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":

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. 

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:


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

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. 

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.