Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: July

Hopefully I'll manage to sneak in this entry just before the link-up closes for this month's Cookery Calendar Challenge. I am somewhat short on pictures, not because I didn't take some, but because I could not find a way to make the dishes appear photogenic and I was wary that my photography might do a disservice to the recipes!

This month I used a new recipe book that The Husband bought for me. It is the recipe book that goes with Eat Well For Less, a television programme that we sometimes watch. I commented that it would be interesting to see some of the recipes they use, and The Husband proved himself to be a better listener than I sometimes give him credit for and got it for me.

Overall, I found this book really impressive. It is a very different style of book to the beautiful Rick Stein one I loved a few months ago, far more functional and practical, but a lot of thought has gone into how it is written. There is a lot of basic information at the start, and then some of the recipes have clever adaptations, such as making three different meals out of one base recipe. Additionally, it has a full meal planner for two weeks at the back, which includes plans for using leftovers of certain dishes, and a full shopping list to go along side them. I feel like it's a genuinely useful book, really accessible, and would be great for anyone who wants to improve their confidence with cooking in a structured way.

As a result, some of the recipes are incredibly basic, so much as I liked the sound of the chicken and pesto pasta, I didn't follow the recipe for this challenge as it was as simple as it sounds. The recipes I did choose though were all really successful, though as with other books, I was surprised that the curry dishes didn't include more vegetables, particularly for recipes that are supposed to be healthier where possible.

First up was Chicken Tikka Masala. Other than the lack of vegetables, it was a really simple, tasty dish.There was a little bit of marinating involved, but all of the ingredients were ones I already had in, and it made for a really enjoyable meal.

The Husband picked Chickpea and Sweetcorn Burgers, which were an amazing success. I didn't have bread rolls when I made them, so used wraps instead, and served them with some sweet potato fries, and they were brilliant. I was surprised that The Husband had picked them to begin with, but even more surprised by how much he raved about them, though I was inclined to agree with him. The flavour was great, and they were reminiscent of falafel, though far more successful than last time I tried to make it. The recipe also included a lovely salsa which was a nice addition, and I would like to try these again very soon!

Finally I made the Chicken Dhansak, which was a good dish for using the lentils sitting in the cupboard, and was also a really enjoyable way to cook chicken thighs, which I don't usually enjoy. Having made rather a huge amount as an attempt at batch cooking, I didn't end up eating it that night. However (and this gives you an insight into the lack of organisation in my freezer), I lifted out what I thought was chilli for tonight's dinner, only to find upon defrosting that it was in fact this dish. So I am able to report back and let you know that it was another really lovely meal, the honey adding a hint of sweetness and the chicken having become really tender.

Overall I was really pleased with the recipes I made from this book, and there are plenty more that I would like to try. Do head over to Penny's page to see what else people have been cooking this month, meanwhile I will go and pick out a book for August!

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

first things first

The first of August.

The first year of parenthood is almost complete. I can't even fathom how we are here already! I am officially already back at work, although I'm actually using up annual leave before I return in September. So this is my final full month at home with T, and in these next few weeks he will have his Christening, his first birthday and his first taster sessions at nursery.

So many firsts ahead, but there were also plenty to be had in July. We had our first night away without T, who was beautifully behaved for his grandparents and barely noticed our absence. We, of course, spent the majority of our trip talking about him and looking at pictures of him and generally being the stereotypical parents away from their baby for the first night.

This last few weeks have also included our first real experience of a poorly baby. Nothing major, thankfully, but there have been high temperatures, and rashes, and copious amounts of coughing and snottiness. It has been more than a little worrying but he is absolutely back to full fitness now and as he gets over closer to taking his first steps he clambers about the house at increasing speed wreaking havoc at all times.

This weekend also brought another first for that beautiful dog in the picture. After eight weeks of training my lovely Millie passed her Kennel Club Bronze Award on Sunday. The examiner even commented on how exceptional her recall was for a beagle and I practically exploded with pride. She has definitely had her life turned upside down since T has arrived and has taken to it all with her typical good nature and so it was such a lovely moment for the two of us to have achieved something together and to be able to make such a huge fuss of her, putting her centre of attention for a little while.

I don't know how this blog will go in the coming months, I feel like each time I come to these posts it is the first time I have written in weeks, but the fact that I am still here tapping away means that I still plan to keep trying to stick with it in some guise or another.

I'm looking forward to August, even if it holds a few lasts as well as lots of firsts. I think back to this time last year and the waiting, and am so grateful for where we are today. Hoping you all have some lovely summer plans for the month ahead.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: June

Based on how well used the other books in the series are, I bought the latest book in the Hairy Bikers' healthy eating series as soon as I realised it had been released. The latest one is The Hairy Dieters Go Veggie and, as the title might give away, it is a vegetarian cookbook. I was excited to try this, especially as I've been gradually increasing the amount of meat-free cooking I do, but I really struggled to find two recipes I actually wanted to make.

Firstly, it is one of those irritating books where the list of ingredients include a "sub-recipe". For example, I was going to make a chestnut and mushroom pie until I realised that the already long list of ingredients included a portion of potato pastry. This is one of their healthy adaptations which involves making pastry from potatoes to reduce the calories, but it also added more steps and ingredients, as did the inclusion of mushroom stock, which was another sub-recipe listed at the back of the book. More than in other books, I also found that this one included some unusual ingredients that weren't readily available. Mushroom ketchup, for example, and Kashmiri chilli powder, both of which proved elusive when I did an online shop. 

So I wasn't particularly hopeful about the recipes I picked, as they felt like the best of a very limited bunch, and The Husband's face looked less than enthralled at the idea of a veggie tea when he got home from work. However, the Sweet Potato Saag Aloo was absolutely delicious. It even prompted The Husband to admit that he had enjoyed it more than he was expecting to, and I found it really simple to make. The sauce felt a little thin as I served it up but it was fine, and this was well-flavoured, hearty dish that we would have again.

The next dish was curried pumpkin fritters with coriander dipping sauce. I substituted the pumpkin for butternut squash, which was suggested in the recipe, and doubled up on the ingredient quantities. I expected The Husband would want something else after, but they were nice enough to be considered a meal in themselves. Again the flavours were really impressive, and the recipe was really simple and a definite success. T also enjoyed trying these, and the leftovers stored in the fridge and were handy for his meals, and my lunch over the following few days. I'm glad I doubled the quantity up, both because there was more than enough squash, and because it made a lovely meal.

So, overall, I don't know where I am at with this book. I've been really impressed by the recipes I tried but I'm still struggling to find many dishes that don't require obsscure ingredients or sneaky additional recipes, which means I don't feel particularly tempted to try many of the others. It's been a real contrast to last month's book when I couldn't stop making dishes from it, and still have some I want to try.

I'm not sure what book I shall delve in to next, but I shall definitely be joining in again next month. In the meantime, do check out the challenge on Penny's page, and see what other people have been making too.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

first things first

The first of July.

I'm feeling good about July. June was not a great month, there were plenty of great moments, but overall it was, what I believe is formally known as a bit of a flop. Right at the start of the month we met a friend for breakfast, and the waitress put the teapot down right in front of T, who promptly grabbed it before we could and scalded his hand. I'm only grateful that he only managed to slosh a little out of the spout rather than tip the whole thing over himself, and that autopilot kicked in and I got him to the toilets and under cold water almost as soon as I registered it was happening. He is absolutely fine now, and the blister has disappeared entirely, with no scarring, but much of the month was filled with bandages, dressings, appointments, worry, and a huge cloud of parental guilt. Add in my first visit back to work, which went brilliantly, but was hanging over me until it happened, lots of other niggles, including the most obnoxious cold-caller I have ever spoken to, and it made for a tense month over all.

However, today is a new month, and things are feeling much brighter already. This morning our beginners' running club did their first 5k of non-stop running, and as we rounded the corner to the finish, the rest of the club who had set off on their usual run ahead of us, were stood applauding us home. It was such a lovely, happy moment, and having for so long thought of running as a solo activity, I am thoroughly enjoying seeing it as a social sport.

July is my mum's birthday, and our wedding anniversary, and this will be our first as parents, and her first as a gran. We have a week away with T planned for our anniversary, followed by a night away just the two of us, our first time away from T overnight! 

July is also, officially, my first weeks back at work, as my 12 months of maternity leave comes to an end (how time has flown!). I am very lucky because I accrue my annual leave and bank holiday entitlement, and so I now take that in one block, which means although I will happily start to get paid again, I won't be going back to work physically until September, which I can still pretend is ages away yet.

This week will bring with it a trip out with a new friend, the first time we will have made the jump from chatting at various baby groups to actually socialising just the two of us (and babies too!), and also my first trip to the second of two book groups I have joined at the library. After a visit from a friend from work on Friday, catching up for the first time in months, I'll also be seeing another old work friend for her birthday tomorrow, and so its the first time in a while I've been feeling rather sociable.

So yes, July is feeling good, today there was ice-cream, and the park, and The Husband tidied while I was running so the spare bedrooms suddenly look like bedrooms rather than storage rooms for the first time since T was born. Tonight there has been Dr Who, and now a movie night, with our furry girl snuggled between us.

Wishing you all a very happy July.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge: May

For this month's Cookery Calendar Challenge I browsed the library for a recipe book, and the prospect of the Bank Holiday Weekend ahead drew my eye to Rick Stein's Long Weekends. It wasn't until I saw it while out shopping this week that I realised it was a new release, and though I don't own any Rick Stein books, I absolutely loved this book, both in terms of style and content. I found so many delicious recipes that I extended the loan just so that I could get chance to try a few more, and I loved the fact that it was almost part travel journal, based, as it is, around different trips to Europe. There is even a section at the back recommending places to visit in different cities, and the photography is beautiful.

There were lots of pasta dishes that I wanted to try, and there were two that I still have bookmarked. I opted for Farfalle with Peas and Pancetta, as farfalle is The Husband's favourite type of pasta, and though I loved getting out the pasta machine and was reminded how simple homemade pasta is to make, I soon regretted not opting for dish with a simpler pasta shape! The bows were very fiddly to make, and I was close to giving up and just doing a few for show. Instead, The Husband made the sauce, while I carried on shaping, and T sat in his highchair watching with what I can only assume was bemusement. The final result was lovely, and I was glad to have had a go, in future though I think my home-made pasta will likely be tagliatelle!

If arancini is ever on the menu, The Husband will order it, so I had to make Arancini Salsiccia when I saw it in the book. I found myself making saffron risotto at half eight in the morning while T had his breakfast, and then the rest came together in various stages over the day. I served them with some garlic greens, and they were absolutely delicious. The sausagemeat with fennel was a beautiful flavour, and they made a brilliant, filling meal. They initially seemed quite labour intensive from reading the recipe, but each component was relatively simple and they were well worth the effort.

I also made a Kima Bougasta, described as a Crisp Pork and Beef Pie with Onions, Red Peppers and Oregano. It was pretty much that simple, and I must admit when I saw the minimal ingredients I thought it might possibly be a little bland but it was a rich, flavoursome, filo-topped pie. All of the ingredients were ones I usually have in, so this is definitely one I will be trying again. Not the most picturesque dish, admittedly, but it didn't last very long!

I branched out into a dessert this month, too, and made Filo Pastries with Vanilla Cream, almost like a baklava with a creme patissiere filling. Making the filo triangles was another labour intensive process, and although the flavours were great, I wouldn't be tempted to make these again any time soon as they took a long time. It was good to work with filo, and to see how the triangles puffed up in the oven and then expanded as they were piped with the filling, and they were a lot more successful than I expected. They also got rave reviews from my parents who received some to serve when they had friends round for dinner, so it felt like the effort was well appreciated!

I'm sure I've used some online recipes at some point this month, but I can't remember any at all after running through all of those! I was really impressed with this book, a great mixture of simple and more complex dishes, from a range of countries, and every single one of them a complete success. I have just purchased the Hairy Bikers' latest book, which is a vegetarian one, so I may well use that for next month, unless another library book catches my eye. To see what other people have been making, visit Penny's blog using the button below, where she hosts the monthly link up.

Monday, May 29, 2017


We are back from a lovely week away with family. A large group of us rented a cottage in Wales, for birthday celebrations. After any trip I always find myself looking forward to travelling home, to returning to my own bed, a kitchen where I know where to find everything, unpacking the suitcase and getting back to normality. This time, though, there was not the same anticipation. While we were away the sense of escapism was heightened by there being limited internet access. Which meant that when I went to bed last Monday night and saw the alert on The Husband's phone about an explosion at a concert in Manchester I couldn't get online to find more information, so I drifted off to sleep assuming, hoping really, that it was a malfunction with the lighting, or pyrotechnics. Waking to the news on Tuesday was devastating, made all the more surreal by the fact that we were shut off from the world, both physically and electronically, tucked away in the Welsh countryside.

We watched the news, watched the vigils, the days had an undercurrent that had not been there before, but with young children to entertain there was not much time to sit and absorb what was happening. And so it was only on our journey home that I felt myself becoming increasingly reflective, as we drew ever closer to a part of the country that was reeling, the reality seemed to intensify, particularly as we were overtaken by a bomb disposal vehicle, sirens blaring, on the motorway. Arriving to the free local paper on the doormat, filled with news of those that were there, those that helped, those that were injured, rather than the usual, more mundane stories of everyday life. Arrests being made in towns that I know, towns that are very near, fear and shock filling social media feeds. There was no normality to return to.

Manchester is my home city. I was born there, forever grateful to a hospital and the team within it that saved two lives during my mum's pregnancy. I lived there when I was first born, and again as a student, moving into halls just moments away from that very same hospital. I graduated in Manchester, twice, and on the second occasion it was also where The Husband proposed. My love of theatre was cultivated there, some of my closest friendships started in those streets, I have memories, such fond memories, round so many corners. I have worked in both the inner city and its suburbs, and it is the place I probably know my way around most confidently, having walked so many of its roads over so many years. Which makes it all the more gut-wrenching to see those familiar streets of home filled with sirens, with screaming, and then with silence, on the continuous footage that filled the screens on Tuesday. I always find coverage of these atrocities unbearable, it isn't worse this time because it is nearer, but it is somehow all the more vivid when the horrendous events take place on streets where your own memories overlap with the images being shown.

My first concert was in that arena, I have been picked up outside that building after countless gigs, emerging into the night with giddiness, on a wave of excitement, making memories with friends, running to a parent waiting exactly where they said they would be, ready to hear about songs and spectacles, and safely deliver us home. I have rushed with The Husband down those very steps, through that same foyer, to catch the last train home, singing favourite choruses with hoarse voices. That station has punctuated my commute, that cathedral a favourite spot, those shops the place I have wandered on lazy Saturdays, or dashed through in a lunch-hour. It isn't that I didn't ever think it would happen here, I think I always worried that it would, indeed it has before. It's more that now it has, again, I don't know how to reconcile the imagery from this week with that which went before.

I don't usually write about these things, I usually to some degree close my eyes to it until the initial overwhelm has passed, mostly I think because I feel helpless, and to try and not let that turn into panic and fear. But somehow, seeing those streets, my streets, I find that I have words I want to say. I love that city, and the horror of the news was tempered with the sense of civic pride in the place and the people that make it what it is. Seeing the crowds, at vigils, at walks, at services, and then yesterday at the run, a run where my best friend, and her sister and brother-in-law, a family that is practically my own, took part, adds more images, so many life-affirming moments filling those same streets, reclaiming them, turning them back into a place where the best kinds of memories are made.

It can feel crass to focus on positives when there are families who have lost loved ones so senselessly, inappropriately optimistic to talk about not giving in to fear or to division when people have been killed. There is grief and shock, and  a sudden, deep rooted unease too. The city may speak of unbreakable spirit but, for some, hearts and homes have been irreparably splintered by what has taken place. In the face of such terror, though, as well as a sense of mass defiance, there was kindness. In the wake of one act of evil, were an immeasurable number of acts borne out of love, out of the best of humanity. It doesn't take away from the significance of what has taken place, or the devastation, yet at the same time it manages to outweigh it. 

I cannot claim that I will remain steadfast, I know I will be more fearful when I next visit the city. Tonight we go to watch a comedy gig at a venue in Manchester, although not in the city centre. Tomorrow my husband leaves for work, taking the train, for the first time since our holiday. I am scared. When my friends were running yesterday I tracked their every step on an app, willing them around that course, making sure I knew exactly where they were, cheering them on, yes, but also because watching the little markers move gave a reassurance that I needed.

This is not an isolated incident, and it is not the only place to suffer in this way. The news is filled daily with such atrocities all over the world. It is no worse because it happened here, and I know that it shouldn't be the case that we are more shocked, more outraged, more moved, when the lives lost are closer to home. Undeniably though, seeing a bomb disposal van on a local motorway, seeing the headlines in a local newspaper, seeing the streets of home cordoned off, and patrolled with armed police, brings it to the forefront, makes it seem more real than pictures on a screen. I see my darling boy sleeping, laughing, exploring life with such gusto, such fearlessness, and would do anything to protect him. I hate the idea of him going out into this world, where things like this can happen. Yet I know the idea of him not seeing the world is worse, because then he would never see the incredible sights or meet the amazing people it has to offer.

And that is what I have to remember, the overwhelming wave of good, the endless kindness of strangers, the quiet determination of people who walked into their city the next morning when trains were not running, the chorus of voices that chose to sing together rather than shout at one another. It has always, to me, been an iconic city, with a mood, a culture, an identity all of its own. The response to the events has been incredible, but also, somehow, completely normal for such a special place, and for the special people who call it home. I love Manchester.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

nine months

Today T turned nine months old. He has been in this world for almost as long as I carried him, though not quite, staying put, as he did, for as long as possible. Now he is here though, he has made himself just as at home, and just as comfortable in our world, becoming our world in the process.

As you can see from the photo above, he is now the proud owner of six teeth, with another two just about making their appearance.  His eyes are a mystery, varying from a deep blue to a slate grey depending on the light. We thought he had lots of hair when he was born, but looking back at pictures now we realise how much it has grown. He has a floppy fringe, and a little curl at the nape of his neck, almost a pony tail, that could probably do with a trim but we can't quite bring ourselves to cut it. His hair lies very straight, and neat, often looking like it has been brushed to one side, except for when he has been cuddled up with me and I can't resist the urge to stroke it into spikes!

It is so interesting to me to read how he was just three months ago, and realise how far he has come. He is now eating everything in sight, and after those few weeks where he seemed to be showing no interest at all, the joy of him enjoying food still hasn't worn off. He is far more adventurous than his dad, enjoying a whole variety of fruit, vegetables and fish that The Husband doesn't touch, loves to drink water, and has a slightly frustrating habit of dropping (or flinging with great glee) something that he has tired of onto the floor. I am trying to curb this by saying a vaguely firm "No" when it happens, which he responds to with a bright-eyed giggle that is rather infectious, making my attempts at admonishment someone ineffective as I laugh right back in return.

Perhaps an even greater change is that fact that we have gone from having no pattern to our days to having a very definite structure that seems to be suiting us well. When sleep seemed to be particularly elusive, something that seemed to keep coming up whenever I read anything was about a consistent routine and regular naps. I decided it had to be worth a try and it has occurred to me since that perhaps my little boy is more like me than I had realised, and relishes a structure and predictability to his days just as I do. After a few days of settling him to sleep at around the same time each day, he suddenly started to do it without any input from me, and now I find that each morning and afternoon, given the opportunity, he drifts off himself quite contentedly, seemingly very much his mother's son. He won't go to sleep easily in his cot, but in his pram, the car, or my arms he can drop off almost immediately, like clockwork. 

He now sleeps better at night too, whether because of the routine, or because he is eating better, or because his teething and general snottiness have abated a little, I'm not sure, but I love that he has settled into his own rhythm and seems so content with it. His interest in the world around him still takes precedence though, and he will fight sleep with every inch of his being if there is fun to be had, often dropping straight off after a sing at the library, or a splash in the swimming pool, but only when he knows all the interesting stuff has finished. I also must admit that I still take pleasure in sitting each evening, for much longer than I need to, holding him before I put him to bed. I will never tire of the feeling of his head against my shoulder, his palms splayed across my skin, occasionally gripping gently as though checking I am still there, as he drifts into a deep sleep. It is complete bliss to hold him, fresh from his bath, slightly damp hair and the gentlest of snores, watching the occasional smile play across his face and hoping he is having happy dreams, knowing he is safe in my arms.

He is a happy boy, gloriously happy. He usually wakes with a smile, and quite often of a morning will sit chatting to himself until we go in to see him. His noise of choice is babababa, but he also hums, squeals and blows raspberries as the mood takes him. Mama and Dada have not yet made an appearance, but he has quite animated conversations at times, and I can't wait to able to understand him and listen to what he has to say. He can now crawl at a lightning pace, and in the past week or so has been able to pull himself up onto his feet if there is something particularly tempting on the sofa that he would like to help himself to. His favourite things are phones and remote controls, though I am increasingly trying to keep those out of view, the dvd player, fireplace and oven, which are proving more difficult to hide! I find myself seeking out more play sessions out of the house, where I know we can go and spend a few hours in a relatively baby-proofed environment.

He doesn't really have a favourite toy. Millie will always capture his attention, and she is coping very well with the frequent ear grabbing and hair pulling that his new found mobility is bringing. He likes to bang things, and play with whatever toy I have just started putting away. A tower of any sort will be rapidly knocked down, and throwing anything up and down with sound effects is guaranteed to elicit raucous laughter for as long as the game continues. He is drawn to noise and screens, but also enjoys twanging the doorstop in our bedroom, and is definitely a fan of books, playing with them at length. I've quickly learnt that babies have board books for a reason, with one or two paper pages becoming the casualty of his over-enthusiastic scrunching.

He loves to watch the light when the car door opens, and still loves songs, now joining in with clapping his hands against mine with surprisingly accurate timing. Whenever he gets excited he waves his arms and kicks his legs, especially each morning as we head to the kitchen to see Millie for the first time that day, and he is a big fan of waving hello and goodbye, loving to be held up at the window so he can bang on the glass as anyone leaves. He has just recently started to interact more confidently with other babies, rather than just watching intently whenever we are in a group. His preferred method of introduction seems to be to nuzzle his forehead against someone else's, and I sit trying not to interfere in his first forays into making friends, whilst also trying to gently stop him grabbing hair, cheeks, and eyes, once his head rub has been accepted! 

His close family are the lucky recipients of his biggest smiles, he lights up when someone he knows walks into a room, particularly his daddy or his great-grandad, and though he has occasionally started to wobble his bottom lip when I try to stop him doing something he is determined to do, he is easily distracted from his imminent tears, and in general is incredibly good-natured. I feel like he makes motherhood incredibly easy, he is such wonderful company, and makes me feel like he thinks the same of me. I have laughed more in these last nine months than I can ever remember, and although his mobility brings an increasing fear of danger (for me, definitely not for him!) I am also in awe as I watch him grow and develop. 

He has even more of a personality now, and he seems to be a fun-loving, determined, adventure-seeking, happy boy who loves his family so whole-heartedly, and with such joy. I hope he knows we love him just the same way, and have felt so unbelievably lucky to share our lives with him, every single day of the last nine months.