Going through it

Michael’s Rosen’s “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” is one of the favourite books in our house. I love the illustrations and the rhythm. But most of all I love the sentiment – “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it….oh no, we’ve got to go through it!” And boy have we been going through it this weekend.

We’ve been sick. The whole lot of us. It’s inspiring me to get a t-shirt printed:  “Gastro: It’s a whole lot more awesome when the entire family gets it. At the same time.” Do you think it will be a best seller?? Hmmm, I guess people don’t want to broadcast they have gastro. Or leave the house. We left the house for exactly five minutes today…woohoo!

I hate gastro. I got a terrible case of it when I was travelling around Europe with my friend in a campervan. It lasted for three weeks and I was really miserable. And skinny! And tired. I got pretty snazzy at asking to use a bathroom in the oddest of places though.

The worst part about this bout of gastro actually has nothing to do with my aches and pains. It’s seeing B2 sick. Oh, I hate it!! She’s so upset and not sleeping and her sad face breaks my heart. On top of that she is teething, just an extra little bonus for the poor mite. It’s just not fair. Kids shouldn’t have to be sick. There should be some kind of leave pass, don’t you think?

A close runner up to the-worst-part-about-this-gastro is not being able to enjoy food. I’ve put myself on the old BRAT diet, as white rice for five days straight seemed to be the only cure to my last terrible gastro. So that means nothing but bananas, rice, applesauce or toast for me. Uggghhhh. I feel so resentful. It really makes you appreciate food in a whole new way when you can’t have it, doesn’t it? I’m day-dreaming about food like it is a lover. And I distinctly remember the first food I enjoyed after I’d recovered in Europe. Chocolate Salami.

(photo credit: http://www.tasteinspired.wordpress.com)

I know, I know, it sounds dreadful doesn’t it? Perhaps the Portugese explanation – Chocolate Chorizo – is a little more elegant? At any rate, it is delicious. As rotten as I feel right now, just writing about it is making my mouth water. There are few meals I remember with such poignancy and they all involve a serious level of hunger preceding it. Chocolate chorizo is no exception. When I ate it I was so ready for something tastier than white rice and as soon as I spied it in a tiny, local supermarket in a town on the coast that was famous for lace (name escapes me, memory of chocolate chorizo does not) I knew it was mine to be had. It is completely meat-free, of course, it just looks like salami (cheeky!). It has a lovely brownie texture, perhaps a little firmer after being in the fridge, and stodgier, uncooked. Like a rum ball? As you slice through sweet tea biscuits show themselves in pale studs and sometimes other fruit and nuts too. It’s simple and not too sweet, surely the mark of a perfect dessert. You cut it into thick slices and then share. Or not.

After my dinner of white rice (with salt, oooh la la) I’m almost ready to head to bed. I am writing this at 8pm. On a Saturday night. Did I mention I feel resentful?! I just have to keep reminding myself of Rosen’s wisdom – sometimes there’s nothing for it but going through it. Nothing to make it better or easier, no getting over or under it, just bearing it. I’m not good at doing nothing to solve a problem, perhaps that’s what I need to learn. There is one tiny comfort though. Dreams of chocolate chorizo and memories of travels through Portugal. And resolving to try this recipe once we’re all well.

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Love It

So, this is about the time of year when things get…sloggish. You know–the holidays are in the distant past, spring is never, ever going to happen, the world is grey and very often sodden and no matter how hard you try to keep it clean, the floor is just always dirty. And I hate a dirty floor.

You know who loves a dirty floor?

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So, needless to say, I feel your recent frustration about getting things to happen your way. It’s just not a reality we live with right now, is it? But I don’t want to wallow or have, as you say, a pity party (though I am prone to those, oh yes). So I thought I’d make a Love-It list, because it’s been a while since I did and they always give me a dose of reality–the oh-yeah-I-do-live-a-charmed-life kind.

1. The mirrors our kids are. Right now Little e likes to drop things on the floor (see above) and say “uh-oh”. Guess where she got that from? DH reminded me the other day how annoyed he gets when he hears me say “uh-oh” in the next room and then no explanation for it. It drives him nuts not to know the small calamity that’s befallen me. Well, now I get to hear it twenty times a day, from all over the house, and I know exactly what’s happened. Egg + floor = Uh-oh.

2. Snowdrops.

3. Milk chocolate. I was such a good girl for almost all of January and did NOT touch the huge bar of Lindt chocolate in the cupboard, even though I thought of it every day. But now it’s February and the bar is half-gone. Oh god, and we’re not even a week in. So: love the chocolate, loathe my lack of self-control.

4. These amazing covers of Dr. Seuss Books.

5. Looking in the freezer for some dinner ideas and instead finding a tub of last year’s garden raspberries and a huge forgotten slice of homemade ice cream cake.

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Which isn’t to say that the cake became dinner–DH wouldn’t let me–though it disappeared very quickly at its appointed time. Now, what to do with the raspberries? Any ideas, since you’re in summer mode?

XO

Ria

Bake Fail

Sometimes I have ideas about the way things could go. I think you call them “plans”. Lately, Life seems to be noting my attempt at plans and replying “plans schmans“. Particularly post kids I have learned to make less plans. But every now and then I fall into old habits, thinking that I might be able to somewhat control my life, children (pah ha ha!) appliances, career or day and  decide on something that would be pleasant to do. Like, bake.

Because, you see, Matt is away for a few weeks so I’ve been trying that planning business to keep us occupied (= busy = sane). Hmm. Bad idea. Let me give you a little visual explanation of how that is going for me so far.

Burnt cookies

Don’t they look delicious? Don’t they look….burnt?? Yep. That’d be this week’s bake fail. It’s not the first I have confessed here. You see, I just keep hoping my oven has a bake function, rather than a series of grill settings. I can’t accept that someone would make an oven without a bake function. Why would they do that?!! And more to the point – I just can’t accept defeat.

I want to be able to control my day. I want to be able to say “Hey, baking would be fun, let’s do that!” I want to at least be able to control my oven. I had even less success with my children. I had visions of it being a sweet little afternoon activity, concluding in a milk and cookies picnic with two delightful rosy-cheeked, flour dusted children. I clearly overdosed on Enid Blyton as a child. Instead of that particular (RIDICULOUS) fantasy becoming reality B1 tipped sugar all over the floor and ate massive globs of creamed butter and sugar every time my back was turned. B2 commando crawled the floor eating and coating herself in spilled sugar till she was unpleasantly crunchy all over. Tantrums ensued. Threats made. “Mine want biscuits now!” . I counted to three and included fractions. You know that warning system…

B1 threw off her cute junior apron (seriously; I am not making this up) and stormed out. I rescued B2 from becoming a cupcake. And then my oven started smoking. Instead of baking a second batch I ate the rest of the uncooked dough from the bowl, growling at anyone that came near, like some kind of feral animal. I was having a pity party and no-one but the cookie dough was invited. It wasn’t pretty.

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I’d like to say that the rest of my week was better but instead, in the last few days I have scraped and dented my car reversing out of our garage and sliced my thumb making kids sandwiches, right through the nail, forcing me to rush off to the medical centre holding blood spurting digit aloft (slight exaggeration but you get the picture). Side note – I am now acutely aware how vital opposable thumbs are – buttoning clothes, washing hair and bathing the kids just got a whole lot harder. ‘Cause I needed an extra impediment. Then B1 got a cold and B2 started teething…with a vengeance. Oh, did I mention that B1 has officially abandoned napping? Roll call of broken things just this week include: car, DVD player, amber teething beads, thumb and ME. Why, just as I sat down to write this post I kicked over my glass, spilling my drink all over the rug. Of course I did.

And before you mention it, I know these are all first world problems. Things could be a damn sight worse. My gripes are minor and temporary and fix-able. I get it. But you know how some weeks you just can’t face another challenge? You’re maxed right out? They may have all been small, repairable problems but they banked up. Not having Matt around gave me a whole new appreciation for solo parents. My God, it is NOT easy. You know that saying about it taking a village to raise a child? Yeah, that’s, like, totally, true. Two people at the very least. With working thumbs.

What I really wanted to do was conclude in an optimistic manner. That’s my usual style. Something about how the kids were gorgeous, or I finished this great book or made the perfect lasagne or something. Anything. I wanted to say that I squeezed in some writing time or walked by the sea and things seemed better. I wanted to end happy. I wanted to get all gracious and elegant, in the manner of Audrey Hepburn. But I didn’t get any writing done. I didn’t read anything. And I didn’t walk by the ocean. To be fair, it wasn’t an absolutely 100% terrible week, but for the most part it was Challenging. I got kind of unravelled and didn’t look or feel anything like Audrey Hepburn; not even a tiny bit. I don’t want to sugarcoat it because that’s the truth of it some weeks, isn’t it? Nothing written, nothing read, and a cookie that looked like it should have worn sun protection.

But. There is this.IMG_0465

This little person seemed to find a grin even when her Mama couldn’t. She didn’t give a hoot that her cookie was blackened. All the better for dunking, apparently. Helps it to hold its form. Those crumbs on her lashes? From holding the cookie up to her eye and pretending to be a pirate. She’s thrilled. Not a care in the world. While I sit behind the lens and stew and worry and curse. So there you go. My reality has been thunderclouds and mishaps. Her reality has been perfect pirate-eye-patch-cookies and rainbows. Hmmm.

I feel like I should be learning something here….

HUGS, Hannah x

Christmas Pudding Cake Therapy

Ahhh, the sleepless season. I mean festive season. I recently accomplished an international plane flight with both my girls (no, I wasn’t the pilot but it took so much skill and finesse I feel justified using that particular verb) and since then baby number 2 just will not settle. Flat out refuses. Clearly she does not appreciate that after I coped with them both on the plane we landed in a hurricane and my stroller came out of stowage with a punctured wheel. It was awesome.

So, as you can imagine, I have needed therapy. Lots of therapy. Therapy that looks like this:

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That medicine, right there, is my Mum’s Christmas cake. It’s made from a recipe by Annabel Langbein, who is one of NZ’s most beloved cooks. It is delicious. It is so sticky and full of nuts and fruit that I told her it really should be called “Christmas Pudding Cake”. Even Mum, who suffers from practically crippling humility admitted that the neighbours at her neighbourhood Christmas party were “quite taken with it”. Yes, my Mum watches too much Downton Abbey. But truly – it’s a cake to be quite taken with. Or taken by? Ah, whatever. Make it, make it, you will see!

Here is the most splendid recipe. Thank you Annabel. Check out all that fruit, would you? Yummmm. I think Mum might undercook it slightly to make it even more “fudgey”. Served with tea, I am telling you, it can right a whole lot of wrongs.

It certainly takes the edge off sleep deprivation, which is saying something. Isn’t that always the way with Mum’s cooking? Cooking so familiar and comforting it can make the world seem brighter and burdens feel lighter. Of course it’s not just the cooking, but the whole coming home experience. Mum has put fresh sheets on the beds, hung mobiles and bunting for my girls, cleared out wardrobes, made space and cleaned. There’s love in the details. Dad has bought boutique NZ beer to share with me in the evenings, Mum has pegged up an advent calendar, the tree is assembled but not dressed, so we can hang decorations with B1. Little things, that all say “We’re so happy you’re home”. Feeling loved – now that is the true therapy.

Without getting too sentimental (i.e. you know I am going to) that’s what Christmas is about, isn’t it? Love? The heart of the matter which can get a bit buried in travel and stress and hosting and buying and rushing. It’s lovely to be back in New Zealand, watching my girls being spoilt with the same traditions I had as a kid. It mean, it might just be chocolates behind cardboard doors, or silver baubles on hooks, but I can see in their faces that they feel the love in it all.

It makes me happy. Happy to be home, sleep deprivation, challenges and all. With family. And cake. With tea.

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The Useful Potato

You know how enamoured I am with my veggie box. I got so excited for veggie box delivery the other day that when I squealed to B1 “Ooooh! Guess who’s coming?!” she answered “Christmas!” Aw no, sorry honey. It is a bit like Christmas….for Mummy?! But, despite my amour, I have to admit there are some items I find piling up and not being used. Namely, potatoes.

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I thought our family ate a reasonable amount of potatoes but those brown paper bags of spuds just don’t seem to be depleting. The bottom of my pantry looks like my potatoes had a wild party and all the potatoes in the neighbourhood swung by. I’ve got kipflers, sebago and royal blues. I’ve got boiling potatoes, roasting potatoes and itty bitty salad potatoes. I really needed to do something about “The Potato Situation”. Finally I remembered a Christmas tradition…

Wren paints

Making Christmas wrapping paper! I have told you before, I am sure, that I am a hopeless stationary addict. I cannot stop myself buying stamps, ribbons and alphabet stickers. It’s a bit of a compulsion. A compulsion that began with Christmas wrapping. Sure, as a kid I loved getting presents but I really loved wrapping presents. I loved choosing a theme for that year’s festive season and wrapping all my gifts in the same way. One year I went out to a warehouse that supplied food containers to restaurants and bought chinese takeaway noodle boxes, in bulk. Everyone got their gift in a noodle box that Christmas. Another year was all pink and orange. I’m particularly partial to satin ribbon, brown paper and using red (good for Christmas, Valentines Day, Chinese New Year and birthdays!) Have I mentioned that I’m a bit ahh…weird?!

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Anyway, now I am putting both my potatoes and my daughter to work. I’ve loosened up on my “particular” (aka. fussy, obsessive and annoying) habits re: my wrapping being matching and perfect and consistent. I’m not using fluro paints because it is trendy but because they’re lovely non-toxic finger paints I bought from the Museum of Contemporary Art (side note: one of my favourite places. Ever.), that I just happened to have lying around. So away we went. Enormous roll of white paper, paint and a ridiculous abundance of potatoes…

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Some stamping, some finger painting, some hand prints. The end result? Quite sweet I thought.

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But more importantly – such good fun. Who knew I could combine my love of stationary and food? B1 was entertained, I had a ball, my potatoes did not go to waste. Happy, happy, happy. Truly a festive season moment. Don’t you think?

HUGS, Hannah x

Anatomy of a Birthday Cake

[Update: Here’s the link to the radio interview I did about my book, Nobody’s Dog, which I promised I’d post when I got it.]

So we had a momentous birthday here the other day. Someone turned One Year Old.

I grew up in a family that cherished–nay, obsessed over–homemade birthday cakes. Every year we got to pore over the Australian Women’s Weekly Kid’s Birthday Cakes book, with all its shiny colour photos and array of choices. Would it be the bear? The Barbie with the fancy dress? The swimming pool? I admit, that one always weirded me out a little. But it was a birthday tradition, and one I want to pass on to little e.

Of course, this year she’s too young to have any say in the cake choice, so I took on the challenge. It was actually harder than I thought. Not because I couldn’t choose between the cakes (I’m a jump-in-ask-questions-later kind of baker), but because I realized the ones I was interested in making had very colourful icing. And that means everyone’s yearly quota of Red No.5 and Yellow FCF, which I try my best to avoid. Not that that stuff doesn’t show up in other food we eat all the time, but the idea of consciously putting it in my child’s cake was…off-putting. Anyway, as you’ll see below, I went with something light blue–the cake in the book was much darker–so it has a kind of Caribbean ocean feel to it.

But that’s not the end of the cake saga. You’re on the edge of your seat, I’m sure.

Let’s just say it had been a crazy week in a string of crazy weeks and late at night on a Friday, I baked the cake for the next day’s party. I doubled the recipe because I was determined not to run out of cake once I started cutting it into shape. I had bought a really big cake pan for it. It came out of the oven looking great. I let it cool for a little while. Then I went to turn it out onto the cooling rack. It was still warm. I should have known better.

I have no photos of the carnage, but basically the edges removed themselves from the pan enthusiastically while the middle did not. So I ended up with three jagged pieces of cake on the cooling rack. I was so amazed at my own idiocy at 10pm the night before the party that I just stood there in the kitchen staring at the broken cake. DH came down the stairs and found me like that. I couldn’t speak. He got out the spatula.

There have been other times when I’ve been grateful to have an artist for a husband. Plenty of them. But I never thought I’d say that my husband’s Arts degree in ceramics and sculpture would save our daughter’s first birthday cake.

The above photo shows no evidence of the spackling and sculpting that took place to make the cake look like one piece instead of three. Testament to DH’s talents. And here it is in all its Caribbean whale glory:

It was delicious. Wish you had been here.

What talents are you especially glad your husband possesses?

XO

Ria

Where the time goes…ten little fingers and ten little toes

Well, I know in my last post I was bemoaning all the distractions I am getting from my writing but today there’s one I am going to celebrate. [See, I told you I was going to improve my attitude!] This distraction is the marvellous, magnificent B2. B2 is six and a half months old, likes spoons, yells in foyers to hear the echo of her own voice, giggles at her sister’s funny faces and is currently recovering from croup. I know, Croup. Poor thing. It’s waking her (and us) several times a night / morning. She’s part of the reason my writing is not getting done, my washing machine is always full and my hair looks, well, reaaaaally bad.

Anyone will tell you that parenting is challenging. But they can’t really share exactly how challenging and in which ways will be so shocking for you personally. Post baby hormones, Guilt (that capital is on purpose) and alternating boredom and insane busy-ness have all been big surprises for me. And yet as I write that, I think – aren’t they all such cliches??! Just goes to show how you have to live it to get it. Right?

Then there’s the flip side. Also a laundry list of cliches: The laughter. The smiles. The rolls on the backs of the knees. The eyelashes. The need for Mummy. Only Mummy. The sleepy yawn. The grabbing of hair. The delight in a world that is so brand new. It really does turn me away from my piles of research papers and the dishes in the sink and the mirror and think WOW. Right this very second B2 is singing and rolling around on the floor. A bit like a puppy; only cuter.

I recently read a wonderful, slightly cheesy (aren’t all the good ones?) quote: “The things we cannot change end up changing us”. How very true. From the last few weeks’ trials and tribulations I am learning that life does not always (ever!!) go to plan. I’m learning that you really do have to surrender to that and that when you do, well, magic can happen. Accepting, Surrendering and Allowing…now there’s the rub. That stuff is tough.

I was recently cheered reading a great personal story by Mem Fox, children’s book author extraordinaire, describing how she came to write Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Read it here, it’s very buoying. She’d had so much success with her books and then suddenly her talent and passion seemed to just evaporate. She put in her resignations (yes, she really did!), accepted her lot and out of nowhere came not one but TWO manuscripts. Just like that.

It’s hard when our busy, ‘doing’ minds get involved in solving our problems. I’ll put her in a bouncy chair while I write, I’ll shower in the evening..and then...I’m no good anyway, It will never get done… I love that Mem Fox admits her best ideas come from her heart, not her brain. I love that when she allowed the dilemmas and challenges and inner-criticism to just be, accepted it all, she got some of her best work. That’s where I am right now. I’m going to enjoy B2 as her six month self, croup and all, try my hardest not to wish for something different. I’m going to join her on the floor. Spend a moment rolling around on the carpet.

PS. I know my hair doesn’t look too dreadful in this photo. That’s because I spent time straightening it. And putting on make-up. And then took a zillion photos. Because it’s like seeing Haley’s Comet or something.