You know you need a takeaway dinner when…

We were offered a voucher from JUST EAT so we could review their online takeaway ordering service and, after a trying day, I decided to do what anyone would do to keep her sanity – order Chinese takeaway and make a list. So here we go. You know you need a takeaway dinner when…

You’ve been asked the question “What are you doing?” 52 times today – sometimes in the space of seconds.

It has been mixed up with “Why?”

Your 2-year-old doesn’t want to walk, go in the sling, the pushchair or your arms and doesn’t want to stay standing where she is.

She wants porridge. She wants you to hold her. She does not understand why you don’t just grow an extra pair of hands.

She does not want to wear wellies today. Half a mile from home, she desperately must have the wellies.

The house is a hole and none of your pans are clean.

You totally forgot to order groceries online and are now trying to concoct a meal from a bag of rice, two carrots and a packet of Haribo.

Said toddler’s been up since before dawn and no longer naps. *weeps*

She wants to listen to Wheels on the Bus over and over and over on Spotify.

You go out and she wants to sing Wheels on the Bus over and over and over.

You’ve had to remember 1000 things today and now lack the mental capacity to put a decent meal together.

It’s date night and you both forgot.

reasons for a takeaway

So, you go on Just Eat and you order ALL the Chinese. And chips. Order online and you don’t even have to talk to anybody. The online ordering system is reliable and a breeze. You can search by food type and location which is helpful. The service from Chan’s in Bristol was efficient and the food was exactly what we needed.

A good takeaway system really does make everything OK.

JUST EAT sent us a voucher so we could give them a whirl.

Freezing tips for skint, busy families

We do a fair bit of freezing to make life easier on ourselves. The last thing I feel like doing at the day’s end is cooking, especially if we’ve spent most of it out. I’m the one who’s around so the task generally falls to me, which is a shame because Laurence is the better cook. It leaves us open to the temptation of a takeaway – a nice treat sometimes but not to be repeated too often for the sake of our finances – and health. Then there are also the days when I realise I didn’t plan our weekly shop properly (probably because I attempted it while hungry and tired) and we actually don’t have anything edible in the kitchen except a potato, a banana and some pesto.

This is all a particular concern because when the baby comes in February, time and energy are bound to take a hit. We might as well continue to build on good habits now. So, we’re stepping up the freezing a notch and taking full advantage of the modern wonder of fridge freezers and possibly investing in a deep freeze too. Here are a few ideas we’ve got together over the past few years:

Batch-cook as habit
We have massive pots so when either of us cook, we try to make enough for three or four meals. That way, we have enough for our dinner, lunch the next day and another dinner and lunch can go into the freezer. A great food to do this with is dhal. Dried lentils are cheap to start with, particularly if you buy them from an Asian grocer, which we do. Dhal is also such a healthy food, easy to make in huge quantities, tasty and freezes well. It’s basically a perfect food. Oh and it’s dairy and wheat free, which is important in this house at the moment. Other great foods for freezing are bolognaise, soup, burgers, fishcakes, pancakes and just about any meat (I keep trying to freeze Trinidad stewed chicken but we just end up eating all of it!).

Label! Label! Label!
I have been caught out by this one too many times. I’ll end up throwing something out just because I couldn’t remember how long it was in there or I’ll defrost something thinking it was something else only to be disappointed. I now label it all. It’s simply not worth the hassle, waste or potential stomach upset of not doing so. Write a shorthand version of what the food is and the date of when you’ve put it in.

Stock up on frozen vegetables
A half-empty freezer presumably requires more energy to run so you might as well fill-in the gaps with frozen veg. That way you’re sure not run out of veg and you have something prepared if getting the chopping board out feels daunting after an exhausting day with your children. As Jamie Oliver recently pointed out, you also get a lot more for your money in the case of frozen spinach. I’ll remember that next time I’m making callaloo (another good freezable, by the way!). We have the added thing that frozen green peas are the only vegetable Talitha will touch at the moment.

Prepare and freeze dried foods
I only do this with chick peas (we call it channa in Trinidad) because we eat a lot of it but apparently it can be done with other dried pulses too. After going through long spells of buying massive, super-cheap bags of channa only to leave them in the cupboard because I just wasn’t getting around to soaking overnight, I started soaking large amounts, batch boiling them, dividing them into cooking portions, cooling and storing in the freezer. They are great fillers for stews and other foods, fantastic for a quick and easy curry and ideal for whipping up a swift humous. Money saved and healthy too.

With baby on the way and expecting to up our freezing game fairly soon, I’d really appreciate any freezer tips you have to share.

If you go down to the woods today…

Walking through the woods with Talitha, my thoughts often drift off into the foliage. I wander at the distinctive beauty of this country I’m adopting.

I am struck by the wild, matchless wealth with which these simple experiences frame her childhood. In real terms, these trees are her history, her heritage and her birthright. They are worth protecting.

Two weeks ago she and I visited Yeo Valley to spend a day with The Woodland Trust. First trimester exhaustion meant the experience took far more out of me than it should have but I was just glad to get Talitha outdoors for a bit.

She’s had to spend too much time at home recently. So a day of romping through the woods and making sure to get every puddle on the way was just what we both needed – topped with gorgeous Yeo Valley food, of course.

The Woodland Trust is a charity that’s been hard at work to protect woodlands and reforest Britain over the past four decades. Yeo Valley is partnering with them this summer to plant 10,000 trees across the UK. With codes under the lids of their special yogurt packs, you could win a tree to plant in your garden or to donate to The Woodland Trust.

The day involved trying activities from The Woodland Trust’s nature detectives, a programme aimed at inspiring children to get out into nature. Bugs were hunted and leaves collected. Not by us, mind. But in time, when her attention span has grown we’ll give this stuff a good go, I’m sure.

For us, the day’s highlights were…

Making a wand,

Finding a “baby snail”,

Scrumptious lunch,

Mum2BabyInsomniac “with a baby on the front”,

And Yeo Valley ice cream!

PS: A couple of the images star Tigerlilly Quinn‘s son – he’s ridiculously photogenic!

PPS: Yeo Valley invited us along to a bloggers day with The Woodland Trust. Talitha was given nature detectives membership and we left with a goodie bag full of yogurt.

Date night in – the rules

Here follow the rules of the perfect date night in…

1. Someone cook. It’s more romantic that way. There’s a time for takeaway (usually when your fridge is empty and you’re too spent to string a sentence together, let alone make sense of what’s in your cupboards and freezer). However, there is also a time for getting your cook on. I’ve been working my way through The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook that Yeo Valley sent me. It’s full of beautiful photographs and recipes that seem both achievable and challenging. So, I decided to make Smoked bacon meatballs with pappardelle pasta (minus the pappardelle pasta because one of us decided to come to terms with his gluten intolerance). The meatballs and tomato sauce were possibly the tastiest thing I have ever cooked. Vegetarians, look away.

2. Don’t leave the kitchen a state. The sex appeal of a masterpiece in the diningroom is somewhat dimmed by a mess in the kitchen. I almost sound like my mother. Except I’m not sure that’s quite how she’d put it.

3. Set the scene. You may be drinking water, it may be but one course, but who says the occasion can’t call for wine glasses and candlelight?

4. Sort your face out. Change your top, add some lipstick, ditch your bedroom slippers, do whatever you need to do to feel like you’re actually on a date.

5. No lap land. Don’t tell yourself eating in front of the TV is dinner and a movie. Don’t do it!

6. Don’t just talk about the child. Self-explanatory.

7. The child must go to sleep easily and stay asleep through dinner. Doubly self-explanatory.

Over to you, any rules to add?

Just so you know: Yeo Valley sent me a copy of The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook. All my opinions are genuine. And some of you may also know that I’m a huge fan of theirs too.

Polenta chocolate cake – gluten-free

Laurence has been pretty much gluten-free for heading towards three months now. So am I…mainly when I’m around him. For him it’s been about finally sorting out a food intolerance. For me, well, I don’t get the impression that gluten overload is brilliant for anyone’s digestive system and since it’s in everything, it doesn’t take much for it to be too much.

Luckily, there are lots of alternatives when it comes to waving goodbye to wheat and gluten. They don’t necessarily have to be expensive either. We buy a 1kg bag of polenta (cornmeal) for £3 from the Caribbean food stores on Stapleton Road in Bristol. The stuff is so stodgy that you literally only need a little bit for just about anything you’re cooking so it can last for months.

I took a look around the internet for gluten-free chocolate cakes but everything got pricey and complicated. I just wasn’t willing to spend a long time on making my own birthday cake and money is tight. So I decided to freestyle and the result was so gorgeous I had to share it.
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One good reason to quit caffeine

Almost four weeks into Lent, I can finally say it: I’ve kicked my addiction to caffeine.

For years, I’ve been saying I’d do it but was always too busy, lazy, tired, depressed, socially active or in denial to give it a proper go.

I’m not lightly throwing around the word “addiction” either.

I wince when the skinny guys on Supersize vs Superskinny (how’s that for high brow television?) name their Coke count at ten or whatever, starting with breakfast and practically breathing the stuff throughout the day.

Yet, it’s been easy for me to ignore the fact that I’ve been drinking six to eight cups of tea and coffee almost everyday since moving to England eight years ago.

That’s with the exception of pregnancy. I went off it in a big way while pregnant and was feeling so awful anyway that I probably didn’t notice withdrawal symptoms.

So, no surprise that giving up this time round left me so flat I wondered if I was pregnant. The first four days were patterned with the sweats, exhaustion, headaches, nausea and obsessing about tea, coffee and chocolate pretty much constantly.

I kept sending Laurence texts: “I think I’m dyyyyying”. What’s rehab without a touch of melodrama, even if we are talking caffeine?

Actually, of the obsessive behaviours I’ve worked through over the years, caffeine addiction is obviously one of the more innocuous. Unfortunately, it’s social acceptance made it difficult for me to admit that it was a problem.

Now that I’m off the juice (minus the three decaf coffees I’ve had in the past month) I can see how badly it was affecting me. I’m convinced it made my pre-menstrual syndrome violently worse. My skin is starting to look clearer and generally healthier. My thirst has returned and water even tastes better.

Going caffeine-free has also hugely improved both my sleep and – get this – Talitha’s. It could be coincidence, but her night wakings calmed when my withdrawal symptoms did. I guess with that amount of caffeine flowing through me, it’s unsurprising if there was a significant amount transferred into my milk. I’d love to look into the research around that a bit more.

However, the effects that have most surprised me are psychological. I feel stronger for having been able to take charge of this petty thing and actually change an ingrained habit.
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Baby led weaning: my fussy eater

Baby led weaned babies are not fussy eaters. Maybe. Mine wasn’t. She’d eat anything. Curried chicken? Yum. Squid? Yes, please. Paper? Err, unfortunately yes.

The standard line was that baby led weaned babies develop an enviable appreciation for textures and flavours leading to balanced, diverse, nay, adventurous diets.

I probably didn’t even read that anywhere official but somehow I thought I’d found the key to avoiding that pattern feared amongst parents of toddlers: fussy eating.

Well. Five months ago my then fourteen-month-old become a vegetarian. Or maybe a white-food-e-tarian.

I thought it was because we were abroad. We were visiting Trinidad for my brother’s wedding. Then she got tonsillitis while we were out there so no surprise she wouldn’t eat.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take the mango rejection hard. “What you mean you won’t even try mango? Paw-paw? WATERMELON?”

We stopped in Marks & Spencer’s in Gatwick Airport on the way back and bought a punnet of strawberries. Talitha ate it like it was running away. British, much?
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