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?
I’d forgotten about this until recently, but when we were all staggering down the boat road one afternoon over Christmas, stuffed to the gunnels with ridiculously rich food, we started talking about eating teeny, tiny amounts of really, really nice food. So, you’re on death’s door, and you can only ingest one more spoonful before you die (okay, so I’m rubbish at scenarios – invent your own), your absolute favouritest, yummiest thing in the whole world – what would it be?
Me: golden syrup. Is there anything nicer? It smells absolutely delicious too. I think someone should invent a perfume with eau de golden syrup tones in it. Fahbilis.
Hubby: the middle of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. (I agree with this too – probably my second choice)
#1: Nutella (correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same stuff that’s in the middle of those Ferrero Rocher chocolates?)
#2: peanut butter (well thought out, it would last for ages seeing as most of it would end up on the roof of your mouth)
Over to you, then. Your last, precious spoonful on this earth. What’s it to be?
I love baking. Especially a nice pie. Okay, so it’s a bit of a faff, but give it a try; it’s worth it for the wow factor when you cut it at the table. And you know what Oscar Wilde said: ‘one should try everything once. With the possible exceptions of incest and morris dancing’.
4 chicken breasts
500ml good chicken stock
Couple of stems of fresh thyme
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, sliced
Handful frozen peas
1 tsp butter and 1 tbs plain flour to thicken
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
So start with the chicken – get the stock bubbling away on the stove, snip the chicken into bite-sized cubes, and pop it into the stock along with the thyme, peppercorns, carrot and onion (I always leave onion in quite big pieces as #2 likes to irritate me by picking it out). I know you’d probably normally chuck thyme on top of roasting stuff, but trust me, it really adds a little something here. So leave the chicken to simmer away and get on with the pastry. You know my view on pastry – don’t ponce about, if you don’t like making it, just buy it, but if you’ve got a food processor, whizz the flour and butter together until breadcrumby, then just whizz in the egg and generous pinch of salt. When it starts to come together, squish it into a ball, then wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge.
When the chicken’s completely cooked through (probably 20 minutes, depending on your chunk sizes), fish it out and reserve it while you reduce the stock (make sure you fish out the thyme and peppercorns at this stage too). It would benefit from a splash of cream here (ooh, lovely with some sliced mushrooms…yum), but Hubby’s not a fan of creamy sauces so I left it out. If you like a thicker sauce, mush together a teaspoon of flour with the same amount of butter and whisk it in. Season to taste. Add back your chicken, along with the frozen peas, then turn it off while you roll out about 2/3 of your pastry and line your pie dish.
If you can be arsed, it really helps to blind bake the lined pie dish to stop your pie having a soggy bottom(altogether now ‘and nobody likes a soggy bottom’). Put some greaseproof paper loosely in the dish, then pour in some baking beans (or just any old dry beans) and bake it for about 15 minutes. Remove the beans and greaseproof paper, and brush with beaten egg to seal, returning to the oven for 5 minutes. But if you don’t want to, don’t bother; I won’t tell.
Now roll out the pastry lid, place it on top of the pie and crimp it artistically. Brush with beaten egg, then put the whole thing back in the oven until the top is golden brown. Remember you’re only cooking the lid really so 20 minutes should be fine.
It’s a standing joke in our house that #1 (aka A A Gill) will always find something not quite to his taste at the table. The roast potatoes are never quite as good as Auntie Jen’s (curse you, Jennifer, what the hell did you do to them?), the sauce will be a tad salty, the rhubarb a little too tart. All this will be commented upon whilst enormous quantities of the slightly sub-standard food are whooshed into his mouth, along with seconds, and often thirds. Still, nothing’s ever completely up to scratch. This one, though, actually shut him up. Yup, we all waited with baited breath, but no, not a single comment. Things must be looking up.
So we woke up this morning to the wonderful smell of baking. ‘Mmmm’, I thought, ‘I love baking in the morning’. Then, ‘that’s strange, though’, I thought after that, ‘I’m baking and yet I’m still in bed’. Of course, it was the smalls in the kitchen: Head Chef #1 was knocking up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, ably assisted by his slightly grumpy Sous Chef, #2. And very nice cookies they were too, except… ‘they need a bit more butter’. ‘What?’, says #1, ‘why? They seem perfect to me’. ‘Meh’, says I, ‘I just think they’d be nicer a bit more buttery. Whose recipe did you use?’. ‘Yours’, said the little sod, with just a small hint of triumph.
But that’s the thing about cooking, you see. Nothing’s ever quite perfect is it? Take my Bounty Cake. I was so pleased with the result, I thought I’d try and make a chocolate version, but when I replaced the coconut with cocoa, the result was all horrible and powdery. Back to the drawing board then. So anyhoo, no, you’re not getting the cookie recipe just yet as it obviously needs a bit of tinkering. Instead, I’ll let you into the secret of my chocolate chip muffins. I make hundreds of these, often for breakfast. My thinking being that I’d rather have my children eating something homemade in the morning, than some fat-soaked cereal bar, the ingredients of which I don’t even understand, let alone approve of. The recipe for these, then, has been tinkered to death, and I’m pretty sure it’s foolproof:
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g granulated sugar
50g muscovado or dark brown sugar
100g butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate, chopped
So get your oven on to about 190 degrees, gas 5, and put a dozen of those little paper muffin cups into a muffin tin. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb together, then stir in the sugars.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs with a fork, then add the melted butter, milk and vanilla, whisk briefly to combine them, then pour this into the dry stuff. Add the chocolate, then remember the golden muffin rule: mix as briefly as possible until everything is just combined.
Put a spoonful in each paper muffin thingy, then bake then for about 20 minutes or so, until they spring back to the touch and they’re a lovely golden brown.
Give them a try. Oh, and feel free to burst my bubble if they’re a horrible failure for you, though. Nobody’s perfect, eh?
So yes, things are a little tough. Hubby’s job is by no means certain in the current economic climate, and it’s a worry, what with C… oops, nearly said the C-word again… what with a rather expensive time of year coming up. And now Hubby’s car has decided to conk out, and my jeep’s making weird noises. Don’t they say things come in threes? I wonder what’s next.
So sod it, I say to Hubby, we’re all healthy, nobody died. We have a roof over our heads, two happy, healthy children, a big mad family, lovely friends, a big cuddly stupid dog, and have settled into a lovely community. For some reason, my unbridled optimism really annoys him. ‘So if we end up losing our house and living in a tent you’ll still be this perky will you?’ he asks, somewhat unfairly. ‘Well, at least we’ll have each other… and if we’re all in a tent together, we can pretend we’re camping – it’ll be an adventure’. Hubby snorts in a rather derisive manner and goes off to do something manly in the garage.
This morning, then, #2 comes down for his breakfast. I make him a hot chocolate with extra marshmallows, and serve him a big chunk of homemade brownie (don’t worry, there’s a stealthy portion of dates in there – shhhh). ‘I love you, Mum’, he says, ‘you’re always so smiley and happy’. ‘That’s funny’, says I, ‘it annoys the pants off your father’.
Firstly can I just say that I hate Ryanair? Hate, hate, hate Ryanair. I know, I know, it’s dirt cheap and all that, but when you’ve walked miles, queued for hours and then find you can’t sit anywhere near your children in a hot, sweaty cabin and there’s no room in the overheads for your hand luggage? Grrr, I could kill that feckin’ Michael O’Leary.
Awwww, we had such a lovely time. We went out for dinner with the Disreputable One when we arrived on the Friday night (after he picked us up from the airport in his swanky new 4×4 – thanks Dad!), then stayed at me Ma’s for the weekend. Arriving in the pub before the wedding was fantastic, seeing all my friends and family, my much-missed sisters in law, my lubly brothers, my beautiful nieces and big strapping nephew was just amazing. The church service was surprisingly emotional although I have to say that it was the adults that did the naughty giggling – the kids all stood together and shot us withering glances as we misbehaved – it was Hubby’s fault, he did silly singing, and then some little teeny girl went ‘I WANT A WEE!’ in a really loud voice which set us all off again. All went swimmingly apart from some rather bizarre parental goings on (note to my parents: I love you both madly but jaysus, go out for a coffee together and sort yourselves out already).
Mrs M looked absolutely stunning in a slinky green silk fishtail dress – I don’t care what anyone says there wasn’t a single pair of eyes that weren’t glued to her fantastically peachy bottom as she walked down the aisle.
The evening bash was full of fun and laughter. We had a total riot and the boys had loads of fun with their cousins. Mad Uncle A behaved himself (almost) – actually, Sensible Uncle I was just as naughty – and Mrs Sensible was challenging Hubby to down shots of Mrs M’s traditional 80% proof fire-water. Wow, it took your taste buds clean off.
Moon gave the longest, most boring speech I’ve ever heard (nah, not really – he made me cry twice which is probably a record) and then we all clinked glasses and shouted ‘Nastrovya!’ and downed the traditional Slovakian shot things (wow!) before stuffing our faces at the buffet, then dancing the night away. The Slovakian contingent held their own admirably in both the drinking and the falling over on the dance floor, but in true English fashion, it was all wrapping up by midnight – in Ireland we’d only just be getting started!
We rounded off a manic but happy weekend with one of my Ma’s epic Sunday lunches and then it was back to the airport with our Disreputable Chauffeur for another wrestle with our hand luggage. We arrived home, tired but elated, to find an ecstatic Bert who sang us a little whiny song, he was so happy to see us.
Highlights of the weekend, then:
So there you have it. A lovely weekend, a perfect wedding, and a very deserving couple. Here’s to you, Moon and Mrs M: wishing you a long, happy and very giggly life together. Mwah!
Now I’m always telling you about my boys: something funny they’ve said, some adventure they’ve had, their raging guitar riffs and their mad behaviour. Sometimes though, like at the wedding, they’re terrifyingly, achingly grown up and sensible: a teeny glimpse of things to come?
Hubby’s often away working, and hey, it’s the holidays, so we’ve been a bit slack about bedtimes and the like. The other night, though, I sent them up to get ready for bed, and found them not in the bathroom, but in a little huddle on #2′s bed looking a bit pensive. They’d been told off for something or other, and I’d emphasised the fact that they should respect each other a lot more as, after all, they only have each other. I snuggled in next to them and I could tell they were working up to asking me something. I stayed quiet and the conversation went a bit like this:
#1: Mum, can we ask you something?
Me: Anything. You know that.
#1: Well, you know we had a baby that died? Was it a girl or a boy?
Gulp. Okay, so we never kept it a secret from them. Hubby and I, along with thousands, nay, millions of people, lost a baby once, a long time ago.
Me: I don’t know, darling. The baby died inside me, and when it was taken away I was asleep. (This is hard, but I figure that honesty is the best policy). Actually, I like to think that it was a girl – my daughter – it feels funny to think I might have had one.
#2: Are you still sad?
Me: Yes, sometimes when i think about it I suppose I am, but then me and Daddy already had you, and soon afterwards we had #2, so we know we’re very lucky.
#1: Will we ever have another brother or a sister?
Me: No, I don’t think so now. We’re getting to be quite a grown-up family now, aren’t we. And anyway, you already think #2′s a pain – can you imagine having a new baby around messing with your guitars and drooling on your X-box?
#2: Ew. Nope.
So there you have it. With one small conversation, all sorts of memories are brought flooding back; in spite of it all, feeling so terribly sorry for the young doctor who had to give us the bad news (‘I’m sorry, we can’t find a heartbeat’), a hospital ward full of pregnant women (why do they put you there?), Hubby and I arriving home from hospital, just numb with it all, my poor Mum, devastated herself, being so brave and supportive, bouquets of flowers being delivered, sympathy cards instead of congratulations. And afterwards, back to work; awkward silences with people not knowing what to say, still having to crack on and look after a toddler. I remember the December came when the baby should have been born. I was pregnant with #2 by then, but the date was a sad one: thoughts of what could have been.
Things happen for a reason, they say, and if one small life lost should have taught me anything, it’s that I should appreciate my two little fellas all the more. That’s if I can just stop myself strangling them before they go back to school. Happy days
Back live, then, after a bank holiday weekend of fun and frolics with the Disreputable One and his better younger other half (seriously, someone’s got to rein him in – she has her work cut out). Bert lubs his Disreputable Grandad and the feeling’s slightly mutual – although he drew the line at being accompanied into the bathroom (Bert had to be hoiked off Grandad’s towel, where he’d curled up and gone to sleep).
First off, then, we went down to the lough where the smalls spent a happy hour messing about in boats while we got the Guinness in (when in Rome, and all that):
I have to say that I did get a teeny bit worried when they pedalled so far out that they became just a idgy speck on the horizon, but nothing that a few beers in the bar wouldn’t solve.
Yesterday, though, was the highlight of the visit when we finally got to visit Bellinter House in Navan. I’ve been dying to go for ages and it was definitely worthwhile. Here’s the smalls with their beloved Grandad outside the front door:
Worryingly, to get to the restaurant you have to climb down a very scary spiral staircase (bit dodgy for RoboGrandad with his titanium knees, but he managed – could probably smell the wine), but once you’re down there, the dining room is light and airy with quite a trendy 60s feel to it (as usual my photography is more David Jason than David Bailey):
The food, though, was absolutely spectacular, complemented perfectly by a couple of bottles of amazingly good chilled Rosé. Highlights included Eden Smokies (smoked haddock, spring onions, crème fraiche and cheddar – yum), and our roasted cod main course on a bed of bashed up potatoes (I’m sure there’s a technical term) and the most amazing asparagus:
The desserts were nothing short of mindblowing. Get #1′s beautifully presented raspberry and chocolate gateau (sorry about the tongue, he was desperate):
…and my Iced Nougat in some sort of apricot coulis stuff:
So I’ll give you two guesses who unscrewed one of the balls and bowled a googly with it down the garden. Tsk.
So we had a lovely weekend. Another impromptu gathering saw us this time at the (immaculate) home of T the Taxi and his wife L, the School Secretary. We spent a long evening talking utter rubbish and eating L’s really nice sandwiches. All the kids gathered at The Lovelies’ next door and had running gun battles in the garden, then later retreated inside to the PlayStation. The range of conversation went from ‘should we buy a boat?’ (The Lovelies are seriously considering this – well, we live on a lough for goodness’ sake), to ‘shall we all go on holiday to this really nice hotel in Castlebar that A’s found’. Answer = boys: no (it’s not a holiday unless you go on a plane) and girls: yes (thinking of leaving the housework behind for a couple of days). In the end, the whole evening was littered with one or other of the Hubbies going ‘look, we’re not going to bloody Castlebar, ok?’ and it became a bit of a standard joke. Later in the weekend, Mr Lovely) even managed to intercept an e-mail between Mrs Lovely and I (she sent me a link to the hotel) with ‘look, we’re not going to bloody Castlebar, ok?’ on it. As usual, the children fell asleep where they dropped. When we went next door, #1 was asleep in someone’s bed (he was never a stayer) and #2, our own little Duracell bunny, was still awake. We took him and left the other. I’m loving this kid-sharing, it’s very liberating.
In other news, we’re starting to find that #1 understands a whole lot more than we give him credit for. This is a part of owning a teenager that I wasn’t quite prepared for. There’s always tons of family ‘fnar fnar’ moments at English Towers, but now, #1 is joining in. For example, we’re all in the garden in the glorious sunshine yesterday. #2 is watering plants and enquires innocently: ’Mum, have you watered your bush recently?’ Hubby and I collapse in hysterics. Shockingly, so does #1.
Later, at lunch (sirloin steak, garlic and herb butter, roasted vegetables, teeny tiny rosemary roasted potatoes, if you must know), I’m still trying to get Hubby to book a few days away. ‘Look’, says Hubby, ‘we’re not going to bloody Castlebar, okay?’. We all laugh. Then #1 alludes to #2′s bush comment. ‘I don’t get it’, says #2, ‘what’s so funny about asking Mum whether she’s watered her bush’. We all collapse again. I express shock that #1 would find this funny. ’Oh come on, Mum’, says #1 in a very worldly wise manner, ‘I’m 13 now’. And to #2 he tries tentatively: ’it’s, er, kind of a euphemism for something else’. #2 is none the wiser. ‘Well’, says I, trying to be diplomatic, ‘put it this way: Auntie Jen calls hers a ‘lady garden’. #2 cops on and is mortified.
Later, we take a trip round Eurospar. Mass has just kicked out and the place is packed with people in their Sunday best. #2 is trailing behind me. ‘Muuum’, he pipes up in a voice that needs no loudhailer, ‘what’s a SHOTGUN WEDDING’. I turn round and fix him with one of my Mum’s best ‘Paddington hard stares’. But he’s no quitter: ‘#1 says you had a shotgun wedding. I just want to know what it is’. By this stage, half the store is waiting anxiously for my reply. We dart through the checkouts and into the car, where I try to explain that although we’re a pretty liberal household, these conversations should not be brought to the supermarket.
Sheesh. I wonder where I’m going wrong.
So, my house is slowly filling up with guitars. In the office/music room/throw-any-old-shit-that-you-can’t-be-arsed-to-put-away room there are guitar stands everywhere; the bedrooms are littered with guitars, there are amps, wires and foot pedals all over the bloody place, and yet they come.
Last Saturday, then, found us once again in our spiritual home: our local guitar shop. They’re always terribly welcoming and friendly in there (nothing to do with the fact that we’ve probably paid their mortgage in there for the last two years). #2 has been saving hard for a guitar for rather a surprisingly long time. It’s been tough going: he’s lusted after Xbox games, drooled over flat screen TVs, coveted sparkly white Adidas trainers, but no. His determination has seen him through. So we’d annoyed the lovely people there to death, plugged in various amps, played 17 million gazillion different riffs (‘Stairway to Heaven’, anyone?), twiddled with buttons and even had a sneaky play on a couple of drum kits… and then it happened: nestling quietly in the corner is nothing other than (queue angelic choral music) THE GUITAR OF HIS DREAMS!!!! The Fender Stratocaster in cream!!! Just like on Wayne’s World (remember the scene when he ogles it on the stand in the guitar shop?: ‘It will be mine. Oh, yes — It will be mine’). Okay it’s second hand, but it’s perfect and tantalisingly close to little #2′s budget and I can feel his hands sweating as he finally gets his mitts on the object of his affections. Trouble is, it’s still too much money. ‘Ah’, says Smiley Friendly Guitar Bloke, ‘but we’ve got a sale on next week, and if you’re one of the first fifty in the queue, you get put in a draw for this Gibson Les Paul too’.
And so it came to pass that we were out of bed and away from English Towers before the bloody rabbits (note to self: must get a gun) this morning to get down there to join the line of other hopefuls (we were twelfth – not bad eh?). It’s been a tense week – what if it’s sold before I get there? What if I still can’t afford it? But happily, opening time finally came, and stomachs rumbling (damn you, McDonalds – not opening until 9am on a Saturday?) we rushed upstairs to the guitar section to find #2′s beautiful Strat not only still there but IN THE SALE!
Long story short then, the Strat is ours, #2 is immensely happy, and yes, we got in the draw for the Les Paul. Fingers crossed, then, and as Mad Uncle A would say: ‘rock and roll!’.
So yesterday, then. Early in the year, Lubly Auntie Jen had purchased Linkin Park tickets for the RDS in Dublin. Not exactly enamoured with the idea, but swept away by Madam’s enthusiasm (railroaded, moi?) and wishing to protect our offspring, we naturally had to go with them. Queue several months of worry, planning and plotting and plenty of ‘ooh, only [insert timescale here] to go’.
Yesterday dawned hideously rainy and windy (sign of things to come, perchance?) and I managed to borrow D-from-next-door’s sat nav (‘It’s completely foolproof, honest’ *worrying pause* ‘er…I’m sure you’ll be fine’). To be honest, I don’t know if that made me feel better or worse, but actually it wasn’t too bad. There was plenty of girly squealing when we got into the centre of Dublin:
‘Look, Mum, I can see the Liffey!’
‘Don’t talk to me, I’m concentrating! Arrrrggghhh!’
and Mrs Tomtom-sat-nav-woman was blasting ‘filter left here’ then ‘prepare to turn right here’ instructions at me, but we made it in one piece to the parking area. Phew.
A rather long queue in the rain followed, but Jen and I rather enjoyed the people watching (‘tartan leggings with those thighs? Uh uh’). #2 was my biggest worry, seeming rather teeny for an event populated by a scarily large amount of mohicans and piercings, but most were very friendly. We eventually got in, and after the warm-up acts, one of which, Coheed and Cambria, was quite good, although not really my cup of cha, and one of which, Queens of the Stone Age, the sound seemed very poorly engineered and we could hardly make out what the poor guy was singing. We could certainly feel the baseline, though, which was a big thump-thump-thump in our chests.
Anyhoo, finally Linkin Park came on, the crowd went wild, and we actually got into it a little bit. Jen and I took turns to have #2 on our backs (needing traction this morning, though) and I even recognised a couple of songs. The second half of their set was by far the best. By that time we’d moved to a less crowded area to the side (it wasn’t actually that packed), so we could all see the stage and the big screens well, and more recognisable songs came on. We were even taken by a small, far too ancient urge to dance about a bit. Shocking.
Gripes: mainly the fact that alcohol is served and several silly arses seem to want to pay extortionate amounts for a ticket, then spend the concert completely incoherent, staggering annoyingly around being a nuisance. Also that people were allowed to smoke. Not only is it bloody annoying to be inhaling someone’s icky smoke, but frankly, dancing with a lit cigarette is asking to take someone’s eye out (oh, hark at me, I’m turning into my mother).
Highlights: ‘What I’ve Done’, an awesome track; watching the kids dancing around and singing all the words until they were hoarse.
Biggest bummer: having to drive all the way home and not getting back until 1am as Mrs Tomtom decided to drive us all round County Meath by the scenic route.
Chances of us ever doing it again: slim to zero, but hey, me sprogs deserved a treat. That’s not to say that if I could choose the concert I wouldn’t go… who would you go and see live??
So I think I’ve said before that the school the children attend is a good old fashioned Irish preparatory school. They have boarders, and Matrons, and get to play in the woods and have proper lunch and cricket and rugby and stuff. #1 has spent two happy years there and today was his last day. He was tremendously sad, although this was slightly offset by being allowed to stay over yesterday for the leavers’ party, which seemed to include a day out to some mad place where they did ‘bog jumping’ (yes, really, in a peat bog – he still has it under his nails), an assault course, a proper outdoor barby (‘I had a burger…and a hotdog with loads of onions…ooh, and some really nice marinated chicked…ooh, and lemonade…’) and then back to the school for a specially arranged late night swim in the outdoor pool (a lovely detail was that the staff on duty used their car headlights to light the pool for them) and very little sleep afterwards, no doubt. This was a wonderful, memory-building last night for #1 and his friends, something they’ll no doubt tell their children about.
So it was with a certain melancholy that we took our places in the beautiful hall (I especially love it that one of the paintings shows a magnificent greyhound) for #1′s very last Prizegiving Day. Well, there were prizes for this and prizes for that, and I have to admit I’d kind of zoned out a bit and then… hang on, was that #1′s name I heard? Yes! And I could see him weaving his way up to the front to receive The Senior Music Prize, no less. I could see #2′s face all smiley and proud as he clapped double hard for his big brother. And then, shortly after, once again to receive The Latin Prize!!! Afterwards, breathless and red faced, he came rushing up clutching a distinction certificate for History too. Not to be outdone, #2 got a certificate for swimming – he is just coming up to his senior three years now, so I can see there’ll be some healthy competition on the prize front in years to come.
So on to senior school, then. Many new challenges ahead. And honestly? This school’s been the making of him (and continues to do a great job with #2). They arrived, uncertain in a new country and frankly unhappy to be joining a new school, and he leaves a confident, happy, sunny teenager. He’s still our mad professor, but he’s taller. And more argumentative. Happy days.
So you know my sneakiness knows no bounds, but while #2 continues to refuse everything healthy apart from carrot sticks, frozen peas and the odd apple I need to keep one step ahead. Breakfast is a particular problem, as he hates milk and smoothies make him gag (we made raspberry and mango ones yesterday and they were absolutely gorgeous – he tried a sip but no, same result: think Dean Gaffney on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’). Tea is slightly easier, I made spaghetti the other day and used the same tomato sauce I make for pizza and he did eat that, but grudgingly. So in order to stave off rickets or mange or whatever it is malnourished children get, I figured even a little healthy stuff is good, even if it’s disguised with chocolate, and these little babies even surprised me.
8 oz plain flour
1 oz dark cocoa powder (I used Green & Blacks)
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 oz brown sugar
6 fl oz milk
1 egg, beaten
4 oz butter, melted
Large handful dates, stoned
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped
So, as usual with the muffins, sieve your flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, then add the sugar. The darker the sugar the more toffee-ish the end result. Now here’s the sneaky bit. Take a big handful of the dates, and whiz them in the blender with the milk until they’re unrecognisable. Then melt your butter in a jug in the microwave, mix in the date/milk mixture and the beaten egg and stir into the dry stuff. Remember, the less you mix, the lighter the result. Finally, bung in the chopped chocolate. A couple of ounces of walnuts would be a good addition here, too. Give them a hint of a stir to combine, then divide into 12 muffin cases. I found that you get a large serving spoonful in each one.
Bake for about 25 minutes at 200 degrees, then serve warm, explaining that the little glistening golden pieces in the muffin are toffee (they do taste remarkably toffee-like, well, that’s what you use to make sticky toffee pudding, right?). Oh and remember, lying in a maternal, nutritionally responsible way isn’t really lying at all.
Chocolate and Banana Loaf
#1 was off to a choir competition yesterday evening (they came 4th – not bad for their first competition), so I thought I’d make something yummy for them to come home to. I had a couple of leftover bananas that were a bit past their best, so I shoved them into the usual 4/4/4/2 cake mix and I have to say it worked quite well. Here we go then:
4oz caster sugar
4 oz self-raising flour
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
2 mashed bananas
Bar of Green and Black’s dark chocolate
Cream the butter and the sugar until pale, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour and the cocoa (sieved). I added a teaspoon of baking powder to compensate for the heaviness of the bananas, but not sure what it would be like without it (it was quite dense and moist). Fold in your mashed bananas and your smashed up chocolate and pour into a lined loaf tin (I turn the loaf tin over and cut two strips, one the same width as the bottom, one the same length, then cross them into the bottom of the tin) and bake. It needs about an hour at 180 degrees, gas mark 4, but stick a knife in a bit before and see if it comes out clean.
I proudly presented a slice to #2 when he came home from school and his response was suspicious: ‘hmm, what’s in this?’ Seeing as he’d actually got the first mouthful in, I took a gamble and told him it was banana. ‘Yuck’, came the reply as he pushed it away, ‘gross’. I despair.
#2 has a friend to stay this weekend. The house is in chaos: this being Saturday there’s the usual festering rugby kits humming by the back door, and now there’s running sucker-gun battles in the hall (thanks for those by the way, Dad) and the lounge is a sea of lego. We’ve already had arguments over whose turn it is on Star Wars and over who is James Bond. My nerves are completely frazzled and the dog and her lampshade are gibbering quietly to themselves under the kitchen table. Cheery texts from Hubby who is coincidentally very busy today at work have been met with a veritable smorgasbord of expletives. Salvation has appeared in the unlikely form of son #2 himself, who being a bit of a budding Gordon Ramsey has decided to take charge on the catering front, which is fine with me. He’s quite keen that I post his recipe for your delectation, and measuring not being his strong point, we’re working in handfuls and..er..sploshes, so here goes:
#2 son’s kid-friendly spaghetti carbonara
1 pack streaky bacon
1 pack spaghetti
Splash of milk
Boil a big pan of salted water, then add your spaghetti and a couple of handfuls of frozen peas. Meanwhile, snip the bacon into strips and fry. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a good slug of milk and whisk.
When pasta is cooked and bacon is crispy, drain the pasta then quickly bung in the egg mix and the bacon. Mix up so the eggs cook, then serve with loads of grated cheddar.
For an adult version, I would use cream instead of the milk, parmesan instead of cheddar and maybe even pancetta instead of the bacon. Yummy whichever way you do it though. Now all I need to do is find the kitchen again under all the pans, packets and utensils. Happy days..