Cutie Pie

It’s winter, so I’m on a massive bake- and preserve-athon. Every year I say I won’t do it, and every year my greed overrules my mind.

It was all the fault of my local farm shop, What’s For Tea Tonight? Marie, the owner, had made a beautiful display of seville oranges and lemons that tempted me from their huge basket, backed with printouts of a good recipe for marmalade.

“Oh, go on”, I crumbled, “I’ll just have a cheeky wee 700g of oranges”.

That made 5 jars-worth of marmalade. As it always does, the heavenly smell of the marmalade cut through the stuffiness of the indoors-smell all houses seem to fill up with in winter. It also cut through a horrible cold I have. And after 6 years of making it every January, I finally made a fairly epic-free batch of marmalade that set, without chopping bits off my fingers, burning anything, spilling anything, setting fire to anything, swearing at the jam thermometer, smashing the set-testing saucer, etc. etc. So I had to make some more! I meant to make red grapefruit marmalade, because 1 big fruit makes 2 neat jars, but with one thing and another I ended up making citrus marmalade: red and pink grapefruit, lemon and blood orange. It ended up quite gently set, but oh my word, it’s a good batch! 5 jars again, and beautifully tangy and aromatic.

So then that set off my cravings for cupcakes. I’ve been thinking of cupcakes a lot. I’d love

Your mother's hungry - better ice another 20

Your mother’s hungry – better ice another 20

to teach the nursery kids more cake recipes, but am sticking to the brief of mostly going for healthy recipes. So I’m fantasizing a lot about really unhealthy, dirty, stuff-em-in-your-cakehole cupcakes. I baked 2 batches of peanut butter cupcakes last week alone. The Boss and the minxes made a fairly runny nutella icing that was far too sweet and sickly for the gorgeous cupcakes. It didn’t satisfy the craving at all, so I had to make another batch so I could try a dark fudge thick icing. Oh yes, lots better!

With my cold not shifting and growing into a horrible cold sore, I sulked and so me and Mini baked a big clootie dumpling yesterday. It’s perfect for baking with children because it’s literally measure out a long list of dry ingredients into a bowl, mix them all together, then bind them with milk, bung in a muslin, then boil for 5 hours. The dumpling swelled to about double its original size and was much lighter than it looks. I grated clementine peel into it instead of orange peel and the flavour really cuts through all the thick cinnamon and gingery spice. Delicious! We polished the lot off after dinner and lunch today, along with an entire vat of custard and cream.

cutie dumplingOh, and Mini’s christened it ‘Cutie Dumpling’ because she misheard ‘clootie’. I definitely prefer her version!

Next up in the kitchen will be some lemon and ginger marmalade and maybe another Delaware Pudding (I’m seeing that suet is featuring highly in my cravings right now…). Before I do, are there any recipes you fancy sharing with me or getting?

Do You Wanna Have Some Ear-Plugs?

Today was a most arduous and long-dreaded day… today I faced my biggest fear and survived… today I went into battle with my 2 youngest daughters against the war-machine that is Disney… Today I took Midi and Mini Minx to a Frozen Singalong.

It was just what it sounds like: a cinema showing of Disney’s Frozen that includes on-screen lyrics and an encouragement to singalong. We were in a town hall, seated on small, uncomfortable chairs for 2 hours, surrounded by hundreds of small girls and grown women dressed in a uniform sea of pale blue glittery lace, in the preschooler’s equivalent of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

They got a bit excited and loud. Very, very loud. I was so relieved that The Boss had sent me into the combat zone armed with some decongestants, the last Strepsil in the house, a messenger bag-full of tissues and that pearl beyond price: a pair of ear-plugs. Bliss!

Now, I have to come clean at this point: it was actually good fun and everyone looked like they had a wonderful time. I had a much better experience than I’d feared thanks to the edge being taken off the unrelenting volume by the ear-plugs. It helped having a friend there with an identical sense of humour: we both sniggered dirtily when Anna demanded “Take me up the North Mountain”. I even managed a few croaky lines to the less-popular songs (Fixer Upper and Reindeers Are Better Than People). Though I now have a stiff, sore neck from constantly looking round to check on the minxes, and then having one or both hanging from it for a bit, before their entire row of nursery Elsas shuffled around to sit on their respective mummies’ laps and I moved to snuggle in between my 2 horrors. The people running the show had made a brilliant effort to make it fun for the girls (the audience had boys and men, but it was 95% female, of whom 90% were dressed as Elsa): they had 2 free raffles for goodie bags drawing seat ticket numbers. Then they encouraged the children to parade around the room in their costumes a couple of times to the film theme tune, before the projectionist chose 2 lucky winners of the best costumes. Because the point was to sing along, the showing had a lovely, relaxed atmosphere – no-one cared if your phone went off, or the baby behind you screeched, or your entire row were coughing throughout (and we were…). However, a full quarter of the audience got fed up with the film before it ended and decided it would be much more fun to evade their sleeping mums and race around and around the audience, entirely unfettered.

Would I take the kids back again? Definitely with Mother’s Little Helpers (ear-plugs). Without? God, no!

Meanwhile, Maxi and The Boss had ventured into The Big City to catch an art gallery and museum. I say ‘ventured’ because our car is currently playing silly beggars. I think the battery is dying; The Boss thinks it can’t possibly be because we seem to go through a battery every 18 months; I think I don’t care who’s right, I just want a car that reliably starts! It really didn’t want to start on the drive to Frozen (5 attempts, very slow starter, only succeeded with every power-draining thing turned off). Even in the brief switch-off to change drivers at town caused The Boss palpitations (I could tell by his pale, sweaty face on the 4th start attempt that he was having nightmarish visions of having to accompany us to Frozen). I warned him ominously not to stall or turn the engine off unless he’d first parked somewhere it would be safe and free to leave the car overnight for a recovery truck. Why did I say that? Well, I like to give him something to niggle on 🙂

Sounds like they had a wonderful time. The Boss understands modern art. Like, properly understands it. We were once in St Ives and went along to the Tate Modern because he wanted to show me some Barbara Hepworth sculptures (they blew me away and changed my soul. He knew they would.) We were in a gallery that had some strange daubings and I felt pretty uncomfortable.

“I don’t get it”, I told him. “Why are these paintings in this gallery? Why are they on show? What makes them good?”

My questions were rhetorical, but he started explaining bits and bobs. I forget now exactly, but I remember him explaining the point of the ‘crazy’ perspective, what it meant, and why the brushstrokes were the way the were, and that it wasn’t about the lines but the shapes and shades they made. It was a very strange experience to look again at those paintings, through his eyes, and feel that “Oh!” lightbulb moment.

So it was lovely that our eldest artist was going with him. As well as the Father-Sole Daughter time that they rarely get, he was the perfect person to take her to see art. They barely had any time, but managed to trough a slice of toffee cake (I approve), catch some Greek helmets (great! Maxi’s special interest this year has been all things Ancient Greek), introduced her to some Barbara Hepworth (wow! Brilliant!) and some famous watercolours. Sounds like it made quite an impression on her.

Back home, we had a big haggis dinner in a bit of a throw to it being Burns Night. Though with us all liking haggis, it’s any old excuse to be honest. This time we shovelled it away with gusto to catch the last episode of our 3 night home-DVD extravaganza: The Boss bought the Star Wars trilogy home on Friday night, so we’ve been introducing the kids to Episodes IV, V and VI (ie the Real Ones). The best bits:

“Midi, who do you think Luke’s sister might be?” – “Leia, cos she’s worthy of The Force” (Worthy? Worthy? Where do 6 yos get that kind of language from?!)

Mini, about Stormtroopers: “Why are those men wearing nappies?”

Maxi calling the characters Dark Vader and Hand Solo, just like I had when the first one was released when I was younger than her.

Hand Solo? I’m sure there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere, and probably linked with Anna being taken up the North Mountain, but I’m just too tired to see it.

A Last-Ever Milestone

17 Dec 2014

Like lots of parents up and down the land, today The Boss and I sat through Mini Minx’s nativity and all 3 minxes’ carol concert. Well, The Boss endured them – he’s not feeling well at all and is varying between looking grey and looking pale.

Maxi’s similar, but has occasional bouts of energy (eg the carol concert). Also, the poor child has been embarrassed by burps that smell of rotten eggs. They really do. Proper fill-the-room-with-stink ones. Wee soul! Whilst I questioned her about how much water she was drinking and whether she was pooing enough, The Boss actually bothered to look in her throat. And instantly recoiled: red, swollen, with yellow pus-filled blisters. Bluerghy tonsillitis (bleurghy – it’s a technical term; a polite form of ‘minging’). No wonder she feels sick, has a cough and is smelly! That’ll be a trip to the GP tomorrow, then, to check whether she needs antibiotics or not.

So, today we joined with the rest of the school community in pooling our germs by sitting amongst the most effective bacterial vectors in the known Universe: small children.

We watched the nursery kids do their nativity play. Mini had a lot of talking to do in her part as the Innkeeper, but surprisingly she seemed shy of the older kids and parents watching her, and could be barely heard. As with other minx nativities, it struck me that the staff had obviously put in tons of effort and time, but many children seemed to stumble through the motions, not enjoying it, enduring it like The Boss was, and not understanding what was going on. Why do we do this every year to our kids? I get that for practising Christians, subjecting small kids to nativity plays is part of teaching them about their religion. But my logical little mind doesn’t really get why we all do it. Yes, yes, children learn lots of skills through taking part, such as being able to speak and sing in front of an audience, it’s a memory test, and it’s a wee introduction to drama. But why is it always the youngest pre-schoolers who’re made to perform whilst we parents coo over them? Perhaps the kids would engage in those new skills a bit more enthusiastically if it was in a setting that they understood or empathised with a bit more, like the older children are given? Like an interpretation of the latest Disney film…? Ah well, though, never again – the youngest minx has taken part in her last nativity. I guess the next nativity I attend and smile at will be for my grandchildren (gulp!)

The carol concert that evening was also lovely. It’s only a small school so all the children fit on the stage at the same time. Maxi tried hard to “engage enthusiastically”, whilst Midi giggled her way through the entire concert with her best friend. Many of the children got to speak a line in front of the audience, saying what they were most looking forward to about Christmas. Both older minxes talked about their Daddy being home for a whole week and seeing their grandparents. Awwww!

The older kids were asked to dress in a Victorian style for the concert. Maxi asked originally for a flat cap, breeches and waistcoat. I poo-pooed that idea and came up with middle partings and scraped back hair, severe dress (school uniform), a bit of tied lace as a kind of collar, another strip of wide lace pinned over the top of a minx head, and a folded over frilly pillowcase tied around the waist to form a sort of apron. It took 5 minutes and was a bit tenuous, but all I could manage without spending money.

A Good Daddy…


A Good Daddy…doesn’t just paint his daughter’s fingernails; he asks her which colours she’d like best.