Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Rocky road

I know a woman from the playground whose husband has just lost his job. It's not a big deal, he'll get another one. But for the moment he is unemployed, getting under my friend's feet in the house, driving her nuts.

"He just hangs about," she hissed hysterically to me at Babygym the other day. "He doesn't DO anything all day. I mean, I don't really fucking do anything all day either, but I know how to do nothing. Do you know what I mean? That's what kids teach you, how to do nothing and make it look like something."

Oh yes. Yes I know what she means alright. I have been thinking a lot recently about why baby no.2 (unless it does some awful screaming/no-sleeping/reflux thing) is so much easier than no.1 - it's because you know how to do nothing.

When no.1 comes along, you've probably just come off some job, or at the very least, come out of a place when you could do what you liked and basically kept yourself quite occupied, doing meaningful things out of duty, or fun things at the drop of a hat. Then a baby arrives and you are required to be in its constant attendance, but you don't really have to do anything. Feed it occasionally, change it. Some laundry maybe, get an Ocado order in. But you don't seem to be actually doing anything. It's just baffling. You cannot get your head round the idea that you don't actually need to do anything, except sit there. And wait for it to start talking.

I dealt with this doublethink by inventing all sorts of utterly bizarre rituals, mostly based around things being incredibly neat and tidy and a light obsession with germs, which then descended into a full-on neurotic breakdown when Kitty was 10 months old. Doing everything and nothing, holding something faceless, nameless and unidentifiable at bay... sitting around making sure the sky didn't fall in, or warding off some other potent disaster I couldn't describe, sent me crazy.

But slowly, gradually, I learnt that that is not what you are doing. You are just doing nothing. No wait, you are not doing nothing, you are bringing up a child - but it feels an awful lot like nothing most of the time. And now I am an expert at getting busy killing time. I potter like a pro. We go to the bank, we pick up some groceries, we are the go-to people if anything needs to be taken to the dry-cleaners or posted in complicated way. We rule the high street with our Maclaren and jute shopping bags. We are always busy, busy, busy - but busy doing nothing.

As Kitty has become gradually more and more genuinely demanding as she reaches the peak of what she can do at home and at playgroup and starts needing, desperately, to go to nursery five mornings a week, I have learnt how to absolutely 100% savour actual quiet, downtime, relaxed time. I sink into it like a £500 Hungarian goosedown duvet. I do not fidget and twitch and feel like I ought to be doing something. I drink in the quiet like a massive gin and tonic and feel as at peace as a master yogi.

And the acres of downtime with a newborn, (when you manage to palm off your toddler onto someone else), is unbelievably luxurious compared with the 8 second interludes you get with a screeching toddler.

Newborns are just SO undemanding! They don't fucking ask you for things all the time; sometimes a series of bizarre requests in a row you can have no hope of fulfilling. Newborns don't want to do fingerpainting, or want to have a long rambling chat with "Rabbit" (i.e. me holding Rabbit) about whether or not he wants a biscuit, or watch Peppa Pig at 400 db, or flood the downstairs loo. Newborns just sit there and let you get on with gazing at them, or poking about on your iPad, without saying the dreaded: "Can I play Happy Mrs Chicken?" in a shrill little voice and then drinking all your caramel frappucino.

Sam just lies about with his lips in a little "O" of wonder, gazing peacefully around, weeing gently into his nappy, occasionally screwing up his face bravely at a particularly troublesome fart - or he is sound asleep with his mouth hanging open.

And now I am not only used to being confined to the house, I am used to being confined with a fractious toddler, which is only slightly less nice than being in one of those POW bamboo cages where you can't stand up or sit down. So being confined to the house with nothing more tricky than a sleeping newborn is just bliss. And, unless I experience serious rush of blood to the head Sam will be my last child, so in the moments when I am alone with my youngest child, I open my arms wide and embrace the nothing. Then I lean over and give my sleeping son a little lick.

As it happens, I have elected not to do much cooking recently with my downtime, even though I could have done while my husband was on paternity leave looking after Kitty. But the other day someone brought round for me something called Rocky Road, which I have heard many things about, but have never been that interested in.

It's just sugar, isn't it? Put together in a slightly different way and thus not interesting. But I ate some, because I like this woman who brought it round for me. (If I didn't know she was nice, I would have labelled this Rocky Road a hostile gift - i.e. "Eat this, stay fat and I hope all your teeth fall out".)

Anyway it was just mind-blowing. I couldn't really believe what I was eating. It was like sweeties from OUTER SPACE and I ate the entire bag and wanted more. MORE!

I imagine I'm the last person in the world to discover Rocky Road, which is basically broken up biscuit and marshmallows held together with chocolate, but I am including a recipe for it here anyway because I've got some time on my hands at the moment - and the Lord knows I am an expert on finding things to do.

Rocky Road
Makes about 20 bits depending on how small you cut them up

300g milk cooking chocolate - I use the Menier stuff from Waitrose, but their own-brand milk cooking chocolate is really good, too.
2 full-size Crunchie bars
5 plain digestive biscuits
a handful of full-size marshmallows
3 tbs golden syrup

Line a small square or rectangular tin (the actual dimensions don't matter - I'd say roughly 7in by 7in) with a triple layer of clingfilm to make it possible to lift the Rocky Road out later.

1 break up the chocolate into a heatproof bowl (i.e. not metal) and add the golden syrup. If you dabble the spoon in a mug of hot water for a few seconds, it makes getting the syrup out of the tin much easier.

Set this bowl over a pan of cold water, about 2 in deep.The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Set the pan and bowl over your smallest burner on the lowest available heat and wait for it to melt - it might take about 20 mins.

A direction in a lot of recipes for melting chocolate that irritates me is "set the bowl of a pan of barely simmering water". This is an insane thing to say as any rational person will then fret and fret about keeping the water "barely simmering". Don't worry about it. The water doesn't need to be "barely simmering" it just needs to be hot so just dump the bowl over the hot water and forget about whether or not it is simmering. The chocolate will probably have melted by the time the water gets to simmering point.

2 Into another bowl break or smash up the Crunchie and digestive biscuits into small pieces.

3 Tip the biscuit pieces into the chocolate and mix to combine. You will worry here that there is not enough chocolate to go round everything, but there is. At the last moment, tip in the marshamallow and give a brief stir. What marshmallows like to do on contact with warm chocolate is melt, which although still gives the Rocky Road a lovely chewy texture, what you're after is actual bits of marshmallow whole.

4 Spoon your unwieldy mixture into your tin and smooth the top with a spatula - it's easiest to do this if the spatula is wet. Chill for 2 hours and then cut into bits.

Toddlers like this.


  1. No, you are not the last to try it. I have never tried it. But then, I am unlikely to try it cos I am almost 56, holding on to my remaining teeth by the skin of my teeth, as it were, and my husband has Type 2 Diabetes. But if toddlers ever come round attached to some adults I know I will give it a go. Maybe. But that is a frightening amount of sucrose, and I have some rather nice china about the house I am very fond of, so, erm, toddlers with a suger rush, mmmm...probably not.

  2. My mother, a self confessed sugarholic who has banned herself from chocolate 363 days a year (birthday and Christmas being the exception) demands I make her rocky road every Christmas. She likes hers with unsalted chopped peanuts, marshmallows and some shredded coconut mixed in. Delicious but definitely a once-a-year type thing.

  3. Hi Esther, Have you read 'what mothers do:especially when it looks like doing nothing' by Naomi Stadlen? It celebrates exactly what you describe here in a very comforting way. It really helped when I had my 6 month mini- meltdown (does everyone have these?) but I still re-read it when I need reminding this is largely what being a mum is.... Jan x

  4. I wasn't big on these as a kid, but the ones I had never had Crunchie bars in them - I do love a Crunchie bar.

    As an aside, my sister and I made your tofu curry the other evening and it was delicious, despite the fact that our small town grocery does not sell fresh chillies. We ate it all between the two of us in one sitting.

  5. Nigella's Rocky Road is really good (from Nigella's Christmas) as she uses crushed amaretti biscuits. Yum!
    I have experienced the weird 'nothingness' as my daughter is my first child. I am very good at making sterilising bottles, emptying/loading dishwasher, putting washing on, feeding/clearing up meal, running errands, amusing child etc last all day. Hang on, looking back at it, it does seem I achieve quite a bit! I think the problem is a lot of the little jobs I do are essential maintenance, which don't really have such an impact on the eye as cleaning the windows or hoovering the stairs.
    My hub is still convinced I don't do a lot, but I think he's just jealous of my maternity leave.

  6. So THAT'S what Rocky Road is.

  7. Hmmm this might be the one thing i am able to "cook" (assemble) in my entire pregnancy. Lovev the addition of Crunchies...yumaroo!

    Anonymous, Yes i had the meltdown at 4 months -6 months with the first(tho the anti-depressants lasted 18 months)and i can't help wondering if i will happen again this next time. I think it's definitely a norm for your first. Even if for some people it's a fleeting few days of stress (as opposed to months of panic attacks like my experience!). I am hopeful that i will be a little more sane this time, but who knows?!

    But I am going to read the book, thanks for the recommendation! Have just been scratching around for something new to read. :)

  8. I had visions of spending my mat leave sitting in the park reading a book while the baby slept. Instead, it's been 7 months of trudging around in the rain, hoping to make it to somewhere warm to feed/change in time. What gives with this sodding weather?! AND now it's half term so all baby groups seem to have been suspended. I guess it's all about learning to chill at home and enjoy it instead of staring listlessly at the mess created by yet another baby dinner.

    Might have a go t these to cheer me up!
    Ta x

  9. There are rocky road rice crispie treats if u need a quick fix ;)

    TBH I actually think it's hard to hear doing what you do, which I occasionally find myself having to do, described as nothing. Just cos it's not making a monetary profit on the daily does not make it nothing! Esther you are awesome! You're doing loads, actually and apart from the fact that the household would fall w/o you, or you're saving money by not employing someone else to those tasks - you're doing it all AND raising tow kids.

    That is not nothing.

    That is everything, to a lot of people. YOU GO GIRL, xxx

  10. This reminds me of a joke. The husband comes home to find wife sprawled on the sofa reading a book. The floor is littered with toys, the children are still in pyjamas with dirty nappies, the washing up is in the sink, the house is a tip, the children are filthy and - worse - there is NO food! "What's going on on?" demands the husband. "Well," says the wife. "You know that thing that you think I do all day?" (Ie nothing) - "Well, today I didn't do it."

  11. Hi Esther,

    If you liked the rocky road then you MUST try NL's cheat's fudge. It sounds like a cavity in waiting (well, it is) but it is insanely easy and not as sweet as you would think.


    In case you should have any more time on your hands.

  12. Oh, I thought it was just me who went totally batshit crazy at 7 months! My solution was to go back to work and have a glorious wonderful nanny, who stayed with us for nine years, to regain my tenuous grip on reality. For what it's worth, I didn't fall apart in the same dramatic fashion with number two. Better prepared for knowing how to do nothing combined with the wonder nanny I think. But now nanny dependent, have replaced her with wonder-nanny two, who may have to stay until they leave home...

  13. The addition of rose turkish delight can be a very good thing.


  14. Smooth the top? I think it's called 'rocky' road for a reason, no? Just saying...

  15. If I add some dried apricots will it count as one of my 5-a-day? :-)

  16. I always saw it as being on call - or being a night watchman (but during the day and night and without the bloody pay) I couldn't really do anything because anything i started i had to stop doing to deal with the toddler/ baby /house demands(maybe mine were just difficult kids...) For me it was boring boring boring and I, like some of the others here, also had a massive meltdown with the second one.
    Now? I miss it - fucked up really...

  17. Hi Esther,
    Just made up this mix and it is rather dry! Are we missing some butter?

    1. No... have you chilled it and cut it yet? It ought to be fine once you've done that. It does seem dry at first

    2. O.K. Now after chilling and cutting up.
      Not having a good day just burnt my cherry and stem ginger cake - dam Aga it just does it's own thing. Now I will have to work out how to serve cake with the top sliced off.

    3. for future ref to serve a burnt cake just flip it over and disguise bottom-as-top with some icing or a dusting of icing sugar. no-one will notice

  18. Thanks for this. It was my son's 2nd birthday yesterday so made the rocky road and your recipe for birthday cake to make a ladybird cake as I figured that ladybirds should be chocolate flavoured inside. However I was a bellend for the chocolate melting, think some steam got into the mixture so the texture was wrong but got it right for the cake (I actually listened to your advise the second time)! The adults loved the rocky road more, my son was suspicious of the marshmallows so fed them to me. Win/win.

  19. Made this yesterday and it was pretty good, although I shot myself in the foot using cheap cooking chocolate so am looking forward to making it again with better quality stuff.

  20. That! With the newborns! Brilliantly put, as ever. And hurrah for Rocky Road, smooth topped or not.

  21. I can't get on board with this.. it's like a bastardised version of Rocky Road.

    It's an Australian ah... could you call it a dish? Not so much.. but anyway, it originated in Australia and we use nuts, jelly or turkish delight (sometimes), coconut and marshmallow in it. I think the nuts are the key, the savoury-ness of them counteracts nicely with the sweetness.

    Some mean old ladies might shove orange peel in it, but that is disgusting.

    Anyway, I see upon googling it that the English adaption is as you say but is it not too sweet - what with the chocolate, the crunchie and then the golden syrup? The original is so good - I think you should give the it a crack. It is very similar to crack, addictive.

  22. Hi Esther! American fan who just read your book and appreciates your wit and humor.
    Looking forward to trying this recipe. Love this blog and your honesty!

  23. So what about the continuation of the story

  24. Made these yesterday, yummy, we had to use chocolate digestives as had run out of plain, also added hazelnuts and sour cherry.

  25. I love all these ingredients and it looks fab, the problem is if I make it I know I will probably hide it from my children and eat it all myself.