Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Baking With Small Children

It’s a testament to my optimistic nature, the triumph of imagination over reality, but somehow I forget that baking with a two year old is a really stupid idea. 

It has glimpses of awesome, moments where I wrinkle my nose at the sight of my child stirring resolutely with a spoon as long as her arm, but mostly there is stress, and the ever increasing desire to scream into a tea towel.

Last Sunday, when Keith and Alfie went to a birthday party, I decided to take Esme and Miss Olive shopping for a few essentials and get our bake on.

I had humble aspirations, a quick and easy upside down cake because, well, it’s simple, quick and it’s a taste of my childhood. My romantic heart wants them to become the tastes of my children’s childhoods as well. 

So shopping we went, and it wasn’t until a few aisles in that I remembered that only last week, Esme had plucked a seared pineapple ring out of her burger between her thumb and forefinger and flung it unceremoniously across the table.

I pushed the thought to the back of my brain because the front of my brain was busy trying to plot a tightrope path that meant neither child could reach the shelves. 

I had thought that giving Esme the shopping list had saved me from 50% of The Grabby Twins, but either the aisles are narrow or the trolleys are wide because I was caught on the hop at the egg department when Esme announced in a booming voice that eggs were, in fact, her favourite and lunged towards a large display of free rangers on special. 

After that, I was taking no chances.

Unfortunately having found all the other items on our list the niggling thought about Esme and pineapple was the only one left so I grudgingly parked the trolley in front of the display of tinned fruit.

Esme is very much a child who does not like to be second guessed so I knew that this conversation was going to take delicate handling.
“Esme, shall we get some tinned pears for our cake?”
“No, I want pineapple”
“OK sweetheart, but you remember last week, you picked the pineapple out of the burger that daddy made? Maybe peaches would be better for the cake?”
“I want pineapple”
“Esme, you don’t like pineapple. How about mango?”
“I want pineapple”
I admitted defeat and picked up a tin of pineapple. Apparently this was the right decision because according to Esme’s booming voice, pineapple is also her favourite.

Back home, I wrapped Miss Olive on my back and parked Esme in front of the goggle box while I prepared the kitchen. It was a simple cake, possibly the simplest cake ever conceived, but I was aiming for drama free baking and fortune favours the prepared mind just as surely as tired two year olds favour sobbing rage when frustrated.

I laid everything out on the counter, turned on the oven, put the stool in front of the sink, took a deep cleansing breath and called Esme into the kitchen.

What happened after that moment is a blur. 

I know during the next 30 minutes there was measuring, a mushroom cloud of flour, the stealing of cocktail cherries and the delicate negotiation of when Esme was allowed to clean the electric whisk with her tongue.

Small children and raw cake batter - it's true love
Somehow, we came out the other side with a well baked, tasty cake, two injury free children and only the merest hint of lost shit on my part.

Apparently in the few days since burger gate, Esme really had rethought her position on pineapple because when we huddled over our still warm slabs, she declared it to be – you guessed it – her favourite and scoffed the lot before passing out in a cake drunk stupor.

Afternoons like these are rare beasts, and they explain why I will forget all about the stupidity of baking with a two year old, and do it all over again next week: Because mama can’t help but push her luck.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Today there are more questions than answers: About how I parent, about how I live, about how I work. 

Just ... questions ... and no answers in sight.

So while the world is drawing in a deep, collective breath, I will simply share a blue coloured aeroplane with you: Alfie's latest masterpiece borne of his latest obsession.

And I will tell you about how he camps out in front of the TV every morning, drinking in each detail of the latest Air Crash Investigation

That he quietly eats breakfast afterwards, processing the details of what went wrong and how a plane came back down to earth.

And how he goes, full bellied, to his Lego table, or gathers up paper and paint, and recreates his own record of events, quietly and with purpose, until he is sure that he can retell the story with accuracy.

I feel like I am the only person who sees magic in this small gesture of respect, but see it I do.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Is Instagram the Modern Mother’s Little Helper

There is a lot to thank social media for when it comes to the raising of children; the support, the information, the near constant photography.

I’ll freely admit it, I’m thankful for the advent of apps like Instagram: For a mama like me, it’s a total game changer when it comes to housework. 

When I was young, if we wanted to share the moment that our babies took their first faltering steps across the lounge floor, we had to stick our heads out of the front door and shout at Peggy across the road to stop hanging out her washing and come see. 

Marilyn Monroe in Clash by Night
Ahoy there Peggy! ... I'm joking, this is Marilyn and I'm not that old
Ever the dutiful neighbour, Peggy would hurry through the front door, down the hallway and into the lounge locked and loaded to coo at my offspring. 

A few minutes later, having run through the time honoured script of confirming my child to be vastly talented, we'd move to the kitchen to sit down for a well earned cup of tea and a catch up on some neighbourhood gossip. 

Several cups later, Peggy would tell me to look at the time, make a trip to the toilet, and head back across the street to get dinner on. 

Put simply, in order to share that one special toddling moment, I would have had to clean a total of four rooms.

Today, thanks to social media, I have to shove the mess clear of about 12 square feet.

If you don’t think that’s a big deal you are welcome to visit my house one evening. 

My children will happily demonstrate that the real definition of the word “mess” hovers somewhere between “it would be quicker to bulldoze the house and start again” and “total fucking Armageddon”.

If Peggy came over today wanting a cuppa and a catch-up, she wouldn’t want to use my toilet, because I can guarantee in the five minutes since I last cleaned the floor, one of the children will have created a puddle of pee. 

I would be forced to casually joke to Peggy that if there’s no visible puddle then it has probably already soaked into her sock; or explain away one of those "extra special" puddles that have been aimed at the back wall so that it pools unseen under the collection of potties and slowly stinks the house out until I go postal with a bottle of Dettol and rubber gloves.

After the trauma of her visit to the toilet, poor Peggy would probably need to have a lie down to recover. Good luck finding a bed Peggy, if you’re desperate, just head towards a pile of washing and start digging.

All of this is entirely hypothetical, of course, because Peggy would have taken one look at the utter massacre of my kitchen and politely declined any offer of a drink just in case her shots were out of date.

In fact, Peggy would have walked through the door, turned on her heel and fled. 

The next time I called for her, Peggy would have dived to the floor and commando crawled towards the back of the house so I wouldn’t be able to see her as I peered through the window. 

And what would become of the baby? Pity the poor baby without an audience for her waddling.

All of those disasters have been averted because I can capture and remotely share the talents of my offspring. 

Peggy doesn't need to see the embarrassing reality of my bathroom, nor does she have to risk communicable disease from a mug. Best of all, Peggy is free to live her life thinking we are the sort of family who put their clothes away in the wardrobe. 

All of those are wondrous things.

Just as long as we all remember, nobody’s life looks as good as their Instagram account.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Carpet Picnic (with Sweetcorn Fritters)

Once you have moved to a country that boasts outdoor living, it is really hard to admit that for a few months of the year, the living is best kept inside, where there are fires and a distinct lack of Antarctic winds.

The children, being 50% mule and 50% whirling dervish, are even more reluctant to give up on the idea of eating at the beach. That is, right up until the point where we are eating on the beach and they realise that we weren’t lying about the Antarctic winds.

And so it came to pass, after several abortive attempts to soldier through a winter beach picnic that we introduced our children to The Carpet Picnic.

Spontaneous, chaotic, and messy as hell, we are creating an awesome new family tradition filled with serve yourself noms in the form of Sweetcorn Fritters.

If you haven’t come across these before I seriously suggest you give them a try. They are about as easy and as tasty as picnic food can get and as you can see, mama can’t even get a photo before there are sticky little fingers attacking from all sides.

Sweetcorn Fritters

100g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1 egg
150ml milk
198g can sweetcorn

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, add an egg and gradually beat in milk to form a smooth batter.

Drain a can of sweetcorn, pat dry, then add to the batter mix.

Add some oil to a frying pan. Once hot, fry spoonfuls of mixture for about 2 mins each side until golden and crisp on each side.

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