June Journals #20 ~ Sleepy Sunday

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Father’s Day Card

We had a lovely father’s day yesterday, doing what we do most weekends: basically, nothing!

I love reading that it’s good for kids to be bored, and to not over-entertain them. Hurrah. Because weekends are about letting all of us just be.

Okay, mostly the children spend the two days staring at one screen or another, but as long as they’re finding ways to occupy themselves, that’s fine with me.

We also went out to lunch to our favourite restaurant, Pizza Express, with my mum and step-dad. The one we visit is just lovely, although when the (rather dishy!) waiters nod and smile in greeting when you arrive, you start realising you might go quite a lot.

We love it for lots of reasons.

It’s great for kids, with a simple and affordable kids’ menu that they actually eat, plus colouring sheets and crayons (although we always take our own). They employ loads of waiting staff that smile lots and are there when you need them. They always serve fabulous food and particularly delicious desserts. Plus it’s such a light and airy restaurant where no one notices if your kids are being a bit loud, probably because they can’t hear over the sound of theirs.

Fabulous.

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Yummy Lunch

Then we bumped into friends at a mini-festival in the park. Thankfully we’d spent every penny leaving a tip for lunch, so it was easy to say no to the kids who wanted ice creams and bouncy castles, despite polishing off a three-course meal five minutes before.

My friend reminded me (because she’s one of those amazing people who just remembers stuff) that it’s my big year. My big fat 40th birthday, our 10 year wedding anniversary, and ten years since all the other stuff: graduating, moving house, losing my father.

And whenever I feel guilty for crawling into bed to watch the tennis with my eyes shut (ahem) I tell myself I’m doing it in memory of my dad, whose favourite pastime was listening to Test Match Special in a dark room, with a cup of tea or a cold shandy.

Our Sleepy Sundays are important. Lazy, decadent, wasteful. They lead to rather stressful Mondays sometimes, when I realise laundry isn’t finished, uniform isn’t ironed, or homework not done.

But we survive. And I think (I hope) we all do a little better for some downtime.

The Joy of Not Caring If They Eat

Happy Mealtimes

Happy Mealtimes

I mentioned in my last post trying a new food regime called The Division of Responsibility.

It’s marvellous.

For the first time in years I’m enjoying cooking for the family, rather than dreading dinnertime.

My energy and brain are still spent on food, but now it’s what interesting recipes can I find, rather than what on earth can I cook for a fussy family.

Today, we had freshly baked scones for breakfast (I had some jam and cream left over from afternoon tea at Burghley House!)

For tea we had baked ham (using my Mum’s special recipe), fresh bread, mini omelettes, and buckets of veg.

I think my daughter ate a piece of ham and some yoghurt, and my son had a few pieces of yellow pepper. I’m only guessing from this photo: I ate everything and didn’t really notice what the kids ate. I provided healthy yummy food – as is my responsibility. Whether they ate or not was theirs.

I suspect they filled up with snacks on the way home from the park, but as the snack box newly installed in the car is full of dried fruit and rice cakes (okay and chocolate cookies this evening – they needed energy for the park!) I’m okay with that too. If they’re hungry they’ll eat a good breakfast in the morning.

It’s early days, but I like it as an approach. It feels positive.

And Then He Was Five

Cake success (eventually)

Cake success (eventually)

So the party came and went and we all survived.

Sunny weather helped, as seven boisterous boys bounced around on the sixteen foot trampoline.

The piñata took some bashing and the cake looked marvellous, if I do say so myself! I even made mini cakes with cake reject number two. Love my mini ninjas!

It’s just sinking in that I no longer have children under five. When reading my favourite blogs about the toddler years, I feel a mixture of nostalgia and relief.

Not that I’m under any illusions that it magically gets easier now my youngest is five, or now they’re both at school. But I sense a shift.

Mini Ninjas

Mini Ninjas

I can feel myself slowly re-emerging from the seven years of sleeplessness and doubt. The constant fear of losing one of them is so familiar now it’s like a cranky neighbour I can mostly ignore. I want to do things for the whole family, not just the children.

I am aware of other things. Increasing their independence: saying “no” more often, and “you can do it” rather than, “of course Mummy will help you.”

The two go usefully hand in hand. I have a sudden urge to reclaim the house, to have child-free/toy-free spaces, to erect some boundaries. I want to shift our attitude to food and eating. So I’m busy and preoccupied and pushing them to entertain themselves more after school.

It’s a work in progress. Particularly the food. After baking numerous cakes (each flatter than the last) and watching other children eat their party pizza while my son refused, things came to a head. I listened to advice from a friend, who specialises in getting kids to eat veggies, and it brought the self-doubt back. But, walking away, I knew her approach was not for me.

Finished piñata!

Finished piñata!

A little internet research revealed a “long game” approach that fits much better.

It’s based on a division of responsibility: As the parent, my responsibility is to provide balanced, nutritional meals. It is the child’s responsibility to eat or not eat. There are no threats or rewards. Pudding is not held back. There is no nagging or angst.

It’s hard, letting them have pudding without eating a scrap of dinner. But I agree that pudding shouldn’t be a reward for eating dinner. It gives sweet stuff too much weight.

That said, my son hasn’t eaten dinner in days. But he’s catching up at breakfast (three Weetabix and three yoghurts this morning!) and meal times are almost enjoyable. No nagging and pleading and ultimatums and tears. Lovely.

I’ll see how long it lasts!

So that’s it. A new era. Let’s hope it brings happy children, happy families, and a lovely book deal!

Yummy Ella Crumble

Apple Crumble

Apple Crumble

It’s been a while since I shared my progress with Deliciously Ella, the cook book I purchased in an attempt to eat less sugar.

Apart from making a range of smoothies every day (mostly my own invention, like cucumber, pear, apple juice and aloe vera) I haven’t actually used the book in a while.

Then, during half term, my friend (who bought the book after I showed her my copy) made us the quinoa and broccoli dish and it was scrummy.

My own attempt was less delicious, but that was probably because I got my tahini and tamara muddled up (it is a bit like learning a new language!) so there was too much sesame and not enough salt.

Today I ended up taking my daughter to the minor injuries unit at 7.30am because her wrist was still hurting after a week (nothing serious, apparently, although it didn’t help that she decided to be brave and not tell the nurse when it hurt! Sigh) so we all missed breakfast.

My son made up for it with four rounds of toast, at playgroup and football, and nothing else, so I decided to make a healthy pudding to top up his nutrients after tea. Crumble is his absolute favourite – pretty much the only way he’ll eat fruit that isn’t dried. But I couldn’t be bothered to make the topping, after all my weekend baking, so I dipped into Deliciously Ella.

As you can see from the picture, the recipe is very low hassle. About the only effort is melting the coconut oil (and I held it over the boiling pasta pot for a minute which did the trick!)

As you can also see from the picture, I tweaked the recipe a bit. Ella’s recipes always make far too much. I used roughly a third of the ingredients, together with four tiny apples and a fruit pot, and it made enough for four people.

I also included pumpkin seeds and brazil nuts to add a little crunch and extra flavour. It was delicious. I did serve with custard, but aside from that there was no butter, refined sugar or wheat flour in it.

Unfortunately, after a bowl of broccoli pasta and two yoghurts my son wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat his! Shame. All the more for Mummy and Daddy. We need nutrients too, right?

 

A Mental High-Five

Fun at the fountains

Fun at the fountains

I’m always talking about the trials of parenting and how much I struggle. So, today, I thought I’d share my little personal high-five.

We live near a place called Burghley House (as in Burghley Horse Trials or as featured in many a costume drama!)

Part of the estate includes the Gardens of Surprise, which consists of a water garden and a sculpture garden. I used to take the kids a lot when it was hot, but it got harder as they wanted different things (one to stay with Mummy, one to explore).

Now they’re of an age that they can go and play together I decided, this summer, to get another family pass.

So today we went. The sun was beaming down, a gentle breeze keeping it cool. Perfect.

However, having made the decision to go, I realised – at 10am – that I didn’t have anything for a picnic. So (high-five no. 1) I quickly rustled up some Mary Berry scones (including a little jar of jam), some Paul Hollingwood blueberry muffins, and a pile of cheese sarnies.

I managed to locate swim gear, shoes, hats, and applied sun cream. I remembered water bottles, the porta-potty AND the picnic blanket. Lunch was yum (high-five no. 2)

I invited a friend and her family to meet us and they arrived mid afternoon. The kids had even more fun and we got to share the parenting load. The dads supervised a frisbee game and my friend and I got to chat.

Then, to top off this unprecedented parenting day of gloriousness, when we got home, I stared blankly at a fridge full of random leftovers and came up with a delicious ten-minute meal (spinach and beetroot salad with smoked fish and toasted cashew nuts). High-fives all round.

I didn’t remember to buy milk, and I’ve still got school uniform to iron, but you can’t win them all. Still, today it felt pretty close.

Initial Review of Deliciously Ella

My scribbled notes on the hummus recipe

My scribbled notes on the hummus recipe

I wrote a few days ago about the new cookery book I purchased, Deliciously Ella, and how I hope it will help me solve the problem of being perpetually tired. I don’t do diets and I am definitely not a foodie: these things should be taken into consideration when reading the following!

These are my initial thoughts on Ella’s book

1. As I first noted, it is like a text book rather than a recipe book – I’m taking ideas away rather than following specific recipes, especially for things like smoothies. It’s hard to find recipes because the way it is laid out by ingredient type, but that does help with learning more about the ingredients. So far I’ve tried things I wouldn’t have before in my smoothies, like spinach, cucumber, and beetroot juice (and will definitely skip on the latter!). Amazingly, even though they turn the juice green, spinach and spirula (or the 7-superfood variety I’m using) don’t really alter the taste.

2. The ingredients are VERY expensive. Even if you don’t go for organic or the best you can buy, buckwheat flour is four times the cost of normal flour and hazelnuts and almonds prohibitively expensive in the quantities most recipes require. Maple syrup (the pure stuff) is £5 for 300ml and the recipes often call for a mug (or three) of the stuff. Medjool dates, ditto. Tahini and chickpeas weren’t too expensive and neither was apple cider so, unsurprisingly, the only recipe I’ve tried so far was hummus. Which brings me on to point three.

3. You need to already be a foodie, or at least be able to beg/borrow/buy some equipment. I have a blender, which I pulled out the back of the cupboard from my singleton days, so that’s great for smoothies, but it wasn’t up to making hummus. You need a food processor for that. Thankfully my hand blender managed a reasonable job as I don’t own a food processor. I love the look of courgette spaghetti but can’t find a spiralizer with decent reviews for less than £20 and I’ve spent a fortune already. Oh and the spiralizer isn’t mentioned in the list of equipment you need, but magically appears in the courgette recipe which was rather annoying.

4. The recipes don’t give much of a clue about the quantities you’re making, and seem to use stacks of (expensive) ingredients. If you’re hoping to swap cookies and cakes for the healthy sort, expect to pay a lot more for the luxury. I haven’t tried any of the yummy looking things yet because I can’t justify the expense (see above about maple syrup and Medjool dates). I halved the recipe for hummus and it made enough for three or four snacks.

5. I bought the book because the sweet recipes sounded appealing in the radio interview I heard. Who wouldn’t love healthy cakes and cookies? However, based on the ingredients, I’m not sure I agree with ‘healthy’. They might not be full of refined sugar and gluten, but nuts and avocados and maple syrup are pretty fattening products in the quantities suggested. I’d also be vaguely interested in the calorie content, but I realise that’s a long way from the ethos of the book. I guess I’m just used to calorie counting. I’d like to know if I’ve used a whole day’s calories in a dinner of avocado and hummus, even if it is good for me.

6. The recipes are a bit repetitive. There are lots that include coconut (which I don’t especially like) and avocado (which I love but is full of calories and difficult to buy ripe). I also found there weren’t many meal replacements. Lots of things I can nibble on during the day, but for the cost of the ingredients I need something to replace the evening meat-based meal that hubbie might eat.

7. On a positive note, however, the book is encouraging. There are great quotes littered throughout and I do feel it is about empowering you to not be afraid of food. I would never have put spinach in a smoothie and now I have it every day.

8. Also the recipes also only call for a few main ingredients, even if they are pricey. I’ve invested £30 in some of the core products, which I’m waiting to arrive by post, as even Waitrose don’t stock raw cacao powder or Miso paste. I am excited about trying some of the recipes and I may visit the blog to see if there are some that are more straightforward.

9. I feel better. I want to eat more things with spinach in and fewer bags of crisps and packets of cookies. For me that’s HUGE. But money is a worry and so my target now will be to find a few recipes that aren’t too expensive (and fattening) and to explore other recipe books that might be more suited to our lifestyle.

10. There are some ways to cheat. I have bought lazy garlic and lazy ginger, which might not be the same as the real thing but more cost effective (and easier for a non-foodie like me). I buy raw juice or at least not-from-concentrate juice (fruit and veg) as a base for my smoothies so I don’t need a juicer and I don’t need to buy more ingredients. I also follow Ella’s suggestion and make extra smoothie and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge. Plus I go to the ‘out of date’ section in the supermarket for fruit and veg – if it’s going in a smoothie it doesn’t matter if it’s a bit battered.

All in all I’m glad I bought the book. I’m sure my body is glad too, or it will be when I’ve got through the detox headache. The doctors called today and all eleven (!?!) of the blood tests my doctor put through came back normal: I don’t have glandular fever, my thyroid is fine, I’m not anaemic. So the tiredness is just laziness, rubbish food and being a parent. If Ella’s book helps me to change that, then it was worth every penny!