Monday, 30 July 2012

Ted: A birth story

Oh my Ted.
It took me months to write Arthur's birth story, and yours has been a much longer time coming. Two years have passed now since you came into the world, dramatically, making your presence known from the start as you've done every day since then.

Due on the fifteenth of July, 'that's ok' we thought, a full ten days before your big brother's third birthday. Your brother was big, but I was even bigger - most people thought there were two of you in there, it was such a giant bump. I couldn't wait for you to be born. 

But you made me wait, over two weeks by the end. Arthur's birthday came and went, a few contractions materialised in the evening (how could we have two born on the same day but three years apart? Neither of you would thank me for that) but amounted to nothing. The midwives kept an eye on you, sending me to the hospital for scans and checks, making sure you were still happy. No-one picked up that there might've been something amiss.

By day fourteen, I'd been booked in for induction. They couldn't wait any longer for you, despite your head being engaged and a 1.5cm dilation. When it came for the induction to begin, the midwife made a final check but couldn't feel your head. No longer engaged, it seemed. In the time it took me to walk from the ward to the scanning room, that head of yours was down again, and we began the induction again. For six hours I willed the contractions on, it felt as though they were increasing in duration and intensity, but when our time was up the consultant didn't agree. Next, they decided to break my (your) waters, a complicated procedure with an 'unstable' babe as there is a chance of the cord prolapsing. All went well, though, and it was only then that a diagnosis was made, three pints later, of polyhydramnios - excess amniotic fluid. An ocean. That explains your reluctance to be born - your head would engage but bob out again - and that's why I looked big as a whale. 

Once the waters have gone, time ticks by, every second counts in the vain attempt to labour naturally, without that dreaded drip I'd read so much about and feared more than anything. By 11.30pm, our lovely midwife Sharon told us it was showtime. The drip was hooked up and cranked up to 11 - we decided to go for it. In an hour and a half, I went from three cm to fully dilated - terrifying agony, although the gas and air helped a little bit. But the monitor told us you weren't happy either, and by the time I was ready to push I knew something wasn't right at all. The room filled up with nurses and doctors who made me lie on my back and held me down and shouted at me to push. 

Four minutes later you were born, blue as a bruise. The cord round your neck made it difficult for you to breath and you were taken away for oxygen, but your little lungs were fine and you let us know with a fine cry. Precious boy, you were a whole pound bigger than your big brother, weighing in at 9lb 8oz. After a few hours of recovery, a bath, and the best meal in the world - tea and toast - we headed up to the ward. Your dad had to go home but you and I lay together for the first time with you on the outside, as I tried to make sense of that fraught few hours. After a couple of hours of sleep and an awful hospital lunch, your dad brought your brother to meet you for the first time. We were four - a square now, not a triangle.

Our first weeks with Arthur had been so hard, but with you it was different. I was high on your heady new smell, your heavy warm body asleep on my chest. You made me see what all the fuss is about, and for that I'll be forever grateful.

Two years on and you are just so precious. Willful, stubborn, loud and strong, but also funny and sweet, generous and loving. You like to drink your milk from a tiny goblet the size of a thimble. You have suddenly become obsessed with Bob the Builder after nearly two years of resolutely ignoring the TV. You love to scoot fast and fearless, and as we watch you racing away we imagine the kind of dangerous career you'll pursue - driver of toxic substance lorries, deep sea diver, bungee jumper, mountain climber. You understand when people are sad and need a big Ted bear hug or a loud and firm kiss ('mwah!'). You are all blond curls, blue eyes and the longest eyelashes ever seen. But you're also a glint in the eye, a cheeky grin, a gappy, Pappy smile.

Teddy, we love you. Happy 2 x  

Friday, 27 July 2012

Recipe: Banana and Chocolate Birthday Cake

Everyone I know seems to have a July birthday - hello crabs! Much of this month has been taken up choosing and wrapping presents, making cards, and baking birthday cakes. 

I have gone old-school with cakes. My current favourite way to decorate is with copious amounts of icing both inside and on top, and a very generous application of sprinkles. Nothing more.

This cake is a good alternative to the classic sponge with jam I also tend to make regularly. It's a good way to use up over-ripe bananas, and the chocolate spread makes it a fast one to ice too.

Recently, I bought a couple of 6" cake tins which are brilliant at producing those thicker, taller cakes, which I can't seem to stop Pinning. Of course you can use 7" or even 8" tins but the result will be a bungalow rather than a skyscraper.

Banana and Chocolate Birthday Cake

220g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.5 tsp salt
110g unsalted butter, melted
170g caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 medium bananas, very ripe, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g chocolate spread/Nutella

1. Preheat the oven to 160-170C/Gas mark 3.
2. Grease the cake tins and set aside.
3. Sieve together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt into a medium bowl.
4. Melt the butter (I do this in a mug in the microwave for 20 seconds or so), then add this to the bowl of a mixer or a large bowl if you're using a hand mixer.
5. Add the sugar and blend together with the butter.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the bananas and the vanilla.
7. Finally, add the flour, a third at a time, beating well.
8. Divide between your prepared cake tins and bake in the centre of the oven.
9. After 30 minutes, test the centre of your cakes with a toothpick which should come out clean. If not, bake for another 5-10 minutes until the toothpick comes out clean.
10. Leave the cakes in their tins on a rack to cool down, before turning out.
11. When the cakes are completely cool, use half of the chocolate spread to sandwich the two halves together, and the rest of the spread on top. Follow with your choice of sprinkles, candles or whatever your heart desires.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

An Uncle Sam birthday

This time last year, my brother was working in New York over the summer. That meant he missed his nephews' birthdays which was sad, but when I watched this incredible film he made for them it more than made up for his absence. Also? I cried like a baby.

I think it's perhaps the best birthday present you could ever wish for - something we'll all treasure for a very long time.

There's no topping it so I'll just have to say a modest happy 5th birthday, my Arthur x


I'll be away for a bit but expect a few scheduled posts coming up. I hope you'll enjoy them - have a great, sunny week, y'all!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Snapshot: A sunny, celebratory weekend

We did it! The party was a roaring success and we came out the other side, relatively sane and unscathed. As a reminder for next year, or for anyone looking for kids' birthday shortcuts, here's what worked:
:: The sun shone. Always makes everything seem infinitely better, doesn't it?
:: A good venue - we managed to find a place with a large main room, a garden, and a curtained off section at the end.
:: A bar for the grown ups - hic - plus we supplied a good spread of bread, cheese, cold meats.
:: The section at the end had seating and a projection screen. After an hour or so of games, we showed Ice Age 3 and the kids were mesmerised.
:: We made up 47 (!) picnic boxes in advance, using those cardboard takeaway containers. Each had a sandwich, a bag of crisps, and a fairy cake. Despite a last-minute fear they'd all go hungry, this was plenty of food for small people who were busy watching the film and ate every crumb.
:: Film and food is a winning combination - handing out the boxes made us feel like BA cabin crew. From now on, I shall look to them for all tips concerning crowd control in confined spaces.
:: Any old cake is a masterpiece when iced generously and luridly, and topped with 100s and 1000s and a few favourite toys.

An hour and a half later and it was all done and dusted. Our not-quite-5-year-olds were thrilled with it all - phew. Still have the ACTUAL birthday to do later in the week, but the stressy part is over.

Other noteworthy, weekend-y type things included snapping some beautiful skies, cirrus clouds and a turquoise dusk; taking delivery of my awesome new lens, inspired by Manual Overdrive, the photography course I'm on at the moment (and loving every minute, it's completely changed my thinking already); a school holiday cinema trip; iced coffee and gardening; plus homemade pizza, pea shoot salad, and bitter shandy (extra special as I grew the pea shoots so they were super-fresh).

Friday, 20 July 2012


"When I'm five, will I be able to lick my elbow?"

I am a winter baby so I know nothing of the heartache of watching all your classmates celebrate their birthdays before you. Both my babies are July-born, and I'm starting to realise what a big deal it is to finally hit that birthday and be in the 5 gang (or 6 or whatever).

Aside from the yearning, I love the magic of it all, the belief that everything changes overnight and he'll be able to do things he could never do at 4. Bowie knew the truth (as ever) - I've always loved his song, 'When I'm Five'.

This week has passed in a fog of end-of-term celebration and party planning - 40 kids turning out for a joint fifth birthday party tomorrow. Admitting to feeling ever-so-slightly TERRIFIED.

See you on the other side...

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Too old

Cocktails at Harvey Nicks by oysterpots

This weekend was a blast. Busy and drunken, but the best fun.
Friday night was spent at the launch of my favourite exhibition of the year so far, Unnatural-Natural History. Many of the artists were there, and were the loveliest, most interesting, talented people you could hope to meet, as are the curators Coates & Scarry. I love it when everything is beautiful and brilliant as it was that night, and remains, and will be until the show comes down on 23 September.

Saturday night was also a late, alcohol-fuelled one, with a birthday party for my friend Karen. We drank cocktails at Harvey Nicks before heading to Cosie's, a Bristol institution I haven't set foot inside for many, many years. It hasn't changed at all, and we had a smashing time drinking, laughing, chatting and dancing. Dancing!

These days my dancing partners are knee-high and so my current boogie style involves a slight crouch and hand-holding - I must've looked a proper fool dancing with an imaginary kid that night but I didn't care. It felt liberating and joyous, dancing at 3am without a care in the world, in a short skirt and bright red lipstick.

Sunday morning was a different story though. I'm still recovering - I'm too old for two late nights on the trot. But it was definitely worth it.


In other news, I'm a student on Manual Overdrive 2012 - a course run by Capturing Childhood (hence that button over there <---). Can't wait, as I have been trying (and failing) to learn how to use my DSLR properly for years. Will I crack it this time, finally? Hope so.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Summer supper club

Back in May, the lovely Lia Leendertz, gardening writer for the Guardian and the Telegraph, came to speak to Malago WI about growing edibles in pots. During her talk, she mentioned the Supper Club that she and fellow gardening writer, Juliet Roberts, founded earlier in the year. It sounded fascinating, and as soon as I saw the tweet advertising places for Lia and Juliet's Summer Supper Club I swiftly booked my place.

On Saturday at 8pm I arrived at Lia's house, not really knowing what to expect - this was my first foray into the world of supper clubs. Most of the other guests had arrived, and we were introduced out on Lia's candlelit verandah. Mint Julep in one hand, broad bean crostini in the other, it was a very promising start.

Lia's garden was beautiful, as of course you'd expect it to be, with fairy lights twisting round tree trunks and creeping like tendrils out into the threatening night sky. The potted plants by our feet were bright and obscenely green. Much of the produce on the menu was grown by Lia and Juliet, either in their gardens or at their allotments. July is the perfect month to sample some of England's best edibles so I was very excited when we were ushered into the dining room for our first course, ten of us around a beautifully-laid table.

The chilled cucumber soup with dill oil and borage arrived in a tea cup, picture perfect. I admit to having been a little apprehensive about this course as I'm not a huge fan of cucumber, but L&J managed to capture the essence of cucumber in a delicious soup which was exactly the right temperature and consistency. I was converted.

Next, a tempura courgette flower filled with mozzarella and served with homemade pesto. Much more my thing, and I think I was the only guest to go for seconds of this course. Later in the meal I understood why the more seasoned supper clubbers resisted, but I am greedy at the best of times and couldn't resist another taste of this lovely dish.

Supper clubs are usually BYO as they are unlicensed, and my fellow guests were beginning to relax as  conversations moved beyond small talk. At my end of the table I spoke to a fellow blogger and her partner, a photographer, a teacher, and an interior designer, all of whom were interesting and friendly. Many guests had come on their own which added to the sense of ease with which we conversed. Further down the table sat a fellow WI member, and the subject of the Women's Institute engulfed the entire table at one point.

My favourite course was the baby vegetable tarte tatin with allotment veg a la Francais, which came with garlickly, oily potatoes. The tart was utterly delicious - the pastry was perfect, the vegetables still had a bit of bite and included fennel which worked so well with the flavour of the caramelised tart. The allotment veg featured all my favourites - baby leeks, lettuce and peas.

But then came the allotment salad. Everything grown by L&J, the lightly-dressed lettuce bed was peppered with patty pan squash and jewelled with nasturtium leaves and flowers, and marigold petals. I have a well-documented love of edible flowers, so this was my idea of heaven.

Just when I thought I couldn't eat another mouthful, out came the piece de resistance - gooseberry knickerbocker glory. Layers of gooseberry puree, elderflower ice cream, crushed shortbread, and chantilly cream came in a traditional KG glass, with crystallisted elderflowers, a generous chunk of shortbread, and topped with a pink gooseberry. It was possibly the best pudding I've ever eaten. Pink gooseberries! I didn't even know they existed. I just wished I had turned down that second courgette flower as I really couldn't eat all my pudding, despite giving it a good go.

Finally, Lia served a fresh lemon verbena tea with a small Middle Eastern cake called a honey and rose basboosa scattered with crystallised rose petals. Somehow I managed to find room for this final treat - lucky, as it was fabulous.

By this time, Lia and Juliet joined in the conversation at the table - until that point, they'd been working hard in the kitchen in full view of the table, which must've been somewhat stressful. You'd never know it, though, as they both seemed so calm.

Supper clubs are a great way to meet people and sample some amazingly inventive, home-cooked food in a lovely relaxed environment. I'd recommend joining Lia and Juliet's mailing list, Bristol/southwest folk, as this small, quarterly supper club is a rare treat. I can't wait to find out what they're planning for the Autumn menu.


Monday, 9 July 2012

Snapshot: A weekend of ups and downs

How it happens, sometimes, isn't it? I'll spare you the downs. Here are the ups.

:: Blue skies...
:: ... and a picnic
:: Strawberry picking! At last.
:: Jumping in muddy puddles
:: A joint 2nd/5th birthday party that was so huuuuuge it necessitated 57 party bags. Surely a record?
:: Birthday celebrations of a different kind with a grown-up meal out
:: A much-needed haircut for my boy
:: Snapped my favourite front garden in full wild bloom
:: And I went to my very first supper club, which I'll write about in more detail in another post. It definitely deserves its own.

The owners of the PYO were saying this season's been awful, and that they (and many others like them) are really struggling. So, a little plea - next time the sun shines, please support your local strawberry farm. It's such a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon, especially with kids. I'll post my favourite ice cream and jam recipes over the rest of the summer. Mmmm...

Friday, 6 July 2012


Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

I am writing this on a day when the forecast says a whole month's worth of rain will fall in just 24 hours. It is July. Supposedly summer. June was just about bearable, a bit of blue sky here and there. But when July began with more of this eternal, infernal rain, I got cross.

In a vague attempt to exercise control over such an uncontrollable issue, I began a Pinterest board full of all the things I'd planned to do this summer. Perhaps we're over the worst of it (says the optimist in me) and I can still fill our summer days with trips to the beach or to open air pools. Make giant sandcastles, drink iced coffee, eat ice creams, fish and chips with a sea breeze. Fly kites. Ride bikes. Pick strawberries now and blackberries later, make jams and ice creams. Swim. Wear sandals. Maybe even camp (I do not say that lightly, I am strictly an indoor type).

There are so many amazing events planned for summer too - the festival circuit looks fantastic for 2012. I'm desperate to go to Green Man, especially now that Metronomy are topping the bill. Wilderness Festival looks absurdly good - who could resist a giant Bugsy Malone splatt-off, a Toast-curated spa, an Ottolenghi banquet, or foraging with Alys Fowler?

I can't wait to see Giffords Circus in action, something I've wanted to witness for years. Plus of course there are the big Bristol summer events - the Harbour Festival, the Balloon Fiesta, See No Evil 2.

Let's hope rain doesn't stop play too much. Although I have a few indoor activities up my sleeve too - Unnatural-Natural History at the RWA, Ice Age 4 at the cinema, plus children's theatre The Egg in Bath, hopefully a visit to the Damien Hirst at Tate Modern before it finishes.

Here's a playlist for summer. I began making it to cheer me up but it turned out a bit melancholy. That's what mizzle does to me, I'm afraid.


Monday, 2 July 2012

Snapshot: An impromptu weekend

Oyster & Pearl blog - food | family | home | life

When we woke on Saturday, there was no plan. A vague thought that we might go strawberry picking, but the rain soon put paid to that idea. Instead we ended up doing one of those impromptu 'let's move stuff around' affairs. After the art trail there were still a few bits and bobs which had been moved out of the way but never quite made their way back, and I'd shifted a sofa to provide extra seating for book group last week, so the slate was clean and ready for a new arrangement.

The resulting layout has a reading nook in the window just waiting for Ted to sign 'book' and leap up for story after story. We brought down a little kid-size table and chairs which now sit under the blackboard and next to the play kitchen - perfect for play dough, drawing and sticking. And a new/old rug allows for a slightly softer surface underfoot.

Oyster & Pearl blog - food | family | home | life

And later, a third birthday party for Madeleine - no need to think too hard about what cakes to bake (I loved Dan Lepard's instruction for how to make the 'sensuous nipple' on top). Sunday's cooking involved classic jam tarts, and an improvisation when no local shops had a free range bird left for roasting. Instead, we marinated chicken breasts in olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, oregano and fresh mint, then chargrilled. To accompany the chicken, we ate new potatoes, and a wonderful Ursula Ferrigno recipe for green beans in a garlic sauce.

As seems to come hand-in-hand with heavy rain came arguments, cabin fever and raised voices, but the sun shone on Sunday afternoon and we raced into the garden to enjoy some rays, potted a few plants and managed to get one load of laundry dry. Thank goodness, as this rain is forecast for EVER. Will it ever end?

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