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Monday, 23 May 2016

On baby sleep

Like, I suspect, most parents, I was blissfully unaware of the vexed issue of infant sleep patterns until I had my first baby.  But then, about two months into Anouk's life, oh my God, did it hit me like a freight train.  I became obsessed, OBSESSED, with her sleep.  Why wouldn't she sleep in her cot during the day?  Why would she only sleep for 45 minutes per day-time nap?  Why could she sleep longer at night?  Were naps in the pushchair of an inferior quality to naps in the cot?  Why was she waking up every hour at night?

But basically, the fundamental issue was: how can I get my child to sleep well so I can get a couple of hours of bloody peace.

Before Anouk was born, my husband was emailing with a friend of a friend who had two small children.  "Do you have any advice for us?" he asked.  "You need to know about Valerie" came her pithy reply.  It turned out that Valerie was a maternity nurse and all-round baby whisperer who had sleep trained her two babies to sleep through the night when they were about three months old.  My husband promptly called Valerie and booked for her to come to us once the baby hit twelve weeks.

About a week before Valerie was due to come to us to work her magic I got seriously cold feet.  A few of my girlfriends had had babies at around about the same time as me.  They seemed to be coping fine with the night-time disruptions, and claimed to be sleeping well with their babies in their beds and their husbands in the spare rooms.  I felt that I would be judged as a callous mother if I forced my baby to sleep for twelve hours without being by her side.  I thought I could cope with the two or three feeds per night that Anouk seemed to need.  So, I cancelled Valerie.

As soon as I did that, Anouk started to wake up every hour through the night.  In retrospect I think my cancelling must have coincided with a sleep regression, but at the time, it felt like she was lauding her victory over me.  I called Valerie back, but by that point she had given the days we had booked to other clients (she was, and is, in serious demand).  She said that she could help us over the phone to sleep train Anouk in two weeks.  We signed up.

I can't really remember exactly what Valerie taught us over the course of those two weeks (see my previous post which refers to baby-related amnesia).  I do recall that her method involved asking us when Anouk had eaten and slept during the day, and then dispensing advice about what we were to do in the night as and when Anouk woke up.  The essential goal was to wean the baby off night-time feeds, and this meant that my husband ended up comforting her so that she wouldn't smell me and my milk.  There was a bit of crying, but not too much.  At the end of those two weeks, Anouk slept for twelve unbroken hours.  She has pretty much done that ever since.  It was wonderful and it changed everything.  I finally felt as though I could enjoy my child.  I chalked it all up to Valerie and couldn't stop recommending her to everyone who was having a tough, sleep-deprived time.

This time around, things have been very different.  Now, I am fully aware that what I am about to write sounds like, if not a humble brag, then as though I am complaining about having a baby who sleeps well at night.  Please believe me when I say that I know how lucky I am.

From the first week of Sylvie's life I started to ease her into a routine because I knew that it would save me and that it was the only thing that would help to prevent my burning out and descending into a pit of misery.  Even if it went horribly wrong (and it did and does often go horribly wrong) I felt that if I had a structure and something to aim for, I would be okay.  We used Gina Ford's routines in the day, and after the first few weeks, I started to wake Sylvie at set times (not the GF appointed ones) in the night in order to feed her.  I just couldn't face being woken up by crying, so after a few nights of observing when she wanted a feed, I would wake her shortly before those times and would wap a breast in her mouth.  She was very good at settling back to sleep.

We also, in the spirit of Harvey Karp, used a Woombie and bought a seriously loud white noise machine.  These weapons have been deployed every night.

Throughout the nights, I noticed that Sylvie was feeding for shorter and shorter amounts of time.  I gradually pushed the feeds later and later; I then dropped the one in the small hours.  I continued to feed her at about 4.30am/5am, mainly because I was keen to ensure that she didn't wake up before 7am (I am of the belief that starting the day before 7am is ungodly, which is not to say that I don't often end up having to do it).  And then one night, I tried to feed her at about 5am, and she didn't properly wake up and just didn't seem very hungry.  The following night, my husband and I decided to just let her go for as long as she wanted her to.  We had to wake her at 7am after a twelve-hour sleep.  She was eleven weeks.

Since then, she has continued to sleep really well at night.  We endured a horrible regression at around 15 weeks, which manifested itself in dreadful fussing over the bottle of expressed milk she has before bed and also in a thankfully short-lived tendency to wake 45 minutes after having been put down for the night.  It still brought me to my knees though.  Recently, she has also started to look as though she is going to roll pretty soon, which means that the Woombie's days are numbered.  I am shit-scared of what that might mean for my nights but am trying (and failing) to be sanguine about it.

Sylvie's natural ability to sleep through the night has fundamentally changed my mind on the power of sleep training.  Before she was born, I clung to the belief that any child could be sleep trained and could sleep through the night from a relatively young age.  Now I am not so sure; now I tend toward the idea that sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone, akin to walking and talking.  Some kids will do it earlier than others; for some, it is a skill that will take them months or years to acquire. Don't get me wrong - I think that children can and should be encouraged to sleep well, which involves them eating properly in the day and having a structured bedtime routine.  I believe that our children's sleep does need to be managed and that they need to be helped to sleep well.  But I also think that there are some children who can do it, easily, and there are some children who will resist it.

Coming to this realisation has thrown me.   It's as if the spell has been broken.  Before Sylvie was born, I reassured myself that Valerie could step in at any moment to save the day if our routine went tits up and Sylvie started to wake up during the night.  I now think that if that started to happen there would probably be a biological reason, something that we may not be able to override simply by applying the principles of sleep training.  That's a really scary thought.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

On blogging

I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who are able to maintain their blogs with frequent updates that are well-written and illustrated with beautifully lit photographs of artfully arranged food or objets.  Let's face it, this blog fails miserably at all those things.

I am currently on maternity leave for the second time.  Life has changed significantly since that last post, although there ARE some of the banana muffins in the freezer.  I have changed jobs, and in December of last year, I had my second child.  The job change has been fantastic, a release.  I think I was the world's most anxious barrister, and anxiety does not a good barrister make.  On leaving, I realised that I had spent the preceding decade in an almost permanent state of extreme tension and worry, powered on adrenaline, cortisol and unhealthy quantities of sauvignon blanc.  Whilst I miss my colleagues in Chambers something chronic, I have also felt properly happy and relaxed for the first time in years, in addition to achieving things that just seemed impossible whilst I was lawyering. I am basically alluding here to the fact that I passed my driving test six months after I resigned from Chambers.

And of course, there are the children.  Number one child is now three, and will be starting nursery in September.  Number 2 child is almost five months.  How have the past few months been?  Well, let me put it this way: I am never, ever, ever having any more children.  Ever.

When Anouk was tiny, I remember asking a lot of people with school-age kids for advice.  "Hmmmm" they would say, "I can't really remember what we did about that."  And I would think that they ought to get themselves off to the doctor, stat, because it was clear that their memory loss meant that they had very early onset dementia.  But now, I realise that Nature does this thing whereby it erases your memory of what it's like to look after a little baby.  You forget the grinding drudgery of it; you forget the toxic mix of high anxiety and relentless boredom.  But here I am again.  It is easier, in some ways, because you KNOW that it will get better - you just have to look at your first born to see that - and you obviously know a lot more about caring for a baby.  But, and I am not ashamed to say this, I cannot wait for Sylvie to turn one, for me to be back at work and for this period of my life to be over.

Well, this is jolly, isn't it?!

The real purpose behind this post is actually to make a statement of intent with regard to this blog.  It is never going to feature Pinterest-worthy photographs, but what I can and want to do is to write a weekly post on something that I have been thinking about.  I intend for it to range away from just the culinary, although there will be some food posts.  I want to write about other things too, like clothes, and make-up, and interiors, and parenting.  So that's what I am going to do: write a weekly (short) essay on something. I'm doing this partly because I have been so inspired by reading other blogs (Esther Walker and Emma Beddington, I am looking at you), and partly because I think that my brain needs to start focusing on things other than whether the baby has napped for a sufficient length of time (the answer is usually, of course, no).  So here goes...

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Post-natal banana bread muffins

Well. Obviously much has changed since I last extracted my finger from some unmentionable place and , following extensive disinfection, put said finger to keyboard. I now have parental responsibility for a nine-month old. (Insert completely unrepresentative photograph suggesting beatific maternal joy and totally contented infant here:)

One would have thought that a period of extended maternity leave would provide ample opportunity for regular blogging.  One would be completely wrong.

Here is how I would describe the first six months of new motherhood (please note that riding this particular emotional rollercoaster leaves very little time for anything else once feeding and bottom-wiping duties have been factored in):

First month: A general feeling that you have taken a massive crap on your life, interspersed with moments of blind panic.
Second month: Mounting anxiety as it transpires that your child is the only one who doesn't sleep in a cot/won't nap during the day/feeds every two hours etc. etc.
Third month: Overwhelming fatigue.
Fourth month: A brief instance of satisfaction when your child coos or laughs or does something else to indicate that it is not just a insensible lump.
Fifth month: Slight sense that you might be getting the hang of it.
Sixth month: Rug pulled out from under you courtesy of the total dickery that is attempting to feed solid food to an individual with the co-ordination of a drunk person attempting a vigorous workout on a Power Plate.

Factor into this delightful mix the permanent sense that you are somehow fucking up your child and that everyone else is doing a far superior job on their kids than you on yours, and you pretty much have new motherhood in a nutshell.

Somehow though it gets better.  I personally have Gina Ford's words of wisdom and a brilliant maternity nurse who helped us to sleep train our baby to thank for the fact that I feel as though I am rebuilding some semblance of a life.  And I give thanks for them, every day, with all of my heart.

Right.  OK, where were we?

Oh yes.  This is ostensibly a food blog apparently, so here's a recipe.

It is for banana bread muffins.  There are millions of recipes for shit like this on the internet so we all need this one like a hole in the head.  The only thing that it has going for it is the fact that it does not contain any added sugar.  I have been feeding pieces of these muffins to my baby at breakfast (Is it too sweet for me to do this?  Is it allowed?  Christ, I don't know....) and they have been going down alright.  Better than bread or toast, which are delicately picked up between tiny thumb and forefinger and deposited on to the floor.  And we adults have been enjoying them too, with butter and jam, obviously.

Makes 12 muffins (or one loaf of banana bread if you prefer).

You will need:

Three large v ripe bananas
About six or seven dried dates, soaked for 15 minutes in boiling water to soften and plump them up a bit
150g plain wholemeal flour
150g plain plain flour
150g unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp of baking powder
Half tsp of bicarb
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of ground ginger
Pinch of sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180 and put twelve muffin cases in a muffin tray (or grease a loaf tin and line it with parchment paper).

Blitz the bananas and dates in the blender until smooth-ish.  Weigh the resulting mixture.  You want to have 300g of fruit.  Add more banana and/or dates until you do.

Mix the fruit with the eggs and vanilla extract, then pour in the melted butter. Add the salt and stir it about a bit to ensure it's dissolved.  Sift in the dry ingredients and stir into the fruit/eggs/butter until just combined.  Dollop the batter into the muffin cases/pour it into the loaf tin.

Bake the muffins for 20 minutes.  Bake the loaf for about an hour.  Do the usual skewer check after those times and bake for a bit longer if still gungey.  Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Eat warm, with butter and jam, whilst trying not to shudder at the recollection of the total hysterics that overcame your child when you attempted to feed it a homemade fish pie.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Citrus Jellies

It transpires that things really do happen in threes, like the arrival of those proverbial buses.  Shortly after the supper mentioned in my last post (which saw the announcement of one friend's pregnancy), the other friend revealed that she was also in the family way, and a couple of weeks after that, I too had fallen.  We are actual living proof that there's a baby boom on.

Pregnancy has, thankfully, not been anywhere near as scary/debilitating/uncomfortable as I had feared.  There was, admittedly, a period that started around the six-week mark in which I began permanently to feel as though I was on a listing boat.  This lasted for approximately eight weeks and corresponded with a three-week stint in Canada to celebrate my brother-in-law's wedding.  The timing wasn't ideal on a number of levels, not least being the fact that it confirmed to me that the enjoyability of weddings is proportionate to the extent to which one can get royally stuck into the fizz.  The upside was that I looked quite thin in my wedding outfits, and that my better half gave me a pass to return to our hotel room at any point during the proceedings, meaning that I was allowed to watch as many back-to-back episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress"* as I wanted. 

During those eight weeks I could just about stomach the following: fruit (especially nectarines), sesame seed bagels with cream cheese, pasta with butter and parmesan or very plain tomato sauce, margherita pizza, those little Kinder chocolate bars, and cereal (though not muesli or granola).  A whiff of a cooked vegetable or piece of meat was liable to result in a violent attack of retching, actual sicking up being a frustratingly rare occurrence.  

I reckon that I would have been able to stomach these citrus jellies during the morning sickness period if only I had been able to rouse myself from the sofa.  They are a good way of using up a glut of citrus fruit which, if you are the recipient of a weekly veg box as I am, is one of the perils of the season, the others being slipping on ice, central-heating hair, and Winterwatch on BBC 2.

Makes four jellies

425ml of citrus juice, strained (I used a mixture of ruby grapefruit, blood orange, lemon and clementine, but anything goes)
2 tspns caster sugar (or more to taste - and much will depend on the citrus fruits that you're using)
3 leaves of gelatine (I used Dr Oetker)

Begin by sweetening the juice to taste and stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  It's easier if you do this in a jug.

Cut the gelatine leaves into little pieces and leave to soak for ten minutes in about 50ml of the juice.  Do the soaking in a heatproof bowl.  After ten minutes, put the bowl on top of an appropriately-sized pan of simmering water. Heat the gelatine and juice, stirring gently, until the gelatine dissolves completely.

Add the melted gelatine to the rest of the juice and whisk it well to incorporate.  Leave the mixture to settle for a couple of minutes (so that the bubbles on top burst) before pouring into ramekins or sundae dishes.  

The jellies take about four hours to set completely.  Serve with a dollop of greek yoghurt or creme fraiche.

*Google it and YOU WILL SEE.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A good thing

Here is what I am currently eating for breakfast:

And ruddy delicious it is too.

What that is is last night's prawn curry.  Two of my dearest friends came round for supper yesterday.  The menu was: prawn curry, okra, vegetable pakoras, rice and chutney, followed by tiramisu.  Whilst I was making all of that I thought "Ha, this would be a terrible menu if any of us were pregnant!"  My first friend arrived.  She confirmed that she was not pregnant.  Second friend then arrived.  She immediately declined a glass of champagne and informed us that she is five weeks gone.  (She then did a brilliant impersonation of her husband's shell-shocked face.)

The upshot of this is that there's A LOT of prawn curry and tiramisu left over today.  But that is not, in my opinion, a bad thing or any reflection at all on the deliciousness of those two particular dishes.

Here is the prawn curry recipe.  It is my own invention, which explains the slightly unorthodox inclusion of  the tomato sauce.  The first time I did this I threw in some left-over spaghetti sauce, and it turned out so well that I have been too superstitious to stop adding it.

Serves 4 (non-pregnant) people.

Two packets of raw king prawns
2 tspns of turmeric
1 tspn of ground ginger

For the sauce
2 medium-sized onions, sliced into half moons
A two-inch sized piece of ginger, grated
4 cloves of garlic, grated
2 green chillies, finely diced (and de-seeded if you like)
2 tspns black mustard seeds
2 big pinches of curry leaves
150g of a tomato or marinara sauce (thinking on it, I think you could also use tomato puree or reduce down some tinned chopped tomatoes until they are a sticky, saucy consistency)
Tin of coconut milk
3 large tomatoes, skinned and diced (seeds and pulp removed)
2 tspns tamarind paste
2 tspns coriander seeds
1 tspn fennel seeds
1 tspn cumin seeds

Start off by toasting the coriander, fennel and cumin in a dry pan until golden and fragrant.  Grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar or other grinding device.

Fry the onions in vegetable oil over a medium heat until they are floppy and translucent, but not browned.  Turn up the heat and add the chillies, garlic and ginger pastes, the curry leaves and mustard seeds.  Fry hard for about a minute.  Add the the tomato sauce and fry for a further minute.  Tip in the coconut milk, and add the ground spices, tamarind paste and diced tomatoes (I also added the finely sliced stalks of some fresh coriander here).  Season and then top up with water - about four empty-coconut-milk-cans-worth.  Bring up to the boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for about an hour or an hour-and-a-half.

Whilst the sauce is bubbling away, de-vein the prawns.  Put them in a bowl with the turmeric and ground ginger, cover and refrigerate until the sauce is done.

When the is sauce thickened and tasting wonderful, add the prawns and poach them gently over a low heat until they are pink and cooked - about three minutes.

Serve with rice and chutney, and eat whilst congratulating yourself on your culinary ingeniousness.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Quasi nasi goreng

Mr F and I have of late been following a new policy of keeping the fridge only modestly stocked whilst at the same time attempting to eat down the contents of our dry goods cupboard.  The rationale for this was my recent faze of being hooked on Ocado deliveries, partly, I think, because placing the order seemed like a totally legitimate way of spending an hour or so browsing the web during office hours.  I was struck, however, by the feeling of panic that gripped me once the delivery had been made.  The sight of our over-stuffed fridge and too generously-filled cupboards made me feel pre-emptively guilty.  And rightly so, for barely a week would pass without my having to throw something away which was in a state of degradation worse than simply past its best.  There just wasn't enough time for us to eat the food that I ordered. 

The business of getting ourselves fed of an evening now starts earlier on in the day with me thinking of or stumbling across a recipe for a dish which can pretty much be made from the rations we have in stock.  I then get Mr F to purchase the fresh ingredients or garnishes on his way home, so that by the time he arrives we're ready to go.  This removes from the supper equation the minutes lost standing listlessly in front of the fridge struggling to find inspiration.  It's been working pretty well for us and has resulted in our adding a couple of new dishes to our repertoire.  We had this fried rice dish last week and both loved it.  The recipe is adapted from one which  appeared in Waitrose magazine last month, and I'm not convinced of its total authenticity, hence the "quasi".  I didn't much fancy serving the final dish with fried eggs on top, so instead beat the eggs together with a big squeeze of Barts Red Hot Chilli Sauce and made a quick and rudimentary omelette that I then sliced and stirred through.  That omelette was wondrous and was, I think, made so by that particular chilli sauce.  Strangely, it tastes pretty average on its own.

To serve two

A bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
An inch of root ginger, peeled and finely sliced
A clove of garlic, you guessed it - finely sliced
One Thai red chilli, finely chopped (seeds in or out - your call.  I kept the seeds in and it was fine)

100g (dry weight) of cooked long grain or basmati rice
150g (or one packet's worth) of raw prawns, de-veined

1 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tbsp of fish sauce
2 tspns of muscovado sugar

Four eggs
Barts Red Hot Chilli sauce (a big squeeze of the bottle - probably about 20g)

Vegetable oil for frying
Chopped fresh coriander and lime wedges for garnishing

Heat a slosh of vegetable oil in a wok.  Beat the eggs and chilli sauce together.  Add the eggs to the wok and cook over a high heat, pulling down the cooked sides to allow the raw egg to flow over the top.  Flip the omelette once the underside is golden brown.  When cooked on both sides tip it on to a chopping board and reserve.  Wipe the wok clean with kitchen towel.

Mix together the soy and fish sauces and sugar and set aside.

Heat another slosh of veg oil and fry the spring onions, ginger, garlic and chilli.  Have a bit of a coughing fit as the chilli hits the hot oil.  Belatedly turn on the extractor fan.  Fry the aromatics for about a minute before adding the prawns.  Fry them until they are pink, then add the rice and the soy/fish sauce and sugar mixture.  Toss everything together until it is evenly coated.  Serve immediately with the sliced up omelette on top, and garnish with coriander and lime.

Eat whilst watching Masterchef and bitching about how much you don't like Aki.

Monday, 21 November 2011

In the meantime...

Isn't that beautiful?  I was really taken with the jewel-like colours of this fruit, which struck me as redolent of autumn.  That is why, of course, I promptly went and dumped a load of crumble on top and then cooked the shit out of it.

There's been another hiatus in posts again, for which I apologise.  It was due to factors beyond my control (but has something to do with the need to make a living.  You understand I know.).  If it's any consolation, there's been little of note to report on the cooking/eating front lately anyway.  I had some success with a couple of batches of sourdough, but rather than give you a recipe let me just point you in this direction for how to get a lively starter going, and here for a receipt.  It took me a few go's to get something really decent, but that was part of the fun.  I'm now a little bit obsessed and, in the spirit of nerdery, have put a sourdough proving basket on my Christmas list.  Continuing in the Dan Lepard-inspired baked-goods vein, there were also these extraordinarily delicious tamarind cookies which I cannot recommend to you highly enough.  I substituted stem ginger for glace ginger and they worked an absolute treat.  But other than that, there's virtually been tumbleweed blowing through the kitchen.  I think I need to peruse the interweb to re-whet my appetite and get my cooking mojo going again.  I'll get back to you.


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