Tuesday, 29 September 2015

New home

Hi Rifler!

What are you doing standing about here? I've moved; join me for a housewarming over at The Spike. Everyone's been asking where you are. Just watch out for the punch... 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Goodbye, the end




Now it's here, the end, I find myself uncharacteristically unable to think of anything profound to say.

I'm sure there's so much I've forgotten to tell you. The "drafts" folder of this blog is full of half-written posts, that stop in mid-air, trying to say something. But the thought was too vague, or I was too tired, demented, angry, self-pitying, or just busy, to finish it.

Some of you understand why this blog has to stop and others don't. The best way I can put it is that if I carry on, I will feel like I am betraying something.

Let me explain. Life with a two year old and a four year old is still demanding, but I can't deny that it's easier. At times it's even nice in the way that life with two under-threes, or a new baby, or being pregnant or whatever just isn't ever. Well not for me anyway. I was always having a good time despite something and I would briefly think "Look! Look it's not relentlessly crap!". Whereas now I find that, as a family, we all bring something. We all, also, take turns to ruin everything, don't get me wrong, but it's never one person consistently making it all bad.

And I really don't want to start writing posts that coyly go "And you know what, we actually had a pretty good time..." because that's just fucking annoying.

I've changed, too. When I was in the eye of the storm I was a better person, I thought more deeply, I was more sensitive, attuned and intellectually alive. Now all I think about is my career and clothes. That's it. I chase the high of a new commission and the high of total, sheer, vanity. It's abominable really and has no place in a blog that started out charting self-taught cookery, but has become a safe place for mothers demented and deranged by small children but unable to express how they are feeling, unable to find anyone else who can express what they're feeling either.

There's no shame in it - not everyone is good at expressing themselves. I'm not good at maths - in that I can barely even add 7 + 4. And I also can't really express myself in person, watching me trying to finish a sentence in real life is gruelling. But I can do it in writing.

So that's what I did and this is what this blog became. But I can't do it any more. I'm too distracted and shallow, and I don't want to let you all down.

I don't like goodbyes. Who does? Maybe there are some over-emotional people who relish leave-taking, the hugs, the vestibuling, the promises they don't intend to keep. Not me. I don't like it. I am an expert at what is known as the "French exit", which is when you go "I've just got to make a quick phone call" and then disappear in a swirl of cigarette smoke and Coco Chanel, not to be seen for the rest of the night.

There will be another blog. I'm working on it! I'm sure many of you won't like it and I'm sorry about that, but, you know, things have to change. Modernise or die! Anyway I will post a link here to the new blog when it's ready for those of you who aren't on Twitter - and everyone else will be able to find it on Twitter.

There has to be a farewell recipe,  of course, and here it is. This is a very old-fashioned thing I made recently from a recipe written by the Irish cookery writer Theodora FitzGibbon (no, me neither), which my husband absolutely and totally loved in a way that is actually quite unusual and noteworthy. (Though he may have just been hungry.)



It's a bizarre recipe - I've never seen call for boiled onions before - that speaks of a time and a location where there wasn't terribly much available and you had to use your imagination with what you have. I didn't hold out much hope for it, pork chops aren't that easy to render edible, but in fact this works very well.

So, for the very last time, here we go:

Theodora FitzGibbon's Stuffed Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 best pork chops
black pepper
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced
50g butter
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
150ml warm milk
2 tbsp cream
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 extra large blob of butter
about 10 sage leaves, chopped.

Preheat your oven to 220C

1 FitzGibbon says "trim the chops" and, like, fuck knows what this means, but I just cut the skin off and tidied them up a bit. No idea if that's what I was supposed to do, but that's what I did. Put the chops onto a grill pan and scrunch over some turns of black pepper

2 Put the sliced onions into a saucepan, just cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid.

3 Heat the butter in another pan, then add the onions and sugar, and cook until they are soft - probably about 15 mins. Then mash with a fork or masher (I told you this was a mad recipe).

4 Add the flour to the onion mash and let it cook for a minute then add the warm milk and some of the onion liquor to make a thick sauce. Add a good quantity of salt and pepper and then stir through the cream and the chopped sage.

5 Grill the chops well on one side only and then transfer cooked side down into a roasting pan and cover the tops with the onion sauce. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top, then a dot of butter and pepper.

6 Cook at 220C for 20 mins


Anyway so while you're thinking about all that, if you'll excuse me, I've just got to go and make a quick phone call. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Avocado and crayfish tails



I am not sentimental. My husband complains about it a lot. "Don't go near her, Sam," Giles will warn my son as he toddles towards me, eyes shining, with his chubby arms outstretched. "Your mother doesn't like clinginess. Don't ask for a hug or anything, she hates that. That's not the way to her heart. "

"Oh fuck off, you dickhead," I will snap. But he is basically right. How I have ended up with the world's neediest husband and, in turn, the world's neediest toddler, must some sort of dastardly revenge wreaked upon me by some unknown force.

At least there's Kitty. Thank God for Kitty! She couldn't give a flying shit whether I'm alive or dead.

Anyway, I'm not sentimental. And I've never been more sure about anything as I've been about not having any more kids. I want to want to have more children, just like I want to want to enjoy clubbing, ski-ing and "girlie dinners". But I don't.

Yet even I feel a bit fuzzy about the passing of Sam's babyhood and there are real signs afoot that it's over.

His potty-training is imminent. So the little box-room off the living room downstairs, which has for nearly 5 years been a baby-change room, is from this week going to house a new fridge freezer. Our little integrated fridge in the main kitchen is ludicrously small and I am fed up of having to fit everything in it like a game of Tetris. It's just not a suitable fridge for a family of four (plus au pair).

We no longer need to give over that precious space in our narrow London townhouse to a luxurious lying-down changing area: these days Sam's nappy is changed in ten seconds while he is standing up. I would no more lie him down to change his nappy than I would lie him down to put his clothes on. So it's time for the changing room to find a new purpose.

The changing unit in Sam's bedroom, Kitty's old nursery, is also obsolete. It's a nice piece of furniture from John Lewis, with a little changing-area, space on the side for your bits and bobs and then a cupboard and shelves underneath for muslins, nappies, blankets and so on. My babies lay on it first thing in the morning and last thing at night, until they were probably about a year old. Both babies absolutely loved opening and slamming closed the little door and drawer and pulling out all the neatly folded sheets and blankets and throwing them around the nursery.

I was so pleased with that changing unit when I bought it. It was just right. I have many times been gratified at how natty a storage area it is and marvelled at its smooth surface as I wiped away the memories of some awful illness or shit explosion or analgesic mis-application.

I don't know why I feel any pangs of loss. It's going to a lovely new home. And I also have mixed feelings about that nursery.

Both my children have slept well in there - Kitty better than Sam - and it's a nice room with pretty wallpaper and a lovely en-suite bathroom.

But I have also spent many sleepless, anxious nights in there with feverish or crying infants. The carpet is spattered with old vomit stains. I keep, permanently, a pair of rubber gloves and a bucket in the bathroom. There are rows of bottles of Calpol and Nurofen and a clattery collection of plastic syringes that speak of your real purpose as the mother of very small children: damage limitation.

So the changing unit went. I agreed to the sale of it before I had time to think,  to regret and say no. It was collected while I was out. I had wanted in the days leading up to this to change my mind, to ring up and say "No, not yet, I'm not ready." But I didn't.

Because I know I won't miss it next week. I miss it now. I feel like I have given away a family pet. I dragged over the chest of drawers from behind the nursery door to cover the glaring gap - as glaring as a missing front tooth - under the purpose-built shelf that holds the nappies and wipes. And I will forget about it. I'm sure I will. By next week. I will have forgotten about it that soon.

I often forget about avocados as being the perfect diet food. I am STILL on a diet, a whole entire week after starting it. Lunch is always tricky. I am tired, hungry and ratty by lunchtime and at my most vulnerable to eating, say, a huge white egg-and-cress bap from Spence Bakery on Fortess Road. But today I dutifully bought a tub of crayfish tails and an avocado and had that instead.

I really wanted to get prawns but I have it in my mind that crayfish are some sort of ecological menace and you are doing the world a favour by eating them. But in fact, they're not especially nice and next time I will just get the cold water prawns.

Avocado and crayfish tails
serves 1

1 ripe avocado
handful or so of crayfish tails. one of those tubs, you know what I mean
some mayonnaise
some ketchup
salt and pepper
a lot of lemon juice - probably the juice of about half a lemon

you could also add a scraping of garlic and some hot paprika if you were feeling racy

1 Put the crayfish tails in a bowl and dollop over 2 tablespoons of mayo, a squirt of tomato ketchup, a pinch of salt, a few turns of the pepper grinder, a long splash of lemon juice.

2 Taste this. What do you think? More ketchup? Salt? Lemon juice? Keep adding and mixing until it tastes pretty great.

3 Slice the avocado and eat alongside your ecologically sound shellfish mixture.


Say, "Bye bye, Baby Sam":

video







Friday, 12 June 2015

Steamed sea bass with ginger, chilli and pak choi

I have rarely done video posts on this blog because I think my actual presence probably spoils whatever voice you have for me in your head. Historically I have posted videos and everyone has gone "Oh my god you're so posh fnar fnar!" which I have found embarrassing. 

But in these last days, I feel I have less to lose, maybe it's time to throw a video into the mix just for a laugh. 

So the way I did this was just to write a normal post in a document and read it out - recipe and all - sitting at my desk in my "study" (our junk room). 

Here it is. This is what I really sound like, I'm afraid. Thank you in advance for not being mean. 





video

Monday, 8 June 2015

Matzoh balls



I often marvel at how similar I am to my husband.

Neither of us ring friends "for a chat", we are suspicious of ski-ing, believe Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, to be the best film ever made, like to go to bed promptly at 10pm, get lonely and think about death, talk too much and too fast and don't think Monty Python is funny.

Even after we had children, we broadly agreed on things - that we ought to do our best to make sure our children eat well, sleep in their own beds and get plenty of exercise, but that we ought not sacrifice a happy family atmosphere in order to achieve those things in paramount.

But a sticking point has emerged. A terrible chasm in our marriage and parenting:

THE TELLY.

Giles thinks that ideally our children ought to watch no telly at all. He knows that this is not practical but believes that this would be best. No telly, no iPad. Ever.

I, on the other hand, do not care.

I don't care because I know that I don't let the kids watch telly all fackin day long, (unless it's very bad weather outside and/or someone is ill), but they telly that I do allow the kids to watch is essential.

A bit in the morning so that I can get ready and eat breakfast in peace. A bit when Kitty gets back from nursery/Sam is waking up from his nap and trying to achieve equilibrium and then a bit around teatime.

My husband dislikes the fact that the kids thoughts immediately turn to telly and wants to encourage them to do something else. I, on the other hand, think that if you give them telly as soon as they ask for it and then say "One more Team Umizoomi and then the telly's going off" is easier than forbidding it from the outset, or making them wait until some arbitrary time for it. They don't understand "later". And they don't understand why. Is telly "bad"? Is telly "good"? If your attitude to telly is inconsistent and fucked-up then theirs will be, too.

My attitude towards telly, such as it is, is that it's good for a bit but not too much. What's "too much"? Well, that depends!! What an easy and straightforward thing modern parenting is.

My husband would consider an entire day without the telly going on once to be an achievement. I would just be sobbing and exhausted from shrieking "No telly!!" all day and liable to get uncontrollably drunk to recover.

I also think mammoth telly-watching is a phase. Kitty was obsessed with watching telly at around about Sam's age and just wanted to watch Peppa Pig and then Tom and Jerry all day long. There wasn't much else she could do: of all her play options, telly was the best.

She is four now and for a while has been able to do plenty of other things. You can also reason with her and say "after this, the telly's going off and we'll find something else to do" and she more or less goes along with it.

I am able to use, rather than abuse, the telly much more easily than I could have done with her when she was Sam's age. Sam is the same as Kitty used to be. If you tell him no, he has a freak out - but will of his own accord just wander off and find something else to do once he's had enough of it.

Anyway you ought to hear some of the ding dongs I've had with my husband about the wretched box! I feel defensive about it, you see. I'm sure that it IS best that they watch no telly. I am envious of other families where the kids seem to just play and not shriek "PEPPA PIG NOWWWW ABNEY TEAL NOWWWWW." But I need it. I need the telly like I need my Ocado app.

Our friends Henry and Jemima now have a rule in their house that there is no telly allowed at ALL during the week and then the kids gorge on it from 7am - noon on the weekend. But their youngest child is three! A grown-up! A reasonable person! Sam is still two years old! An animal! An alien!

I have no answer, there has been no rapprochement. Every time I reach for the remote it's like an act of war.

It's a shame because in other areas, my husband and I are a great time. Like in making this matzoh ball soup.

This matzoh ball soup is pretty much the only soup I can abide. Matzoh balls are not that straightforward to make and the ideal result is quite doughy and chewy and I can see why a lot of people would wonder why you'd bother, but I love them.

Matzoh balls by Claudia Roden
Makes about 15

75g medium Matzoh meal
2 eggs, separated
salt

1 Beat the egg whites until stiff

2 Add the beaten egg yolks and then the matzoh to the whites and carefully turn it all together until combined. Add salt, quite a lot - probably 2 big pinches. You could also add some chopped parsley if you had some - about a tablespoon probably.

3 Stick in the fridge for 30 mins.

4 With wet hands, form the mixture into little balls, much smaller than a Ping Pong ball as they will swell on cooking. Probably the size of a biggish marble. Does that make sense? Don't worry too much just don't make them huge.

5 Now simmer these - don't boil them as they will fall to bits - for 30 mins before adding them to your chicken soup.

I am touched and moved by how sad everyone is about the end of Recipe Rifle. I will be wrapping things up around July 15th as that's when my nanny goes off to have a baby and the au pair goes on holiday.

I will have 2 children on my own all day from then until September and will be using my evenings to  drink right up until just before then point I calculate my hangover will be very unpleasant.

But I will be back with another blog in the Autumn. It will be a bit more all-purpose, not quite so kitchen/children based. If anyone has any brilliant ideas for a name, (snappy names and catchphrases and headlines being my absolute blind spot), I would be so grateful if you'd leave it as a comment or Tweet me @estherwalker.






Thursday, 4 June 2015

Esther's chia seed pudding




I'm very late to chia seeds, like I'm late to everything, except when I have to be somewhere, in which case I am always punctual.

Mostly I'm late to chia seeds because I dislike food fads - I don't like feeling like I'm a sucker for some stupid trend, (she says rummaging through her cross-body bag and kicking off her espadrilles).

But I came across a recipe the other day for a chia seed "pudding", which is actually something you eat at breakfast time. It involved almond milk and a blackberry coulis and was perfectly disgusting. But the texture of the chia seeds, soaked overnight in the almond milk, was interesting.

I thought... there must be something in this. And while I dislike very much stupid health fads and detoxes and exclusion diets, there does seem to be enough good things about chia seeds - (mostly, from my point of view that they are full of protein and quite filling) - for it to be worth having them in your diet once in a while.

So after a couple of false-starts, I came up with an overnight chia seed breakfast-pudding recipe which is good and has a lot in common with the bircher muesli or overnight oats recipe.

Anyway it goes like this:

Esther's Chia seed pudding

Some greek or runny plain yoghurt
1 tbs chia seeds
1 tbs honey
a small amount of cut fruit - apples, peach, grapes, whatever you've got knocking about
2 drops essence of coconut if you've got it, if not don't bother (and actually it can make your chia seed pudding taste a lot like suncream if you're in the wrong frame of mind).

1 Fill a glass tumbler 3/4 of the way up with yoghurt, add the chia seeds and stir.

2 Top with the cut fruit and the honey. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.

Eat the next morning, feeling very smug. DO NOT THINK ABOUT FROGSPAWN.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Recipe Rifle goes shopping - summer round-up

Once upon a time, going bikini shopping for me was easy. The only stipulation was that the pants had to have NO TIE-SIDES because I find them annoying and they make my hips look w-i-d-e. Other than that, anything went. String, halter-neck, strapless: whatever! I had the world's most buoyant bosom. Literally pneumatic.

But now. O God! O God save me! Two children later and bikini shopping is hell. Sheer hell. If I find something that supports my up-top drooping woman-flesh then it is so structured with so much padding that I might as well just be fully-clothed and be done with it. Or I find a top that is okay but then cannot find the bikini bottom, as I squat on the shop floor, rummaging through those awful clackety bikini pant hangers, clackety clackety RAGE WHY ARE THERE ONLY 40 SIZE 6s HERE?????

I bought a collection of mad, non-matching things from TopShop and Asos. Then I went to the Selfridges bikini department and considered spending £300 on something from Heidi Klein or Melissa Odabash, but they all felt wrong and bad and felt like medical trusses.

"Go to Biondi," said my friend E-. "Tiny bikini boutique in Chelsea. It's really good. Kate Middleton goes there."

"I hate Chelsea!" I sobbed. But feeling body-ashamed and vulnerable. I went. It really is good (not Chelsea, Chelsea is horrible - the boutique I mean).

You don't have to say what your problem is, they know already: your tits are saggy. Your bum is fat. It's fine. Don't panic. They've got something for you. And if they haven't got something for you, they'll make something. I went for the Taj bikini that gives support where it's needed without using enough foam padding to insulate a house.

The prices are competitive with Heidi Klein - not dirt cheap but not insane Net-A-Porter prices either. Certainly cheaper than a boob lift, which would mean that you can go back to wearing whatever the fuck you like. If you look after this bikini and rinse it in fresh water after swimming in a pool or the sea it ought to last a few summers, making the extra cash lay-out worth it. Obviously also take on holiday some TopShop horrors that you can treat like shit.

Biondi Taj halterneck bikini £115 (ignore the tie-side pants: you can get plain pants too and it's the bikini top that matters).





You will also this summer need some espadrilles. They are absolutely everywhere at the moment but they quite often fall apart by mid-August so it's worth investing in a solid pair. Mine are from Seven Boot Lane, £70 and they are beautiful. Apologies for awful picture, but I feel you have come to expect this from me.




Another total essential is a pair of simple metallic flat sandals. The best ones are already selling out so don't dither. A pair I really wanted from Ancient Greek have sold out completely in my size - both in the shops and online - and I am absolutely fuming about it.

By the way I am so utterly fed up of real shops. You traipse all the way there for something and they've always run out of your size. It's such bullshit. The number of times I've said "It's okay I'll get it online" in the last month is depressing.

A good substitute for Ancient Greek is Steve Madden, available at Dune. Also MUCH cheaper at around the £50 mark. I can't steal an image off their website and I'm CERTAINLY not faffing about with their bloody press office, so you can find the ones I like and all sorts of others here .

I know, because you have told me, that you have all bought at denim shirt and are happy and joyful that you have. Anyone left who hasn't got a denim shirt yet GET ONE. I don't care where from. They're everywhere.

Also get yourself a pair of denim cut-offs. They are right. They are now. Do it. You will have to dig around to find some that suit you, but for what it's worth, I've got these from Zara and they are very good, £25.99. Not high-waisted, most important. Can't stand this high-waisted trend. It's such bullshit. Please note I do not wear mine with a tiny strappy top like this girl here.



I love a pendant necklace, I must have five or six - some metal, some with tassels, all colours of the rainbow. I find they make plain t-shirts come alive even if I'm feeling half-dead.

I came across this "Lifesaver" necklace from Kirsten Goss, which you can stick your own little charms on the bottom - a few letters, a stone pendant, a little skull motif or something. They are very cool - there are a lot of necklace/pendant "systems" out there at the moment, and this is the most inspiring one I've come across and not especially expensive at £80 for a plain necklace and charms at sort of £30 each.

Lots of choice and fun things available at Kirsten Goss

Of course, the thing I really want is a thing my friend C- has, which is this Diane Kordas OMG necklace, but I looked it up online and it's £1,160, which is an awful lot of recipe columns for Grazia let me tell you.




Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Best of... the comments

Genuinely the best thing about writing this blog for the last six years has been you. No, really - YOU. All of you. Thank you. But particularly anyone who left a comment. Any comment delighted me, but there have been some stand-out ones that I carry with me, in a small way, at all times. That I will carry with me always. 

I have never excelled at anything. Not as a child, not at school, not really in life at anything do I feel truly brilliant or even really accomplished. It's my own fault - I'm lazy, I give up. I am not determined or thorough. Those are not the qualities you find in stars of track or field. 

I suppose what I'm saying is that I haven't had much opportunity to be a praise junkie because it didn't come around that often. Until this blog. Suddenly, there was praise. I wrote it down and you fucking loved it. Just loved all the angry crazy boiling PISS going around my head - you LOVED it. 

I certainly didn't do all that fucking cooking because I like cooking, I did all that cooking and writing because the hit after hit of good comments was like crack, I couldn't get enough. 

As we crawl slowly towards The End, I wanted to share with you a few of my favourite comments. There are more, there are so many brilliant ones, but this is just a few. 

My best all-time no 1 comment is at the top, that still makes me laugh, but I love them all, they are all insightful and funny and I treasure them. 



BEST OF... THE COMMENTS
serves 1
as a side to Recipe Rifle or some other blog or something



I have two year old twins and everything you've said mirrors my own life down to the ocado shopping and the berserk, trembling with rage stalker sending furious text messages at 2 am. Highs and lows and all that. It will get better though. I was looking at our texts from the first year of our relationship which were all along the lines of 'why bang the door at 6.30 am when I've just put them down you CUNT. Get formula.' As we approach the third year they've got a lot less sweary so things must be improving and will continue to do so I'm sure. - Anonymous

The secret for skinning the salmon is to buy it frozen (or freeze it), then run the hot tap quickly over the skin side. Grab the corner and tear - it will rip off as easily as opening a zip - Barbara

For anyone really put off the white sauce element, there's a really easy all in one way. My dad taught me this when I was about 10, but I think it might originally have been Delia...but anyway: - 1 pint milk, 40g butter, 40g flour, 75g cheese (cheddar and parmesan for preference but anything really). Stick everything but the cheese in a pan. Over a low to medium heat, whisk continuously until it's thickened (if you do get lumps, although I've NEVER had a problem and I make this loads) take it off the heat and whisk until your arms hurt. Simmer gently for 5 mins until it doesn't taste all floury. Then add the cheese and whisk again until it's all melted. Taste and season as you like - Lisa

Sounds great and I have some salmon. But with skin on. Can't win them all. Is it worth sharing Mary Berry's genius method for getting fridge butter to room temperature in about two minutes? I think it is. Fill a bowl or something big enough to contain the butter you need with luke warm water (not hot, you'll just get melted watery butter), chop butter into lumps. big ones, put in water and leave for about 2 mins (I've left it less than that) and hey presto! Soft butter. Obviously drain the water away - annared

Drawing on the walls only starts to be a problem once they learn to spell. 'It wasn't me,'says Sophie, as i look at a row of Sophies all over the back kitchen wall. Hmmmm... - Hilary

when my girls were weeny (they're only 9 and 6 now so not massively grown up, though on their way, scarily), I told them that there were only two rules in life: never throw sand and always put the lids back on felt pens. Have spent their entire childhoods, thus far, chucking out dried out felt pens, so have no parenting tips whatsoever. Although haven't had too many beach incidents. - Clare Nash 

I just read this and even I'm excited. This is quite a triumph seeing as I just split up from my boyfriend last week and am now having one of those 'where the fuck is my life going' type of times, when I think about how I'm going to end up old and with cats, and then I cry about how even if I wanted cats I couldn't have them because my flat is leasehold and I'm not allowed pets. It's been somewhat trying. Anyway, cats aside, these clothes are lovely, and I'm sure you will look and feel fab. And thank you for making me smile on what has been a particularly hideous day. - Anonymous

I'm sorry for laughing but everything you say is true! I do 'anger ironing' because it makes me feel so superior and screams out LOOK AT ME, the one who does EVERYTHING, doing SOME MORE HOUSEWORK while you ( who works 12 hour days outside in all weathers fitting shitty people's new windows for a pittance ) sleeps on the sofa instead of finishing the shed roof in the rain. That tarty quiche looks divine! - Rachelradiostar

I have two children roughly the same age as yours are and if you throw in a couple of 'No stir the flour in the bowl. That's right in the bowl. No you need to keep the flour in the bowl. In the bowl. If you tip anymore flour out of the bowl you will not be helping mummy ever again' Then this perfectly describes my cooking experiences with my children. I am even reading it in a forced cheery tone. My intentions are always so good, the reality so humbling - Emily

She's so right, potty training in 3 days is an underground myth perpetuated by those people that say they only craved watermelon when pregnant hence why they're a size 6 again 3 wks after the birth!! Let them be naked from the waist down at home for as long as it takes, take the potty EVERYWHERE and I mean everywhere, don't be fooled into thinking a wee buys you even 15mins of dry-time coz that's when another one comes!!, buy a bucket load of jelly tots for rewards and stay calm. It's only wee and you needed a new carpet anyway!! Oh, also forcing Daddy to do a ridiculous potty dance for every success helps, if for no other reason than it makes you smile ;-) God speed xx - Linda

What did you buy Giles for Christmas?? I'm at the panicked stage where I will buy my husband anything someone else has bought for their husband... no time to shop with 2 toddlers. Help! - Anonymous

Disgusted at finding a jar of pesto a year out of date, my bf ransacked my cupboards binning almost half of it... 3 yr old Worcester sauce (solidified) 5 yr old rice wine, weevily flour, tins of value fruit cocktail (3) best before Jul 2001. All of these things I would have given a go at some point, but even I didn't think you could eat whiffy chicken. How late can you leave it? Just to the faint fishy smell or the overpowering - something has died stage? - Anonymous

Packing. Tell me about it. The bane of my life. No one else can do it for you. My husband doesn't understand the mental effort it takes. His favourite line is "Just tell me what to pack and I'll pack it." Not realising that that's the hardest part - the planning, the list-making, the thinking through of every possible activity. Simply hefting stuff I've assembled in the hall into the car is the easy part! - LucyTallon

This post is a couple of years old so I doubt anyone will read it, but I have pregnancy insomnia and am working my way backwards through this whole blog, in lieu of staring at the bedroom ceiling, listening to my husband snore. ANYWAY, my theory on the tiger who came to tea is that mummy is actually a complete alcoholic, has invented/hallucinated the whole tiger episode and made her child believe it as a cover up for why there's no food in, all "daddy's" beer is gone and the fact that she can't even get it together enough to give her daughter a bath. For further evidence of this, please look carefully at the illustrations of mummy's flushed cheeks and wild-eyed demeanor and daddy's look of weary acceptance that they have to go out for tea. Again. What do you mean, read it too many times and probably should just go back to bed now and shush…? - Helen Quin

My mother loves to tell the stories about how I was such a fussy eater as a child, whereas my brother will eat anything. He is now 17, skinny as a rake and regularly comes home from school and eats 6 scrambled eggs on toast before tea. The upside to this insatiable appetite is that he makes awesome scrambled eggs, and has volunteered to cook them for us all on Christmas morning, avec bagels & smoked salmon. Anyway - I made ganache with after eights this week. Same principle, just melt them with some double cream. It was AWESOME - Rosy

This is so true, I have a terrible reputation as a child hater. I adore them, except the little shit that comes into my shop and squeezes the living daylights out of all of my roses. - Miss Pickering

this post made me want to cry; finally feeling understood sometimes it's so FRUSTRATING feeling like you're the one always stuck at home even if it's a job you happily chose to do. a while ago my husband went to see a moving during the work day when he suddenly had several hours free and when he told me after the fact i just blew up. It wasn't so much that i feel like he should ever ever be able to watch a movie but the feelings of "do you have ANY idea what i was doing while you were watching a MOVIE???" are overwhelming. Doesn't help that i had my toddler for the whole day and he decided to be difficult that day. Maddening!!!!! You must be so popular at kitty's nursery what with the constant baked goods. must steal this idea from you - Veronica

My husband hardly every goes out due to his shift pattern but he has occasionally had a lads night and stayed out faaaar too late and I've fucking lost it. Once was when I was pregnant with baby two, his friends wanted him to have one last night of fun before the baby came. I was pissed off before he even went out. I was the one who was about to give birth and have a baby attached to me 24/7 for the foreseeable future. Why did he get a fucking night out and not me?!? He, of course, said I should go out for a girls night. Sure. That would be fun...girls night while a million months pregnant. Let me get right on that. Anyway, baby two will be 6 months old next week and I will start weaning her and maybe, just maybe, I will get to be completely child free for more than 30 minutes soon. -- Thank you for being so funny and so real, Esther. - Bria

Oh, all of this rings true, even though my kids are slightly older (2 and 4) and supposed to be less of an ALL ENCOMPASSING BALLACHE ALL THE TIME. Ahem. I love your searing honesty. Don't ever become one of those LYING female bloggers who act like having children is sunshine, rainbows and glittery shits 24/7 - Soph

I lived in West London once and it was exactly as your prejudices imagined. Kids called Wolf Filofax and Melba Toast wearing clothes with holes in despite being wealthier than Onasis. The lady that owned the house where I rented a room had a weekend place in the country. She was in to yoga and meditation, you couldn’t get a decent cup of tea in the house just all Rooibos and shit. We went to her place in the country once and she forgot her shoes, cash/bank card and toothbrush but she did pack her meditation mat, two fairy costumes and a huge pair of antlers. Too rich to think about packing. Maybe if she had taken her time over Dundee Cake she might have remembered some shoes - Oraleek






Monday, 1 June 2015

Mixed vegetables and yoghurt with green chilli oil




Of course, for all my new-life evangelical shit about how my kids are all so easy now and we're in the broad sunlit uplands and so on, it sort of only applies at home.

Going on holiday with two children under 5 is a bit like being tossed back into the frying pan, having narrowly escaped the fire by clinging on to the mantlepiece and trying to hide behind some invitations and a Jo Malone candle. You think you're so bloody clever, then you strip away nursery and the au pair and everything familiar and suddenly you're not high-fiving yourself quite so much.

So we found ourselves in Ibiza last week in a strange villa, dazed and confused. It was not our first-choice villa - we had booked that a full calendar year in advance, but then it was rented out from underneath us at the last minute by an owner dazzled and corrupted by a 3-month block-booking.

The dead lizard on the front step of the replacement "real Ibiza", "rustic" villa was an ominous sign.

The sheets were gritty, the towels were threadbare and mismatched. In the kitchen there were two ancient slices of brown toast still in the toaster, forgotten by a previous occupant. I wondered how I was going to get Sam to sleep in his assigned room next to the kitchen, which had no curtains and no door.

Giles yawed around the place a tornado of fury, chewing great chunks out of the pool surround, beating his chest and throwing furniture into the dank, leaf-sodden pool bellowing "WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS FUCKING HAPPEN TO ME?"

So we made phone calls to every important person we knew and managed to swap to a better villa and then swapped cars as the Ford Fiesta we'd rented grated its undercarriage sickeningly on the jagged 45 degree inclines that are everywhere in Ibiza.

Then Kitty got ill with a mysterious illness, the symptoms of which were a high fever and nothing else. Then she recovered. Then I got my period which is always such total bullshit on holiday. Then Sam got the same illness as Kitty and the combination of a high fever, the second strange house in the space of a week and tiny little sets of stairs everywhere, which he could not tackle on his own, sent him spiralling into a clingy state the like of which I haven't seen since he was very small.

MAAAAHMEEEEE! he would shout whenever I was out of his sight for two seconds. MAAAHHMEEEEEEEE! WHEEEEEEAAAAAAOOOOOOO????

Don't get me wrong, when Sam no longer wants to hold my hand everywhere with his little fat soft baby monkey paw, I will be sad. But God Almighty...

Oh God and I also had to share a bed with Sam, because the bedrooms in the hell villa were arranged in such an insane way that I just had to and I was astounded at what a mad, restless sleeper Sam is - even when in full health. I bitch and moan to everyone about how he wakes up once a night, but now I've witnessed the full range of his thrashing, sleep-talking and night terrors I'm amazed he only wakes up once a night.

I'm not even going to describe what the mosquitoes did to Kitty's face on the final night.

Our neighbour in London, Tom, has four children. Then youngest is, I don't know... 12? He once said to me about going away with toddlers that "It's not really a holiday though is it? I mean, there are moments of glory..."

That's very true. Moments of glory. And we had some! Having seen the state of the roads, when Giles went back to the car rental place he went full tilt. He roared back to the hell villa, wearing a white singlet and a pair of aviators, at the wheel of a  huge black Wrangler Jeep, which we all loved every single second of. We took bends at 60mph and blasted Cheerleader out to some surprised hippies on our way to Benirras beach, which we staked out daily in the hope of catching sight of SamCam.

It did take the kids a couple of days to get the hang of the beach, but once they did they liked it. I even managed to give Sam (my Sam, not SamCam) the slip and go for an actual swim on my own in the sea. But then he caught sight of me and cried until I swam back to shore.

Of course, to anyone without children this will seem like a litany of complaints, but to anyone with small children, it will probably seem reasonably standard.

And I don't want you to think I'm complaining. I think it went quite well. My ideas of what constitutes a "holiday" have been readjusted in the last five years. The fact is that when you go on holiday with small children, you simply have to close your eyes and jump and not have a single hope or expectation beyond getting home alive.

It would be easy, of course, never to go on holiday again, but I would fear that I might get out of the habit, I'd build it up to be such a terrifying, impossible task I wouldn't ever again. Not ever, not even when everyone can wipe their own bum and apply their own mosquito repellant.

And I do, really, like being on the beach. I like a swimming pool on a really hot day. I like the thing where Giles goes out in the morning for fresh bread from somewhere and we have it with butter and jam and coffee. I like how solid and refreshing and excellent England seems when you come home again.

Speaking of which, before we left on our travels I cooked this thing from Plenty More by that sacred cow Ottolenghi.

It is great, but a flipping great hassle. I mean serious hassle. A labour of love, really - a bit like going abroad with the under-5s.

Mixed vegetables and yoghurt with green chilli oil

serves 4 as a side with some barbecued lamb or something

300g plum tomatoes (or a lot of baby tomatoes) cut in half or into wedges
frying oil
400g courgettes, cut into chunks
1 aubergine cut into chunks
2 red peppers, cut into .... CHUNKS
150g greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
small handful shredded mint
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

for the chilli herb oil

1 green chilli chopped
small bunch parsley
small bunch mint
1 tsp ground cumin
60ml olive oil

preheat the oven to 170C

1 Spread the tomatoes out on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 40 min

2 to make the herb oil put all the ingredients in a whizzer and whizz (this herb oil, by the way, is very delicious on all manner of fish or grilled meat on its own)

3 now deep-fry in about 3-5cm of frying oil ALL the chunked vegetables!!! I know, fucking mental, really really insane. this takes ages, about 45 mins I'd say. you have to do them in batches and the aubergine takes forever. But despite this ballache, I have made this TWICE, so it must be special. drain them all on some paper or in a colander, and sprinkle with salt.

4 Stir the yoghurt with the garlic, mint, lemon juice and black pepper.

5 Turn everything together in a bowl carefully to avoid turning it into a big mush

Eat, while trying to remember where your passport is.






Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Pancakes 2.0



One of the things that has made me think it's time to let this blog go is that I keep re-visiting old recipes. I have started to do the thing that has always panicked me in conversation with others and also in my professional writing life: I have started to repeat myself.

Good writers have a decent routine and get it out over and over again. They get out the same phrases, the same stories, the same hang-ups all the time and hope that no-one notices. Great writers, really brilliant ones, never repeat themselves. They're that fucking crazy that they have enough new things churning around in their melons to always have something new to say.

I fall somewhere between the two in that I occasionally repeat myself, but try not to. The overwhelming urge to repeat yourself comes from either having to hit a deadline and having not enough to say or from the frustration that you said this once before and it really felt like NO-ONE WAS LISTENING!! So maybe the thing to do is say it again!?

And now I find myself struggling more and more not to repeat myself - both in life, just generally, and also in the kitchen.

I started off writing this blog only really wanting to be able to make one or two kinds of dinner, a good chocolate cake and roast potatoes. But I took things waaaaay to far and now I know how to de-bone a duck and make profiteroles.

And American pancakes! Actually forget all the other stuff, it was pancakes that I wanted to be able to make. I am so unreconstructed. While the Hemsley sisters are busy torturing courgettes and Ella is being deliciously vegan or whatever she is, (too scared to find out), I just want to stuff my face with white carbs, butter and maple syrup.

Not every day, you understand! I eat fish and greens for dinner most other days (blork) but on Saturday morning we have PANCAKES. Ever since Sam has been able to amuse himself for five seconds in the mornings and I have had both hands free, we've had pancakes.

I used to fuss about with all manner of wizardry to make these fluffy pancakes - adding baking powder and bicarb of soda and sugar and god knows what to plain flour. And then I discovered that all you need to do is use bloody self-raising flour and you're away!

The benefit of this is that the kids can help. Or maybe that's really not a benefit.

So here we go, American pancakes 2.0

makes about 6

7 heaped tablespoons of self-raising flour (or as close as the kid can get to it)
1 egg
some milk, enough to make a thick batter, which is probably about 200ml
BUTTER
maple syrup

1 Put a frying pan or crepe pan on the hob over a low heat to warm up. Non-stick would be handy

2 Get kiddo to heave out the flour into the bowl, then you - or it - can swizzle it about with a whisk

3 make a space somewhere in the bowl and crack an egg into it. Let the kid do it if you're feeing patient

4 Pick bits of eggshell out of the bowl

5 Swizzle the egg into some of the flour until it's a sort of paste.

6 Add a splash of milk. I SAID A SPLASH THAT IS NOT A SPLASH DO THIS PROPERLY OR YOU'LL HAVE TO GET DOWN

7 Swizzle this milk into your egg and flour, adding a bit more flour, then another sloop of milk, then more flour until you have a runny batter, not really runny, like milk, but quite runny. But not thick, thick, like cake batter. With me? Whisk briskly. You might notice some weeny lumps in the batter, don't worry about this.

8 Leave this to stand for a few minutes. Really only a few minutes, I know that children are impatient and want their PANCAKES PANCAKES PANCAKES. PANCAKES NOW MUMMY. PANCAKES PANCAKES NOW. PANCAKES NOW. PAAAAAAANCAAAAAAAAAKES. I LOVE PANCAKES. PANCAKES NOOOOOOOWWWWWW but the thing is that the batter will thicken slightly on standing and you might want to add some more milk to the mixture unless you want to get an actual CAKE in your pan.

9 Turn up the heat under the pan until it is really quite hot, but not smoking. Dollop in your mixture the best way you can see how and then wait for a few little bubbles to emerge on the top then flip them. This always goes wrong for me, so I can't see how it can go that right for you, but don't worry, the kids won't care.

10 Now butter the topside of the pancakes while they are still in the pan and cook the bottom for a bit. Not long, maybe 2 minutes if you want to put a timer on.

11 Put on a plate and drizzle with maple syrup. Do not let kiddo help with this part.





By the way I have just made the most amazing discovery which is that when you want to pinch a big green thing of snot out of your kid's nose and don't have a tissue what you do is wipe it on THEIR clothes, not yours! You're welcome.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Buffalo wings for the boyz



I'm going to try hard in the next few years not to become the Woman Who Has Forgotten.

It's already starting to go, to fade - you know... the horror.

I remember the nightmare of two children under 3, in that it was awful, I hated my life every day for weeks on end. But I'm starting to forget why. I remember screeching, the frustration of having to be in two places at once, of doing two completely different things at once, or someone would start crying. The constant bending and wiping. Was that it? Was that what was so bad?

I took a selfie about eight months ago of me sitting in my kitchen looking out of the window because it was the first time since Sam was born that I was just sitting, having a moment to myself, while the kids pottered about. Up until then every moment that both my children were awake, I was on call. I wanted to remember that moment, to remind myself never to take my free time for granted again. I wanted to remember not to forget.


Here it is:


It's not like now I'm just lazing about having my nails done, but I'm freer and lighter. Yesterday I took Kitty and Sam up the road for an ice cream and back and we left the buggy behind. Watershed moment.

But I never want to be that woman, who has forgotten. Who blithely asks friends with small children if they'd like to come round for lunch "Oh the baby can nap upstairs?" I might say airily. No! Never. Least. Relaxing. Thing. Ever. Or offer things like a long walk to someone with a toddler. Or lunch in a pub. Or a complicated trip to some sort of safari park. You must never forget what it's like. I must never forget what it's like.

My mission, in the next few years, as day-to-day life gets easier, while my childrens' emotional and intellectual needs and demands become more complicated, is to attend to those evolving needs, while also Never Forgetting.

There's something else on my mind that you need to know. And that is that it might be time soon to put Recipe Rifle away. Not delete it or anything, but, you know, move on. Write a very last post, say goodbye. Draw a line.

The project is sort of over. The original aim of this blog, to teach myself how to cook, has been accomplished. I am now as good a cook as I ever set out to be, as I could ever functionally need to be. The secondary subject of this blog about having small children, is now fading as they start to get on with their own lives. I know many excellent writers who write about their older children, the hilarious and mad things they say, the challenges of primary school and so on. But I don't think that's for me.

I was traumatised by my children when they were very small - and doubly traumatised when they were both really small, at the same time. It produced huge questions to which I sought the answers from other people, and from inside my own head.

But life now is so prosaic, we just bumble along. And I've completely let go. I don't twist myself up in knots about anything much these days, despite Kitty being a bit of a lunatic and Sam having genuinely the most frighteningly bad diet of any child I know. We can do the things we can do and we can't do the things we can't do. And soon we'll be able to do whatever we want.

It's not that I've answered all the questions, it's that I know now for certain that there aren't any answers.

It's not quite time to say goodbye, though. There's a bit more left to say. But I want to prepare you for the fact that one day, soon, it will be time to go.

In other news about not forgetting to remember, I had some old friends from university round for dinner the other night. And I remembered that I did actually have some friends at university, though I will swear blind that I didn't know a soul and never left my room and had to sleep on the streets because no-one would share a house with me.

But there they were, Tom and Chris and Will, larger than life, on my doorstep. We sat in my kitchen and talked about university and then Tom and I talked about our kids until Will and Chris, who don't have kids, were practically passing out with boredom. Then they all left.

So, Q: do you give boys who come round for dinner? A: beer, wings and ribs.

I came across the most fantastic buffalo wings recipe the other day from a very ambitious book called What Katie Ate At the Weekend, by the very ambitious and super-smiley Australian food blogger princess Katie Quinn Davies.

If you make the sauce, (which you dribble over the wings before serving), for these in advance they are a total pisstake of an easy thing to do for dinner. After a lot of consultation with my butcher, Hot Sam (in order to differentiate him from Baby Sam - but also because he is Hot), we decided that six wings per boy would be enough with a large salad and some ribs on the side. If you don't want to have ribs on the side for fear of meat sweats, then you could have small baked potatoes instead.

The sauce is a very strong, spicy, vinegary thing, which I absolutely love and, (and I don't mean to be sexist here), boys LOVE. But it's not subtle.

Anyway so here we go - I have changed some things about this so as usual this is not Quinn Davies' exact recipe but it's very close

For the wings

12 chicken wings
1 tbs plain flour
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp garlic granules

For the buffalo sauce

250ml white vinegar
2 tbsp honey
11/2 tbsp hot sauce (I used Encona's hot pepper sauce - do not use tabasco)
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp garlic granules
1/2 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp butter

Please do not be put off by the list of ingredients. This makes a lot of sauce and whatever you don't eat the first time can be frozen and used another time. It's worth it, I promise.

1 Preheat oven to 200C (fan 180C) and grease a couple of baking trays (you may only need one depending on how big your trays are.

2 Cut the wings in half at the joint and discard the tips. This isn't a very nice job.

3 Put the flour, cayenne pepper, paprika and garlic granules into a bag with no holes in it and give it a shake to mix it up. Then put the wings in and shake all over to coat.

4 Spread the chicken wings out among your baking trays and bake for 30 mins. Then turn them over and cook for another 30 mins. This seems like a long time but it's fine.

FOR THE SAUCE

1 Put the vinegar, honey, hot sauce, paprika, garlic granules and 125ml water in a saucepan. Bring this to the boil then simmer for 10-15 mins.

2 In a small cup or egg cup mix the cornflour with 1 tablespoon of water until smooth. Whisk this into the sauce, then simmer it, whisking all the time, for a few minutes until thick.

3 Stir in the lemon juice then reduce the heat and cook for another 2 mins.

4 Take the pan off the heat and stir in the butter to make the sauce nice and glossy

I put these in a large bowl lined with Bacofoil, which is more malleable and user-friendly for this sort of caper than greaseproof paper.

Some celery sticks would be nice with this, too.

Eat, while chatting to your friends about the past and thinking about your future.









Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Aga Dundee Cake



A thing I find a bit frustrating about having people round is Shy Guest Disorder. You know what I mean, the sort of people who come in apologising for something, (it's never clear exactly what), and then when you put food on the table they sort of take a nervous sideways glance at it, as if you had just put a large stack of porn mags down.

They then say something like "May I just pinch a tiny bit of this?" Or "Can I steal a piece of bread?" or something else so defensive and insecure and insanely unintentionally pass-agg given then you have invited them to your house to eat your food that I find it difficult not to scream JUST FUCKING RELAX WILL YOU.

I confess that I used to be a bit like that as a guest until I had my friend Oz round a few times. Oz is the staggeringly handsome husband of my husband's ex-girlfriend (keep up) and also the owner of London's current best restaurant, Kitty Fisher's in Mayfair.

Oz will show up at your house, give you the sort of troubling bear hug that sends you reeling backwards into the kitchen, get a drink, pour everyone else a drink, tell a filthy joke, gaze into your eyes and tell you how much he loves what you've done with the place and then sit down at the table, shout "WOW I hope there's a lot of this because..." he will then lean over and snort your, his, everyone's dinner.

"Amazing," he will say, his mouth full, "immense. Is there any more." He will then get up and stagger over to your sofa, manspread, tell more filthy jokes, pour more drinks but then leave at a completely reasonable hour. Probably to go to a party in Hackney that's just getting going.

A guest like that is such a relief. It's so relaxing, as a host, to have someone round who is so enthusiastic and on your side with what you are trying to do, which is to have a dinner party. And since then that is usually what I do as a guest. Not the manspreading, but pretty much everything else. I am always the one leaning in, helping myself, starting, passing things. To sit there with your friends, in a totally informal setting and act like you're at an Edwardian tea party is mad and makes your host nervous. Doesn't the food look nice? Aren't you hungry? What's going on? WHY IS NO-ONE EATING?!

And it's a thing that is, as a host, very difficult to correct. I'm not sure what Oz does about it. I'd ask him but he's always at work and you can't get a table at Kitty Fisher's these days, doesn't matter who you're married to. But I suspect what Oz would do is just have a lot of people who are just like him round to eat - fellow scoffers and bellowers and eaters and drinkers. I've just got the wrong friends.

Except for my friend A- who has recently bought a house in the countryside and invites us there a lot I suspect because I am not scared of her Aga and she is. She glares at it, terrified, saying "I don't know what temperature it is?!" having not got her head round the fact that the top oven is HOT and the bottom oven is LESS HOT and that's all there is to it.

Anyway the other day I bullishly made a Dundee cake in a way I have heard tell of, which is to cook it in the simmering oven (i.e. the LESS HOT) oven for a long time, like 3.5 hrs. I have made Dundee cake in a conventional oven before and it didn't work very well, it came out very dry and just not nice - so I reckoned that having a crack at this couldn't possibly turn out any worse.

So I took Delia Smith's Dundee cake recipe and put it in A-'s simmering oven for 3.5 hrs, took Sam out for a walk, came back, messed about a bit, everyone had lunch, then at 2.30pm I got the cake out of the oven and it was freaking perfect and when it had cooled down at about 4pm we had it with tea.

A Dundee cake is a very good thing to have in the countryside as people drop round unannounced awfully often and there are no corner shops to run to for Fondant Fancies.

If you do not have an Aga then you cook this in a conventional oven at 170C for 1.5 hrs. But I can't promise that it will be as good.

Aga Dundee Cake

you will need:

1 Aga
1 18cm cake tin with a loose bottom (it is VERY important that the tin is 18cm - no larger, no smaller). You must grease this well all over with butter and line at least the bottom with baking parchment. You can get a very good Tala 18cm tin off Ocado.

225g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
150g butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
2 large handfuls currants
1 handful sultanas
2 level tablespoons ground almonds
1 small handful mixed peel
glace cherries, to decorate (about 10)

Also, massive respect to me by the way for doing all this with only a rotor hand whisk, rather than an electric whisk.

You will NOT need to preheat your oven to any temperature, because it is an Aga, so it is always on.

1 Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl

2 Add the caster sugar, butter and eggs and whisk with your electric whisk OR if you are doing this with a hand whisk, add the sugar to the flour, then whisk the butter and the eggs together and then add and whisk in one spoonful of dry ingredients to wet at a time until you have a sort of batter then add this starter-batter to the rest of the dry ingredients and turn well together using a spatula until you have a good consistency. (Does that make any sense? I'm a bit tipsy, as I'm in the countryside and all they do is fucking drink here.)

3 Add to this the ground almonds, assorted fruits and mix to combine

4 Turn out into your tin and dot with the glace cherries. Do not push these too far into the batter or they will disappear completely while cooking.

5 Cook for about 3.5 hrs. You might want to decorate this when cool with a lemon icing. I certainly did.

This cake keeps exceptionally well and in fact is best cut into about 2 days after baking. But don't stand on ceremony! I chopped into it as soon as it was out of the Aga and chortled "What's everyone else having?" Because that's what terrific guests do.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Bircher museli for Charlie Potter



I had a very nice email recently from a reader seeking advice. My favourite kind of reader email, really - actually asking my opinion. It gives me licence to take a deep breath and just go on and on and on about what I think, which is the state in which I am happiest, as long-time readers of this blog will know.

Anyway the email went "Shall I take my 2 year old on a 7 hour flight to Montreal?" And my answer, which ran to several hundred words, was: "No." I guessed that if she was even asking me, she was really looking for a "no" answer anyway, she just wanted it validated by a dispassionate third party.

As I was writing my reply to her, hammering away at my keyboard (I do not type in a tapetty tappetty tap way, I HAMMMER THE FUCKING KEYS LIKE THEY HAVE DONE SOMETHING BAD - I always used to get complaints at work about it) some things became clear to me.

I ended up writing this paragraph:

"I’ve always felt like I had my whole life up until having kids to travel and fuck about and do whatever I want, and it’s not long now until my kids can both travel and appreciate the ride and have a good time. 

I don’t understand why some people *insist* that children shouldn’t slow you down and root you a bit. Why not? Why can’t we all just be still for a few years and then take off round the world and be wild and crazy once everyone’s a bit more grown-up? I find the pressure to continue on as you always did after you’ve had kids very oppressive and it pisses me off."

I didn't know that that's what I thought until I wrote that down, but now I realise that this is exactly what I think. I am probably over-sensitive to it, but I do feel under pressure to carry on as if I haven't had kids and it properly fucks me off. It's the thing I encounter most often that makes me most angry. Because the fact is that although my children are perfectly alright, I do not find them relaxing company. I cannot just drag them about with me and get drunk and not care and let them run wild because within moments Sam will have fallen down hard against something and there will be blood. Kitty will have found a pair of scissors. It's not relaxing, I don't like it, don't make me do it.

I recall my friend Max, who I think occasionally reads this from California where he now lives, declaring that he and his wife do not drink when they are in charge of the kids because if they were to let go in such a way, their children would be found "covered in nettle stings, being eaten by wasps". They are modern, cool and thoughtful parents and I have clutched this statement to me, like the Gollum with his ring, since hearing it.

There is a little saying that my husband once heard and was impressed by, which goes "don't compare the inside of your life with the outside of other people's". This works in two ways: first, don't think that other people are having a better time than you from what you can superficially deduce. Second: other people have a different experience of life from you, they are different people, they make it work in their own way.

Once upon a time it was people who wanted their children to stay up late, to be free and relaxed and hippyish about everything who were on the margins, who were looked down on by other, stricter parents. Now I feel like it's the hippies who are taking over the world and those of us who choose not to go raving with our kids or bithely take them on very long flights or move across the world with toddlers or go sail across the world with them or whatever, are the ones who are judged. I say that's how I feel, but I am obviously the world's most defensive and paranoid person, so maybe just forget I spoke.

Now: bircher museli. I don't really know how the cropped up in the world or where it's from or what it means but I think Donna Hay (also a mystery to me) has had a lot to do with it.

What you do is soak oats in apple juice overnight and then apply all manner of exotic mixings and toppings to it and then you eat it in the morning and find it freaking delicious.

The huge benefit of this is that in the morning you don't even so much as have to get a bowl down for your breakfast, you just remove the pot of museli from the fridge, get a spoon and dive in. I did think that the application of apple juice to oats in a domestic context would be rather revolting but in fact you don't especially taste the apple juice (I used really basic kids' plastic apple juice from Waitrose) and it softens the oats and makes them all, just... completely delicious basically.

Anyway this is a very basic recipe for a bircher muesli, for a really echt one I think you are supposed to add grated apple, but I don't want to grate apple in the morning and I'm not sure if you add it the night before that it might not go brown and unappealing. I think it might be okay, but I've got a few experiements still to do with this.

Alright so:

1 glass
about 2 tbsp oats
enough apple juice to just cover the oats
probably 3 large dollops of plain yoghurt
maybe 1 tbsp of granola to cover the top
some runny honey to drizzle over the top

1 Layer the oats, juice, yoghurt, granola and honey on top of one another in a fetching glass last thing at night
2 stretch some cling film or foil over the top and put in the fridge
3 go to bed
4 get up, get your muesli out of the fridge and eat it

This post is dedicated to Charlie Potter, who is, apart from my husband, the best man to sit next to at a dinner party because he is very interesting and chatty and lively and asks your opinion about things.

This is very rare. If you are a girl, you often find that men at dinner parties (or anywhere else) don't ask you what you think because they don't give a fuck and they don't laugh at your jokes because they don't think you're funny. Charlie always laughs at my jokes and said to me once: "I don't know... what do you think?" and I was so stunned and taken aback at being asked that I missed my opportunity to let go and have a massive rant and probably let myself down rather.

Anyway Charlie does some job and works hard and I imagine often doesn't get time for breakfast, so this recipe is particularly appropriate for him. 

Monday, 16 March 2015

Courgetti and bolognese



Now that my kids are set square on the path of growing up, we are none of us stuck in a non-speaking, non-walking hell, no-one is pregnant, no-one is postpartum, I can feel myself regressing, going backwards, getting younger.

When you have a baby you explode outwards. Sometimes quite literally. But also metaphorically. All your stuff explodes outwards. Your neuroses, your anxieties, your life, your everything goes KAPOW out into the world. Everyone talks about you and what you are doing. Everyone compares notes going "She's really freaking out," or "She's really bossing it," or "She's just so relaxed!" or "She's just SO uptight." None of it is complimentary - not really. It's all a total diss. Even if you are doing well, everyone with more or older kids will look at each other and transmit via ESP those awful, awful words that we have all thought: "You just fucking wait." Yes it's all fine now but wait until you've all got pneumonia. Or until your husband goes away for 3 months. Or until your eldest turns into a horrible bully and constantly pronks kids over the head at nursery all the other mums hate you.

You are so exposed when you have a baby - any baby, no matter what number it is, no matter what you do with it, no matter what it's like. It's like airing your dirty laundry every time you so much as take the buggy up the road to post a sodding letter.

But now... now I feel it's all being sucked back in. Sometimes quite literally what with my weight having gradually, like a feather floating down to the ground on the lightest of breezes, settled back to normal (though I doubt I will ever escape that feeling of everything being too tight round my middle). I feel smaller, lighter, more youthful. I don't think this change is visible to the naked eye - I think to everyone else I still seem the same careworn, knackered, grumpy old mum in crappy Aasics trainers and mostly shit hair. To my husband I still seem the same neurotic bag of nerves, to my children I am the same snappy, capricious lunatic. But I don't feel so old anymore. I don't feel so explody-outwards any more. I feel more private, I feel less like the Ancient Mariner, compelled to grab the nearest person and tell them how awful my life is, how totally up shit creek I am, how every aspect of motherhood and wifehood is impossible.

The downside of this is that I don't really feel like I have very much to say any more. But the upsides are many and varied.

For example, the other morning I didn't have anything to do. For the first time in many years - no work, no admin, no housework. My husband always says that when you have nothing to do you must try as best you can to enjoy it because any moment now the sky will fall on your head.

So I took his advice and decided, as it was a sunny day, to go for a walk on the Heath. I would go for a really long one, I thought, just miles and miles and miles and get lost like I used to before I had kids. So I walked and walked and then I discovered that when I walk for a long time - like over 10 minutes - without a buggy to push and lean on, I get a cracking lower back pain. By the time I had gone over Parliament Hill and reached Swain's Lane I was actually quite stiff.

I immediately rang my friend M- who lives nearby, to beg her for tea and a sit down. "I am off my face on diazepam" she said.

"Ok." I said. "Are you having a nervous breakdown?" "No it's my back," she replied, as if she were some sort of cipher, or avatar, some kind of alternative me.
"Come round though!" she said. "But we will have to talk in my bedroom."

I went round and there she was, resplendent in bed, bra-less in some sort of magnificent kaftan. The curtains were half-drawn and she had the day before spilled some very dusky Serge Lutens scent on the floorboards so the place was reminiscent of a restrained opium den. I sat on the nursing glider in the corner and we talked about our periods for an hour, having the sort of free and frank gross-out conversation that I cannot remember having for ages. Not for years. It felt more like bunking off at school than bunking off at school ever did. (Not that I ever really bunked off properly, you understand - being such a craven shitty little square.)

It was the most genuinely young I have felt in a long time. I wasn't worn down by that nagging sensation that I always get in the back of my mind whenever there is a baby somewhere needing to be worried about.

It is with this youthful zest for novelty and excitement that drew me, when I returned home, to unpack a "courgetti"-maker that my husband brought back for me from America last year.

I'm very late to courgetti, though I've always thought it looked like a perfectly good idea - you use a machine (or just a sharp knife and a lot of patience) to cut courgettes into very thin strips, which you then use as a sort of spaghetti substitute in order to banish yet more evil carbohydrate from your life.

We had it the other night with bolognese sauce, which I haven't eaten enough of in the recent past as I am so terrified of pasta, and it was terrific.

I followed the Hemsley sisters' instructions with the courgetti, which was to sauté it in a lot of butter for 3 minutes before serving, which worked very well. Do use a timer for this because 3 minutes is longer than you think it is.

We ate this with a bolognese sauce, which I won't give you a recipe for because if you don't know how to make a bolognese sauce by now then I just can't help you.



Thursday, 5 March 2015

Recipe Rifle goes shopping: Spring Fashion

The problem with all fashion, no matter who you are or what you do, is trying to make it work for you - for who you are and what your life is like.

There are also levels of fashionability. I simply do not have the kind of personality that goes well with high fashion. I'm just too much of an awful piss-taker to go about in a neon scuba top and a hat. But I also think it is important to change the way that you look, to modernise. You know all this. I've written about it before.

My particular problem with any kind of fashion, any year, wherever I am is that is has to be practical. It just does. I cannot wear slithery dry-clean only fabrics because they will attract butter and Marmite stains out of thin air. I cannot wear heels because there is enough discomfort in my life without adding sore feet to it. (And often I will need to break into a run - or at least a fast trot - at short notice.)

I also cannot wear mini - or even shortish - skirts because I do a lot of bending and sitting on the floor and I do not want to show everyone my knickers. But I also cannot wear maxi skirts because I will trip over them or get them caught in buggy wheels or they will just generally get tangled up in my legs and drive me fucking nuts.

So what oh what is the solution? Last summer I spent the whole thing in shorts, boyfriend jeans and Birkenstocks. It worked fine, it was all extremely practical and washable and I was pleased with how it went. It wasn't a very "pretty" look but I wasn't feeling especially pretty, what with my husband out of the country for weeks on end and Sam a) not walking and b) crying all the time.

Anyway I've been spending some time thinking about this because when I think about World Debt it doesn't get me anywhere. These are the results of my thoughts about spring fashion.

For my feet I have invested in a pair of clogs by Lotta from Stockholm, recommended to me by @emfrid, a friend of this blog, whom many of you know and admire. I got the pair with the lowest possible heel with a closed toe so that groomed feet are not essential. I say "invest" - they are only £56.60. Apologies for hilariously small picture ripped off their website.... for a closer look see lottafromstockholm.co.uk.

I know what you are thinking... you are thinking "clogs... clunky... unflattering... noisy... actually in fact not that comfortable?" All this is wrong. They are perfectly flattering - in as far as "ugly shoes" can be flattering - no more or less flattering than a pair of Birkies, they are light, not heavy, have a ridged rubberised sole - perfectly okay for breaking out into a light trot but possibly not an emergency dash. And they go with everything - with jeans, with skirts, with shorts - everything. They would even go with a tight leather skirt. I recommend them to you! Plus, their customer service is absolutely outstanding.



I also got a pair of white trainers by Superga, £45. Converse are over. Give yours to a charity shop.



In terms of jeans, I will still be wearing my Acne boyfriends from last year because they are just so freaking comfy but I have also got a pair of ripped-at-the-knee Leigh jeans from TopShop (£40) because I like the fact that because of the rip, there is no straining at the knee and they don't go baggy. I can't abide a baggy knee.



Absolutely everyone takes the piss out of me for these, even Humphrey, who is 4 years old, and a friend of Kitty's from nursery: "WHY HAVE YOU GOT HOLES IN YOUR TROUSERS?" he said the other day. "IT'S FASHION, HUMPHREY," I barked back. He seemed satisfied with that answer. My dad took the living piss, too, but then I lectured him about modernism and he looked amused and then subdued. Anyway I will be having the last laugh come Spring when everyone is scrambling for a pair and they've sold out - even in my dad's size.

I also freaked out the other day in Hennes and bought a pair of low-waisted bootcut jeans. YES I KNOW!!!!!!!! They're so out of fashion that they're back in again. I don't want to do flares because see above in terms of practicality but if you think back to 1996, boot cuts are basically in between straightleg and flares. It's a nod to the flare without the full-on commitment, which is the story of my life. I don't really suit skinny jeans - it's not that my legs are fat, it's that my calves are too skinny and without the balancing-out effect of a slight flare towards my foot my legs look horribly sausagey. I've been walking around with these sausagey legs for years now thanks to the hateful skinny obsession. So I am happy as a clam that bootcuts might be on the way back in. These are on sale for £15.



I have been wearing the same white knee-length cotton summer dress for 6 years now and I love it and will still be wearing it this summer (with clogs or white Supergas, do you see what I am getting at here?). You have a similar dress skanking about in the back of your wardrobe right now, I'll bet. Dig it out. But I could do with another summer dress, so I got this thing off Asos for £22. Crucially it is machine-washable, patterned (so's to hide all that marmite) and long enough so that I can sit cross-legged at a picnic without anyone having to have memory-replacement therapy.



It is also FLORAL and FLORAL is big this summer. At least so says Dolce & Gabbana in their hateful La Mamma Mia show or whatever it was called where the models all bounced around with toddlers and babies. I don't know why this show made me angry but it did. I think it was something to do with the propagation of the "sexy mama" myth. Italian mothers have a million black-clad fat Nonnas in the kitchen who do all the heavy-lifting with the kids so that their "sexy mamas" can go back to sipping espresso and dancing across palazzos in their stupid mini floral dresses and impractical sandals!!!! We do not live like that in this country and I am furious about it!

Another completely easy-wear item that will drag you instantly into SS15 is a denim shirt. Just get one. Do not worry that it is boring or that you will look like everyone else - it's a lifesaver. You can wear it on its own or worn open like a very thin jacket over a t-shirt or a dress or something. The best ones are from J Crew (Keeper Chambray shirt below, £78). On warm days you must roll the sleeves right up above the elbow in the American style, not below the elbow in the British way. It's all about detail, friends.



Last of all - the spring jacket! I resisted the pink/yellow/bright coat trend because I just thought I'd look a dickhead, but I fell in love with this jacket from Zara, £59.99. I didn't mean to! It wasn't anyone's fault! It just happened. This is great if you, like me, have got broad shoulders. Jackets don't do terribly well on me as a rule because I look like I've got this tiny pin head on massive shoulders - like tennis ball in the middle of a scaffolding plank - but this is a kind of unstructured style that doesn't emphasise them. It also looks that impossible thing: smart-casual. You can wear it with a t-shirt and jeans and a jazzy necklace, (shoot me, someone take me outside and shoot me), and look really very smart.



The only problem is that when I bought it I somehow managed to get it out of the shop with the stupid security tag still attached, so now I have to traipse all the way back to get it taken off. (Thank God I kept the receipt.) Why does shit like this always happen to me.