My poor Dad’s been having a really terrible time of it recently. After a horrendous biopsy to investigate a shadow on his kidney proved inconclusive, he’s now recovering slowly, with the terrible prospect of facing the whole thing all over again. He’s lost loads of weight and is feeling really rotten, so when I initially suggested a birthday dinner, we weren’t sure it would go ahead, but in true form, The Naughty One rallied and decided he’d come and celebrate with us this weekend. I cooked his favourite fish pie, and went mad with dessert: a salted caramel layer cake with a layer of vanilla sponge, one of caramel sponge and one chocolate sponge layer, all slathered in a salted caramel mascarpone cream (well it’s not every day you’re 82).
I adore my Dad. I love it when he emails me ALL IN CAPITALS and rings me and updates me on what he’s been up to, which seems to be mostly falling over, or sleeping:
‘I’ve just had a nap’
‘Dad, it’s 9am’
‘I know, but I got up at 5 and I get tired’
And I love his outlook on life:
‘I’ve been saving £200 a month. And then I said to myself ‘Alan, you’re 80 years old, what on earth can you possibly be saving for?’
Today, he rang to complain about the raspberry thieves. It seems the birds are eating all his raspberries. He’s hung CDs above them, to frighten them off (I should imagine Elaine Paige’s Christmas album would be enough to deter most of them), added netting and fake birds of prey, but still they come. Now, thwarted by all the aerial fortifications, they’ve taken to just tootling up the path and eating the low ones.
Anyway, he’s got far too many raspberries, and even though he doesn’t want to share them with the birds (‘I don’t grow raspberries to feed the local bloody bird population’), he’s quite happy to share them with us, so Sam I and I popped round to help him pick some.
His garden is absolutely beautiful, and while we were having a chat and playing with Alfie (well, Sam was having a chat and playing with Alfie and I was actually doing all the work picking raspberries), I started thinking about raspberry cocktails. With mint, and maybe other summery, garden-based things like roses. It just so happens that we got sent some elderflower and rose cordial recently so I decided to experiment.
To make it extra special, I froze some rose petals and raspberries in ice cubes to decorate.
Summer rose and raspberry cocktails:
5 or 6 raspberries per person
2 or 3 fresh mint leaves per glass
1 measure gin
A dash of elderflower and rose cordial (just elderflower is fine if you can’t find it – mine is by Belvoir)
Sparkling water or soda
So just muddle the raspberries and mint leaves in the glass, then add the gin, elderflower and rose cordial, and then top up with sparkling water.
Delicious! It’s his birthday next week so the boys and I are going to take him for a pub lunch. More shenanigans will ensue, no doubt. Cheers Dad 🙂
So my lovely, naughty, silly Dad is 79 this weekend. We tried to pin him down to a date to come for dinner, but he’s such a social butterfly that he didn’t have a day free. We compromised by persuading him to pop round after going out for dinner somewhere else to have the cheese and dessert courses with us! Read more
So in honour of this momentous number, I decided that I should have a birthday week (what? it’s a thing) of fun, celebrations, yummy food and seeing the people I love. 7 happy days to celebrate. Here are some of the things that have happened so far. My Disreputable Dad’s first ever selfie – at 78! (above)…
My Dad and his wife have a beautiful garden at their lovely bungalow tucked away down a leafy lane in Hertfordshire. The garden is centred around a wide piece of lawn, is completely enclosed and private and has the most wonderful flowers and fruit trees. We were walking around talking about his plans for the strawberry and raspberry beds (dig them up and start again – apparently they only last a certain amount of years) and discussing the fact that all the plums on the tree this year have little worms in them (I tested this – they do. Ugh) when we came across the big old apple tree which is GROANING with huge apples. I obviously offered to relieve him of some of the glut (I’m all heart), and we arrived home with his strimmer, hedge cutter and a huge bag of apples!
Even though it was still quite warm, we decided that apple crumble was the only way to go. Here’s how I made it. I like oats in my crumble and crunchy brown sugar, but personalise it however you see fit, maybe add sultanas or cinnamon in with the apple, or sprinkle the finished crumble with slivers of almond.
For the apples:
6 or 7 Bramley apples (my Dad’s apples aren’t Bramleys, but seem similar)
Big splosh of apple juice or water (say 100ml?)
2 tbsp brown sugar
For the crumble:
225g plain flour
125g brown sugar (I use Demarara)
25g porridge oats
Preheat the oven to gas 6/200 degrees.
To prepare the apples, just peel and core them, then slice them into smallish chunks. While I’m doing it, I pop them into a bowl of salted water to stop them going brown. When they’re all done, drain them and put them into your pie dish. Sprinkle over the couple of tablespoons of sugar and pour over the liquid (water is fine). Give them a quick stir to distribute the sugar.
For the crumble: rub the butter and flour together (not too fine – a lumpy texture is better), then stir in the sugar and porridge oats. Cover the apples with the crumble and bake for about 30 minutes. Serve with double cream or custard. Oh, and you can’t beat a cold bowl of crumble with yoghurt for breakfast either. Yummy.
So next up on my easy tapas menu from the Disreputable One’s birthday tapas feast were these beautiful pink spicy garlic prawns:
Spicy garlic prawns
1 kg prawns (we bought shell-on and peeled them beforehand – never again!)
Large glug of olive oil
3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely grated or crushed
2 red chillies, chopped and deseeded
2 tbsp sweet paprika
If you bought shell-on prawns, it’s a really nice touch to leave the tail on – it just makes it slightly easier to pick them up. Make sure you provide a finger bowl or two with some lemon slices and plenty of towels – eating these is a messy job! I also left a couple whole just for decoration.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan and add the garlic, chillies and paprika. Fry gently for a couple of minutes (don’t let the garlic burn), then add in the prawns. Put the heat up a bit and fry just until the prawns turn pink. Serve immediately with loads of bread for dunking as the sauce is AMAZING.
My poor Disreputable Dad’s taken yet another nasty tumble. He’s got quite a talent for comedic falls, my Dad. I wonder if he’s got some sort of dodgy centre of gravity (it could be the slight restaurant belly that’s doing it…). You may remember the case of the nuns and the travelator a while back – well, he’s had two more since then. During their honeymoon (I did try not to laugh at this one, but it IS quite amusing), he was telling me how he got up in the night (after several large ones – ‘you know how they like to cover the ice with Cointreau in the bar? Well I complained about something and got a free one too’), made a grab for the bathroom door handle, missed, and fell sideways into the bath. This would have been comedy gold on its own, had he not then made a grab for the tap in an effort to push himself upright, only succeeding in turning it on and showering himself with cold water.
This time, though, he was at the local cricket club, walking up some steps while engrossed in what was happening on the pitch. He lost his footing and managed to crack his chin, ribs AND somehow cut all the back of his hand.
‘Did anyone see you?’, I asked
‘No, I had a quick check and I got away with it’
That wasn’t quite the point I was trying to make – it was more did anyone see you so they could come and help you. What he actually did was pick himself up, stumble to his car, wrapping his hanky around the bits that were bleeding most, and manage to drive home, arriving bleeding and disheveled on the doorstep, much to his wife’s horror (‘he bled on the bloody car as well’).
So now he’s got a fetching blue bruise in the shape of a goatee across his chin, a very badly bruised ribcage, and a hand held together with stitches (he let me take this photo, by the way, because you’d never believe me about the ‘hipster facial hair’ bruise unless you saw it first hand).
‘It’s not too bad’, he said, whilst sipping his second glass of my favourite Villa Maria, ‘at least I can’t drive’.
Yesterday was my Disreputable Dad’s wedding. It started badly, with me still running around covered in icing an hour before we were supposed to leave (I stupidly offered to make them cupcake towers) and Dad arriving to pick the boys up for the church with not one, but both boys still in their pants.
In the ensuing panic, people were jabbed with buttonhole pins, ties were tied and retied, tempers were lost, handkerchiefs were jammed into suit pockets willy nilly and everyone piled into the car still pink faced and sweary. Luckily, by the time we all got to the church, we’d calmed down a bit.
I was really pleased with my dress from Monsoon. AND after a bit of faffing, I went with the red lipstick in the end (this decision was not helped by my sons who, when I tried it on, cried with laughter), but actually I felt quite glamorous, although I’m not sure how people wear lipstick every day. It’s kind of like walking around knowing you’ve got jam spread around your lips and you’re not allowed to lick it off. Here’s a little car selfie:
The service was very nice. My niece wasn’t feeling well so I had to step in and do a reading (my reading included the term ‘brothers and sisters’ – I was tempted to do it in an evangelical style: BRUTHAS AND SISTAS!’, but decided against it) and after a small discussion about who had the ring, the Best Man did his duties admirably, even after still being up at midnight the night before swearing over his speech!
There was just a small party in the evening. My sons monopolised the dance floor with some very odd co-ordinated dancing (even Sam’s poor girlfriend was enlisted), and later, there was a resurrection of the ‘cupcake challenge’, first seen at our very own wedding blessing a few years ago.
He’s got his mother’s gob, bless him:
So my Disreputable Dad and his partner are planning a small wedding. Sam, our very own Mad Professor, was absolutely delighted – and pretty gobsmacked it has to be said – when his Grandad asked him to be his best man, and the Dude, along with his cousin Jackson, is going to be an usher. The Dude is ridiculously excited about wearing a suit. I’m slightly less excited about buying it. Still, they both need new school shoes so I’m killing two birds with one stone there, at least.
As it’s a small wedding, and they’re just having a drinks reception with a few close friends and family, I offered to make some canapés. We’re not talking about catering here, but just a few little bits and bobs to soak up the fizz. One thing I absolutely hate is using bloody paper plates. They’re ridiculous. Not only are they impossible to hold along with a drink, as they start to droop, but they look pretty poo as well, so we decided to just hand around one bite things that people don’t need plates for. Serving platters are equally horrible – I wanted ones that were nice looking AND eco-friendly, and eventually came across The Whole Leaf Co, who sell natural, compostable palm leaf platters – eminently better looking than those awful aluminium foil serving platters, and better for the environment too.
Now down to recipes. The thing about canapés is that they need to be compact in size, but HUGE in flavour. Your aim is to leave everyone wanting more after they’ve finished their little mouthful. I also bought some little bamboo spoons to serve little single mouthfuls on: I’m thinking teeny portions of crab salad, tossed in lime juice and decorated with a single coriander leaf and maybe some dessert ones – a little blob of chocolate mousse dotted with cream and topped with a tiny shaving of chocolate.
When thinking about canapés, you need something with a sturdy base. Here, I find that pastry is your friend. Whether you buy ready made pastry cases, or spend a little time cutting out little circles of puff pastry, brushing them with butter and baking them in a muffin tin (easy peasy), you’re left with a hardy vessel ready to be filled with all manner of things that can be made ahead of time: simple prawn cocktail, easy guacamole, maybe topped with a little bacon and sour cream, goat’s cheese with tomato salsa and basil… all these are easy and quick.
Another sturdy base is bruschetta – a slice of baguette or similar, brushed with olive oil, rubbed with garlic (if you like) and lightly toasted or griddled. These can be topped with the goat’s cheese mixture above, and also with tomato salad, proscuitto, broad bean hummus (or indeed regular hummus… all sorts of things.
I’m not discounting the more ‘ordinary’ party foods either. Nothing beats a sausage roll (or seven) and I think it was Nigella who said that the cocktail sausage was the ultimate party food, and I agree. I’m also toying with paté on tiny crackers, mini cheese and onion scones and maybe some bite sized crab cakes, served with sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
Oh and I’m making big towers of fairy cakes. What? I love a fairy cake.
Still a while to go before I have to decide. What’s your favourite party food?
Oh and PS, I’m off to Miami tomorrow with the lovely chaps at Royal Caribbean to hop on one of their fabulous cruise ships for a cruise around the Caribbean. So I’ll see you in a week. Play nice
So how was your Christmas? Mine was, well, interesting. A rather over-exuberant Christmas eve, during which we stayed up singing, dancing and drinking until 2am made for a hideously hungover Christmas morning, in which I kept having to abandon my turkey duties to revisit my breakfast (thank goodness for my Mum). Still, self to blame, and I felt better by the time dinner was on the table. I got some lovely pressies: loads of scented candles, my favourite Redken shampoo and conditioner, books, DVDs, CDs (ONE DIRECTION, oh yes I did), and a pasta machine from my Mum. I feel really blessed.
So this time last year I was talking about how 2012 was going to be about building memories… snapshots, and not stuff… and I think I managed it. Oh, there was stuff as well, there’s no doubt, but my year was full of amazing experiences.. plenty of snapshots to add to my collection:
January was the month I gave up booze and took up healthy eating. For a whole month. Never again. In February, I got together with my wonderful friends for Bloggers on Tour: the West Yorkshire leg, and visited Yeo Valley’s wonderful Holt Farm too. In March, we were lucky enough to attend the opening of the new Legoland Hotel and meet one of our heroes, Tim Minchin, who turned out to be even lovelier and funnier in person. I also attended the very glam Tesco Mum of the Year Awards along with several of my friends. A fabulous day.
In April, the Death Wish Dude and I spent the weekend in Paris, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Disneyland, and hobnobbing with the likes of, well, Mickey, obviously… and in May I jetted off to both Tenerife, where we joined in with the May festivities and were gobsmacked by the firework wars AND Florida, where my friend Laura and I toured Clearwater, St Pete’s and Florida’s gorgeous space coast, as well as visiting Universal Studios and drinking butter beer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In June, we celebrated the Jubilee in grand style, and in July I looked after my Dad’s gorgeous garden (and made some lovely raspberry sorbet too). I grew sweet peas and filled the house with scented blooms. I’ll definitely be doing it again next year. In August we went Olympic and Paralympic mad – we stayed up until silly o’clock waiting for the Paralympic flame to come through our town, and we cheered on our amazing athletes at the Olympic Stadium. Amazing memories. English Mum also turned six.
In September, we got a visit from my cousin Moon (and helped him smuggle sausages through customs), and the Mad Professor started sixth form over again. October saw us visit Guernsey and beautiful Herm Island, and in November we spent a lovely week in Gran Canaria. I also had laser eye treatment, something that’s changed my life forever. Finally in December I was back in Florida for the launch of Walt Disney World’s New Fantasyland… an experience I’ll never forget (more of this very soon) and my little kickboxing Death Wish Dude passed his grading and got his orange belt.
I’ve learned a lot this year too (proving that you’re never too old). I’ve learned that some people – people that you might have known and looked up to your whole life – are actually not worth looking up to. This was a shock. But hey – people should EARN respect, right?
I’ve continued to believe that you should really try not to judge other people. I’m often saying to the boys that there are maybe things going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about, but hey, even if it’s just as simple as people doing things differently to you, that’s fine. This goes both ways, what you do is YOUR business. Do what YOU feel right doing, and don’t listen to anyone else if you don’t want to.
I’ve also learned that it feels fabulous to pay it forward. I’ve learned that my friends, my true friends, are always there for me (you know who you are) and I’ve learned that all relationships take a bit of effort.
The nicest things this year have been really small, but very important: someone saying ‘thanks so much for that recipe’, or ‘your children are a credit to you’, so I’m definitely going to be going out of my way to give credit where it’s due in 2013.
So that’s it, then. No resolutions, but in 2013, I’ll be having fun, paying compliments, adding to those precious snapshots and looking up to people who deserve it – like, for example, my wonderful Disreputable Dad who is perpetually kind, funny, a wonderful Grandad, and a tiny bit naughty, who got engaged on Christmas Day. *cough BRIDESMAID cough*. Congratulations Dad and my soon to be stepmum (she hates that, sorry)! xx
My Disreputable Dad and his other half have been away on holiday this week (to the same place in the South of France that they go every year, to eat at the same restaurant every night – he’s a man who knows what he likes)…. I was left in charge of the garden, which basically meant I had free rein to go in and nick all the strawberries and raspberries. While I was in there pilfering I took some pictures. It really is an extraordinarily beautiful garden, and he has a skill with roses that I’m sad I haven’t quite inherited. There are entire beds of the same coloured, ruffled peach roses, and deep scarlet ones too… and around every corner a surprise – a trellised gate wound with delicate pink climbing roses that leads on to a hidden part of the garden with apple trees already groaning with baby fruit (I’ll be back for those)…. and, of course, those raspberry canes – protected with fake birds of prey, painful when you’re collecting raspberries and one bashes you on the back of the head, but they do the trick.
Charlie and I crept in one lovely evening and gathered an enormous punnet of raspberries. Back at home with our spoils, we decided to make raspberry sorbet. The recipe is adapted from The Icecreamists (out now priced £16.99, published by Octopus Books) – a wonderful book which, when you look past the ‘I’m mad, I am’ over the topness (breast milk ice cream, anyone?) contains some amazingly clever and easy to follow recipes.
We made ‘Glastonberry’, a seasonal berry sorbetto, and jolly nice it was too. Scoffed in the garden, watching the sun go down, and wishing my roses were as good as Dad’s. There’s always next year…
It dawned on me today, while I was ironing a t-shirt, and dwelling upon the fact that I swear I’ve ironed the same t-shirt (black with a blue Cylon on it if you’re interested) three times already this week, that I live my life on a bit of a loop.
Week in, week out, the same things happen to me. For example:
1. I spend a ridiculous proportion of my time in the car.
I do the school run a gazillion times (okay, ten, but then there are extras because the Mad Professor never really seems to be at school that much and does things like going in at 8.30 then being finished by 11am, but mysteriously still needing lunch money), and the twice weekly trip to kickboxing, then pick up an hour later, for the Dude. Which reminds me, I need a new CD. Maroon 5’s new one is very good but I know all the lyrics now. If you’d like me to sing them to you, just give me a ring, kay?
2. We laugh at the same old jokes.
Our in jokes are recycled hundreds of times. The fact that we call Blockbusters ‘Blockbastards’ for instance, and our Volvo is called the ‘HAHA VULVA‘ after the lady with Tourettes in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (if you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Rent it at Blockbastards, quick).
3. I get this look. A lot.
This is the look that says ‘bloody biscuits? You know I hate biscuits’ and warrants the same response from me every day: ‘the vet says they’re good for your teeth, so eat up and stop giving me the face’. I then sleep fitfully and with one eye open in case she comes in the night to take her revenge.
4. I act like a bit of a tit
This week, on being asked to rinse and spit at the dentist, I spat all over the floor (in my defence, the anaesthetic had kicked in and I couldn’t feel half my mouth). To add insult to injury, I then dissolved into helpless giggles for ten minutes while he stood patiently, holding his drill (not a euphemism) waiting for me to recover.
Oh, and not forgetting the old ‘get to the top of the stairs then forget what you came up for’ routine. Several times a week.
5. I laugh like a loon
Happily, one of my favourite Groundhog Day moments is a good cackle. There’s not much in this life to make you feel better than a good belly laugh. This week there have been lots of belly laughs, from noticing that my Dad’s tractor has ‘SeaBiscuit’ sign-written on the side (for some reason, this completely floored me), or a coffee with a friend where we cackled, snorted, shared hair-raising personal secrets and basically behaved like ten year olds for a couple of hours.
6. I watch crap TV to keep myself awake
Ahhh, waiting up for partying teens to return: surely one of motherhood’s shittest jobs (and one they sneakily forget to mention at ante natal classes). I spend vast amounts of time waiting for people to come home from parties, trying to keep myself awake by watching early Kardashians episodes, texting them things like ‘don’t drink too much. You puke, you die’ and random movies like Hostel 2 (don’t bother – there’s gullible girls, evil murderers, a few bits of DIY machinery and, well, a bit more blood. You’re welcome.)
7. Something REALLY weird happens
This week it was getting a crossed line while trying to ring a travel company and being dropped into the middle of a conversation between an old lady and her doctor. Even more mortifyingly I thought she was actually telling ME about her terrible Psoriasis and had answered her several times before I realised she couldn’t hear me. Just call me Dr English.
8. My boys make me go WOW!
This week it was this amazing pic from Sam’s Biology field trip of two of his mates Mick and Brendan skimming stones on Broadhaven beach. Just beautiful:
9. I buy weird presents for people
This week it was ‘get well cheese’ for my Disreputable Dad, who is very poorly. And partial to a bit of Suffolk Blue. What? Cheese cures all ills.
10. I’m happy
Really, really stupidly happy. I have fun, don’t take myself too seriously (see number 4.) and have the best family in the world. Now what the hell did I come up the stairs for?
There’s nothing quite like a houseful of your favourite people to bring about a warm glow. Admittedly, several glasses of fizz added to my glow, but mostly it was goodwill and stuff, I’m sure.
We really did have a lovely time. Sadly, I’m completely useless and didn’t manage to take any pictures. Ah well. And I made TONS of food, and didn’t take a picture of that either. I am useless. I did a mahoosive cheeseboard, groaning with all sorts of different cheeses and liberally adorned with bunches of grapes and cherry tomatoes, then I did apple and red onion sausage rolls, little parmesan biscuits and later, a big pot of spicy lentil dahl (and yes, it does look a bit like poo, but I like to think that what it lacks in looks it makes up for in taste) and spicy chicken skewers… and not one scrap of evidence. You’ll just have to trust me.
We made some new friends too – The Prof’s lovely friends, the twins, brought their Mum and Dad along and they turned out to be really lovely as well (they’ve just got a brand new Beagle puppy, which they’ve called Lemon. I like them even more because of that). Hubby’s sis and bro came with their other halves, my Disreputable Dad, his partner, my Mum (I know, right? I live on the edge, I do), my gorgeous friends Foxy and The Glamorous Clare and their families and hoards of varying teenagers all clustered upstairs round the Xbox… it was certainly snug. But great fun.
My Disreputable Dad made me laugh. It was his turn to drive, but he kept sneakily getting his glass topped up until his other half admitted defeat and agreed to drive. Sneaky. Sadly my big bro was away on holiday but apart from that we were surrounded by lots of people we love. There was cackling, drinking, and a bit of slopping red wine on the carpet, but hey, it came off. And I didn’t forget too much of the food that I’d made either… only the little mini quiches I made got forgotten, which is always a bonus.
I guess the only disappointment is that we started too early – 2pm – which meant we were all partied out and finished by 10.30. And no dancing! Ah well.
So it’s on to New Year now, then… what a lovely Christmas. How was yours?
My Disreputable Dad is back from his holidays. Bronzed and beautiful.
Two weeks in the south of France. They ate in the same restaurant every night.
‘Every night?’, I ask, incredulous.
‘Well yes’, he says, ‘except one. Their steak frites was incredible. We tried another restaurant for one night, but it wasn’t as good, so we went back to the original one’.
He’s a creature of habit, my father.
On my visit, we walked around his beautiful garden. The plum trees are groaning with hard, green fruit. A bumper crop.
And the apples got so heavy that they actually broke the bough of the tree.
I left with treasure of the appley variety.
Perfect for rustling up a simple apple crumble:
500g apple (weigh after peeling and coring)
Sugar for sweetening the fruit
175g plain flour
110g cold butter, cubed
110g golden caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas 5. Then just tumble the apples into a baking dish and sprinkle on a little sugar (these apples weren’t too sour, but taste one to judge how much sugar you’ll need to add). If your apples are a bit ‘floury’ (like Bramleys can be sometimes), you might need to add a splash of water or fruit juice.
In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour gently with the ends of your fingers until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Don’t make it too uniform – the odd lump of butter is nice.
Stir in the sugar. If you like here you can add a handful of porridge oats, some nuts, orange zest, cinnamon… whatever you fancy.
Sprinkle over the fruit and bake for about 30 minutes until the fruit is tender and the top golden.
So thanks Dad. I’ll be back when the plums ripen too.
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