Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Kids eat free?

I thought that I'd dip my toe into the pool of product testing after being approached by several brands to test their products. I hadn't taken up the offers as the blog posts had deadlines and this is something that I can't offer in any kind of concrete sense. This and the fact that I find product reviews, product placement on Mummy blogs incredibly off putting. I'd rather read whimsical tales of parenthood and mutterings than how smooth a Stokke pram handles. Where do we draw the line between spreading the word about products that free or not we love and want to shout about to just any old crap that comes free to your door?


So my first foray was a flop. I responded to an email from a baby food manufactures that we sometimes use when out of the house, on the run or simply if we're eating something to outlandish for Miss B's stomach and the result was a single pot of food for testing came through my door.

Miss B ate the pot and I hastily emailed the company to complain.

So this weeks eats:

I've previously posted about this weeks shopping kerfuffle but aside from this, this is what we are mostly eating.

Pappa al Pomodoro


  • olive oil, for frying
  • 3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
  • 2 tsp chopped sage leaves
  • 6 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 400 g canned chopped tomatoes
  • 4 slices stale ciabatta bread, cut into chunks
  • 800 ml vegetable or chicken stock
To serve
  • basil, torn
  • freshly grated parmesan
  • extra virgin olive oil

Method
1. In a large saucepan, heat a very generous layer of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic followed by the sage and and cook for 1-2 minutes until they give off a lovely smell and the garlic is golden.

2. Stir in the fresh tomatoes, then the tinned tomatoes and the bread. Stir well and season to taste.

3. Pour in the stock, heat through and simmer for 45 minutes or until reduced.

4. Taste for seasoning at the end. Serve at room temperature with the basil, parmesan and plenty of extra virgin olive oil. 

Sausages with Lentils and Salami


  • 2 onions
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 200 g salami, in one piece
  • 350 g sausages
  • 500 g crushed tomatoes, or tomato passata
  • 150 g green or brown lentils
  • 3 bay leaves

Method
1. Peel the onions and cut each one in half from tip to root, then cut each half into four or five pieces. Warm the oil in a heavy-based casserole, add the onions and let them cook over a moderate heat until tender.

2. Meanwhile, peel the garlic, slice it thinly and add it to the onions. You'll need to stir them regularly.

3. Peel the thin skin from the salami and cut the inside into fat matchsticks. Add this to the softening onions and leave for a couple of minutes, during which time the salami will darken slightly.

4. Start cooking the sausages in a non-stick pan. You want them to colour on the outside; they will do most of their cooking once they are in the sauce.

5. Tip the crushed tomatoes into the onions, add the washed lentils and stir in 500ml water. Bring to the boil. Remove the sausages from their pan and tuck them into the casserole with the bay leaves.

6. Cover the pot with a lid and leave to simmer gently for about half an hour, until the lentils are tender. Stir the lentils and season with black pepper. You may find it needs little or no salt. 

Spicy Sausages with Bombay Potato Mash

For the mash
  • 900 g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1-2 tsp Bombay potato spice mix, to taste
  • large handful spinach
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander
For the sausages
  • 450 g spicy pork sausages
  • mango chutney, to serve
Method
1. Place the potatoes into a medium saucepan, cover with water and boil for about 15 minutes until soft. Preheat the grill to medium.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and soften the onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the Bombay spice mix and cook for 1-2 minutes to fry off the spices.

3. In the meantime, cook the sausages under the grill for 12-15 minutes, turning occasionally until cooked through.

4. Drain the potatoes and crush lightly with a masher. Stir through the spiced onions, spinach and coriander.

5. Serve the spicy sausages with the crushed Bombay potatoes, mango chutney and a crunchy salad of radishes, cucumber and coriander.        

Garganelli with Tomanto, Pancetta and Pecorino



  • 5 large tomatoes
  • 120 g pancetta
  • olive oil
  • splash of dry white wine
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 350 g garganelli, penne or other short pasta tubes
  • 100 g pecorino cheese, freshly grated
  • black pepper
For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 200 g canned chopped tomatoes
  • black pepper
Method
1. First make the tomato sauce. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and chopped tomatoes, and season to taste. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until thickened.

2. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 5 seconds and refresh them in cold. Remove the skin, slice into quarters and remove the seeds. Slice each quarter into strips the same length as the pasta shapes. Season with a little salt and set aside.

3. Slice the pancetta into little strips about 2 cm wide, again to match the length of the pasta.

4. Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the pancetta and fry for a few minutes until browned and crisp.

5. Add a splash of white wine and cook over high heat to let the alcohol evaporate.

6. Add the tomato strips and cook for 3 minutes more.

7. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Add the rosemary and the bay leaf, and season with freshly ground black pepper. Simmer over medium heat to reduce the sauce further.

8. Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until 'al dente', then drain. Add to the sauce, tossing until well mixed. Remove the rosemary and bay leaf.

9. Tip into a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle with the freshly grated pecorino and serve.        

Things I have said to my offspring recently #2



Is that chocolate or poo?


Where is that smell coming from?


How come it's so big?

Bring me two nappy bags this time; I need to double bag this one.


Just because...


Because I said so!


Use your fork; don't just stick your face on the plate.

What's that sticking out of your gum?


Wait until your Dad gets home...


What do you mean its ONLY £1?


If I've told you once, I've told you a million times: Don't exaggerate!

Have you emailed your MSP yet?

From the National Autistic Society Scotland's We Exist campain --http://www.autism.org.uk/weexist


  • In a new survey over 94% of people believe there needs to be a Scottish autism strategy.
  • A third of people have had to go to a tribunal to get the right support.
  • 95% of people believe it is necessary to create a legal duty on local authorities and health boards.
  • 48% rated their overall experience of services to help them with their autism as either poor or very poor.
The National Autistic Society Scotland (NAS Scotland), together with over 100 key people and organisations from across Scotland, is asking the Scottish Government to implement a national strategy, backed with legislative power through a Scottish Autism Bill, to meet the needs of people living with autism in Scotland. 

How you can help
On Monday 12 April, Hugh O'Donnell MSP presented his final proposal to the Scottish Parliament for a Scottish Autism Strategy Bill, which is backed by over two dozen MSPs. The Scottish Government has until May to decide what it will do. We need you to email your MSPs to ask them to get the Scottish Government to support this vital Bill. You can email your MSP by clicking the link: http://bit.ly/9aDvU4

A Bill for Autism, a Bill for Scotland
As part of our campaign, we've launched a new report called We Exist - A Bill for Autism, A Bill for Scotland (http://bit.ly/9XIYAK). In it, a staggering 95% of people surveyed say they believe more local services are needed for people with autism. The key gaps identified include social support, advocacy, self-directed support, short breaks and employment support - shockingly, only 13% of adults with autism are in full-time employment. 

NAS Scotland is asking the Scottish Government for:
  • a duty to identify and record the numbers of children and adults with autism
  • people with autism to be able to get an appropriate assessment of their needs
  • each local area to plan for services that meet the needs of people with autism
  • appropriate training of staff to deliver high quality services
  • local areas to establish cross-agency leadership arrangements to develop joint working
  • a duty to engage with and consult people who have autism.

Wordless Wednesdays

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

What a week....

What an eventful week so far...

B has sprouted three teeth (two bottom and one top) in the space of nearly a week, A has managed to lose one new school shoe whilst breakdancing (£50 pair...don't tell Oh Daddy), I was let loose and consumed four glasses of wine and suffered a three day hangover and my previously platinum blonde hair is now yellow and far too short (see what happens when they let you watch a DVD at the salon!). A has two school projects he neglected to tell me were due in today so I am hastily gluing stuff to cardboard and translating into French (Yes, I am one of those mothers).


To top it off, I did a shop online and none of the stuff I actually needed for dinners this week arrived. After telling the very embarrassed delivery driver from Sainsburys where he could poke his substitute economy nappies, I pulled everything out of the fridge and prepared to cook dinner Ready Steady Cook style on the very day I had invited a friend round for tea...

Was about to defect to the evil Tescos online and then I saw this...

The horror!


xx

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Where the Wild Things are...

Since B was about 6 months old I have been taking her to a few Mother and Toddler groups in an effort to meet some mum and kids in the area. I figured it would be okay seeing as most people tend to pop kids out one after another (unlike us) and so there would be mothers with toddlers and also some babies. Miss absolutely loves it and I'm pretty sure she thinks that she is as big as the rest of the kids there. She attempts to walk away on her own without holding onto anything and watches with utter fascination what the older kids are up to. It's strange and little bit scary being in this world again, the world of the Wild Things and their parents... While Miss definitely has her own personality, she is nowhere near that stage of toddler-hood, where the kids are carving out their personalities in a way that constantly tests your patience. It will come eventually but it's hilarious watching the shock on her face when a kid throws a full scale wobbly in front of her while it's mother is usually oblivious and in gossip mode.


As well as a feeding ground for bacteria...

Your average toddler group is very much like the school playground and so carries with it all the politics, it's just a bit less organised and someone is usually covered in vomit.

So here's my run down of parenting types usually encountered at said places:


THE HOVERER
Species: Worrius Protectus
Behaviour: Standing within 12 inches of their child at all times!
Distinctive Markings: First aid kit, backpack, anti-bacterial wipes, furrowed brow
Natural Enemies: Unsupervised children
Mating Call: "Wait for mummy! Don't climb that!"
The hoverer is usually a woman, most often the mother of an only child whom she protects like the last surviving member of the Hapsburg family. She's the one who is constantly worried that her child might fall down at any given moment and it's her responsibility to make sure that NEVER happens!  When the kid is climbing the monkey puzzle, she puts her hand on his behind.  When he's going down the slide, she's always right there to catch him at the bottom.  If he's on the swing, someone must be standing both in front of him AND behind him at all times.


THE EXECUTIVE 
Species: Blackberryus Irritatus
Behaviour: Text-messaging the office
Distinctive Markings: Blackberry, Bluetooth headset, Hermes tie or scarf
Natural Enemies: Hippies, SAHDs, and anyone not in the corporate rat race
Mating Call: "Hold on a sec...Daddy's/Mummy's on a very important conference call."
You can always spot Executive out of a crowd.  They're the one who looks most out of their element and speaks to his children the same way he speaks to secretaries, or interns. Playground sightings of Executive are extremely rare.  Usually, they defer playground duties to the nanny.

.
CRAZY PTA PARENT
Species: Insanus Multitaskus
Behaviour: Regulating every single minute of her child's free time
Distinctive Markings: Google calendar, Filofax, Violin, Tae Kwan Do outfit
Natural Enemies: Slacker parents
Mating Call: "If we're going to make it on time, we have to leave RIGHT NOW!"
On the surface, PTA parent looks very normal.  Sensibly dressed, practical, and completely genial.  However, upon closer inspection, you'll notice that PTA parent bears a strong resemblance to a strung-out crystal meth addict.  They are a blur of non-stop action! When they're not lobbying parents in the playground to help with the latest bake sale fundraiser, they're organizing tupperware parties, running triathlons, and volunteering at the local hospital.
In the playground, PTA Parents can often be heard instructing their children how to play properly.  However, this usually doesn't last long because it's often time to head out for the next activity.  Some biologists believe that natural PTA Parents do not really exist and that the phenomenon is due to a narcotic addiction to Ritalin!
.

HIPSTERS
Species: Nealus Pollackus
Behaviour: Reading Spin magazine while sitting in the swing set
Distinctive Markings: "Dead Kennedys" t-shirt, rocker shades, Seven jeans, Vans
Natural Enemies: The Wiggles, Elmo, Yuppie scum
Mating Call: "Maaaannnn...."
Every playground has a hipster.  Generally an adult clinging to the last vestiges of their youth, they can often be seen wearing the same clothing as their children.  That's cool though because they're tight with their kids.  They don't "play" together per se.  They "hang." Hipsters tends to be relatively self-consumed.  Whereas they believe that they are simply not allowing the presence of children in their life to alter their previously childless lifestyle, they generally fails to realize that they have become a cliche.  However, despite their failings, Hipsters are generally excellent parents who spend much time interacting with their children. Hipster Dads are rarely seen in playgrounds.  However, they can often be found accompanying their children to used-record stores, alternative concerts, or Fellini film festivals.
.

POSH HIPPIES
Species: Shabbius Chicus
Behaviour: Pretending to play in the sandbox
Distinctive Markings: Balenciaga hobo bag, Prada shades, shag haircut, Range Rover
Natural Enemies: Dirty children, uncooperative nannies, Mum jeans
Mating Call: "Mummy's going to Pilates now, honey, but Rosita will play with you."
She is recognizable by her meticulously-crafted ensembles that seem to display a casual insoucence but also belie her enormous wealth.  Sure, she's wearing jeans, a t-shirt and some low-tops. However, that outfit cost more than your monthly mortage payment! Posh Hippi rebels against the wealthy society women of previous generations.  However, in reality, she is extremely similar.  In fact, cultural anthropologists believe the development of the Posh Hippy is a testament to Darwin's theories of evolution.




I'm still trying to figure out which one I am....

Health, Wealth....and oh...F off!

Attention to health is life's greatest hindrance.  
Plato



I'm pissed off! Royally pissed off! So I probably shouldn't write anything and step away from the computer. 



I've been laid up with this stupid back and neck thing for nearly a week, doped up to the eyeballs on diazepam and some other tablet that sounds like a baddie from the Harry Potter TM series, volterol or voldemort or something.... I'm having to write lists of things I am supposed to be doing or else I'll forget what I'm doing or where I'm supposed to be. I haven't done any of the things on the list and that opticians appointment I was telling you about earlier....still haven't booked it yet! I hate being ill or incapacitated like this, I'm too damned busy for this.

                                                               19th Century Knackers Yard.


I've been trying to think of what to write in a blog post and was flicking through the Guardians science pages this morning attempting to digest some titbit of news before my drug-fuelled brain fog kicks in so what better topic to write about than the state of my health and the long, long, long history of health problems in my family.

Wait! Don't go! It might get interesting...or at the very least, a bit gross if you like that sort of thing!

Bad health runs in the family as I think I've said before. My attitude towards illness is influenced by two people in my life, and a recent spate of health problems and a serious health scare has made me reflect on how these people deal with their respective illness and how it affects how I deal with things.

First up is my Mum. My mother was born with a degenerative disease called Polycystic kidneys and has been on dialysis for the last 18 months. At the moment she is recovering from a nephrectomy, which is medical speak for having a kidney taken out. Nothing in our family is ever simple so what was supposed to be minor keyhole surgery turned into major open-you-up-from-your-neck-to-your-navel surgery. Her recovery time is now months instead of weeks and her entire hospital stay was a giant farce. She is on the mend now but it is a terrible patients, being used to doing everything for herself, this has been a challenge. My mother revels in the fact that she is heroic, that she soldiers on despite her illness and it is this that gets her through the day. She is having to reassess how long she can continue to work for having dialysis sessions four times a week for 6 hours at a time.

Growing up with a mother who was always ill or living with this disease in the background makes you acutely aware of health and wellbeing. My grandfather died at the age of 55 due to complications caused by the same disease and my mothers aunt died at the age of 36 from the same. Both of my paternal grandparents were dead by the time I was born due to heart disease. We had to be tested at various stages of our adolescence for the diseases and for any other genetically linked ones. As a child I had various aliments that were a major pain in the arse (...not piles though) and often wondered what an existence free from all of this would be like. I have chronic eczema, asthma, food allergies, terrible sight. As I child I had to be bathed in oil, doused in creams and bandages every night. I spent so much time in hospital at one point, I had my teacher coming into give me work to do. I often dream of 20-20 vision, perfect skin and a bigger lung capacity...


My short lived rebellion against this was to smoke for a few years and to be a bit lax with moisturiser. I really was living on the edge.

In stark contrast to the stride in which my mother takes her disease and her attitude towards living with this is my maternal grandmother. My mother and I both share the responsibility of looking after my Nana who is, in all honesty, a bit of a nightmare. Given that various ailments and diseases run through my family, the vast majority of us try to keep ourselves fit and look after our health. My Nana on the other hand is the opposite, a hypochondriac and someone who desperately wants to be ill, all for a bit of attention. I love my Nan but she's hard work. She is currently reassessing the state of her health due to a sojourn in a nursing home to give my mum some respite during her recovery...Surrounded by people far closer to the pearly gates than she, she has come back revitalised and full of energy. Sort of...

Eleven years ago, she woke up feeling what she described at the time as 'feeling a bit weird' and phoned in sick to her work. I'd just had A so I was tasked with coming out to their house (my Mum, Dad and Nan live in the same house) to look after her. After a week she still felt a bit weird and so started seeing the doctor for various tests. To cut a long story short, after three months, the doctors discovered that she had suffered a mild stroke. Three months it took to find this out, I presume because it was so minor it was virtually undetectable! But that was it, the horror! She had a stroke and so promptly gave up working (retirement was still three years away). I had escort her and my new baby to the hospital a couple of times a week for rehabilitative therapy. Everyone we would meet in the street whether she knew them or not, she would tell them that she'd had a stoke. In cafes, in Debenhams, at the Post Office, wherever we were. If we requested that she do something, or if my mother wanted some housework done seeing as now my Nan was in the house full time, she'd reply "but I've had a stroke"....While this was all going on, she still felt a bit weird and so was diagnosed with type two diabetes. Again relatively minor diabetes, that would be controlled with diet alone, no need for constant tests or insulin. So what happens now? I'll tell you....

I like sweeties, as you may have guessed from my profile picture and as a child loved to have little picnics when we stayed at my Nan's for the weekend. We would go and rent a couple of VHS's and stuff our faces until we fell asleep. When we went to the shop to stock up on supplies we would always ask my Nan if she wanted a sweetie, to join in watching the movie with us and she would always politely decline or at best, have a little bat of Fry's chocolate cream. Not a big fan of sweet things, our Nan. Well, until she was diagnosed with type two diabetes, suddenly the house was full of chocolate and not just a bar of Galaxy, it was 1KG bars of Dairy Milk. Her handbag was full of biscuits, mints, bars of chocolate as if somehow she was determined to induce a diabetic coma. If one of her grandkids bought her chocolates for a birthday or a Christmas, she was fly up the stairs and stash them in her bedroom. Not bad for someone with impaired mobility! I could have saved the NHS a fortune in physiotherapists by simply laying Mars bars at the other end of the room and watch her go!
So my Nana has spent the last ten years sitting in her chair watching True Movies slowly eating her way into a diabetic coma. About two years ago, she started to develop tremors that the doctor said were Parkinson-like tremors and nowadays she tells everyone she has Parkinsons... Aargh!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

AA: A's Autism pt.4

So then came the move. I've blogged previously about how difficult moving schools was and we are still kind of reeling from all of the hullabaloo. Things are still unclear about what exactly will happen regarding his high school.

This aside A settled well into his new school and has made fantastic friends. Unlike the last school where he was the oddity, the little autistic kid that they allowed into the mainstream class. And unlike living out-in-the-sticks he could take his pick of afterschool activities as the prospect of having an autistic kid didn't petrify the instructors. In the Spring/Summer term after we moved he did table tennis, Tae Kwon Do, breakdancing, contemporary street dance (?!), Scouts, drama, basketball, rock academy and other bits here and there. This term he's doing two breakdancing classes, basketball, rugby, trampolining Scouts, drama and has only one day off a week. He wants football coaching and drum lessons on top of this so he's been told to wait until next term! 


However, his autism is rearing it's ugly head again....

Wordless Wednesdays




Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Hindsight is a wonderful thing...

I've been following the inspiring blog diary of Yummy Mummy and keeping up with how her fertility treatment is going. I found a video link on her blog that I thought was incredible and thought I would share it here.



Apologies for the bad formatting, I haven't figured out how to do it properly yet.

xx

AA: A's Autism pt.3

So where were we? Just to recap: diagnosis done, nursery years done...What next? Primary school...

But did I mean to start writing about his education? No, probably not. However, this is where A's Autism is most visible, where his idiosyncrasies are most palatable and so the two are inextricably linked. I promise not to blog all of the individual primary years.

So we got him into this mainstream school with it's separate classroom for autistic kids and thought that everything would be fine and it was to a certain degree. I joined the PTA in the first term as I was keen to make sure that the kids from the support class (that's what the school called it) were represented and began to be actively involved in school affairs. Because A was now registered as special needs he took a taxi to and from school with the rest of the children from his class and this cut out pretty much all of my contact with the school on a daily basis. The teachers implemented a home-to-school diary to let us know how he was doing, what therapies he had undertaken that week and if any incidents happened. This was just amazing, I cannot begin to describe the weight that was lifted off my shoulders knowing that his every need was taken care of and that the teachers were working their hardest to make sure A got the most from his education. Over the next few years (there was a slight delay in the actual organisation that put A a little behind his peers) little by little he began to be absorbed into the mainstream class. His playtimes were fun and he made a great number of friends in the school and he really was happy. 

Now I don't want the autism posts to revolve solely around the difficulties we have had but I need to get these things out. I spend so much of my day, so much of A's life, sticking a big cheesy grin on my face and pretending that I'm taking it all in my stride. I was very surprised by some comments from a friend the other day when she was talking to me about A's autism. She had been following my blog for a while, something I still find strange. I'll start up a conversation or start to reiterate some piece of news from the week and she'll say "Oh yeah, I know...I read it in your blog!" Her comments were that she forgets that A is disabled and that he is different to other kids. When I asked why she forgets she commented that it's because I don't make a big deal out of it, that I try my hardest to make sure that he fits in anywhere comfortably. I compensate for his disability and protect him voraciously. Also for her, the big deal breaker is that I don't bemoan my situation or make him stand out from his peer group. 

I hadn't thought about that until she said it. It does take a lot of effort to do it and it does have it's negative impact. That people can treat A as if he's completely normal so any autistic traits that occasionally rear their heads as bad behaviour. And this caused a problem at his school with some of the parents. The support class was a fantastic opportunity for him but one that I found out only a matter of months later that had some pretty stern opposition from the PTA, the very organisation I joined to serve the interests of the support class. The had a meeting that was kept secret from me where they drafted a very stern letter to the local authority protesting against the inclusion of the support class within the school building as apparently they were taking up valuable space that could be 'better' utilised by the existing pupils. Add to this the fact that the school held information evenings for parents on what autism is and what work the support class were doing and a total of ten parents out of 360 pupils turned up. It was going to be hard to become a part of the school community...

  

Monday, 20 September 2010

George A Romeo's Night of the Living Dead...

I spent the afternoon in the Western General Hospital waiting to see someone, anyone about my dodgy back and neck. I hate hospitals, I hate hospital waiting rooms and today's was a spectacular menagerie of ill people coughing, spluttering, stinking of drink and of wee...



I woke up on Saturday morning to find my neck muscles had gone into spasm and I couldn't get out of bed. B was crying for a feed and so I lay there contemplating for several minutes how best to wake up Oh Daddy and break the news to him that my back had gone again.After the usual chorus of "Awww love...", he dutifully went downstairs to get some muscle relaxants and pain killers. A quick rummage around the medicine box revealed nothing and so he returned empty handed. You know when you have kids and you ask them to find something for you and they wail "Muuuuum, I can't find it!" until you go and find it yourself within 30 seconds, well...

So pain medication was eventually found and B had finished feeding and so he gave me my tablets and a bottle of mineral water and promptly left the room. Flat on my back, I pondered how exactly I would get the pills and then the water into my mouth. Several splashes later, I shouted on him again. He dutifully helped me out of bed, where I could lift the pills and water to my mouth and take them. The only problem this time was that I was standing in the middle of the room wearing only knickers. Again, I summoned Oh Daddy who muttered something along the lines of "I'm not cut out for this..." and "...residential care home...sponge on a stick..." and dressed me. Yesterday was better because some really good friends of our came round and I was tried to some delicious homemade soup and a massage. Things haven't gotten any better since so I went to the hospital at the behest of NHS24 and now they want to scan my brain...


Day three in the Big Brother house and I'm pissed off.

“Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.”

Good ol' Cicero!

Autumn is here but September is a bit of a funny one for ingredients I feel. I joined up with a few friends in the week and we went foraging along the canal which turned up a huge amount of blackberries and redcurrants.

The first recipe is a bit of a twist on potato soup. I usually make a gigantic batch of a very simple recipe and then jazz it up with various toppings like crumbled blue cheese (Stinking Bishop or a Blacksticks Blue are particularly good for this etc etc). This version has been jazzed up with chorizo. You can use all sorts of things on top to change the flavour like a pesto drizzle (water down some pesto with more oil) and the menfolk have no idea it's the same soup.


Ingredients

  • 40 g butter
  • 450 g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
  • 900 ml homemade chicken stock, or vegetable stock
  • about 250 ml milk
  • 12 slices chorizo
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • flat leaf parsley, snipped          

1. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onion and toss in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper. 

2. Cover the vegetables closely with a butter wrapper or disc of greaseproof paper and then the lid of the saucepan. Sweat on a gentle heat for about 10 minutes until softened.

3. Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil in a separate pan. When the vegetables are tender but not coloured, add the hot stock and continue to cook until the vegetables are soft.

4. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Taste for seasoning and reheat, thinning it down with as much milk as you need for a good consistency.

5. Just before serving, fry the slices of chorizo in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for a minute or two on each side. Paprika-flavoured oil will render out of the chorizo.

6. Serve three slices of chorizo on top of each bowl of soup. Sprinkle a few flat parsley sprigs on top and drizzle over a little chorizo oil. 

    Gnocchi with Goats Cheese and Roasted Squash


    Ingredients

    • 450g butternut squash , peeled and cut into small chunks
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 500g pack gnocchi
    • 200g young leaf spinach
    • 100g goat's cheese           

    1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Tip the squash into a roasting tin with the garlic and oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Roast for 20 mins, shaking the pan halfway through, until tender and golden.
    2. Meanwhile, boil the gnocchi according to pack instructions. With a few secs to go, throw in the spinach, then drain the gnocchi and spinach together. Tip into the roasting tin, then mix everything together well, mashing the softened garlic. Spoon onto warm serving plates, then crumble over the cheese to serve.
    This next one is an adaptation on the Yan Kit So recipe garlic braised beef. I remember making this as a teenager with my Mum. I remember it vividly as the recipe required 50 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped into silken threads!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
    • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
    • 6 garlic cloves , thinly sliced
    • good thumb-size piece fresh root ginger , peeled and shredded
    • 1 bunch spring onions , sliced
    • 1 red chilli , deseeded and thinly sliced
    • 1½ kg braising beef , cut into large pieces (we used ox cheek)
    • 2 tbsp plain flour , well seasoned
    • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
    • 2 star anise (optional)
    • 2 tsp light muscovado sugar (or use whatever you've got)
    • 3 tbsp Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
    • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce , plus more to serve
    • 500ml beef stock (we used Knorr Touch of Taste)
    • steamed bok choi and steamed basmati rice, to serve
                                  
    1. Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large, shallow casserole. Fry the garlic, ginger, onions and chilli for 3 mins until soft and fragrant. Tip onto a plate. Toss the beef in the flour, add 1 tbsp more oil to the pan, then brown the meat in batches, adding the final tbsp oil if you need to. It should take about 5 mins to brown each batch properly.
    2. Add the five-spice and star anise (if using) to the pan, tip in the gingery mix, then fry for 1 min until the spices are fragrant. Add the sugar, then the beef and stir until combined. Keep the heat high, then splash in the wine or sherry, scraping up any meaty bits. Heat oven to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2.
    3. Pour in the soy and stock (it won't cover the meat completely), bring to a simmer, then tightly cover, transfer to the oven and cook for 1½-2 hrs, stirring the meat halfway through. The meat should be very soft, and any sinewy bits should have melted away. Season with more soy. This can now be chilled and frozen for up to 1 month.
    4. Nestle the cooked bok choi into the pan, then bring to the table with the basmati rice straight away and tuck in.  
      This next dish is one that I purposely look for an excuse to cook as I love it...

    Pumpkin Risotto with Crispy Sage




    • 570ml/1 pint vegetable or chicken stock


    • 1 small onion, chopped


    • 12 fresh sage leaves, chopped finely


    • 2 tbsp olive oil


    • 170g/6oz arborio (risotto) rice


    • 250g/9oz pumpkin or butternut squash, diced small


    • 50g/2oz butter


    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    For the crispy sage


    • 12-16 fresh sage leaves


    • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
    For serving
    • piece fresh parmesan, or vegetarian parmesan-style grating cheese

      1. Heat the stock until almost boiling and then keep over a very low heat. In a separate heavy-based saucepan sweat the onion in the oil until soft but not browned. Add the chopped sage and cook for a couple more minutes.
      2. Add the rice and mix well for a few seconds to coat the grains with oil, then pour in one-third of the stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until almost all the stock is absorbed. Add the pumpkin or squash and a little more stock, and continue to simmer gently until the stock is absorbed.
      3. From then on add more stock a little at a time, until the pumpkin is soft and the rice nicely al dente. You may not need all the stock, but the texture should be loose and creamy.
      4. When the risotto is almost ready, heat the sunflower oil in a small pan and quickly fry the sage leaves until crispy - it takes a matter of seconds.
      5. Stir the butter into the risotto, and season well with salt and pepper. Divide into four servings and throw a few crispy sage leaves over each portion. Bring the cheese and a grater to the table for your guests to serve themselves.

                                                                                                       

        Sunday, 19 September 2010

        “Men seldom make passes At girls who wear glasses”


        It's that time again....eye test time! I've been putting it off and putting it off for say...three years now but I seriously need to go and update my prescription. Big deal? It is to me!

        I forget sometimes that I'm blind as a bat because I wear glasses in the house usually only upon waking and then going to bed. My eye sight is so bad that I've just Googled: what is the criteria for being registered blind, and define partially sighted. The rest of the time I wear contacts and I have done since I was about 14 years old. It was at this point that I could no longer bear the torture of being a glasses wearer in our village. No longer could I bear the hideous design of my plastic rimmed horrors. When I was in Primary seven, I begged my mum for a pair of metal frames and eventually she caved in. True to her word at my next opticians appointment I was allowed to choose a pair of metal frames. I chose a delicate pink pair that I thought were the bees knees and skipped along to school happy as a lark. The next day I was on playground duty, you know that whole upper school looking after the infants at playtime. I was sauntering around a corner when a seven year old boy came crashing into me a high speed, head first into my eye socket. I suffered a fractured eye socket and a pair of mangled metal framed glasses. I had a black eye for a month and a pair of honking great big purple plastic frames for another two years!

        Over the years my eye sight has become progressively worse and my glasses have become progressively thicker. I usually pay an extra £200 a time to have my lenses thinned down. Not that it makes a blind (see what I did there?) bit of a difference! They're still like the bottom of beer bottles! They're just less likely to fracture my nose due to the weight. I'm always a bit worried that when I stand in direct sunlight, I might spontaneously combust. 



        I've always hated glasses but thought that they were becoming more socially acceptable. Many TV celebrities are seen sporting a pair. They are supposed to make one look intelligent, well read, learned even. The university is full of bespectacled geniuses. Last Sunday I trotted down to the local newsagent wearing my glasses to buy a copy of the Sunday Times and some morning rolls. Upon leaving the shop, I kindly asked a young gentleman who was currently occupying the doorway chatting on his iphone, if I could get passed. Imagine my surprise when he turned around and said to me "Can't you see I'm on the fucking phone, you fucking four eyed c**t?"....

        A lesser person would have cried into their black pudding.... (bastard!)

        I should start a pool so the readers can guess what my prescription is now. £1 a go, all proceeds go to thinning out my lenses...lol. 




        Delusions of Gender?

        Oh Daddy passed an article from the Guardian on to me that he thought I'd be interested in. At Uni I love to research topics on gender. Written by Cordelia Fine, daughter of the author Anne Fine, the article raises a few points to whet out appetites for Cordelia's new book Delusions of Gender.


        Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus...right? Everybody knows that women's brains are wired differently from men's. It's why so few women do well in math. It's why women gravitate toward dolls and tea sets as young children, and why they're so much better at understanding other people's emotions. It's why they're so good at housework! (Men are more wired to focus on one task — like arithmetic.) At least that's what a host of recent studies in the field of neuroscience have argued. Well, apparently not.


        I was amongst the masses who was under the impression that some gender differences were scientific fact. In my research on autism, I've read a lot about how boys and girls brains are wired differently, how levels of testosterone between the genders dictates brain function and how autistic children have more testosterone in their bodies. Dr Simon Baron-Cohen (yes of the Ali G family) leads the way on this topic. Dr. Baron-Cohen suggests that low levels of testosterone result in a female, “E type” brain (for empathy); medium levels yield a balanced brain; and high levels a male, “S type” brain (for systemizing). Medium levels account for the fact that some girls are systemizers and some boys are empathizers. Dr. Baron-Cohen’s lab conducted research on infants who averaged a day and a half old, before any unconscious parental gender priming. Jennifer Connellan, one of Dr. Baron-Cohen’s graduate students, who conducted the study, showed mobiles and then her own face to the infants. The results showed that among the newborns the boys tended to look longer at mobiles, the girls at faces.  Thus proving this gendered difference. In the last week, debate has raged about this topic and a host of TV programmes have been aired prompting this 'scientific' fact.


        Gareth Malone (a choraanimateur, singer and presenter!has been telling his probably very relieved audience that the reasons boys do poorly at school is because their brains are wired differently and that UK education is geared towards female students. But in my humble opinion, this TV programme will do more harm than good to UK education, if they don’t get over the idea that this sort of learning is good for boys ONLY. The rather odd premise of Malone’s ‘Extraordinary School for Boys’ is that disengagement from school is a problem that only afflicts men – the girls (whom we barely see) are presumed to be totally absorbed in whatever they’re being taught inside the classroom. The reason for this, we are told, is that schools are designed for the way that girls learn, but don’t take into account the way that boys learn. After we watched the show, my partner pointed out just how silly this notion is: the UK  education system came into being in order to train young MEN for jobs in the brand-new industrial economy. At that time, women weren’t even allowed into most professions. School was literally ‘designed for boys’. The basic structures of school have barely changed since then. So, when school is boring, it’s boring not because was designed ‘for girls’, but because it was designed for the nineteenth century.

        Cordelia Fine, a research associate and the author of "A Mind of Its Own" (also about brain science), discovers that, far from supporting the existence of vastly different male and female brains, much of the research on the topic is not only deeply flawed, but dangerously misleading. Women aren't worse at math (as Fine proves in the book, bad neurological research is one of the reasons women are still struggling to catch up in the field), and girls' preference for girlish toys probably has more to do with social expectations than what's in their skulls. Fine's book is a remarkably researched and dense work that, even while tackling highly complex subject manner, retains a light, breezy touch.

        You can read an interview with the author here, where she explains the point and inspiration for her book. One particular question that was posed is of particular concern to me as it's something that has been on my mind of late:


        Parents who try to raise children in gender-neutral environments are often horrified when, despite their best intentions, their daughters are drawn to Barbies and their sons are drawn to violent toys. If there are no hard-wired differences between the sexes, why does this happen?
        I spend a lot of time with parents, and you see egalitarian-minded parents try hard to rear their children in a non-gendered way. Then you see their children defy them. The fact is, babies are born into a world in which sex is the most important and obvious social division. It's constantly emphasized through segregation, through dress and so forth. Babies are born to parents who have a host of assumptions and expectations about gender, whether or not they consciously endorse those expectations. Studies have shown that parents have a tendency to see boys as more boyish and girls as more girlish than they actually are.


        Once the children reach the age of 2, which is the age they discover which side of this gender divide they're on, all bets are off. Parents may prefer that girls not play with Barbies and boys not play with guns, but by that age children know what tribe they belong to, and will want to be part of it.


        So if its not society that is foisting gendered stereotypes on to children, its the parents, if not the parents, its the educational system. So I would like to know exactly what Dr. Fine reckons one has to do to raise a child with no enforced gendered difference. It sounds impossible and a bit odd. Are we destined to produce gender neutral children? What the hell is gender neutral? Surely to use the word gender and neutral in the same sentence is a bit of an oxymoron? I'm off to buy the book tomorrow. What do you think?

        Saturday, 18 September 2010

        What not to wear...

        ...the answer being perilously high Kurt Geiger platforms! We have a wedding next week and given that I haven't dressed up since becoming pregnant, I have a major dilemma about what to wear to the event. I'm such a funny shape (blobby middle, short legs, big boobs) that buying an outfit is always a nightmare. Add to this the fact that I blew my entire budget on these beauties...I'm doomed!

        A post about Miss B (well, not really...)


        I wanted to write a post about the wonderful Miss B but one that really conveys who this little lady is. I've been mulling over what to write and reflecting a bit on the last nine months. We had a bit of a rocky start so I haven't blogged much about her for fear of comments and making the tone of this blog all a bit NetMums (yes, I did refer to this in a derogatory sense as the coffee house is just hideous)... Also time is flying past so quickly that it seems like only yesterday that she arrived instead of nine months ago. 

        So welcome to the world Miss B! If you are wondering why I call her Miss B, I'll tell you. I'm partial to nick names for kids. A (Bubs, Fredo, Ally Bongo) has a few and I'm still working out B's (Belly, Bubba, Bella Boo, B.B...). However, when I take B out in her buggy she suddenly adopts the poise and position of the queen. 


        People often remark on how imperious she looks in her little Bee-mobile and so her being Jessica Tandy to my Morgan Freeman, I call her Miss B "Yes, Miss B. Where to now, Miss B". 


        You may also have guessed that there is quite a substantial gap between my two children, eleven years to be exact. Because A is hard work and also because of his disability, I never seriously considered having any more kids as the prospect frightened me. I know quite a few parents of disabled children who then went onto have more children and it was never something I really understood. When it is a disability that is unexplainable like autism, the prospect of having another child who could possibly have that same affliction is nerve-wracking. Not always due to the disability itself but in the sense that you are somehow to blame for the condition. That to have another child and to inflict on them the same life that A will have seems unreasonable at best. Yeah, people tell you that you shouldn't think like that and that it wouldn't matter that you would love them anyway. Despite this,  I've often wondered if I was more terrified at the prospect of having a normal child rather than a disabled child. A long time ago, I accepted that A wouldn't really achieve anything spectacular in his life. As harsh as that sounds, it's true. It's unlikely that he'll be a mathematical genius or a scientist. I suspect he won't even have a driving license when he's 17 like the rest of his peers. We'll be proud of him and we love him dearly but the goals for a disabled child are always different, always more mundane. We have to push A every minute of the day to lead a normal life, to get himself dressed, to walk safely (with me) to school, to remember not to say inappropriate things to teachers, to kids. The prospect of having a child that who could achieve anything it wanted worried me more than having another disabled child. Would it change how I treat A, would I pressure that child to achieve the things we could never dream of for A?

        When I was pregnant with B my midwife sat me down and tried to dispense a few words of wisdom. Like me, she has a disabled older child and she warned me not to scrutinise everything that B would do. "Don't go looking for autism" she said and I try not to but I do. Every time B doesn't respond to me immediately or seem completely enthralled by a new activity, social setting and activity, I start to panic, I start to sweat and desperately try to get her interested in singing Five Little Monkeys or whatever it is we are doing. Add to this the things that well meaning people say to us and it makes for a stressful life sometimes.  

        I'm acutely aware that this has turned into another autism post. I think I need to finish the A series and get it out of my system before I can write coherently about other topics. I'll also be thinking about my little Miss B post. She is truly amazing, a wonderful girl and a beautiful baby and the world needs to know this....