Posey, you are 1

Posey, you are…1 today.

You are…a good eater
The nursery staff tell me this every week, in a tone of slight awe. You eat everything. At speed. You like to do it yourself, which is why I try to avoid rice-based dishes. I have to hide in the kitchen when I’m making food, because if you see me, you’ll howl until you get some.

You are…a bit of a wag
You are not the clown your older sister is. It’s all about the slow chuckle with you, a joke or a game built over time. You don’t seek instant applause; instead I get a side eye and a grin. You’ll wait for me to get it.

You are…a flirt
The ladies on the tills in Tesco will never win your love, no matter how often they tickle your toes or compliment your crazy hair. You save all your dimples and gummy smiles for the butcher and the young guy behind the fish counter. I think you like his hat.

You are…observant
You watch. All the time. And copy, exactly. I shall have to stop swearing in front of you shortly, or else your first words will be unfit for publication.

You are…good at taking antibiotics.
You are the only child in the world who likes the banana-flavoured amoxicillin. You gobbled it down three times a day like a dream. You weirdo.

You are…mechanically minded
You figured out the post box game and the ball drop and the ball and hammer thingy very quickly. I must hide all my keys and babyproof every appliance.

You are…my last
And I do not want to lose this squishy little bear too soon.

You are….loved
Beyond your wildest comprehension, in different countries and across continents, forever and ever.

Happy birthday.

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Things my kids happily ate this month 4

I only have to plan two meals a week for the kids now I’m back at work, one of which we all eat together. Nursery has an excellent menu, with a range of fish, red meat and veggie options across the week, so I don’t really need to fill any gaps, so it’s all about trying new things and making my life easy. April’s horrible weather has meant more comfort food than I’d normally cook at this time of year, though.

Turkey burgers

IMG_2845These are a  great alternative to hamburgers. Turkey is high in iron and zinc, and it also contains tryptophan, which produces serotonin – I’d say we all could do with a few more happy hormones at dinner time. Thigh mince is cheaper than breast, and stays moist.

Mix turkey mince with a beaten egg and breadcrumbs. You could add sliced spring onion if the audience permits. Form into patties and refrigerate for at least half an hour, til firm.

Shallow fry, griddle or bake till cooked through.


Stuffed peppers

These have been a regular for years on our meal planner, so it’s great the kids will now eat them as well. They are great for lunch the next day, so make some extra. You can also freeze the filling if you make too much.  I use pork mince but you could use beef or chicken instead, or Quorn for a veggie version.

Halve and deseed your peppers (capsicums for the Aussies). Try to leave the stalk intact so the sides don’t collapse. Blanch in boiing water for 5 minutes.

Mix together mince, a beaten egg, finely chopped onion and grated carrot and courgette. I’ve been known in the past to add tinned sweetcorn, frozen peas or leftover rice. This time, I had a leftover baked sweet potato so I mashed that and added it.

Fill each pepper half with the filling. Pour half a tin of chopped tomatoes into a baking tray so the bottom is covered, then pack the pepper halves in. Cover with the remainder of the tomatoes, cover with foil and bake at 180C for 45 minutes. 5 minutes before the end of cooking, remove the foil and sprinkle over some grated cheese.

Serve over cous cous, rice or mashed potato with some green beans on the side.

Sweet potato and savoury mince

An updated version of mince and mash. Lots of lovely iron and vitamins, too.

Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Then roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, fry off beef mince, minced garlic and finely chopped onion. Crumble over a stock cube and add some water – you can also boost this with some gravy granules. Simmer until reduced.

Serve over the halved baked sweet potato.

Beef and mushroom stroganoff

This is just so easy to make and is very tasty. The strips of mince are particulaly good for little hands that are self-feeding.

Rapid fry beef strips and sliced onion. Add sliced mushrooms, then sour cream, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and some paprika.

Simmer for a couple of minutes and serve over rice or mash with a side of green beans or peas.

 

Two generations of Twits

In Year 4, as part of a unit on Roald Dahl, our class wrote to the man himself. We included our own versions of Revolting Rhymes – about 28 of them, poor man. We packaged them up and sent them off and duly forgot about them, as nine-year-olds are wont to do.

Post wasn’t that fast between Australia and the U.K. in 1989, so it was probably a couple of months before a parcel arrived back from Buckinghamshire.

Well, we were THRILLED. I have a clear memory of some of the boys galloping about at the back of the classroom in glee, and many of the class were too excited to stay sat on their bottoms to listen to his return letter.

Perfectly pitched to nine-year-olds, as one would expect, the letter began, “Dear handsome Harvey and Year 4S.” The class roared. It was hilarious both to hear our teacher’s first name and have him described as handsome. Poor Mr Schiller graciously read that several times at his own expense until we had finished cackling and he could move on.

The wonderful Dahl had read all of our stories, had chosen a few favourites and sent some signed books for those aspiring writers.

I don’t remember the rest of the letter but I remember the thrill of an author taking the time to respond to children half a world away, and I remember the joy of reading his novels to myself, chuckling away at the naughty bits.

So when it came time to choose some chapter books to read with G Major, it was of course to Roald Dahl we turned.

We began with The Twits, and my goodness, what a joy to see her nose wrinkle in disgust at the description of Mr Twit’s beard, hear her hoot at the image of naked boy bottoms running away through the garden, see her eyes round as saucers as we read about Mugglewump the monkey and watch her turn upside down on the bed telling us she had The Shrinks.

We’ve now done James and George as well, and are midway through Charlie, and her enthusiasm continues. As does mine – it is just wonderful to share books across generations.

It’s fun to return to Dahl’s books as an adult, and I know that G Major will return to them again when she can read them to herself. And I’m just so excited for her.

What books do you like to read with your kids?

Back to the Eighties! 

Did your parents throw dinner parties? Mine did – elaborate ones. I clearly remember Mum once dipping small bunches of grapes in egg white and sugar before hanging the frosted grapes artfully over the edge of cocktail glasses. She made souffles. She did curry nights before it was popular. And Big G’s parents once hosted a French-themed dinner party where they turned their dining room into a bistro, complete with individual small tables and Gauloise.

Reminiscing about this recently, my sister-in-law and I decided that our parents put our one-pot kitchen suppers to shame and we should have a PROPER dinner party.

So last weekend, Big G and I went to an 80s-themed evening.

Guests had to dress the part, naturally. Big G and I took late-80s coke-and-champagne fuelled City-types as our inspiration, but there was also present some fluoro eyeshadow, some Miami Vice-style rolled sleeves and deck shoes, a leather tie, beads and a slogan T-shirt.

We were asked to bring the canapes. Having discounted vol-au-vents and devilled eggs as too 70s, I made cheese straws, smoked salmon and mini quiche Lorraine.

Big G then decided we needed a pineapple and cheese hedgehog. Except with grapes and sausages on it as well. I take no responsibility for this.

Things improved noticeably when mains were served. Duck a l’orange, naturally. With duchess potatoes (posh!) and rainbow chard gratin.

And there was this delicious classic with which to wash it down.

Next up, a palate cleanser of Um Bongo sorbet with peach schnapps. This was an INSPIRED choice, although it did leave quite the sugar veneer in our mouths.

Dessert was a choice (ha ha ha, choice – I ate both) of profiteroles and mandarin flan, the latter apparently being a childhood staple for some of the guests. It involved tinned mandarins. I grew up in Queensland, so we rarely needed tinned fruit, for which I am eternally grateful (sorry, L!). And yes, that’s cream from a can. Delicious.

And there was a cheese board with a cigar of smoked German cheese and that old classic, Port Salut.

Our hosts also had us guess a list of 80s TV theme tunes.Despite my mother’s best efforts to limit TV when I was little, I pipped two of the boys to the post, recognising 43 of some 60-odd themes. In your face, Mum!

My prize? A packet of Nerds. My penance? A Charles in Charge earworm.

Best dinner party ever.

Pizzas!

When we build our dream house, Big G will be given a sub-kitchen off the main kitchen. This will be for bread making, pasta making and coffee grinding, and there will be a wall of air which blasts every speck of flour or coffee from him as he exits.

Because he is excellent at all of those three things, but the required ingredients get everywhere, and these tasks always seem to be undertaken less than 24 hours after the kitchen is cleaned. So our dream house will both allow him to make a mess and me to walk barefoot in the kitchen.

We made pizza on the weekend. Well, Big G made pizza. I like the idea of pizza but the reality of sticky dough and overworked bases kneaded by grubby hands puts me off.

Also, semolina. Semolina is like a drunk dinner party guest – if invited into your kitchen it will get all up in your business and interfere with everything,  you’ll never get rid of it and it will still be pissing you off 48 hours later.

But Big G made the pizzas, so that’s alright. And the girls helped.

     

We used Paul Hollywood’s pizza dough recipe: mix 250g of strong white flour with 160ml of water and about 20ml of olive oil. Add 5g of fast-acting yeast and 5g of salt and knead it for five minutes.

By all means let the kids help with this step; just make sure they’re the ones who have to eat the inevitable pizza-leather they create.

Leave it to rise for a few hours, covered in clingfilm and preferably in a warm spot.

When you are ready to bake, turn your oven up as high as it will go. If you have a pizza stone or tray, put it in the oven to heat up. This will help get a really crispy base. You could also use a thin baking tray or even the base of a large fry pan.

Divide the dough into balls and press each out into a circle, using your fingers first, then with a rolling pin.

We have a pizza peel – the big wooden slice used to shove pizzas in and out of the oven. Clearly you can manage without one, Big G just has high hopes for a pizza oven in the garden eventually. Dust your peel (or your pizza stone/baking tray/fry pan) with a 50/50 mix of flour and semolina to stop the dough from sticking and to make the base extra crunchy.

Then add sauce and toppings. The rule in our house is that you need to put at least three types of vegetables onto one’s pizza in addition to any meat (chicken and ham in this case). This weekend there was a choice of mushroom, pepper, sweetcorn, onion, tomato, courgette and leftover sweet potato, plus chillis for the grownups.

And cheese, obviously.

Bake until the edges are puffed up and crispy and the cheese has melted – this might be a good 10 minutes but keep checking.

What do you like on your pizza? And what would go in your dream kitchen?

Warm potato salad with mackerel and beetroot

I love that the days are finally getting longer.  Especially getting the kids home from nursery – it feels less like a desperate race to bedtime with the sun still out.

All this sunlight makes me feel I should be eating salad, but it’s still chilly outside. Warm salads are the answer – enough veggies to make you feel virtuous, but still comforting enough to eat with your slippers on.

This salad is really just an assembly job – my favourite kind of mid-week cooking.


What you’ll need

Small salad potatoes
Smoked mackerel fillets, skin removed and flesh flaked
Cooked beetroot, in bite-sized pieces
Salad leaves
Red onion, finely sliced
Greek yoghurt
Horseradish

To make

Cook the potatoes until tender, then halve.
Mix together the yoghurt and horseradish to taste.
Put all other ingredients into a bowl or onto a platter.
Dress with the yoghurt mix.
Enjoy

What are you eating at the moment?