When my husband and I were first going out, I always used to worry that his female friends with children, or the wives of his male friends with children, wouldn’t like me.
I was worried that they wouldn’t like me because I was ten or so years younger and I didn’t have children. I assumed they would find me annoying and resent my child-free state, my bouncy boobs, my very long, luxury hair that I had 45 minutes spare each morning to blow dry, style and finish with two coats of shellac.
But none of them did. They were all just charming and if I said stupid or ignorant things about children it didn’t show in their faces. Not a flicker. Not for a moment. I assumed that if I was them I would find me irritating, but I was wrong.
Then I had a child of my own and I understood why they were all able to be so beatific.They looked at me and saw not a carefree young woman with life at her feet: they saw – consciously or unconsciously – a lamb to the slaughter. And the pity in their hearts for me translated effortlessly into a sunny kindness.
They knew this: either I would have kids and would have my ass handed to me by Mother Nature without them having to lift a finger, or I would not have kids and have my ass handed to me by the whole freaking world asking endless, rude questions about when are you going to and if not why not and don’t you want them and shouldn’t you get on with it? and can’t you have them? and all that shit that people say to the childless like no-one has ever asked them any of those questions before.
They are mostly out the other side of little kids, are Giles’s friends – their youngest children are about five and they all just go on holiday all the time and are whippet thin with amazing jobs and beautiful clothes. And they’re all still nice to me and sympathetic and generous about the hassles and burdens of new motherhood.
And now it’s my turn to be nice. I meet child-free people – both male and female – who, consciously or unconsciously, say blithe, tactless and ridiculous things about children, the freedom of their lives, the things they will or will not be doing in the future, the holidays they have been on and all that. And it’s so easy to be nice about it all.
Because although I will soon be starting with a newborn all over again, I can start crossing things off the list: never have to be pregnant again, never have to give birth again, never have to breastfeed again, knicker area more or less in working order, (give or take a few patch-up procedures), back in old clothes, back working, baby sleeping through (ish), baby sitting up… I may have all sorts of unspeakable horrors in front of me but there is light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not a train coming the other way.
But you… I think, looking around at my childless peers approaching the twilight zone of their mid-thirties… you have got to do all of this, from scratch, if you want kids. And the end of fun, the end of your life as you know it when it comes, is so abrupt and feels so much like it’s forever, (though it’s not), that the pity in my heart allows me to genuinely enjoy, with you, your latest holiday, your skinny bum, your bouyant bosom, that light of blissful, ignorant confidence in your eyes.
I genuinely enjoy it with you as I genuinely enjoy the unfettered delight that my toddler takes in balloons, or seeing a baby rabbit, or receiving an ice cream. I can delight with you because, as with my toddler, I know that quite soon it’s all going to be over and you’re both, in your own ways, going to have to grow up in the most necessary and horrible way imaginable.
The view from the other side is, I know, delightful. Children are worth it if only because the early years with them can be so very ghastly that it makes you really appreciate life anew (the joys of which, in your late twenties and early thirties, may have become dull and commonplace). When your youngest child hits 18 months it is, I imagine, like being Scrooge and waking up to find that it’s Christmas Day and you’ve got a chance at life all over again.
It is in contemplation of these simple pleasures that I have recently been making madeleines and lemonade for tea.
People coming round for tea is a thing that happens endlessly when you have children. The morning is a time for adventure and activity, but in the afternoon, people slob about and have tea. I, especially, cannot leave the house most afternoons because we are in a phase of Kitty’s nap-drop that means that she won’t sleep at all during the day but now has a danger zone from 4pm onwards, where if she’s in a buggy or a car she will pass out.
Anyway, if you are feeling generous towards your teatime guests you could make them madeleines, which only involves the purchase of a madeleine tray and the making of a very simple cake batter. They are good for tea because there is nothing more delicious than freshly baked sponge batter, but fairy cakes are stupid and you might not want to bake an entire massive cake.
I bought my madeleine tray off Amazon and I’m not that pleased with it, just between you and me. I think the shell shape it gives is unsatisfying and indistinct – even though it came highly recommended. Maybe you will have more luck with yours.
Then you make the following sponge mix – (courtesy of Michel Roux) – it is a very good, very easy mix, with no need to cream the butter and sugar. Mine came out brilliantly and I had Kitty sabotaging the whole thing, yapping at my heels shrieking “Can I have a go?” every two seconds, so YOU can certainly ace it.
Michel claims this mix makes enough for 12, but I had too much for my 12-hole tin. I gave the remainder to Kitty to wipe all over herself, which she found amusing.
100g MELTED butter
100g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
juice and chopped zest of one lemon (this is optional, but is very nice)
1 Preheat your oven to 200C. This is important – the oven needs to be really nice and hot when your madeleines go in
2 Grease your madeleine tray with some extra butter, then sprinkle with some extra flour and shake out the excess – never a precise job, this – just do your best
3 Whisk together the eggs and sugar. You can do this with an electric whisk if you like. We did it with a hand whisk – Kitty started it off and I finished it. Kitty was a bit useless so I gave it (but not her) a good solid beating towards the end, which worked fine.
4 Then add your other ingredients and give a firm, brief whisk to incorporate everything. Beat until just mixed – don’t worry about the odd lump.
5 Leave the mix to sit for a few minutes to allow the baking powder to act before spooning into the tray
6 When filling your madeleine tray, fill to just under the top, so that when the sponge rises it just fills the dip, rather than spilling out over the top.
7 Bake for 8-10 minutes
You can dip madeleines into or drizzle with all manner of exciting things – chocolate, rose-water icing, orange icing – anything you like really. If you wanted to add extra flavours, maybe leave out the lemon element of this sponge mix as it might interfere.
For the lemonade
The cocktail mixer known as gomme, or sugar syrup, is what makes lemonade really easy. It is available from Waitrose or, I suspect, any bottle shop like Thresher’s (do they still exist?)
Without gomme you have to do a thing where you simmer the lemonade and the sugar together so that the sugar dissolves and then let the mix cool down, which is a bore.
This is more, really, a recipe for citron presse, another French thing, with which I’m sure you’re familiar, where you’re given a load of lemon juice in the bottom of a glasss, a weeny pitcher of water and a bottle of gomme, with which to mix for yourself a refreshing bev.
What I do is squeeze a lot of lemons and limes (about 2 per person) into a jug, (using my excellent bright yellow openy-closey lemon squeezer, which I really recommend if you haven’t got one already), then pour about an inch of lemon juice into glasses filled with ice cubes and a single spoon, top with fizzy water and then let everyone apply and stir in their own gomme from another jug. You could add a sprig of mint if you were feeling really caring.
Then we all sit around while I patronise everyone like mad, and they all take it because I’ve just made fucking madeleines and lemonade.
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