When the babymoon is over.

It hit me like a freakin’ freight train as I skulked out of the house on that damp and insipid Wednesday morning. Where the fuck am I going to go? I’m a mother, in my late, but still  thirties. I have a my bonny blue eyed baby boy, just three and half months old at the time of writing, a home, clothes on my back, a lanky, slightly scratchy female chocolate Labrador that will lollop all over your lap but protect me and my kids at the slightest hint of danger (dawdling man in late 60’s approaching wearing flat cap and fishing rod flung over his shoulder) and a mildly huffy, often too tired to talk husband and partner of 15 years. Yet I left the house that morning, and I walked. Not knowing where the hell I was going to go.

If like me your second child was ready to start big school and give you all the freedom a frustrated creative  could ask for, but instead you thought, no I’ll have another baby (bag one before i’m 40 syndrome I think we’ll refer to that one as), then you could be feeling my pain at this stage.

I walked out of the house and realised everything had changed. The visitors had stopped, the gifts all found homes and the baby shower clothes already grown out of and sitting neatly in charity pile. Mums had stopped approaching me with that crazed look of a woman in need of gazing at a newborn (it’s innate right?) and saying things like, ‘I love a newborn, but I couldn’t go through it again (Stick to ya guns girl), instead they amble past with a quick “He’s getting big now isn’t he” (yes and he’s fucking heavy when you’ve been carrying him for a mile up the hill cos he aint a buggy baby – care to offer a bicep?).

That’s it, babymoon is officially over. As I left the house that morning it may as well have been announced in a nasaley voice over a tannoy. “The babymoon is now closing.  Could the lady leaving number 60 please just crack on now parenting 3 kids. ”

Where have all the mothers gone ?

It’s not until you are rampantly navigating that three way travel system up a rickety uneven path (I’ve had smoother outings on a Welsh hiking holiday) and the drizzle starts hitting you in the face and the baby is wailing that sort of wail that made you look on unfavourably at the neglectful parent before you had your own kids, that you feel the loneliness seep through. Motherhood can be very lonely place, I’ve been there twice before, this is the third time. You would think I would have learnt by now.

Then it hit me. Communities and society are changing. We no longer live within spitting distance of our families. Our friends are all segregated, many have had to return to work or are running businesses as one persons income is no longer sufficient to keep one parent at home full time.  The mothers with young infants aimlessly ambling along trying to pacify junior with a ‘shhhh’ that creates more saliva than a disgruntled Staffordshire Bull Terrier are few and far between. They have wisely removed themselves from the streets (in the non prostitute sense) and gone online, where it’s safer, cosier and you don’t have to mount a three way travel system in treacherous conditions just to show your infant the trees  in an attempt to feel purposeful. Me “look at the trees” Infant “waaaaaa”

Yesterday I wrote a post on my other site http://www.thereddit.blog for my bookie fans about World Mental Health Day. I talked about the importance of emotional cues and how reading fuels empathy, unlike the digital world most of us hibernate in for vast parts of the day. Simply seeing a the slight curve of a smile when someone speaks or a raised eyebrow is how we have evolved to relate to and understand our fellow humans.

The old saying “If you can’t beat them, join them’ couldn’t be truer for me right now. As much as I crave real tangible connection with others, I know I have to be where the action is and right now the party is online. So I launched an Instagram page and gave it a name. The Mum Chums. Yes the name bears a hint of a dog food brand but it was all my mangled baby brain could cobble together as I hiked those lonely lumpy streets alone.

My aim 

I am a mum on a mission. Once upon a time I wanted to find some friends who were like me and read lots of books and wanted to talk about them. So I put a post out on Gumtree. This would seem like the days of a carrier pigeon or even communicating with smoke to those crazy millennials but guess what? It worked.  Book fans came forward and then 3 weeks later I was passing a tray of nibbles around to a handfuls of complete strangers whilst asking their opinion on the latest Lionel Shriver novel.

So I don’t see it as an unrealistic challenge to cobble together a group of mums, dads, carers, grandparents…whoever you are (child in tow is the key to this not so exclusive club) who like me,  sometimes feels there’s something missing. A real life conversation, a bosomy hug, someone to hold the baby whilst you try out that new hairstyle you saw on youtube (even though you know it’s two decades too late for that look on you), hearing the words, ‘I’ll get the coffees in’ or just being a pair of empathetic eyebrows, raising and lowering at the right times to woeful tales of calamities.

I’ll find you and I’ll hunt you all down and then I’ll drag you and your eyebrows out into the real world so we can navigate those precarious paths of parenting together. One unpredictable day at a time.

 

 

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Coffee, where it comes from and why we love it so

For many of us, coffee is an important part of the day; from our early morning espresso fix before a business meeting, to an ear bending chat over a flat white with a good friend. Whatever your choice of style or flavour, or your reason for drinking it, coffee is the worlds most consumed drink -with over 400 billion cups drunk worldwide.

But where did our fascination for the rich fragranced velvet drink come from?

Coffee, as a drink has been around for some time. Some reports date it as far back as the 10th century. There are many fascinating stories which try to give us a definitive answer of how we came to drink coffee, but the general ideas are the same and so it goes something like this…

After eating the berries of the coffea plant, animal’s behaviours were observed as hyper or joyful. In one tale, goats were described as dancing after eating the berries of the coffea tree. Intrigued at the animals behaviours under the influence of the berries, humans decided to try them for themselves. Disgusted by their raw texture and flavour, the berries were thrown into a fire where they were roasted; thus the rich coffee aroma was born and that fresh roasted coffee scent has had us hooked ever since.

coffee shutterstock_660230209.jpgBut it’s not just the bold chocolaty bouquet that keeps us drinking the world’s most favoured hot beverage. Coffee has become more than just a habit for a pleasant caffeine lift. Instead, drinking coffee has become a religious affair. Getting together to drink coffee is about fostering communities, repairing sorrow and building bridges between despair and hope. How many times have you heard those sacred words ‘do you fancy a coffee?’ and your little cup of joy has overflowed at the prospect of an hour of putting the world to rights, pouring your heart out or formatting an indestructible life plan?

Drinking coffee on a social level does more than give us an artificial buzz. It nurtures our souls, it binds communities and stimulates conversations and these are the things that are important to us. These are the things that make us human. And that is why, apart from being woken up and having our senses stimulated, we enjoy consuming coffee on such a colossal scale.

Whilst getting together with friends, colleagues and families, you are encouraged to be aware of the coffee industry and help support the 3rd world countries that produce it. Most of the world’s coffee is produced between the tropics; the areas where water is most scarce.

UK coffee week (16-22 April 2018) is sponsored by the Allegra foundation which raises funds for areas such as Tanzania and assists them with producing access to water facilities, so that women and children don’t have to walk up to 15 kilometres a day to get their days’ supply of water. To date, Project Waterfall has raised over £230’000 which has benefited over 10’000 people in Tanzania.

You can donate to the charity here at Allegra foundation .

The London Coffee festival takes place 12-15 April 2018

The inconvenience of grief

In a few weeks’ time, thousands of daughters and sons will be celebrating father’s day.

It will be the 5th time that I will not celebrate fatherhood with the man who raised me.

Four years ago, the first fathers day after my dads death, I spent time with my husband’s family. Upon arrival there was an air of awkwardness as the in-laws shuffled around me not knowing what to say or do. There were hugs and then words.

‘Thanks for coming. It must be hard for you. Especially on a day like today’

I responded too promptly ‘Every day is hard’

‘Yes but it must be especially hard today’ came their swift reply.

Although well meant, their words were for their own sake and not mine. They were worried how to be around me on a day that was all about spending time with fathers. A day where I was not to see or spend time with mine. But it was only back in the comfort of my own home where I could momentarily reflect on the day, that I confirmed again to myself, it hadn’t been one of the hardest days.

I had watched my children playing with their cousins, basked in the midday heat of the sun, nibbled on food fresh from a barbeque and sat contentedly with my husband, who from time to time would slip his hand in mine.

IMG_7218It’s the other days that are the hardest, as I had pointed out to my in -laws upon my arrival. The minute details of a day that catch you unaware like slicing some stilton cheese and enjoying the intense salty flavour that my dad loved so much. It’s looking out of the window at a family of birds in a nearby bush emerging from their nest and tweeting their evening song and remembering my dads fascination with the natural world.

Music is hard to deal with and sometimes2 I will hear a song on the radio that is so familiar, it fills the room with an over bearing presence of my dad. The nostalgia the song evokes is thick and palpable, wavering uncomfortably between euphoria and yearning.

And of course watching my young son giggle and dance, chat and play and know that he was just a 6 month old fetus when my dad passed away and that he will never know his granddad. A man who was worldly, clever, curious, enjoyed food and drink, nature, music and laughter. All the things that make someone human and alive, so quickly evaporated. Never to be again. And then my symmetrical frustration, my dad will never meet his grandson who is also clever, curious and enjoys nature and music the way he did.

39For it’s never about getting through one manufactured day without my dad,  It’s about getting through all the days without him. With the never ending thoughts and feelings that sneak up and surprise me when I’m driving in the car alone and hear a song on the radio and I hear the words count for my own sake. Or I’m reading a story to my daughter and suddenly I realise it is a story about loss death and letting someone go and my voice catches on the last words so I have to swallow my tears.

These are the feelings that I carry day to day, minute to minute. The feelings that those around me, close friends, family and acquaintances are fearful to know. They are unpredictable feelings that are aroused at times that are not always convenient to me or others.

25For grief isn’t convenient. It is raw, erratic, and ill- timed. It grasps you round the throat and constricts your vocal chords when you are sat in a meeting or as you gaze out the window at the sea views, taking in the strength of the waves and the vastness of the ocean. For you see reflected in that vastness your grief.

Time is strange thing and not always a straight forward healer. It is however a reminder that you exist without someone you knew so well and it brings hope that you can carry that grief through life and eventually find some way of existing alongside the enormity of it all.

This year, I am due to give birth to my third child, on fathers day! This will be the 2nd child that my father didn’t get to meet but his memory lives loud and proud in our house through music, toys he has built, endless photographs and of course the cheeky twinkle in the eye of my son.  I am looking forward to meeting our next child and finding in him or her all the things I knew and loved in my father.

I couldn’t imagine a better gift to myself or my dad’s legacy.

22

An Ocean Of Happiness

An ocean of happiness

The ocean and food are a marriage made in heaven. We all love to eat by the sea; especially when the weather allows us to enjoy a spot of alfresco dining. Over time humans have developed and maintained a strong tie with the marine environment – firstly for our survival in terms of food and secondly for recreation. Whether we live 2 or 200 miles from the ocean, as a species we are drawn to the sea.

So when we thinking about where we would like to eat out, whether it’s for a light brunch, a long lazy lunch or a romantic supper, it’s not surprising that we flock to a seafront location to refuel. The mere sight of an ocean for many produces awe and a profound sense of invigorating peace. What better way to ensure a relaxing and stress free eating experience than by heading towards a view of a vast ocean.

Taking children out to eat can often bring with it a myriad of challenges, yet as a parent I often feel a gratifying sense of peace when I am near the beach with kiddies in tow. Partly because there is an endless landscape of flat sea and sand for them to run across, paddle in, discover and create things on, rendering my mind partially free to roam, daydream or simply switch off -but also because I know that they are absorbing healthy negative ions and that maybe at some point, we are all subconsciously being lulled into a meditative state by the sounds of the waves.

A tranquil surrounding of turquoise waters and brilliant blue sky can guarantee happiness and contentment as the colour blue had long been associated with a sense of calm and serenity. Let’s face it, any parent will opt for a composed eating experience over a ‘stuff it in their faces and get out of here’ style marathon any day of the week.

Children that have eaten well, sat still and remembered their manners, whilst maybe throwing in an extra portion of cuteness for spectator purposes, is every parents pursuit of happiness. Being able to eat out at a restaurant that is child, family and dog friendly that is based at a seafront location, for me – is happiness personified.

 

The Headless Platter

We’ve all had to endure some pretty hideous jobs and power hungry bosses, only interested in bums on seats and subordinates and superiors . I occasionally reminisce back over some of my darker days of the employment world and whilst they were some moments that made my blood boil, each time I experienced injustice, it made me all the stronger. In the hospitality industry you will always encounter those whom you would like to do unspeakable things to their food but working in private households is a career in its own league.

I’ve cooked for many well known people from television, film, the literary industry and royalty, including HRH The Prince of Wales. The job of a private chef requires striking a balance between immersing oneself into the life of your employer yet keeping a respectable distance and always with an air of nonchalance; feigning ignorance when a little too much private information has been exposed to you.

 You are never completely free when you live on site as I have been required to do for two of my previous jobs. The ‘could you just…’ moments as infrequent as they are, stand to remind you that you are living on someone elses land and therefore terms. 

Of the two live in jobs I did, the first was the hardcore bootcamp training for the second. By the time I returned home to Dorset to begin a 3 year stint as a private chef, the occasional fleeting comments to remind me of my status and purpose were like water off a ducks back. The one and only time a situation arose where I felt a huge sense of injustice, I approached it head on.

Unbelievably I endured my first live in job for several months, because we were situated in a beautiful part of the world and immersed among 125 acres of undisturbed countryside. Our only neighbours, 3 spitting alpacas and the rolling hills and regular woodland visitors to the garden at breakfast time made up for the draconian approach to employment. I can happily say that job taught me a lot about people, food and life in general. and stood me in good stead for my subsequent role.

 I usually steer away from the F word. I don’t believe in failure. I see our learnt opportunities to begin again, only this time much wiser.  And the smattering of class discrimination that marred the otherwise perfectly idyllic work and life balance for me made me truly aware of the vast array of human behavior and of course gave me whimsical fodder for my writing.
However farcical I write, there is an underlying note of seriousness that I must convey to you all. We may look back on upstairs downstairs or Downtown Abby as a fictional series based on events that happened in history and we must all be  aware of the drastic times we live in when many are barely getting by below the poverty line. But I have seen and lived amongst great affluence and when you realise how much wealth there is and then you look at the end of the spectrum and see the suffering, you realise the class system, whilst we may no longer refer to it as that so much, is alive and well, living amongst hundreds of acres in the home counties and giving their animals better care and attention than fellow man or woman…

A few weeks in as The Housekeeper /cook and Mr and Mrs C are in residence for the birthday of their eldest daughter Miss C the 1st, who arrives into a room with the same amount of melancholy as an emo teenager (she is in her late 20’s) that I feel I should offer her a noose and a radio head album with her morning coffee.

Mrs C was adamant she wanted stuffed mushrooms for the starter and even though my life time motto is that life is too short to stuff a mushroom I dutifully began the stuffing process.

I have always loved waitressing, being able to carry three or four plates at the same time and swishing my hips through the restaurant was my forte.I always felt in my element. I prepared the entire meal and then turned my hand very quickly from chef to serving staff. With a fixed smile upon my face I began the obligatory circling of the table.  Laden with fish and potatoes I had churned out for 14, with only the mangy feral vomiting cats for company in the kitchen, I began my tour of the table where I was promptly ignored by 11 diners. This was not like the funky cafes and restaurants I had served in for the best part of my working life.  This was old school.  This was 19th Century ‘scullery maid verses master’ at its best.  (What a great idea for a reality programme, don’t ask me for a breakdown of it – I literally just thought of it – Channel 4 if you are reading this, you saw it here first).

Undeterred, I moved on and approached one gentleman ( I use that term loosely) finishing an anecdote about how he had only ever changed a nappy once and instead of putting on a fresh one he simply turned it inside out.  I waited patiently as he received his uproar of “Gfwoars” before gently clearing my throat.  He looked up at me squatting next to him, the lactic acid creeping up to my thighs, smile fixed to my face now turning into gritted teeth and he pronounced

“Oh! there is someone there”.  I continued my sponsored squat, lactic acid now lashing up into my right arm holding the platter which incidentally weighed about 10Kg.

“I saw a platter appear and wondered if it had a head” he continued.

Oh, I thought.   Yes, indeed this platter has a head.  It also has a heart, an inside leg measurement and a preferred brand of tea.  But you and I will never get there.  For now I am a headless squatting platter serving you potatoes and fish whilst you entertain your fellow diners with tales of your incompetency in child rearing.

The next morning as I served breakfast  I had to endure listening to a half an hour conversation about who they considered to be the better housekeepers, as I slopped eggs and bacon onto their plates. With just two examples within the space of 12 hours,you can see how this level of oppressive behavior was unambiguous throughout my time there.

Headless platter man probably wasn’t trying to be a facetious (he really was) and the breakfast clan probably were not even aware I was in the same room as them.  But fairly quickly it hit home. How did I get here?  I want this lifestyle of beautiful countryside, freedom and all being together as a family but is this the con to my pro? Must I always sacrifice something in life in order to get something? Am I sacrificing my dignity, my feminism, my egalitarian views, my views on the class system?

I allowed myself to be in that situation for a short period of time before I bailed and abandoned ship but not before grabbing all the moments and memories I could to remind myself to never ever let anyone treat me the way I allowed that entire family and their friends to treat me on a regular basis. Julian Fellowes may be earning his crust writing about the socioeconomic statues of days gone by, but I was living it. Everyday. And many people still are, whether they are experiencing it first hand like I was or they are the poor wretched souls suffering for the disgraceful amount of greed that consumes those who feel they’ve earned, inherited or married into it.

The thing that saddens me most is that first live in job I did, I was not paid for. Not one penny. I was given a house to live in and that was it. In exchange for that I had to give 24 hours a week of my life to a family who owned more land than I could physically ever see and were heirs to a British-based multinational agribusiness and global providers of distinctive high quality ingredients.

It moves me more now than ever that I have my own little critters to drag up and eventually have to raise the curtain to reveal to them the blatant reality of the divide between the rich and the poor.

Food is a basic right and good food should be available to all. Especially our children. Whilst I post fun foodie pics on my instagram accounts and harp on a bit about good family food,  my absolute vocation is to make a difference and by exposing a little bit of the truth about the selfish greedy monster that hides in gargantuan pads, or obscures itself behind lush fields and forests, I hope to be one step towards making my mark in the fight for equality.

Slow cooked pork in milk the Italian way

pork in milk

 

italian street sceneCooking pork in milk is an old Italian method that is comfortingly good. It doesn’t sound particularly alluring to boil meat in milk nor does it rank high on fashionable recipe lists (right now; watch this space) but sometimes it’s worth revisiting older methods to see why we cooked that way originally.

Firstly cooking in milk serves a practical purpose because the lactic acid in the milk tenderises the meat and makes it lovely and juicy and sweet and prevents the meat from drying out.

Secondly, as the milk slowly bubbles away and evaporates slightly, it becomes amalgamated with the other ingredients, and congeals beautifully into a risotto like consistency, creating flavour levels that have evolved throughout the cooking process. The milk transforms into a rich gravy and the dish becomes self-saucing. So the flavour and texture benefits to this relatively primitive process far out way its status

milkCooks often use dairy in many recipes to tenderise and moisten meat. Meat is marinated in yoghurt whilst fish is cooked in milk for kedgeree and chowder. Pork requires a good long soak in milk for the tenderisation process to complete its job, but equally as well as serving a practical purpose the milk adds a delicious creamy and rich flavour to the dish.

Cooking the potatoes in the milk is a must as they are like little sponges just ready to soak up the salt and spices in the warm liquid.

slow cooked porkThis isn’t the sort of dish you can throw in the oven on a low setting and forget about for hours. It requires a certain level of attention and care as milk is a liquid that will evaporate and has a tendency to burn. Just like the Italian culture is all about food and socialising, so this dish must follow in the same way. Embrace the time in the kitchen and incorporate the social aspect of cooking with good friends and wine.

 

 

Pork Slow cooked in milk recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 kg pork leg or shoulder with most of outer fat trimmed.
  • 2 litre of full fat milk
  • 80g salted butter
  • 80g chopped bacon or bacon lardons
  • 2 onions finely sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 kg of floury potatoes like Maris pipers

Method:

  • Heat the milk in saucepan until nearly boiling
  • Take a large cast iron pot or a ceramic casserole pot and cook the onions and bacon in the butter until they are brown and caramelised.
  • Add the pork and brown on all sides
  • Add the garlic
  • Add the bay leaves
  • Add all of the heated milk
  • Add 2 pinches of sea salt and some cracked black pepper
  • Peel and roughly chop the potatoes
  • Place around the meat
  • Cook the potatoes in the milk for 20 minutes, remove and roast for the remainder of the cooking time.
  • Simmer the meat for 1 ½ – 2 hours on the hob with a lid or transfer to an oven at 150 -160 degrees
  • KEEP AN EYE ON THE DISH. CHECK IT REGULARY. ADJUST TEMPERATURES ACCORDINGLY IF NECESSARY OR ADD A DASH MORE LIQUID IF REQUIRED
  • The meat should be tender and the sauce should resemble a risotto consistency. A curdled appearance is usual
  • Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with a spoonful of the sauce

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Roasted rainbow veg and tomato pesto

When spring and summer are just around the corner it’s time to start mirroring the vibrant days with a rainbow of vegetables that are coming into season. Many vegetables contain natural sugars and when roasted, develop a natural sweet flavour that are a perfect accompaniment to many meats and fishes

Ingredients

Rainbow veg

  • roasted rainbow veg
  • 2 courgettes roughly chopped
  • 1 large red onion peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 2 raw beetroot peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 large sweet potato peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 red pepper – deseeded and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 green pepper – deseeded and chopped into large chunks

Tomato pesto

  • 6 cloves of garlic unpeeled
  • Quarter of a cup of rapeseed oil or olive oil
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Handful of fresh basil
  • tomato pesto
  • 50g parmesan
  • 140g sundried tomatoes with oil
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 clove of garlic peeled
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Extra olive oil

 

Method:

For the veg

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees
  • Add all the veg to a large roasting tin, including the unpeeled garlic cloves
  • Add the oil and a generous scattering of salt and pepper. Coat all veg with the oil
  • Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes – taking out to stir half way through
  • Pop the garlic out of the skins and stir into the veg
  • Tear up pieces of the basil and add to the veg and mix

Tomato pesto

  • Put tomatoes in oil, anchovies, parmesan, squeeze of lemon and pinch of sea salt to a blender and mix until combined
  • Add some extra oil to create a thick but runny pesto consistency
  • Serve on top of the roasted rainbow veg