New Year, New Food

shakshuka recipe

No, don’t be silly, of course this isn’t a diet or detox post. I hope you know me better than that by now. There is a time and a place for healthy eating, but I’m not sure that it’s January. This is actually about a little New Year challenge I have set for myself.

My calendar this year is a free one I got with the (free) Waitrose magazine. And I am challenging myself to cook the recipe of the month every month this year and then blog about it. I’m not stupid, I have been through first and checked that they all look edible (and manageable), but of course they do, this is Waitrose!

I love cooking, and I love browsing through my numerous recipe books, but very frequently I seem to be rushing to plan a week’s menus, and I get stuck in a rut and can only think of the things we ate the week before. This will hopefully be a prompt to try new ingredients, new combinations, new techniques, and maybe shake things up just a little bit.

January’s recipe is Shakshuka Egg Flatbreads. I absolutely love Shakshuka, or a variation on it, and it is a regular evening meal at our house. I have on occasion (when cooking for a visiting vegetarian) even made my own flatbreads to go with it, as opposed to sticking a couple of pitta breads in the toaster, which is what I tend to do on an ordinary Tuesday evening. But I had never thought of combining the two.

The recipe is for four, and I am pretty confident that there’s no way my children are going to be eating these (even if I lie through my teeth and tell them it’s pizza!), but I reckon that I could make the full quantity and then freeze two before the eggs go on, and then I’ll have a quick evening meal for another busy day.

So, all I have to do now is get on with making it!


Back to normality

winter climbing.JPG

Well, there we are. Christmas is all over for another year. I followed my own advice, and successfully avoided festive fatigue, and we had a really lovely and relaxing time.

It helped very much that, after having Christmas at home, we went to my brother and sister-in-law’s for a few days. It was great to see them and catch up, and as always I’m reminded that 4:2 adults to children is a very helpful ratio. It really does take a village to raise a child, and seeing the children doing and learning things with their aunt and uncle (sewing, yoga, juggling!) which they’re definitely not going to get from their parents, is lovely.

It was also a few days off cooking, and away from the Christmas chaos of my own house. What is it about Christmas that means suddenly there is no surface in the house which isn’t covered with new toys/games, wrapping paper, packaging, sellotape, dirty crockery or glasses, crumbs? Or is that just me? There were only 5 of us for Christmas Day, but from the mess we made you would think that there were at least double that number! It didn’t help that the dishwasher conked out on December 23rd, and we couldn’t get an engineer to fix it until 2nd January!

However, the children went back to school and preschool yesterday, and I began the process of getting organised. We will take the decorations down tonight, and then I can arrange new bits and pieces nicely, and perhaps replace the desiccated holly with a nice big bunch of spring flowers.

Of course, it isn’t spring yet, there’s still a long old haul of dark, cold and wet days. I don’t mind too much, though. I’m not starting a new restrictive diet or crazy exercise regime (although possibly adding some food groups other than cheese, chocolate and sausage, and a little more exercise than lifting the remote control might be a good idea), and I’mm happy to hygge on down for the next couple of months. I’ve got a few projects on the go, and with Sophia moving to 15 hours a week at preschool I’ll have a bit more time to pursue them.

So yeah, bring it on January! Happy New Year, everyone.

Being Kind

Last week was not a good week. It kicked off with Sophia ill with a high temperature and a cough. The cough was worst at night, so we were getting woken up every couple of hours by  distressed little girl. Then I discovered Anna had nits (again), and so we had to add daily assaults with the nitty gritty comb into our daily routine, which was popular with everyone. The weather was cold, grey, foggy and, it turns out, poisonous. Air quality in London hit a record low, and it felt impossible to get properly warm. Then Anna fell off the climbing frame at school and hit her head, and then vomited, and then complained her vision was blurry, so we ended up at the GP and then being sent off to A&E. She only had a mild concussion, and is fine now, but it was fun at the time. Then Sophia fell downstairs, top to bottom – she was totally unharmed, but this was the morning after the night in A&E, so my nerves were pretty shattered. The week was rounded off by Sophia falling off the bouncy castle at a party on Sunday and having one of her seizures. And this is before even thinking about the terrifying and depressing political developments in America.

But yesterday, even though it was Monday, and (still) January and (still) cold things suddenly felt better. I had a text message telling me that some friends of ours had had a baby daughter at the weekend, and baby news always makes me happy. I took Anna out for a hot chocolate and some quality mother and daughter time whilst my MIL looked after Sophia, and was reminded how lucky I am to have this bright, funny, imaginative girl. I went out for dinner with my closest friend from those early, blurry, sleep-deprived first baby days and we had a proper catch-up and marvelled at the passing of time which means we are now parents to nearly-eight-year-olds. And after pre-school, Sophia asked if she could sit on my knee to have lunch instead of going in her high chair. I agreed, and she leant back into me, snuggling her head against my chest, and said contentedly “Love you” for the very first time.

Someone I know from years back posted on Facebook this morning that protests against Trump’s policies or against Brexit, are utterly pointless, and instead we should be directing our efforts to loving our friends and family, volunteering at church, supporting colleagues at work and taking the time to be nice to people who we come across in daily life. I couldn’t agree, or disagree, more.

Being kind to the people around us is what we should be doing anyway, and all the more so when there seems to be such a dearth of kindness in high places. And the only way to get though these dark political times is to take time to appreciate and value the little things – sharing a meal with someone you love, the sleepy weight of a child on your lap, a conversation with a friend. But right now I also think those of us who believe in hope not hate should try to do a little more, go a little further, and make our voices heard just as clearly as those I firmly believe are far fewer in number but shout much louder.

This morning I have followed More United‘s advice as to what we can do to fight the horrendous ban on Muslims from certain countries entering the US – a ban which is going to tear families and friends apart. I donated some money to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the ban. I posted a supportive message on my MP’s Facebook page, as Stella Creasy is being very vocal in encouraging the British Government to speak out, and MPs who are taking this stance need our support, just as those who are not speaking out need to know that this is something their constituents care about. And I co-signed the letter which Hope Not Hate are sending to Theresa May, asking her to unequivocally condemn Trump’s actions.

None of this took very long out of my day, and none of it stops me also continuing to try  (even though I don’t always succeed) to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, neighbour and friend. Love and hope are stronger than hatred and fear, and we can, and must, prove that.



Fat chance


I am always adamant that January is no time to start a punishing diet or fitness regime, no matter what the scales might be telling us. It is cold, it is dark, there is an inevitable crash after the excitement of Christmas, and spring is still a long way off. This year, for good measure, Donald Trump has just become leader of the free world. Seriously, this is not a good time to give up chocolate, cake and wine – they may be the only things which get us through. I love my blogger pal Mostly Yummy Mummy’s latest post on how to take care of yourself and create your own sunshine this January –  wise words indeed.

However. Despite all this sensible advice I give myself, diets, dieting, fitness regimes and weightloss plans are everywhere in January, and and it is very hard not to be drawn into feelings of panic and insecurity. Especially when you managed to lose half a stone slowly and painfully over the autumn before putting it all back on again in December.

I’ve blogged about my relationship with my weight before. I’m not hugely over-weight, but I put on a gargantuan 4.5 stone when I was pregnant with Sophia and now, shortly after her second birthday, I’m still 1.5 stone heavier than I was when I got pregnant. I have no desire to conform to media expectations of what women should look like, and I know that realistically I am far too greedy to ever make it to a size 10 or below. But this extra weight pushes my BMI into the borders of the ‘overweight’ category, and takes my waist measurement to dangerously near what the NHS considers to be the ‘at risk’ zone for health problems. I’ve also got some really nice clothes which no longer quite fit. Losing that extra baby-weight (I’m sticking to this definition, rather than the possibly more accurate ‘chocolate brownie’ weight), would take me from my current top end of a size 14 to my former comfortable size 12, and I would prefer that for lots of reasons. Not least being that if I continue to put on half a stone every Christmas and fail to lose it, it won’t be long before I have a very big problem indeed.

So what do I do? One half of my brain is telling me to bite the bullet, enrol in Slimming World or Weightwatchers, endure three months of restricted eating to lose 2lbs a week, and then job done. The other, possibly more sensible part, is telling me that I am nearly thirty-six and I need to grow up and make peace with my relationship with food.

Apparently something like 95% of diets don’t work, in the sense of losing weight and keeping it off long term. That’s not a very encouraging statistic. If you told me a new washing machine had only a 5% chance of still working in three years time I very much doubt I’d buy it.

I no longer believe that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, in fact I think that’s an unhelpful distinction to make. Obviously there is more nutritional value in a tomato than a Creme Egg, but a sugary chocolate egg doesn’t have a moral value. Eating it doesn’t make you bad, any more than resisting it makes you good. I’m sceptical about organised diet programmes which penalise eating avocado or olive oil and promote sugar-free jelly or FryLight spray.

What I do believe is that I eat for positive reasons – because I’m hungry, because it tastes nice, because it’s fun to share a meal with friends or family, because I want to give my body fuel and energy, but also for negative ones – because I am lonely, bored, angry, tired, stressed or miserable. One of the reasons I have struggled to lose  weight recently is that I have spent quite a lot of time in the past couple of years being lonely, bored, angry, tired, stressed or miserable. Sometimes all simultaneously.

Hopefully things are improving. Sophia settling into pre-school gives me a better balance between full-time mothering and some time and space for myself. After a series of sessions with a psychologist I am coping much better with the PTSD and anxiety I was suffering from. And by and large (fingers crossed) Sophia is sleeping pretty well, ergo so am I. We won’t talk about the recent cold which caused her to wake up pretty much every hour on the hour screaming “Mummmeeee, where are youuuuu?”.

I don’t really want to ‘do a diet’. Partly because I’m not convinced it’s the best route, for me, to what I want, which is long-term good health and healthy habits. Partly because young girls are very vulnerable to developing poor body image, and at nearly eight Anna is extremely shrewd and observant, and I don’t think that watching mummy weigh out her Special K every morning sends a particularly positive message. And partly because I am feeding a family which includes a growing toddler, an energetic school girl and a husband with a metabolism the speed of light who has a tendency to lose weight if he gets stressed, something which happens a fair amount when you’re starting a new business. Just because I have the metabolism of a depressed slug and a tendency to eat family sized bars of Dairy Milk when I get stressed is no reason they should all suffer, and I certainly can’t be bothered cooking endless separate meals, or watching them tuck into homemade sausage and mash while I munch away on a low-cal ready meal.

But equally not being ‘on a diet’ can’t be a carte blanche to eat everything I want. Unfortunately I just want to eat too much of lots of things! I don’t want to calorie count or weigh food or ban entire food groups, but I can’t eat as many sweet treats as I would like to and avoid putting on weight and becoming unhealthy. So my plan is something like this:

  1. Eat three balanced meals a day.
  2. Watch the amount of carbs, especially high GI ones like white pasta and potatoes.
  3. Limit sweet snacks between meals to once a day. I know a lot of people would say once a week, but I’m trying to be realistic.
  4. Wait until I’m hungry, don’t eat for the sake of eating or because it’s expected.
  5. Get a pedometer and walk as much as possible, at least the recommended 10,000 steps a day, but more whenever possible.
  6. If I fall off the wagon, don’t write the whole day off and think that because I had a pain au chocolat for breakfast this is now a reason to think sod it all and have chips for lunch, pizza for dinner and an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s as an afternoon snack.
  7. Give myself 6 months doing this, and if I’m gradually losing weight, great, and if not then think again.
  8. Put these aims on my blog so that I can’t wiggle out of them.

Oh, and maybe not start until February…



The longest month

Just three weeks ago I blogged about how January wasn’t too bad after all. Clearly I was too smug, too soon, because I am now suffering from January blues along with the rest of the Western world. It is such a long month! Christmas already feels several lifetimes ago, and there is still another week of January left!

It is dark when I drag myself out of bed in the morning, and getting dark by the time we get home from school pick up. When it’s wet playtime at school Anna comes home a bundle of frustrated energy, and it is just too cold and gloomy to face taking her to the park to run it off (it’s not me who doesn’t want to stand around in the freezing cold twilight, you understand, it is because I have to consider what is best for Sophia), so she comes home and runs it off in the house instead.

I’ve had a mini flare up of a long-term health condition, which isn’t at all serious, but has left me feeling completely run-down and exhausted – not helped by a teething baby waking up several times each night. Anna came down with a cold last week, which she has now passed on to me, and, judging from the amount of baby sneezes this morning, to her little sister as well.

The fact that I spent half my housekeeping budget for the month in the first few days of it as we entertained friends and treated ourselves to celebration meals (and bottles of fizz) over New Year is now coming back to haunt me now, and we’re definitely going to be living off the contents of the freezer and the store cupboard for the next week. I will be googling imaginative things to do with lentils, tinned kidney beans and corned beef shortly.

I’ve been trying to keep positive and optimistic, because there were still good things going on: Sophia has started walking, which is exciting, and we have booked a home exchange holiday to Paris and Marseille at Easter which I am looking forward to soooo much, although it seems light years away at the S walkingmoment. This morning, though, my husband had a meeting with his accountants to finalise his tax return, and they casually informed him that his employer have been using the wrong tax code all year, and so he owes an extra £3,000 in tax, payable right now. That was the moment when I had to put up my hands and concede defeat. I’ve fought it, but January has got me.

So roll on February. Not everyone’s favourite month, I admit, but I like it. My birthday is in February, it’s Pancake Day, Valentine’s Day and half term – lots of little treats to look forward to – and the mornings and evenings should be getting lighter all the time. The level of hibernation I’d really like to go right now for isn’t possible with a six year old who needs to go to school each day and an energetic almost-toddler, both of whom insist on a certain amount of feeding, washing and entertainment,  but please excuse me if I spend as much time as humanly possible for the rest of this month in my pyjamas, wrapped in a blanket or duvet, eating the last of the Christmas chocolate and moaning to anyone unwise enough to attempt to engage me in conversation.