she ran with me

We had some of our favouritest friends coming over yesterday afternoon. They’ve got three children too, so, with a total of six children to consider, you sort of want to have all of the food prep in hand before they arrive; even if the kids don’t require your undivided attention, it’s nice to just be able swig on a drink and chat, without wielding a chopping knife in one of your hands.

So. I’d made Nigel Slater’s chocolate & beetroot cake the previous day, thus using up some beetroots that were languishing, near death, in the fridge, before we go away on holiday (I am fanatical about ‘using up before going away’, perhaps the more so because of the time that we returned from France to discover the aftermath of a power cut in the fridge. Mon Dieu, the smell…) Since preparation is everything, I was also canny enough to make the cake exactly as Mr Slater decrees, ie no paleo tweaks to make it even vaguely edible for me. Like I said, we are going on holiday. There will be the wearing of swimming costumes.

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

We decided on pulled pork on soft floury baps with coleslaw: again, all easy to do before anyone arrived (and all stuff that I’d not even countenance eating. Do I need to I remind you? Holiday. Sun. Fewer clothes.) So, once the pork was doused in cider and slow cooking in the oven, and the cabbage and carrot were shredded and resting, there was little to do except deal with the children asking “When will they be here? When are they coming?!”

Annoying. So: bikes in the back of the car and off to the park we went. I run pretty much every day: it’s vital to my state of mind. But when you have a family, you have to tailor your runs to whatever else is going on; I can’t, in all fairness, be off on a long run on a weekend when my husband’s been working all week and the kids are desperate for us to ‘all be together’ – even less so when there’s a shoulder of pork on the go in the oven.

I wore my running kit anyway; what the heck, the kids are bike-competent enough now that I’d be able to at least jog, if not run, as they rode. It was better than nothing. And, you know, there’s that holiday thing next week.

We got to Dulwich Park and whaddaya know, a fair was in residence. As fairs go, it didn’t look too bad; certainly not along the lines of the ones that my poor friend Steph was subjected to this weekend but, FFS, I did not go to the park so that my kids could spunk their college funds on rides and hot dogs: I went so that they could get fresh air and exercise, goddamit. I went so that they could bike-ride and I could run! I went so that they’d stop bugging me (When will they be here?) – not bug me more! (Can we go on a ride? can we? can we? CAN WE???!!)

Pushy mother, moi? Well, yes. But I am Australian. So it’s okay, right? Besides, it’s an Ashes year. My competitive juices are already rising.

Compromise: once around the park on bikes and then Daddy will take you to the fair while Mummy runs.

When I got back to them, there was dissatisfaction in the ranks (of course!) They wanted another ride (of course!!) on the Ferris Wheel but it was 3 people per carriage and at least one adult to accompany children required. So they couldn’t go on it without me.

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But then my husband discovered that he’d already pretty much ploughed through the college fund spare change already, and could only afford three of the £2.50 (!!) seats.

Suddenly, my daughter piped up. “I don’t want to go on the ride. I want to run with Mummy.”

Truly, I know it’s a fine line: inflicting my own issues surrounding food, physique and exercise on my daughter on the one hand, and guiding her, joyfully, in the love of health, nutrition and exercise on the other. I am not about to buy her running kit or get her out of bed to do sixty sit-ups before school. She is beautiful and perfect, but I shy away from harping on this because I don’t ever want her to feel that she’ll be unloved when her beauty and perfection starts, as it inevitably will, to change. I tell her she is healthy, she is strong, she is lovely. I tell her she sparkles. She does.

But I was delighted that she wanted to run with me; and that she wanted to do so more than she wanted to ride on the sodding poxy Ferris Wheel.

So, we ran. Or jogged. Whatever. It was a peach of a day, and there was no need to hurry: just me and my girl sucking up the sunshine and the blazing rhododendrons and wondering whether the boys and Daddy could see us from the top of the Ferris Wheel? And still the joy and expectation of friends, and pork, and cake, to look forward to in the afternoon.

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

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I went to bed against a lightening sky

4am. Can’t remember the last time that happened.

4am sky

4am sky

It was a brilliant night. We had a Eurovision party at our place, and although we had the contest showing on two screens, I’m not convinced that anyone actually watched it.

The children had drawn a country for each person from a hat a few weeks ago, and the idea was that you had to bring some food that was vaguely representative of that country. There were waffles from Belgium, Serbian squid salad, Italian tiramisu, Irish soda bread, German meats and French cheeses. There was Hungarian apple cake, Icelandic prawns, Armenian Turlu, Norwegian gravadlax, Greek dolmades and an Ottolenghi cake for Israel. There was so much food that there were scarcely enough surfaces on which to put it; the effort everyone had gone to was sensational.

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The 26 finalists were written on slips of paper and placed inside a Babushka doll for drawing, but no one had brought money for a sweepstake so we decided to make it that the winner – Denmark, as it happened – had to sing the Bonnie Tyler entry on the Playstation Singstar karaoke; an event that spiralled into full Back-to-the-80s silliness with Human League and Spandau Ballet renditions.

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At the very end of the night there were just a handful of us left in our kitchen, surrounded by loads of empties but just enough full ones, picking olives out of the Greek salad and laughing raucously about inappropriate things. There was, I think, an incident involving the donning of wigs and the ‘theft’ of a piece of wood from a neighbourhood skip; something to do with building a shelf. I feel rough today, but it’s the best kind of rough, and it gave my daughter the chance to play her own version of Freaky Friday with me; as I lay, half-dozing on a beanbag in the garden today, she adopted the role of my mummy and covered me lightly in a blanket, spoon fed my feels-like-the-inside-of-a-birdcage mouth sips of water from a cup and – this bit wasn’t so good – tested me on my spellings. I will hold up my hands – I got 2 wrong – but I swear it was nothing to do with my fuggy head. I mean honestly, since when was finnico a word??!!

there’s an abundance of berries

Oh, how I love berries. Raspberries and strawberries are my absolute faves, but I’ll never turn my nose up at a blueberry or a blackberry either. They were the one food I craved in all of my pregnancies and the one dessert that I’d struggle to give up.

Luckily, I don’t have to, since they’re one of the more acceptable fruits in paleo terms and, as one of the lowest-of-the-low when it comes to sugar content, they’re also fine for the carb conscious among us. I did give them up for a bit when I was doing the Balanced Bites sugar detox but they’re back on the menu now, albeit not with the honey and Greek yoghurt with which I used to smother them in pregnancy.

Anyway, the weather is still a bit iffy considering that it’s supposed to be Springtime but there are at least loads of berries around, and that always gladdens my heart. Today I’ve eaten them for breakfast, baked them into a cake (you can find the recipe here on this mouthwatering blog, The Italian Dish) ready for when we have guests tomorrow and given them to the children as an afternoon snack. I love the way they look in my new favourite blue bowls, which we bought for 50p each from Shiver Me Timbers in Penzance, a reclamation yard that we visit unfailingly on our annual Cornish holiday. I love the way they look, en masse, on a Central London fruit barrow. But best of all, I love the news that I got when I posted this photo on Facebook & Instagram.

Tiffany, one of my oldest and bestest friends from home (Australia), has a pathological fear and hatred of bananas. So her response to the photo was to express distaste for their presence on the barrow. But also to tell me that she is looking forward to some berry scoffage when she comes over to visit. In July!!!

Wooooooooo hoooooooo! So excited!!

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I have a stash of paper plates and plastic cups

They’re leftovers from previous parties; usually the sight of them vaguely annoys me as I know that when the next party rolls around, I’ll forget that I have them and buy another load, thus further cluttering my already-disorganised cupboards.

But tonight … well… my dishwasher is still on the blink, and I had a crowd of kids over for dinner.

Is it really so bad that I chose to minimise my washing up?

Come on! It’s Friday night!

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend.

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I have a houseful of children

There’s something quite nice about the fact that there are five, rather than the usual three, children asleep downstairs – not least the fact that the so-called ‘usual three’ are so chuffed and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that they are all, in fact, actually asleep.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in a household that was massively big on parties and entertaining, or maybe it’s just because I don’t fancy my own company 😉 but few things please me more than to have my house full of people (with certain exceptions as to who those people are, of course, but this surely goes without saying). So with my husband abroad for work again, we filled our Saturday evening with two of my girlfriends and four (they have five between them) of their children. I poached two whole chickens in my vast stockpot (which means risotto and soup on tap for the rest of the week) and served it, bones removed (the flesh just slides off with a poached chicken, very easy and succulent) with a load of roasties and veg. I rarely expect children to eat much when they’re en masse and excited, but they demolished the lot. Chocolate meringues from a recipe on Annalise’s Completely Delicious blog with strawberries and ice cream for dessert, and then they were in their PJs and watching Peter Pan while we had a chat, a chicken salad and a glass of fizz.

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When it was time for the two youngest of the gang to go to bed, their mums took them home and I ushered the remaining five upstairs with promises of a midnight feast if they all behaved and kept jumping/ screeching to a minimum. Virtual silence reigned throughout the entire time I was clearing up (of course, the dishwasher would go on the blink today, wouldn’t it?) and putting together paper bags of Pom Bears, raisins, biscuits and marshmallows – to the extent that I thought a) ‘Jeez, I hope they’re not being this good because they think that they’re getting some Wonka-style treat bag, or else they’re going to be sadly disappointed’ and b) ‘Good grief, are they asleep already?!!’ I crept up the stairs. No, not asleep, but all engaged in the very serious business of colouring in. And – get this – they all brought their empty bags back down to me when they were done with feasting. One of them even came down to ask for a serviette to avoid dropping crumbs! And they were all asleep by just after 10pm. They’ve been so blimmin’ good, it’s unbelievable.

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There’s got to be a rub though. Surely! There’s got to be! As much as I love a bustling house, five children are not meant to be this easy, much less this pleasant! On which note: I’d better get to sleep. I’m bound to have a bunch of whining ratbags on my hands in the morning.

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I checked the recipe

We had friends over for dinner last night. A few weeks ago, I’d torn a scrap from a newspaper and pinned it to the fridge, a recipe involving lamb and purple sprouting broccoli. It sounded hearty, tasty and best of all involved a long, slow cooking time which would enable me to get things pretty sorted long before our friends arrived.

So, the Ocado order came on Friday (no missing items, no substitutions … I totally love it when that happens) and on Saturday morning, I made up a batch of pumpkin & halloumi fritters (to be served as nibbly starters with sour cream, sweet chilli and a glass of fizz and pomegranate) and took the kids to swimming via Flock & Herd for the lamb shoulder I’d ordered on Thursday. Earlier in the week, I’d been to Rabot Estate to buy a selection of chocolate ranging from 50 to 100 percent, which I planned to do with fruit and cheeses from Norbiton Cheese at Brockley Market.

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So far, so organised. Until, at some point in the afternoon, I glanced at the scrap of paper on my fridge and realised that it was very vague on quantities. How many anchovies? How many olives? It mentioned the chef’s name so I had a quick google – “Theo Randall lamb shoulder purple broccoli” and got the answers I needed … and the sudden realisation that I should’ve asked for the lamb to be deboned.

Mild panic ensued, and you-tube was consulted to for demos and how-tos. Um, no, not going to happen. So I did the sensible thing: called Flock & Herd. “Come back, we’ll sort it out,” said the jovial chap at the other end of the phone. They did, just moments before closing time. Phew. I mean, lucky it was a slow cook recipe. Imagine if I’d been about to start merrily prepping at 6pm?

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