Thursday, 31 March 2011

I never thought it would happen to me but it did...

For those who do not know on Saturday it is World Autism Awareness Day 2011. This is why I have been flooding your newsfeeds, your Google Reader and Twitter feeds with autism related stories and events. So what does it mean to you and to me?



Well, not a lot really. No radical changes to legislation will be made. No lives enriched by it. No action will be taken, spurned on by this one day event. This sounds a bit harsh but is it true.

World Autism Awareness Day simply put is all about making people aware of what autism is, how it affects those with the disability and how it affects the lives of those around them. So raising awareness is key to the event and all that is required of you, the reader. I feel as do many parents of kids with ASD that too little is done to promote awareness of autism and it's related disorders. While the press may occasionally pick up on a story once in a while, these stories often related to tragic tales or to one off incidents. Not all kids on the spectrum are severely impaired by ASD, some, like my son Alfie appear, to all extents, normal. No kid on any part of the spectrum will ever lead a normal life. Will ever sail through life without facing hurdles due to their complex needs.



All I am asking to achieve from now until Saturday day is to have one person like this post. Just ONE person. Whether it is by retweeting it on Twitter, Liking it on my personal and blog Facebook pages or to leave a comment here. If you do that then I will know that I've done my bit, that just a tiny bit of difference has been made because one person, even if it is just one person has acknowledged the existence of autism. 

One step up from this very meagre goal is to help you to understand what autism is. Eleven years ago, I knew nothing about autism. I'd heard the word mentioned but because I thought it wouldn't affect me or my family, I had no reason to learn what it meant. I learned the hard way. I discovered that autism is very real and I had no choice but to accept that I would spend the rest of my life learning what being autistic actually entailed. If Alfie hadn't been diagnosed with autism, perhaps I would have sailed through life, not knowing and not needing to know the complexities this condition brings. If it doesn't affect you, the general attitude seems to be, what's the point in worrying about it?

Here is information from the Scottish Autism site that details what autism is and how is manifests itself in some individuals. I know it is wordy and heavy reading but please take five minutes to read this or read this leaflet HERE.


The autism spectrum is the collective term for a range of conditions that impact on an individual’s social communication, social interaction and social imagination and flexible thinking . Individuals on the spectrum are also likely to have sensory and information processing difficulties that can range from subtle to complex .


The autism spectrum encompasses individuals across the cognitive ability range. In other words, a person may be on the autism spectrum and have a learning disability or may be of average to sometimes, high intelligence.



 People often associate autism with that which they can see and observe, in other words a person’s behaviour. It is however important to recognise that autism is not a behaviourial problem and that observable behaviours arise as a result of a range of complex and interacting factors.  

Autism is associated with “qualitative impairments” in three areas, namely, social communication, social interaction and social imagination and flexible thinking. It should be noted that a growing number of people on the autism spectrum reject the term “impairment”. It is used here to reflect the terminology used in the current diagnostic criteria.

The implications of each of these areas will vary across the spectrum and from person to person. These examples are intended to be indicative rather than prescriptive and are given to illustrate the diversity within each area of the triad across the spectrum. It is also important to bear in mind that the impact from each area is not distinct and that a degree of challenge will be evident in all three areas.
Some examples of Social communication issues are shown below.
  • Limited or absent verbal language
  • Difficulties using and understanding appropriate body language
  • Limited motivation to initiate and sustain conversation
  • Limited original or self generated language and or use of learned or echoed words and phrases with varying degrees of relevance to the context
  • Literal understanding of language
  • Strong desire to verbally interact but with a focus on restricted interests, individuals who have such tendencies are likely to attempt to dominate conversations and are often very able to divert any conversation back to their preferred topic.
John is 7 and has autism. He has no verbal language but seems to understand some words and very simple instructions. He is especially responsive to language based on activities that are motivating for him such as swimming. John has been taught to make vary basic choices by introducing him to a visual communication system.
Sarah is 15 and has Asperger’s syndrome. She is very talkative and can have long and detailed conversations. However she has very little interest in conversations that are not focused on her current passion which is the Roman Empire. She will respond when people try to have a conversation with her however she will very quickly introduce her subject regardless of what has gone before. Sarah will approach unfamiliar people in shops and at bus stops to talk to them. She becomes very confused and distressed if they do not respond.
In terms of social interaction the following may be observed.
  • An apparent lack of desire or motivation for social engagement
  • An apparent lack of understanding of the feelings, intentions and motivations of others
  • Initiation of social interaction is rare but may respond and comply to approaches
  • May have a strong desire for social engagement but be unaware of social rules and how to apply them depending on the context
Kirsty is 5 and has Asperger’s Syndrome. She has just started school. She is happy to be in the playground with the other children but has very fixed ideas about who should play, what games should be played and how. She finds it difficult to take turns and becomes very distressed if the other children want to do things differently.
Ann is 24 she is an adult with autism and severe learning disability.  One evening she was lying along the sofa unwrapping and eating sweets. Due to her difficulty in understanding the needs of others she would not usually share them with others. It was therefore surprising when she reached out and tugged the hand of a member of staff who was sitting close by. However it became clear that the purpose of this was not socially driven and instead of being given a sweet she formed the staff member’s hand into a cupped shape and then proceeded to push the empty wrappers into it, finishing by giving it a push in the direction of the waste basket.
Malcolm is 36 and is a very able individual who lives independently. He greeted a visiting professional returning from his holiday by saying ‘Peter, I know I’m meant to ask you if you had a good holiday, because I’ve been told that you will like being asked this, but I don’t understand why I should say this because I’m not actually at all interested in your holiday’.

The idea of social imagination is complex; we can be sidetracked by thinking that imagination is limited to creative, aesthetic or play activities. For people on the autism spectrum difficulties can be noted in such areas but the implications are more pervasive. Some examples are that individuals:
  • May find it difficult to adjust their behaviour and respond to different situations
  • May find new and unfamiliar experiences stressful, threatening and confusing
  • May resist change or exposure to new experiences due to limited ability to generate a concept or form an idea without a point of reference.
  • May find it difficult to recognise emotional expressions and body language in relation to the social context.
Sally is 6, she has autism and a learning disability; she loves to go to the local park close to her home. She enjoys playing on the swings and other equipment. Much as she loves this activity she becomes very distressed if her parents or teachers try to take her to an unfamiliar swing park. This can result in very distressed and difficult behaviour that can have an effect on the rest of the day. Sally has a similar reaction when her mum tries to take a different route to school in the car or goes round the supermarket in anything other than the order Sally is used to
Kenny is 17 years old and has Asperger’s syndrome. His dad suffers from severe headaches which are exacerbated by Kenny’s loud and repetitive questioning on his favourite topic. It was only when Kenny could see his dad in bed that he was able to understand that he was unwell. It appears that Kenny could not innately understand and empathise with his dad’s condition, however if he actually saw dad in bed in the day time Kenny then had a concrete cue that he was unwell and was then able to adapt his behaviour.


Now I know that all of this is a lot to take in. That even after all of the years we have lived with this, we still find new things and at times struggle to understand autism. So if you glossed over that section of this post, then read my blog to see how autism affects our lives on a near daily basis.

There are other things you can do:

You can TWEET for autism

and you can LIKE my ASD related posts. There will be plenty to choose from in the run up to Saturday.

Thanks for reading,

Fran. xx

The Facebook 30 Day Song Challenge. Days 5 to 10.

Continuing on...

Day Six: a song that reminds you of somewhere.


Lynyrd Skynyrd - Freebird. Travelling through the deserts of Iran in a coach with the curtains drawn and hijabs up full whack as we were travelling though a restricted military area dotted with anti-aircraft missiles. The irony wasn't lost on me then either...
Day Seven: a song that reminds you of an event.
Cilla Black - Alfie. 11 years ago I went into labour. Being the organised person I am, I had my birthing plan ready weeks before. But in a labour which stopped and started for five days, I had no idea what day it was never mind where my candles and soothing music were so I grabbed the only CD in the car. At 11:35pm on 3/7/99, this song was playing...
Day Eight: a song that you know all of the words to.

Serge Gainsbourg - C'est la Cristallisation comme dit Stendhal. Pretty impressive given the gobbledegook lyrics... I'll be pleasantly surprised if anyone likes this!
Day Nine: a song you can dance to.
 Laura Marling, Mumford and Sons and the Darobar Project - Devil's Spoke. I luuuurrrrve dancing and could've picked any number of tunes but this one springs to mind instantly and evokes fond memories of coffee table dancing... 
Day Ten: a song that puts you to sleep. 
Dean Martin - You belong to Me. While I sometimes fall asleep to Neil Young (which is in no way a reflection on his talents), young A went through a period of sleeplessness at the age of three and I discovered that only the Rat Pack would do what no amount of warm milk and cuddles could...


The Facebook 30 Day Song Challenge. Days 1 to 5.

I've been taking part in this sporadically since it went viral.

Day One: a favourite song.


Free - Walk in my Shadow.

Day Two: least favourite song.



Cheryl Cole: Parachutes. 'Nuff said really!

Day Three: A song that makes you happy. 




Karen O and the Kids - All if Love. This is an absolutely beautiful song that our little lady loves to dance to and that makes us incredibly happy.
Day Four: A song that makes you sad.
Johnny Cash - Hurt. Although the original NIN version is sad, this version with the reflective biographical video by Johnny Cash is all the more poignant...
Day Five: A song that reminds you of someone.
Jack Johnson - Do you Remember. Oh Daddy and I. Our first meeting.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A typical day...

Someone asked me today what I'd been doing all day and so I told them...

6:30am Get up and get washed and dressed. Get kids up and make breakfast.
Some point between now and 8am: wake up Oh Daddy.
8am Take A to school.
8:50am Head to toddler group.
9:30am Go to toddlers with Miss B.
11am Leave and head to dance class with B.
11:10am Grab a coffee from kiosk to drink the way.
11:35am Go to dancing and get changed.
12:30pm Leave and walk to bus stop.
12:45pm Jump on bus to A's school.
1pm Pick up A from school and head to bus stop.
1:15pm Jump on first bus to Princes' Street.
1:38pm Walk to other bus stop Westbound.
1:40pm Get on second bus to Gorgie.
2:15pm Arrive at Social Communication group.
2:20pm Give B her lunch while we wait.
3:30pm Leave and head to bus stop
3:50pm Get bus to Leith.
4:30pm Arrive at Leith head to drama hall to give A some dinner.
4:50pm Jump on bus home.
5:20pm Arrive home with Miss B and make dinner.
6pm Oh Daddy arrives home.
6:20pm Jump on bus to pick up A.
7pm Pick up A and head to bus stop.
7:20pm get on bus.
8pm Arrive home.
8:20pm have a coffee and eat dinner.
9pm Put A in bed.
9:15pm Put the tv on...URGH.... Zzzzzz

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Role Models.

I met a woman today who I wish I was like. I met her today at a social communication group for autistic kids. The purpose of this group is to help kids communicate better, to help kids who are maturing cope with being different, being autistic.

I'm sure some of us have had that moment where you meet someone who is either awe inspiring or someone who embodies all the qualities you wish you had.



A has been finding things difficult of late and is struggling with the pace and intensity of Primary Seven. So I sought out some courses he could do to help focus him a little more and to help improve his communication skills. We were lucky that just as Oh Daddy and I were realising that his frustration levels were on the increase, that we finally got a place at a social communication skills workshop run by the LEA's SALT department. We will attend ten workshops in total missing a fair bit of schoolwork in the process and I'm not particularly looking forward to wading through piles of work at home with him. He finds school so stressful at the moment that he begrudges homework in his time.

Now I won't lie to you, I always dread these things and I dread them for two reasons: how A reacts to the group and how I react to the group. As a pupil at a mainstream school, emphasis has always been on A fitting in, blending in to the mainstream crowd. Previously, when we have attended any events full of autistic kids, he finds it really stressful. The kids frighten him and he reacts as if they are oddballs and that he has no place being there. I'm not sure whether it is due to being exposed to the more demonstrative autistic traits of other kids coupled with A having sensory sensitivities or that it is only when exposed to other kids with ASD that he sees something of himself in the others and doesn't like it. As for my reaction, I am always horrendously embarrassed by A's reaction and I always feel guilty that A when compared to other kids on the spectrum is not as severe as the kids who usually use these resources. I know that that is daft but through campaigning for different charities I know people who do not have access to groups like these, kids who really need it. I know that A needs it, but I also know that out there in the local authority there is a child with more complex needs than A who doesn't have access to this.

Now anyone with a child at school with additional needs will tell you that nothing is ever easy and nothing ever comes your way without a fight and the same is true for A. For months I have been fighting to keep his learning assistant hours for the transition to High School and am still waiting on more hours for Primary Seven but given that we're nearly at the Easter break, there is no way I am getting them. One of the most frustrating things about dealing with the officials who hold the purse strings and who sign all of the paperwork is that they look at A in relation to other kids on the spectrum.

Now the official line here in Scotland is that additional support needs are supposed to be tailored to the individual and in fact the campaign run by the Scottish Government is entitled Getting it Right for every Child, where the packages of support a child receives is coordinated to their specific needs. There are two problems with this. Firstly, the Scottish Government has not put the funding into the education department to provide individualised support despite it now being against the law not to provide the support a child needs. Secondly, because my child suffers from a developmental disability that is measured by a scale he is constantly compared to other children with the same disability but at another point of the spectrum. I am sick of hearing the phrases from both professionals and parents alike; 'he's not really that autistic' or 'he could be worse'. Yes, I know that I'm very lucky that he is not more autistic, that's he's not the full Rain Man but how does that help him? Does this mean that he is less entitled to the help that the specialists, his educators think that he needs? Apparently so.

Anyway, I have digressed into a rant. But it is precisely these ranting, frustrated moments that make me wish I am like this other mother. While she probably has had her moments like this and internally could be one big  giant mess, externally I will describe to you what I saw.

She was smiling, bubbly, outgoing. He grasped my hand and shook it firmly, maintaining eye contact as she told me her name and then introduced me to her son. She spoke in a louder tone as she addressed her son, to whom it doesn't come naturally to engage with other people outside of his own world. She visibly compensated for his lack of social awareness and his interest in others. She spoke to A, again engaging eye contact as she asked him his name, what school he went to and if he liked school. He gave her one word answers, fidgeted the whole time and was clearly uncomfortable maintaining her gaze. It was then that I realised my own behaviour, my mannerism are starting to mirror A's. As we do not go to these things often I was out of my depth, uncomfortable in my surroundings and a bit apprehensive about the kids we would meet. Even after all these years, I still find it hard to talk to a kid who doesn't like eye contact, who fidgets, who might have visible autistic traits, nervous of their reactions to me and to the new environment. The guilt about my unease means I find it hard to maintain eye contact. Not spending any time with ASD kids and their parents means that I don't know how to act when I do, I worry about appropriate behaviour and the appropriate things to say so much so that I fail to engage with the parents or the kids. This other mother, she took it all in her stride asking all the right questions of the professionals. Reassuring, checking with her child that this new situation would be okay, that he could manage it. She kept repeating his name so that he knew in all of the melee that she was addressing him. I hung back from all of this, gently squeezing A's arm when we were motioned into our separate rooms and hoping that he would understand that my nod meant that he would be okay and that I would be outside if he needed me.      

I am unclear as to whether I have always been like this or not. I don't think I was. People would describe me as outgoing, mad, loud, funny. I've lost track of the point where instead of supporting my child through social experiences like she did, instead of compensating for his traits in a social situation, I began to mirror his behaviour.

I know I have to change but how...?

Listography - Top 5 Time Travel Destinations...

Ah ha! Time travel! Given that I was once a student of ancient history you would think that this would come easily but no! This has been particularly hard to do.

So the meme is back home at KateTakesFive and I know you guys might be a bit sick of these but I love making lists.

I need to make lists because since having Mis B my memory has disappeared. I studies for years and retained masses of knowledge regarding the ancient world, texts, languages and now it would seem, I can barely remember where I've put my handbag (it's always hanging up on the coat rack) or if I have my house keys (always in the shell on the sideboard) or how many children I have (two at the last count). So for me, making a list that is fun is a bit of relief!


Kate has already taken Woodstock 1969 (awesome!) and the day Bill Gates invented Microsoft (to be able to buy shares) so I've had to think hard...

1) The Grassy Knoll, Dallas, Texas at 12:30pm on the 22nd of November 1963.


I like unsolved mysteries but they bug the hell out of me! I would've loved to be part of the Warren Commision who investigated what happened on that day.


2) Ancient Persia 4th Century BC.

I would've loved to experience what life was really like during the reign of the Achaemenids (my area of study). Of course I would have to be a Persian and male to have any sense of freedom or place.



3) Next Saturday.


I'd tell myself the winning lottery numbers!

4) The future, approximately 30 years time.

If only to check on my kids to see if I've actually done an okay job. To make sure that they're happy and healthy and living life to the fullest. To find out if A will ever manage to live independently and to see how badly I've aged!



5) September 15th 2002.

This was the day the that specialist told me that A was autistic. I would meet myself sobbing in the Sick Kids canteen and tell myself it would be okay, that the future would not be as bleak as they said. I'd tell myself that they were in part wrong about diagnosing that he would never understand a word that I would say to him and to never lose sight of who he was.

Dear So and So...

I thought it was about time for another meme and given the last few weeks I've had I've picked the Dear So and So one.


Dear Migraines,

Bugger off already! It's been weeks now and your presence is no longer welcome. I do like spots and Miss B owns quite a few spotty garments however, this passion for spotted things does not extend to my vision. Doing as many things as I do in a day is not fun on Migraine meds which make you feel like your permanently hungover.

Sincerely,

Migraine Sufferer.

---------------------------------

Dear Kevin the Teenager,

I really didn't expect you to arrive for a another year yet you are here and have turned my once sweet and lovely boy into a grumpy, moody, petulant bag of hormones. I really do not appreciate being sighed at nor think that given that A attends a Catholic Primary school shouting 'for God's sake!' every time he is asked to pick up after himself or do his homework is appropriate behaviour, do you?

Thanks,

Mrs Patterson.

--------------------------------

Dear BT,

Why are all of your call centres elsewhere? Why couldn't you connect my internet five weeks ago like you promised? Why have you given my the wrong package? Why have you just sent me a huge bill?

Sincerely,

Potential Cable Customer.

--------------------------------

Dear Miss B,

Now that you've decided that you're able to feed yourself, could you be a darling and try and confine the mess to a five metre radius? I sat in a meeting yesterday with a Shreddie stuck to my shoulder and raisins in my scarf for over an hour without noticing. 

Yours,

Messy Mummy


--------------------------------



Friday, 25 March 2011

Awards...

In the past I've had a few awards from other parent bloggers and just to let you know that they are very much appreciated I just don't know how to embed html so I haven't given you shout outs before.

The latest one is from the Grumpinator as I am one of her favourite blogs. Liska is a fantastic writer whose blog name I wish that I had and whose little man JC is just adorable (* ovarian pangs!)...


So thank you and thanks for reading.

Love Oh Mammy. xxxxxxxxxx

Monday, 21 March 2011

Listography - Top 5 things I want to be when I grow up...

I've always thought that I was mature for my age and I probably am to a certain degree. Despite this I spend the majority of my time either with parents (not mine) who are significantly older than me who make me feel very young or with very tiny people who make me feel very old so where I am exactly on the age-ometer can be a bit skewed at times.

One thing that helps keep my maturity levels down is my career choices or lack of. I change careers more time than some people change their knickers and it is testament to the fact that I can't decide what I'd like to be when I grow up! Once more I am changing direction and setting my sights elsewhere and although significant life changes like this usually take a bit of time, I have no patience for this and so am hurtling through the process at breakneck speed. I'll blog more about this later and when I have time to collect my thoughts on the subject...

So these are either inspired by my childhood ambitions or just nonsense that if money, time and affordable childcare were of no issue I would do...

1) Be one of Pan's People.

Yes. When I were a lass all I wanted to be when I grew up was one of Pan's People. I adore 1960's and 1970's music and used to watch (re-runs) of all the music shows and would sit mesmerised watching the dancers. I also have a big thing for musical films and would learn the dance routines to all of them (West Side Story, Saturday Night Fever etc). This strange childhood obsession has left it's mark in various ways. When pissed I still think I can re-enact certain routines from films and can be spotted out in the big city of Edinburgh making a complete arse out of myself summoning the spirit of Tony Montana after one too many cocktails. In addition to this, I also struggle to contain myself when the Pearl and Dean advert comes on at the cinema, imagining myself and the rest of the Pan's Peeps appearing from the side door dancing to the tune of baba-bab-babab-bababaaaaaa!

2) Be a Roadie. 


I wanted to tour with the Rolling Stones. Don't know why. I think it had something to do with shiny guitars and with them being my Dad's favourite band. I dreamt of mingling with supergroups like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jethro Tull, The Who. Although this was in 1985 and most of the groups had disbanded or died...

3) Willy Wonka



Minus the creepy tunnel moment. See previous post...

4) A Teacher


I'm not any good at it. I just like it. One day perhaps...

5) Stunt Woman


I never seemed to break enough bones as a child and clearly watched far too many action movies/tv series. I loved the Avengers and I had two invisible friends as a child Bodie and Doyle...

Feeding your Family for a Fiver...

I'm a loyal shopper at a certain supermarket. I've been shopping at the same place for years and like their ethos regarding food and it's suppliers. So recently when they launched a series of recipe cards stating that you can feed your family for a fiver I was intrigued. There is a trend for menu planning for the week going around the various parenting sites on the web and it's something that I've always done. I love to cook and like to save money so I picked up some of the cards on my last shopping trip. Looking through the menu selections I spotted a problem instantly. Like most so called budget recipe suggestions, the week's menu relied heavily on oily fish and eggs to pad out meals. Now living on eggs and tuna is all well and good if you're a student but growing kids and their carnivorous parents need something a bit more substantial.



So I though that in true Oh Mammy fashion I'd offer my own version. Feeding your family for a week at a fiver a meal costs (counts fingers...seven times five...five sevens are...where's the calculator on my phone...) £35 for seven dinners which according to the cards has to at some point include an omelette, a pasta bake and tuna. Having cooked these last week and having an itemised receipt, I can confirm that in my local supermarket these seven meals cost me £19.77. Now I completely acknowledge that these things were on offer and that because I can cook, I substituted some of the ingredients for the budget version knowing that a few changes here and there wouldn't make any difference and also that I have a well stocked store cupboard and so the majority of dried herbs and spices required for these were already in my cupboards so if you had to but things like fennel seeds, it would cost you more than it cost me. Now this is my bug bear. The supermarkets and various cookery magazines and websites seem to completely ignore seasonality and availability of produce when suggesting family meal planners. Yes, irresponsibly sourced tuna and eggs are cheap all year round but I can imagine that, if like me, you're needing to tighten your belts, you could become very bored of these ingredients very quickly. Even saying the words tuna and eggs...bores me. The words pasta bake make me shudder! So people have to be creative if they are to eat well and to enjoy it. There's almost something quite condescending about the cards as well that presumes that people can't cook if they put their minds to it. Now if you go out of your way to pick up a recipe card the suppliers should at east presume that you'll give them a bash even if they require some effort.

I started off by looking at what meats were offer and built up the menu from there...

Bangers and mash with quick onion gravy


  • 500g potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 6 meaty pork sausages.
  • 4-6 tbsp caramelised red onions from a jar (such as The English Provender Co)
  • 150ml beef or chicken stock fresh, cube or concentrate
  • butter
  • milk
  1. Boil the potatoes until tender. Meanwhile, grill the sausages for about 10-15 minutes. Put the onions and stock in a pan and bring to a simmer.
  2. Mash the potatoes with a little butter and milk. Season and serve with the sausages and onion gravy.
Sausages with borlotti beans

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 onions, diced
  • 50g dry-cured bacon, diced
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 3 whole garlic cloves
  • 1 medium savoy cabbage, outer leaves and core discarded, shredded
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 110g dried borlotti beans, soaked and cooked until very tender (see tip)
  • 8 premium sausages of your choice
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Heat the olive oil in a very large, wide casserole over a medium heat. Add the onions and bacon and fry for a few minutes. Stir in the sage, garlic and some salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover and sweat for 20 minutes.
  2. Stir in the cabbage and tomato purée, cover and cook for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Add the beans and their liquor to the cabbage. Cook for 30 minutes or until some of the beans are breaking up. Season and remove from the heat.
  4. Meanwhile, griddle or fry the sausages for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through and golden.
  5. Fold the mustard and olive oil into the beans, divide between plates and lay the sausages on top.
Sausage ragu with cheesy polenta



  • 6 pork and herb sausages
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • Small handful fresh parsley leaves, plus extra to garnish
  • 200g quick-cook polenta
  • 75g mature Cheddar, finely grated
  1. Cut the sausages into large chunks. Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat – there’s no need to add any oil. When hot, add the sausages and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes, until browned.
  2. Add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, stirring, to wilt down. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes, until reduced and thickened slightly. Tear over the parsley leaves and season to taste.
  3. Meanwhile, bring 1 litre water to the boil in a large saucepan over a high heat. Reduce the heat to low, whisk in the polenta and cook, stirring continuously, for 1 minute, or as directed on the pack, until really thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the Cheddar, until melted. Season to taste and divide between 4 plates.
  4. Spoon over the sausage ragù and scatter with extra parsley leaves to serve.
One pan roast chicken


  • 1½ kg chicken
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 50g softened butter
  • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 750g potatoes, chopped into roastie size
  • about 7 carrots, roughly 500g, each chopped into 2-3 chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 1 tsp Marmite                    
  1. Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Snip the string or elastic off the chicken if it's tied up, then place in a big roasting tin. Shove the lemon halves into the cavity. Rub the butter, herbs and seasoning all over the chicken. Put the potatoes and carrots around it, drizzle everything with oil, season and toss together.
  2. Roast for 20 mins, then turn the oven down to 200C/180C fan/gas 6 and roast for 50 mins more. Stir the peas, stock and Marmite into the veg in the tin, then return to the oven for 10 mins more.
Roast chicken soup



  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1.4l chicken stock
  • 300g leftover roast chicken , shredded and skin removed
  • 200g frozen peas
  • 3 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • squeeze lemon juice
  1. Heat oil in a large heavy-based pan. Add onions, carrots and thyme, then gently fry for 15 mins. Stir in stock, bring to a boil, cover, then simmer for 10 mins.
  2. Add the chicken, remove half the mixture, then purée with a stick blender. Tip back into the pan with the rest of the soup, peas and seasoning, then simmer for 5 mins until hot through.
  3. Mix the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice, swirl into the soup in bowls, then serve.
Slow roast pork rolls with chutney



  • 2.5kg/5lb 8oz pork shoulder joint, scored and tied (we used a tied carvery joint from Sainsburys, bone in one end and rolled and tied at other end)
  • 2 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • buttered soft bread rolls, to serve

FOR THE CHUTNEY

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 4 eating apples, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
  • 4 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 thyme sprig, leaves picked                                                 
  1.  Heat oven to 240C/220C fan/gas 9. Sit the pork in a large roasting tin. If the skin isn't already scored for you, score it with a small, sharp knife. Mix together the thyme, fennel seeds, oil and 1 tsp salt with a good grinding of black pepper. Rub this over the top and ends of the pork. Roast for 30 mins, then cover the whole tin with a large sheet of foil, reduce the oven temperature to 140C/120C fan/gas 1 and return the pork to the oven for a further 5 hrs.
  2. While the pork is cooking, make the chutney. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Soften the onion and chilli together for 10-15 mins. Once soft, stir in the apple chunks, vinegar and sugar with 50ml water. Cover and cook over a low heat for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally, until the apple is very soft. Blitz half the apple mixture with a hand blender, or scoop half into a food processor and whizz until smooth, before stirring back into the pan with the leaves from the thyme sprig.
  3. Take the pork from the oven - the meat should be very tender - and increase the temperature to 240C/220C fan/gas 9. When the oven has reached temperature, discard the foil and put the pork back in for 30 mins to crisp up the skin a little. For really crisp crackling, remove the skin from the meat, wrap the meat in foil to keep warm, and return only the skin to the oven for 30 mins. Use a couple of forks to shred the pork from the joint. Sandwich in soft buttered rolls with apple chilli chutney, warm or at room temperature. Serve with pieces of crisp crackling on the side.
Warm puy salad with pulled pork

  •  225g Puy lentils
  • Leftover pork
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • Bouquet garni: thyme, parsley, bay leaf
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons well-matured balsamic vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ red onion, finely sliced
  • 3-4 handfuls mixed young herbs and salad leaves (see above)
  • 250g baby plum tomatoes, halved
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1.  Pour the lentils onto a plate and check for any tiny stones. Wash thoroughly and put in a saucepan with the onion, bouquet garni and carrot. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 25 minutes. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, by which time the water should be almost completely absorbed. Remove the onion, bouquet garni and carrot, and tip the lentils into a mixing bowl.
  2. Quickly whisk together the vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste and add half of the dressing to the warm lentils with the onions and the leftover pork. Toss thoroughly. Take 4 large, warm plates and arrange the herb salad and tomatoes in an informal ring on each plate. Spoon the lentil mixture into the middle. Whisk the remaining vinaigrette once more and drizzle over the salad leaves and tomatoes. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

                                                                                                                                

                                                                         
      
                                                                                                                                

    Thursday, 17 March 2011

    I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.

    Should we dispense and take advice from the internet?

    Here at Oh Mammy towers, we've all been a bit busy of late. Too busy to blog or to take notice of the world outside.

    Despite this tunnel vision, I can't help but notice a particular theme buzzing around the internet. Advice. Now I know that these days people Google everything and that one particular money spinner involves looking up certain things connected to raising their families. For the novice, there are masses of chatrooms and forums and websites where you can go to in your hour of need. The majority of these are ordinary Joes or Josephines offering their tuppence worth about any given bub topic within the topic of child-rearing. Parents with copious amounts of time to spend sitting in front of a computer giving themselves a little bit of reassurance that in their mind they are doing something right given that a complete stranger will take their advice (erm...guess what I really think of them?). Presumably we all think that the NHS is overstretched to the point where we are better turning on the computer and Googling key phrases like baby turning blue. I Googled it, the answer is here. The very lovely blogger from Babling Mummy has had a similar experience with Google advice here.


    You don't want to do it like that, you want to do it like this...

    Some sites in particular seems to be solely focused on comparing the parenting methods of us plebians against what certain celebrities are doing, the celebrity being the model to uphold. The celebrities themselves are then in turn offering advice on how to raise your children properly. Gisele Bundchen, the supermodel set breastfeeding advocation back decades when she came out and criticized mothers who bottle feed stating that in her earnest and learned opinion, it should be against the law to bottlefeed! Here is a link to a site that has all the precious tidbits of advice from noble celebrities in case you are the type of person who feels wholly inadequate in comparison to the wise sages that grace the pages of Heat magazine. Who cannot help but be awed by the advice of Ewan McGregor: pay attention to your children.

    But as much as the internet seems to be flooded with smug advice on how to raise your children, there seems to be an equally vast information and opinion bank on how not to raise your kids. While advice is freely available and comes from people from all walks of life so does the criticism.

    When I use my mobile, my inbox is full of articles from various parenting sites, baby shops and health services offering me advice on my parenting choice, views and methods. When I log onto Facebook, my news feed is flooded with the same types of sites, again offering me advice on all things parental. I've been hunting around the net for a few things that the kids are needing and while comparing prices again have come across chatrooms an forums offering parents advice and opinions on every aspect of their lives. Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and perhaps it will do someone out there some good to compare the advice of others.


    In the past I have been partial to a bit of advice giving myself. I have one very lovely and very dear friend that practically ends every sentence with a little gem of advice. Having had two kids and putting a fair amount of thought and energy into the process, I tend to think I know a thing or two. However, this recent spate of advice throwing has made me rethink: 

     Are we entitled to give advice freely and to perfect strangers? What do you think?

    Listography - Top 5 things sweets!

    Hooray for Katetakes5 and her Listography.

    I've missed a few good ones during my technological absence but this one I couldn't resist. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I love sweets. I really LOVE sweets! So does Oh Daddy. Given my passion for all things chewy, sticky, brightly coloured and sugary I thought that this would be an easy one and then I realised that I would have to limit myself to five. ONLY five!

    As a family we have a healthy diet and A isn't really that keen on sweets. Occasionally he will request something when out at the shops but given the enormity of his appetite it tends to be three course meals rather than sweets. I suspect also that after years of putting up with me stealing his sweets has something to do with it...


    My cravings have recently gotten worse as in Edinburgh retro sweets seem to be in vogue with quite a few shops opening that sell various items from my childhood. One shop in particular specialises in wee Scottish gems from years gone by, items that should come with a health warning such as Cremola Foam and Chelsea Whoppers. Given our reputation for having terrible health problems, the one thing Scots excel at is making sweeties...evil, evil sweets! I remember living next to a girl when I was wee who had holes in every one of her front teeth. Big black holes that my mother would tell me were caused by McCowans toffee!



    Before I am sued my Millar McCowans, I should add that the family's hygiene left a lot to be desired and a lack of toothbrushes may have been responsible rather than the toffee.

    So number 1:

    Liquorice

    I adore this but not that Middle-Class natural soft eating kind, the sticky gooey Bassets kind and all associated forms of it.


    Number 2:

    Giant Strawberries.


    It's a jelly sweetie that is giant. 'Nuff said.


    Number three:

    Mojos

    Penny chews! Glorious!

    Number four:

    Sherbert Strawberries.

    I used to buy a quarter of these on the way to visit my Aunt who would then give me 'a penny for the van' when it came down the street. She had a magical sideboard full of quarter bags of sweets. Eclairs, soor plooms, midget gems as well as proper old people's sweets like chocolate limes and cough drops.

    She also had a larder stocked with pickled vegetables that my uncle grew in the garden, another favourite of mine. A mad old woman and habitual chain smoker who spent the last few years of her life hooked up to an oxygen tank in one room and smoking in another. Safety first, people!


    Number five:

    Fizzy Strawberry Laces

    I used to buy these on our weekend visits to the nearest town from the gigantic Woolworths there. I love Astro Belts but could only get them if the ice cream van stocked them. I still sneak them into my shopping basket these days despite Oh Daddy shaking his head in disgust.


    Mmmm.....