us that their band was the only one we wanted.  It didn’t matter that they’re based in Waterford, and that there’s six of them plus a ton of equipment to find room for.  We had to have them, so we took budget money away from other stuff and juggled the sums until we could afford them.  You can do that when it’s your money.

7  The poncy bits.  Don’t want buttonholes (‘why would I want a flower on my suit?’)?  Don’t have ‘em.  Ditto all the awkward, expensive and largely pointless bits that nobody cares about like favours.  I mean, who actually eats those sugared almonds in a bit of netting tied with ribbon anyway?  Cross ‘em off.  Equally, if you want every  car to be decorated with bright pink ribbon, for example, or have a friend mental enough to agree to sit with you and tie 85 bows of ribbon around 85 order of service scrolls then go for it.  The poncy bits are all yours.

8  The grub.  You get to pick the food you like.  We’re lucky because the chef at the hotel didn’t run away screaming when he saw me enter our meeting with a clipboard and a list of requirements twenty feet long.  Even better, he suggested fantastic local produce that we could incorporate into our wedding feast: beautiful fresh crab from Annagassan on the coast of County Louth… fresh local wild salmon and sides of beef sourced locally from the wonderful beef farmers of County Cavan (a couple of whom will be there with their families, which reminds me of my favourite conversation so far: ‘thanks for the invitation…you do know that I have five kids don’t you?’  Me: ‘Yup and we want you to bring them all along – don’t worry, we’ll reserve you a pew!’).

9  The chiselers.  You get to enjoy it all with your kids.  The boys’ friends will all be there and they’ve had enormous fun planning the day with us.  They’ve picked out their suits and selected a couple of lucky local girls to share their ‘first dance’ with.  The lovely Revd Craig suggested including them in the actual blessing ceremony and they’re breathless with excitement.  What better way to teach them about the importance of family than to get them involved?

10  The fun.  Oh we have some tremendous fun stuff planned.  Some really bonkers off-the-wall stuff that will have our guests astounded and amused.  Again, a flexible, forward-thinking vicar is de rigeur in this situation.  But, I mean, blimey, it IS supposed to be fun, isn’t it?

Oh, but it’s not all romance and roses.  We’ve had our fair share of doubts too.  Are we mental?  Does anyone really give a shit if the crab’s local?  Is it wise that 35 of our 85 guests are children?  Why have we spent all this money when we could have had two weeks on a tropical beach and renewed our vows barefoot on the sand with the boys in hawaiian shirts? 

I collar the Hubby while he’s watching the grand prix.  ‘Are we mad?’, I ask him.  ‘Would you have preferred the beach?’. 

‘I don’t know’, he says, ‘I’ll tell you the day after the blessing’. 

Oh.

Sticky, gooey, plumptious, scrumptious, soft iced buns

Sticky buns

So poor little #2 came home from his GAA tournament yesterday feeling all under the weather.  He was cold and clammy, his head ached, his tummy hurt and he felt all ‘kind of wobbly’.  Of course, there’s only one cure for this particular group of symptoms, which is a snuggle on the sofa with the dog, the fluffy blanket, a hot chocolate and a fistful of sticky bun.  Trust me, I’m a doctor:

450g strong white bread flour

1 tsp salt

75g sugar

 1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

150ml milk

150ml water

50g butter

4 or 5 tbsp icing sugar

½ tsp liquid glucose

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar, and dried yeast.  In a small saucepan, warm the milk, water, and butter over a low heat until the butter has just melted, then turn off the heat.  The liquid should be at no more than blood temperature when it’s added to the dry ingredients.  You can do this in the microwave, but remove it as soon as the butter starts to melt and stir gently until it’s all combined, otherwise you’ll be waiting for ages for it to be cool enough.

Pour most of the milky mixture into the dry ingredients and stir it around with a knife until you get a light dough.  Leave it as sticky as you can bear as you want your dough plumptiously, pillow-soft.  You can always add a bit of flour.  Now start kneading: with the heel of one hand, press and splurge the dough away from you, (imagine you’re smearing it across the work surface) then bring it back, squish it into a ball again, turn it over and then splurge it again.  As it’s quite a wet dough this is a bit messy, but that all adds to the fun.  Again, if you’re getting really covered, you can always add a bit of extra flour.  As you knead it, it will become more elastic and springy and less squelchy.

Apologies for the lack of photos here.  I was enjoying myself so much (I love my kitchen – a week away is about all I can bear) that I forgot I was supposed to photograph it for you.  Anyhoo, when you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes and your dough is springy and pillowy-soft and looks bizarrely like a nice, round bottom-cheek (it really does, I’m sorry – maybe that’s just my filthy mind), cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the airing cupboard or somewhere else warm until it’s doubled in size.  Then, just knock it back with your fist and form it into 8 balls.  Either place them on a baking tray or arrange them inside a springform cake tin like I did, then cover and rise again until they’re puffed up.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes at 180/gas 6 until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Now while they’re baking make your icing by adding a couple of teeny drops of boiling water to the icing sugar and liquid glucose (optional but it keeps the icing from setting) until you get a thick, gloopy icing. 

As soon as they’re out of the oven…

Sticky 2

drizzle the icing all over them so it runs down the sides…

Sticky 3

…then stuff into face before your family appears to steal them  hand to little chap snuggled on sofa and watch as he feels better instantly.

Sticky 1

Of course, #2 likes these completely plain, but there are a myriad different additions I could suggest – how about a hint of spice?  Or some orange zest and a few dried cranberries?  Or some nice, juicy sultanas?  Or after the first rise, roll the dough out, spread it generously with butter, brown sugar and sultanas, maybe a little sprinkle of cinnamon, roll into a sausage and cut into rounds, arrange them flat onto a baking tray, allow to rise and then bake and, Bob’s your Auntie – you’ve produced Chelsea Buns, you kitchen legend, you.

Playground politics: do two wrongs never make a right?

Okay, so this is a long piece for me, but bear with me as I’d welcome any comments.  Sometimes growing up is difficult: stuff happens and as a parent you’re supposed to have a solution – a piece of advice for the child to follow so that the situation doesn’t rear its ugly head again. 

Take my youngest.  I know I’m biased but he’s a lovely chap; happy, sporty, smiley and a lot of fun.  He can be a huge pain in the arse, granted, but generally he’s pretty easy going.  He lost his sparkle for a while when he had a difficult time at his last school, but he’s fitted in just fine at the local school and comes back full of tales of what he’s been up to, with a big smile on his face.

I do think, though, that what he went through at that school knocked his confidence.  He plays well with a bunch of kids, but although he’s friendly and likes them all, seems to keep a little bit of distance.  I’ve taken the opportunity, while the big fella’s away to encourage him to ask a couple of different kids round to play.  We’ve had one so far, which went well, and he’s slowly getting used to the idea again.

Recently, though, a child that he plays with quite a bit said something mean to him.  This is normal kid-to-kid stuff and nothing unusual – a little playground snipe.  A play, quite cleverly, on the fact that #2 doesn’t hang around with many people.  ‘You’ve got no friends’, said Child A.  ‘Yes I have’, said #2, ‘go on, then, name them…’ said Child A. 

Now at home, none of us are backward in coming forward – we are all quite quick with the wisecracks and #2 is no different – he’s very well equipped to deliver a stinging rejoinder to anything anyone can throw at him – in fact, on several occasions it’s how he gets himself in trouble: these little sarky replies going a  little bit near the knuckle when directed at one’s parents.  So what did #2 do?  Did he redirect with a stinging comeback (of which he’s quite capable)?  No.  He dissolved into tears, tried valiantly (but failed miserably) to hide it and carried on.  I went to talk to him and found out what had been said, and this is where I’m doubting myself.

In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, I’m furious with myself.  I talked to Jen about it afterwards who quite rightly said ‘what, and you didn’t say anything to Child A?’  Er.. no.  I’m terrible with any sort of confrontation.  If there’s any telling off to be done, I tend to direct it to the group as a whole and will ignore things with other children that I would no way tolerate in my own kids.  I took #2 to one side, told him that he should brush  himself down, ignore it and get on with stuff – that he knew better than to take any notice of silly ‘sticks and stones’ rubbish like that. 

But have I made it worse?  By not taking Child A to one side and saying ‘now hang on, that was mean and I won’t tolerate you being mean in my house’ have I shown Child A that spite has no consequences?  That next time #2 gets on Child A’s nerves will they deal with it by another spiteful comment?  By not encouraging #2 to fight back (verbally), do I make him less well equipped to deal with the slings and arrows of the playground?

Hubby is of the opinion that if someone is mean to you then you’re quite entitled to be mean back: ‘f*ck that’, he told #2, if Child A’s mean to you again you bloody well give it back double.  You know you can’.  However, I’ve always followed the tack that two wrongs don’t make a right, but now I’m starting to wonder if Hubby’s right and that the best course of action would have been for #2 to turn round to Child A and deliver one of his rather witty and stinging put-downs.  Child A would be instantly silenced, and everyone would carry on.

We talked about it a bit last night ‘but you’ve always told me not to be mean’, argued #2, ‘in fact, the one time I did say something back to Child A when I was at their house, #1 told you and you went mental’.  This is true.  It was a lot to do with the fact that I feel strongly that my children should be polite in someone else’s home – I was furious to think that #2 could have been overheard saying something rude when he was a guest there. 

Ugh.  I’m so confused.  As parents, should we get involved?  Should we take a step back?  And if we take a step back should we allow our children to sort out their own battles in the way they best know how, even if, to a certain degree, they’re doing stuff that we wouldn’t normally encourage?

Maybe I should borrow Rosie’s book?

Sunbathing, salsa and the garden luge. With cackling.

So it’s bank hols here in the Republic and yesterday dawned the most beautiful, hot sunny day.  There’s nothing quite like a sunny day in Ireland.  Not only is it very unusual and therefore all the more welcome, but the whole greenness of the place gives it an almost luminous, lime green glow.   The kids started off mucking about spraying each other with water guns, then hubby disappeared to the shop and came back with industrial strength rolls of bin bags to create the garden waterslide from hell.  Here’s Hubby, #1, #2 and Little C (Lou was far too dainty for hurling herself downhill on a bit of plastic) having fun.  Apologies for the hideous cackling, but what you couldn’t see, just out of shot, was that they all crashed into the side of the garage at the end of the trip (oh and check Hubby’s ‘argh!  incoming!’).  Oh and sorry about shooting directly into the sun.  I don’t think I’ll be entering it at Cannes this year.  Enjoy though.

 

We had lamb-burgers for lunch, made with minced lamb, breadcrumbs, crushed garlic, cumin, mustard seed, salt and pepper, with a lovely salsa that hubby made out of the lovely frondy fennel in the garden, plus chilli, pineapple, tomato, greek basil and spring onion.  Summer on a plate:

 Salsa

 Bert enjoyed the bank holiday too.  Hubby has mowed another beautiful heart in one of the front lawns for me which is now full of wild flowers:

 Heart

and happens to make a rather nice sunbathing spot too:

Bert sunbathing

Mind you, when you have a comfy child to lean on, you can sunbathe just about anywhere:

Bert sunbathe 2

We rounded the day off with hotdogs and a bonfire, with a bit of guitar playing and a sing song.  Ah, I hope the summer lasts.

Walt Disney Pictures’ Bedtime Stories reviewed by #2 (the Death Wish Child)

#2

So we’re all feeling a bit celeb here at English Towers since we got appointed as Disney Blu-ray Ambassadors and *gasp* the new Blu-ray player arrived (poor Bernard the postie hasn’t been the same since - being mobbed at the doorstep by an over-enthusiastic gang of Englishers must be very disturbing).

We’ve had a movie-watching frenzy and, in the interests of research (all for you, dearest reader), watched some rather fab movies.  Here’s the Death Wish One to tell you all about Bedtime Stories:
 

Bedtime stories By #2 (The the Death Wish Child) aged 11 and 1 month.

Bedtime Stories is about Skeeter [Adam Sandler].  Skeeter was born into a family who owned a motel.  Skeeter’s Dad was forced to sell the motel to Mr Nottingham [Richard Griffiths] because otherwise he’d go bankrupt.  Mr Nottingham promised that if Skeeter showed any talent he would be the manager of the new hotel.

Years later, Skeeter is the hotel handyman.  He has to look after his niece and nephew and discovers that when he makes up a bedtime story, what they say happens in real life.

This was an amazing film with twists like how when Skeeter said something in the story it wouldn’t happen, but when the kids said something it would happen.  My favourite part was when it rained gum balls (at least it didn’t rain the other sort).  My favourite thing was easily Bugsy the hamster with the huge eyeballs (I know again with the balls) and my favourite person was Russell Brand (Mr Coconut Bra).  I highly recommend this film for all ages.  It was the best film I’ve seen in absolutely ages. 

Hope to be writing more reviews soon,

#2

xx

 

 

This review is brought to you by English Towers (always up for a freebie) and the ‘Think Parents’ network:

Think Parents

The Friday photo: #2′s ridiculously chocolatey double chocolate meringue cheesecake

Nom nom nom

So you know the rules by now.  The birthday person is entitled to request, nay, demand, the birthday cake/dessert/artery clogging confection of his/her choice and nobody’s allowed to complain; especially not me, and I have to make the bloody thing.

The Death Wish Child, my smallest, most accident-prone offspring, when not frequenting his local accident and emergency department or engaging in some form of muddy violence thinly veiled as a contact sport, is a bit of a chocolate lover.  The child has miraculously survived to celebrate his 11th birthday.  I know.  It’s a miracle.  And his birthday request was for… and I quote… “a cheesecake.  Ooh, no, a chocolate cheesecake.  Ooh, no… a double chocolate cheesecake.  Yes.  With a meringue topping.  Erm, and sparklers”. 

So there you have it.  I’ll give you the recipe, not so much because I expect you to actually make one yourselves, more so you can marvel at the placement of so many calories in so small a cake tin.  Be afraid:

300g dark chocolate digestive biscuits

100g butter, melted

175g dark chocolate

500g cream cheese

100g icing sugar, sieved

200ml double cream

Soooo, whizz the biscuits in a food processor, or put them in a strong freezer bag and bash hell out of them with a rolling pin (this step is particularly therapeutic if you have an ex-husband, or so I’m told).  Then pour over the melted butter and mix well.  Press the mixture into the bottom of a springform cake tin lined well with plenty of clingfilm (make sure it overhangs the sides) and put it in the fridge to set.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (remember not to let the bowl touch the water) and put aside.  In a fresh bowl, beat the cream cheese, then add the icing sugar and beat well together:

 Whip until the meringue isn't gritty anymore

Set that aside and in another bowl (yeh sorry, not very washing-up friendly this one), whisk the double cream until it’s lovely and fluffy, then set that one aside too:

Whip the cream...

Now check the chocky to make sure it’s blood temperature, and start to add the cream cheese mixture one spoon at a time, stirring well until it’s all combined:

After the first couple of spoonfuls you can mix the whole lot in

Now fold in the whipped cream:

 Fold in the cream

…and let the dog lick the bowl (awww, g’wan…):

Aw go on, it's going in the dishwasher anyway...

Now pile the whole lot onto the cooled biscuit base and level it off with a knife and return to the fridge to set.  Now, if you’re sane, you’ll walk away right this minute and serve your delicious dessert with a flourish and maybe some fresh raspberries:

 Sensible people walk away now...

If you’re mental, though, and prepared to do anything for your child just because it’s his birthday, crack on with the meringue.  First, preheat the grill to very hot, then take 2 egg whites, plop them into a clean bowl and whisk until really fluffy and stiff.  Now gradually add 115g caster sugar:

Mix in the sugar one spoonful at a time

Whisk until the meringue is glossy and thick, and a generous stolen fingerful doesn’t contain any hint of gritty sugar.  Take the cheesecake out of the fridge and carefully remove all the clingfilm.  Now pile all the meringue over the top of your cheesecake, smoothing it over to the edges but leaving some little peaks, and chuck it quickly underneath your very hot grill just to singe the very tops of the mountains, as it were.

Serve, with sparklers, to an overexcited child, happily hiding your exhaustion, whilst secretly dreading what concoction the Mad Professor’s going to be demanding for his birthday in less than 10 days’ time.  Phew.

Ooh, sparkly!

An English Towers Easter medley

What?  No, of course it’s not because I can’t be arsed to write anything.

1.  Me hiding the eggs (what?  of course you’re allowed to hide them on cars)

2. #2 scoffing his painstakingly (not) decorated chocolate muffin

3. And they’re off…

4. Little C goes a-huntin’

5.  Lou and #1 check out the bottom of the garden

6. The fellas find ‘treesure’ in the Christmas tree

7. Lou’s beeyootiful muffin

8. Muffins galore

9. My chilli seedling (thanks to Growup for the seeds!)

Chicken and asparagus risotto

Asparagus

Ah, Mother’s Day.  A day for eating cremated bacon sandwiches whilst smiling broadly and going ‘mmm, delicious!’, drinking the half-cup of dodgy tea that was delivered to your bedside whilst secretly worrying how long it’s going to take you to remove the other half that’s been slopped up the stairs, and being the recipient of approximately fifteen hardly squeezes and twenty five sloppy kisses every five minutes.  I love it.  I got some beautiful flowers, some pink and blue furry (yup, furry), sparkly cards, a lovely set of aromatherapy smellies and a chocolate fondue as well.  I made teeny meringues to dip in the chocky and a lubly day was had by all.

In other news, the Death Wish Child seems to have recovered well from his recent face-first encounter with the tarmac at school (teeth through top lip – ouch), and his subsequent head-butting of someone else’s knee in a footie match.   Deciding, then, that he might like some comfort food, I whipped up a little risotto.  I like making risotto.  There’s something really therapeutic about standing at the stove stirring - it makes me feel all efficient and homely (that’s a first):

2 pints chicken stock (cubey stuff is fine)

2 chicken breasts (free range, natch)

50g butter/slosh of olive oil

1 onion, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped

350g risotto rice (carnaroli or arborio are easily available)

Handful of frozen peas

Bunch of asparagus

Parmesan cheese to taste

So make up your stock (or if you’re really efficient, reheat your home-made stuff), and pop the chicken breasts in to poach – you can add some herbs or an onion or whatever too, if you like.  Grab a heavy based pan, put if on a low heat and melt the butter.  Glug in some olive oil, then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (little tip here – a pinch of sugar will stop it browning).  Then bung in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.

Stir the rice until glossy

Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another.  I tend to leave the chicken breasts wallowing in the stock until I’ve nearly used it all, which means they get at least 20 minutes’ poaching.  Take them out and shred them, then add them to the risotto along with your frozen peas.  Meanwhile, get another saucepan going with some boiling salted water to blanch your asparagus.  When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so - the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it. 

Now turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, put the lid on and leave it to sit while you blanch the asparagus for about 6 to 8 minutes (add the heads last so they don’t get soggy).  When just tender, drain and reserve.

Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan and the asparagus.  Of course this is nice with the asparagus incorporated into the risotto, but with #2 being ill already, I don’t want to scare him any further by serving him up anything green that isn’t a frozen pea.

Risotto

The sun’s shining again…

Hug therapy: I invented it.

So, as you may or may not be aware, we had a little false start when we first moved over here… that is to say I had a little false start.  Hubby had already moved over and we stayed behind to sort stuff out.  When we finally moved it was Christmas and I missed my folks (yes, I know they’re all mental, but they’re MY mental family), and I’m ashamed to say I had a little wobble and fled back home leaving poor Hubby wondering quite what he was going to do with his new shiny job and newly empty house in a new and strange country.  The biggest problem was the school they’d started at.  It was a weird, shanty-town type affair with portakabins and strange rules such as no running in the playground and poor #2 was the only child in his class whose first language was English.  Now I know that one has to fit in when one moves to another country, and I know that outlying areas of big cities like Dublin will always be multi-national in their communities, but battling a huge move, plus sitting in a class full of Polish, Latvian and Senegalese children and not being able to communicate was tough.  And they hated it.

Oh, it’s okay, I came back.  And when we did all come back we chose a nice, quirky, fun school for them to go to.  It didn’t matter that it was an hour’s drive away at the time as we kind of planned to head north anyway (at the time we didn’t anticipate quite how far north, but that’s another story).  And they loved it.  They played cricket (in Ireland!  Imagine!), learned Latin and embraced their inner quirkiness.  Reader, it was a success.

And then everything changed.  #1 left for ‘big school’, and slowly, gradually, #2′s smile seemed to fade (and #2′s is a huge and cheeky smile generally – it was like an eclipse…everything seemed darker).  Dropping him off became a constant, draining treadmill of pleas, encouragement, bribery…anything just to persuade him out of the car (yes, I tried the rolling pin, but a bruised child is just as tough to move as a sparkly fresh one).  It became clear that a couple of children in his class were, well, let’s just say they weren’t particularly friendly.  I’d stop short at the term ‘bullying’ but there were a few little incidents…games that he couldn’t join…his beloved watch smashed while he played rugby…  His writing was rubbish, he told me, and he wasn’t very good at football.  And it played itself out in typical ‘I’m the parent so I’m entitled to interfere’ fashion: parents were talked to, desks were moved…you know the drill.  Still, his confidence was ebbing away and things had to change.

Long story short, then…  Monday morning saw #2 start at the local school.  He’s in the same class as Lou-next-door and Big Lovely, starts at 9.30 and finishes just after 3.  He can hardly believe it.  It’s like a half day.  And yesterday when he arrived home (walked all by himself – it must be all of..oooh…300 yards?) he’d had a lovely day.  He rushed to do his homework (which he did painstakingly, joined-up) and went to research WW2.

And no, he’s not learning Latin, nor will he play cricket.  But do you know what?  He’s actually not bad at Gaelic Football, and at lunchtime he played basketball with Middle Lovely and there’s this pretty girl that sits a few rows in front of him….

And the sun’s out again.  I can feel the glow reflecting off him.

Ireland’s happiest babies

#2: awwww

Look at our little rugrat.  Wasn’t he cute?  Once upon a time, before his socks smelled worse that last week’s wheelie bin, and his bedroom was full of Tweenies and Mopatop not Fender Stratocasters and football boots, he was actually rather cute.  Remember Mopatop’s Shop?  #2 had a talking furry Mopatop that was the love of his life.  #1 used to nick the voice box out of the back and hide it to wind him up – you’d sit down and the sofa would go ‘what would you like today?’  in a rather disturbing deep growly voice.   His first word was ‘whassat?’ accompanied by a pointy finger.  He didn’t say anything else for months and we started to get a bit worried.

Anyhoo, digressing.  Cow and Gate (they of the giggly baby adverts- aren’t they the cutest?) have asked me to let you know about their lovely competition to find Ireland’s happiest babies.  Does anyone actually HAVE any babies, by the way?  You can win a €1500 shopping voucher and the chance for your chiseler to star in a Cow and Gate advert of their very own.  Oh, and if you vote you get entered into a draw for a spa weekend at Bellinter House, which is worth it on its own.  Visit happiestbabies.ie to enter.  Oh, and if you win, remember your mates, eh?