he questions fashion, not culture

Children can be mortifying sometimes; of course they can. The open stare, the theatrical point, the loudly voiced question. My daughter had me wishing for the nearest hole several years ago (she was only 2, bless her) when we passed through a supermarket checkout staffed by a rather facially hirsute lady. “Mummy, is that a lady or a man??” she demanded, teeny finger thrusting questioningly in the general direction of the assistant.

They’re better, more polite and more sensitive now that they’re older, of course. Even so, my heart embarked on the start of a little plummet at the airport as my 5 year old son, looking in the direction of a large group of Hasidic Jews, asked loudly: “Mummy, why do people wear stuff like that?”

I launched into a fairly bland explanation about different cultures and customs but was interrupted by “What culture wears pointy shoes?”

I was momentarily stopped in my tracks. “Huh?” I asked, glancing covertly at the shoes the black-robed group of men were wearing.

“There, that guy there,” my son said, with a (I have to say, very subtle) hand gesture towards a big-haired, skinny-jeans clad youth shod in winklepicker-esque shoes. “They look kind of stupid. And uncomfortable. I bet he can’t run fast in them.” He looked down complacently at his own shoes, newly purchased from Gently Elephant. “Not like I can in mine. I’m faster than Usain Bolt in these shoes.”

Curious about sartorial choice yet so accustomed to differences of race and culture that he barely bats an eyelid in their presence. That’s my Town Mouse.

20130531-224029.jpg

20130531-224040.jpg

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.

full

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

100111 007 (Small) (2)

I imparted some useful information

I know. Amazing, huh?

Trust me, it doesn’t happen often.

But yesterday, I bought some rhubarb. So pretty. I used to think that it was pink celery when I was younger, but liking how it looked didn’t bring me anywhere near to liking how it tasted. Yech.

Things are different now. I still have the same sweet tooth that I had as a child but it’s under pretty strict control. Sugars are out, including most fruits, although I do break ranks for berries. But since rhubarb is actually a vegetable, it’s low-carb and low in sugar. Which is why, I guess, you usually need to add so much sugar to it to make it more palatable!

But guess what: if you soak it in cold water for about 20 minutes with a tablespoon of baking powder, it neutralises some of the acidity, meaning that you can use far less sweetening agent when you cook it. The water turns greyish: just drain, rinse and add fresh water to stew. I use Nature’s Garden Stevia from Holland & Barrett since sugar is the very devil itself, but I reckon that a vanilla pod and a touch of cinnamon would work well too.

Anyway, I Instagrammed my rhubarb soaking pinkly and prettily in its pot, noting the baking powder tip, and was oddly thrilled when Facebook friends commented on its usefulness. Like I say, it’s not often that I say anything informative or handy, although I’m a little ripper at trivial nonsense.

Truthfully, though, I can’t take credit for the tip, having read it on theKitchn. I also can’t take credit for the photo of the finished-product, stewed rhubarb, which is from the lovely Thousand Threads blog. Mine came out much looking far less rosy; does the baking soda leach out some of the colour, perhaps? If I made this for guests, I might be tempted to add some berry or beetroot juice, just to amp up the hue. As it was, though, I was pretty happy just eating it, pale though it was, with yoghurt and a huge mug of Higher Living’s cinnamon tea. A couple of friends thinking that I’d said something vaguely clever and my sweet tooth satisfied: good feeling.

20130524-171701.jpg

20130524-171927.jpg

20130524-181009.jpg

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.

photo

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.

photo

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??!!

I bought a veg bag

It was suggested, recently, that I get involved with the PTA at school, and I was pretty open to the idea. I like organising stuff and am the type of annoying person who looks on admiringly at things whilst mentally totting up the ways in which I’d have done it differently. It was also going to be a chance to work with a friend of mine who is brilliant at all things fun, themed and innovative; having been to a few parties at her house and been privy to her boundless energy for pretty much everything, I knew she’d be great to team up with.

But eventually I thought better of the whole endeavour. I hate to commit to things and then not be able to deliver, and the amount of work put in by the current PTA team was awe-inspiring and off-putting in almost equal measures. With three children at the young-ish end of the scale, a husband whose work hours are erratic and a freelancing job to factor in to the mix, I had visions of not being on hand to set up the very tombolas and cake stalls that I’d helped to organise- and the thought did not thrill me at all.

So I pulled out of the running and felt relieved, yes, but also a bit crap about ‘not doing my bit.’

Shameful that it has taken me nearly two years and pulling out of a potential PTA role to get in on the Abel & Cole fundraising scheme, but better late than never. I felt properly good this afternoon, collecting my veg bag, from which 25% of the profits will go to the school. I’m looking forward, too, to stretching my cooking muscles to make use of what we actually have, rather than buying the same stuff week after week (regardless of provenance),  just because it fits in with an already-well-established dinner repertoire.

photo

I’m not entirely sure that I’ll sell the kids on the leeks but hey, it’s not all about them is it? And since the boys hate fish anyway, well, I’m off to rustle up a Leek, Mackerel & Avocado salad – served up with the glow of parental participation on the side. Yummers!

Leek, Mackerel & Avocado salad from british-leeks.co.uk

Leek, Mackerel & Avocado salad from british-leeks.co.uk

I packed away the winter coats and shoes

Enough’s enough, right? I don’t deny that we might have several a few more chilly days ahead but by Jove, I’ve had my wintry outers up to the wotsits.

So today, I pulled out the storage bags containing my summer stuff, packed away the coats and boots and rediscovered my last-season sandals. It’s sad but true to say that many of them bear more than a passing resemblance to footwear I’ve already, avidly, bought this season but I’m nothing if not consistent; it’s completely in character for me to wander into a store wearing, say, a grey sweater and to walk out clutching a bag containing an almost identical knit. The worst example ever of this was the day that I stood in Cos swooning over a navy wool dress with leather patch pockets before it gradually dawned on me that not only did I already own the dress in question: I was in fact wearing it at that very moment.

Anyway. The only thing that’s better than having summery shoes to wear is having the weather and the occasion for wearing them. Yesterday morning? Not so much: I did an MCC Promotions-organised 10km run on Peckham Rye with two other mums from school, where footwear of a functional, rather than fabulous, nature was the order of the day, especially since a gait assessment at Runners Need revealed my hideous overpronation. My trainers are practically platforms, yes, but running in heels has never felt so good.

Unknown-33

In the evening, however, we had dinner at The Begging Bowl with some of our friends, and it was bare legs, Sam Edelman Flynn sandals and fantastically flavoursome food. Today, my husband’s uncle and his partner took us out for lunch at Le Querce, for which I wore winged Ancient Greek sandals bought from Net-a-Porter last summer (along with a Zara dress in a good-to-be-alive shade of green)  The monkfish was amazing and the children seated at the next table were fairly hideous, which had an unhappy effect on noise levels and our ability to converse, but a brilliantly positive impact on how we, and the uncles, regarded the behaviour of our three. Now, I don’t know about other mothers out there, but to me this is pretty much the Holy Grail of a day out: eating delicious food, enjoying the company you’re with, feeling proud of your children and not feeling that every stitch you’re wearing has been chosen purely for matters of “I’m with the kids” practicality but also because you a) actually like them and b) the sun is shining after far, far too long of doing anything but that.

Would I be jinxing matters if I booked a pedi for next week, do you think?

Unknown-34image1xl-3zara-green-gathered-dress-product-1-6588709-450961104_large_flex

we chose the friendly, familiar cafe option

There was a lot of faffage about where to eat lunch today. I had both of the boys with me and they had all sorts of fanciful ideas about what they wanted and where they wanted it. Jamie’s Italian was mooted at one point, as was the Horniman Museum cafe. I’ve been wanting to check out Rocca, as it’s a popular Friday night post-school dinner hang out, and I always like to do a recce before committing to plans with others and their kids, since what I can and can’t/ will and won’t eat can make such arrangements tricky. But bear in mind that both boys have been afflicted with off-colouredness this week (less vague in the case of my 3 year old, who threw up, spectacularly, no less than 3 times earlier in the week and has been off his food ever since.) I figured we should probably go home, but they, euphoric with the ‘treatiness’ of being together on a Friday, insisted on lunching out.

Eventually they expressed a desire for a lunch that I thought sounded feasible and I took us off to a place where I knew we’d get it. The Dish and The Spoon is one of our favourite cafes, and the only reason I’d not suggested it earlier was because I knew we were going to be there for a party on the weekend.

dish3

 

There are no words to describe how glad I am that we ended up in this sunny den of familiarity. Almost as soon as we sat down, my eldest son, already with a certain dullness in his usually bright eyes, started to look even more listless, leaning his head on the table and taking little interest in the food he’d been so excited about. I’m a major league scoffer,  especially since my preferred form of Intermittent Fasting means that I rarely eat before 2 or 3pm, so I patted him soothingly on the knee while wolfing my salad (the cauliflower, in particular, was amazing – really simple and tasty) and hoped for the best.

“Shall we just take this home and have it later?” I asked, gesturing towards his still-full plate at the side of my all-but-licked-clean one. He nodded. And then – eugh, that noise, that gurgly choking noise, you know the one, whether you’re a parent or not! – he vomited. I grabbed the nearest thing – a completely useless flyer, as it turned out – and tried to contain it, but to no avail; in desperation, I resorted to my bare hands. Youngest son, still off his food despite the fact that he’d been so keen to eat out, was goggle-eyed; no hope of him eating now.

I turned to the people at the next table – thank goodness we eat late, so the lunchtime crowds had dispersed somewhat. “I’m so sorry this is happening as you eat,” I said, lamely.

Within minutes, the lovely owner of the cafe and her staff had clocked the situation and materialised by my side with rolls of paper towel and plastic bags. I was so mortified; they were so sweet. My son seems much better tonight. And I know these things happen, and it could’ve been worse and all the rest of it. And I’m sure that anyone in any of the other places we thought about today would’ve been kind and helpful in the same situation. But I’m so glad that, if it had to happen at all, it happened in a place where the owners know us by name and made us feel one hundred times better about it than we would have felt if we’d been somewhere unfamiliar or – even worse – stuffy and disapproving.

And – strike me down for my greed and selfishness – I’m glad it happened after I’d finished my sald. Seriously, that cauliflower was good. 

photo