Tag: Kitty

Baked aubergine

There are very few things I feel genuinely guilty about – especially when it comes to parenting. Sometimes I pretend to feel guilty, but actually I don’t. There are things that I do with Kitty that I know are not ideal, but I do them mostly knowing why I’m doing them and being okay with the consequences.

For example, Kitty probably watches more TV than she ought to at the moment, because I am so immobile I can’t sit on the floor and play Megabloks, or toss her in the air or chase her round and round the garden. But I am okay with the odd bad mood and screamy bedtime brought on by too much telly because I don’t really have a choice right now.

But there’s one thing I do, that I do endlessly, even though it makes me feel really guilty and I’m not okay with the consequences – and that is fucking about with my iPhone while I am supposed to be looking after Kitty.

I mean I love, LOVE my iPhone. It makes me about 70% more productive because I can do an Ocado order while hanging about waiting for something to boil, or reply to emails in the car while Kitty is kipping in the back.

But it also makes me, I think, a 70% less good parent because when I am supposed to be concentrating on Kitty, I am usually scrolling through Twitter. I also love Twitter, by the way. I think it is a brilliant resource filled with excellent people and endless, helpful information. Without Twitter this blog would have fewer readers and it would have been significantly harder (i.e. impossible) to sell any copies of my book, as most sales have come off the back of tweets and re-tweets.

At times, I think Twitter is the only thing that has stopped me from going mad during this most recent long, dark winter – but in fact I now suspect that it may have made everything harder. Trying to combine childcare with absolutely anything else – making dinner, ironing, working, Tweeting – turns something occasionally boring into a real chore just because you are suddenly trying to do two things at once.

Housework and childcare mostly have to go together but anything else that doesn’t absolutely have to be combined with childcare, shouldn’t. Especially the childcare of toddlers, who have a witchy sixth sense for when they are not your priority; it makes them incredibly nervous and liable to fling themselves down the stairs, or draw all over your Dune embellished pink suede loafers with green Crayola felt tip. For example.

And Twitter has just become a habit now, for me. In any lull I will automatically have a quick poke about and see what’s going on – because there’s always something going on on Twitter. But the compulsiveness of it now makes me feel a bit ill – staring into that tiny screen, poke, poke, poke. Not looking up, not looking around me. And Twitter sucks me into other areas of the internet that make my day jagged and stop-start, (mostly online clothes shops), rather than relaxed and linear. Rather than surrendering to childcare, I find myself fighting it. And it’s not working.

Added to this, Kitty has just got into the nursery at the top of our road and will start in September. Although I don’t feel remotely sad about it – she will love it and it won’t come a moment too soon – it does make me realise that we have a limited time left together and I should probably be more mindful of what I do with that time.

I don’t say all this to sound martyrish or holy: I am never motivated by anything other than laziness. I don’t want anything to be hard that doesn’t have to be – the Lord knows that life is full of necessary hardships without creating more for yourself. I want anything that can be, to be easy and convenient. Any fool, as soldiers say, can be uncomfortable. If I thought looking at my iPhone a lot made childcare easier, more relaxed and less onerous, I would do it. But when you’ve only got half a brain to start with, letting half of that half wander off into the internet is the equivalent of a brisk trepanning.

So last weekend I took Twitter off my phone and have a rule now that I don’t look at my phone at all unless I get a text message or a phone call, which is hardly ever. Twitter is reserved for when the nanny is here and I am working at my laptop. It’s much better already. When I get to the end of the day I don’t feel so twitchy.

I’m also allowed unlimited access to newspapers, magazines and my Kindle as a compensation. I have blamed my failure to do any reading recently on being pregnant, but it’s not that. It’s that I’m always on bloody Twitter. If Kitty is engaged doing something else, like messing about in the garden or drawing, I reckon it’s alright to be reading a book because it’s not so blinkering, so tunnel-visioning. And it doesn’t set quite such a ghastly example to Kitty that one ought to constantly have one’s face lit up by a blue screen, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, endlessly scrolling…. if she wants to grow up with her face in Kindles or newspapers – god rest their souls – that can only be a good thing.

Having Twitter on my iPhone also makes me a shit wife. Any second that my husband is not talking – and sometimes when he is talking, frankly – I’ve got half a mind on Twitter, which isn’t fair because my husband is not boring and doesn’t ask for much in return for providing me with a roof over my head and private healthcare, other than my complete attention when he is saying something to me.

Other than taking Twitter off my phone, I’m making amends to my husband by being supportive about the no-carb thing he’s doing at the moment. Cooking without carbs is a fucking chore, but I might as well get back into the swing of it as once this kid is out – if it ever comes out (despite my due date still being 5 whole days away) – I plan to diet myself out of existence. I want people to say “Oh my god she’s got so THIN!!!!”

Anyway, the other night I made for Giles a baked aubergine, which sounded absolutely disgusting from the recipe, but I was running out of ideas, (if we have another chicken salad I might DIE), and I actually managed, using a bit of store-cupboard cunning, to turn it into a really quite appealing thing.

I have used parmesan to top this, but equally you could use goat’s cheese. I, personally, ate this with some pitta bread because let’s not get too carried away – but Giles skipped it.

Esther’s low-carb baked aubergine of devotion

1 aubergine pp
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
2 heaped tsp capers
2 tbs pitted black olives
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 clove garlic, peeled
4-5 anchovy fillets (non-essential, if you are a hater… but if you are ambivalent, I urge you to give these a try – they will not make everything fishy and disgusting, they will just add a salty, savoury interest)
2 sage leaves (if you have)
1 tbsp vinegar – red wine for preference but any old shit will do
some plain yoghurt (again, if you have)
a few strips of lemon zest
1 small handful chopped parsley
1 handful grated parmesan per aubergine half

preheat your oven to 220C

1 Slice your aubergines lengthways and score through the flesh with a small sharp knife to produce a lattice effect. Then sloop over a lot of olive oil and put in to roast for 35 mins.

2 Meanwhile chop up on a board the anchovies, olives and capers. Gently fry in a small pan with some groundnut or LIGHT olive oil. Tear in the sage leaves and squeeze or grate over the garlic. Let this cook together for a bit until the anchovy fillets have disintegrated.

3 Now plop out the tomatoes into a sieve and shake over the sink to let the tinny tomato juices flow away (but don’t rinse). Add to the pan with the tomato puree and leave to cook for a few mins. Throw over six or seven turns of the pepper grinder. Now add a dribble of water – maybe 2 tbsp – just from the kettle and give it all a stir.

4 Now add a dollop of plain yoghurt if you have it, the lemon zest and the vinegar. Stir together and leave to cook very gently without drying out. The composition you are after is spreadable and juicy but not too wet. The consistency, I suppose, of bolognese.

5 Take the aubergines out of the oven – they ought to be a bit collapsed and blackened in places. Spread with the tomato mixture, top with whatever cheese you like then finish off under the grill.

Chocolate ganache

Esther Walker is unwell. It doesn’t have the same ring to it, I know – but it’s true. I’ve had bronchitis. Okay not actually confirmed bronchitis, but that’s what I’ve been saying. In fact it was just a non-specific chest infection but when I say that it sounds like there’s something wrong with my bosoms. I reckon it was pneumonia, just between you and me. I don’t know how much worse you’d have to feel than I felt for it to be pneumonia. I’ve had a pain, you see, a pain in my lungs.

Anyway it’s taken ages to get better. Usually you get the antibiotics and 24 hours later you’re springing about going shopping. But I went to bed on Sunday night and only really got out of bed again on Thursday morning. It was enjoyable in a way – an uncomplicated, straightforward illness: chills, fever, head-to-toe aches, sweats, pain in the chest, dizziness, delirium, all of that. Not just tired, fed-up, run-down, burnt-out. Actually like fucking dying.

I lay in bed inert and unresponsive as other people looked after my children. Occasionally I would try to focus my hot, blurred eyes on my phone and would wonder why no-one was asking me any questions, how life in the house was carrying on quite so merrily without me. But I didn’t get too upset about it, just slipped back into a semi-coma gratefully.

And what I’ve got for you now I’m back from the dead is a thing that’s going to annoy you because I know you don’t want me to write about cakes and sweeties anymore. But the thing is that those are the NEW things that I am cooking.

I am indeed cooking savoury things like a motherfucker at the moment, but it’s all for Sam who has in the last three weeks started raging through food like a starving wolf.

I always used to find people who talked about how much their children (usually their sons) ate quite annoying, as I sat in front of Kitty coaxing her for hours to eat one more tiny weeny thingy of lamb stew. “Oh was Kitty fussy? We’re lucky,” they would say. “He just ate everything from the start.” And they say “lucky” but what they meant was “it’s because we’re such fantastic parents”. I mean, that’s probably what they meant. THEY SAID IT WITH THEIR EYES.

But now we all stand about and marvel at the food disappearing into Sam’s gob. It’s like a sideshow at a circus. Watch the enormous monster baby eat! Down goes a massive spoonful, and another, and another, and another! Like a waste disposal unit. I have decided that in order to fit it all in, the first bit of food must start to be digested and be making its was out of his tummy before he’s finished the bowl of whatever.

But it’s nothing I’ve done, you understand? Just like it was nothing I did that made Kitty able to exist for weeks at a time on nothing but air, sunlight and three bottles of milk a day. And it’s not because he’s a boy, because I know plenty of baby boys who hardly eat anything – because they don’t need to right now. Because they’ll do more growing later, thanks.

It’s just because Sam is massive and getting massiver by the day – he’s six months old and wearing Kitty’s old blue dungarees that she wore when she was over a year – and he will probably go on to be massiver. (Or maybe he will halt at five feet nine inches when he is twelve years old.)

People always act like it’s such a bloody marvellous thing to have a big baby who will eat the world and that having some strapping six footer son is just the gold standard. Whatever Sam ends up being is fine by me, but I don’t mind men under six foot. My husband is five feet nine inches tall and I think he is the perfect height. I can look him in the eye. When we embrace I don’t end up with my head under his armpit. At parties when I want to say something mean about someone I don’t have to climb a ladder to whisper it in his ear. He doesn’t constantly bump his head on things and complain about legroom on airplanes.

My point is that a consequence of Sam eating so much right now is that getting together enough food for him is an issue. (Don’t get me started on clothes!) If Kitty’s hungry I can make her a make her a sandwich. If Sam is hungry he needs something to be cooked and blended. HE WON’T EAT THOSE STUPID ELLA’S POUCHES. Every time I turn around it’s time to make another enormous stew, or enough cheese sauce for 8 pots of macaroni cheese. I think of life with Sam when he is a teenager (Insha’Allah) and really hungry and see entire loaves of bread and pints of milk disappearing in minutes before my eyes.

But I can’t think that you are interested in my recipe for lentil puree. And the new thing I made recently, as I slowly crept out of my bronchial hell, was a chocolate ganache.

I made one of these before and it wasn’t very good. But I have subsequently realised that the recipe was a bummer. So I made it again on the instruction of Paul Hollywood himself (I texted a question into a radio show! I KNOW!!) and it came out just absolutely perfect.

So this is what you do. To cover 12 fairy cakes you need:

100g best chocolate (for kids, milk chocolate probably best – Waitrose do one called Menier, very nice)
100ml double cream
1 knob of butter

(NB – chocolate ganache is always just equal quantities of chocolate and cream – mls to grams.)

1 Chop the chocolate into reasonably small bits and put in a bowl.

2 Put the cream in a small saucepan and heat until it is nearly boiling. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted. This takes a while, you need to stir all the time. You can bung it in the microwave for a few seconds towards the end if the chocolate has really stopped melting in. Don’t whisk it!! Because you will get unattractive bubbles, as I did.

3 When it has all melted in, add a knob of butter, for sheen.

4 Pour over your fairy cakes and decorate. This doesn’t actually set firm, like an icing, it’s always a bit gooey and sticky. And hurrah for that.

Have a great weekend.

Love
Esther x

Cupcakes with buttercream icing

I’ve been complaining a lot recently. I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that things have genuinely seemed quite bleak; my whole life has felt like one long irritated thought, or one incredibly long moment holding Sam, while bent at an angle trying to do something for Kitty, one-handed (get out Playdough, cut up a pear, turn on Tom&Jerry, play “birdseed”…???…). I’ve constantly felt like it’s 2.05pm and it’s hours till bedtime and it’s raining and we’ve got no visitors and I’ve been awake since 0430 and I can feel a cold coming on. I’ve just been feeling like that all the time. I’ve felt like a weary beast of burden, or like I’m sitting in Economy on a flight to Australia, I’ve felt so far removed from my old self, my old life that I can’t even remember what I miss about it anymore.

Mothers say “I miss going out to the cinema on the spur of the moment. I miss reading a book for hours in bed,” and I think to myself, blankly “I have never done any of those things. Have I?”

But in the last few days there has been a little shift, imperceptible perhaps to anyone but me. It started with Kitty, who has been going through the day like a real trooper on no afternoon nap. Up until now, if I let her have one, she’d nut out for 45 minutes and then be awake until 9pm. But if I didn’t let her have one, the afternoons were unhappy and strained: I felt so bad watching her droop sadly against the sofa, sucking her thumb, all but dozing off. Now even if I put her in bed she doesn’t go to sleep, but rolls around for a bit and then chirrups to come out. And she is cheerful all afternoon, if a bit quiet at times.

And now Sam, who will be 6 months old on the 5th November, has started to show signs of sitting up. Not solidly – these developments are so slow – but he’s getting the hang of sitting on my hip and hooking his arm around mine to hold on. If I put him in the sacred Ikea Ektorp highchair, he can sit there for maybe five minutes, batting a rattle about while Kitty covers him in stickers, until he yaps to be picked up.

Sitting up is probably the single event that a babyhood pivots on. Sitting up brings with it new abilities to concentrate on objects, to put toys with an interesting mouthfeel in the gob, to drool, gently on the carpet and watch one’s sister caper about going “bler-ler-ler-ler-ler” for your entertainment.

So all of a sudden in the darkness there is distant beam, the sweeping swoop of a searchlight that will, inevitably, pick out my lifeboat.

Don’t wish it away, people say. And I understand that. I don’t want to be flippant about it but, really, there is little about Kitty’s early babyhood that I miss. Not now, for god’s sake! Not now that we have actual conversations and in-jokes and she can tell me what she wants and where it hurts and we can discuss the complicated relationship between Tom and Jerry. We can draw each other pictures, play hide-and-seek. Her favourite thing is to put away the Ocado order. It’s just trippy. Blissful. I thought it would take years to reach the stage that all parents get to where they prefer spending time with their child than with anyone else – but in fact here we are.

Why would I miss a time when we couldn’t really communicate? When she couldn’t tell me what was wrong or why she was sad or angry or frustrated? Why would I miss a time when it was so difficult to have fun?

It is easier to have fun with Sam because I am so much better with babies than I was. The hours with Sam just don’t feel as long as they did with Kitty – even if he is having and off day and being a bit of a jerk. I’ve just done so much time, now, with little kids that I can shrug it all off. Ach, it’s just another day in the nuthouse. If he wakes up early in the morning or from his lunchtime nap I don’t curse the world and feel crushed and ill, I just think to myself that for now I just have to hang on until bedtime and, after that, I just have to hang on until he’s walking – then we’ll be laughing.

So all of a sudden I feel incredibly positive about everything. I am planning a Christmas party at our house and I am going to go WILD and get a florist in and a kids’ entertainer and stuff. I have also slowly started to get to grips with the various horrifying areas of clutter in the kitchen and playroom and it’s quite amazing what having a good clear-out can do for your general mental well-being.

And all the baking I am doing for Kitty’s nursery bake-sales is good for the soul. You do end up making an awful lot of fairy cakes when you have kids for one reason or another and I have grown sick of looking up the recipe. But then I remembered a way of making a sponge that is terribly easy and I didn’t even need to look it up to know how to do it.

It is this – you take an egg (if you want to make 6-8 fairy cakes) or 2 eggs (if you want to make a dozen or more, or a small cake) and weigh it/them. Then you use the same weight of self-raising flour, butter and caster sugar.

Then you make the cakes in the normal way – so you cream together the butter and sugar, add the egg or eggs and then fold in the flour, decant into a baking vessel and bake for about 8-10 mins.

Once you have committed this clever short-cut to memory, you can start being creative with your toppings without it feeling too onerous. I made these for a recent bake sale at nursery and I am terribly pleased with them having, as they do, a topping of piped buttercream.

You make buttercream like this:

Take half a pat of butter (125g) and leave to come to room temperature. Then you beat it together with increasing tablespoons of SIEVED – this is important – icing sugar. The actual amount of icing sugar is really up to you. Just do it and taste as you go along until you have something that is pleasingly buttery-sugary.

Then you can dye it any colour you want, (bearing in mind that combined with the slight yellowyness of the buttercream any colour won’t be wildly vibrant, but I think that is more classy anyway), beating the colour in well – (I use Dr Oetker) – and fill a piping bag with it. Using a star-shaped nozzle, pipe the buttercream in a circle around the cupcake starting from the outside and working in. It’s much, much easier than it seems – I have never done this before and it only took me one or two goes to get something I was really pleased with.

I absolutely love all those toppings you can get in the Waitrose baking aisle – tiny butterflies and pearls and stars and all that – and I attached a selection of those to the buttercream and then chilled the cupcakes until they were needed.

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