Saturday, April 01, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: March

This month I cooked two recipes from James Martin's Masterclass, which is one of the many books I have on, ahem, extended loan from my mum! First up was polenta with wild mushrooms and parmesan. I chose this as I have been keen to try polenta, and also wanting to try and incorporate a few more meat-free dishes into our diet. Unfortunately, I overlooked the fact that I'm not a great fan of mushrooms, and so perhaps this wasn't a wise choice!

I also didn't realise that the cooling time required for the polenta was a lot longer than the cooking time for the mushrooms, as the recipe wasn't clear on how long to cool it for. Having already ended up making it on a night when I just wanted a quick dinner, because the mushrooms needed using, I'm afraid impatience got the better of me and I forged ahead with the frying of the polenta "squares" despite the fact that they were clearly collapsing as I tried to cut them. So, it was not a successful dish but more down to user error than anything wrong with the recipe! The Husband raved about it, and I must admit whilst texturally dubious, the polenta tasted delicious, although I think anything with that much butter and cheese in it would! I want to try and use the polenta again, with proper cooling time, and as there is plenty left in the bag, I may well do!

Next up was tandoori cod steaks. The fillets I got weren't as thick cut as I'd expected, I think cod loin would have been better, but this was a brilliant dish. The spice mixture was easy to make, and I had all of the various ingredients in the cupboard from previous curry recipes. After marinating the fish for a few hours, it cooked under the grill in ten minutes, and was full of flavour. I always enjoy curried fish when I choose it from a menu, and it was great to be able to recreate that style of dish at home. A great way to incorporate more fish into our diets, and a recipe I'll definitely be returning to again.

In a bid to use up some of the polenta, I tried to make these sweet potato fries from the BBC Good Food website this week. Alas, mine turned out dusty, rather than crunchy, so I continue on the hunt for a way to make my home-cooked sweet potato fries taste like the crispy coated ones I have eaten elsewhere! Any suggestions welcome!

The Cookery Calendar Challenge is the wonderful creation of Penny at The Homemade Heart, do use the button below to check out the other posts and see what recipe books people have been dusting off this month.

first things first

The first of April.

Last month was the first month since October when I didn't complete the running challenge I signed up for. Whatever bug I've had seems to have really wiped me out this time, and I decided to stop trying to push myself to carry on with it when my body seems to be in need of some rest. I'm hoping to get back out soon, especially now the weather is nicer, as I always feel good when I've been for a run, but for now I'll try and get back to full health first.

Monday marks The Husband's first day in his new job, having finished at his previous role on Friday. It will be big changes for him, travelling by train, working in a new organisation, taking on a more senior role. It is very exciting but having been in his last job for several years it feels like a major transition. 

For me, life has hit a gentle lull of routine. T and I pass our weeks with regular trips to the library, the swimming pool, walks to the park and visits to my parents and Grandad. Time is flying by and he is looking more and more like a little boy rather than a baby. It's easy to feel that there is nothing new happening, but every week brings changes, a myriad of tiny firsts, that are so small, and happen so quickly, I barely notice them. Then suddenly, I look back, and realise that he is doing so much more, and growing up before my eyes! Here's to noticing the little firsts that April brings, as well as the big ones, and savouring the smallest moments.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

wonderful wednesday #8

Back once again for another Wonderful Wednesday (I started writing that and I got intense flashbacks to this, which has simultaneously embedded itself in my head and made me feel very old indeed). Despite not being able to shake off another bout of the lurgy for nearly 2 weeks now (babies are germ factories it seems) there is plenty of wonderfulness to celebrate.

Baby Bliss: The picture above sums up the past week with my lovely little boy (with double chin artfully cropped out admittedly). He has been a delight this week, endless smiles and giggles, a particular fan, it transpires, of the chorus of Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs (mostly the aahaahaahaahaaaah bit), still loves balls being thrown and caught with accompanying sound effects, and being swung around and tickled under his chin. He has now taken to eating with gusto, and I am much relieved, and spending increasing amounts of time trying to satiate his ever increasing appetite. We had quite a few weeks where everything was being spat out, and it brings me so much joy to see him enjoying (and swallowing!) food. Sleep has improved a little, or a least 4am starts are now 5am starts since the clocks have gone forward which feels much more humane somehow. This week has been all about the wonderful parts of parenting and I am feeling very lucky, and very in love!

Monday with Millie: On Monday night I took Millie to an obedience class. It is not that she has become particularly disobedient, if anything she is much better at ignoring other dogs when we are out walking, but I had a scary moment a few weeks ago where the lock on her extendable lead somehow failed as she pulled and she shot out into the road. She was absolutely fine but it shook me up, especially as just moments later two cars came whizzing past, and I had one of those what if moments for the rest of the night. Also, I wanted to start trying to make sure she had a bit of one on one time, as she has been so accepting of the massive change to home life in the form of T, and I thought it would be nice for her to get a bit of fussing and undivided attention. So it was, on a beautifully sunny evening, Millie and I were to be found in a field, with her getting lots of treats, praise and cuddles, plenty of fresh air, and I came home feeling very glad indeed for a bit of quality time with my lovely girl.

Family: It has been a real family effort while I've been ill, I actually took a sick day from parenting just over a week ago, and my parents took T for the day, so I could sleep and try to recover a little. I know not many people have that option, and I felt so very lucky to have them so close, so that I could still get a middle of the day cuddle with him, but at the same time give myself a fighting chance of feeling better. Although I'm still feeling grotty, that day was so very much appreciated, and it was good to think he was having a day of being spoilt and doted on by his grandparents rather than coughed at by a bleary eyed mum!

Gardening: For Mother's Day, The Husband bought me a bundle of things for our veg planter, and suggested that we start a tradition of planting some seeds each year on Mother's Day. Initially slightly sceptical at the idea of hard labour on a day I had more traditionally associated with pampering and relaxation, we had lunch at a local garden centre with my family, bought some additional herb pots, pansies and strawberry plants, and then spent a happy two hours in the sunshine sewing seeds, planting herbs, and listening to music while T played in his chair and Millie lay on the lawn. Followed up by a fancy meal at home and some time spent doing my nails, and he had planned a pretty perfect day. I love that every time I come in the front door, or look out the kitchen window I can see the pots we planted up, and hopefully the products of our labours will be a happy reminder of those few hours for the rest of the year. He's cleverer than I give him credit for sometimes!

If you would like to visit some of the others (highly recommended) then Sally is the originator of the idea, you can search for #wonderfulwednesday and these lovely folks all post too: JoHelenMichelleSarahKateCatSamEl , KerriMimmiMartinaIsabelle. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

wonderful wednesday #7

Just a quick one, as I have spent rather longer than intended on this month's first things first post, and I'll regret it if I don't get to sleep very soon!! There has been so much wonderful happening in February that I haven't actually done one of these posts for a few weeks. For a longer round up of some of the big things that have been going on, see here, but for today, some small bits of wonderful....

Afternoon Tea: We bought my Grandad an afternoon tea and chocolate making demonstration at a lovely bakery nearby. I happily accompanied him today, and it was a wonderful few hours. The talk and demonstration was really interesting, and the afternoon tea was delicious. T had a wonderful time with his grandparents too, and so a happy afternoon was had by all, except perhaps for The Husband, who was at work.

New Bedding: After the middle of the night bedding changes last week, I splashed out on a spare, spare, set of bedding, as it seems at the moment that two sets is simply not enough! It has been so lovely to clamber into not just freshly washed sheets, but fresh out of the packet sheets.

5 miles: Having not kept on track with my 28 miles in 28 days, I suddenly had 8 miles to run in 2 days before February finished. The upshot was that on Tuesday evening I headed out in torrential rain to do five wet, cold miles, and managed to keep a reasonable pace, and actually smiled most of the way round. I quite enjoyed running in the rain, and it was one of those runs where the music seemed to be exactly right, with each track spurring me on to keep going for just one more song, to the point that I did a lot less walking and a lot more running than I first anticipated.

Surprise visits: I was messaging my close friend in the midst of a tough week, and when she didn't reply to a message I was wondering if I'd overdone the offloading, only for her to appear at the door in the middle of a busy day just to say hi, give me a hug, and chat in person for ten minutes. It was such a lovely surprise, not even long enough for a cuppa, but made me feel very lucky to have such an amazing friend, and much better about my week.

Pancakes: Of course. Specifically, my grandad's pancakes, which we enjoyed yesterday afternoon, are, in my opinion, unbeatable, and I'm convinced fuelled me to do that run. Followed closely by The Husband's savoury pancake, which was waiting for me when I got back from the run. Along with a few more sweet ones for dessert for good measure!

If you would like to visit some of the others (highly recommended) then Sally is the originator of the idea, you can search for #wonderfulwednesday and these lovely folks all post too: JoHelenMichelleSarahKateCatSamEl , KerriMimmiMartinaIsabelle. 

first things first

The first of March.

The first six months of parenthood to our incredible little boy. So at six months old, I wanted to take a minute to celebrate him exactly as he is at the moment, before any more firsts happen and another six months fly by.

He has the most incredible giggle, a real full-on chortle that lights up a room. His favourite thing in the world is Millie, and he quite often bursts out laughing just at the sight of her. He has started to recognise his family, and generally greets those he knows with a toothy grin. His bottom teeth have been through for a while, and we have the first top one emerging at the moment, so there has been plenty of drool, and some funny faces as he gets used to the new addition!

We are just venturing into the world of food, so he doesn't really have any favourites, except to say that if I have spent time peeling, cooking, blending and spooning something he is far less inclined to eat it than when my parents offer him a chew on some pear. When he does humour me, he wants to hold the spoon himself, and occasionally manages to get it somewhere near his mouth.

He got a walker from my parents for Christmas, and he is often to be found moving disconcertingly quickly around the kitchen in his wheels. He likes to make a beeline for anything dangerous, such as a hot oven, drawers open at head height, those kind of things. He also follows the dog around, to try and open drawers, and more recently has taken to sidling up to me and grabbing my cardigan to chew on.

He can sit up now, but mostly prefers to be on his front, and has mastered the art of shuffling backwards, which means he often reverses under the sofa until his bottom prevents him from going any further. He will sleep for ages as long as he is curled up against someone's chest, but when he is awake he has to be on the go, and will get grouchy unless you are moving him around and walking about the place. Nappy changes are becoming an increasingly complex operation, as he doesn't want to lie on his back at all any more, and has taken to strewing the contents of his changing table about. Being showered with cotton wool balls while trying to fasten a nappy around a back to front baby feels like some kind of weird game show and all the things that were conveniently placed nearby are now having to be moved further and further out of reach.

He has absolutely no routine whatsoever, with the exception of having a bath and a book around the same time each evening. Sleep, both at night and during the day, is still largely unpredictable, and he can't bring himself to go to sleep if there is something more interesting going on. No matter how sleepy he is, he will keep himself awake if he gets the impression he might be missing out. He has been droopy-eyed as we have arrived at the library, but the minute the singing session starts he is wide awake and bouncing around again. Christmas Day and my birthday meal both found him awake long past his usual times because he could tell there was fun to be had! He does seem to have moved into his own room without much fuss at all, but I haven't quite brought myself to put away the travel cot from our bedroom yet!

He has just started to join in a bit more when we go out, and has started squealing along to the songs at the library, and also splashing me with alarming gusto in the swimming pool. It is lovely to be at the point where he is starting to interact, as usually when something is new he quietly takes it all in, which meant the first few swimming trips felt a lot like I was moving him around in the water while he looked at me somewhat nonplussed. Now I have no idea what he looks like because he keeps drenching me with water and laughing!

He has a few songs that he definitely likes, mainly the ones that involve lifting him up and down very energetically, and I am anticipating that I will soon have biceps of steel. He found me swinging a sock about disproportionately hilarious yesterday, and after a morning where he had been particularly unsettled, this raucous laughter suddenly broke through at the simple act of sliding a sock around the bed and absolutely made my day. We have lots of songs, a song for getting him dressed (the hokey-cokey), a song for putting socks on (an adapted version of once I caught a fish alive) which we sing a lot, and the theme tune to the crystal maze is a sure fire way to a smile. He likes train noises, which I have just discovered works particularly well for teeth brushing, a very exaggerated version of the ABC song, and my night time concerts tend to include Elbow, Travis, and more recently the full length version of American Pie which I now know word perfectly.

Life as a parent is so all-encompassing. It feels like we talk of little else, and the smallest things take on such huge significance. He has grown so very much, and there is something miraculous about seeing this little person that you have made gradually discover the world before your very eyes. He loves playing with his feet, and studying his hands, all normal, typical baby things, but seeing the gradual transitions up close really bring it home how fascinating human development is.

 I don't find motherhood easy at times, the introvert in me is having to get used to the fact that quiet alone time is a thing of the past unless I very deliberately seek it out, but I do find being his mum the most natural thing in the world. I love the way his head rests on my shoulder, how he wraps his arms around my neck, and that he has started placing his hands on top of mine when I'm doing the actions to songs. As much as the middle of the night waking is tough, I find something so peaceful sitting in the dark stillness as he drifts back off in my arms, and often sit up longer than I need to relishing the quiet bubble and the cuddles as he clings to me in his sleep. I love seeing my close family in new ways, he brings so much joy to those around me, and it is so special to see. Watching The Husband be such an amazing dad is incredible, even if T did utter something that sounded suspiciously like DaDa the other day, which I am trying not to be too perturbed by! Motherhood hasn't made me any better at small talk, or any better at walking into a group of people and making instant friends, but it has made me more confident, more independent, more proactive, and has given me a sense of strength. I would do anything in the world for him, and love him so fiercely it surprises me. 

I think he is going to be mischievous, and a bundle of energy. I expect to need eyes in the back of my head, and lightning reflexes. I already feel that I am wearing new glasses that highlight potential danger everywhere I look, and home seems to suddenly be awash with sharp corners and protruding edges. If his current personality is anything to go by though, he seems to be a very happy, content little boy, loving, giggly, and so very excited by the world, long may it last.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: February

For February, I chose to cook from The Hairy Bikers' Eat For Life, which is the second book in their Hairy Dieters range. I cooked from their third book as part of the Cookery Calendar Challenge last year with mixed results, and although I have used this book a lot before, I had a similar experience this time.

The first recipe I picked was a low-calorie chicken tikka masala. One of the things I like about this series of books is that there are lots of dishes that feel like hearty recipes or treat dishes with small changes to make them healthier. The "fake-aways" are a key feature, and it is good to feel like you can have what might otherwise be junk food without it being incredibly bad for you. This curry was simple, and didn't include too many spices, which some of the other recipes do, so I had in everything I needed. The marinade required a bit of planning ahead, and I served it with naan rather than rice, and it was a great weekend supper. I do enjoy vegetables in curries, which this didn't have, but there are other curry dishes with more of a vegetable based sauce that I will try in the future.

The second dish was sticky chicken with homemade coleslaw. I was less pleased with this one. Again, other than the white cabbage for the coleslaw, all of the ingredients were ones I had in, and I served it with wholewheat wraps and some potato wedges. The coleslaw was enjoyable, really fresh and tasted much lighter for being made with a mixture of yoghurt and mayonnaise. I preferred it to shop-bought, and would make it again, and as the rest of the cabbage is still in the fridge through lack of any other ideas, it might be making a reappearance soon! I was less of a fan of the chicken, although The Husband enjoyed it. I found it to be more of a loose sauce than a sticky glaze, and I don't enjoy chicken thighs as much as chicken breast, so I don't know that I'd be rushing to repeat it. It was a simple sauce, with a good flavour, that I might use in other dishes, but it wasn't quite the effect I was expecting from the description. I notice the blogger I have linked to above seems to have been more successful so I wonder if it might be worth a second attempt at some point.

I said last month that I would also like to include a monthly link to an online recipe, as I use them a lot, and then, typically, I didn't make a specific recipe from the internet this month, but I have used it for inspiration for a few dishes, including homemade raita and a tomato, mozzarella and basil conchiglie. I thought it was appropriate to share this one as it is also by The Hairy Bikers. I used it to make the pie filling, which I then topped with sliced potatoes rather than pastry. I haven't decided on next month's book yet, there are a few I am keen to try, and my friend bought me a tagine with a recipe book as a Christmas present so that will definitely feature in the project at some point. As always, use the link below to see what others have been cooking as part of Penny's brilliant challenge.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

word of the week

Well this is probably more a word of the fortnight, or perhaps even longer! Since I last wrote here it feels like lots and lots has happened, and while I'm not quite sure how February is nearly over, at the same time we seem to have crammed lots in to the shortest month!

The day before my birthday we got the brilliant news that The Husband had successfully been offered a new job. It is a promotion and a move to a new organisation, so it is an incredibly big achievement, and I am amazingly proud. It was a fabulous start to a long weekend of celebrations. We went on a bear hunt on my birthday (although I was sad to read the attraction has closed permanently after Storm Doris), it was a fun way to spend some time as a family, and then we had a lovely meal with my parents and Grandad at night.

We have also been to visit the church where we got married for a lovely mass, and then our wedding venue for a coffee. It felt special to be back and have our little boy with us. Valentine's day included a family 5k run as part of the running challenges I have been doing, and a meal at home.

The last week has also marked six months since our little boy was born, and in fact it turned out to be exactly a year since we told people I was pregnant at my 30th birthday party! After 6 months it's about time I actually decided what to call him on here, so I'm going to go with his initial, T, for want of anything more original! He is now sleeping in his cot in his nursery, and it felt like a big step for him to move out of our room, though a full night's sleep is proving elusive still! We also started the first steps to weaning but it has not been as straightforward as I expected, with lots of mess, and quite a lot of coughing and vomiting. A much thinner apple puree seems to have been more successful the last few days, but still only a morsel at a time! He is full of a cold, and teething too (we have a first top tooth making its appearance), so I'm pretty sure that must be playing part, and writing this I realise that it's less than a week since he first tried any food at all, so perhaps we are not doing too badly really! I didn't really get in to the habit of doing milestone posts when I was pregnant, or since he has been born, but I may yet do a six month one (albeit a little late) as I feel it will be nice to look back in the future and read what he was like at this age, particularly as we looked at his first outfits tonight and were shocked (and a little teary) at how much he has grown already.

My lovely Grandad has had quite a few scans and hospital appointments in recent weeks, and is also recovering from the same cough that seems to have laid most of us low repeatedly since Christmas. He is doing well otherwise, and if he wasn't having any tests we wouldn't know that there was any need for him to be seen, but it is always worrying seeing a loved one going through appointments and scans, especially when it's someone like my Grandad who is always so fit and well. Luckily we have had lots of happy trips too, including a brilliant concert at the Bridgewater Hall with him, and a fabulous night seeing Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl.

This week there have also been surprise visits from my best friend, new bedding purchased and duvet dry cleaning after an early morning vomiting explosion from T, and the usual swimming and library trips. I also managed to catch up with A Year with My Camera reading this weekend, and made some actual notes in a new notebook with pretty pens, which was a fun way to spend half an hour. I realise this has mostly turned into a diary post, but I wanted to spend some time reflecting on everything that has happened recently. This week has been quite tough at times, between the teething, the vomiting, the clean-up operations and the appointments for my Grandad, so it has been a lovely way to end the week realising how much the good stuff far outweighs any of the less positive parts. Having said that, I have just also realised that in order to finish my February challenge I need to do 8 miles in the next 2 days, so perhaps the whirlwind isn't over just yet!!

The Reading Residence