Friday, 27 September 2013

Oat and raisin cookies

I occasionally get emails from people asking me for childcare advice - normally about sleeping and eating (what else is there, after all?) - and sometimes these emails are from people who I assume have all the answers about kids already: doctors and teachers, basically.

One was an obstetrician worried about what her under-1 was eating. And I thought YOU DELIVER BABIES surely they are just not a subject you need help with. But she did. And she said "I just needed to hear someone else say it." I get that a lot. "I just needed to hear someone else say it," they say when I tell them to stop eating if they want to be thin, or stop rocking their kid to sleep or to stop breastfeeding if it's making them suicidal.

Yesterday I needed to hear someone else say "You need to do controlled crying with Sam." And my heart sank - right into my socks. But I knew they were right.

Controlled crying is the worst thing you have to do as a parent, I think. Is there anything else? MMmm, no. It is absolutely horrible. And it only looks and feels right and sensible from a distance. It never feels anything other than the most horrific, inhuman crazy reckless selfish evil thing you've ever done when you're actually doing it. There are fewer darker places to be, as a parent, then listening to your child cry and doing nothing about it.

I mean, come on! To leave your child fussing, or wailing or even fucking screeching the house down? Well that's just a thing for social services surely? You're no better than Baby P's mother! The parent of that poor Polish boy who starved to death! YOU ARE A MONSTER! These thoughts loom large in the small hours.

But there comes a point when it is time to get a grip and have some perspective. And I think that controlled crying is in fact a thing that you are doing to yourself, not something you are doing to your child.

Very few parents go for controlled crying as Option 1. When I had to do it with Kitty it was only after days and days of trying other things. And with Sam I have spent the last three months trying everything else when he wakes at 5am: patting, stroking, popping in a dummy, taking him in bed with me - all that. And he doesn't want it, it makes it worse. If all I had to do with him was hop into bed with him at 5am every morning and give him a cuddle and he would fall back to sleep until 7am I would do it. Happily! But it doesn't work. Neither does the dummy. He just spits it out half an hour later.

And I've been fretting and fretting and fretting about it for weeks. What to do? What to do? Then yesterday someone said "Just let him cry."

And I went :(((((((

But this morning as the clocked ticked over to 0500 and Sam began his dawn chorus of snuffling and whimpering and going "ehhr ehhr ehhr ehhr ehhr" which turned to "waaa waa waa waaa" I got out of bed, taking a watch with me, shut the door on my husband, shut Kitty's door and went up to the nursery. I straightened Sam in his cot, as he was headbutting the sides, gave him back his muzzy thing, gave him a pat then went out to sit on the stairs.

A watch is completely vital when you are doing controlled crying. With nothing to mark time it feels like they have been crying for hours, days, YEARS. In reality I let Sam wail and fret for 1min 30secs, then went back in to give him another pat. Then I went outside and left him again for just under 4 minutes. Then he went quiet again and started up for just under 2 minutes. Then he went completely quiet and I went back downstairs and got into bed and didn't hear from him again until 7.20am. The whole thing had taken 15 minutes.

As I sat and listened to Sam wailing I noticed a thing about his cry that helped me whenever I had to do it with Kitty: he didn't really mean it. Or rather, the cry didn't mean the thing I feared it meant. What I fear it means is: "I want my dummy" - and am then baffled when he spits it out half an hour later.

But I realise now when he is wailing at that time in the morning he is saying "I don't understand why I am awake. I don't want to be awake. I want to be asleep but I can't really get back to sleep so I am going to just go WAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH until I pass ou..." This is why the dummy doesn't help (because he doesn't fall asleep with a dummy) and why patting doesn't help (get the fuck off me) and taking him into bed doesn't help (what are you doing?!?!?! put me back in bed!!!)

Anyway that is my story and I am sticking to it. At least I've got a plan, now - once you've done controlled crying once and it has worked and they wake up the next morning alive and well and give you a huge gummy smile, it's never as bad again. And with any luck quite soon no-one will have to listen to me going on about how fucking tired I am anymore.

Continuing the theme of baking for Kitty's nursery bake sale day, yesterday we made some oat and raisin cookies (a classic).

They worked very well and were very simple and I recommend them to you.

Oat and raisin cookies
Makes 12

1 egg
50g butter
50g sugar
50g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup or runny honey
80g rolled oats (like Scots Porage Oats)
50g raisins

Preheat your oven to 170C

1 Grease a baking sheet

2 Cream together the butter and sugar then beat in the egg, then the golden syrup or honey.

3 In another bowl mix together the
- flour
- cinnamon
- baking powder
- oats
- raisins

then add to your butter mixture.

4 To make a cookie, blob a teaspoonful on the baking sheet then flatten down a bit as best you can as it will spread out a bit on cooking but not lots. If you just put a blob on the sheet you will get a sort of rock cake.

The mixture is very rubbly and sticky so manipulating it can be problematic. I think there is a thing you can do with flattening it with a wet spatula?

Leave some space between cookies as they will spread out a bit on cooking. You may have to cook them in two batches.

5 Bake for about 8 - 10 minutes then leave to cool on a wire rack. They ought to be be bendy when they come out of the oven.

It goes without saying you can add anything else you like to these to make them super-tasty: chopped orange peel, hazelnuts, chocolate chips: wevs, man.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Rice Krispie treats

So there I was again on a Thursday afternoon doing some baking for the nursery cake sale, so sleep-starved that I actually felt really awake, in the same way that you get incredibly hot and fling off all your clothes just before you die from hypothermia.

Shall I tell you what happened the night before? It's a really funny story. Okay it's not - but those of you with children will feel better that you are not the only one having a shit time and those of you with no kids will feel extra smart and terrific about your life choices. 

So both Kitty AND Sam are ill with the same cold - Sam is alright but Kitty's has gone a bit nasty with a fruity cough and the occasional low-grade fever. Kitty has been falling asleep on the sofa at about 2.30pm these days and so she doesn't go to bed until 8.30pm. Not ideal but never mind. So we dinged about until 8pm then she went to bed. She seemed happy despite her cough. 

I trotted downstairs to catch up on Bake-Off and at 9.15pm Kitty sat up in bed and started wailing. Then coughing. I went upstairs to see her and she puked down herself and down me (exlcusively, I noticed, phlegm and grossness she has been swallowing for the last fortnight) and started crying. And crying. And CRYING. 

I carried her downstairs to a little bathroom and ran a hot shower with some Olbas Oil in it and sat with her in the steam. She was still weeping and weeping, wailing that she wanted to go back to bed. Coughing and gagging. After ten minutes I took her back upstairs going "shh shh shh!' terrified she would wake up Sam. I changed her out of her pukey stuff and put her back in her cot. But she kept on crying. She seemed to be nodding off but then something was stopping her. Snotty nose? Headache from the bang on her head she took that morning falling off her scooter?

She eventually fell asleep whimpering to herself. I wrote the rest of the evening off and went to bed myself. Then at 11pm she woke up really crying. Not coughing just crying. It's fucking earache I thought. Must be. She's never had earache before. Oh god - have to go to the doctor, get antibiotics - how am I going to get her to take them??

Giles then arrived back from some dinner or other. We settled her in our bed, tried to get some Calpol down her - (for-GET it) - and then just waited grimly for about 45 minutes until she eventually slipped into unconsciousness at about 1am, spreadeagled across my side of the bed. 

So off I went to sleep in Sam's room. I passed out at about 1.30am and was then woken up by Sam at 0400 suffling and snotting around. I lay there listening to him for an hour, waiting for him to put himself back to sleep, then got up, wiped his nose and popped a dummy in (why? why do I think that is going to help?) it didn't. He got worse, wailed harder. I took him into bed with me. WORSE. 

Fuck this, I thought. Fucking fuck this. I don't hate my children, I don't hate being a mother, (though some people think I do), but I hate THIS. The discombobulation, the anxiety, the not knowing what to do, the slight terror of how you are going to deal with tomorrow on no sleep.

Some parents, like Giles, love it when his kids need him in the night. He gets to cuddle them in bed, which is a rare treat as they sleep in their own rooms - and he gets to make the ultimate sacrifice for them: sleep. My husband has often sacrificed sleep for far less noble causes - so why not his children? 

I do not feel this way. I've got a bit of a thing about sleep. My feeling is only powerfully that I cannot stand seeing them suffer. I wish they were old enough that they could tell me where it hurts and so that I could dose them properly with decongestants - rather than fannying about with Vicks and vaporisers and humidifiers and Nurofen - so that no-one has to have an awful time.

It's the inconsolable crying I can't take. Puke and shit and having to sleep in the same bed as my kids and being kicked - and even having to get up in the night I don't mind. But the wailing on and on, not responding to any sort of patting or stroking or comfort. That breaks me. 

Anyway at about 0530 completely out of ideas, I put Sam back in his bed, tucked him in, gave him his muzzy thing, turned on his tinkly music box and left the room to sit on the stairs. He was asleep in eight seconds. He was literally just waiting for me to fuck off out of his room. 

I simply couldn't face going back into the nursery and there was no room for me in my bed so I climbed into Kitty's cotbed, pulled the toddler-sized duvet over me and shivered there for an hour and a half until it was time to get up and feed Sam. 

Kitty slept through, luxuriously, under my Super King-sized Hungarian Goosedown duvet and woke up fine, even went off merrily to nursery, no hint of earache or a headache or anything. Sam, needless to say, grinned like a massive goon when I got him up, like always. 

During the day, even though I had a couple of chances at naps, I just couldn't do it, couldn't nod off. It happens a lot when you've been kept awake. You sort of forget how to fall asleep. I worry, you see. I worry I'm never going to sleep again. I worry that the next night will be the same as last night. It is very hard when you are tired and confused not to despair. 

So I thought I would cheer myself up by making Rice Krispie treats for Kitty's nursery Friday bake sale. I had been looking forward to doing these for a while. They would be easy, I told myself, they would look terrific with sparkles all over them and mini smarties and tiny marshmallow and all sorts. 

In the end I did them in a classically slapdash way. I decided that actual quantities of chocolate, golden syrup and butter for the chocolate sauce thing didn't matter. But I think they might because my sauce went all grainy and gross  (which is not, I don't think, the same as "splitting" but looks equally unappealing). 

I lost heart slightly at this stage and ditched my plans for glitter and mini smarties. I just dumped a lot of raisins in and mini marshmallows, stirred it round while feeling a bit despondent that I literally cannot make something that primary-school aged children make. I cannot even cook something that requires almost NO cooking. I despaired. Again. 

I tipped the whole lot out into a loaf tin and shoved it in the fridge. Then I took it out two hours later and cut it up into bits and it was FUCKING AMAZING!!!!!!!

So this is how I did it:

For the sauce

1 bar Menier milk cooking chocolate 
300g Cadbury's milk chocolate
a slab of butter - about 50g
2 tablespoons of golden syrup

3 handfuls Rice Krispies
1 handful raisins
1 handful mini marshmallows

and any extra things you might like

1 Put a heatproof bowl over a pan of cold water then put it on your smallest burner set at the lowest heat. The bottom of the bowl must not touch the water. 

2 Break up the chocolate and put it in the bowl, followed by the butter and the syrup. Then leave it
there to melt, give it a stir as it looks mostly melted in to help things along, but otherwise leave it alone. Do not freak out if it goes a bit grainy. 

3 Into the melted chocolate pour the Rice Krispies and raisins. Allow the chocolate to cool to lukewarm (though it should not be especially hot anyway) before adding the mini marshmallows as you don't want the marshmallows to melt. 

4 Line a loaf tin with a double layer of cling film so you can get the stuff out later and then pour in your chocolate mixture, press down all over the top with a spatula and stick in the fridge for 2 hours. 

You can decorate these before they go into the fridge with glitter or mini Smarties, or anything you like really. Diazepam, 5mg?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Jam tarts

I often wonder if there might not be a few teeny tiny totally major flaws in the design of human beings. Like a blueprint that someone has dripped coffee on before anyone notices and it goes to be made up in the factory and comes out all wrong.

Like pregnancy. Stupid! Dangerous! Not modern! I have often thought how great it would be if the whole thing were to be outsourced to Apple. You could download your iBaby from the iCloud and you could set the side switch to mute.

And toddlers. Why are they so annoying? It is not in their best interests. It is not in anyone's interest. Why are they like that? I know they are experiencing some brain thing with the hormones and this and that and wevs... but WHY does this miraculous brain-change have to result in them not putting their shoes on? Or refusing to put a plaster on a suppurating foot-cut? Or breaking everything in sight? Or constantly tripping over?

(About six years ago a woman I know said of her 3 year old "She's constantly falling over! I just want to scream 'Stop fucking tripping over!'" I was shocked and thought she was a bad person for thinking this. I don't any more.)

And the children-and-sleeping thing. Before you have a baby you know you're going to be tired - you're not an idiot. But you say to each other "it'll be okay we will cope". And then it happens and you're just open-mouthed and demented, one-eyed and bonkers with fatigue. And I consider my children to be good sleepers! But all it takes is for Kitty to decide to have a bad dream and Sam to have a rocky night, for whatever mysterious baby reason, and it's a proper nuit blanche, which is French for fucking nightmare (yes I know it doesn't really mean that).

When I consider how many people have children who do not sleep well and how many of those people have to go to work in the morning it really is a miracle that the entire world doesn't just grind to a halt in a pile-up of errors because everyone is so flipping wired out on coffee, fags and sugar because their bloody kids kept them awake from 0430.

No-one, as my sister says, gets away with it. You can have all the help you possibly want, can possibly afford, but unless you have your kids sleeping out of earshot and you've got a live-in nanny who your babies call for if they are sick or frightened, when your kids wake up in the night, it's on you.

It's one thing if you don't work or aren't working much when your children are small, but what if you are up with your kids at night and then have to fucking get up and get on the tube and go to work? It's a miracle that trains even turn up, that the financial markets don't collapse in on themselves, that surgeons don't remove MORE wrong limbs, that banks don't make more errors in our favour.

I thought this as I stood at the kitchen counter the other day at about 1.20pm or thereabouts, having been awake since 0400 with Sam. It was my fault - I gave him insufficient naps during the day so by 6pm he was utterly exhausted and passed out rather than fell asleep, which meant he woke up with a jerk at 8pm, wailing and confused, and I was too lazy to let him fret himself back to sleep so I popped a dummy in. And the night went downhill from there. Anyway it taught me a lesson.

So I stood in my kitchen, having been unable to use my nap window to nap because a very noisy car alarm went off just as I was drifting off and you only get one shot at these things. I was dazed.

It being a Thursday (Friday being cake sale day at the nursery) I set about making jam tarts. Jam tarts are simple and a very good thing to do for bake sales. Despite only needing a hot oven and opposable thumbs for this, I managed to break two tarts and the rest of them look like Kitty made them, although she didn't (although this is what I will say to excuse their appearance). I was just cross-eyed with tiredness and made a mess of them. Imagine if I worked at Air Traffic Control?

Still, the thing about jam tarts is that they look quite sweet if they're a bit bashed-up. And they still taste the same, especially if you're eating one accompanied by a strong cup of coffee and a ciggie.

Jam tarts
Makes 12 (with a lot of breakages) with jam and pastry leftover

1 pack sweet shortcrust pastry from Jus-Roll (you can make your own but... fuck...)
1 jar Tiptree seedless raspberry jam. I think it is reasonably important to use nice jam for this seeing as it's such a boondoggle pisstake thing to make you might as well push the boat out when it comes to the main ingredient.
1 egg for glazing (not essential if you just can't be bothered)
12-hole fairy cake tin

pre-heat your oven to 180

1 Grease your baking tin

2 Dust your worksurface and roll out the pastry

3 Cut out discs with a pastry-cutter - mine was 3in across, which is about as small as you can go

4 Plop the discs into the cake tin holes and put a teaspoon of jam into each little cup

5 Beat the egg and brush a little around the top of the pastry cups - this is not essential

6 Bake for 10-12 mins

A note: these are a nightmare to get out of the tin when they are hot so leave them to cool down properly before you attempt it, or they will just crumble to bits and you might find yourself bursting into tears and throwing the spatula across the kitchen and then screaming at your husband.

p.s. I must apologies here to Katharine Sooke nee Begg, who I saw at an NPG party the other day and she was pregnant and I was so annoying and shouty and asking her about when she was having it and where and wasn't the bump huge and oh my gard and all that annoying stuff that drove me mental during my pregnancies. I wasn't even drunk!!!!! Anyway she claims to be an occasional reader of this blog so I thought I'd say sorry here. Sorry.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Butternut squash "cake"

Kitty has started at nursery. Finally!!! It's not just the relief of being able to pack her off every morning to make the most enormous mess that someone else has to clear up, it's the re-plugging back into society that, for me, is the biggest weight off my mind.

When you have a small child who is NEET - not in education, employment or training - you can feel a bit like you've slipped through the cracks of society a bit. Nobody knows or cares where you are, no-one expects you to show up anywhere. There's no signing in or joining in necessary.

You don't really have a child when your child is really small, more like a very strange pet. And it's very easy to look in despair and dismay at the range of uninspiring activities on offer locally and fail at the first, second and third hurdle of making friends and, after a short time, to disappear.

But when they go to nursery - aha!! School. Lunchboxes. Pegs. Storytime. Playgrounds. Suddenly it's all familiar again. I can do this, I know this. I am now "Kitty's Mummy" - it's brilliant. Your child ceases to be this sort of blob and starts to be a person with a nametag and a personality that others want to talk to you about.

The first days that Kitty was at nursery I would automatically stop talking about her after a few sentences, because you are so used to people not giving a flying shit about what she's like or what she's scared of, or not scared of and so on. But the people who work at the nursery kept saying "go on, yes, and what else?"

And so I talked and talked and talked and talked about what she was like and the teacher's eyes didn't glaze over and she didn't interrupt. It was amazing.

I had assumed that Kitty, being a robust and outgoing sort, would be shoving me out of the door every morning, but in fact for the first few days she was reasonably droopy and needed a lot of coaxing during the second part of the morning (which does seem rather long in fact - 0930 - 1300??). But that was last week. Today I left her at 0945, and went home to do that thing with Sam where you hold a baby and shift your weight from foot to foot, staring out of the window, until it feels like your back is going to give out. I was anxiously holding my phone, waiting for the "she's crying so hard she's been sick" phonecall and none came. I went to get her at 12.50 and she saw me and ran to me and said "Oh Mummy I've missed you so much!" (wtf? who taught her to say THAT?) she was smiling suspiciously widely. Then she went to hide in the teepee and wouldn't come out to go home. I had to bribe her hard with Smarties.

Anyway so I'm absolutely delighted.

They also have a bake sale every Friday at the end of the morning, which I am totally delirious about. Not so that I can be some ghastly goody two-shoes and show everyone else up by making something every week (... or is it...) but because I am not doing very much new savoury cooking at the moment and we really do not in this house need any cakes or biscuits or sweeties hanging about because some of us are still packing quite a lot of babyweight.

But this is the most terrific excuse to make a lot of biscuity nursery treats and then get them out of the house so that they can bloody make someone else fat. I have gone mad and ordered 2kgs of icing sugar, extra fairy cake cases, food colouring and sweet shortcrust pastry in honour of this. I am, as you might be able to tell, excited.

Before we embark on that particular journey, though, I do have this savoury thing to tell you about, which is a thing of my very own invention, which I'm very pleased with.

I absolutely love a butternut squash lasagne I found in P-Mid's Celebrate a few months ago but I don't want to eat a lot of pasta because of the aforementioned babyweight. So I wanted to do it without the lasagne sheets.

"Use the butternut squash in slices in place of the pasta" said my husband, although I will pretend to everyone it was my idea.

Anyway so what you do is make a sort of butternut squash, spinach and cheese layered cake thing. It is brilliant and delicious and I love it.

Here is how

Esther's butternut squash "cake"
For two easily, with leftovers

1 butternut squash
10 sage leaves
1 small onion
200g (raw weight) of baby spinach
flour, butter and milk for a white sauce
a large handful of whatever assorted cheeses you have in your fridge
salt and pepper
mild olive oil

Set your oven to 180C

1 Peel and slice your butternut squash into rounds or half-moons of the thickness of a £1 coin (have a quick look at a coin because you think it's thicker than it is). Slice up the onion into similarly elegant rounds.

2 Arrange the squash and the onion on a baking sheet, drizzle with quite a lot of oil - about 5 tbs I'd say, then season with salt and pepper and shove in the oven for 30 mins.

3 Now source from somewhere a dish in which to cook this. I used a 7in cake tin from John Lewis with a loose bottom, but I doubt you have one of those. Have a poke about in your cupboards for something suitable.

4 Cook or steam your spinach whichever way you know how.

5 Make your white sauce. If you don't know how to make a white sauce, please refer to the "How to make a white sauce" section of this blog. There's no shame in not knowing how.

You want a very stiff, thick white sauce, so when you make your roux, have it quite dry. Go easy on the milk. Shove in a lot of cheese. You want in total only about 300 ml of white sauce. But this is not an exact thing so don't worry too much - the important thing is that the sauce is thick and reasonably stiff so that when you slice your "cake" is doesn't just run out everywhere.

Add your cheese to the white sauce and muddle it round until it melts. This can take a while.

6 Assemble your cake the most practical way you can see how: layer of squash (add in with the squash all the onion and sage bits), layer of spinach, layer of cheese, robustly seasoning between layers - ideally you finish up with a layer of cheese sauce uppermost but this is MY recipe and I say, don't worry too much.

7 Put the whole thing back in the oven for about 25 mins at 180. If you HAVE used a cake tin with a loose base, put it on a baking sheet or in a tray to go in the oven because it will leak.

This is as rich and filling as a lasagne so a little goes a long way. Eat with a cold, sharp cucumber salad or something like that. 

Monday, 2 September 2013


Hi how was your summer?

Annoying question. As if we're American high school teenagers returning from 6 week sojourns to Cape Cod, or hilarious hi-jinx stints working at a beach bar in Florida.

How was my summer? I had a toddler and a newborn and my part-time nanny went on holiday for 2 months. HOW DO YOU THINK IT WAS.

Actually I made a stunning discovery as I walked with Sam round and round the deck of a billionaire's yacht in Sardinia in mid-August (long story): successful women wear sportswear during the day and black when they go out in the evening.

I had been observing the billionaire's wife, who wore sportswear during the day and black - and only black - in the evenings. I asked her what she would be wearing this autumn (as I pulled my ancient TopShop orange sundress over my massive sweaty escaping bosom) and she said "mostly black. I seem to have about a hundred black sweaters". And I thought, I bet you do.

So I thought about it more and realised that whenever I admire what some woman or other is wearing, she's almost always wearing head to toe black. I feel like I shouldn't do this because it's too EASY and it's "BORING". I think this because Anna Wintour famously hates black and I loved The September Issue. But she is the editor of Vogue and weighs three stone. She lives to wear colour. As do, say, Kate Middleton or the Queen. They have to wear colour so that people can see them.

I do not have to be seen and I do not live to wear colour. I live to not have a nervous breakdown because not only am I still more than a stone overweight I cannot find anything to wear when I have to go out. Answer: BLAAAAAAAAAAACCKKKK. It has made shopping for clothes, which I find a fascinating but ultimately futile exercise, a total doddle: anything as long as it's black.

And, during the day I will wear sports luxe, i.e. running shoes, nice running capris and a marl sweater. I'm only going to spend the whole day running up and down the stairs, bending over and getting covered in sick and crap anyway. It's a sort of workout!!! Done. Thanks.

O, the irony, then! that my exercise regime has slightly fallen by the wayside, although not totally. After nearly crippling my knees with my ten-minute runs (I did not warm up or down properly, or have any rest days) I have turned instead to doing a lot of plies in dead moments of the day, i.e. when both children are occupied just enough so I don't have to do anything, but not so much that I can sit down with the newspaper (or have a nap).

So if Sam is having a think in his bouncer and Kitty is pulling apart whatever brilliant Marble Run I have constructed, I will stand at the kitchen counter and do plies. Sometimes I will throw in some Tracy Anderson arm exercises. My rationale is that there's not much cardio I can do while gooning about with two kids, but if I can chuck in some leg-and-bum toning, it makes these moments of childcare feel less like a total waste of my time.

Another staggering achievement was that I did not come back from holiday heavier than when I left (though nor am I any lighter). So my morale enables me to continue with my diet, rather than falling into a pit of despair and mini Mars Bars.

I was given a while ago a copy of Marvellous Meals With Mince by Josceline Dimbleby. I promptly lost the book in the black hole of my kitchen but then re-found it the other day and last night made from it a sort of version of her meatloaf.

I have only ever eaten meatloaf once, when I was about seven, and thought it profoundly disgusting. But I have moved on and grown up since then - I have totally and completely decided on what my signature should be, for example - and found this delightful.

It is absolutely up to you what you put in it. The original recipe specified a sort of blue cheese sauce layer running through the meatloaf but I didn't have any blue cheese. There are so many other changes to this recipe that I can, in fact, declare it as my own.

Esther's Meatloaf

Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 less hungry with substantial side dishes

500g beef mince
2 handfuls breadcrumbs or medium matzoh meal
1 egg
5 tablespoons of ketchup
1 handful parsley, chopped. maybe some sage if you have it knocking about. Alternatively 1 heaped tsp dried oregano
1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped or grated
1 big pinch of dried mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped (or a large handful of fresh mushrooms - any you like, chopped roughly)
1 tsp of dried chilli flakes (if you like, I thought the slight spiciness was terrific but leave it out if you don't fancy it)
salt and pepper

Set your oven to 180C

1 Put everything except 2 tbsp of the ketchup in a bowl and get in there with your hands to mix it up. I have vinyl surgical gloves I use for this very purpose - or for when I am handling fresh chillies just before bath time. Season very well with salt and pepper. By that I mean a large pinch of salt and a good fifteen turns of the pepper grinder

2 Butter a 1 kg loaf tin. If you do not have a 1kg loaf tin in your life, do consider buying one. They are very useful for all manner of loaf cakes, bread, meatloaf, pates and things. I use mine all the time.

3 Tip in the mixture and smooth the top. Bake for 1hr.

4 Take out the tin and turn your oven up to as high as it will go. Tip the loaf carefully onto an oven tray and spread with the rest of the ketchup. Put it back into the oven for 10 mins, when the ketchup will be a bit blackened and bubbly.

And that's it. I'm terribly excited about this. You can add all sorts of exciting flavours to it - CURRY?? - and I can see it as a super mass-catering solution, just double the quantities and have it cold. You could even hide hard boiled eggs inside! Oh my days!! *fans self* *dies* (I've got a lot of black clothes you can borrow to wear to my funeral).